The trouble with animals and the reality of rural living

Neither Darcie or I grew up in the country. We were both born and raised in the City. Our parents on both sides were city dwellers for their wholes lives as well. So the realities of living in the rural setting were unknown to us, aside from what others had told us to expect. But we both agreed, when moving out here, that we didn’t move here to have an easy life. We expected difficulties and challenges and we have had our fair share since Day 1, whether it be a flat tire, a broken garage door, a truck that breaks down, locking your keys in the car, being snowed in, dealing with a power outage, and so on – if it can happen to you, it probably will. Still, one thing that we had not yet experienced, but knew was an eventual guarantee, was DEATH.

To real farmers, I imagine, death is a common occurrence on the farm. It happens. It’s not taken for granted, per se, but kids who grow up with farm animals learn early on about the concepts of life and death, and are often present for both of those experiences on innumerable occasions through their young lives. Darcie and I, on the other hand, we had never experienced it. Sure, we have had pets that needed to be euthanized when they were old, but there was always a separation and a distance to it. We had never really seen something die. And certainly neither of us have killed anything ourselves.

Last winter when I had been studying up on raising backyard chickens for our tiny urban lot, I read several books on raising chickens, what they need to eat, how an egg is formed, building a coop, et cetera. Most of it was very positive, optimistic and cheerful. But one thing that worried me: What do we do when they get old or sick? This question was never really answered in the books I’d read, but to be honest, I didn’t really want to think about it. When the time came, I’d deal with it, I reassured myself. I recall reading an article though that was a criticism of the urban backyard chicken movement in the USA. Many cities and towns were now allowing people to have 3-4 hens – people, like ourselves, hipster environmentalists and animal lovers who wanted a taste of the rural life without losing the comfortable, easy life of the city. It is certainly an appealing idea! But there was starting to be a big problem with either old hens who’d stopped laying or those that had gotten ill. These well-intentioned folks had no idea what to do with them. The article talked about people abandoning these hens in fields, at vet clinics, and farms. They weren’t able to deal with the other side of farm life – or at least, did not feel that “urban” farm life needed to deal with that one dreaded fact: things die.

I certainly didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to even think about it. When people would ask me what I would do when that inevitable time came I told them the truth: I have no idea. Well, in the past few weeks, this time came. First it was Ruth, our big black Australorp.


She had always had something strange about her from the get-go. She had an engorged crop (the crop is the area of the esophagus where digestion initially begins) and never really appeared that healthy. But she never looked to be suffering and ate normally. But then she gradually stopped laying eggs, which we thought might have been due to the winter as egg production usually slows down then. Then one day, out of the blue, we came home and there she was lying there, still. Ruth was dead. We were both pretty shocked by it. I picked her up – I’d never held a dead thing before (aside from a fish maybe) – we bagged her up and said, “well, I guess that happens.” I was a little sad, but it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would.

As the winter was drawing to an end and weather was starting to warm up we planned to get a couple more chickens. My concern was now with only two chickens left, if another one died, then the last one would too (chickens need companions and will die of loneliness if they don’t have a partner). Four weeks ago, at about 4am, the dog started barking (which she never does) and we were awoken to a horrible shrieking sound. I bolted up in bed and looked out the window. The fence around the chicken coop was shaking. I ran outside in the freezing weather. Whatever it was – a fox, a coyote, I don’t know – was gone, I had grabbed a flashlight and there 15 feet from the coop, our little Barred Rock hen, Hildi, was dragging her back leg and groaning. I rushed over and picked her up. We looked at her only to find a large tear of flesh from her side. The first thing I thought was, “what am I going to do?” Here this poor little bird was clearly injured severely. I’ve never felt so much sorrow for an animal before. We took her into the house, cleaned her wound and put a large bandage on her while we contemplated our options. I thought we needed to end her suffering. But I couldn’t conceive of killing her myself. The thought made my stomach turn and my heart ache. I know a real farmer wouldn’t have thought twice about what to do. He likely would have put her out of her misery immediately. But maybe she would be ok? How am I supposed to know? So instead we did what we do when our animal is in need of help. We took her to the vet. Although the vet initially thought she might make it, once they did an X-ray and found she had a broken leg, that was the end. She said, “we should help her go to heaven.” Gah, I felt so terrible. This was how death felt.

We were now down to our last chicken, Marge, the Buff Orpington. We needed her to have some friends though, quickly. Darcie made some calls and we found a heritage breeder who was willing to sell us two hens the next weekend. But in between the four days from Hildi’s death to us getting the new hens, perhaps out of boredom or trauma, I’m not sure, Marge started to eat her own eggs. Oh yes, it’s the worst! So disgusting. I frantically read information on how to stop egg eating, which I’d previously read is a very bad problem. If it becomes a habit/addiction it is impossible to stop. We tried using fake wood eggs (thought being that they peck the egg and hurt their beak) – fail. We tried draining the egg yolk and filling the shell with mustard (apparently they find mustard disgusting) – fail. She ate three mustard eggs, shell and all! We tried collecting the eggs as soon as possible, but working during the day, it was impossible to do so. We tried feeding her more protein (scrambled eggs for a week) – fail. The last option was to build a nesting box with a sloped bottom (the thought being here that they lay the egg and it rolls away down the ramp into a covered area). I built the box and we prayed that this would work. It was the last thing to do besides “culling” (the nice word for getting rid of or killing her). Fail. She started laying in other parts of the coop and we found the broken shells scattered throughout.

By this point we’d gotten our two new chickens: Mrs. Bouvier (a red Chantecler) and Jackie Brown (a cream legbar – notice the afro). They were super cool chickens. Very sweet and gentle. And Marge, well, she was a total ass! She would peck at them and chase them around. She was very mean. Let’s just say she wasn’t earning any sympathy given her current plight. We decided to give her one more week, try the nesting box, move them to the larger coop I’d built, give them more space, feed her lots of protein and hope that she snaps out of it. Well, day 7 is here. I walked to the coop only to find yet another egg shattered and eaten. Now what?

Moving from City to Rural

After selling the house, the next inevitable and dreaded step was to begin the move. Moving sucks. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the worst thing in the world. Sharks, diabetes, crying babies – they got nothing on moving. I also hate packing – almost as much as the actual moving part. Oh, and I also loath unpacking. The whole process is just one horrible nightmare.

Darcie had talked to her cousin, a farmer with all of the fancy toys,  and had arranged to borrow a trailer he owned to use in the move. This trailer was not just large, it was fricking gargantuan. Thirty feet long, 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide.


For reference, our shop is 40×60″ and this beast filled it. I was pretty sure we’d be able to pack our whole house in this thing. Still there was this whole bit about actually packing the house first…

We had a big house and we had filled it with a lot of stuff. It wasn’t even important stuff, just things, objects. When you have the space, you will fill it. It’s impossible not to it seems. We certainly weren’t hoarders. In fact, we were anti-hoarders. We purged our house regularly. Every few months we’d go through our closets and empty things out that we hadn’t used or had no need to keep. Still, it was shocking how much stuff we had to pack. Well, I shouldn’t say we. I should say Darcie. I suck and stalled getting most of the packing done (although I hate to admit it). I found innumerable excuses as to why I needed to be doing something else super important – other than packing.

Miraculously the house got packed and when moving day came we were somehow ready to go. I really meant to take a picture of all of the boxes we (sic. Darcie) had packed, but I just had no desire to do so. Here was the trailer when we started and when we were done it was stuffed.


We took one last walk through the old house. It was a strange feeling, walking through the house that we never thought we would leave. I recalled the first time we had walked through the house just before moving into it nearly five years ago. It seemed so similar in a lot of ways, except that our fingerprints and our history were now apart of the house. I could see all of the work that we had done to make it more grand, beautiful, and restored. But this house had also changed us. It, too, had also left it’s mark on us. We were leaving this place as very different people than when we had first walked through it’s doors. We had a different perspective now. And in some peculiar and unpredictable ways, the house had helped us to recognize where we wanted our life to be.

When we had first bought it, we had talked about all of the “happy and sad stories” that the walls of this house had witnessed. As we stood in the main room and looked at the big walls, ornate trim, and 100 year old floors, we recognized that we’d certainly been one of it’s happy stories. I hoped this house would witness many more to come.




Selling the House

There was no way that we were going to be selling the house with a realtor. We had bought our house as a private sale and it had gone beautifully. However – we had previously attempted to purchase a house as a private sale and, well, it had been an utter disaster – nearly leading to fisticuffs and bloodshed and likely prison.

We’d experienced both extremes of a private purchase of a house and now it was time to experience the selling part. A few years ago when house sales were going crazy in the city, a marketing company called had offered people a secure means to market their houses and for buyers to find private houses for sale.

Anyone who has sold a house recently knows that realtor fees are effing outrageous: 6% on the first $100,000, 4% on the second $100,000, and 2% on the rest. So for a $400,000 house the realtor(s) would get a $14,000 pay cheque from the seller! Man, am I in the wrong business.

Our house was nice and we lived in a desirable neighbourhood. It simply made no sense as to why we wouldn’t sell it ourself, even if we were a bit nervous.

Figuring out the SaskHouses website was super simple. Make your write-up, submit 30 pictures, and, bam, done. What’s the cost of this little operation? 300 bucks… So, that’s a difference of $13,700. Not bad. The following morning they come by and stick a sign on the lawn. Then you wait for the calls.

Well, here we go, we thought. We both posted it on our Facebook and asked people to spread the word.

As we listed the house at 9pm on a Monday night, the last coat of paint was literally drying on the freshly built fence after the coop move the day prior (it had been a busy month).

The next morning we got up and checked the ad listing. Overnight it had received 1500 views! People were sharing it all over Facebook and it was getting tons of positive comments. “Dream house” seemed to come up a lot.

Ok, awesome, I thought, now someone buy it!

At 9am, we had our first phone call. The English fellow on the other end asked if the house was still available. Yup, you’re the first caller, I told him. He was relieved and said that he and his wife wanted to look at the house as soon as possible, BUT he had to go in for emergency dental surgery in 15 minutes. “Could we come over right after?”

Wow, these guys are serious!

In the meantime, I had had 5 or 6 other people call in the morning wanting to come see the house. Several of them being realtors calling for clients.

Now this is something I really couldn’t understand. Why is that people feel they “need” a realtor on a private sale? Is it guilt, fear, shame, paranoia or something else? I had to tell the realtor’s, “well, this is a private sale so we won’t be paying any realtor fees. If your clients would like to come look at the house they are welcome to do so, but you will have to discuss with them if they would like to pay you a fee above and beyond a possible purchase price.”

One of the realtor’s had the nerve to tell me that “99% of houses on SaskHouses end up going through a realtor.” He said that we could simply pay them a smaller fee” in order to “help coach their client through the offer process.” Curious, I asked what he considered this smaller fee to be: $5000. I laughed out loud. Well, the form is pretty simple – idiot proof, you might say. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks sheet: write in the offer, write in your conditions, and sign your name here and initial there. That’ll be five grand please.

Dang, I’m so in the wrong business!

Anyways, about two hours later the first couple came to the door. The gentleman’s face was swollen and full of gauze from his emergency surgery. He couldn’t really talk but he was happy that I had waited to show them the house first. I toured them around and explained all of the work we had done. They loved it.

They’d been looking for awhile and had missed out on a house they’d really wanted because they’d been the 2nd people through the door (ironically the house was friends of ours who had recently moved to Vancouver). This time they were 1st and they weren’t going to miss this opportunity. They filled in the fill-in-the-blanks offer sheet.

The house had been for sale for 16 hours.

It was SOLD.


Apartment Therapy Makes a House Call

We finally had the house looking pretty sexy and ready to sell. Really it looked better than ever (isn’t that always the way, you finally get the house ‘done’ and then sell it, oh well). I had always wanted to photograph the house and submit it to Apartment Therapy. AT had been our go-to website for design inspiration for our old house and we’d referenced a number of house tours and features for our next place as well. Now that we had the house done and I had to take photos anyways in order to list it, I thought, what the heck I’ll submit it. I certainly wouldn’t have another chance. I really didn’t expect them to get back to us. But two days later they wrote back saying that our house had been selected from the “hundreds of submissions” they receive to be featured as a house call.

This is the post I wrote for them with the photos they used…

Kent & Darcie’s Dream Home (not my title, by the way)

Name: Kent & Darcie
Location: Caswell Hill neighborhood, Saskatoon, Canada

Our house is a very unique home in one of the most exciting and rejuvenated neighborhoods in our city. Built in 1912 by a successful farmer for his wife and eight children, the house retains the character of a Craftsman-style home while also enjoying all of the modern day comforts due to extensive renovations performed over the past seven years. Sitting on the incline of a hill and elevated from the road with a large retaining wall, the house enjoys expansive views of the city.

The house had been extremely run down when it was purchased in the mid-2000s. It had been the rental property of a notorious slum landlord for the previous 15-20 years and was known as the house to avoid on the block. A write-up in the newspaper described dozens of truckloads of garbage being hauled away, hypodermic needles strewn about and blood splattered walls. This certainly was a renovation not for the weak of heart or stomach. The first major renovation was in the mid-1990s, though it soon fell into dilapidation. Seven years ago when it was purchased from a rental company, significant work was needed again.

The renovations and restoration has been significant from top to bottom and inside and out. Intricate detail was paid to even the most minute parts of the home. The results speak for themselves.

The house is 1900 square feet over three stories with a full height basement adding 600 square feet. The style of home is known as a Craftsman Character home, which is common in the neighborhood, though no other houses enjoy the immense height of the house (approximately 45 feet tall) and the large windows and bedrooms are very unusual for this era.

The house design and style was inspired by the traditional homes of the Netherlands, of which a black house is not an uncommon sight, although in Canada this is somewhat strange. The interior design was influenced by Scandinavian aesthetics. We love natural materials and items with a story. We never collected antiques until we bought this house, but it forced it upon us. The items we’ve collected complement the house so well and speak to its past. But we are also modernists at heart. We love the design of Ray and Charles Eames and have collected a number of their items. Our favorite being the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. Our other favorite piece in the house is the Ligne Roset Togo sectional sofa. The contrast of the original character of the house and the modern furniture makes the home so much more interesting and fun to live in.

This past year we removed our parking space in the backyard and designed and built a chicken coop/shed. We have been raising three backyard chickens since the spring. It’s something we’d always wanted to try and having fresh eggs every morning is beyond amazing.

I’m proud of the entire house. To have it taken from the brink of being condemned and to restore the beauty of the home by ourselves and the previous owner before us is such a great feeling of satisfaction.

Here is the link to the entire article on Apartment Therapy:

Kent & Darcie’s Dream Home

I had to chuckle initially at the title seeing as here we were about to sell the place. But really the house was our dream house. It’s just our dream had now changed and we were ready to move on.

Still it’s pretty cool to see our house and our design get such positive comments, be featured on one of my favourite design websites, to see it “pinned” on Pinterest and being shared around is pretty darn rewarding, I must say.

Preparing to change our life

After pre-empting our previous plan to sell our house and start building in the Spring of 2015, we now had to rapidly prepare to change our life.

It made a lot of sense to sell our house early: free ourselves of the stress of two places and two mortgages, have money in the bank account to finance our build, be able to focus on the house design, avoid the stress of moving and building simultaneously, be able to save some money over the winter, and experience the country life.

When I told our friends that we had decided to sell our house and move to a “cottage” they thought we were a bit crazy (almost as crazy as when we told them we were going to live in a yurt for the summer). That is until I should them a picture of “The Cottage.”



I think most people pictured a little shack with weathered cedar boards, creaky old doors, a broken window or two, a moss covered roof, and an old coonhound sitting on the deck next to a rocking chair. But this wasn’t your average cottage.

This was an architecturally built guest house with two curtain window walls, one facing east to the sunrise and the river, the other overlooking an immaculate 40 acre property.

Still this cottage comes in at just under 750 sq.ft. with two bedrooms and one bathroom. For some people the thought of downsizing from a 1900 sq.ft. three storey house plus basement, with 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms is a bit intimidating – but we were so excited about it. That big old house, although beautiful, had been wearing on us the past year or so. We’d spent a lot of time and money renovating it and making it our own, but it never quite felt right to us. There was always so much to do and maintain and it seemed that something was always in need of repair. We’d always dreamed of building our own house in the country, so once we entered down that path, the old house became less and less appealing to us. It seemed like a burden and we were looking forward to moving onto the next chapter.

But there was a lot of work to get there – like a ridiculous amount of work.

I think I had blocked the memory of our last move from my memory completely – like disaster survivors do – a coping mechanism to allow you to move on with your life.

We first had to go through the house and make a list of all of those things that I’d either put off doing because it was going to be such a nightmare and/or I had neglected to do because I hated the thought of it. These are all of those annoying little things that don’t necessarily take a lot of time, but they really suck doing. Or, alternatively, they take a LONG time to do and they really super suck doing.

So for the next month, every single night we were fixing, patching, replacing, painting, scrubbing, filling, caulking and all sorts of other ungodly tasks. This was also the same point at which we moved our chicken coop. Once we moved the coop out of the backyard, didn’t have out chickens anymore, and instead had a boring white fence and parking spot again, the house really didn’t feel like it was ours anymore. We didn’t belong here anymore.

We finally were ready to sell the house.