Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frozen Drumsticks

I don't know about anyone else, but I love eating chicken. I'm on a major chicken thigh kick right now. I find them to be delicious and juicy, not to mention you can cook them a number of ways. Scrumptious. Some people may find my love of chicken meat to be, let's say, indelicate. You see, we don't raise our chickens for meat. They are solely egg layers. And my love for chicken thighs aside, I'd (possibly) be willing to swear off chicken meat before I culled one of my own girls for the dinner table. That's just me though.
My girls are not just egg producers. They're pets too. Just as I wouldn't be cool with eating one of the family dogs, I wouldn't want to deep fry one of my fat biddies. My husband and I often talk in the "one day when we" sort of way about the farm we wish we had. We joke that we'll need two sets of chickens. We'll have a set of layers that I'll name and fawn over and who become my pets and then we'll have The Meat House birds who I won't name, tend to, or become too greatly involved with because they will be slated for our dinner table. I told my husband that I'd start sneaking birds into my layer flock while he'd be worrying about his dwindling numbers, saying things like, "I don't know what's going on. We've lost four birds in two weeks. Do you think a hawk's getting them? Hey, didn't we have twenty-five layers? There are twenty-nine out here." I might have an overactive imagination, but that's exactly what would happen.

During the summer I read a memoir called Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole. I've mentioned it before. She's a food writer and tests tons of recipes. In the course of raising chicks, she realizes her guilt at preparing chicken and has a major freak out moment as she thinks about the chickens in her backyard who she loves and who she's raised from baby chicks while she's supposed to roast chicken. She ponders whether she can continue to cook chicken and be okay with it. I don't know if I'm not as good of a person as she is, but I do not have such problems when it comes to supermarket chicken. I can be in my kitchen and look out the window at my girls pecking around in their run and be rubbing down a delicious chicken thigh with whatever concoction of spices I've come up with that day. I don't feel word about it. I don't have to see those grocery store chickens in their feathered glory strutting around my backyard and going crazy over a head of cabbage. I'm fine with them. Am I making exceptions. Uh, yeah. Who doesn't? Do I care that I probably sound deranged to someone not in my head? No. I'm good with it.  I can't feel guilt for every animal that becomes food. I'd go crazy. I make that statement knowing I'm already crazy. I do get quite jazzed up about the treatment of factory farm animals, but I've always been concerned with the ethical treatment of animals. And I make no secret of the fact that I speak to my chickens like they know what I'm saying, but I do that with my dogs too. All dog owners do. Right?

Let me make one point clear. I do not in any way take issue with people raising chickens for meat. If I did, I would be beyond crazy. Chicken is delicious. I hope I have made my feelings on that point clear. I don't think that I have it in me to make myself detached enough from my chickens to kill them. Would they make the most delicious chicken thighs I've ever had? I don't doubt it. Their eggs are so delicious that they must be just as delicious themselves. I'm too much of a "girl."

Now I'm off to find a good recipe for drumsticks. I have a pack in the fridge (from Trader Joe's - love that place!) that's set for dinner tomorrow night. Maybe I'll name them before I cook them. At some point I've got to stop stealing hypothetical birds from The Meat House.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things

It should be pretty clear by now that I love my chickens. I'd love to have more chickens. Hell, I'd love to start a chicken farm. From hanging out watching them to caring for them and the coop, I've spent a fair amount of time with my girls since we got them a little over a year ago. I was thinking the other day about the things I use or the ways I take care of the girls and realized the things I do are a collection of ideas I've picked up from here and there from books I've read or websites I've perused. So, to start off 2012 I want to share the things that make my chicken-tending a little nicer.

Garden shoes. They are the best thing to happen to chicken mucking. That is, they are the best thing to happen to a person who gets the pleasure of scraping giant chicken droppings out of a chicken run and coop. I already had a pair of slip-on rubber garden shoes that I used, of course, for gardening. I started using them for convenience when I'd go out to shut the coop door at night. They were always by the coat rack, so I'd slip them on, get my coat, and head out to close in the girls. When I'd go out to open the coop in the morning, I initially wore the shoes I was going to wear to work that day. I changed over to the garden shoes after the day I got to work and realized I'd stepped in some poopy mud and it was stuck to my shoe and getting all over the break room floor. And that's all she wrote. Whenever I go out back and it has anything to do with the girls, I'm now wearing my green garden shoes. They're solid rubber without any fabric, so if they get too gross I can hose them down and leave them in the sun to dry. They're pretty sweet when it comes to chickening.

To make my shoe experience even more suited for a lazy person, I bought a medium-sized plastic dog food bin that has a hinged lid on top. I leave that sucker on our back step and drop my shoes in there before I head in the back door. No E. coli on my kitchen floor, thank you. See, we don't have a back porch. We only have a back step. I don't like to keep any of my shoes outside on the back step because I'm paranoid about a poisonous spider climbing into one of my shoes. I remember seeing a show on T.V. that reenacted the story of a woman who got bitten by a Black Widow that had crawled in one of her shoes she kept in the garage. I don't know why I watch these types of programs. They only make me more of a freak. Ever since then I've been scared that I'll be bitten by a Black Widow or some other horrible spider if I leave my shoes outside and I'll fall over and die. Though I just Googled it and read on the Mayo Clinic's website that apparently a Black Widow spider bite is rarely lethal. I'm not taking any chances. The practical use for the bin is that I can leave my shoes outside no matter the weather. Yes, the shoes can get wet, but I don't want to have to put my feet in soaking wet shoes to go out the coop. I also don't want to have to dry them off in the morning when I'm hauling it to get off to work. On the rare occasion we get snow, it's nice not to have to scoop snow out of my shoes either. So even if you're not a crazy freak like I am, the bin is not a bad idea.

Feeding the chickens takes up quite a deal of my chicken chores, so my last awesome chicken ideas have to do with food accessories. We keep our chicken food in a trash can in our shed. I keep the food in the bag, so I can put two or three different bags in the trash can. We usually have chicken food, scratch, and oyster shell bags all in the same trash can. It saves a lot of space. The trash can is necessetated by the fact that we get mice in the shed some times. To make filling our chicken feeder easier, my awesome idea was to cut the top off a milk jug at an angle, leaving the handle in tact. I fill the jug with food and only take that into the coop to fill the feeder. This way I'm not hauling the heavy food bag back and forth every time. I also cut off the bottom of a 2-liter soda bottle, drilled a few holes in it and attached it to the inside of the run with zip ties, so it's hanging off the hardware cloth where the girls can reach it. We put crushed oyster shell in it, so they'll have access to it whenever they feel like they need their calcium. The holes in the bottom are important! Without the holes, you'll have oyster paste the first time you get a good rain. I may or may not know this fact from experience. Next to the oyster shell feeder I hanged ("Hanged" is grammatically correct. Trust me. Hung is not a real word. It's slang.) a suet feeder that I use for treats, usually greens, so they can go to town on them. They tear at that thing like crazy little velociraptors. If you've ever doubted whether dinosaurs were related to birds, watch a flock attach a suet feeder full of cabbage.

I've got a few more good ideas, but I'll save those for later. There are twelve new months this year that I need to fill. Enjoy.