Monarchs, Chickens, and Roses

The skies are blue, the mornings are crisp if not downright almost cold, and the flowers are going absolutely gangbusters- I guess now that its November we can consider Fall actually here in central Texas, maybe.

The monarchs have been phenomenal this year, we’ve seen more than in any other year previously. Either the population is on an upswing, the prevailing winds have them moving through our town as opposed to east or west of us, or maybe it’s the insane numbers of self seeded milkweed we have in the backyard this year. I am assuming, as in most things, that it’s some combination, but for sure the milkweed doesn’t hurt.

I understand why they were my Meemaw’s favorite now, I really do

Monarchs have such a different flight pattern to other butterflies- they have this glide that is very unique to them; very Tokyo Drift in the sky with those gliding tight turns. Swallowtails have a graceful rhythm, and skippers have their frenzied wing beats and methed up chaotic energy, but the monarchs really do own the sky when they’re around. And big! Boy are those big butterflies!

I find it extremely interesting that we have monarchs in early November here in central Texas because historically they’re moving through Michoacán on November 1st and so have been associated with Día de los Muertos there. (To the Purépecha and Mazahua people in the region monarchs are said to be the souls of the returning spirits). Now Michoacán is 1,000 miles away from us, so that means the ones I’m seeing here now are 10-20 days away and will get to Michoacán at the end of November instead of at the beginning. Is this how the population protects itself- stragglers on either end of the main migration? Is climate change a factor here? Are these just the “sorry I was washing my hair and so am late to the party” butterflies? Any which way of it, I am enjoying them.

I put chickens next on that title so lets now move on to talk chickens. Let me be very clear here- chickens are so much more a walking pantry and so much less what I would consider “pets,” so no one think I’m a monster for trading them out at the feed store this week. That’s right, the Buff Orpington chickens, Dot (the jerk), Muffin (the biggest chicken ever), and Cheerio (she of the broken leg that we nursed her {grossly} back from) are off to other pastures. In their place we got 4 production red pullets. Their names are Cookie (the 5 year old’s), Loopdie Lou (the 12 year old’s), Rusty (the 15 year old’s), and Iris (mine). That’s right, I finally get a chicken again and this one for sure isn’t a rooster.

Why did I trade out the chickens? Well let me tell you!

Our old ones were GIANT- I can’t convey how incredibly big they were; they were at least twice the size of smaller chickens, like leghorns. Buff Orpingtons are considered a dual breed- good for meat production and/or egg production. How that played out in real life was like the other two-function product we’re all familiar with: the futon. It’s a bed! It’s a couch! It does both of those badly! So our old chickens were total futons. Big enough to wreak havoc in the garden and probably be fairly meaty were we to eat them, but that meant they also require an exorbitant amount of food. And while they were still laying eggs, they also were not producing a significant amount anymore, and were eating the ones they did lay like goddamn Saturn trying to prevent being overthrown by Zeus. I spent so much time trying to get to the bottom of that (more calcium! More time free ranging!) and finally just thew up my hands and went: sometimes chickens are just awful! So anyway, off to the buy-back program at the feed store they went, for someone to buy as breeders (GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, SUCKERS!) and then bought four production reds pullets (16 week old chickens about to start laying eggs). The children all agreed to this plan as long as I gave them the $5 each chicken brought in from the buy-back program.

It did disturb the children a bit that we couldn’t individually pick out our new chickens; the guys at the feed store randomly grabbed them from the big cage like feeder goldfish outta a tank and shoved them in a cardboard box and so we didn’t get a good look at them until we got home. (Threats of death were given on the car ride home to “OH MY GOD DO NOT OPEN THAT BOX WHILE I’M DRIVING SO HELP ME!!!”) When we did open the box we found two had their beaks trimmed (supposedly prevents pecking) and mine has no tailfeathers (from being pecked). They are freaked out to walk on the deck, don’t perch on patio chair arms very well, and LOVE the grass- so I think they were entirely cage raised to this point. So they’ll be grateful to this new backyard chicken life is what I’m hearing!

I promised the children we can trade them out again in the spring (is like a car lease I guess) and they can raise more interesting chicks in whatever breed they like, should they so choose to do so in April. Until then Production Reds reliably lays through the winter, are half the size of the previous chickens, and lay 300 eggs a year each. That’ll do, chicken, that’ll do.

That’s Loopdy Lou in the back and Iris in the front. Yup, those are chickens

Cookie. Also a chicken.

They’re out free ranging right now and hopefully know to get under cover due to the hawk skulking about but I kinda doubt it. You’d think I’d be more concerned about this but nah. If there is one thing I’ve learned about chickens it’s that they’re easily replaceable.

Next up: Roses.

Belinda’s Dream: That bush is a good 6′ across.

We’ve had quite a wet summer and fall and boy howdy is that paying off with some really spectacular roses late in the year. Also, don’t mind the mess under that rose- we’re pulling out the dry creek in this section and so it will be replanted and mulched soon. We are enjoying the season of more pink, blush, purple, and red roses than we know what to do with. It is (she says humbly) a bit of a goddamn dream back there right now.

Happy November to ya!

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