Monday, January 31, 2011

Awaiting a chicken's first egg - 'Honey, it's almost time!'

by Rachel Hurd Anger

Today, our hens are 19 weeks old, nearly old enough to begin laying. Waiting for the first egg is starting to resemble the end of pregnancy when all is go, and everyone calls daily to see if mama's in labor.

Essentially, we are waiting for an event that will change the rest of our lives. Perhaps it's too dramatic a comparison, but we've made a big investment by bringing a flock of chickens to live on our small suburban lot, but I even send my husband out at night when it's cold to make sure the girls' ladder is up so they're secured and warm, much like an expecting mom might sweet-talk hubs into a late night run for a tub of Phish Food and pickles.

Like adoptive parents of humans, I considered myself "paper pregnant" after our chicks were ordered, and as we waited, I marked events like the laying of the eggs that made them and developmental milestones. And, of course we celebrated our girls' Hatchy Birthdays the day before their arrival via our postal carrier. While we're no longer expecting baby chicks, we still have some preparations to make.

First, with the laying of eggs, we're switching to organic feed for the best quality of eggs possible, available locally for about $30 for a 50-pound bag. Second, we need to begin offering oyster shell once the laying starts, but I'm still conflicted on whether to offer it free choice or to mix it with feed (I do a mixture of both with grit), so figuring that out is third. Fourthand the biggieis to plan the cooking of the first egg.

Preparing the egg will be ceremonious. It's a big deal because the commitment to raise chickens was a big deal, one not to be entered into lightly.

Our chickens have sort of rearranged our lives, and now they're about to pay us back for our labor with their labor. I'm in awe of them and the process of turning the energy of grains, sprouts, insects, spiders, and weedswhat most people call wasteinto a form of energy our bodies can use. A long-time self-professed city girl, I'll soon bring in my first warm egg and, setting aside the mild ick-factor (a common affliction of a new chickeneer), scramble up some love, served with four forks.

I'll add an extra flare of awesome to the mini entrée by greasing the pan with a bit of homemade butterthanks to this article from Mother Earth News, I've been whipping up butter for special occasions since 2009.

Greater sustainability, and knowledge of where our food comes from and what it's made of were our motivators for bringing chickens into our family. Once we're graced with the first egg, not only will we have a new reason to rush out and greet the chickens each morning, but I'll get to cook breakfast for my kids with something created no more than 40 feet from my own kitchen table.

With the days getting longer, and our girls snuggling and sunbathing together, the wait is almost over, and I'm more than ready for the tastiest egg I've ever eaten! Ahem ... I mean, the tastiest egg I've ever shared with three other people.

Contact the writer at, or visit her website at

Photos by Rachel Hurd Anger

by the sea

a long overdue post lost in the mayhem of the end of last year.

model: tara
makeup/styling: jules sebastian

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reader's Question: Hatching chicken eggs

Q: What temp do you hatch chicken eggs?
A: This is an important question if
you are trying to hatch chicken eggs in an incubator for the first time. A couple of degrees one way or the other can make the difference between a complete hatching and no hatch at all.

I’ve never used an incubator, only a mother hen, but my mother worked for the Land
Grant College here in New York State (Cornell) as a 4-H Extension Agent, and one
of the projects she always had for the County Fair was an incubator full of hatching
chicks. So, I went to my Extension information, and here’s what I found.

First of all, before you incubate, make sure your incubator is working properly and
that you know how to operate it. If you are buying a new incubator, make sure you
read the instruction book! If you are buying used, talk to the person who used it last,
if possible. Again, if there’s a book, read it, and then test it with a pan of water.
Make sure the incubator temperature stays between 99 degrees and 102 degrees F;
check the thermometer frequently for at least 24 hours before you incubate the eggs.
It’s best to use an incubator with a thermostat.

Once you have added eggs to the incubator maintain the temperature in the 99-102
degree F. range. A short period of cooler temperatures may not be harmful, but very
low temperatures will kill embryos. Try not to go lower than 97 degrees or higher
than 103. Any temperatures much different than these will probably severely
reduce the hatch.

Other information I found while researching this question advised attention to the
location of the incubator. Just placing it in the path of direct sunlight could make
a difference in the interior temperature. Make sure you have it placed so you don’t
accidentally unplug it, too!

Also, moisture level in the incubator should be about 50-55% relative humidity, and
ventilation should be provided by openings in the sides or tops of the incubator.
Eggs should be placed in the incubator on their sides, and turned at least 3 times
a day until the last 3 days. A mother hen will do this just by moving around on top of
the eggs, or by reaching under herself and
turning them with her beak. (Some
incubators will do this for you.)

For 21 days or so, you have to take the
place of the mother hen. Keep your eggs warm …
just about body temperature, turn them,
ventilate, check the humidity … and happy hatching!

Friday, January 28, 2011

"What Would You Do?" Getting Chickens to Use a Nest Box

by Karla T.

Q. Our hen is laying eggs on the floor. How to get her in the nesting boxes or doesn't it matter? Karen S., West Sunbury, Pennsylvania

A. The main reason that I would say it does matter where they lay is that you want to be able to FIND them. For example my husband had set a couple of empty feed bags in a corner of our coop and leaned an old cardboard box over it. A few weeks later he went to throw them away and he discovered that the chickens had laid nearly 30 eggs in their makeshift lean-to! No wonder we'd been experiencing a reduction in production.

Having the eggs in the nest box also helps keep them cleaner (usually) and protects them from being stepped on by chickens and humans.

Other then those reasons of convenience, I don't believe it is of major importance for the eggs to be in the nest box. There's been many times that our hens have discovered a dark corner that they favored for laying and it worked fine for us and them.

A few hints for getting them to lay in their boxes:

  • If the boxes are raised off the floor, try lowering them to floor level until they begin using them and then raise them up again.
  • Try leaving a couple of golf balls or wooden eggs in the boxes. Somehow this can help chickens figure out what the boxes are for. This worked for us.
  • Keep plenty of clean shavings in the boxes. When we add a thick layer of clean shavings it increases their utilization of the boxes.
  • Placing the boxes in a quiet and dark area of the hen house can help. They like to feel that they are laying their eggs someplace safe.
  • If hens are laying outside, it may help to keep them confined to the coop until later in the morning. Try different times of letting them out to see what works.

Related Posts:

This Cooking Is For the Birds

by Jennifer Burcke

I've officially crossed over to crazy chicken lady status. How do I know? Easy. I found myself standing at the stove this morning chopping apples and cooking oatmeal for the seven chickens who live at 1840 Farm. What has become of me?

It's been dreadfully cold here in the past week. So cold that we've been changing the chickens' water two or three times a day. Each time, we find a waterer that is frozen solid. Fresh water goes into the coop, frozen waterers come out a few hours later. The coop is covered in icicles and the weather isn't forecast to be warming up anytime soon.

In my quest to help the girls make it through this tough stretch of cold temperatures, I did a little research. Turns out that oatmeal makes a good cold weather treat for chickens. It made sense. After all, my family enjoys a warm bowl of oats on a cold morning, why not the chickens?

I wondered if our chickens would like oatmeal. They love fruit and vegetables, but oatmeal seemed like a bit of a stretch. It didn't have the color array that fresh fruits and vegetables provide. It also didn't have any aroma to speak of. I was worried that I might end up with seven hens looking at me as if I had placed warm wallpaper paste in their treat bowl.

I figured that it was worth a try, so I set about to make a batch of oatmeal. After it had thickened, I chopped up a red delicious apple and added it to the mix along with one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Suddenly, the oatmeal had the smell of fresh baked apples. This was no wallpaper paste.

I have read that supplementing a chicken's diet with apple cider vinegar can provide several health benefits. I found articles claiming that apple cider vinegar could be used to improve the health of a chicken's digestive system, making the bird less susceptible to worms. I read that one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar added to one gallon of water could be used to give an antibacterial boost to a coop's water supply. I also found an article that claimed that apple cider vinegar can even help to increase egg production.

I am not a veterinarian or an avian nutritionist. I don't know if apple cider vinegar delivers on any of these promises. I figured that adding it to the oatmeal would help in the aroma department and that it couldn't hurt where good chicken health was concerned. After sprinkling a little flax seed on top, my chicken's oatmeal was ready to serve.

I bundled up for the cold weather and made the treacherous, icy journey to the coop while balancing an unfrozen waterer and the steaming bowl of oatmeal. I opened the coop door and was greeted with a chicken melody. The hens were very curious about the odd-looking treat I had for them. As soon as I set the bowl down, there was a chicken convention at hand. They were eyeing the mixture and trying to work up the courage to take the first bite.

As usual, Bertha the Barred Plymouth Rock was surveying the situation from a safe distance. As the Queen Bee of the flock, she was not going to be the one to take the first bite. Instead, she would rely on one of the other hens to act as the royal food taster. She goes to great lengths to keep herself out of danger. It is clear that she views herself as the leader of the flock and feels that it is her responsibility to always stay on guard. She doesn't go looking for adventure in the coop or the treat bowl.

It didn't take long for the other hens to assume their position. Fawkes the Silver Laced Wyandotte cautiously took the first dip into the thick mixture and emerged with remnants on her beak. She began to happily go back for more. Suddenly, five other interested hens were surrounding her, hoping for a turn at the bowl.

Bertha wasn't yet convinced. She waited to make sure that no one was going to be overcome with ill effects due to this strange concoction. Then her curiosity got the best of her. She couldn't stand it any longer and sauntered up to the bowl. The others stopped eating and made way for her. She dipped her beak royally into the bowl, lifted her head and declared it delicious. Let them eat oatmeal!

Oatmeal fit for a Queen Hen
6 cups water
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 apple
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon flax seed

In medium pot, bring water to a rolling boil. Add oats and stir to incorporate. Cook for approximately five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover. Allow to rest for two minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the apple. The seeds must be removed as they contain trace amounts of cyanide, which can be toxic to chickens. Chop the seeded apple and set aside.

Combine half of the oatmeal mixture with the chopped apple and vinegar and stir to combine. Sprinkle flax seed on top. Store remaining oatmeal in refrigerator and use within three days.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reader's Question ...

by Rebecca Nickols

Q: I found one of my eggs this morning with some blood on it. I was wondering if the chicken who laid it might have some sort of disease or sickness? Could you give me some advice? Insook Cheon, Gardiner, N.Y.

A: Great question, Insook. Blood on an eggshell is usually of no concern: It's often the result of a small blood vessel rupturing as the hen lays the egg. It's common in pullets during their first laying cycle or if it's an unusually large or perhaps double-yolked egg. This should only occur occasionally, but if it continues, try to identify the hen laying the eggs and examine her vent for sores or signs of injury. If there is an open wound, isolate her from the flock to prevent the other chickens from pecking at the open sore and preventing it from healing. Also, dehydration and poor feeding can lead to increased frequency of bloody eggshells. Make sure she has plenty of feed and fresh water while she's recuperating, and it should clear up within a few days.

If you continue to notice a large amount of blood in the nesting boxes or if the problem seems to be coming from more than one hen, the trouble could be symptomatic of a more serious illness ... and a call to a local veterinarian knowledgeable in poultry advisable.

I hope your problem resolves shortly and you continue to enjoy those wonderful farm-fresh eggs!

View my website at ...the garden-roof coop.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Let's Talk Eggs!

by Pam Baker

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, some of our writers haven’t gotten eggs from their hens. Let me just say, that kind of anticipation is painful. It’s like waiting for Christmas, but you don’t know which day it is. At our place, we have been fortunate and I am grateful! Our hens started producing in September at 19 weeks. And they continue to lay eggs despite the cold, snowy weather and temperatures in the low teens. We have 10 hens, which equals nine eggs a day. Some days we only get eight, but some days we get 10. So you can see that in one week, seven days, we get 63 eggs, or five and one-quarter dozen. Trust me when I tell you that two people cannot consume five and one-quarter dozen eggs a week. We sell some to friends and neighbors. We do, however, eat a lot of eggs. One might be concerned about the amount of cholesterol consumed ... more about that later. Of late, “using up” eggs, has been big focus of my activities and thoughts. I peruse cookbooks and websites. Talk to friends and neighbors. As a matter of fact, consider this a two-part article. This first part we will talk about Egg Preparation/Dishes and the second part I will dive into Egg Nutrition.

So ... what do we do with all those eggs? Here are some practical suggestions with recipes and pictures.

The first thing you can do is ...

Separating whites from the yolks.

FREEZE them. You can freeze them for savory or sweet dishes. Here is a great website that talks about it in detail.

Whites on the left, yolks on the right.
BOIL them. A hard boiled egg is an eggscellent snack! 6-7 grams of protein and packed with nutrition.

DEVILED eggs. Tell me, are there ever any leftover Deviled Eggs?

EGG SALAD sandwiches. YUM! I make them with 4 boiled eggs, mashed, ¼ cup light mayo, 1/8 cup chopped celery, 1/8 cup chopped onion, salt, pepper to taste, ½ tsp Dijon mustard and a couple drops of pickle juice (add to taste). Sometimes I add celery salt instead of regular salt. Makes two sandwiches.

FRIED eggs. Our favorite is over medium with the yolk broken after cooking, so it soaks into toast or toasted English muffin.

POACH/SOFT BOILED Neither of us are fans of this cooking method, so I won’t go into it here. (no pic)

FRITTATA or omelet. As it’s basically the same ingredients but a variation in cooking method, I’m listing them in the same category. Both are also a great way to use up leftover veggies!

Golden eggs for Frittata


Frittata going in to the oven to finish

Frittata filling
Ready to eat!

BAKED eggs, well in baked goods such as:

CUSTARDS, some day I will try this, but I wanted to post this article and this will have to be a separate article one day.

CAKES. Angel Food Cake uses 12 egg whites, but what do you do with the yolks? Seems wasteful to me, but Pound Cake uses 10 whole eggs! So does Dream Cake. But Pound Cake also uses a pound of sugar, a pound of butter and a pound of flour ... hence the name Pound Cake. I decided to make it, mostly to see if I could. Smells divine baking. Tastes like sin.

Cake recipes:

Old Fashioned Pound Cake
2 cups organic, unsalted butter, room temperature
1 lb sifted cake flour (about 4 ½ cups)
10 eggs, separated
1 lb sugar (2 cups)
2 tsp vanilla

Cream butter with sugar until fluffy and no longer gritty. Set aside.

Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Add to creamed mixture. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Fold in flour and beat well. Pour into two greased loaf pans and bake at 325 for 1-¼ hours.

I have made some changes to this recipe so that it makes more sense.

Beat egg whites and vanilla until stiff. Put in separate bowl. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and no longer gritty. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and add that back into the creamed mixture. Fold in egg whites. Fold in flour. Mixture will be very thick. Pour or spoon into 2 greased loaf pans and bake at 325 for 1-¼ hours.

Thick batter
Good Eats.

Dream Cake (no pics)

10 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
3/4 c cake flour

Beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat to stiff peaks. Set aside.

Beat yolks and salt until thick and lemon colored. Add lemon and vanilla, beat in sugar gradually, beat until the yolks hold a soft peak.

Fold egg whites and flour into egg yolk mixture. Pour into an ungreased tube pan and bake 350 for 40 minutes. Invert pan and allow to cool.

Now, you may have a lot of other suggestions for egg dishes, such as quiche. Quiche only uses 2-3 eggs. So it didn’t meet my criteria to “use up” eggs. I do love to make pie crust from scratch, but I need to “use up” eggs, so on to other recipes. But I would love to hear from you and get more suggestions for ways to cook or bake large amounts of eggs. And as a parting shot, here is a pic of some of our eggs. The large one is a double egg.


Pepys Resource Centre

I've been waiting for a nice sunny day to get a cheery photo of Deptford Strand before posting this but since January seems unable to oblige, at weekends at least, I am obliged to post with the gloomy picture I took before Christmas.

The Pepys Resource Centre has been open for a few months already and although the scheme now seems to be gathering some momentum, it is still not really very well known outside of its immediate environs. In fact it's not even very well known inside its environs - one reader who lives on the Pepys estate only discovered it after it had been open several months.

The reason for its low profile is undoubtedly its location, which is also one of its great strengths, tucked as it is into the bottom corner of one of the old Navy buildings on the strand. Unless you live in one of the adjoining blocks or are a regular rider or walker along the Thames path, you are unlikely to pass this very welcoming library-cafe-community centre.

Last November the council heralded its opening thus:

Residents at the Pepys Estate, Lewisham are set to benefit from a new, multi-use resource centre boasting a new community library and a social enterprise computer business thanks to an innovative partnership between the Hyde Group and Lewisham Council.

The Pepys Resource Centre makes use of a previously empty space at the heart of the community and will offer a one-stop shop for residents looking for IT training, employment advice and support, library services and one-to-one health checks provided by an on-site health advisor.

Anchor tenant and local social enterprise, Ecocomputer Systems, will offer training in the recycling and refurbishment of computers, providing skills based learning for both volunteers and unemployed residents. The computers will then be made available to the local community at a much reduced cost.

From comments on a rather old post on Planet Pepys blog I understand that the space was previously a community centre run by local residents, but it seems that the initiative fell apart when some key members of the management committee moved away and remaining members either couldn't or wouldn't get it together to carry on. The presence of social enterprise Ecocomputer Systems will hopefully provide the impetus for this new initiative to continue and maybe even thrive.

So what does it do?

There's a very modest library set-up backed by Lewisham's library service and anyone with a Lewisham card can take books out. They also have half a dozen computer terminals that can be used for free, and since basic IT training is one of Ecocomputer Systems' remits, you can get help with using them too.

Feast cafe offers hot drinks, cakes and snacks and you can sit in one of the large windows watching the world go by on the river and the Thames path.

The centre also hosts a number of regular events; upcoming ones include a coffee afterenoon on Thursday at 1pm, arts and crafts for the under fives on Wednesday at 1pm, and a knit and natter session on Monday 31st at 10am. Join the Facebook page for full information. The Facebook page also has some nice pictures showing the cheery interior of the centre, and some of the events they have held so far.

Bring your old computer, printer or scanner down to be recycled; they also accept batteries and mobile phones among other things and I believe also do computer repairs. Darren Taylor who runs Ecocomputer Systems might become a much more familiar figure in months to come as he is enthusiastic about using this initiative as a model for keeping libraries going in places such as New Cross where the council wants to close facilities.

The centre is open Monday to Friday from 10 till 6, Saturday 10 till 4.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"What Would You Do?" The Case of the Wayward Hen

by Jennifer Murphy

Today I will be answering a question from one of our readers:

Q: "I have four chickens and for some reason one of them did not return to the coop tonight, and I found her under the porch. I picked her up and brought her back to the coop. In the past this has never happened. I just found it strange that she didn't go back on her own and was wondering if there were any theories as to why?" Maureen Underwood, Hiram, Maine

A: Maureen, I want to thank you for your great question! I have had this happen to me at different times throughout the 15 years I've been raising chickens, and it's happened for all different reasons. We may never know why your little girl decided to set up camp under the porch, but here are some theories.

There could be any number of factors to explain her wayward choice: breed type, broodiness, territory issues, shock, or just circumstances paired with lack of sight at night. One common thread that I've experienced is that we tend to "loose" chickens overnight when we have a smaller flock. To understand why your chicken might have spent the night under the porch, it's important to look at some different aspects of the flock dynamic and socialization. This may be one of the keys to your mystery.

Chickens are social creatures. They are constantly communicating with each other through verbal clucks, growls and all manner of mixed, cacophonous banter. If you're around chickens enough, you will even learn what some of these sounds mean. When one of our roosters finds a "special" scrap of food, he will do a sideways dance and make a series of short "chook, chook, chook" sounds, and the girls come a-running! When a hawks fly over, everyone's eyes turn toward the sky, and each of them make a loud "whooooing" growl, a noise so eerie that it would rival some of the dinosaur noises from Jurassic Park. If you're good, you can sometimes "talk" to your chickens and they'll react to your sounds much like they would each other. The reason I mention this is that with a small, free range flock, there sometimes aren't enough members to keep the flock verbally organized. In a small flock, there is less social interaction, less noise and the flock can spread out further without "bumping into a friend." The answer may be as simple as she wandered off and couldn't find or hear the rest of the flock.

Roosters, though they can be annoying, play a key role in keeping the flock organized as well. Some flocks seem to need leaders more than others. At different times we've had a flock of all females, and many times one will elect itself "rooster." We had a female Polish that turned so "rooster-like" that she tried to mate with some of the other females. As soon as we introduced two cockerels to the flock, she gave up her rooster role and even went broody a year later.

Each of our roosters has a distinct call. There are theories as to why roosters crow, and one of the more popular ones is that they crow to call other females to join the flock, and to round the harem. Chickens are woodland grazers by nature. When left to free range they scratch and wander all day, beak to the ground, pecking at this and that. I have watched one of our chickens wander off into the woods, then, all of a sudden, she realizes she's not near the rest of the flock. She'll panic and start a series of calls. It's usually a loud "squawk" followed by rapid "clucking." When the other chickens answer her, she'll run frantically towards them. Our roosters seem to get especially upset by this type of squawking and will sometimes run to meet her halfway. They will "herd" her by doing this little circle dance with one wing down and cluck at her as if she's being reprimanded. Many times he will let out a good crow as if to celebrate. Again, your hen simply could have lost touch with the other three hens.

As our flock has increased in numbers, there is more of a chance of a buddy system. Someone is more likely to follow the wanderer, and between the two of them, they figure out that it's time to go back to the coop. If your hen was separated, she may have not realized that it was time to return home before dusk settled in. Chickens also can't see well at night. They have much stronger cones than rods in their eyes. The cones help them to see a broad spectrum of colors, and there's even been scientific studies that say that chickens have the ability to see ultraviolet light. However, rods help the eye to see at night, and because rods are not as developed in chicken eyes, a chicken is all but blind in the dark. When the sun starts to set the chickens will instinctively head for the coop. If a chicken is caught in the dark, its natural reaction is to stay put and lie down. We like to do hands-on work with our chickens after dark for this reason. Once the sun goes down, we use a flashlight, pick up each chicken easily, carry them to the barn in the light, do what we gotta do (deworm, check vents, etc.), and return them to their roost. There's a good chance that if your hen was too far away from the coop, she may have had a difficult time seeing and found the closest safe place to sleep for the night: under your porch.

Araucanas and Polishes tend to be loners. If anyone in our flock is going to wander off, chances are, it will be one of those breeds. We also have a Cuckoo Maran that was given to us as an adult bird. When we first adopted her, she slept with the rest of the chickens, and followed them everywhere. As she became more comfortable with her surroundings (or maybe uncomfortable?), she decided she liked sleeping in the barn with the goats. She also prefers to lay her eggs in the bales of hay that we keep in the barn, rather than the egg boxes in the coop.

Your hen also may have been hiding from a predator. One day a neighbor's dog came into our yard and chased the chickens around. No one was hurt, but the flock was separated and they went into hiding. Each chicken was chased into a different part of the woods and stayed there until my husband and I found them. They wouldn't move, it was as if they were stunned. In fact, I thought the first one we found was dead. Once we picked them up and looked them over, it was as if they came back to life. We found all but one. We thought she was a gonner, but the next morning, I found her under the bushes. Just laying there, waiting. It was as if she needed someone to tell her it was OK to come out. Something may have come into the yard, without your knowing, or a hawk or owl may have flown over and spooked her under the porch.

Another answer might be that she's getting ready to set up a nest. While chickens are social creatures, when they get broody, sometimes they like to be left alone. Some of our chickens are very territorial over certain egg boxes. We had an Araucana that was collecting eggs to go broody. She and one of our Rhode Island Reds kept going around and around this one box. The Araucana would go in to lay her egg, and the Rhode Island Red would shove her out. One night our Araucana didn't come back to the coop. We couldn't find her for days, we thought something had snatched her. Then one morning she was back at the coop door trying to get in. We were very glad to see her again. Shortly after, I was mowing the lawn and I found a trail of broken blue egg shells leading under our pine tree. I separated the branches and found a perfect little nest with broken blue eggs. She must have had her eggs under there and something found them and ate them. This must have broke her broodiness, and she came back to join the flock.

If it's a one time thing, chances are your hen may have been spooked, or simply distracted. If it's an ongoing thing, it might be that she's not getting along with another chicken, or she's going broody. The good thing is that if she's picked under the porch, chances are that's where you'll find her each night until she gets over it. Once chickens choose a spot, they tend to stick with it. Some things to try: Take the food away between feedings. Try to get her back in the coop before she settles in for the night, and then feed your chickens. Call them using the same words and tone of voice when you do. I've done this with my chickens, and it's a good way to get your chickens to come anytime. I say "here girls" and shake their food in their scoop and they come running. You may have to do this for a few nights for her to get back in the swing of things. Try to keep her away from her "spot" and check under the porch often for eggs. If she's laying, collect the eggs and sooner or later she should get over it.

Come visit us on the farm. Check out Jennifer's blog at Iron Oak Farm.

The Meat Bird, Soulless?

By Eric Guel

A seasoned bird slaughtering veteran was over at our little homestead a few months ago, showing us how to slaughter ducks. After processing a few birds he started to talk about other breeds of poultry, zeroing in on the mutha' of all meat birds—the Cornish Cross.

These lovable little fat guys are also known as broilers or Cornish-Rocks. From what I understand, they're an American invention, intended solely to feed the masses in a proficient and highly profitable way. Before the Cornish Cross came on the scene several decades ago, meat birds took about 12 weeks on average to mature to slaughterable age; hence, good chicken meat was more of a rarity. But now, thanks to our chunky friend, meat birds can be ready to harvest in only 6 to 8 weeks!

Not sure if you'd like them? Chances are if you've eaten at KFC, or if you've had a chicken sandwich from McDonald's, or simply bought a raw bird from the supermarket, it was some sort of Cornish Cross/Cornish-Rock variety. These birds are kind of like crack cocaine: one size fits all palates. So ... if you don't want to get addicted, then you better not pick up the rock in the first place. But chances are you've already savored juicy bird flesh multiple times, so there's no turning back. You're a carnivore. Heck, it's better than being addicted to narcotics.

So back to my aforementioned slaughter-veteran friend. He had some interesting things to say about our tasty buddies. In fact, our conversation was almost theological. He began:

“I'm not sure that animals have souls, but I'll say those Cornish Cross birds definitely don't have souls. No way.”

“Oh really?” I replied ... suddenly feeling a wee bit hungry.

“Yes! You can just look into their eyes, and it looks like they're not even alive. There's no depth; there's nothing to them.”

“I suppose so,” I mumbled ... or was that my stomach growling?

“I don't want to have anything to do with those chickens again,” he summarily pontificated.

“Uh huh,” I said. In reality, I wasn't paying attention anymore. I was thinking about fried chicken.

Now the point of relaying that conversation to you faithful readers was simply to bore you to segue into some of the downsides of our obese feathered buddies. This isn't an exhaustive list; it's really just off the top of my head:

  • They don't have souls (I've been told).
  • They can get so fat so quickly that their legs break.
  • They're not good at foraging for food, so you pretty much have to give them feed.
  • They won't reproduce this side of being incubated in a laboratory filled with nerds in white coats. So unless you own a white coat, a laboratory, and you're a nerd, you'll have to order them from a hatchery every time you want to raise them.
  • Unlike parrots, they can't learn to talk.

Truth be told, they're not hard to raise. But if you're going for sustainability, you'll do better to look elsewhere. They sure are tasty, though.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Can I Have a Silkie? Please?

by Karla T.

It's that time of year again! The chicken catalogs have begun to arrive and I get to start imagining and planning my additions to next year's flock.

I love looking through the catalogs and websites. What will I get this year? Will an unasked for and unwanted rooster turn out to be a family favorite pet? Will I finally be able to find some Cuckoo Marans available at the right time? Do I order from the company that lets me choose as many as I want of each breed, or do I go with the company that charges less but requires that I order at least five of each breed?

Some of the categories that help me determine my choices are cold-hardiness (it gets COLD in Northern NY) and temperament (I like them friendly and calm). I also like to have colorful chickens and colorful eggs.

I'm definitely going to get some more Easter Eggers this year. Their blue and green eggs are fun, they're pretty birds, and they're calm although a bit shy.

On my wish list are:
Marans: Also called chocolate eggers because they lay dark brown eggs.
Buff Brahmas: I've always found their coloring and pattern appealing.
Blue Cochin: So pretty! I love cochins and the way they waddle when they run.

I could definitely go on. What chickens are on your wish list this year?

My Blue Ribbon Rooster Stew

My Rooster Stew
by Meredith Chilson

In the spring, I always seem to have some little chicks around. Some of those little chicks turn into “my girls”—the hens that I nurture and keep for eggs. The others—well, I keep them for a while, too. Those are the ones that grow the magnificent tail feathers and strut through the hen yard.

They are also the ones that jump at my grandchildren when they go to gather eggs, and I don’t allow that. So … the roosters take a ride to the woods.

My rooster, Stew!
My mother and dad are retired farmers who live in a patch of woods. So, while I visit with my mother, the rooster “visits” with my dad. My mom and I keep a big pot of water boiling on the stove, and—just to make this part of the story short—later on in the day, I take a nice bag of fresh cut-up rooster home to my freezer.

Today, the wind is howling and the snow blowing: Rooster Stew is the perfect meal for a winter day like this. When I make it for family, though, I don't mention I knew the main ingredient. It puts some people off.

If you would like to make rooster stew, here's how:

Go to the freezer and take out a bag of frozen meat. Put it in a pot on the stove and add enough water to about cover it (I measured this time and it took about 10 cups). Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and let it simmer. (I often put the chicken on the stove in the morning, and leave it until mid- or late afternoon. By then, the meat will be falling right off the bones.)

Take the cooked chicken out of the pot, and put the covered pot of stock into the refrigerator overnight. The fat can be removed easily in the morning. Save the fat, and make soup with the stock and the meat you don’t use for this dish.

Remove the meat from the bones.

Cut up about 1-½ cups of the cooked chicken meat and set aside. Refrigerate the rest.

Assemble these ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter, divided
8 ounces mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 medium onions, cut into about 1-inch chunks
3 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (red ones are nice, if you have them)
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. dried tarragon leaves
1 can chicken broth (or you can use 1-½ cups of the cooking stock)
¾ cup water
¾ cup half-and-half (or milk)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup frozen peas
¾ teaspoon salt

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the mushrooms and cook and stir until brown. Remove them to the bowl with the reserved chicken.

Heat the remaining oil and butter in the Dutch oven. Add the onions, carrots, potatoes, bay leaf, tarragon, chicken broth and water. Heat to boiling, reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix half-and-half with flour until smooth. Stir this mixture into the vegetable mixture; heat to boiling. Reduce heat and cook 1 minute to thicken slightly. Stir in chicken, mushrooms, peas and salt. Heat through. Remove bay leaf before serving.

This is a wonderful Saturday night supper for four, especially if you add a loaf of homemade bread and a tossed salad.

It’s truly a blue ribbon winner: I entered this recipe in a local contest last year! I didn’t tell a soul that the name of the rooster in the dish was … Stew!