Thursday, November 4, 2010

RIP Fuzzy-Bottom Gals

I've been meaning to write about the goings-on my friend Daniel's homestead for a while now, but due to the recent bout of poultry disease that has decimated his chicken population, I haven't had the heart to do it.  Ginger and Umber both died within the past few weeks, thanks to an nasty case of Marek's Disease.  Or possibly Newcastle Disease.  Daniel isn't sure what it is they got or how they got it.  According to the local chicken expert, the chickens could have come to his house with it, they could have gotten it from wild birds, or they could have gotten it from Daniel, who visited the L.A. County Fair not too long before two of the Gals came down with symptoms of the disease.

Amber is now all alone in the chicken coop built for three.  Daniel says he thinks she's lonely, but it's too risky to introduce another chicken just in case Amber is carrying the disease, whatever it is.  I haven't seen her recently, but Daniel says she isn't in the best of shape either.  In honor of our two dearly departed friends, I thought it would be nice to show the Fuzzy-Bottom Gals in their prime and tell a few stories about my family's visits with the Gals.

This post is dedicated to the Fuzzy-Bottom Gals.
Fuzzy-Bottom Gals in their prime, Sept. 19, 2010.
Daniel water-proofs the Gals' home, Sept. 12, 2010.
We went to visit Daniel and the Gals on Sept. 12th to see how Daniel had improved his chicken coop.  He was in the middle of water-proofing the roof in preparation for tiling.  Daniel's yard is always changing and he always has several projects going at once.  At the same time he was upgrading The Gals' chicken coop, he was also starting plants from seed in a wheelbarrow-turned-planter.  I was happy to see that the columbine seeds I'd given him from my grandmother's garden were doing remarkably well.  I'd had no luck growing them at my house, so I was a little surprised to see them sprouting up between the carrot seeds he'd planted a few weeks earlier.  I know my grandmother would be happy that someone appreciated the old-fashioned plant that she loved and that reminds me so much of her because she was the only person I knew who cultivated such an old variety of columbine.
Grandma Lutz's columbine thrives in Daniel's wheelbarrow-planter, Sept. 12, 2010.



It was especially nice to take my father back to Daniel's house a few days later to see my grandmother's columbine growing in Daniel's wheelbarrow.  My father agreed that this was exactly the kind of thing his mother would have done.  Practical, quirky, and pretty in it's own odd way.  Daniel knew my parents were visiting and had called to see if he could request a housecall from my father, the jackleg veterinarian, to clip The Gals wings.  My father is a pediatrician by training, but he spent the first twenty years of his life on the family farm, so when Daniel heard he was visiting from Virginia, he knew that my father could help him with a problem that had plagued him for some time.  

Daniel and Dad clip The Gal's wings, Sept. 19, 2010.
The Gals were growing up and Daniel knew it was a matter of time before they would literally fly the coop.  Daniel's neighborhood is full of wildlife, including hawks, so I was worried for The Gals, and somewhat relieved that Daniel was ready to clip their wings.   Not to mention the fact that I always enjoy watching my father perform any kind of farm task, especially one he hasn't tried in 20 or 30 years.  It's remarkable how muscle memory for much-repeated manual labor survives, even when the skills remain unused for decades.  I got the feeling that my father enjoyed flexing this farm-boy muscles and that he was  pleased at how easily it all came back to him.  

I had the same feeling ten years ago when I watched my father butcher a hog for the first time in twenty-five years.  He was surrounded by a number of people who did it every year in my hometown, but they were all very old or very young and when the time came to take out the hog's intestines, which is the trickiest part of butchering a hog, the job fell to my father.  At the time I remember thinking that he seemed a little nervous about it.  But when it was over he told me he was surprised at how it all came back to him.  Clipping the chickens' wings must have felt much the same to him.  He thought nothing of it.  Such a simple task, hardly worth mentioning.  Except this "simple" task was something that neither Daniel or I had ever seen or had any idea how to perform.  When Daniel asked my father to do it, he'd said, "There's not much to clipping a chicken's wings.  You just whack off the tips.  I can't make it pretty, but I can get it done."   And it was true.  The wings of all three chickens were clipped within a few minutes and the chickens hardly seemed to notice it.  Nothing to it.  If you know what you're doing.
Ginger's wings are clipped, Sept. 19, 2010.