Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | October 12, 2011 | 4 Comments

A rainy day is usually an excellent reason to avoid farm chores.  But since my other choice was to clean the red mold growing in the bathroom, I rushed outside to the barn to find something to do.  Luckily, I didn’t have to look very hard to find a list of things to do in the barn.  As a matter of fact, I usually avoid barn To Do lists because their length is enough to drive you back in the house to the bathroom.  Instead, I squint my eyes so that the minor problems are blurry enough to ignore and only the most glaring damage is visible.  This is called “visualization” and famous athletes use it enhance their sports performance.  I think.  Either that or Oprah created the term in order to live her Best Life.  Since her life probably doesn’t include cleaning red mold out of bathrooms, it must be working for her.


I decided to tackle the Feed Trough Situation.  In an alarming display of betrayal and poor hygiene, the chickens have taken to roosting on the cattle panel in the feed room.  The cattle panel to which the goats’ feed troughs are attached.  Which results in this:

Gag!  Poop all over, in, on, and, under the feed trough.  It’s like a Gordon Ramsay Kitchen Nightmare.  You know, where he goes into the food storage room of a restaurant and finds slimy vegetables, sprouted potatoes, and mayo kept at a temp over 42 degrees, and all of America is so appalled that someone has been serving food under those conditions.  C’mon, restaurateur!  If we wanted to eat that, we could have it at home for free!  Although, I do believe my mayo is at the right temperature.  But it does have bread crumbs (and maybe a little bit of tuna) in it.


A dirty feed trough makes for goats who have to eat their feed off of the ground.  Which is a problem because…well,…um…actually, I don’t know why it’s a problem since they’ve been doing it for a couple weeks now and seem just fine.  The hard packed floor of the feed room is unlikely to contain worms, the goats get most of the grain up and the chickens get the crumbs so there’s no food wastage or spoilage, and spreading a few piles around the feed room keeps the pushing and fighting to a minimum.  Maybe it hurts their necks.  Also, since Tractor Supply tricked me into buying those feed troughs I should try and get my money’s worth.   And, of course, it makes me want to puke when I accidentally see that mess out of the corner of my eye while I’m milking.  That’s called “peripherilization.”  It’s the complex ability to keep one’s attention focused on an immediate task while simultaneously tracking a problematic issue with one’s side vision.  Examples include children-fighting-in-the-back-seat-of-the-car-but-no-one-crying-yet and the-shocking-size-of-my-thighs-when-I-accidentally-see-them-reflected-in-a-store-window.  Peripherilization can be coupled with “denialization“–which is the nonsensical hope that the problem will go away on it’s own.  But it is usually followed by “desperatemeasurilization“– which is when one can’t take it anymore and is forced to do something drastic like pull the car over or start the cabbage soup diet.


Regardless, the Feed Trough Situation was obviously much more serious than the red mold in the bathroom.  I began with a thorough survey of the situation.  Upon close examination, I decided this single roosting bar was not fit for the 30 hens trying to roost on it.

Well, duh, you’re thinking.  But it was never really meant for that many hens.  The chickens have a full size coop with four 8′ roosting bars to accommodate everyone.  I only put up this roosting bar for the poor, picked on, less dominant girls that always ended up huddled on the barn floor because they weren’t allowed in the coop.  However, some clique coop d’etat (Get it? Coop d’etat?? Sometimes I kill myself!) occurred last spring and the Queen Bees ousted the Wannabees from the barn and took over the single roost.  That seemed like an odd victory to me, but knowing the hens, it undoubtedly had something to do with the rooster.  And no girl is at her best when under the sway of the cock rooster.


So I decided I would clean the feed troughs, provide expanded roosting areas for the chickens in more appropriate areas, and make it impossible for them to roost on the cattle panels anymore.  Since I am not a man, this did not involve a trip to Lowe’s to spend $100, sawhorses, and 1,500 tools to be hauled out of the shed.  I just went out and visualized what the Best Life for chickens would look like.  Ha ha, just kidding.  I actually looked around the barn and tried to figure out what I could use to fix the situation that was free, laying around the barn, and could be attached with the only tools I generally use for barn problems—scissors and baling twine.  If that seems insufficient to you, then you obviously don’t have barn (and you’re probably male).  Barns breed cast off supplies in the same manner that closets breed hangers.  Leftover rolls of fencing and random lengths of 2X4’s gather in corners.  Rusty hinges and broken gate latches pile on top of the nest boxes.  And this case, a handy, dandy section of cattle panel leaned against the back wall.

I remembered this section of cattle panel very well.  I always use cattle panels to encircle my round bales of hay.  It keeps the animals from pulling off long strips of hay and wasting it.  It also keeps the goats from climbing on top and defecating on the hay and then refusing to eat it because it’s nasty.  But when our pony first encountered this odd means of feeding hay, she reached through the smaller holes in the panel and rubbed her face on the wire.  After doing this for a while, she developed a few bare patches on her muzzle.  On the day I noticed this phenomenon, I must have had 4 loads of laundry to fold because I didn’t just ignore it and figure that when she got uncomfortable enough she’d switch to pulling hay through the larger holes.  Instead, in a tizzy of animal welfare concern,  I cut apart the panels surrounding the hay roll, got out the bolt cutters, used them to enlarge some of the holes, carefully wrapped the sharp ends of the wire with electrical tape, and then reattached the panels around the hay roll.

Which resulted in her face healing up nicely.  It also resulted in the pony pulling huge swathes of hay out of the hole, and trampling them into inedible piles on the barn floor.  The goats climbed through the hole and resumed defecating on the top of the roll.  Even the dastardly chickens, assuming the larger openings were meant as a doorway for them (the chickens think everything is meant for them) began climbing in and laying eggs in the hay roll.  So I promptly removed the panels with enlarged holes and the pony learned, in a couple weeks, not to try and reach through the small holes.  I have heard physicists say that energy is never lost.  But if that’s true, where did all the energy I uselessly expended on that little project go to?  Can I have it back?


For today’s energy experiment, I stood the cattle panel straight up so that it reached the ceiling of the barn.  I placed it parallel to a section of chicken wire that separates the feeding room from the rest of the barn.  I then began to gather all the items I could use as roost bars to be supported by the squares of cattle panel on one side and the squares of chicken wire on the other.  The back of the kidding barn held a lovely supply of old tool handles from worn out brooms and broken garden tools.  When I ran out of those, I raided the kids’ teepee in the woods.  At first I felt a little bad about that.  After all, they spent several days constructing that thing over the spring and summer.

Then I figured it made a good lesson in perseverance.  How many times do you think the Cherokee Indians went to hunt and gather,  leaving their teepees safe and sound, and returned to find the Creek Indians had stolen some of their best poles?  You know, a kind of Indian practical joke.  Or test of character.  Or…something.  Probably happened all the time.  Besides, the kids will never notice if they’re a few poles short. But just in case they did, I sprinkled in a few small branches and leaves over the livestock guardian dog’s coat.  That guy’ll steal anything, chew it, and then bury it in the fill dirt behind the dam.  And that, my friends, is a good lesson in cover your a..ctions.

Of course, he’s not the only animal known for hijinks around here.  By the time, I returned with the poles to my work-in-progress, my scissors were missing.  I knew I had left them sitting squarely on the stump in the corner of the barn.  And they weren’t on the ground next to the stump where they might have fallen on accident.  Nope.  Eventually after much searching and a lot of fruitless questioning of the menagerie, I spotted the blue handle of the scissors out of the corner of my eye.  Thank goodness for my peripherilization skills.  See it?

Yep.  There’s the scissors.  Inside the cattle panels.  Inside the cattle panels and deeply imbedded in the hay.

Julia and Josie had no comment on this matter.

I thought I heard Carmen mutter something about a test of character.

But I didn’t have too much time to ponder over it, because I had to chase the chickens off the roosts I already made.  Pooping in the feed trough is one thing.  Pooping on my head while I’m working is another thing entirely.

In no time at all, the new roosts were installed.

The food trough was clean.

Plus, the goats got an old sheet hanging over the cattle panel where the troughs were attached.

Which is a not a statement in shabby chic decorating.  Sheets are wonderful in keeping chickens from roosting on the edges of things.  Most of them won’t fly into the sheet in order to get up on the fencing.  The ones brave enough to do that aren’t comfortable with the sheet touching their face or their bottom, so they eventually hop down.  I don’t plan on keeping it there forever.  But it should work to redirect them to the new roosts.

While I was on a roll, I hung a few roosts in the corner of the back kidding pen.  The guineas already sit on the edges of the pallets at night but the roosts are really better for their feet.

To top things off, I tracked down this chick peeping hysterically in the pasture pen.  He must have gotten separated from his mother (who had no business hatching chicks in September anyway) and couldn’t find his way back to the barn.

After all that was done, it was time to head in to meet the school bus.  By which I mean have a cup of coffee and read a bit of my latest Mother Earth magazine before the kids arrive at the door.  I don’t actually meet the school bus.  Last time I checked my kids had legs and knew how to get from the bottom of the driveway to the door without getting lost.  Besides, I got the roosts hung, the troughs cleaned, and the sheet up.  That’s what I consider a good way to avoid cleaning the bathroom day’s work.


4 Responses to “Renovations.”

  1. Jill
    October 13th, 2011 @ 8:00 am

    You’re a hoot! Yes, chickens DO think everything is for them, which is why we no longer have chickens… 🙂 I’m so glad your kids have legs and don’t get lost in the driveway; that would be awful!! As for pilfering the teepee, I now have some insight into how all our forts disappeared when we were kids (and I don’t mean baby goats!)… hmmm, I’m sure Dad would not admit to filling in our hole to China either…

  2. Annabelle
    October 13th, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    I’m jealous of the time you got to spend playing/working! I can’t wait for my littles to go to school!

  3. Kim Irene
    October 14th, 2011 @ 7:41 am

    You make my day when you post….I love your sense of humor–some people are just naturally funny–and that’s my favorite kind.

  4. Alex
    November 4th, 2011 @ 12:04 am

    I need to get renovating as well, but it just isn’t happening! I guess I am also just waiting for a rainy day. Too bad it never rains in my part of the world.

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