Hello, Goodbye

Today was a hard day. Turkey, the chicken we were most fearful was a rooster, turned out to definitely be a rooster, and was picked up today to go back to the farm. Now, before you ask, no, that’s not a euphemism for Turkey being sent to chicken heaven. He actually gets to go back to the farm he came from and live out his entire life with the laying hens. There’s also the possibility that someone looking for a rooster may choose him for their flock.

While all of these things are reassuring, they don’t help ease the pain of saying goodbye to our little feathered friend with his crooked toes. I remember when I was giving him “chicken physical therapy” because he was having trouble walking. He was almost named “Awkward” because of his lack of coordination.

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My crooked toed Turkey Vulture ❤

Saturday morning, as I made my way downstairs, I heard a clear and definite “cock-a-doodle-doo!”. I hurried in horror to the cage and nervously stared at the chicks, waiting to see who would give themselves away as a rooster when Turkey tilted back his head and let out another roaring crow. Then again. And again.

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I had been denying for weeks that Turkey was in fact a rooster, but he decided to go ahead and prove me wrong. That Monday I arranged with the farm to have him picked up and prepared to say goodbye.

Additionally, my fears about some of the other shes actually being hes, have not been eased and have only grown over the last weeks. Though George looks nice and big and puffy and chicken shaped, his personality is still full of rooster characteristics and his comb and wattles are pretty pink. Chipmunk is looking more male as well as time progresses. His comb seems to grow daily and is also pretty pink in color.

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Boys or Girls, how do you decide?

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Time will only tell for these two, but I’m really crossing my fingers for females.

Now, onto our new arrivals.

At noon today, the doorbell rang, and waiting on the other side was a friendly looking guy in a bleach stained green shirt, displaying the logo of Dare 2 Dream farms. In each arm, he was holding a small pullet like two little footballs. One was an Easter Egger (same as Turkey) and the other a Rhode Island Red. I guided him inside and toward the cage which would be their new home. The little chickens were clearly stressed and tired and possibly a bit scared. They went into chicken shut down mode and simply sat on the floor of the cage.

The two of us looked at the cage, discussing who could be male and who could be female and he agreed that Chipmunk and George looked fairly male, but that it was a bit too early to tell at this point.

Then, it was time to hand over Turkey and say goodbye. I picked him up and he calmly sat on my arm and in my lap and let me pet him. Reluctantly, I passed him over to the nice Dare 2 Dreams man. Turkey didn’t even put up a fight.

Goodbyes are soul crushing when its to a human, but when you’re handing over your feathered child, it somehow strikes a different chord. I did my best not to cry, and told myself it was for the best.

Since then, the other four chickens have been horribly cruel in establishing their pecking order with the new arrivals. They peck at the top of their heads, causing them to scream and pluck out feathers where they can. I’ve seen my beloved babies turn into monsters. But I keep telling myself it’s part of their complex social structure and they aren’t being mean, as humans understand it, but establishing social order in the manner which chickens simply do.

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Our two new arrivals, Rhode Island Red (left) and Easter Egger (right)

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Waffle knows what’s up

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I know that as time presses on, these new initiates will fit in just fine. My hardest work will be to put in the same love and care into these two new babies and try to acclimate them to human touch so that they have the same easy going nature as even our biggest and rowdiest boy, Turkey.

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Love you, little bub

Growth and Rooster Denial

Over the last few weeks, the chicks have continued to grow and their personalities have begun to wake up and show their faces. It’s safe to say that the whole family is in love with them. I never understood why people talked to their dogs, but now I find myself doing it to the chickens. I love the little puffballs and they seem to love…the way I give them food. I think they like to be held. Sometimes they don’t want to get off my hand when I try to let them down; their little dinosaur claws gripping onto my fingers.

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Funny little weirdo poofs

I’ve decided that chickens ARE intelligent creatures, despite what everyone says. I mean, I wouldn’t compare them to a dog or a dolphin, but they have intelligence and distinct personalities. They are constantly figuring how to escape out of their little fenced off area of the living room. They are quick to snatch up any bugs that happen to wander into their brooder. They have a clearly established pecking order. They change their peeps depending on what’s happening or what they want. You just know it’s not all hot air floating around in those little heads.

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George and Waffle playing outside for the first time. Apparently leaves are fun.

Oh, and all but one have names now. We’ve got Chipmunk, Turkey, George, and Waffle. Their names have been slowly coming as certain appearances or personality traits appear. Only our white chick is without a name so far. My mom keeps calling her “Stupid” to my great aggravation. She’s not stupid, she’s just docile and sweet. Maybe I’ll call her Hedwig.

Now to the hard part. We may just be the unluckiest family to have ever gotten backyard chickens, becauseI can only say with confidence that ONE out of FIVE of these chicks are female. Yeah. That means that I’ve potentially got four cocky roosters, that I’ve fallen madly in love with, on my hands. And guess what, all four with names, are the ones having their gender questioned. Trying not to read too much into what that says about the female gender in general.

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80% male? Hopefully not.

In the recent weeks, they’ve become old enough for several distinguishing male characteristics to show up.

  1. Aggression: Chickens have a pecking order, but it’s different when one of them is constantly picking fights, kicking, raising his hackles, and just being a general chicken jerk.
  2. Comb size and redness: According to what I’ve read online, the comb is a big indicator of a potential rooster. The size is one, but more importantly, is the redness. Although all adult chickens will end up with redness in their combs, usually only the male chicks will have red showing at just 4-6 weeks of age. Females, on the other hand, will still have a comb, but it will remain light pink or yellow.
  3. Feathering: Long pointed tail feathers, straight/pointy hackle (neck) feathers, a thin strip of feathering down the back, pointed feathers at the base of the back…these are all male characteristics.
  4. Leg size: As expected, males will tend to have thicker, stockier legs than females. In comparison, their legs will be delicate and thin.

Now, in the battle to figure out who’s a boy and who’s a girl, some contenders have strongly male characteristics, while others are so ambiguous that I just can’t tell. Maybe you all could help me out a bit! So here they are in order of male surety:

First up: Turkey, 90% sure

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Turkey, sadly, is most likely a boy. He’s the HBIC or, more appropriately, the HCIC. He’s the top of the pecking order and is constantly stating his dominance; sometimes for no reason at all. When he does so, he raises his hackles, poofs himself up, jumps, and sometimes kicks until the chicken he’s addressing runs away or dips their head in shame. He’s also got pointy tail feathers, stocky legs, a bright pink (though small) comb, and a single poorly developed ridge of feathers down his back. Lastly, Turkey had a few horribly loud screaming sounds. Not a “cockadoodle-doo” but a literal scream like a pterydactyl.

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Second: Chipmunk, 60%

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You’re not supposed to have favorites, but I’ve always had a sweet spot for little chipmunk. The smallest, handpicked, the first I fell in love with. He/she will develop into something beautiful and interesting I’m sure as he/she’s crossed as an Easter Egger and a Phoenix. It would be that the only two Easter Eggers in my flock would turn out to potentially be male. That leaves no green egg laying chickens. Chipmunk is a suspected rooster due to the size and redness of the comb as well as the appearance of some hackle feathers. They become raised occasionally when threatened by Turkey. His back and tail feathers make me questions if he’s actually a she though. It’s not a clearly defined single ridge, but more spread out like a female’s. The tail feathers are a bit long, but his Phoenix side has distinctly long tail feathers, even in females, so there’s that. His/her feet are also not as large and stocky as, say, Turkey’s.

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Chipmunk tolerating my handling.

Third: George, 50%

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We thought we had named George ironically, but maybe it was on point. George has always been the interesting one: most curious (that’s why he’s named George), standing tall and straight, first to run up when you have food, loudest chirper, etc. George has the largest comb of anyone, but it’s not very dark pink, which is a good sign. The Australorp breed has a large comb naturally so it’s not a tell tail. George does, however have stocky legs and a few longish tail feathers. The tail feathers, however, are starting to fill out into a more hen-like shape. The saddle and hackle feathers on George are more round than pointy, a female sign. And, the feathers on his back are wide and developed rather than in a thin ridge. I’m very uncertain about George but he’s a family favorite for sure and we’d hate to see him/her go.

Last: Waffle, 25%

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Last up on the podium here is Waffle. Waffle is hen-like in most ways except for the bright and deep pink of her small comb. Waffle is the latest to be named and second to last in the pecking order. She loves when her coop is cleaned and fluffs up and takes little pine shaving baths whenever we change the bedding. She even tries to roll over. The only other suspicion I have of Waffle at the moment are her thin and pointy neck feathers. As an adult, her breed (Wyandotte), does have long pointy neck feathers, so I’m trying not to be too concerned about that.

So there are our potential boys, and here is White Poofy Fluffball (not her actual name).

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She is so clearly a hen that I have no doubts about her at all. Her comb is small and pink, she’s fluffed up and feathered out nice and poofy like a hen should be, she’s rock bottom of the pecking order, quite and sweet and timid and docile, and her legs are thin and dainty. She’s everything a lady chicken should be and I’m happy that we’ve at least got one on our hands.

 

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be deciding what to do with out potential roosters as, hopefully, more male and female characteristics come out of them. One of the farms where we got the chicks from has already told me that they will take any roosters and have assured me that they will be allowed to run about with the laying females and live out the rest of their rooster life on their happy farm. I hope that it’s the truth. It’s hard to get attached to something, only to find out that it will have to go.

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Shake a Tail Feather

It’s already been one week since the I brought the chicks home. Watching them grow is like someone’s pressed fast forward on life.

Feathers and things appear overnight. Their size grows las though someone’s put them on steroids. Everyone’s got a few tiny tail feathers now. I didn’t know something could grow so fast until I watched it happen. Now I know what all aunts and uncles mean when they say “you’re so big now!”, except now I say it daily.

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Look at those new tail feathers and wings!

The morning after I brought the chicks home, I greeted them with a “Morning chickies!” as soon as I approached their cage. After all the cuddles the night before, I expected them to come running or at least chirp happily at my arrival. Nope. Wings flapped, pine shavings flew, and the chicks scratched and scrambled their way into their apartment, safe from my evil grasp.

Determined to turn them into the friendliest chicks this side of the 405, I promised to hold each of them once a day for as long as I could. I set off for work, and once I returned, I stuck to my promise. I got a towel from the cupboard, filled a small cup with some chick food, grabbed my first victim, and made my way to the couch. The black chick and I sat for an uncomfortable ten minutes, until her restless chirping told me someone was getting more distressed by the minute.

As the days passed this week, I slowly made progress. It was pretty cool to watch the fear melt away. After two or three days, they no longer ran whenever I appeared or spoke. Now, they aren’t fazed at all by my loud call of “morning chickies!”. I found adorable success when I realized that they love to play in my hair and curl up to the warmth of my neck. It’s a nice cool down after work to come home, grab a chick or two, retreat to the couch, and get my daily dose of cuddles. When I place them on my belly and recline on the couch, they usually make their way up to my hair, toss and ruffle up the strands till they are safely covered, then fall asleep against my neck.

They’ve also begun to get playful and curious, especially the black chick, who will potentially be named George (you know, Curious George), and Chipmunk. I experimented the other night by coming up to the cage and holding some corn flakes in my hand. George didn’t even hesitate and was immediately at my hand, inspecting my gift. She pecked and grabbed at a corn flake and excitedly ran away. Chipmunk suddenly appeared and started chasing George all around the cage, trying to steal the cornflake. The other chicks were mildly interested but seemed much happier sleeping in the corner than running about after breakfast cereal.

 

Now, rather than instantly running when I open the cage door, George and Chipmunk run to the front and hop out (probably looking for more cornflake footballs to play with).

Our only hiccup so far has been when Chipmunk and Lavender figured out that they were small enough to squeeze through the spaces in the cage. We woke up one morning to hear loud chirping/screaming. Chipmunk had successfully made it out of the cage but got stuck trying to get back in. Don’t worry, she’s all safe and was hardly shaken up by the experience it seems since she still tries to escape whenever she can. We’ve since taped a bit of paper around the base so that nothing happens to her when no one is able to come to the rescue.

Other than that, they’ve been wonderful, puffy, poopie joys. Seriously, they poop so much. It’s amazing. The bigger they get, the bigger they poop. The bigger they poop, the more often we have to clean the cage. They’ve also begun shaking, scratching, and tossing all their food onto the floor. That might be my fault…I think they are searching for cornflakes…..

Anyway, here they all are, just one week, but already so much closer to chickens.

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Chipmunk

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Black Chick (George)

 

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Lavender

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Easter Egger

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Wyandotte

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Last week’s photo for comparison

Hit the Ground Running

What better way to start a project than to jump right in, right? That’s why I finally made some decisions about breeds, committed to a three hour drive north, and got some chicks. Five to be exact. With the chicks, I couldn’t delay the coop anymore. These little guys would be the fuel behind me every day, reminding me to working on the coop little by little. No more avoidance issues, this is finally real.

I had miraculously gotten two days in a row off from work, so that meant it was time to accomplish some real work on my chicken project. I was planning to meet up with a man named Scott who had some breeds I was interested in. We set up a time and and I got the address over text, but then things got a bit strange. I mentioned that I was going to another farm and he asked “why are you visiting another farm?”. His price was also $15/chick, even for common breeds, when I’ve seen them priced under $3 per chick elsewhere. When I asked why the price was so high, instead of answering me, he simply responded “I’m busy tomorrow. Thanks bye”.

So that’s a solid no. Not sure I’d want to go somewhere where they question me visiting other places. Look Scott, this isn’t a relationship, it’s a chicken selling deal.

I scrounged the internet for more options. I already had an appointment in Lompoc the next day to see chicks and wanted to settle the chick business in one day. I sent a message to a hatchery in Templeton, about three hours north of me, and she quickly responded despite the late hour, and we set up a time to meet.

It was settled, the next day I’d be getting chicks! I was so excited, but that didn’t stop me from passing out easily after a long day at work.

That morning I headed north. I hadn’t made this drive for about two years when I used to go to University at Cal Poly in SLO. Familiar rolling hills of oaks and vineyards passed me by as I listened to NPR and practiced my French by Podcast. Those three house really flew by and soon I found myself rolling up the driveway to Nat’s farm where she greeted me. I stepped inside her house where she was keeping the chicks and she introduced me to the babies. There was several breeds and crosses as she was trying to breed for friendly personality traits based on parentage. It was amazing! She knew exactly who all the parents were.

What was most fascinating was when I got to see all of the parents themselves at the barn. Dozens of turkeys surrounded us, making the funniest chirping noise. You would never expect it from a bird so large. Beautiful hens and roosters were everywhere. She showed me some of the younger hens for sale as well as the parents of the chicks indoors.

In the end I decided on two chicks from Nat. It was a bit of a gamble with her because the chicks wouldn’t certainly be female. We spent some time inspecting the Maran and Easter Egger crosses for females before I decided on a chipmunk looking chick and a beautiful light grey Maran.

By the time I left Nat’s farm, it was already so late that I had to just fly down the road straight to Lompoc. I would have loved to spend time in my college town, but I guess I’ll just have to go back.

I pulled up to Dare 2 Dream Farms, which I’d read all about in several articles. It’s always on the top of the search results when you google anything chick and California related. It was an adorable little farm with produce as well as chickens. I was greeted by one of the men who worked there and took me up to see the chicks. It was quite a different experience from Nat’s perfect little farm. There were tons of chicks all divided into containers based on their breed. The boxes were nearly overflowing with peeping chicks. He listed off the breeds available to which I responded with a list of the breeds I wanted. Then, in about 30 seconds, he opened each container, grabbed each chick I listed, and it was done. Over. He carried my three new babies back to the car where they joined the other two cuties in their box.

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Here they all are! Safe in their box, happy, and ready to be whisked away to their new home.

I took advantage of my time up north to visit my aunt and cousin who recently moved to Solvang. We had a nice dinner, some great wine, some great catch up, and of course a bit of fun oogling over chicks.

Finally after a long day for me and the chicks, we arrive home at about 10:30pm. My brother was the first down the stairs to greet the new babies, followed by my mom. We all absorbed their cuteness and cuddled with the little fluff balls before finally getting their brooder all set up and ready.

I tossed a layer of pine shavings in the bottom, got their food and water feeders set up, plugged in the heat lamp (which promptly died), and even cut them a little apartment out of the same box I drove them home in. We set up a backup lamp out of a bright bulb my dad uses to see when he paints. It had to be better than nothing, even though quite honestly, with all this heat, they probably don’t even need a heat lamp. The day before yesterday it was over 100F (38C). Anyway, I didn’t want to risk having cold chicks so I set the obnoxiously bright light in their brooding cage anyways.

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Chicks all set up and happy, everyone (especially me) was ready for bed.

So with a drum roll, please, I present to you my miniature flock of fluff balls:

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This is Chipmunk. First to be named! I swear she looks just like a little chipmunk with her perchipmunkfect chestnut brown stripe and little black eye stripe. I’ll have to get a better photo of her soon.

Breed: Easter Egger/Phoenix Cross

Eggs: Green/Blue (but other colors like pink, brown, and white are also possible)

From: Fantasy Farms Paso

Age: 4 days old (9/23/16)

Because she is a cross, I can’t be certain what she’ll look like as an adult but I’m really excited to see how she grows and changes! Her Phoenix father has gorgeous long tail feathers and all phoenixes have really interesting feather patterns. Easter Eggers are a breed derived from the Ameraucana chicken, well known for its green/blue eggs. They are a rarer breed native to South America.

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Breed: Maran

Eggs: Chocolate Brown

From: Fantasy Farms Paso

Age: 4 days (9/23/16)

This is (potentially) Lavender. It’s not really that creative of a name since she’s called a Lavender Maran, but I think the name is just too adorable. Lavender Marans are a breed native to France. Their deep brown egg coloring comes from the egg passing through the chicken’s oviduct. As it passes through, it is covered with a dark brown layer that then dries onto the outside of the egg.

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Breed: Australorop

Eggs: Brown

From: Dare 2 Dream Farms, Lompoc

Age: ? <2 weeks

This is a black Australorp, the Australian version of the Orpington. They are known for being excellent layers (I believe an Australorp holds the record for egg laying). They only come in one official color: black. I chose this breed for their egg laying excellence, calm and curious personalities, and adorable puffy butts.

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Breed: Wyandotte

Eggs: Brown

From: Dare 2 Dream Farms, Lompoc

Age: ? ~1 week

This is a Golden Laced Wyandotte. I chose this breed because of how incredibly gorgeous they turn as adults, 3cd4f6a0_goldenlacedwyandotte.jpeggood egg laying rate, and affectionate personalities. The Wyandotte is an American breed of chicken. They come in a beautiful Blue Laced variety which is hard to find, so I went for the gold laced instead.

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Breed: Easter Egger

Eggs: Multiple possible

From: Dare 2 Dream Farms, Lompoc

Age: ? <2 weeks

This is an Easter Egger and doesn’t she have awesome feathering? I can’t wait to see how she turns out. She’s definitely the biggest of the bunch, but she’s fitting in fine. Easter Eggers are interesting because they can lay many different colors of eggs. Basically any color that exists. Typically, once they start laying, they’ll only lay one egg color their whole life, but I’ve heard of Easter Eggers that constantly lay a different color egg. I’ll have to let you all know what happens.

Now that I have the chicks, I need to spend lots of time with them. I want them to be tame, loving, and friendly chickens, used to human touch, so I’m making it a point every day of holding each chick, talking to it, and encouraging it to be comfortable around me with some food.

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The morning after I got the chicks, I went down to check on them and as I approached the cage I said “Chikies!”…to which they all promptly scurried into their apartment away from me.

It’s a work in progress though, and I’m really hoping they warm up to me. I have to tell myself to have patience and to above all be persistent!

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Starting From Scratch

I’ve never built anything. The last time I picked up a hammer and nail with the purpose of building something that would be solely my own, was when I was 7. Yes, 7. IKEA furniture doesn’t count. Hanging shelves certainly doesn’t. So, no. I’ve never built anything.

I started with research, the kind that turns your screen into a disorganized file cabinet with so many tabs open, that you can’t remember what they all are anymore, and periodically click through them all to remind yourself. It’s like a bread crumb of your trail of thoughts. Fascinating actually, since you’re able to see all this clear evidence of where your head has been skipping around for the last two hours.

I researched coop styles, how to build a coop, the best materials to use. Then I moved onto the chickens themselves. What kinds of chickens are friendliest? Which lay colorful eggs? Where can I get them?

Hours and hours later, I’ve almost made up my mind about what kind of chickens to buy. I’ve basically decided what kind of coop to build. Yet…still nothing solid. If you know me, you know that decisions are not my strong suit. I never know what I want, or if what I want is right, or if its also best for everyone else involved…decisions man. They are the worst.

Meanwhile on the construction front, I’m already facing some intimidating problems, like, can I modify these plans and move the door over here without compromising structural integrity? How do I make sure it doesn’t leak in the rain? How do I make it ventilated enough? How do I use one of those small handheld electric saws? What are those even called? Am I supposed to use screws or nails? A full nest box full of questions that many people with even limited construction knowledge could probably answer.

So what do you do when you have questions about construction? Naturally, you turn to your dad, right? I started with my first question…can I move the door do a different side? I was prepared for a long, strange answer. What I was not prepared for was the angry lecture about building things, and having a strong plan, a string of mostly unrelated questions, a history lesson on my dad’s life and chickens, and so much more. In case you were wondering, my question wasn’t answered.

Okay. Moving forward. I’ll get there. I’m planning to speak to the husband of my mom’s friend who built a chicken coop for their home. I actually visited it today and it’s more of a mansion than a coop; a beautiful feat of chicken abode construction.

For now, I’m finalizing my breed choices and, most importantly, working up the courage to get to the hardware store and finally begin getting the tools I’ll need. Starting is always the hardest part……..right? RIGHT?!

Wish me good cluck! (See what I did there?)

Much love.