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Today we welcomed four tiny and adorably fluffly new members to our family.  Four little ladies from Sunnydale Hatchery (Beaver Dam, WI) were shipped to us for a whopping $11.01.  And get this; their breed?  It's called BROWN.  Yup.  No fancy titles or pedigrees for this family, no sir.  As for their coloring right now, they are more of a lovely reddish blonde, very much like yours truly.   

We purchase pullets in Spring 2011 and had a wonderful, stress-free year enjoying our ladies.  We were devastated this spring when we lost two birds (and a bunny) to raccoons.  We also learned that you can't always introduce new adult birds without considerable bloodshed; down one more bird.  Did I mention you can't bury a pet chicken without other wildlife exhuming their little bodies?  It has been a tough month at the Rohe Ranch with considerable carnage.  We did not sign up for this roller coaster ride.

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We've learned a lot by trial and error this past year.  The problem is that you can read every website and blog about chickens and no two people have the same problem or solution.  We rarely get it right the first time.

Take for instance our new brood of babies.  I spent several hours renovating an old dog kennel; sturdy with plenty of space for growing ladies to get some exercise.  This is going to be their home until they can take on the adult ladies later this fall so I took the time to make it secure.  What I didn't anticipate was the overpowering curiosity of four naughty resident felines.

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This is how I had originally set their kennel up:  chicken wire around the perimeter, heat lamp in the corner, two boxes for them to "hide" in if stressed.

Nobody told the chicks to run for cover when the cat's paw slid through the chicken wire.  They apparently didn't get the memo that the perimeter was off limits.  Poor Baby Chick took a couple claws to her backside.  Poor Reese the Cat got nailed with squirt bottle shot of water to his head, scruffed and placed on the patio in Time-Out.  (No animals were injured in this incident.)

See?  All I read about preparing for these chicks, the "crumbles", the pine bedding, the temperature; I didn't realize proper placement of the heat lamp and dishes is vital to the set up. 

I moved the heat lamp to hang from the MIDDLE of the kennel so they can nap in the center far from swiping claws.  The food and water is also now centrally located so they can sleep and eat without molestation.   I also added a cardboard barrier, almost like a crib bumper, around the perimeter to keep the ladies safe and prevent the cats from suffering my wrath.  I know they can't help it; it's in their nature to torture tiny peeping feathered objects.  I've witnessed the damage they can do to our local chipmunks.

In the meantime, I will continue to tweak the babies' home until they have a fighting chance.  Or can at least wallop a cat back with a precise blow of the beak.  I realize I will never be a step ahead of nature but will do my best to make their care and comfort my priority. 

 
 
This winter has to be the strangest on record in southern Wisconsin.  Oh sure, El Nino in 1997-1998 was plenty bizarre with some of us raking in February in short sleeves.  Yesterday it rained and was foggy.  Today the day started with strong winds and ice covered roads.  The sun was shining and then suddenly it was overcast and snowing.  The temperatures hover around the 30-degree mark and are predicted to go back up to the 40's later this week. 

40 degrees.  In January.  In WISCONSIN. It's unheard of.

Growing up in Dane County, I remember snow drifts left behind by the snow plows that my brother and I would burrow into and make snow forts.  Granted, we were shorter then, but I remember SNOW, like MOUNDS of it.  Blocking driveways, causing snow days off of school.  Not this dusting stuff that barely covers our unmowed grass.

I also remember traveling to Presque Isle, WI around 1988 for the holidays when the temps were lucky to reach -30 degrees.  We just prayed my boyfriend's car didn't break down and that some poor fool was working the counter at a gas station so we could go inside and warm our hands and feet.

Or the New Year's Eve party where the keg of beer actually froze solid out on the patio.

Honestly, I don't miss the bitter cold.  Some people thrive in it - skiing, snowmobiling - but somewhere along the lines, I missed out on my Scandanavian DNA heartiness and curse the outdoors from November to April.   Freezing my arse off at the local ski hill sounds about as much fun as a colonoscopy without sedation.

As the household pessimist, it is my duty to inform you that this warm spell we're enjoying now will be paid back in spades come Spring.  Remember last year when we got two late frosts in late May/early June?  I sure do.  I was caught unprepared and most of my seedlings succumbed to frost bite.  This year, I am betting that winter will linger farther into the summer and there will be no spring at all.  Take that Farmer's Almanac - let's see what you've got for predictions.  I've got a pile of ice cream buckets ready to protect my baby plants and I'M NOT AFRAID TO USE THEM.


I hope I'm wrong.  I am praying that I'll get to try out my new greenhouse.  That I'll find a grow light on Craigslist and get those little melons and tomatoes and peppers off to a hearty start.  That the chipmunks will come out of hibernation and keep my cats out of my hair.  That my chickens won't be terrified to come out of their coop anymore.   And that I might actually get a sunburn before August.

Maybe Mother Nature is giving us a break just this once   ...   but I won't hold my breath.
 
 
Our Yellow Labrador, Farley, (named after Wisconsin comedian Chris Farley) has reached his 11th anniversary with out family.  Eleven years ago, Bill and I married and bought a home.  Since I already had a four-year-old at that point, it was only fitting to complete our family with a shedding animal. 

Around December 5, 2000, Bill and I made a trip to the Dane County Humane Society.  Just to look, of course.  We had no idea we were about the meet the newest member of our family. 

I remember the little spunky female terrier mix that caught my eye.  She was all white with a huge tan dot on her back.  She was all muscle and very excited, jumping against the cage walls eager to meet us.  With so many other dogs depressed and not making eye contact, I felt she was "the one". 

"One more lap in the other hallway" Bill said.  Thinking I had already found the right dog, I was reluctant but agreed.  We rounded the corner and began the lap in the other dog section.  That is when the Yellow Lab with the big head caught our eye.  He sidled up to the cage door, gazing up at Bill and I.  We were reading his tag that said, "Male,2 yrs old, unneutered, found stray".  We leaned down to introduce ourselves and that is when it happened:  Farley turned on the charm.  He let out a loud "hrrumph" and smooshed his face up against the door to get closer for a head scratch.  He was so thin that his head wasn't proportional.  That was it for me.  I cried out,  "WE CAN'T LEAVE HIM HERE!"  And the rest is history.

Farley's transition into our life was not as easy as falling in love with him.  He had no manners.  That quiet kennel dog dragged the 90-pound staff member down the hallway with her feet barely touching the ground.  He wasn't kennel trained and had extreme separation anxiety.  He battered the kennel door so hard with his head that he bent it beyond repair.  He chewed through bungee cords that held the door shut.  I would come home at lunch to check on him and there he was waiting nervously in the living room with a pile of Christmas decorations and my son's toys covered in drool and piled in effigy for our return. 

At this point we realized "Houdini" (another famous Wisconsinite) would need a much better kennel.

Farley's antics didn't end with the destruction of his kennel.  He was an avid counter surfer and scarfed down entire loaves of fresh bread and a chicken carcass.  He ate a bag of chocolate Valentine candy that later left brightly colored red foil wrappers all over the yard.  An entire jar of peanut butter was worked open with his paws and jaws and he spent several days "sick as a dog" with runs like we've never seen.  A gymnast Barbie was finished off with her leotard left as the only evidence. A block of mozzerella cheese was skillfully hidden in Bill's pillowcase until I changed out the sheets several days later.  Even as an old dog, he hoisted his gimpy ass up onto a chair and devoured my son's entire Easter candy stash. 

Farley is now around thirteen years old.  He is covered in lumps, losing his eye sight and having trouble navigating the many steps on our property.  Somedays he is so stiff he can't get up and we're finding his usual dog food is agreeing with him less and less.  We are dreading the day that we will have no choice but to make him comfortable and say "see ya on the other side, Old Man".  It may be coming sooner than later, but in the meantime, we'll keep scratching his enormous head and thinking how lucky we are to have the world's greatest dog.



 
 
Moving to the country was the best decision we ever made.  MOVING, on the other hand, sucked.  Looking back to the summer of 2010, I can't believe our sanities and marriage remained in tact.   The sale of our house in town went smoothly - TOO smoothly - and that must have set off the course of events that followed. 

Nothing about the purchase of this Iowa County property went right.  We had to get out of our sold home without any flexibility with the timeframe.  We had a realtor showing us properties that were complete disasters.  We found THIS property and then couldn't get in to see it because the renters wouldn't cooperate.  There were miscommunications with the bank about costs, money that had to be borrowed from retirement funds, a moving company that couldn't get our possessions down the driveway in a semi truck we TOLD them wouldn't fit, a seller who wouldn't fix anything, an insurance company that cancelled our home insurance without notification over a wood stove...  

Woo, there goes my blood pressure just typing this!  DEEP. CLEANSING. BREATHS.

But now sitting here at my laptop with cats, dogs and family sitting by a roaring fire, I think about the awesome sunsets on the deck listening to the peeping frogs and watching the lightning bugs.  The discovery of flowers long buried under weeds.  Our Labs cooling off in the trout stream on a hot day.  Bonfires and camp-outs with friends and family.   The constant array of new birds arriving at our feeders and watching the boys try to identify them.  Our vegetable garden going completely insane with growth.   Expanding our collection of rescued animals to include two dogs, four cats, a surly rabbit and three lovely hens who lay the prettiest little eggs  you've ever seen.

Even when the mowers won't start, there's a chicken stranded on the garage roof or we're snowed in until next Thursday, we still pinch each other and say, "Holy crap, this is OURS.  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?"

There is no question that to truly appreciate the good, we must experience the bad. ( We screw up a lot so we are two of the most appreciative people you will ever meet).   And frankly, we're going to have to learn to suck it up, good or bad, because we are NEVER.  MOVING.  AGAIN.
 

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    I'm Rachelle and this is my blog about the experiences of country living with my husband, two boys, two dogs, four cats and seven chickens in southern Wisconsin.

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