Friday, June 7, 2013

picky, picky chickies

Redder stands guard over the food

I was pretty excited when our local urban farm supply store began selling organic chicken feed in pellet form.  I realize this might not sound that exciting, but I've been waiting for this product for 4 years!

When the girls first transitioned from chick feed to layer feed, we bought a beautiful feed blend created by a local organic farmer.  Unfortunately, it was a whole-grain crumble and our girls scattered it everywhere as they tried to pick out the good bits.  They wasted so much food (unless you consider all of the sparrows and squirrels who gobbled it up) that we switched to pellet feed.  Pellet feed is great.  They don't pick through it and fling it high and low - they just eat it.

As soon as our local store started selling organic pellets, I bought a 50 pound bag and eagerly filled the feeder.  The aroma was lovely - grainy and toasty smelling.  Apparently the girls did not share my enthusiasm.  In turn, each hen came to the feeder, picked up a pellet in her beak, dropped it on the ground, turned up her beak and strutted away in disgust.  Chirpy was more determined than the other 4.  She pulled out pellet after pellet, dropping each one, optimistically hoping that she would find something more to her liking buried under the unpalatable new stuff.  No such luck.  She eventually gave up too.

I tried tossing it on the ground like it was a treat.  Nope.  There was no fooling them.  I tried putting some in their treat dish.  Nope.  I tried adding warm water and making a mush of it.  They all tried it, but they weren't making their happy chicken sounds, so I think they were just eating it to appease me.  They simply refused to eat it dry from the feeder, so I tried the warm water mush thing a few more times.  They never did eat much of it and I was worried that they were going to starve themselves rather than embrace their new food.

After a few days they started to get cranky, and whenever I tossed them some leafy greens, the older girls were extra-bossy and aggressive as they scrambled to get their share.  I think they were really hungry!!  Feeling defeated, I went back to the store, bought their regular old food and refilled the feeder.  All 5 of them came running over and ate and ate until their crops were bulging.  Little Redder was the last to walk away.  In fact, she stood guard near the food for a while; protecting it lest I try to replace it with that icky organic stuff again.

Does anyone need 49 1/2 pounds of organic chicken feed? Anyone??

Redder enjoys the "good" stuff

Saturday, May 4, 2013

mmm, puddin'

We are up to our eyeballs in eggs.  A great way to enjoy the bounty from the coop is making homemade pudding.  I've been making various versions all winter and into spring, but I must say that maple walnut pudding was a standout.  This version is thickened with egg yolks and flavored with pure maple syrup.  The results is a subtly flavored, velvety smooth concoction.  A topping of warm toasted walnuts and more maple syrup provides crunch and another dose of mapley goodness.  If you're not a fan of walnuts, simply top the pudding with an extra drizzle of maple syrup.

When I asked Eric what he thought of this dessert he declared it "really, really pretty fantastic!"

Try it.  You'll like it!


Prep time: 20 minutes.
Total time: 3 hours 30 minutes. 3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 cup pure maple syrup, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup broken walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium saucepan (off heat), whisk egg yolks with cornstarch and salt until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk, then 3/4 cup of the maple syrup, bringing to a boil over medium heat; boil for 1 minute. Off heat, stir in butter.

Transfer to a medium bowl (strain if lumpy). Press plastic wrap onto surface of pudding; refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Spread walnuts on a baking sheet; toast in oven until fragrant, about 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl; stir in remaining maple syrup.

**Freeze the egg whites and use them later for angel food cake or coconut macaroons! 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It must be spring!!

Here's a shot of eggs collected last week - all 28 of them!  Yay chickens!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

spring + winter = sprinter

By this time last year I had already planted about half of our veggie gardens and we had enough fresh rhubarb to make a pie for Eric's birthday.

This year it's a whole different story.  In the past 24 hours we've received about 6" of fresh snow.  It's pretty and pretty annoying at the same time.  Seed packets are strewn on the dining room table, staring at me with anticipation.  "Not yet," I whisper.

when life gives you snowflakes...
embracing a mid-April snowstorm

The snow finally stopped falling and blowing so I let the girls out of the run this afternoon.  It didn't take them long to realize their world had shrunk considerably, again.

Check out this sequence of photos from today's very brief outing:

the girls eagerly head for the deck - they love to hang out underneath

they've reached the end of the line

Ray stops to enjoy a snow snack

they discuss retreating to the comforts of the coop

Stella leads the troops back home

So, they were out for about 3 minutes today.  I'm sure they appreciated the chance to stretch their legs and wings but I'm guessing they're as tired of sprinter as we are. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

We've got eggs!

All 5 of our hens are laying eggs again.  Even Winnifred pops one out occasionally when she's not too busy eating everything in sight or tormenting Redder & Chirpy.  So, we have a plethora of eggs which is a great relief and means I no longer have to hoard them.  It's more fun to share.

Thanks to google, I found a fool-proof method for hard boiling fresh eggs.  I use a needle to poke a small hole in the wider end of each egg, lower them into boiling water and let them simmer for 15 minutes then let them sit in an ice water bath for 15 minutes.  They peel perfectly!  I have spent the last 4 years either "aging" eggs in the fridge for a few weeks before hard boiling them OR losing half the egg that sticks to the shell whenever I try to peel very fresh eggs.

We'll be having plenty of perfect, backyard fresh deviled eggs for Easter this year.  mmmm!

a valentine for my special girls

Monday, February 25, 2013

What the heck is going on??!!

We thought we had this chicken parenting thing under control.  Not so.  On Sunday morning I was a little slow getting out to the coop.  We usually like to let the girls out as soon as the sun is up, especially when the weather is mild like it was this past weekend.  As soon as I slid the chicken door open, the big girls piled out but Chirpy lagged behind.  She strolled a few steps down the ladder then turned around and flew up on top of the insulated part of the coop!  Huh??!!  That is no place for a chicken - it's REALLY dusty and there are electrical wires and sheets of pink insulation up there.  yuck!

She raced towards the back side of the coop and all I could see was the tip of her tail.  I put some treats near the front edge to lure her towards me, but she was not interested.  I then hauled out the ladder to get a better look.  I saw one angry chicken squatting in the back corner with her beak wide open, making sounds like an irritated cow.  She obviously did not want me invading her privacy so I was about to back off and let her lay an egg when I spotted 2 other pretty green eggs near her.  This was NOT her first trip up there!

Chirpy's hideaway

She quickly laid her egg then came to the front edge and let me carry her down.  Upon closer examination Eric realized that she had pecked at the Styrofoam insulation in one spot to create a "nest" for herself.  She is the only one of our girls small enough and light enough to fly up there, and she did, repeatedly.

Chirpy's custom-made Styrofoam nest cradles her eggs

As I carried her down I had a little chat with her and reminded her that she was a good chicken but that it was time for her to start revisiting the nesting box.  She had a little snack then joined her friends under the deck.

That evening Chirpy tried to fly up to her special haven, only to bounce off the cardboard barrier that Eric had installed to keep her out.  Once she realized that her options were limited she strolled into the coop and found a spot on a roost.  We are left to wonder how long she's been hanging out up there amidst the cobwebs. 

It can't be easy being such a diminutive, mild-mannered hen when there are big bossy ones ruling the roost.  She did have a bloody comb on Sunday, as if someone pecked at her.  I was concerned that she was being picked on when she was trying to lay eggs, so I put the second nesting box in the coop again to give her another spot to find some peace and quiet.  I was happy to find one of her pretty green eggs in a nesting box this afternoon. 

laying eggs is hard work - time for a snack

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Chicken Coop Repair Fairy

In case you haven't noticed, our chickens are pretty pampered.  We are constantly concerned about their health, safety and happiness.  We have both spent too much time worrying about the conditions in the coop, whether or not they're stressed, what they're eating, what their poo looks like, predators, treats, and on and on and on... 

I do plenty of worrying and do what I can to give the girls a happy life, but it's the Chicken Coop Repair Fairy who keeps this little operation humming.  I don't know what I would do without my handy husband and his boundless patience, creative fix-it solutions, and his impressive array of power tools, wood scraps, and hardware doodads.  

Eric constructing the coop

Relaxing after the coop was finished
In anticipation of an impending cold snap this past weekend, Eric installed an additional heat source which also provided some light in the coop.  Unfortunately, the additional light was enough to keep the chickens awake, long after dark, eating and drinking and roaming around.   When the coop reached a certain temperature, the light went out and left the girls stranded in the dark.  This was not good at all!  So, after we both made several chilly trips to the coop to monitor the situation,  Eric asked if I'd like him to unplug the second heat source.  I nodded, he trekked out into the cold one last time to unplug it (after he had just spent a significant amount of time installing it), and we all slept soundly that night.  The next day he did some research and some shopping and came home with a new heater that would not emit light and not stress the chickens (or me) out.  This is just the most recent example of Eric's commitment to chicken and spousal happiness.

Winnie "helps" while Eric buries electrical lines for the coop

Once the coop was built, I'm sure Eric thought he was done spending hours and hours and piles of $$$ at Menard's.  Oh no.  Over the past 4 years he has made countless trips to Menard's and the hardware store to buy chicken habitat improvement supplies.  In addition to executing many special winterizing projects, he has created temporary barriers used to keep the chicks separate from the older hens (older hens like to pick on the young ones AND gobble up their delicious chick food), suspended a "decorative" curtain to keep sparrows from flocking into the coop and eating the delicious chick food, set-up summertime fences which protect our gardens from being ransacked by hungry hens but give them room to roam, removed decorative woodwork (during a rainstorm) under the deck in order to prevent a certain sweet but not-so-smart chicken from feeling confined and confused, manufactured a gutter for the coop roof so that melting snow does not drip down and freeze on the door mechanism, crafted an additional nesting box for chickens who do not know how to share, and countless other projects.  

The hens are used to sharing the coop with Eric & his ladder

It's safe to say that the chickens are so used to the sound of the cordless drill and power saw that it really doesn't bother them at all, in fact they like to watch him work.  They must know that their Fairy Godfather is working hard to make their lives better!

Ray supervises a project in the garage

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chickens in Winter

Stella doesn't seem to mind the snow too much, thanks to a little extra "insulation"

This has been a tricky winter for the girls, especially for the young ones.  They seem baffled by snow; their world has shrunk considerably and they wonder where their lush green grass has gone.

Chirpy is still smallish and she can't see over the piles of snow.  So, she occasionally gets herself stuck under the deck and can't figure out how to get back to the coop.  She just pulls in her neck, puffs herself into a ball and looks at me with confusion.  I've had to show her the way back to the coop to find her chicken friends who abandoned her hours earlier.  A few times she just hunkered down in the corner under the deck and wouldn't move.  I couldn't reach her, so I used a rake (and some loud expletives) to scare her out then encouraged her to follow me down the sidewalk.  I was worried she'd just stay under there all night if I didn't intervene!  I try to help her out by shoveling the path, even if we've just had a light dusting of snow.  Otherwise I think it just looks like one big, scary, white world out there. 

Chirpy and Redder search high and low for a way around the snow

They explore their options for reaching the deck

Chirpy can't figure out how to get back to the coop

Ray actually seems to enjoy the snow.  She eats lots and lots of it as if it's some sort of treat.  We've seen her eat so much that it makes her upchuck.

A few days ago I offered her some fresh collard greens.  The silly girl ignored the delightful greens and ate the snow off my glove instead. 

Ray sporting a little snow on her beak

Ray contemplates eating greens versus eating more snow

I'm so glad the flock has been able to romp in the yard for the past few days, enjoying sunshine and freedom.  When they exit the coop there is lots of wing flapping, stretching and general chicken giddiness.

I haven't told them yet, but we're about to head into the deep freeze and they'll have to be cooped up for the next 3 days.  I'm sorry chickens.  I'm so sorry.


Are YOU smarter than a first grader???

A friend of mine has a young son whose class was learning about chickens.
Here's what Charles knows about our feathered friends:

1.  Male chickens are called roosters

2.  Baby chickens take 21 days to hatch

3.  There are more chickens than humans

4.  Chickens are 2 feet tall

5.  Chickens need food

6.  Chickens need water

Not bad, huh?  That's definitely more than I knew about chickens when I was in first grade.  In fact, I didn't realize that there are more chickens than humans on the planet until I learned it from Charles.  :)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hen Heroine

Click HERE for a quick chicken fix and celebrate the wonders of poultry!