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Archive for the ‘urban chickens’ Category

nov07-068.jpg

I don’t usually get that excited about eggs anymore. But today we got the first egg ever from Danny our tiny black banty hen. It’s the smallest chicken egg I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t find a ruler, but it was smaller than a standard 35mm roll of film. And about a third of the size of the eggs that Penny lays.

It’s so cute! Even Agnes lays bigger eggs than that. Hopefully they’ll get a bit bigger as she gets into this egg thing. Maisie is looking like she might start to lay in the next week or so. Her hips are getting wider and when you touch her back she now “assumes the position”. Can’t wait to see what color they are…

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Mystery eggs

There are a couple side effects of having a heat lamp with a red bulb in the girls’ roost box for warmth.

1. They’re party girls – up until all hours of the night

2. When they get really brave they even venture out into the run in the strange reddish light

3. We’re starting to get eggs again, and will get one or two a day until spring

Of course, I can’t figure out who’s laying the eggs as they’re not a color or shell finish that I recognize. They don’t belong to Maisie as she’s still a couple weeks away from starting to lay. They’re not Lucy’s even though they’re almost the right color. They don’t belong to Agnes or Penny. And I’m pretty sure that they’re too big to be Danny’s even though I expect her to start laying any day now.

So that leaves Pru. But they’re pinker than the eggs she layed last spring and early summer. Hmmm. Mystery eggs. I hope that they are in fact hers as it would be nice to have her start paying rent again. Oh well, I get they’ll taste good anyway.

I know that some people disagree with giving hens a light during the winter as it can potentially shorten their lives. But I feel that it’s okay as long as I make sure they have plenty of calories and calcium to support them in their efforts.

*****

I’m headed out early tomorrow morning to go see my family. My grandmother is still holding her own, although mentally she’s not quite there. Her children are respecting her longstanding aversion to Western medicine and wishes for no medical intervention, so it’s hard to know what’s really happening or what the future holds. Thank you again to all of you for your prayers and well wishes.

As I’ll be traveling home on Sunday, Anita (Married with Dinner) has graciously offered to help me out by posting the recap. So stay tuned for her guest appearance – I can’t wait to read about what everyone’s been up to!

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I won’t bore you with a long list of where our ingredients came from or how far they traveled. But suffice it to say that we had a mostly local, very delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Things that weren’t local that made it to the table? Black olives, organic chicken broth, dried sour cherries, sugar, salt, pepper, Montana flour, Oregon wine, an extra California turkey and some other odds and ends. Everything else came from within 100 miles and it was all fabulously in season.

Our menu?

– cheese, salami and crackers
– dill pickles (homemade) & black olives
– 11 lb. free range organic Heritage turkey  (local)
– 13 lb. free range organic broad breasted white turkey (California)
– traditional bread stuffing
– sausage, apple, sage and caramelized onion stuffing
– mashed yukon gold potatoes
– cheese broccoli souffle
– arugula / spinach salad with hazelnuts
– cranberry / sour cherry chutney
– wheat “no knead bread” (1/2 local, 1/2 Montana)
– the best homemade gravy I’ve ever had
– cherry pie
– apple pie
– homemade vanilla ice cream

The most interesting parts of the menu were the turkeys, the cranberries and the no knead bread, so those are the only parts that I’ll expound on.

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Turkey | Leggy vs. The Traveler:

Nov07-041

For reasons that we don’t really need to go into, and that I’m tired of explaining, we ended up with two fresh turkeys and decided to cook them both. “Leggy”, shown on the right above, came from Stokesberry Sustainable Farm and was local, organic, free-range and a heritage breed. “The Traveler”, shown on the left, was an organic, free-range broad breasted white from Diestel Farms in California. I didn’t think to ask whether they were toms or hens.

Since we cooked them both, we prepared them slightly differently, so the side by side taste test wasn’t exact. We rubbed Leggy with salt, pepper and olive oil and let him rest for 4 hours before roasting. The Traveler was brined for 4 hours the night before. The two were roasted side by side in the oven until done – about 5 hours – basted with butter at regular intervals.

And wow, they were both good! Mike and I both preferred Leggy, my sister in law (hi Kris!) preferred The Traveler, and everyone else was undecided. Things that were obviously different? Leggy has a more prominent breast bone and less breast meat. He also was less compact even though they both weighed about the same amount. Finally, the muscle fibers in Leggy’s breast meat were longer, more tender, and tasted more like “Turkey” to me.

In the interest of full disclosure, Leggy cost me $5 per lb. and The Traveler was $3 per lb. To me the extra money was worth it to help preserve heritage turkeys and to support a local farmer that believes in sustainably raising poultry. But if you can’t get your hands on one I’d say that the Diestel was almost as good.

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Cranberries
Not a lot to say here, except that I used a new recipe for these that combined dried sour cherries with the cranberries. The recipe also added a hint of rosemary and substituted brown sugar for the traditional white.

Recipe at Roux Seattle

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No Knead Bread

Nov07-067 

This was the first time that I’d tried this. But I have to say that it really is as easy as it sounds. I made my loaves with 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 unbleached all purpose white flour. The bread turned out light and airy with a crispy crust. Definitely worth the minimal effort. I plan to keep practicing my bread and make this again soon!

Recipe at The Steamy Kitchen

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A parting photo from the day – the hens enjoying the scraps from my prep work. Once nice thing about all the rain we’ve been having? The grass is finally green again. Note the missing feathers on Lucy (black) and Agnes (white) – they, plus Pru, are all wishing the weather would warm back up or their feathers grow faster!

Nov07-060

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The last gasps of fall

Leaves-blog

The last of the cherry leaves are still holding on, but the rest of the trees around here are pretty much gone. This week it has struck me that the dark days of winter really are upon us. It’s barely light when I leave for work and it’s dark well before I leave the office.

I notice the effect on me, my motivation to do anything after work but cook, eat and curl up on the couch is pretty much gone. But I really notice it in the pets. Sterling, the cat, only wants to go out in the cold and rain long enough to do his business and then comes back in. The dogs play hard outside all day, and the cold takes more energy out of them. They come in at night and sack out on their beds in the living room.

And the hens. They are far more tuned in to the seasons’ cycles than any of the rest of us. They’ve naturally adjusted their hours to fit the available daylight. Penny is pretty much back to being pretty after her molt. Now Agnes, Lucy and Pru are all molting. Pru most dramatically, she’s got no tail at all, almost no wing feathers and a naked neck. She looks pretty sad.

All the molting and the dark mean no eggs for us. I had to buy a dozen for the first time since March so that we could have eggs for breakfast. At $4 a dozen, I remembered exactly why we have hens in the first place.

Of course, no one said that hens are smart. I love them dearly, but their brains are smaller than peas. Yesterday I left the dogs inside because it was rainy and windy. I left the coop door open as I thought the girls might want to come out later in the day if it cleared off. Twenty minutes later I looked out the window to see them all out scratching in the pouring rain. And most of them don’t have that many feathers right now.

Sometime between noon and four the coop door blew shut and they couldn’t get back in. Instead of taking shelter on the porch, in the shed or under the wood pile, they apparently spent the afternoon huddled near the door hoping for someone to let them in. Thankfully none of them drowned. Ha!

Wet chickens in damp weather with overnight temps predicted in the high 30s, low 40s are not a good thing. I ended up making an emergency trip to the farm co-op for a new heat lamp bulb on my way home from work once Mike called me with the news about the bedraggled chooks. Then I got to spend 30 minutes in the rain rigging up the extension cord to the coop and securing the heat lamp for them. Of course, dry chickens with no sign of the sneezes was my reward this morning.

And, now that the lamp is plugged in and rigged on the timer, I don’t have to worry about them unless it warms up again. Plus, since it’s not really that cold yet, it means that I don’t have to worry about shutting them in the roost box each night and letting them out in the morning as the lamp will keep them plenty warm unless the wind is howling.

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In other news, I picked up some new cookbook porn to feed my habit. I had a 30% off coupon for Borders, so swung by and treated myself to a copy of Alice Waters’ new The Art of Simple Food. I can’t wait to spend some time with it. Based on the treatise on the back cover makes me think I’m sure to love it.

Eat locally & sustainably

Eat Seasonally

Shop at farmers’ markets

Plant a garden

Conserve, compost & recycle

Cook simply

Cook together

Eat together

Remember that food is precious

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Leaves2-blog

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Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
– John Lennon

So Wednesday I left the hens loose in the yard when I left for work because it was kind of rainy and dreary and I figured the dogs would rather be inside. Then I worked until 12:30 am. Mike got home late and they had already gone in to roost. Apparently he did a quick headcount and thought everyone was there.

Yesterday morning I fed them and collected the eggs, but didn’t do a detailed head count since I was running late for work and operating on 4 hours sleep. Last night I didn’t even go to the coop because I got home from work at 7:45 and was asleep at 8:20 on the couch. This morning I let them out to discover there were only 5.

Not sure exactly when, or how, Danny went missing. But missing she is. She’s nowhere in the yard or the shed or the bushes. Not in the neighbors’ yards that I could see this morning. I knocked on a few doors to see if anyone had seen her and no one had. I called Animal Control and was told they’d had no reports of renegade chickens.

 It’s been cold and rainy since Wednesday. And last night we had a pretty impressive windstorm. Since we know Jake didn’t chase her out of the yard I’m assuming at this point that a cat or a hawk got her. I can’t come up with any reason why she would have left the rest of the flock voluntarily. And with no sign of her in two days in anyone else’s yard I have to assume that she’s not trying to find her way home.

I’m not quite ready to declare her KIA, but she’s definitely MIA. Hopefully I’ll turn her up knocking on doors tonight after work or tomorrow morning. If not, I’m gone for 2 weeks and we’ll have to just hope that someone brings her back to Mike.

So if you’ve got a moment, send a little wish out into the ether that Danny the world’s smallest hen that looks like a crow finds her way home.

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Update: Danny has been found but is currently eluding capture. Small banty hens are cute, but dammit you should remember to clip their wings. She’s currently 30 feet up in my neighbor’s tree… May have to call out the fire department for this…

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Update #2: Turns out I should have just waited for Mike instead of wasting 45 minutes chasing her earlier. In a couple of swift moves he was able to sweep her up in the salmon net and deliver her safely back to me. Now that’s what husbands are for! Then we came inside and promptly clipped her wings before putting back in the coop. Maisie greeted her pint sized nest mate with a swift peck to the head and all is well again. Thanks to all for the well wishes!

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I think. I’m 99% sure that the little black chick is actually the smallest hen in the flock. Good thing I decided to keep her. Now I could still be wrong, but she’s now clucking and sqawking just like the rest of the girls with nary a practice crow to be heard. She’s officially the smallest hen I’ve ever owned and she looks nothing like Agnes even though they’re the same cross breed. She’s so tiny that she can stand on my hand or perch on my finger and she’s no heavier than Maisie was at 2 – 3 weeks. It’s almost like having a pet crow…

And the sound she makes, so funny! It sounds like her clucks are coming through one of those voice distorters – you know, the ones that make your voice sound all mechanical and slightly fuzzy? She sounds like that, all the time. And while I was concerned for a while that she would always be a matte black color, and therefore easily confused with a crow, she’s recently developed that beautiful green / purple sheen like Lucy has.

Chickens are funny in many ways. In the way they run, cluck, argue over treats, talk back and sleep. At night Lucy and the chicks perch on just above it on the roost bar so it’s “roof” is always covered in chicken poo. I’ve got a piece of leftover vinyl floor on it so it’s fairly easy to clean, but still gross.

So the other night, I thought I was really smart. Now that we’re down to one egg a day, and I’m guessing even that will be over by Halloween, I decided to move the nest box to the other side of the roost box. It means that I have to go in the coop to get the eggs, but hopefully would mean that they would stop pooping on it as no one sleeps on that side of the roost bar. Until now.

Now Penny, Maisie and Danny have all decided to go sleep on that side. And, you guessed it, continue to poop on my nest box. I always thought they roosted in the order they did due to pecking order, because that’s what I read. But apparently it’s because a few of them actually like to roost above the box. Oh well. Guess I’ll have to keep cleaning up after them.

Not much else to report. I think Lucy and Pru are starting to molt, but not enough feathers to be sure yet. Jake has learned that he can reach plates left on tables, so now we have to extra vigilent about putting dishes away right away. Oh wait, he’s not a chicken is he?

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Of course today, the only day I had to work in the garden before leaving for Italy, it’s raining. And it rained its hardest while I was working in the yard / garden. Oh well – at some point I was so wet that it no longer mattered that it was raining.

Luckily I got a lot done even with the rain. I weeded most of the front flower beds. I pruned the roses. I trimmed back the lavender and I put an end to the sad looking tomato and cucumber plants on the front steps. All that’s left for winter is one last trim of the bushes and hedges. And the roses will need a hard pruning after the first hard frost – I usually do that in January.

Also in January we’ll be putting in 6-12″ of new compost and mulch on all the beds. We didn’t get it done this year because we waited too long and all the flowers and plants were up. But this year I’ve already got it on the calendar to happen in January while everything is sleeping and we can put it in with minimal effort.

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Walt of Walt’s Organic Fertilizer in Ballard. Someone I know turned me on to the fac that he sells whole grain poultry feed. I called Tuesday and they were kind enough to hold the last bag for me until I could get there. The girls are now eating a 1:1 mix of his beautiful layer feed and the organic crumble they had been eating. They’ll eat this until we run out of crumble and then eat the good stuff 100%.

Walt was very helpful and has a fabulous little store. He even had diatomaceous earth by the pound, so I got enough to dust the girls and their roost box. Much better than using the Sevin powder.

I also chatted with him briefly about gardening and he reminded me that we can grow lettuce, carrots, green onions and kale year round here due to the mild climate. Of course that’s only true until it freezes around Christmas. Nevertheless, I’m going to sow seeds for each in the pots I just emptied. Maybe we’ll get enough to eat it for Thanksgiving if nothing else.

If we ever get the garage finished (this requires that we start…), Mike is going to help me build some raised vegetable beds along the south wall. He even offered to help me build a cold frame for one or two of them. Guess then I’ll have NO EXCUSE not to raise some of my own produce.

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