Halfway House Hens

Our little jailbirds were doing just fine with their parole until a few of weeks ago, when I came home to find them completely absent from the backyard. Naturally, I started panicking, and scoured the neighborhood to no avail. Finally I heard some clucking behind our bushes, and found that they had decided to make a border run “North” this time, into our back neighbor’s backyard. Somehow Frances had even gotten behind the neighbor’s fence, and of course she couldn’t figure out how to get back. This seems to be the only lack of intelligence I’ve seen in my hens. They must go into panic mode when they feel trapped. So I had to climb over the fence to retrieve her.

Once they were safely back in their coop, I vowed to put up the electric fence the next day… but the morning light softened my resolve, and I decided to increase my efforts to block any possible openings I found behind the bushes.

This seemed to do the trick, as they seemed very content to stay in the yard… until the next Saturday afternoon. Once again, I couldn’t find them in the late afternoon, and started looking all over the neighborhood again. Finally, after much calling, I heard some clucks coming from our next door neighbor’s backyard, and looking up through the bushes under their fence, I spied 3 pairs of chicken feet. Somehow they must have jumped up on the wall between our houses and squeezed under her fence into her perfectly manicured backyard. Luckily, she wasn’t home to discover them.

The kids had helped me look for the girls this time, and they were very upset and made me promise to go ahead and try the electric fence. I agreed, and started installing it as soon as the chickens were safely in their coop once again… early… without their usual bedtime corn… and while I was still angry enough to strengthen my resolve.

I finished installing it the next morning. It turned out to be pretty easy, but I ran out of wire and had to buy some more. I was encouraged when I got up the nerve to touch the wire, and found that the shock felt very mild… like a small static electric shock, and my daughter even had to touch it 3 times before she felt anything at all. But perhaps it’s because we were wearing rubber-soled shoes and are quite a bit bigger than small animals? I had strung the wire about 9” off the ground to help avoid growing grass, but as soon as I let the chickens out, Frances slipped right under it without even touching it (the girls were watching the whole time from their coop, doubtless planning their escape), so I pounded all of the posts down to 6”. Frances tried again and this time caught on it enough to feel it, so she quickly started avoiding it. The other girls seemed to just instinctively stay away from it without touching it. (perhaps they learned from watching Frances?) They all spent the rest of the day surveying the boundaries of their newly shrunken domain, and settling most of the time under the tree and remaining bushes open to them along the house.

Sunday, they also stayed within the fence all day… so far, so good.

Monday morning, I went out to check the line for any debris touching it and found 2 tiny dead birds right next to the wire. I felt SO awful! I had no idea it would kill little animals! I guess I should have read the reviews more deeply. There definitely wasn’t a warning about this in the instruction manual. It sounds like it was because it’s a continuous shock instead of intermittent, which gives small animals a chance to pull away. It probably also would have been OK if I left it at 9”, because birds can sit on it safely if they don’t touch the ground, but they must have tried to slip underneath the 6 inch height and the shock must have been too much for their tiny bodies. Distraught, I disconnected the electricity immediately.

Luckily, it seems like the 2 days the electricity was activated were enough to teach the hens to avoid the wire, because they’ve stayed within it’s boundary for a couple of weeks now. Who knows if this will be enough in the long run, but in the meantime it’s been nice to have them always within sight, as well as off the patio, and they still have most of the yard as their playground. They seem to be happy enough, and are giving us plenty of eggs.

And this was a new one… the other day when I sat down in the yard, they all jumped up on my lap, instead of just the younger two. Gloria doesn’t usually do this on her own volition, unless the hammock is available. Gotta love my funny, cuddly girls.

3-hens-on-lap

3-hens-on-lap-BW

 

 

Jailbirds on Parole

Well… I “chickened” out on the electric fence idea for our current inmates. I was all set to install a fido-shock wire around the coop and part of the yard, but when I went out to implement it on Saturday, I found the hens (on reprieve) happily playing in the tall laurel hedges that I was about to bar them from forever… and I just couldn’t do it. They were pecking around on the other side of the supposed wire fence (which I still don’t know how they are getting through), but they were also close to the only opening I had seen them use to the front yard (which I had blocked with hardware cloth after their most recent escape), and they seemed to have no intentions or employed any malicious methods to get through it.

Behind the hedges on all other sides are tall walls and sturdy fences from our adjoining neighbors yards, so I’m not really worried about them getting through those… at least not yet.

So I strung up some bird netting above the hardware cloth area, as well as over both gates, and the only low spot in one of our neighbors back fences for good measure, and put the hens on parole for good behavior for the rest of the weekend. They were very good girls, so now they are going to be able to free-range during the weekdays again, barring any future attempts to leave the country backyard. But I’m going to keep the electric fence as a backup plan… both for any more trouble from them, as well as from our not-so-friendly neighborhood raccoons in the Spring. And I’m also thinking up new ideas for my husband’s dream of a chicken-free patio. Thanks to everyone for sharing your kind, thoughtful and wise advice and experience!

chickens-on-parole

Christmas : Part Three : The Finale

We celebrated our final Christmas last weekend, and I’m happy to report that, despite my kids and I being wiped out with the Flu this month, I was able to complete my knitting project presents for my nephews. One of them requested an “Elephant Man.” I’m sure the images that entered my mind upon hearing this request were quite different from his 7-year old one, so after doing some research, this was the winning pattern from Emily Ivey. It looked so cuddly, I had to knit it in baby alpaca to make it even cuddlier.

e-is-for-elephant-knitted

I think my nephew was satisfied with his elephant “man”. He jumped up and down with joy upon opening it and quickly commenced wrestling with it on the floor. Ah sigh… boys. I always try to doubly reinforce ALL the seams on their toys.

knitted-elephant

My other nephew’s present was quite an adventure. A few months ago, I tried to get him to give me a hint about what he’d like me to make for him, and the only thing I could get out of him was that he really liked a hand-spun shawl I had made for my Mom. I thought that might be a bit too womanly for a little boy, but something like a sweater he would quickly grow out of, so I thought a good compromise might be a throw blanket. I used all of the rest of the brown lamb’s fleece I was given, plus another black fleece the same family sent to me already cleaned and carded, with the goal of creating the softest, warmest throw blanket possible. First, I used my hand cards to make rolags from the fleece. I needed about 1 per yard since I spun them very thickly… so I made about 600 of these babies (I tried not to count as I was making them… too overwhelming.)

rolags-hand-carded

I then spun these woolen (long-draw). Here’s a nice instructional video I found for both of these carding and spinning techniques. But I spun mine into much bigger singles than the video shows. I tried very hard to resist smoothing out the “fuzzy” parts, as Mae calls them. I then plied the 2 colors together to get a super-bulky weight yarn. I ended up with 12 50-yard skeins.

hands-spun-super-bulky-yarn-hand

After washing, thwacking, and drying:

handspun-super-bulky-yarn-hanging

My Christmas presents from my husband and sister-in-law came in quite handy: an umbrella swift and ball winder!

swift-ball-winder

Together they make perfect center-pull “cakes” so much more quickly and expertly than I could by hand. These looked like chocolate… almost good enough to eat!

hand-spun-super-bulky-yarn

I then used this free pattern from Drops for the knitted blanket, and on Size 19 (!) needles, the knitting was definitely the quickest part of the whole process.

size-19-knitting-needles

Can’t get enough of those cables! I should also mention that Mae had fun helping me with some of the carding and knitting. She’s becoming almost as obsessed with fiber arts as I am! Here’s the finished blanket:

super-bulky-hand-spun-knit-blanket

I wasn’t able to make it quite as long as the pattern specified due to running out of wool (which I can hardly believe happened), but I think the length turned out perfectly for him to wrap up in and walk around. He wondered if he could use a clip to hold it in place. I guess he really did want a shawl! I also washed it with a naturally scented lavender-lime dish soap using the same method that I used to wash the fleece originally (soaking it in hot water in my top-loading washing machine) and then I added a tsp of lavender oil to the rinse water, and one of his first comments was that it smelled very good. Such a cutie!

hand-spun-knitted-throw

It’s so lofty and thick that it creates almost instant warmth, and feels like cuddling with a lamb (or two!). My kids and my cats (and I) can’t wait for the spring shearing so I can make another one for them. I continue to feel so blessed to know this sweet family and their generosity with their gorgeous wool!

jailbirds

Just when I started to settle into a sense of peaceful complacency with our backyard flock, they have given me a new storyline for my nightmares. They seem to have decided that our 800 square foot fenced backyard is either too small or too boring, and have begun venturing into the front yard. The problem is: as much as it may look similar to the backyard, there are some important differences: cars, dogs, and neighbors… to name a few. This is a first for us. In the past they’ve shown no desire to be out-of-sight of their coop. I completely blame Frances as the instigator (my trouble-making rebellious teen?), and I think the others are simply following along. If they would only stay close to the house, that would be one thing, but our neighbors informed us that they were in the middle of the street the other day. Granted, we do live on a dead-end street, so there is not much traffic, but occasionally we get a car tearing up the street… probably frustrated to discover that it’s a dead-end.

Anyway, I’m not sure what to do now. I’ve started locking them in their coop while we’re not home, but during the winter weekdays, that’s basically all day, so they have no grass-roaming, wing-flapping space, and aren’t nearly as happy. At least we have a nice big coop now, so they are not really being mis-treated, but with the ruckus they make, they sure think they are.

Any suggestions are welcome. I think I’ve found/blocked any holes that they could walk through to get to the front, but there really is no way to keep them from flying over the gates/fence. And I don’t want to clip their wings, because I’m sure they use them to escape the raccoons.

Like Curious George… good little hens… but VERY curious!

jailbird : hen in coop

Alberta At Last

Alberta laid her first egg today, and for the first time, we collected 3 eggs from our 3 hens:

first-3-eggs

Here they are in order from left to right from: Alberta, Frances & Gloria. Alberta’s looks a little more golden-beige than pink, similar to Cleo’s shade, and it was covered with the cutest white sprinkles. This is Frances’ 4th egg. And here is Alberta’s first photo shoot as a full-fledged hen:

gold-laced wyandotte hen

I think her feathers are absolutely stunning now…like stained glass or a monarch butterfly:

gold-laced wyandotte hen feathers

But the egg laying politics have begun again in full force. While Frances was laying this morning, Gloria squawked VERY loudly non-stop, like she sometimes would do with Cleo. As soon as Frances came down, Gloria tried to give her a hard peck, then she went up to lay hers. After she came down, Alberta went up, and Gloria squawked again… all throughout. After Alberta came down, all was quiet again. I still don’t understand why Gloria does that. Is it protective? Is it territorial? Is it because she’s the bossy type, and doesn’t like when they are separated, is she trying to tell us about it, or does she just want them to hurry up?

Whatever the reason, we figured we would find Frances’ egg in the corner again, and Gloria’s and Alberta’s in the smaller nesting box, since I saw Alberta sitting in there. While Alberta’s was indeed in there, Gloria had chosen to lay hers next to Frances’ in the corner of the coop. What? Is she picking up that bad habit from Frances? Is it territorial? She always used to follow suit with Cleo’s egg laying practices, so maybe it’s the same reason? After we collected the eggs, Frances hopped up to check out the nesting box, since she saw Alberta laying in there, so hopefully she’ll take the hint, and everyone will start laying in there soon. Sheesh! I will never understand these silly birds and their politics!

mae-eggs-hens

Mae wanted to see if the younger girls would come sit with her if she started humming to them like she did when they were small, and sure enough, they hopped right up as soon as she started. (Their favorite: the theme from the “Frances” TV show to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus.)

mae-alberta-frances

Cuddle time.

mae-alberta-frances2

Does Frances want a cuddle too?

mae-looking-frances

Yes, please.

mae-frances2

Christmas : Part Two : Little toys and a Pillow cover pattern

Happy New Year!!!

Since 2/3 of my Christmas celebrations are over and these gifts have been given, I can now share them with the world. I will go in order from smallest to biggest, with a pattern to share at the end.

First, these tiny needle-felted sheep were sent with Lupo the Lamb to the generous givers of my lamb fleeces. I thought they would make cute Christmas ornaments. I meant to post them earlier, but time flies when you’re knitting against the clock:

tiny needle felted sheep ornaments

My kids think they look more like puppies… I guess I need more needle-felting practice. :-(

Next, a tiny record player for my daughter… at her request:

tiny-mochi-mochi-record-player

I made it so the record can be placed on and off the turn-table, and I got the pattern from this fabulous book by Anna Hrachovec.

Next, a little knitted baby penguin for my nephew. He wanted a baby to go with this one I made for him, so I modified the original pattern by Amy Gaines a bit, and used smaller yarn and needles:

knitted-baby-penguin-hat-scarf

knitted-baby-penguin-scarf

knitted-baby-penguin

And finally, I knitted 2 pillow covers for my Sister-in-law and Mother-in-law. I used 4-skeins each of Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky yarn, and 20″ down-alternative pillow inserts and they are super soft and squishy and cozy.

knitted-pillow-cover-pink-front

knitted-pillow-cover-pink-back

I think Mae wants one too. ;-)

knitted-cabled-pillow-cover-blue

I saw a similar pattern online, but I thought it looked pretty simple, and I wanted to use a chunky weight yarn for a faster knit, so I wrote my own. Here it is, if anyone is interested. They are a pretty quick knit, and you can take the covers off for washing:

Cabled knitted pillow cover pattern : 20” x 20”

Materials:
4 skeins (108 yards each) Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky (Hot Rod pink and Monterey Bay blue)
Size 10 (US) knitting needles (straight or long-cabled circular)
1 cable needle (or double point) of similar size as your knitting needles
Size G (4.0mm) Crochet hook
20″ x 20″ pillow insert of your choice (I chose a down alternative filling for squishy coziness)

Gauge:
Mine matched that listed on the yarn (4 stitches = 1″) so you can swatch and use different needles if you want, but I think it shouldn’t matter too much as it will stretch to fit the pillow.

Back panel bottom:
CO 70 stitches
knit 10” stockinette (about 46 rows) then knit 8 rows in 1×1 rib for the overlap.

Back panel top:
CO 70 stitches
knit 10” stockinette (about 46 rows) then knit 12 rows in 1×1 rib for the overlap.

Front:
Basics (Since I like a big picture overview): You will have 3 cable columns of 8 stitches each, 4 purl stitches in between each, 15 stitches stockinette on each side, and you will cable by holding the 1st 4 stitches of each cable section to the front of your work, then knitting 4 stitches, then knitting the stitches held to the front every 12 rows, starting on 11th row. You will also slip the first stitch of every row for a smoother, easier to crochet edge.

Now the details of the cable pattern:

row 1: sl 1, k14, p4, k8, p4, k8, p4, k8, p4, k15
row 2: sl 1, p14, k4, p8, k4, p8, k4, p8, k4, p15
(5x)

row 11: sl 1, k14, p4, * slip 4 st on cable needle and hold to front, k4, knit 4 st from cable needle (3x from *), p4, k15

row 12: sl 1, p14, k4, p8, k4, p8, k4, p8, k4, p15
row 13: sl 1, k14, p4, k8, p4, k8, p4, k8, p4, k15
(5x)

row 22: sl 1, p14, k4, p8, k4, p8, k4, p8, k4, p15
row 23: sl 1, k14, p4, * slip 4 st on cable needle and hold to front, k4, knit 4 st from cable needle (3x from *), p4, k15

Repeat row 12-23 5 more times, then row 12-13 5 times, then row 12 1 time, then bind off loosely.

Finished size should be about 20″ tall and wide.

Finish by pinning the back panels together with the ribbed stitched rows overlapping, then pin the back to the front so all the edges line up.

Single crochet (or sew if you prefer) around all of the edges and fasten off.

Stuff your pillow insert inside and let the cuddling begin!

Let me know if you find any errors in this pattern (I am definitely an amateur and this hasn’t been tested) and I will correct this post.

:-)

Now I shall return to spinning, spinning, and more spinning for Christmas Part 3 at the end of the month!

 

Christmas : Part One

I’ve been saving up a lot of photos of Christmas projects I’ve worked on, and will be posting them in batches, as we have a couple of belated Christmas celebrations to come.. but first I have to share our Christmas present from our Chickens: they started giving us eggs again! Gloria started laying again on the day after Christmas, and then guess who laid her first egg yesterday?

frances-first-egg

That’s right, it’s Frances!

frances-coop

She didn’t lay in the nesting boxes, but instead in the corner of the coop next to the door, where she and Alberta first slept before they started roosting… I guess because she felt safe there. Hopefully she will eventually learn to use the nesting boxes.

frances-first-egg-coop

But now she’s officially a hen, and looking much more mature. In fact, she’s just as big as Gloria… maybe even a little bigger:

3-backyard-hens1

three-backyard-hens

Their fluffy bottoms always crack me up:

three-hen-bottoms