True stories of a small flock of remarkable individuals -- and other critters.

Monday, August 27, 2012


You know how it is. You leave town for a weekend and when you return,
a rogue seed has sprouted to produce a 20-foot gourd vine that engulfs a good chunk of the yard.

But this one looks great, so I tell people I planned it that way.

When a giant Queen Anne's Lace planted itself in my perennial bed a few years ago, I was elated. I've always loved the look of this weed, and it is a favorite food of the yellow swallowtail caterpillar. 
So I encouraged it. But there's a reason they call this plant a weed. The roots poison the soil, killing all the other plants around it.   It took me two years to eradicate it in the garden, but I did scatter its seeds at the edge of the yard where nothing much grows anyway.  

And it looks great in its new weed patch.

For years I've been planting milkweed seeds in my garden with no luck-- 
until this year.
Now I have a patch of fifteen or twenty healthy stalks. Their flowers are surprisingly fragrant, and they lured the monarch butterflies to my garden, which was my secret plan. 

When this one arrived, I watched her.
When  she left, I took a close look.
Her egg would take eight days to hatch. I worried that something that small would have little chance of surviving. After eight days I hunted for the hatchling with no luck.  Weeks passed without a sighting. 

And this week:

Other success stories on the milkweed:
This tussock caterpillar.

Just like some folks who eat their corn-on-the-cob in a spiral pattern instead of in a row, 

these caterpillars have their own styles. 

The tussock caterpillar starts at the stem and chews down one side of the leaf,
while the monarch prefers to take a big chunk out of each tip.

So the milkweed patch is looking rather mangled now, but it sure is supporting a lot of life.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Most of my ladies have been pretty laid back during this hot sultry summer. 

Lucy is satisfied to lie around and nibble the grass.

Daisy, however, is never satisfied. She's always hungry, and always hunting.

But I don't have to worry about her eating my milkweed caterpillars.
The hens turn their beaks up at anything with black and yellow stripes, and they certainly don't want a mouthful of tussock-hair. 
Daisy is hunting for something else.

See it?  
A toad. 

This has been a very toady year in my garden.

I love my toads.

I hate to watch Daisy hunt.
But gardens are all about life and death.

And adventure.

And naps. 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

For most of the summer, my Fern has been feeling a bit off.
She's a two-year-old Ameraucana. 

Back in June, she began to molt. 

Now, the end of August, Fern's still losing and growing feathers. Molts can take a lot out of a bird, and this is the longest molt I've ever seen.

Fern now weighs about as much as a sparrow. Her eyes are dull and she does everything in slow-motion. She spends a lot of time hiding.
She does like to hang out with Lucy who is compassionate and goes nowhere fast.

Pigeon often keeps watch over Fern as well. But Fern is still going downhill.

Chicken-friends and Facebook friends have offered lots of support and advice for my little Ameraucana. Terry Golson of suggested that the molt might be a symptom rather than a cause of whatever ails Fern.  
That's an interesting way of looking at it. 
I'm certainly learning a lot about chickens from friends and research. 

I'll do my best to make Fern well. 
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

But.... gardens are all about life and death. 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .


  1. Thanks for the update. More info than in a book...wait this could be a book! Love Marky!

  2. I always enjoy your posts but now I am worried about Fern. I hope she feels better soon. I know about the cycle of life but knowing doesn't make it easier to see a beloved pet feeling unwell. On the bright side, how wonderful to see the beginnings of the butterflies! : )

  3. I'm sad that Fern is still sad & off colour and sorry I couldn't offer more advice on FB. Our vet has a marvellous, what appears to be a cure-all injection for poultry. I'm not sure what it is called, or even if it's available in the USA but I'm due to pop to the vets this week, I'll see if I can get the name of it for you & Fern xxx

  4. Poor little Fern she do look poorly! Bless her...we know you are doing your very best for her. (((Hugs)))

  5. Uh oh. It sounds like I am going to be sorry about the Queen Anne's lace I am letting grow in my pereenial gardens.

  6. Love your chickens and caterpillars!

  7. Lovely post! Everything from weeds to butterflies and then on to your sweet girls. Hope Fern feels better soon. I hate to see a chicken not doing well.

  8. My queen Anne's lace runs rampant, but has never poisoned/killed any plants that I can tell. Strange, is the plant world.
    More importantly, I hope Fern feels all the love and recovers very very soon.

  9. Milkweed is meant to be sacrificed to the monarchs. And, dear Fern...wishing her well.

  10. I always love your pots. I want a whole slew of your artwork decorating my walls! What a beautiful garden.

  11. But I'm not ready to say goodbye to Fern.... My heart is sad.

  12. Poor little Fern...
    I had a hen much like her... I gave her some poultry electrolyte and she perked up. Maybe she needs a homemade elixir! :)

  13. I am sorry Fern is not feeling better. I was really hoping for good news.

  14. Poor Fern. I'm sorry she's not doing well. I think Terry is onto something about her molt being symptom to something else. Two of my girls started molting in January, and are just now growing new feathers!!!!

  15. This is only my second summer having chickens and I too had an ill hen recently. She suddenly was all sleepy all day, walking very slowly. On the third day I noticed that one eye wouldn't open even if the other one was. She'd probably been hiding it. The other chickens hung around her, almost like they were protecting her. It was endearing. The web advised taking her from her friends but that didn't seem the right thing in this case and no one else was showing any symptoms. I 'searched' for eye problems and apparently left eyes are mostly the problem. Isn't that odd? My vet didn't have anything to give her without a visit. Another vet, the same thing, so I took a chance and used the pink eye medication for cows and horses that my farmer friend who also has chickens, suggested. It's purple and stains like an SOB. It penetrates like penetrating oil and I could tell she could feel it, though she didn't struggle. Next day, eye was open though the iris wasn't centred in the opening. I didn't think she could see well, if at all, but it looked clear and she seemed a bit perkier. I also got some vitamin supplement powder (for chickens) because, though she'd been eating a tiny bit, she'd lost weight. Every day she had improved energy and eyesight too. It took almost 2 weeks but she seems fully recovered. I reapplied the eye medication a couple of days after the first application because I thought I noticed a bit of a regression. Anyhow, (getting to the point finally), she's in a major molt now, a couple of more weeks later. Holy cow! Every day there are fewer feathers. No one else is loosing more than a few. Her bum is exposed and today I can see skin at the top of her wings. I wonder how far this is going to go. She's really behaving healthy though, chasing others from food she wants, running around. Chickens are amazing. Just thought I'd share my chicken health story.

  16. Good luck with Fern! Btw, the vitamin powder is supposed to go in a large waterer but I just sprinkled maybe an eighth of a teaspoon on their afternoon snack that I added water to. It makes the water a bit yellow and they seem to like it. This way, I know, they're all getting the vitamins actually.

    Also, how's the new doggie?

  17. A full summer.
    And a nice treat, catching up with life and everything where you are. Sending healthy wishes for Fern.

  18. Love that first photo. The composition is just fantastic.

  19. Cute blog! Great photo's! Your dog,Marky, looks like my dog, Maggie! By the way, I LOVE your chickens!

  20. Lauren...

    I pulled up some milkweed plants several years ago and this year they took off. Thanks for all the GREAT photos.

  21. Hello, I'm new to your blog and I'm loving your writing style! Very nice post. The rogue gourd vine looks like you planned it there :) Glad to hear your chickens aren't interested in the caterpillars so that you'll get to watch as they turn into beautiful butterflies! As for Fern, I'm sorry to hear she isn't doing well. The molting could certainly be a sign of an underlying illness. It's not all that uncommon for chickens to molt when they're not feeling well. I hope she gets better soon!

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