Sunday, December 26, 2010

Having Chickens Really Makes You Think...

...about food consumption in an entirely new light. Like so many folks out there today, we got chickens as part of an ideal: living more sustainably than we have been. Raising chickens, as part of that scenario, is one of our first steps toward that ideal. We planned to raise healthy happy chickens, consume their eggs, gift or sell what we do not need, and use their poop to feed our garden.

So far so good, or more like, so far, so great. But we haven't gotten to the part where we need to cull the flock to make room for new layers. Hopefully we'll get right with that process when the time comes. Meanwhile, however, these little ladies have really made me think hard about the volume of meat I consume. When our flock consisted of 11 hens, I calculated how far their meat would last to feed our family. Simply put, not all that long. There is almost always some kind of meat, albeit it locally and organically raised, in one of our daily meals.  So the dialog began: how long could we really make 11 hens last after they were processed and in our freezer? First off, meat would have to NOT be the main course so it's "table life" was extended. At the end of the spectrum there is always chicken soup, but in between, the meals should be primarily vegetable based, with a little chicken sprinkled in for good measure. After all, there is much less in the way of energy and overall resources expended in raising vegetables, just for starters. Then there is the health factor; meat is good, but in smaller portions than mainstream America ingests it. If we're really conscious of our eating habits, we could likely get 5 or even 6 meals from one hen. So stretching that out, maybe sandwiching in a day of vegetarianism in there somewhere, we'd get a week of sustenance from one chicken. With 11 hens, that's a whopping total of under 3 months. I really wonder if we could do it?

I found this poster on-line this morning. It reflects these latest musings. It's got design roots in the revolutionary style of the '30s social movement and the message itself speaks directly to the social revolution of our time: grow your own, do it organically. And for me, the subtext is: eat less meat! If you want one of your very own, follow this link to the Portland artist's Etsy Store:

Chicken Giving

Our Homely Little Barred Rock (We're Disappointed That We'll Never Find Out If She's Really a Dwarf or Will Grow Into That BIG Head)

He & She Barred Rocks
The opportunity to help a neighbor's friend presented itself yesterday. The chickens were free ranging out in the street again and he came across to let us know there was a new dog out and about and it may not be safe for a chicken. After chatting a bit we learned that his friend had recently lost his only hen leaving his rooster despondent, wondering away from home. He asked if he could buy one of our leghorns to give to the lonely rooster. After a few minutes of debate about whether or not it would be OK to separate one of our spoiled girls we decided that this opportunity presented itself to us to help someone else (or someone's rooster) and perhaps that was no coincidence. We offered up any or all of our older girls, gratis, thinking maybe they'd be better off going as a package. He really only needed one, and decided quickly on the one barred rock. So off she went, hopefully to as nice a home as she'd had the short time she was here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Humboldt Hens: Christmas Present From A Leghorn, The Gift of Eggs

Humboldt Hens: Christmas Present From A Leghorn, The Gift of Eggs

Christmas Present From A Leghorn, The Gift of Eggs

What a beautiful present from one of our four Leghorns. I believe in Christmas elves, and in this case, I'm wondering if an elf or ostrich snuck into the hen house and deposited this humongous gift. Photos don't do it justice, it's about 1/3 larger than any of the other eggs. The egg carton won't even close! Don't know if this is an anomaly or if we can expect more colossal deposits in the future. Either way I feel for the hen who laid this one.

Today is the first day one of the chickens decided to come check out our pantry. Maybe she feels that since she left us a nice gift she's now entitled to house privileges?

It's been an egg-stravaganza here lately and we've been able to gift 4 dozen eggs so far and still have plenty for everyday use.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

You Can Teach an Old Chick New Tricks: Cleaning and Storing Chicken Eggs

All but one of the young ladies are now laying. We have us here an egg bonanza which means that the task of figuring out safe cleaning and storage is at hand.

My first few eggs with little streaks of, we'll call it dirt, sent me to the sink to run cold water over them to make them look perfect...practice for the  possibly of someday selling them to the local natural food store. It didn't work too well, so off to the internet I went looking for the wisdom of the masses who have gone before. Ag universities, including UC Davis have weighed in with the "no water" technique. Because eggs by nature have a protective layer of protein, or "bloom" on the outside of the shell, water is actually not a good idea as it rinses this right down the drain leaving the egg susceptible to the harsh world beyond the shell. Since the shell itself is porous, it can actually drive bacteria into the egg thereby nicely defeating the original purpose. It also speeds up the loss of moisture from the egg, so really, it's a no no. The best method seems to be prevention: keeping nest boxes clean and collect eggs frequently. Most of the girls lay in the early hours of the day so two morning collections seems to do the trick. If the eggs do get dirty gently brushing the shell off in spots where it is soiled with a plastic kitchen scrubby works. I've read sand paper, or a plastic toothbrush, used solely for this purpose will take care of business also. Sand paper seems a bit harsh to me but with fine enough grit maybe I'm being too harshly myself.

So my foray into learning about egg care has learned me a few other interesting tidbits. You know those cute little plastic egg trays you find on the door of some refrigerators? Toss 'em!  I have it on good advice from U.C. Davis School of Agriculture that the temperature there is a little warmer than the rest of the refrigerator and the jarring of opening and closing the door can make the yolk break loose from the strands that hold it in place, scrambling your egg before you even crack it. And since egg shells are porous, they pick up the flavors floating around in your fridge if not kept in a closed egg container.

UC Davis on Egg Cleaning and Storage

Sunday, December 12, 2010

All hens, old and new, survived the night together in the coop. The new girls spent the night on the floor, as expected since they didn't have a roost in their former home. However, first thing this morning Pretty Girl, our most gorgeous of Blue Lace Red Wyandottes, drop kicked one of the newbies in passing. It's an interesting study watching the integration of two flocks. Our flock did very little posturing and their pecking order most always is barely visible. I really couldn't tell you who was top hen. That said, it seems our most docile, lower-end-of-the-pecking-order chicks are the ones showing the most aggression.  Again this morning the two flocks are keeping their distance.

Pretty Girl (a.k.a. Drop Kickin' Chicken)

Dora and Pretty Girl in Stare Down. The lowest in the pecking order vie to keep their spots!
After talking yesterday to Tom, our chicken guru, we're medicating the new girls just to be safe that they are not carrying any pathogens. They dined first thing today on rice, yogurt, and hamburger...breakfast of champions! Here's hoping time and good rations will help nurse these ladies back to decent form, and not at the expense of our "pet" chickens.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lombard Rejects Backyard Chickens

This is what's wrong in the world. Can you imagine living in a place where you can't raise hens? Read this article so you'll know NOT to move to Lombard, a suburb of Chicago. OK, so you weren't planning to move there anyway, but chicken lovers and sustainable-livers of the world need to unite in support of folks ability to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

So many misconceptions exist in the minds of elected officials and other uninformed citizens who apparently won't even give chickens a trial run. C'mon Lombard City Council! Hens are neither loud nor smelly. Many neighbors, after exposure to next-door chickens are delightfully surprised. One neighbor who strolled past my house today commented on how nice it was to see my chickens out in my front yard. The world can change, one neighboorhood at a time. Here's to CLUC and all other groups striving to promote more sustainable living conditions.

Please take a moment to read the article linked to the title of this post and register your opinion.


New Kids on the Block

This morning we added 6 older girls to our flock. The six chickens (5 Rhodies, 1 Barred Rock) looked quite peckish with large bald spots, obviously in the midst of their molt. We plan to increase their protein intake immediately to give them a boost through their molt. Tom of A&L Feed, suggests adding 10% cat food to their layer pellets. We'll probably go with what we give our girls, oat groats with yogurt and a little raw hamburger and hopefully watch them quickly regain their feathers where they look like they've been picking on each other.

They were silent the entire car ride, but popped quickly out of the boxes when placed in the pen. After a short debate, we let our girls come in to see what was going on. The posturing started immediately and blood was drawn on both Dora, the Buff Orpington, and our Barred Rock. In fact, Dora now sports a nasty blood blister the size of a quarter near her ear. The new girls are scrappers and when they got down and dirty, they didn't let go. Agh, I detest violence, even when it is the natural course of things.

We spent the majority of the day in and out of the chicken yard and the two flocks spent the day ignoring each other after the initial blood letting. The new hens had to be placed in the coop and chose to stay on the floor rather than risk a roost invasion. GOOD I say! I am still quite anxious as to what we may find in the morning as I had a dream two nights ago of feathers everywhere and only two of our birds left.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dirty Dozen

Despite the shortness of days, some of the young ladies are beginning to lay. Last week saw our first brown egg, a gift from the shier of the two Rhode Island Reds. What a joy to check the nesting boxes to find not one, not two, not three, but four eggs in one day! An astonishing feat considering winter's fast approach. Since the Blue Lace Red Wyandottes went on strike several months ago, visions of winter custards, souffles, quiches and the like were snuffed, only now to be reignited!

Proudly, we have our first dozen eggs that include two browns. They may not be as pretty as store bought eggs; the bloom is still on the egg.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday Duck from Daisy and Buck

Local Tom Struttin' His Stuff(ing) on the Arcata Bottoms


Thanksgiving has come and gone and there is much to be thankful for. A house full of family, good food, and many hands keeping the woodstove aflame, making the bread, dressing the turkey, and making emergency trips to the store for last minute (for)gets.

We dined on organic turkey but the big fun was a locally raised duck from a neat young couple, Ash and David, otherwise known as Buck and Daisy (, who are making a go of raising ducks and rabbits. The duck was hands down the crown jewel of the feast. Pekin (as opposed to Muscovy) is the fatty duck most of us novice duck devourers are acquainted with. We stuffed her full of oranges, onions, and herbs from the garden and made a l'orange sauce that made the duck dance in our mouths. It was out-o-this world.

So this holiday gave me pause to consider not only what I'm grateful for (that was easy, they were all around me) but also the thought that next year we will have our own Naragansett turkey raised with our second batch of chicks. Per Ash and David, they are the sweetest of fowl...the only ones that didn't run or hide upon first encounters with human touch. Now one of us has to get OK with the "processing" part. It probably won't come easy, but studying under Ash and David may help to cushion the impact.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fruits of the Forest, Feast For the Family

The illusive bloom
The transportation
The bounty
Chanterelle, goat cheese, carmelized onion pizza
chanterelles in creme sauce with pasta, parmesan, chicken

Last week we hit the jackpot in our newfound hobby, foraging for fungi. We found enough to enjoy two meals of which chanterelles were the centerpiece. Night #1 they were sauteed in butter, wine and finished off with heavy cream, added to pasta with carmelized onions and grilled free range organic chicken. Night #2 got even better: pizza topped with olive oil, chanterelles sauteed with thyme, butter, olive oil and again carmelized onions, a smattering of roasted red bell peppers, and local favorite, Cypress Grove goat cheese. One reviewer claims it was "de best pizza ever" :-). Apparently the delicate chanterelles are best sauteed in fats like butter and creme...brings out their unforgettable forest floor flavor. I can't decide which was more enjoyable, the hunt or the feast.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nesting Boxes in the Nick of Time?

Long Overdue Nesting Box Partitions

Ironically, Eggs in the Woodshed

Today I happened to be inspired to finish the nesting boxes for the girls. To date we have had only one big long nesting box without dividers. While combing through the shed for spare plywood to finish the job, I came across this egg-citing (maybe two) of our California Whites, aka Leghorns, aka our current favs, has begun laying. Too cool! Like the woman who delivers on the way to the hospital, the poor girl had to lay her eggs in the woodshed on a tarp because the nesting box was just not finished. No wonder Chicken Little and Snow White were closely inspecting the box building today, remaining in the boxes even as the noisy screwdriver did it's thing...must have sounded like a jackhammer to them. Nonetheless, they remained constant companions throughout the blaring affair. Now I understand a bit better their motivation, and it was not just the possibility that I might possess food, rather a comfy secluded place to nest. Coincidence that after months and months of not finishing the nesting boxes that the hens lay and the nest day I build nexting boxes? I think not. I prefer to believe I am becoming one with the chickens, highly in tune with their needs.

This egg laying confirms our sneaking suspicion that the four little white hens, sold to us as Americaunas are actually a horse of another color...or at least the eggs are. They were de best eggs ever with the most orange yolk.

Today I also installed a light and set a timer up to have it go on at 4 am. None of the hens seems to be molting anymore so hopefully they won't mind.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

...And Speaking of Farming

Here's the latest addition to our homesteading efforts, a rain catchment barrel, otherwise affectionately known as "poop water" since we've added some of our high-in-nitrogen stinky stuff to it. The addition of an aerator has made a remarkable difference in the olfactory factor (i.e. our back deck no longer smells like it is located next to the sewage treatment plant). Now nothing emanating from our chickens will go to waste, not even theirs.

Farming & Foraging

The last couple of weeks have been prime mushroom weather here on the Northcoast. The fever hit us shortly after a friend dropped by a bag full of freshly plucked chanterelles. At $13.45 a pound at the local Coop, we decided it was high time we get out there and learn for ourselves where to find these tasty forest nypmhs. Our first attempt a couple of weekends ago netted us nothing. Between cloudbursts we trekked up the hill a few miles, tromped through the forest and found fungi of many shapes sizes. Soaked, cold, and disappointed, we headed home chanterelle-less (or is that chanterelless?).

This past week however we decided to try closer to home on the local bike path we frequent. Within a few feet of the well-trodden trail, we uncovered our first patch! Tiny little baby fruits peeked out from under the forest duff. Here, there, practically everywhere. Mostly they are still very teeny so we are monitoring them regularly as if they were a new brood of hopes that someone else isn't doing the same. It is inexplicably satisfying to farm and now forage for food locally, bring the bounty still damp with dirt into the kitchen and dream up an epicurean delight based on our harvested.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why The White Bird Has Become My Friend

The latest weekend morning grub for the girls is a mix of 1 part organic oat groats, 1 part organic plain yogurt and 1 part shredded apple. The reason for the recipe: One of the Blue Laced Red Wyandottes took her molt to an extreme which made her look 1/3 her original size and worried me a little since this is my first fall for fowl and not completely knowing what to expect. The absence of eggs clued me in and although I continued my daily egg hunt for weeks, I still came up empty. Egg laying ceased some time in September which seemed way too early, but when one of the (affectionately named) evil step sisters became a shadow of her former self I finally came to understand that the change in season has a profound effect on these ladies. Long story short, after googling (new word for researching) molting, chicken dietary needs, etc. I learned that they need extra protein to create new feathers which are pretty much all protein. Yogurt is a good and much appreciated source and the reason why our 4 beautiful white, formerly shy skittish ladies are now flying atop the gate within inches of our countenance looking for their porridge in the whites of our eyes. Even the blessed blueberries didn't have this effect. Extreme molts call for extreme measures.

3 Speed Cheekens

Our adventurous white ( breed as yet unidentified) hens have taken a shining to the ancient 3 speed yard ornament. They say that kids take after their parents, however I think this picture goes a long way toward answering the age-old question "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Same reason she climbed the bike and jumped up on the see what was on the other side.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ode to a Barred Rock

None were as deft at unearthing crawlies from newly upturned wood, none as swift to heed the call of the arrival of a new epicurean experiment, waddling at break-neck speed from across the avian way. The whittled perch that always held three now becries an untenanted place next to the window frame where you roosted night after night, the singular recipient of feather strokes as the evening count commenced. Two-by-two is lesser one, save the fond memory that takes your place.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why is it that Chicken Little and her white kin are the most photographable of the flock? While the Blue Lace Red Wyandottes and Rhode Island Reds are the most "photogenic", none will hold still enough for a portrait it seems.

This rainy windy morn holds no interest for the ladies outside of their warm, dryish coop. Nothing a little cantaloupe and freshly cooked oat groats can't fix. I don't understand why my teen thinks the girls are spoiled. And when I tell my girlfriend of their frequent late summer treats of blueberries (OK OK only when there are reasonably priced berries at Costco will they become handfuls of chicken delight) you should see the looks I get! The enthusiasm with which the girls scuttle, waddle, and take short break-neck flight to sink their beaks into these juicy delicacies is worth more than the price of the berries afterall.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Sky is Falling The Sky is Falling

Arrived home from work to threatening storm clouds and a new weather vane. If any possibility exists of distinguishing between the four white hens, I'd name her Chicken Little.