Posts Tagged ‘Chickens’

The Birds and the Bees and the Chickens

Dear Chickens,

Girls, I should say Ladies, it’s high time we had The Talk.  Mommy doesn’t know where the time has gone and it seems like yesterday when you were using your little chirping voices to tell me how much you liked your bugs.  Nevertheless, time has passed and I’ve neglected this part of your education, thinking I could keep you safe from the world with farmer-enforced celibacy, safe inside your chicken nunnery.  You’ve matured, as evidenced by the tasty eggs you leave our family each morning.  It’s important to know the potential consequences of being a grown up chicken.  Because, you see, when boy chickens and girl chickens get together they can have baby chickens.  These are the wonders of unprotected chicken sex.

Mommies and daddies can make babies, too.  Mommy took a special test this morning and it turns out she is going to have a baby.  You are going to have another human brother or sister!  Silkie, thank you for offering to go broody (again) to help me out, but I assure you there is no need to pull out any more feathers for the nest.

I hope, my dear girls, that one day you find a special rooster so you, too, can have little chicks.  I would dearly love to have grandchicks, but it is best to wait until you are ready.  Having babies is lovely, but can be challenging.  I heard that chickens don’t have morning sickness.  Mommy would love to know your secret.

Love,

Mommy

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My First Poultry Show: Courtesy of the Sussex County Poultry Fanciers

Today I was inititated into the wild world of the poultry show circuit.  It reminded me of “Best in Show,” but the participants infinitely more down to earth.  We drove over the border to the New Jersey State Fair Grounds for the day and reveled in all things chicken.

Wow!  The number and variety of birds was astonding.  There had to be well over a thousand entries.  The best headed to the Champions Row.

There were also quite a selection of birds for sale.  Needless to say, I was sorely tempted, but just kept reminding myself of my 24 hatching eggs currently in the incubator.

I also saw several gorgeous Faverolles hens.  I had really hoped to see a Faverolles rooster up close, but talking with owners and fellow fanciers just confirmed that we made the right decision in selecting the Faverolles as the basis of our self-perpetuating heritage flock.  Who knows?  Maybe my birds will be in the show next year?

There were many other events at the fairgrounds today including a Pet Expo, a Horse Show, fishing in the pond, and Farmers’ Market. The market was held in a scenic barn.

Since I missed our weekly market, I made a few purchases that would last the ride home from New Jersey including local wine and bread from Hopewell Valley Vineyards and cheese from Springhouse Creamery.  What a great day thanks to the folks with the Sussex County Poultry Fanciers.  If you’ve never been to a show, please go.  It’s easy to find, just follow the crowing!

Layoffs at the Farm

Dear Chickens,

Mommy found out that she still has a job today.  “What is a job?” you ask.  It’s the work we do to contribute to our little family.  Each of us has our job.  Mommy and Daddy go to work to earn a paycheck, your human sibling goes to school, doggie stays home to watch you, and you stay home to grow and lay eggs.  We each do our best to contribute to our family in our own special way, despite repeated efforts of a determined toddler to switch jobs with you to stay home and lay eggs.

Does it feel good to have your chicken job?  Eggs for grain and grass.  I know that Mommy likes her job very much.  It is a part of her and feels as natural as your instinct to dust bathe and chase bugs.  I would miss my job terribly if I lost it.  Do you worry about becoming a very literal casualty of layoffs when you become obsolete or outsourced or simply because times are tough and there isn’t enough grain to go around?  I hope not because I suspect it might lead to upset chicken tummies.

What will happen when, during the natural course of farm living, some of your brother roosters are laid off from the flock to become Sunday dinner for the family?  Will you, my darling laying flock, have survivor’s guilt?  Will it be hard to keep going when you know that those chickens forced into an early retirement could not?  What if those terminated chickens were just as capable as those left behind on the farm?

Sometimes good farmers have to make difficult decisions.  I am very lucky to have just such a good farmer-type at Mommy’s work and I strive to be the same for you, my hardworking chickens.

Love,

Mommy

Rhubarb Compote with Honey, Maple Syrup, and Tarragon

Wandering the garden shortly after dawn with the chickens is perhaps an unusual way to start the weekend in suburbia and one that might receive some grumblings at that, but for me it’s heaven. It’s also a way to peruse the breakfast buffet. Hmm, I think I’ll choose some rhubarb. The chickens choose the leaf hoppers escaping off the rhubarb. We’re all happy.

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On the way inside, I eye the tarragon that overwintered in a pot by the door. Wouldn’t that be a nice combination? The tart from the rhubarb and delicate anise-like flavor of the tarragon in a naturally sweetened compote. Rhubarb is our only local “fruit” this time of year and will be perfect over our homemade breakfasts of yogurt, pancakes, or waffles.

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Rhubarb Compote with Honey, Maple Syrup, and Tarragon
  • Rhubarb stems, cut into 1/2-1″ slices, enough to fill a medium saucepan approximately 3/4 full
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey (or more to taste)
  • tarragon sprig (Optional)

Add the rhubarb and maple syrup to a medium saucepan.

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Bring rhubarb and maple syrup to a gentle simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey and tarragon.

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Allow to the compote to stand until just warm and serve over pancakes, waffles, or ice-cream or cool completely and serve over yogurt or spread on toast like jam. Store unused compote in the refrigerator. It will thicken when cooled. Remove tarragon sprig before serving.

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Fresh Poached Eggs

If you’ve never had a poached egg before, please try them! They are especially successful if you have access to fresh eggs because they hold their shape and taste exquisite. When they are that fresh, they are actually easier to cook and you certainly won’t need any specialty cookware. All you really need are eggs, barely simmering water and a spoon.   A slotted spoon is preferable and a small bowl can be helpful, too.  Have everything ready because it’s quick process.

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Crack your eggs one at a time either directly into the water or (easier method) into a small bowl and then gently ease the egg into the water.

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The poaching eggs remind me of wispy ghosts.  Prior to adding the eggs to the water, some people add a splash of vinegar to help firm up the eggs, but I don’t think it’s necessary when using farm fresh.

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If you’re cooking multiples, quickly add them to the simmering water and leave them enough room to poach.

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When they are cooked to your liking, remove them with a slotted spoon.

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How long is to “your liking?” I’m a fan of the 3-minute egg.  In the example below, you can see that the white is completely set, but the yolk is still runny.

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Welcome to Our Chicken Coop & Run

With more chickens arriving this spring, I’ve been reassessing our current housing. Prior to blogging about our mini farming adventures, we purchased a chicken coop advertised to hold 16 birds and built a run accordingly with 20 square feet per chicken (8’x40′) so they would have plenty of room to be happy chickens when they aren’t free ranging. We are quite proud of the run. It is a sturdy construction, fully enclosed in hardware cloth, which is also partially buried underground. Needless to say, we’ve never had a predator problem inside the run. It’s a Fort Knox. My husband even installed a corrugated roof over the coop and food so the ladies and I would have a dry spot while doing our daily chores.

And then there is the coop itself. It was purchased online cheap, site unseen, in kit form. All I can say is that we got what we paid for and I regret not making a better investment or building it ourselves. On the positive side, the chickens love the nesting boxes and will even come back from free ranging to lay eggs inside them. On the negative side, the chickens hate the coop. “Really,” you say, “How can nice chickens hate a nice coop.” “Well,” I reply, “They refuse to use it.” What??? Since introducing them to the coop and allowing them to come home to roost, they have chosen instead not to roost on the roosts. Instead, they sleep on top of the roof. The roof???  Yup, they clumsily fly up to the A-frame roof and sleep like ducks in a row. Fortunately, we had an extremely mild winter, but I am concerned for what next year brings. So below are some photos of what works and what needs improvement.

Here’s our chicken run and coop.  It’s situated to be sunny in the winter and shaded in the summer and so we can watch the chicken antics from the house.  The run measures 8′ wide because that was the width of the hardware cloth.  There’s plenty of room and plenty of room makes for chickens that are nicer to each to other.

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This is a closer look at the corrugated roof that my husband added after our birdbrains decided to sleep under the stars.  As an added bonus, it is a real plus for making chores easier when it’s raining or snowing.  We sometimes in poor taste jokingly refer to it as the “favelas” in reference to the poor shantytowns of Brazil.  My Portuguese-American husband tells me that the word “favela” is actually derived from the Portuguese word for fable or fairytale so I’d like to think our set-up is closer to the latter meaning.

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Underneath the corrugated roof we have the food, water, free-choice calcium, and a galvanized metal can with lid for storing extra food and supplies.

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Ahh, here’s the most convenient part of our arrangement:  Running water from a frost-proof hydrant. This is also doubles as the water source for my mini farm plot.

Why my chickens hate the coop:  I think the roosts are too close to the ground and they prefer to be higher up.

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Yet perhaps I should be grateful the chickens prefer to sleep outdoors?  One evening after sweeping, the roof is again covered in chicken poop.  Backyard Poultry magazine had an interesting article about how fresh air is so much healthier and this arrangement certainly fits that description.

Why I hate the coop:  It started falling apart shortly after assembly.  The nesting boxes are precariously drooping and the walls are coming undone.  Because it is constructed of such poor quality materials, it is resisting our preservation efforts.

I thought the removable floor trays were a grand idea, but in practice they get jammed with litter.  So I must remove all the litter through the little pop hole prior to removing the trays for washing.  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?  Once this coop does finally fall apart, I think I want to build a coop that employs the deep liter method.

Fortunately, the ladies do love their nesting boxes!

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Roughly in order of the pecking order, our mixed flock has a treat inside the run.

Pallet Chicken Coop Seeking Inspiration

Reduce, reuse, recycle… Waste not want not… Besides, have you seen the prices of chicken coops lately?!

My Faverolles eggs arrive soon and I’ve been mulling over how to best integrate them into our existing flock whilst simultaneously improving the housing quality for all of our birds.  So I’m setting myself a personal challenge:  Build a new coop from reclaimed materials… primarily from abandoned pallets.  I’m going to start with a stepping stone project:  A small mobile chicken tractor with the dual purpose of  brooder and isolation space in case of injury or illness.  I figure I have about 42 days (Another week until the eggs arrive, 21 days in the incubator, plus two weeks that the chicks will fit comfortably in their brooding quarters).

Now for the biggest part of the personal challenge:  I need to overcome my healthy respect (i.e. fear) of sharp power tools.

And even more importantly:  I need to keep my toddler safe from said tools.

Does anyone have any ideas about pallet coops?  I’d really appreciate any feedback, links, and/or pics!

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