Category Archives: Backyard chickens

Simplifying

I love to cook. I forget that when the kitchen is a disaster, but I really do love to cook. In the few hours since my last post, I’ve put up dried peppermint, cleared out all my cabinets, reorganized them, run the dishwasher twice, made broccoli casserole, made quiche, fixed a big crock of blackeyed peas, and am thinking about making a batch of bread-and-butter pickles.¬†

The blackeyed peas are good. Here’s how I made them:

1 lb. blackeyed peas
1 c. frozen roasted bell pepper strips
1 small can chopped green chiles
2 tbsp. lard (vegetarians: olive oil is fine, but the flavor will be different)

Put blackeyed peas in a crock, cover with water, add remaining ingredients, and bake at 350 until tender, checking periodically and adding water as needed. Simple but wonderful.

Major disappointment: I opened a box of Ralston tonight to find it had been invaded by grain moth larvae.

I wasn’t sure what else to do with it, so I gave it to the hens. Their reaction was swift and merciless: They went after those larvae the way I go after the white chocolate pieces in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk. It still ticks me off that the larvae ruined the Ralston — which I was saving for winter — but it was almost worth it to see the girls’ enthusiastic response to an unexpected treat.

I’ve got to start storing cereal in the freezer….

Emily

Egging me on

All of these eggs came from my hens. The quarter gives you a sense of size: The three darker ones are pretty standard-sized. That lighter one, which I found in the nesting box last week, is roughly the size of a duck egg. Not surprisingly, it had two yolks — both of which were larger than average.

Double-yolk eggs are more common than you might imagine, but that one is the biggest I’ve ever seen. Poor hen … laying an egg that big can’t have been a comfortable job.

Incidentally, the girls are doing a magnificent job of smoothing out the garden where Ron spaded this weekend. They’ve broken up all the dirt clods and reduced the soil to fine powder, all while happily consuming all the bugs, grubs, and weed seeds they can find. Fine little gardeners, my girls….

On a totally unrelated note, I rode my bike home from work tonight for the first time in a couple of weeks. Despite the lag between rides, this one was easier than the last, even with the steep hill in the middle. (The train was blocking 33rd West Avenue, so I had to take the overpass behind Ollie’s, which involves a VERY steep grade.) The messenger bag worked out well, especially when Linda asked me to run by the post office for her on the way home.

Emily

Playing chicken

Life at the House of the Lifted Lorax is many things, but dull is never one of them.

I got off work this evening and went out to a great little nursery in Berryhill, where I picked up a mesh bag of barley seeds to help control algae growth in our pond.

When I got home, I put the dogs out, tossed the bag into the pond, and looked up in time to see Songdog and Scout barking furiously at a mysterious animal moving around in the compost pile.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that four of the hens had escaped the friendly confines of the chicken tractor and were happily sorting through the compost pile in search of worms, of which there are plenty. (Incidentally, I turned the compost last night and found conditions that would make any gardener’s pulse race just a wee bit: steam coming from the center, and red wiggler worms nibbling around the outside edges. Gorgeous.)

Anyway, I let the hens have their fun while I went to see how they’d gotten loose. As it turned out, the chicken tractor was on uneven ground, and one of the girls had scratched enough to dig out a large hollow area under one corner. Pushy, Solitaire, Plenty, and Elektra all seized the opportunity to stage their very own Shawshank Redemption, leaving a rather bewildered Maud alone in the chicken tractor. I had no idea chickens would tunnel their way to freedom if given the opportunity, but ours certainly did. If I had to guess, I’d say Solitaire probably dug the hole, and Pushy probably led the flock through it, but we’ll never know. This is another reason I really need to look into setting up a Webcam back there….

I moved the tractor to more even terrain, retrieved the hens, and planted half a flat of strawberries in the hay bales behind the back fence before coming in to work on less agricultural pursuits.

I intend to spend the rest of my evening enjoying a bowl of Jell-O with extra Cool Whip, framing some of Jamie’s artwork, and stumbling through a Spanish translation of Science and Health.

Life is good….

Emily

Oh, P.S.: I crossed No. 83 — “Try Halim and Mimi’s since it changed hands” — off my 101 Things list today. For the record, it was awesome. The new owners make killer baba ghanoush, and their tabouli — made just the way I like it, with plenty of parsley and lemon juice — is hands-down the best I’ve ever eaten.

It is done.

The skies were gray and oppressive this evening as I changed from khakis into work jeans, pulled on my battered old Birkenstocks with the hole in the bottom, and headed outside to find out whether I had enough love to sacrifice one hen for the safety of the rest of the flock.

Ron moved the work table from the deck to the yard while I went back to the garden to collect our little inmate from our avian version of Ellis Unit One, where she’d been serving two days in solitary confinement for attacking another hen and attempting to instigate a riot in the chicken tractor. I felt a little pang of guilt when I saw that for the second day in a row, she’d laid an egg in her lonely prison cell.

I’d modified an old pair of pantyhose to serve as a sort of makeshift straitjacket to keep Honey from beating her wings and flailing about in panic as she finished this phase of her journey. The restraint seemed to calm her, and I held her as gently as I could and spoke to her softly as I took her to the table, trying to keep the experience from being more traumatic for her than it had to be.

Tiny pellets of ice bounced off my jacket as I began dressing the bird, with Ron reading step-by-step instructions from a book on farming while I worked.

The kill itself was neither as clean nor as quick as I’d intended — certainly Honey knew what was going on, which I didn’t want, and I’m afraid she may have felt pain for a few seconds — but I daresay I did a better job than the mass-scale processors sometimes do, and I know my hen had a longer and much happier life here than she would have on a factory farm, which I hope makes up for my clumsiness at the very end.

The whole experience was much less disturbing than I expected. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing, but at least I know now that I can kill my own supper, and I know I can do whatever it takes to protect my animals from harm. And that, I think, is valuable.

Emily