Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coop Update

Here's a quick update on the coop.

As you can see from the image, I've got the roof and trim up. I still need to:

- Install an egg door
- Install a back window
- Install a door for the coop itself
- Attach the ladder (not pictured)
- Build a roost (easy stuff)
- Finish up the floor of the run (add some sand/gravel/dirt/hay/etc.)

Should have the chickens out in their new digs soon!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Life in Five Easy Columns...

In trying so hard to find some organization and to simplify my life, I may have gone a bit overboard.

November, and I'm at my desk feeling really out of sorts. Bad things had just happened at work and now I found myself viewing my life through a very different lens. Things seemed complicated and mired. Guilt lurked behind every facet of my life, waiting to pounce if my analytical gaze lingered too long.

I should get more exercise.

I should take control of my career.

I should spend more quality time with my wife and kids, and find something to do with each one separately.

I should take writing more seriously.

I should be nicer to the planet.

And so, in a fit of inspiration and absolutely-for-sure-well-intentioned organization, I put together a spreadsheet. So simple, so innocent. My simple plan: The first column consisted of every day of the year. Then, one column for each of the things I wanted to be better at. How pure! How perfectly easy! Everyone should do this! Ah, the praise and positivity I showered upon myself.

Of course, little did I know a grey smudge lay hidden behind each of my brilliant and shiny good intentions.

For the first 6 weeks, I did a decent job of evaluating the spreadsheet every day. I kept up, every morning I looked for columns in which I had not dutifully placed an X and then concentrated on finding a way to check that box off for that day.

And then, realization struck me. I got an email from a relative -- merely a "Hi, just checking in." email. Certainly nothing wrong, nothing alarming. But then I realized that in my haste to make a list, I had reduced my life to a set of columns in a freaking spreadsheet. I didn't have a column for "Back East Relatives."

Frantic, I wondered, "What else is missing?"

Here's a short list:

My best friend, my parents, me, the neighbors, the house, my coworkers, pets...

And there's more. Lots more, I'm sure.

It was easy, too easy, to reduce the complications of life into a set of boxes to be checked. I found ways to game the system immediately -- "I'll take the kids for a long walk, and it will count as exercise and spending time with them!" I replaced the intention of the list with execution.

So, Greg, sorry for the ignoring. Refuge? On me?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Trading Eggs for Sweaters, or Family Mockery

I was at a meeting yesterday and when it was over everyone began the ritual packing and gathering of coats, computers, and bags. Amid the zipping and fastening and ripping of velcro, I engaged in a little small talk with the guy standing next to me. I'm a terrible conversationalist, so of course we went straight to discussing the weather. I ended up mentioning how much I love the rain but how I want it to stop long enough for me to have time finish the roof on the chicken coop.

He grinned and his eyes lit up. He jumped right in with a barrage of questions. Apparently he had been considering getting his own little flock of urban chickens and so he had a ton of queries.

I had to keep qualifying all of my responses with "I've only had my chickens for 3 weeks, but..." By the end of the conversation I had promised to send pictures of our chicks and the (nearly completed!) coop.

I'm consistently amazed at how many people I know or meet that are raising chickens or are seriously considering it.

I haven't told most of my relatives about the chickens yet -- I want to wait until the coop is finished and the chicks are outside so I can show off the whole thing at once. My wife and I were joking about how our relatives already think we're a little odd and this will only help cement that. But I got to wondering. Is this Urban Chicken movement anything like the emu fad of the 1990's? Or more specifically, will my relatives see it that way?

Maybe they would; however, it would be easy to explain the difference. Emus were raised mainly for meat, cost thousands of dollars, etc. Ah, but what about alpacas?

Of course, people don't raise alpacas for food (at least, not in the United States). They raise them for the fiber. In that way, alpaca and urban chickens are similar in that you raise them as means of obtaining a renewable resource. You can also throw in the educational value and the fact that they become pets. The Urban Chicken movement certainly has more potential as laws change around the country to allow more chickens in cities (well, some laws go the other way but it seems like the movement is gathering momentum). Chickens require much less space than alpacas; I doubt we'll ever see an "Urban Alpaca" movement. But I don't mean to argue the relative merits of alpacas. Or chickens, really.

In fact, while I may get a little initial ribbing from the folks back East, I bet ours won't be the only family with chickens in a year or two.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tragedy Strikes

We suffered our first urban chicken tragedy last night.

It all happened so fast. Well, relatively fast.

Our chicks are 5 weeks old, and getting along swell. But yesterday morning one of them seemed a bit sleepy, even while the other two were racing around gobbling up the little crumbs of bread we tossed in as a treat.

By 5:30PM the chick was dead.

The kids took it especially rough. They cried all through dinner. They decided on their own to wear black to school today.

As first time chicken owners we realized quickly how little we were prepared for something like this. I mean, they've quickly become "pets" even if we do plan on raising them for their eggs. But we'd only had them for 3 weeks and it's not like the birds run around the house with our cats or anything. But still, I wasn't exactly shocked to see the kids upset.

We tried calling some vets. Of course, finding vets that know anything much about 5 week old chickens is tough.

We had difficult decisions to make and questions to face:

Is it "worth" $160 to get a necropsy of a $4 bird you've had for a total of 22 days? Couldn't we just buy 40 more of the suckers and let the odds work for us?

But what if it died of some disease we could prevent from harming the other chicks?

Would it be better to pay half that amount to have the two live birds checked out by a vet?

We want to get a new chick, but will the other birds accept one if we find a new bird about the same age? What would happen if we got a one or two week old chick?

Ah Peepers, we'll miss you.

Friday, February 6, 2009


I'm guilty.

Yes, I admit it, guilty. I used to sort of smirk when my parents or someone else with less than current computer skills would complain about their computers being slow. "Must have caught a virus or something," they'd muse. Sure, I'd feel a little tiny bit sorry for them, but at the same time somewhere deep in the darkest recesses of my mind, over there behind the cheesy memorized song lyrics, I'd hear a little mean voice saying "tell them 'I told you so' tell them! Tell Them!!!"

"Ha! we never get viruses on our computer. We're too smart, too savvy," brags the mean voice.

Well, this week, that little voice took a beating.

It all started so innocently, so stupidly.

I was installing some new software from a CD. I put the CD into the drive but nothing happened. No matter what I tried, the drive refused to do anything with the disk. I put other disks into the drive and they worked fine. I put the offending disk in another computer and it worked just fine. Hmmm... My CD drive simply hates this one CD. Strange!

And here's where I made my one huge mistake -- my one critical failure, my tragic flaw. I had heard or read somewhere that sometimes when you are installing software, your anti-virus software will interfere. So, innocently and with the best of intentions, I disabled the AV software and tried the disk again.

"Ha! We can fix this!" bragged the voice.

No luck! Thwarted, I immediately opened a browser and began to search the 'net looking for clues.

"Um, what?" asked the other little voice in my head, the nice voice, the one that keeps me honest and asks the tough questions. I hadn't heard from it the whole time until then.

"I. IMMEDIATELY. OPENED. A. BROWSER..." I began, irked that the nice voice was interrupting.

"Nooooooo!" I think at this point the nice voice went over and punched the mean voice in the face.

Crappity. I neglected to re-activate the AV software. And I browsed all over looking for CD drivers, hints about why my one CD wouldn't work, etc.

So of course now there's a virus on the computer. The braggy voice is cowering the corner, muttering gibberish and drooling.

I thought I had it all fixed, thought I managed to remove the virus. In fact, the computer worked well for a whole day, but today a warning popped up, saying something about some files in a quarantine.


Turns out this latest scare was not the actual virus, but a leftover in a backup/quarantine and it was easily removed. Ha, told you we'd fix...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Now That's a Two Hander!

I can't believe how long it's taking me to finish up the chicken coop! I don't feel like a slacker; however, clearly, slackage occurs. Working in fits and starts, I'm making slow, jerky progress. This weekend we applied wood preserver and then built the actual coop area. Still to do: trim, roof, egg door, window, ramp, attach the door to the run.

The roof pieces come in on Friday, but I can't put it on until I do the trim. I ordered the roof at a local lumber yard. I picked that place only because the person on the phone didn't act like a jerk when I said I wanted to order a small amount of metal seam roof. He knew what it was, but didn't know much about ordering it or even how to help me figure out what other stuff I might need. But that's ok. I'm willing to work with them because of the whole "treating a customer nicely" thing. Now, that's the place I'll go next time I need lumber that isn't just 2x4s from Home Depot.

Meanwhile the chickens are growing like weeds and have spent several two hour blocks of time outside over the last week as we've enjoyed incredibly nice weather. I was surprised to see them taking short (three feet or so) flights on the back lawn. We noticed that they've become "two handers" -- it requires two hands to pick them up now, they've grown so much. Rain's due back in the forecast as early as tonight, though, so we'll have to put up a tarp to cover the coop tonight, and the birds won't be spending much/any time outside for a while.

Also meanwhile, our neighbors have made solid progress on their coop. Oh and my daughters found out that several of their classmates have chickens at home.