It is an eagle eat chicken world out there, and though chickens seem to have some instinct about predator birds, it doesn’t kick in fast enough for a good survival rate.

We have an eagle nest about 500 m as the eagle flies from my chicken house, and it’s been there, in one version or another (it’s the third nest and second tree) for a decade. For the most part, the eagles ignore my chickens. When they first moved into the neighbourhood, it was a different story, and I had a frustrating week back then, hearing the fuss out the back and rushing out to scare the eagle off the already severely maimed bird – too late.

The thing about chasing off eagles is that they don’t seem too worried by people. They would really rather ignore us and just continue dealing with their catch. Since these birds are quite big, this is something that makes you think twice before you send one of your little darlings out, and makes you take to carrying the broom with you when you go.

Back then, I dealt with the issue by keeping my chickens indoors for a few days, and then covering a small run with wire to keep them safe from above. There was no nonsense about rotating them to clean ground or fresh pasture – I didn’t at that time have a field shelter I could use, and my choice was a less satisfactory husbandry model or losing every single bird to the eagle, who had come back daily for that one week. My solution seemed to work, and after that initial foray on his part, I had no trouble from the eagles – a raven once or twice, but the eagles seemed to have found another food source.

That was then, this is now. I have a flock about triple the size of that first flock (it WAS around 45, probably about 41 now), and though I have very little fondness for this particular batch of hens (they are nasty little escape artists and terrible egg eaters), they are MY hens, and I derive a nice little bit of pocket money from their eggs. They live in a much larger hen house, surrounded by 5 runs covering about half an acre, through which they are rotated to allow the ground to refresh. Not a perfect system, but not bad either. Except that fences are in disrepair, and did I mention this pesky bunch are escape artists? Suffice it to say, they have basically had the freedom of 3 of the 5 runs, plus about 8 of them have been free ranging to my neighbours, and up to the road.

Nest number three - only one bird home just now, the other must be out being a breadwinner

Nest number three – only one bird home just now, the other must be out being a breadwinner

Well, freedom has a price. Last week, the eagles, who just recently rebuilt their nest for the third time (the last one blew down about a month ago – don’t they know how breakable cottonwoods are?), and must be feeling lazy about hunting, because after a full 10 years, I’ve had 4 attacks in 4 days, and he maimed or ate a bird every single time.

What's left of one of the escape artists

What’s left of one of the escape artists

I did what I did before…I kept them in for a few days…this house has an open sided shelter (wire on the sides) on one side, so they had some space to move around and get away from each other, but definitely no access to bugs, grass, etc. And they wreaked havoc with the nest boxes and the eggs. I saw the eagle still checking the chicken area every day, and decided it was time for me to change tactics.

So I picked the smallest of the 5 runs, which fortunately is not in terribly bad shape in terms of growth, and basically wove a web of string back and forth across it – took three balls of string and a couple of odd bits, but it was kind of fun in a way – we were blessed with a mild, sunny day, so it was really almost pleasant work. After making sure I’d repaired all the holes in the fence, I let the chickens out, and their voracious attack on the first green grass they got to told it’s own tale.

Happy hens under a web of protection

Happy hens under a web of protection

They’re going to be stuck with this run for a while, as only one other run can really have this work done to it – the others are too big. I’ll be working on the other run next days off I guess.

I have yet to see if my web works to keep the eagle off or not – I have no wish to entangle him/her, but I’m hoping they’ll see the web and be put off making an attack. Of course, any dim-witted hen who makes an escape is on her own…

An Inconvenient Mudroom

mud room 001

Back porch, surprisingly tidy for the end of March. Not typical.


Actually, I’m not sure if I shouldn’t have called this post “Disorganization”. One leads to the other, and it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation if you ask me.

Example:  I need to go outside to haul fallen branches out of the garden.  It’s muddy, so I’ll need boots.  I grab my fleecy (hanging by the back door, no problem).  I step outside, trade my shoes for boots on the wet back porch (a tricky operation, since I don’t want to put a sock foot down on the wet porch), and head down the steps.  Oops, forgot the work gloves.   A moment’s internal debate – could I just go without?  Well, everything’s muddy and wet, my hands would definitely stay warmer in gloves.  Sigh.  Back up the steps.  Repeat the dance from boots into shoes.  Into the kitchen.  Down the basement stairs to the area of the work bench where I keep my pruning gear (and gloves). Back upstairs, and …

Example:  It’s a fine day for hacking blackberries.  Fleecy, boots, check.  OK, head downstairs for gloves and secateurs.  Sigh.  Take boots off, they’re still muddy from chickens this morning.  Take them with me across the kitchen and down the basement stairs to put on at the bottom.  This is hard for me; my feet hurt when I am not wearing orthotics.  Of course, I left my shoes on the porch, so even though I go out through the basement, grabbing my tools as I go, when I come back in, I come back to the porch…which is great foot wise, I can put my shoes on so I can walk, but now I have to traipse down the stairs to put tools and gloves away.  Or leave them upstairs and forget that fact next time, so I spent fruitless minutes searching for them…

Example:  In early summer, I head out to do some lawn mowing for a couple of hours (riding mower, big septic field and orchard – I know someone out there will say get some sheep).  I come in to grab a water, leaving a trail of grass clippings everywhere I go.

Example: time to let the hens out. It’s winter, cold with some snow on the ground.  Coat, boots, gloves, scrap bucket, egg bucket, water bucket.  Dang, I’ve put my boots on before I filled up the water bucket (which I’m doing at the kitchen sink, because the outside water is shut off for the winter).  Take boots off to fill the bucket? or cheat, and hope my boots are dry from sitting overnight and won’t leave a track on the kitchen floor?  Double dang – boots were not dry enough.  Coming back, I’m not just wet, I am now muddy from slipping in the mush outside the chicken house door.  My socks came off inside my boots, which means my bare feet are going to get very cold for a few seconds while I remove my boots on the porch before stepping into the house where I left my shoes to keep them warm and dry. Where should I hang my muddy jacket?  It ends up draped over the boots on the porch till the mud dries a little and I can bring it in.  Once I’m warmed up, and I’ve made a coffee, I set to washing the eggs.  The egg washing bucket is out on the porch, the rag I use to clean them with is hanging on the line.  Start washing eggs.  Cartons are downstairs.  Grab some, finish washing eggs.  Take them downstairs to the egg fridge, which is by the exterior basement door.  Toss the dirty egg water out over the porch, etc.  I’ve opened that kitchen door how many times and let out the warm air?  I’ve been up and down the basement stairs twice, three times?  How often did I trek to the sink to fill buckets or wash hands?

Example:  The dog (this happened with our old dog, and will happen again with our future dog, I’m sure) and I go for a good tramp through the fields, chase a few geese, push through a gap in a hedge.  I’m wore my boots, but the dog didn’t.  Not only that, but in chasing the geese, she cut through the flooded bit of field, so her torso is pretty wet.  A good shake makes her feel better but it’s more psychology than fact.  I can remove my boots on the porch, but she pushes past me into the kitchen, and dances around anticipating the biscuit that comes after a good rub down with a towel.  Muddy footprints everywhere.  The towel improves on the shaking job, but not enough, and the house smells of damp dog for hours.

Inconveniences:  the entry to my house is through the kitchen.  I do not want to store muddy boots in my kitchen, even with a tray, the mud gets tracked around.  I do not like getting my feet wet doing the one foot dance on our wet porch to get my boots on out there.  Moreover, in stormy weather, when the rain is coming in horizontal, the insides of the boots get wet.  I used to keep my gloves in a basket above the jackets, but people kept using them for their own purposes and they’d go missing or get holes in them.  I now keep them with my pruning gear on the back of the work bench – downstairs.  This would seem like a good place to keep the boots as well, wouldn’t it? Well, it would be if I was planning to head out the door for a project, or a mornings work, or to do chores.  But when I want to whip out to the compost with the dead flowers?  Or to the chickens with scraps?  I need something more than shoes for those places – it’s muddy round here.  If I cheat and nip out in my shoes, I’ll come back tracking mud.  To whip down the basement stairs though, and trek through the rest of the basement and workbench area to get to the basement exterior door pretty much takes “whip” out of the sentence.

Dream:  A space I can access easily and routinely that will hold all the outerwear for outdoor work – boots, coats, hats, gloves, work gloves, rain pants.  Shelves for buckets, egg cartons etc.  The egg fridge, right next to the big sink that would double as a handwashing and eggwashing station.  Space for the outside broom and a snow shovel. A place I could keep the dog for an hour if he/she (future dog) was too wet for the rest of the house. It would be nice if this space was near the laundry area, but I could settle without that.  A two piece bathroom would be even better, but really just a place to wash hands is enough.

This isn’t a new dream of mine. Somewhere in a box is a file folder of clippings from decorating magazines of creative storage solutions for outside gear and mud rooms – usually in homes that can’t possibly be connected to any mud whatsoever.  Some are pretty practical.  Some are just pretty.  But the yearning was set up anew when I was reading something posted recently by The Beginning Farmer’s Wife.  The lucky girl has a mudroom.  She also has 4 children (that’s a lot of potential mud), and pretty much zero budget for the type of solutions in my folder of dreams.  Her wonderful post shows a well organized space – not House and Gardens, but practical, attractive and well used.   After reading her post, I realized something really important about this whole issue of reconciling reality with dream to overcome inconvenience – it’s more about organizational skills and the ability to find creative solutions.  Money and a big house reno are not mandatory.

That said, she’s in a newly built home – it’s small and basic, but they gave it a lot of thought prior to building and made sure it had features that mattered to them – like the mud room.  It functions as an airlock in their mid-West climate – keeping the cold out of the heated house in winter, keeping the bugs and heat out of the house in summer.  It is most definitely for keeping dirt out of the home, but it is big enough to act as temporary storage as well, and has even been pressed into service as shelter for small creatures like chicks and calves.  It’s not perfect.  It doesn’t solve all her problems – there is a curtain at one end behind which she keeps stored clothing not immediately needed, and she’d like a better solution for that, but she’s philosophical about it, confident the solution will come.

My brother also built his own home and incorporated a very well designed mud room (though it’s the cleanest mud room I’ve ever seen) – his includes a powder room at one end, and not just a door from outside, but one from the garage as well, which can and does act as the first defence against mud and snow removal, since people coming in can enter through the garage before entering the mudroom.  Which probably explains why the mud room always looks immaculate.

Two of my hubby’s siblings in New Brunswick each built their own homes, each making sure they had mud rooms, each well designed and practical, though his sister’s is less for mud than his brother’s – it has a flower arrangement and knick knacks on a shelf…his brother’s mudroom, in a house on a large country property with a huge garden, is more practical.

My house is 90 years old.  It’s been added onto once, some renovations have happened over the decades, but no one has ever put in a mud room or a space designed for mud room stuff.  Why on earth not?  It’s been a farm since the beginning, so there has always been muck and mud to contend with.  Even before the addition in the 1940’s which put the kitchen and a bedroom on the south end of the house, the entrance was still from a porch on the south side (as it is now) – but they would have entered what is now the dining room, but was probably once the kitchen/eating area.  How did they manage, those women?

I was trying to remember how my mother coped with the muddy boots in this house when I was a child.  I think the boots and coats lived in the basement stairwell – it was configured a little differently then (you opened the basement door that led from the kitchen, and there was a landing before the stairs.  I think boots were there, and coats on hooks.  Maybe the boots were at the bottom of the stairs…).  Anyway, I’m certain we went out to do morning chores, evening chores and after school chores through the basement – the door locked from the inside back then too, (different door, though), but I think we left it unlocked all day.  Since the floor is cement down there, and the basement unfinished, this would have been a practical solution to the mud issue, especially with small kids – you know how they peel the muddy rain pants off and just drag them across the floor?

Thinking about Becca’s creative solutions in a small house, with a large family and a small budget, and how my mother also worked with what she had, I put my envy of picture perfect mudrooms on hold and tried instead to think through my own options more carefully.  Here’s kind of how the thought process went:

Completely reconfiguring the kitchen and dining rooms (which adjoin) is something we want to do, and we’ve done some drawing and designing to that end.  Part of that would be incorporating a mudroom/entryway.  But that is not happening in the next year or two, so needs to be considered as a back burner idea. A more immediate, low input solution is needed.

Keeping the boots and farm coats in the basement is worth trying out again, though it still doesn’t really get around the “whipping” out to the compost issue. I will probably create a space near the basement door that leads to outside, rather than the door from the kitchen to the basement, as my mother did.  The basement door from the kitchen was moved when I was a teenager to make it possible to go straight from the kitchen to the hall that leads to the other rooms of the house (before, when the basement stairs had a landing, there was no hall – you got to one room by entering another.  Want the bathroom?  From the kitchen you went to the dining room, from there to a bedroom, from there to the bathroom, from there to another bedroom – it was a weird set up, a result of a badly planned addition in the 1940s) and now you open the basement door and the stairs are right there, no landing.

Future mud room area in the basement, maybe a little clearing out to do first...

Future mud room area in the basement, maybe a little clearing out to do first…

I will probably keep one pair of largish boots on the back porch (the girls borrow my boots all the time anyway when I send them out for potatoes from storage, or to collect eggs, or to chase ravens – they have their own, but they like my lambswool insoles).  My boots with orthotic inserts as well as the lambswool insoles can be downstairs for longer term wear.  Farm coats, which are all quite bulky, can live downstairs.  The coat I wear to work, hubby’s coats and the girls coats can stay in the kitchen.  Wool gloves/mitts can stay upstairs (we don’t wear them for farm work), work gloves and my fleece farm gloves can go down.  I might keep a pair of cheap workgloves upstairs.

The egg washing bucket is more problematic.  I have no sink downstairs.  The laundry machines are down there, near to the area I plan to put the coats and boots, and there is a valve on the plumbing there where I believe we could add in a connection for a sink, and we could probably plumb the drain to join the washing machine drain (which goes to a grey water system), but that’s a bit more intensive than we can manage just now.  So short term, I’ll keep the egg washing stuff upstairs. Let’s consider this part of things phase 2.

The door being locked from the inside is really a non-issue I eventually realized.  If I go out that door, all I have to do is come back in that way, and I can lock it then.  The problem has always been if I go out that way and then come in the kitchen, forgetting I’ve opened the downstairs door, requiring someone (usually my poor hubby) to go and lock it last thing at night when I say as I’m hopping into bed:  “oh, darn, I think I left the basement door unlocked”.  But if I have to go back that way to retrieve my shoes, which I will, then I’ll be able to lock it when I come through.  Problem solved.

Will it be more inconvenient to keep everything down in the basement?  It depends on how easily I can get into the routine, and whether I can get the family to follow the same routine.  It’s one thing training small children to follow your routine, it’s different trying to convince teenagers to do what you do, and husbands – well never mind.  Maybe what I’ll do is say “I’m keeping my boots downstairs, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you though”.  Seriously, what I’ll probably do is ask for their ideas, because another thing about teenagers is that they always have ideas.  Husbands too.

To have all my outdoor stuff in one spot would be handy.   It is a longer journey from the kitchen to the outside basement door, no question.  It’s the same number of stairs however (I counted).  Less floor washing, fewer extra trips for forgotten items, less heat loss when I open the door to the heated part of the house so often…Will it put more time in my day?  That’s really the point.  And now that I’ve thought this particular inconvenience through, it’s fired up my mind to think through a few others, like feed storage, recycling set up, stuff in the barn, water storage and delivery, garden layout, filing, kitchen organization,  cleaning gear organization, pantry and root cellar storage.  Maybe this is spring cleaning of the mind…