The Farm Report: Reclaiming The Chicken Yards

I haven’t put in much farm work this summer. Much of my weekend time has been devoted to putting together all the various and sundry items required by the distributor of the Fat Head Kids film. To name just one example, they need a script that is 1) word-for-word accurate on all dialog, and 2) has the timecode noted next to every change in dialog. For those of you who don’t know, timecode tells us where we’re at in the film in hours, minutes, seconds and frames. A script with timecode is necessary for producing accurate subtitles. So I’m going through each and every bit of dialog and putting timecode in like this:

[00:12:21.09]          MR. SPOT
That’s correct, Captain. We know The Nautilus depends on a super-computer we call The Brain.

I’ve also had insurance forms to fill out, releases to send out and chase down, etc., etc. We’ll just refer to this as the less-than-fun portion of producing a film.

There’s more film work to do, but Chareva and I nonetheless decided to spend much of the weekend laboring outdoors. Ninety degrees and humid both days … heck, what’s not to like?

We were motivated partly by the arrival of the new chickens. After Rocky Raccoon VII and Rocky Racoon VIII relieved her of chicken duties, Chareva elected to take a break. But the break was brief. We now have 25 chicks living in a horse trough in the newest of the chicken yards, the one we built last summer.

The chicks are in that particular coop in that particular yard because it’s the most secure. We didn’t lose any chickens to predators in that yard. The only problem is that over the course of a few months, chickens can peck a mini-jungle down to the dirt. When the yard was bare, Chareva moved the flock to an older yard we thought was secure enough. Rocky VII and Rocky VIII taught us otherwise.

We want both of the older yards to be like the newest one: secure, and with a second level of fencing to keep the nets way above our heads. I don’t like ducking under a net whenever I enter a chicken yard. This is much more pleasant:

On Saturday, we tackled the worst of the two yards. I say worst because we had to remove the old net, which had gotten torn in some places and was brittle enough in other places for Rocky VIII to chew a hole in it. Removing a net may not sound difficult, but trust me, it is when the net has fallen down off the poles and you’ve allowed a jungle to grow up and poke through it.

Working in a mini-jungle is practically begging to become a blood donor for ticks. I’ve never liked ticks, but I only started seeing them as a major hazard when the meat-allergy tick made its way to Tennessee. If I become allergic to red meat, my life will have no meaning.

So I finally followed the advice a reader left in comments long ago and bought some knee-high boots, then tucked my jeans into them. Then I sprayed the boots with a tick repellent. I also sprayed my sleeves, the area around my collar, and all around my waist – pretty much everywhere a tick might make an entrance.

We spent most of Saturday yanking and cutting and cutting and yanking and uttering ancient curses known only to small-time farmers. Little by little, we managed to tear the net away from the thick weeds. Then I ran The Beast through the yard to shred the jungle.

On Sunday, the second yard presented a different problem. We had the good sense to remove the net months ago before the jungle could grow into it. But as you can see, it was quite a jungle:

There’s a gate on the downhill side of the fence, but the jungle was so thick, I couldn’t find the chains holding it in place to remove them and open the damned thing. The door on the uphill side of the fence was clear of the jungle, but too narrow for The Beast.

Well, to heck with this, I thought. I’ll just take down this jungle using the weed-whacker with the blade attachment.

That plan lasted, oh, I don’t know, maybe 10 minutes. Yes, the weed-whacker blade was capable of knocking down the weeds. But that’s all. I was ending up with piles of fallen weeds three feet high. The Beast, by contrast, doesn’t just knock them down. It knocks them down, chews them up, and spits them out.

After uttering some ancient curses known only to small-time farmers, it occurred to me that I could use the weed-whacker to clear a path to the downhill gate. Once I knocked weeds away from the gate, I could finally find the chain and carabiner holding it in place. The carabiner was jammed and didn’t want to move, so Chareva used wire cutters to release it from the fence. The gate still wouldn’t move because the base was buried in soil. So Chareva used to spade to dig it out.

Bingo. We were able to crank and yank the gate open. That’s when we noticed soil had built up enough inside the fence to create quite a drop to the ground outside the fence. The Beast weighs a ton, and lifting it isn’t really an option. Fortunately, we had the good sense to buy a portable ramp a couple of years ago.

So I pushed The Beast up the ramp (which made me realize I wasn’t missing anything by skipping my usual Sunday workout at the gym) and got to work. Dang, that is one fine machine. The weeds were so tall and thick in places, I thought, This is going to be too much. The Beast is going to lock up or something.

Nope. Knocked ’em down, chewed ’em up, spit ’em out. With that work done, I used the weed-whacker to finish up areas too tight for the Beast to enter.

It was two long afternoons of hot, heavy, dirty, sweaty work. And it left me feeling Dog-Tired Satisfied.

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29 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Reclaiming The Chicken Yards

  1. Jeanne

    Building up soil, huh. I’ll bet you don’t have to amend the soil in the garden. It looks incredibly lush.

    Reply
  2. E;enor

    BRAVO! (And great pix!) Thanks, I always love the farm reports — I’m not afraid of hard work, I can read about it for HOURS!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Used to be I didn’t mind reading about other people engaging in hard outdoor work. Now I even enjoy the work itself.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    When we moved to Texas from just south of Portland, Oregon, my niece told me that the smallest animals in Texas were also the scariest. And back then we didn’t even know about the Lone Star tick and it’s ability to make you allergic to red meat. Talk about scary! What if I could never again devour an 8-ounce filet mignon at the local Texas Roadhouse the way I did last night? (The sautéed mushrooms were nice, too.) What if I could never again chow down on a big hamburger patty covered with guacamole? What if I had to subsist on chicken and fish for the rest of my unnatural life? Aughhhhhh — might as well be a vegetarian! Maybe I’d better move back to Oregon!

    Glad to hear that you are back to the life you love. I know you’ve missed that dog-tired satisfied feeling.

    Reply
      1. Dianne

        Tom, when I tried to post the comment above, I put in my name and email address as requested, but got a notice telling me I was posting comments “too fast” and to go back to the previous page. So I did, and clicked “post comment” again, but didn’t re-enter my name and email address. Not sure why your website seems to have dropped my information, which it had for years. Also, I didn’t see the “your comment is awaiting approval” or whatever that message is — just nada. Maybe that’s because I entered my new email address — I’m sending this one with the old email address.

        Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I read that not everyone who’s bitten by the tick gets the allergy. It’s something like 50%. Still not a risk I want to take.

      Reply
      1. Dianne

        Even if only 5% got the meat allergy, I still wouldn’t want to risk picking up a Lone Star tick. You were right to take precautions. But I wonder if its ability to cause the allergy is related to the length of time the little varmint is on you. CDC has this to say about the tick that causes Lyme disease: In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. Most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Yup, I’ve read the time little bugger is attached is a factor. We always check ourselves and each other after working outside.

          Reply
      2. chris c

        Are these things genetically engineered by vegans, or Harvard???

        Some of our UK ticks carry Lyme disease. Unfortunately when holidaymakers are bitten and then go back home many doctors used to be unaware of Lyme but I think the knowledge is finally spreading and it’s getting easier to be diagnosed and treated.

        Looks like you are doing a sterling job of sequestering carbon in all that foliage and producing topsoil too thanks to the chooks.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Now that you mention it, a professor of ethics once proposed we find a way to make people sick if they eat meat. But I suspect this is an accident of Nature.

          Reply
  4. Kathy in OK

    I loved the pics of what used to be the chicken yards. Reminded me of the stories you see about Mother Nature reclaiming abandoned theme parks, etc.

    Also made me envious. Our land in TX was black clay gumbo which I was glad to leave. Here in OK it is sand and rock, mostly rock. I grow stuff in pots. I don’t know if there are enough soil amendments in the state to make this place fit to grow anything, including grass and weeds. We’re working on it though.

    And nothing has changed at the end of comments. Name and email are still blank. I’ll have to post my comment to see if it shows pending moderation.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Despite our never-ending battle with the creeping jungles, I’m glad it’s so green around here.

      The issue with comments is a problem with the latest WordPress, I’m told. My biggest complaint about the software industry. They take stuff that worked just fine and @#$% it up when a new version is released.

      Reply
      1. Dianne

        There are two phrases that immediately arouse suspicion when I see them on a product package; one is “new and improved” and the other is “to open press here.”

        Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      We raised a couple of goats as part of a 4-H project some years back. They are very efficient weed-eaters.

      Reply
  5. Susan Rice

    You can get clothing on Amazon that is supposed to keep ticks away. They are tick repellent shirts, pants, socks, waiters. I got some for my husband for his job where he sometimes has to walk through fields.

    Reply
  6. Marcus

    Hi Tom,

    As Susan mentioned above, Insect and tick repellent clothing is the way to go. There are several brands – you’ll soon find them by asking Dr Google. There are all sorts of apparel from socks, buffs, hats, shirts, pants, coveralls and all sorts of hunting / outdoor gear. They claim to remain effective for 70 wash cycles. They work great for mosquitos in Singapore and (so far) the 70 wash claim seems to be true – just don’t use smelly perfumed laundry soap or fabric conditioner in the laundry as this will mask their effect.

    They can be a little bit more expensive than regular garments, but click around for a while and you can find them on the online overstocker web stores.

    Reply
  7. 3Duranium

    I know how clearing out a jungle feels. Had to do that as well as mow (and subsequently rake grass due to extensive growth due to rain, still have more raking to do…). Also helped catch a kitten hiding in a bean field. Good thing about later today though, is that I can finish my work (weather pending) early enough to see the Cubs play the Tigers!

    Reply

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