Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

Manipulating Neurochemistry

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How are your stress levels today? Don’t think about the answer. Feel it.

Cyndie and I have faced some questions about how we are doing lately. It hasn’t been as easy to answer as usual for us. It was a tough winter, but listing our grievances doesn’t feel good to share. It doesn’t paint the picture as accurately as we know it to be.

Our move to the country and accumulation of animals for which we need to tend has put distance between us and our friends and family. Some connections with people and activities have broken, and only a fraction of new local connections have sprouted in their place.

We have gained a brilliant wealth of new relationships with our animals, and precious though they are, it is not the same.

Yesterday we had an opportunity to drive the suburban roads again that consumed our everyday back when we lived in Eden Prairie. The dramatic contrast to our present-day environment was revealing.

Is it worth it? The struggles to cope with the never-ending challenges of weather and the unrelenting daily routine of required chores to care for our horses, chickens, dog, and cat? Some days, more than others. It’s life. It’s something we chose. (By the way, that’s a luxury –having the choice– that is not lost on us.)

Our challenges can be framed as onerous and laborious; burdens that could be lifted by giving up our animals and moving back to the conveniences and camaraderie of our life-long friends and families in the suburbs.

The difficulties of the last few months, and the years of owning and caring for our animals can also be framed as invigorating, rejuvenating, inspiring, and fulfilling. It is adventure of a very high order.

When we choose to frame the ups and downs of life in the positive, we manipulate our neurochemistry in healthy ways. That is a choice we have power to control. I spent an unfortunate number of years manipulating my biochemistry in the opposite direction by mentally framing my life in the negative.

We won’t prevent harsh realities from challenging our decisions by simply thinking positive all the time, but we will be better served to meet those challenges when we give our brains the healthiest balance of on-going positive neurochemical support possible.

Life here is challenging, but we are doing well. Really well. Thanks for asking.

It feels right.



New Chicks

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I am happy to report that all chicks arrived safe and healthy, traveling in a box through the US Postal network in freezing temperatures. I am fascinated that this process works, given the despicable condition of a few other packages we have received over the years. Live chicks sent through the mail is a marvel.

Last year when our chicks arrived, I wasn’t around. Yesterday, Cyndie let me get in on the excitement of picking them up out of the shipping box and dipping beaks in the water to get the chicks drinking.

The birds come with a 48-hour guarantee of good health, plus, we received one extra of each of the three breeds. We figure, given their guarantee, it’s cheap for breeders to provide an extra, in advance, to avoid the expense and risk of shipping out a replacement should there be any infant mortality.

As of last night, they all looked to be doing just fine.

That’s not always easy to determine. Chick naps seem to happen at all times, in the middle of any activity. It looks like sleep just sneaks up and swallows them. When they lay down, it often looks like they must be dead, sprawled out with legs askew. Then another chick will stumble over them and the sleepy bird will pick up its head and look around. Sometimes they get up and get back in the action, sometimes they try going right back to sleep.

They will fall asleep while eating, or in the middle of all the other chicks that are flitting about, chirping. Occasionally, one will look like it might drown, getting snoozy head-first in the waterer.

We are happy with our healthy start, and are hoping for more of the same for the duration of time they are in the brooder, and beyond.



Written by johnwhays

March 17, 2018 at 6:00 am

Slow Start

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Despite an early wake up call from the Post Office this morning, informing us we need to come pick up a package containing our new chicks, I’m experiencing a bit of a slow start. Maybe it is because I stayed up later than usual watching games of college basketball in the men’s NCAA March Madness tournament.

Maybe it’s a Foo Fighters hangover after bingeing episodes of Sonic Highways, Dave Grohl’s self-described 2014 love letter to the history of American music.

Whatever it is, I need to shake out of it and hit the ground running after I finish writing this and eating the breakfast Cyndie just served before she heads out on the chick run. She said she was making home-made eggs. We had eight in our stash this morning.

I wonder how many eggs we will be getting per day next year at this time? I’m guessing that will depend on how many chickens we can avoid losing in a massacre like happened to our first flock last June. It’s one of the facts of free-range life around here.

Predators happen. We are choosing to take our chances and have elected not to get a rooster or confine our birds to protected spaces. It may be an inefficient model for having chickens, but the benefits of enjoying our roaming hens everywhere around the property seems to balance the risks for us to have accepted the situation.

I gotta go.

Check out this photo of the way snow is melting in the shadow of the wood fence.

Isn’t nature fascinating?



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March 16, 2018 at 8:00 am

Grand Transition

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It is beginning to feel like the transition from winter to spring is swinging significantly toward the latter under our present weather system of warm, sunny afternoons. The snow cover is receding with increasingly visible change apparent each time I travel up the driveway when arriving home from the day-job.

What a difference we are enjoying in comparison to the east coast where it must seem like spring is nowhere in sight, with their region getting pummeled by the third nor’easter in two weeks.

We are less than a week away from the March equinox marking the start of astronomical spring. Thus brings on the half-year of days longer than the nights for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

Already, our three existing chickens have returned to their daily production of eggs. The increasing daylight hours are working their magic.

The trees are even beginning to develop buds.

As exciting as that is, it brings on one of my great fears. The warming climate is extending the growing season beyond what was usual for the many years of my youth. Over the last five years of living here, we have seen too many occasions when the early warmth has triggered early growth on the trees that was subsequently obliterated by a brief return of an overnight freeze.

That doesn’t usually kill the tree, but it wreaks havoc on growth for that year. It’s something that breaks my heart to see. So, as happy as I am to see the leaves sprouting, I don’t breathe easy until the nighttime temperatures are convincingly done dropping into the 30s(F).

Getting to that point is definitely a grand part of the transition from winter to spring.



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March 15, 2018 at 6:00 am


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More Chickens

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We have decided to take the plunge. Cyndie has placed the order, I have re-mounted the heat lamp in the brooder, and the chicks are due to arrive at our Post Office this week.

The online chick source has already delivered the starter food Cyndie ordered.

We are getting excited. The first time was a lot more stressful, but with one year of experience behind us, we are feeling a fresh confidence in our chances of raising more chickens.

We certainly haven’t eliminated the potential hazards, but we know that we can deal with the possibilities of worst outcomes. More importantly, we know the joy that happy and healthy chickens bring.

With our Buff Orpington showing such impressive endurance, we ordered three more of that breed. For added diversity, Cyndie also picked out two new breeds: Golden Laced Wyandottes and Black Australorps will soon be bringing their glorious colors to our world.

They will also be bringing us more eggs, eventually.

That’s all well and good, but you know me, I’m more excited about the potential for their devouring ticks and flies.

Here’s hoping for some healthy, hearty chicks. Let the “cheep-cheeping” commence!



Written by johnwhays

March 13, 2018 at 6:00 am

The Diet

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Not that we want to compound the misery we put our horses through, but the weeks of indoor confinement they just endured have come with the added insult of decreased rations. If protecting them from the ravages of founder (laminitis) means we need to closely control what our horses are consuming, we need to do it regardless of how unhappy they act over the situation.

I am certain that the reason Cayenne was prancing around snorting when I freed her from the confines of her stall on Saturday was because she had grown so agitated over the lack of anything to eat in her “cell.” She had made that clear with the kicking of the wall and pawing at the floor when I showed up to greet the farrier and get Hunter some padded shoes.

The precisely measured portions I had meted out at noon were ancient history and she wanted more. Luckily, she settled down a little bit while Hunter was brought out of his stall to stand between both mares and be fitted.

Later, after the three horses were done thrashing around outside in the paddock, they settled down and took up stations over the hay boxes, where bonus servings had been made available to augment their celebration over the return to the great outdoors.

Now, even though it was a bonus offering, it was still a precisely measured meager portion of a bonus.

It didn’t take them long to show their feelings about the restrictions of this new diet still being in place, even though they have been released from confinement in the barn.

Yesterday, I spotted them grazing on the winter manure pile inside their fence line. It seems there have been a few morsels of hay raked up with the manure.

Cyndie fretted the other day that feeding our animals (and I might add, her family and guests) is one of the ways she shows her love. For the record, she loves me a LOT. It breaks her heart to see the horses stoop to digging through the manure pile for blades of grass.

I’m sure it’s not the first time a restrictive diet has brought on behaviors for which pride gets tossed aside.

In reality, they aren’t really that desperate. They were just checking out the pile for a brief few seconds. I thought it looked funny and snapped the photo. It makes for good story!

The diet is for real, and their adjustment to it is going to take some time, but we are optimistic a new balance will emerge and we will be back on a path to optimal health, soon.

Soon, in a relative sense of the word.




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March 12, 2018 at 6:00 am