Saturday, January 9, 2010

Homeschool & Chickens

This evening my wife and son are heading south to visit her grandfather (my son's great grandfather). I wish I could go -- he's a great guy and I've always enjoyed visiting with him -- but I have to work tomorrow and can't afford to take the time off. It's just over 400 miles away, so they are driving to Portland tonight and making the rest of the drive in the morning. My wife has to work Wednesday, so it's going to be a short visit.

While they are away I am hoping to take the bus for an overnight camping excursion at Brown Creek Campground. We have a 1969 VW bus with a Westphalia pop-top just for such a trip and it hasn't been out for a while. My motivation, besides taking the bus out, is A) our NW Forest Pass expired January 1st so I need to get a new one, B) I have some new cold weather gear from Xmas I'm jonesing to try out, and C) I want to check out the campground. It will also be a good opportunity to finish one book and start into another I recently borrowed. The weather forecast is grim, so I haven't completely committed, but at this moment I'm planning to go.

In preparation for the trips, I wanted to wrap up my son's current math section and move the chickens to a piece of ground where they could spend a few days. Let me explain...

My wife and I homeschool our son, who is now nine years old. I've been told everything from, "Way to go!" to, "You are going to ruin his life", so, say what you will, I've probably already heard it. I'll save the full-on rant for a later post, but let me start by saying that I don't blame the teachers, I blame the system. Here is how we came to be homeschoolers: My wife grew up in a small town and went to the same school district from kindergarten through high school. I went to six different schools in my public education from very rural districts to middle-class suburban districts. Initially, we had thought about homeschooling because both my wife and I had miserable experiences in public school. When we moved the family cross-country to North Carolina, however, we didn't really know anybody at first and were persuaded to enroll our son in kindergarten primarily for social reasons. One year and two schools later (again, I'll get into details in another post), we went back to Plan A and started homeschooling.

When we moved back to the Northwest, we considered trying public schooling again, but opted out for three main reasons: 1) most importantly, homeschooling was working for us, 2) we knew from past experience that, once he is in the system it is very hard to get back out, and, 3) my work schedule. I usually have to explain that last one. I earn my income as a musician and entertainer which means I work nights, often on the weekends. My weekend tends to be Sunday through Wednesday or some lesser combination of those days. My wife went back to work recently and was able to work it so that her schedule is similar. My son's school schedule would not be so flexible were he in public school. In North Carolina, we even had a school councilor come to our door to let us know they would have to turn our case over to the court if our son missed any more days (I think he had been out five days so far that year). Our family likes to visit family in Portland, go camping and hiking, and the typical stuff people do on weekends. If our son were in public school, that would not be possible more than once or twice a year.

Sometime I will sit down and expand more on our ideas relating to homeschooling and the details of our experience. If you're not already familiar with the work of John Taylor Gatto, that might help to understand where we're coming from on the subject.

So today he finished his math section while I washed dishes. He'll get a few days off and we'll review the math section and our current spelling words.

The other task that needed to be done before they left was moving the chickens. We keep six hens that we raised from chicks this past year. We have two Buff Orpingtons (Lemon and Ginger), two Rhode Island Reds (Apple and Omelette), and two Americaunas (Dumpling and Little) who produce anywhere from two to six eggs a day. They live in a chicken tractor which consists of a 6'x8' pen and a 4'x4' hen house that is moved to a new spot every day. By moving them, they get fresh grass and bugs each day and therefore require less feed, their droppings don't pile up, and the ground has time to recover. Out of the deal we get fresh eggs, pest control, amazing compost, and the lawn mowed.

We did have an incident a week or so ago when my son woke me up to tell me, "there are dogs trying to eat our chickens!"

I threw on some clothes and, without looking to see what I was getting into, ran into the front yard where the chickens were residing. There I found two large, grey pit bulls that had worn a circle around the pen and tried to dig their way into the hen house. The smaller of the two dogs backed down after the second warning, but the alpha dog was determined to get a chicken. I was able to chase it to the street, but there it turned and barked and howled at me. The dog was trying to regain ground and I began to realize that I had no chance of getting back to the house without being taken down if I turned and ran. I finally raised my fist and stepped forward, telling the dog that I would most certainly kill it (not my exact words, but you get the idea) if it did not walk away. Fortunately and to my surprise, that worked and the dogs retreated. I had to open the hen house to find all six chickens alive and well, if not more than a bit spooked. The dogs had done a number on the lawn and the pen, but the pen did it's job and kept the predators out.

Today we needed to move them to a safer spot in the backyard and to a piece of ground they could tear up for a few days. Moving them one space over is not difficult and can actually be done by one person if need be. The girls are always happy to move with the pen to new grass and bugs. However, once they have the new grass and bugs, they may need a bit of encouragement to keep moving. Combine that with a bit of a steep hill that creates large spaces for chickens to easily exit the confines of the pen and the fact that the hen house is heavy with wheels much too small, and a big move like this is always a challenge. Normally then entire process takes two people about five to seven minutes, including raking up the bedding. Today it took all three of us almost half an hour, but the chickens are on a good spot behind the shed where they can tear it up and hopefully the neighborhood dogs won't intrude.

It's almost time for my wife and son to leave, so I'm going to see them off.

I also need to do some laundry and think about getting a fire going. Guess I better get to it!

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