Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Here a chick. There a chick. We don't have any chick-chicks.

I'm still in disbelief that we didn't have a broody hen this spring or summer. For the past two years our big mama, Erickson, has gone broody in June or July and we've hatched out some cute, fluffy baby chicks. Not this year. She must have decided she wasn't crazy enough to sit on a bunch of eggs in the heat for a month this go 'round.

I was ready this year too. I'd gone online and looked up a bunch of places that have fertile hatching eggs for sale. I wanted to get them local this year and try to hatch a breed we don't have. Something interesting. Something cool. I love the colored-egg layers or any chickens that have something unique about their appearance like a Polish or Silkie or Frizzle. I can think of at least a half dozen others I'd like to hatch out too, but I'll spare you my list. For now. I'd narrowed it down to couple of farms nearby, so I could order and pick up egg from whichever had them available when the time came. Well, I'm still waiting.

If you've even hatched chicks you know how fun it is. It's amazing watching a mama hen hatch eggs and the chicks are too cute for words. I love sitting by the coop while the little baby chicks peck around and figure things out. It's such a cool thing to get to watch them grow and become chickens. It's for all of those reasons I'm so sad we didn't get to experience chicks this year.

I don't know what the odds are of Erickson going broody next year after not being broody this past season. I'm hoping there's a shot. On the plus side for you guys, I'm going to find out when next spring rolls by and I'll be sure to share what happens. None of our other girls have ever been remotely interested in sitting, so I'm not holding my breath that anyone else will get to hatching. Keeping chickens has taught me not to count my chickens before they hatch. Literally. You don't know what you're going to get until it happens. I need to be better at not deciding what they're going to do before they do it. I know I shouldn't, but then I take something they do for granted (Erickson going broody) and I get schooled all over again.

Maybe no broody means I can convince my husband we should get already hatched chicks next year. Our local hardware store always has them in the spring. What am I talking about? He was completely against getting chickens in the first place and we've got nearly half a dozen chickens in the backyard now. We need to round that out to a full half dozen at least. I wonder when the hardware store usually has those chicks...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Week in Chickens

It's easy for me to get busy and not spend much time with the girls. My day job and six-year-old take up a lot of my time during the week. On top of that one of my son's chores is to check for eggs every day, so there are days when it's not necessary for me to go out to the coop at all. My husband has a more flexible work schedule, so he often has time in the mornings to let the girls out and spend some time with them in the yard. I generally let myself get tied up in household chores and wrangling my son into doing homework and taking a bath and all those types of fun things. So for a week I made a conscious effort to go out and spend at least a little time with the flock. It was some much needed therapy for me. I always enjoy sitting with them and watching them peck around their run or in the yard. I never get tired of watching them even three years into having hens. Here's some of our week. 

Monday: We had corn on the cob for dine and so did the girls. They love corn cobs. They can clean them off better than anything I've ever seen. No kernel is safe. 
There's Erickson in the front and Pouncey in the back.
Ocho and Belle are getting in on the action
Tuesday: I brought some scraps out for the little ladies spent some time sitting in the door to the back side of the run. I was quite popular. The Food Lady always is.

The hens and I. You know, like the King and I? 
Wednesday: Three little eggs all in a row. Thanks, girls!
The eggs were just like this when I found them. 
Their reward for the eggs. Sandwich crusts left by my six-year-old and some strawberry tops.
Thursday: Three of the flock. Now where are the others?

There they are. Caught in the act!

Friday: My little helper came out tonight to check for eggs. He wanted to check off one of his chores for the day. 

Saturday: A little treat. One of their favorites, cabbage. They aren't quite sure of it on the ground though. I usually put it in a suet feeder that I hang from the hardware cloth on the inside of the run. This hunk was too big to fit though, so on the ground it went. I checked a little later and it was gone, so they didn't mind floor food too much.

I just pitter pattered out there to see what they were up to and brought them some more cabbage. I went out barefoot, but in my dress pants from work. Now, that's my definition of urban chicken farming.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rain, Rain Go Away

We've gotten more than our share of rain this year. It's the first time in a long time that we're not in a drought. Usually we're under all kinds of water restrictions. Not this year. This year we've got more water than we know what to do with. As I mentioned recently, I started putting a tarp over the coop's run when the forecast calls for rain for more than one day in a row. It has helped immensely. The run is staying nice and fairly dry. The girls must be happier and they look a whole lot cleaner. I mean, it's hard to get a dust bath in a mud pit. 

It helps that we've finally had more dry days than rainy days in the past week and a half. It's a welcomed change for all of us. The girls like having more dry days because they get out more. I love our hens, but not enough to want to stand out in the rain so they can scratch around the yard. Sorry, girls. The other day after work, I let the girls roam around the yard for awhile. They'd been cooped up most of the week because I'd been out of town for work and my counterpart had a pretty crazy work schedule himself. They were quite overdue for a nice free ranging.
Pouncey, Bossy and Erickson's fluffy behind
Ocho, who had her mind on her money and her money on her mind
Belle, the usual loner, stayed a little ways away from everyone else.
Apparently, the fence was a prime scratching zone. The girls spent most of their time along this one stretch of fence between our yard and our neighbor's. After awhile I left them alone and went inside. They seemed too content to shove them back in the coop/run so quickly. The funny thing is that when I went out to close them up, three of the five were already back in the run. It figures. Of course they came running at me velociraptor style when I came out with the little container of scraps. A bribe is always the best answer to getting everyone back in the coop in a timely fashion. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Soggy Hens

It has rained here for nearly a week. When I say "rained" I mean poured down buckets, torrential downpours, thunder storms, rained cats and dogs, monsooned, and any other description of insane amounts of rain of which you can think. It has been ridiculous. Yesterday was the first day we haven't gotten rain since last week. We haven't had this much rain in longer than I can remember, if ever. We're usually in a drought this time of year, so the city restricts when you can water your plants and wash your car. Not this year. We could probably turn on the hose and let it run for a week and no one would notice. Rain is great. We need it. However, there is no way we need this much rain in this little amount of time. Our chickens are going to build a tiny canoe and paddle away if we keep up with this trend.

The run is a mess. It's muddy. It's stinky. The girls look dirty and gross. Now some of you are probably judging me and thinking our coop/run is poorly situated or has bad drainage or we don't keep it clean. Quite the contrary. Our coop is situated so water will drain away from it based on the slope of the yard. We clean it weekly and sometimes bi-weekly in hot weather to decrease any propensity for stinkiness and flies. When you get five inches of rain in two days, no one can keep a coop and run clean. Earlier this week I threw a tarp over the portion of the run that's only covered by hardware cloth. It's helped keep some of the rain out so the dirt doesn't get any wetter and muddier. I wish I'd thought of it a day or two earlier. Poor girls. Even the part of the run that's always covered by a roof is still fairly gross. With as much rain as we've had, it's impossible to keep it out entirely. I'm pretty sure it was raining sideways at some point. Now we have five fat dirty hens clucking around out there. This is the time when it stinks to have feather-footed girls. Their feet are muddy and they look a mess. Then the eggs get covered in nasty mud when they get in the laying boxes.

The girls are not happy about the weather situation. They haven't had a lot of free-ranging this week, so they've been cooped up. Luckily, they've still been laying pretty well. When we have lots of bad weather they usually get disgruntled and laying becomes skimpy. It's probably because we've felt sorry for them and have brought them a ton of treats. I've likely given them half a loaf of bread in the last week. They love their carbs and I'm a sucker when it comes to them being stuck outside in the elements.

Non-chicken owners roll their eyes and laugh at me. I know they're chickens and they've lived outside forever. And it's not like we have a high tech set up for our chickens or anything. We don't have electricity in the coop. We don't have automatic feeders or waterers or chicken coop doors. We don't have a heater or a waterer that has a defrosting mechanism. Our girls get the basics. A coop, a fenced in run, a hanging feeder, a hanging waterer, and a small chick waterer (We got one when we had chicks and the big girls loved it, so we just keep it out there for them and fill it up when it gets empty. Apparently, it has the best water because they drink it right up.). I still think of them as pets though and hate that they get stuck out in the rain or cold or snow and ice. If we had a garage I can bet you I'd have them in there in the snow and when we have torrential downpours. So what if I have a flock of spoiled chickens?

The thing chicken owners know is the more spoiled the chicken, the better the eggs!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Chickens Definitely Love Waffles

This morning I did a few chicken chores. I filled up the little cup we keep attached to the hardware cloth in the coop for Oyster Shell grit; I checked for eggs; and, I gave the girls a treat. Today's treat consisted of week-old waffles. They'd been sitting in the fridge, so they were a bit dry. The chickens didn't mind.

Sometimes I'm a little concerned about needing to give the Heimlich Maneuver to a chicken. At one point our Brahma, Erickson, was trying to gulp down a big chunk of waffle. I'd torn it up into bits as I was throwing it into the run of the coop, but this bit was too big to be eaten in one piece. The other girls were tearing their pieces into smaller pieces by doing that thing where they whip their heads from side to side. Know what I mean? Apparently, Erickson didn't have time for that mess. She was hungry and she needed to consume as much waffle as possible before the other ladies got to it. After she tried to gulp it down in a way that looked like she was choking, she finally spit it out. I was glad. I don't want to have to chase a chicken around in order to stick my hand down its throat. Not my idea of fun times.

My idea of fun times is collecting eggs and getting a mama to go broody. No broodies yet, but we're deep into egg territory. Right now we have three and a half dozen in the fridge. It's getting a bit ridiculous, but I love it. Last weekend I made muffins and brownies. Gotta use those eggs somehow. And, who doesn't love brownies? It's a perfect excuse to make them. Maybe I need to perfect the making of meringue. Now that takes eggs. I could make a lemon meringue pie and maybe some baked alaska or something. I've never had baked alaska. Again, what a perfect excuse...

I need to head back out there to the coop at some point this afternoon to check for eggs again and to fill up the chick waterer. We don't have chicks right now, but the girls love that chick waterer. If we fill it up, it's empty the same day. I can't say I disagree. There's nothing better than fresh, cool water. If I got out there for water, I'm going to need to bring another treat unless I want a giant Brahma to jump on me. It's slightly terrifying. I'm pretty sure she knows it too.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hard Boiled

I've got a quick little tid-bit for you this week. I was clicking around on Pinterest and came across a tip about hard boiling eggs. Any of you who have chickens know that it's a real pain in the butt to peel fresh hard boiled eggs. The fresher they are the more of a pain and mess you have on your hands. I feel like I'm in one of those bad infommercials where the person can't peel a potato without hurting herself or who makes a mess of straining pasta like she's never heard of a collander. Well, put your hate for peeling fresh hard boiled eggs behind you. I have the tip to answer your prayers and it won't cost you three easy payments of $19.99.

In every egg, there's a thin membrane in between the shell and the egg white. When you buy eggs in the store you never really encounter this membrane because your eggs are likely a few weeks old (at least). The older the egg, the thinner this membrane becomes. When you crack a fresh egg from your backyard chickens, you may notice it's a bit harder to get the shell to break. It's this inner membrane. It's thick. When you hard boil a fresh egg, this membrane seems to fuse the shell to the egg white. Peeling the shell tears up the egg white. As you can imagine, forget about pretty fresh deviled eggs. Mine usually end up looking like they went through a weed wacker. It's a painful task. I usually end up swearing at least once during the process. Okay. More than once.

So what is the miraculous tip that is going to change your life you ask? Baking Soda. Put about a teaspoon (or a little more) of baking soda in the water you are using to hard boil the eggs. Now hard boil your eggs like you normally would. Watch it though because when I tried it, my water seemed to boil up fast. I had to turn down the heat quickly. When you get ready to peel your eggs, rotate the egg all around while you gently tap the shell on the counter or the side of your sink or wherever you peel your eggs so that it becomes cracked all over.

Now peel. Voila! It will be remarkably easier than without the baking soda. I'm not a science genius, so I'm not sure exactly how it works, but it does. It somehow loosens that membrane from the shell.

*I only hard boiled four eggs just to see what would happen, so if you're doing a large batch, you may want to increase the baking soda a little. I've not tried it yet, so I'm not sure if the teaspoon would be enough.

I've peeled three eggs over the last few days that I hard boiled with the added baking soda and they've all been pretty easy. They weren't perfect, but much easier than usual.

Remember, if you're using store bought eggs, you are unlikely to have this peeling problem and my exciting tip won't be so exciting for you. You may want to store the little tid-bit away somewhere in your brain for when it might come in handy some day. With Easter coming up, I'm pretty happy about this new found information. Hard boiled Easter eggs here I come!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Secret Quiche Recipe

I've been racking my brain for the perfect egg recipe to share. I mean, if you're reading this blog because you have chickens, you have eggs. And if you have eggs, you're always in need of good egg recipes. I know I am. I'm so obsessed with yummy egg dishes that I started a Pinterest board called Eggs! You're welcome to check it out at https://pinterest.com/lovinchikn/eggs

My favorite on the board so far is a Bread Omelet. It looks delicious. And, it seems genius. I haven't tried it yet, but it's slated for breakfast quite soon. Basically, you cook the omelet on top of bread that you toast in a skillet. It sounds like a winner to me.

By far the best egg dish I make is quiche. It's a secret recipe that I never share with anyone mostly because its deliciousness comes from all the heavy cream and I don't want to spoil anyone's thoughts that my quiche is healthy (eggs and veggies equal super healthy right?). It's delicious, so it's the egg dish I figured I have to share as my first recipe.

I first made a quiche around six months after our hens started to lay. I searched for recipes that call for a lot of eggs and quiche is one of those recipes. This particular recipe is a mash up of Betty Crocker's Quiche Lorraine (except I've never actually made a Quiche Lorraine) and a recipe I found on Pillsbury's website. I didn't exactly like either recipe, so I took a little inspiration from each combined with my own preferences and came up with this yummy quiche.

Your choice of pie crust (You can purchase pre-made pie crust or make it from scratch. I've done both. Homemade tastes better, but if you're in a time crunch or just aren't good at making your own, by all means buy it!) For homemade crust makers, this is considered a One-Crust Pie.
5 eggs
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 cup shredded cheese (I prefer medium cheddar or a Mexican style mix)
dash of salt
dash of pepper
dash of ground red cayenne pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup spinach, washed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms (If you aren't a mushroom fan, it is just as delicious without them)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Make one-crust pie crust (or unwrap prepared crust and follow directions for a one-crust pie). If making your own crust, fold dough into fourths so you have a small triangle. Place in 9 inch quiche or pie dish. Unfold carefully. Press dough firmly against bottom and side of dish.

Spread cheese in dough-lined dish. Now spread spinach over cheese. Set aside.

Beat eggs with fork or wisk in a large bowl. Beat in heavy cream. Beat in remaining ingredients. Gently pour egg mixture into pie dish. The spinach will rise up throughout the egg mixture. Don't worry. I find it comes out prettier and works nicer to lay the spinach in the dish rather than mix it in with the eggs. Bake 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Cover crust edge with strips of foil (to prevent burning). Bake approximately 30 more minutes or until egg mixture doesn't jiggle and springs back when pressed slightly. Let stand 5-10 minutes before cutting or serving.

I often remove the foil strips in the crust edges a few minutes before I take it out of the oven, depending on how golden brown it is or isn't. For more brown, remove the foil.

You can replace the vegetable ingredients and type of cheese as you like. Just follow the same basic ingredients and you'll have a delicious quiche every time.

I guess I can't call it my secret quiche recipe anymore. Unless you keep it a secret too. Trust me. You'll want to. Everyone will say it's the most delicious thing they've ever eaten and you can claim it as your own secret. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Winter Eggs

We're usually in a horribly tight spot when it comes to eggs throughout the winter. Last year I went into a tirade about how I refused to buy eggs from the grocery store when I had perfectly good laying machines in my backyard. I may have even gone as far as to threaten our hens with the oven if they didn't get to it. Don't get me wrong; I understand that egg production drops in the winter. Does that mean I like it. No. Does that mean I enjoy getting two eggs a week? No. But, I also understand that it's important for chickens to have a break. I'd want a break too if I popped an egg out of my butt once a day.

This winter has been different. We had an early drop in eggs around November. The girls all seemed to molt early, so they stopped laying early. We were barely getting any eggs for easily two months. December egg laying was abysmal. Then January hit and the girls starting laying like it was April or May.

We're getting four eggs from our five hens about every other day. The other days we'll either get one or two. It seems Ocho is the only one who realizes it's still winter. I don't think she's laying yet. If she is, it's so infrequent that I can't tell she is. We've got a dozen eggs in the fridge right now. At one point last week I think we were nearly at two dozen. That's an egg miracle in January.

Now that we're launching into February and Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow, we might even get up to five eggs a day! With our extra girl this year we're going to have even more eggs that we don't know what to do with. Belle, our newest edition, has been an excellent layer so far. She's our first girl to ever start laying in January; the others all waited until spring.

As for last winter, after my tirade I kept my promise not to buy eggs. I haven't purchased a single egg since our hens started laying. Now, did I make a quiche or a frittata last winter? You bet I didn't. But I didn't have to buy any eggs either! You have to bend to your supply.

So cheers to an early spring and delicious eggs. Now why have I only gotten this one egg today? They're just trying to prove me wrong. Freaking chickens.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Crazier Chicken Lady

One of my most popular posts is about being a Crazy Chicken Lady. Apparently, when you write about being crazy, people want to read about it. I get it. It makes you feel better about yourself. You can say, "Well, at least I'm not that crazy. You're right. You probably aren't.

Because I'm a Crazy Chicken Lady, the crazy keeps on coming. It's gotten worse since the original 2011 "Crazy Chicken Lady" post. I'm sure that doesn't come as a surprise. So here's a crazy update.

- This past Christmas I got the most amazing chicken cookie jar. She's all set up in my kitchen. Amazing present! Thanks, Mom and Dad.

- I also got a rustic "Farm Fresh Eggs" wooden sign with a nice big white rooster on it. Another great Christmas present for a crazy chicken lady thanks to my sister.
- Then there's the beautiful rooster painting that my husband's late Aunt painted. It was a birthday gift from my husband's parents.
- I have a big chicken candle on the entertainment center in my living room.
- On a trip to Goodwill, I found a nice chicken plate. You know I bought it. It was like $1.50.
- There's a rooster stake in one of my plants.
- I have three chicken magnets on my fridge. One was a birthday present this past year. It says, "I dream of a world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned." Oh, that makes me smile. My best friend knows me well.
- Said friend also gifted me with a rooster pen and set of notecards for my birthday. Gorgeous!
- There's the spoon rest. It has a rooster on it.
- I almost forgot about the rooster olive oil bottle and little bread plates.

I'm sure there are more chicken items that I've bought or received since that first post. And I never went through and listed every single chicken statue in my house, but I'll spare you.

I have notice that a fair amount of chicken items are actually roosters. What's up with that? I think it's because most laypeople don't know the difference.

It seems like the crazy chicken lady thing is kind of out of the bag now. But it keeps me in chicken related items. Now maybe I need a chicken apron and maybe even some sort of chicken related jewelry.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chocolate Eggs

Our coop is starting the new year off right. Belle's comb had been increasingly reddened lately and I'd started stalking her in anticipation of her first egg. (If you haven't tuned in lately, Belle is the Marans hen that we hatched this summer). Yesterday she laid her first chocolate egg!

We started off yesterday's especially cold morning with Belle squawking the morning announcement. Our girls generally get loud for only two reasons: they've either laid an egg or they've been spooked and they're sounding an alarm. I was crossing my fingers for reason number one, so I rushed to the coop to look for an egg. No luck. I'm sure you're confused now because I just got done saying she laid her first egg. Stay with me here.

Later in the afternoon, my husband had to kick Belle out of the coop a number of times while he was cleaning. As soon as he was done, she jumped right in there and got to sitting. I'm not sure how long she was in the nest box, but it felt like forever. You can believe that as soon as she came out of the coop, I ran right to the egg door and found a tiny chocolate-colored starter egg.

For any newbies out there, a starter egg is what people call the first egg a chicken ever lays. It's usually pretty tiny; it's Mother Nature's way of easing hens into laying. Over the next few weeks or month as she lays more frequently, her eggs will start increasing in size until they even off to be the size she'll continue to lay for the rest of her egg laying years. As with any newly laying hen, she'll also lay pretty infrequently over the next few weeks; though I suspect she may lay infrequently for the next month or two until we emerge from winter.

Belle's egg is on the left. On the right is an egg from Pouncey, one of our other girls.
She's the only hen we've raised so far who's started laying in the middle of January. Our other hens held off until spring. Maybe she'll be a super layer. I've seen Marans described as medium layers, but I've also seen some of the other breeds we have listed as medium layers and they lay tons of eggs. Egg laying seems pretty relative to your situation and particular birds in my experience, so I'm hoping Belle will be like our other girls and lay eggs like crazy. We feed them enough deliciousness to keep them happy that they ought to lay plenty of eggs.

Her one tiny egg is pretty promising, but when you're in the days of only a few eggs a week, a new layer is monumental. Add in the awesome new egg color, and we're suddenly in egg heaven. My husband couldn't help himself and fried up that tiny egg this morning. Apparently it was delicious on toast. Too bad it wasn't wrapped in actual chocolate like those Cadbury eggs. I could go for one of those every now and again. I'd probably get sick of them after getting four or five a week for six months, so never mind on the chocolate. I'll stick with the chocolate-colored ones.