A Sign of the Times – Chick Days

A sign of the times...Chick Days.

A sign of the times…Chick Days.

This week a colleague shared here joy in stopping by the local post office and hearing boxes of baby chicks peeping away.   She shared how much hope it gave her that indeed spring was coming.     It made me wish they were on their way to me.   Instead I will be picking this year’s chicks up at the local ranch supply.

Chick days are just starting in Montana.   For those of unfamiliar with Chick Days, it is when baby chicks are shipped in mass to farm and ranch supply stores for purchase by the locals that don’t order their own from hatcheries.       The weather here is just beginning to be warm enough for the little critters to make their way to the great white North.

Planning for the baby chicks is definitely a process that has to take place before you bring home your little ones.    You need to make sure that your equipment is all in good working order to keep those babies draft free and warm.   Here is my check list.   It is good for seasoned chicken wranglers and first time chick raising alike.

  • Food and Water   I need to pull down all the little-size feeders and water fountains for the bundles of fluff.   The little critters can actually drown in adult sized equipment.   So you need chick sized equipment that they will outgrown in a month or so.   Be prepared if you are new to the chick  raising you will need both sizes.
  • Heat I always have two heat lamps, but they need to be plugged in and the bulbs need to be tested.   I always keep a spare bulb in the box on the shelf in the chicken coop.  The first week your chicks need to have an ambient room temperature of 90-95 degrees.   You lower it approximately 5 degrees a week.   I have never seen a big jump in my electric bill from baby chicks, but until they are feathered they really can not keep warm, the light does it all.
  • Housing/Brooder Your brooder needs to be set up before you bring your peeps home.   It should be a warm draft-free environment.    I use a dog crate those first few weeks, with cardboard zip stripped onto the sides to prevent drafts     I cover the bottom with paper towels the first few days and then move over to shavings.  People have everything from fancy special made brooders  to a washtub in the basement with heat lamps on the top.
  • Growth As your chicks grow you will need to expand the size of their living quarters.    Each of us does it in our own way.   My chicks move from the house to a shelter separate corner of the coop no later than  the third or fourth week.    It requires all sorts of modifications to the coop to get the heat lamps set up, protection from the big girls, ensuring they are draft free and more.  It sounds worse than it is because after years of doing this I know how to make it happen.   Some of the hooks that are set up to support this each spring are already there waiting for this year’s flock.

First and foremost is planning is the key to success in.  Chick are not and should not be an impulse “oh so cute” purchase.  If this is your first time there is a host of purchases that needs to be done before you get your chicks.   If you are like me and a seasoned chicken wrangler then this process is another of the rights of passage into  spring you do each year.


“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs

Reminder of What Is Important

I have been offline for the most part recently.   I traveled away from home in January for work and then I broke a shoulder.   I had lots of personal things going on and really did not feel sharing.  When I blog, I want it to be something more than woe is me.   I want each post to give at least one person who reads it a  one moment of pause, reflection, inspiration, a smile, a laugh, jog a memory, or shed a tear.    I never want you to feel the time you spent on my post was a complete waste your time.

I was laid up with the fracture such that  typing was slow and cumbersome.    I was ready  a few days into the discovery of my broke shoulder to have my life back.      I did online research and talked with my orthopedic surgeon about my type of break.   Together with the doctor, I  examined two options and I elected the most restrictive option initially, but with the shortest period of restrictions and most complete physical recovery.      I will freely admit that it has been rotten being so restricted.    I have been on restricted movement for four weeks and have two more to go until the intense restrictions are lifted.  Or at least that is the plan and so far things look to be running on schedule.

During the time I have been laid up,  we have had four contemporary  colleagues and friends who have passed away.  It has caused a lot of reflection here.    RangerSir and I have started to reexamined our end of life directives.   We are making updates and making sure everyone is on the same page regarding our wishes.  We did them when we moved to Montana and not have reexamined them in too long.    Not only have we started looking again at our end of life plans, but we also looked again at how we were spending our current lives.   We left the high stress, competitive lifestyle of Fortune 500 companies behind for a reason.   We are again talking about those reasons.  We were raised with the good Midwestern work ethic, and Lutheran guilt.   It makes us great hard-working employees, and we easily find self-induced guilt to make us work longer and longer hours.   We have been reminded time is short.   We need to do our best job; give 110% and the go home and embrace the life we want to live.    Here is to working towards that goal

Keep It Close to Home

Recently a friend wrote about charitable giving .   It is something that thousands of us do each day, all the while hoping that our gift makes the kind of difference we hope for.   There are so many places to give how do we pick?

Working for a nonprofit I could rattle on about things to look for and how to pick your charity.   I will save that for another day and another writing.    Instead I suggest that you think about the charities that have touched you, your family,  friends and co-workers.   It won’t take long and you will soon have a long list that has made a difference for you.   When you have your list, always look at the lowest local level to give.   Odds are the local chapter was the one that made a difference to those you know.    Here are some of my favorite charities and why.

Beaverhead County Search and Rescue   They were there the night I suffered from hypothermia.   Volunteers took time off of their regular day jobs and came out and brought me back out to civilization after a night out in the winter elements.    We make a donation to them each February as a reminder of how many folks give of themselves but we never know about them until we need them.  There is likely a volunteer group in your area who is unsung and needs your financial help.

Heart of the Valley Shelter   We give in June when shelters always seem to be exploding at the seams with puppies and kittens.   We always give to the last shelter we adopted a pet from.  It means we have given to different shelters over the years.     Local shelters are on the ground and their funds are desperately needed.   When you adopt now days your pet has already been treated for health and spay or neutered.    Giving to a local shelter can make a difference in local pet overpopulation.

Local Food Bank  I know people who are living on the food edge.   My local county statistics report that nearly a quarter of the children are food insecure, aka hungry, locally.   The food you give to a national organization may never get close to your community.    I sign up for monthly giving equally the cost of two coffee drinks.   I don’t miss it and I am sure that they can do more with the cash than I could have ever done with it.   Hunger is a hidden problem, you don’t know what is friends cupboards at home.

Southwest Montana Mammography Program  This is a new one for me. I had always given to various breast cancer causes, but never felt very connected.   I felt compelled as a woman that every October I should write a check to some pink ribbon charity.   This year I had a friend who had a breast biopsy, who was under-insured.  When she got the bill this charity she was flabbergasted at the expense, and questioned the costs and how she would pay this.    This charity stepped up and took care of her bill, and encouraged her to get the second suggested biopsy.   Susan Koman has given grants to the local charity in the past.    Now I will be giving in the future, this charity is quietly make a difference to women in my community.  I never thought about local women who were skipping mammograms because of expenses.   I am sure there are thousands of them.

Memorial Rifle Squad at Fort Snelling National Cemetery  This was a local volunteer group who for the last 34 years has provided veterans with a military honors ceremonial burial with a  rile shots, flag folding and taps.    They have done this free of charge, never missing a funeral no matter the weather.   We first knew of it why my father-in-law was buried.   Coming from a military family we know how important this is to military families.   Now with more vets than ever this organization can use help to cover all the expenses they incur.

Local Library With the changing world it seems like your local library may be a dinosaur.   Libraries now days are more than just books.   The provide computers for use to people who have none, books both with pages and electronic for your e-reader, hot spots for free internet access and classes.    Today people have to apply for jobs online and without the library they are left out.   Kids who have not computer at home depend on it for school work, applying to college and getting ready to be productive adults.  They host free tax seminars, book clubs and so much more.   Libraries provide so much to our communities.

Local Hospice Hospice has been there for our family in our hometowns as our parents entered their last days.    They were there providing us with support  we did not know we needed.    We have since moved away, and now give to the local hospice who has been there for our friends and someday may be there for us as well.

I hope that this list has made you think about how you can make a difference with your giving.   I really think that giving at the local level can make a bigger difference because more of your dollar ends up making a difference.   Odds are your gift will probably impact a someone you know.

A Good Winter

spring-eggThis has been an exceptional winter for my laying hens.   This is the first time we have not had to buy a single store bought egg all winter since we have had been in the chicken business.    Now we have gone from one egg every other day or so to a two egg day.  It may be some of the coldest weather of the year, but two eggs in a single day is a sign that we are on our way to spring.

Green Lawn Fantasy

When the days of winter start to  get noticeably longer it  is the time my deep Midwest rural agriculture roots show up in full force.   This is in spite of the fact spring is a long ways away for me since my average last frost is the end of June here in Montana.  It is too early to take action but it isn’t too early to plan, and even fantasize a little bit.

RangerSir wants to try a lawn.    Now I am not sure what possesses him.   We are not in Iowa, and the very best green lawn in Montana is nothing like an Midwest lawn.     I have asked him more than once what drugs gave him this fantasy.   There is not a place that you drive by in our rural area that has a natural green lawn.  Only those with irrigation set ups have green lawns the rest of us have whatever nature deals out.  There are so many reasons for this.

First, we don’t have soil, our land is  crushed granite, that looks like coarse sand.   Zero organic material here.   We have put soil amendments in small plots and it is quickly absorbed/moved/incorporated and soon it is back to crush granite.     When you have soil like this it does not support lawn grass.

Second, we are in an area of Montana called a high semi-arid cool desert.   It means we get less than 12 inches of moisture and most years we don’t get that much. This is not prime grass growing conditions:no moisture and what comes runs right through it in seconds.    Grass, lawn grass likes moisture.  Meaning here we would need to water a lawn to get a green one, something I see as a waste of a precious resources.

Other factors to consider is the wind blows here relentlessly, so keeping things moist long enough to sprout is hard.   The average last day of frost here is the last week of  June, so by the time it is warm enough to sprout grass, any rains we may have had are long gone.  Finally we will need to fence out our free-range chickens, because if they see a seed, they will eat it.

I plan to work with the man of the house to start a pilot project and see if we can get some kind of lawn going.      At a recent charity fundraiser I bought a basket with a bag of  local blend of grass seed for lawns  developed by a local ranch, feed and supply.    Here is to hoping that this blend will allow some sort of lawn without the need for too much water.  As I write this I have come to realize if this comes to pass it will be because RangerSir wants this bad enough to put forth the effort to make it happen.   I have learned to love the maintenance free lawn I have right now….sparsely covered with bunch grass and lots of bare soil.  Maybe my Midwest roots aren’t so deep after all.