Category Archives: chickens, etc.

On the expanding farmstead

Every spring, the number of creatures goes up on most farms.  Ours is no exception…except, well, our numbers exploded this year, thanks to:

the bees.

We took delivery of them on Tuesday night.  I chatted with them in their box on the sideboard as we ate dinner, telling them all about the farmstead and neighborhood.  After dining, we went outside and watched Tom place them in their new home.

We’ve also got a few baby turkeys.  Not the 17 of last year’s first hatching, we’re content with four, maybe five.  Queen Ruby has successfully raised five in the past; it seems about all the girl can take.

And as usual, it’s baby chick season.  The spring has been so cold that all four of our sitting hens lost their eggs so I supplemented their mothering need by giving them meat and egg chicks from the feed store.  They don’t care.  Babies is babies.

There are also bunnies.  Ugh, bunnies.

And we’re expecting one, or maybe two, kids to be born toward the end of the month.  I’m getting a half gallon daily from Bell, but it would be great to squeak out another half gallon from Cricket…is that being greedy, counting-unhatched-chickens-wise?  Time will tell.

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On spring chickens

Ah, spring.  The temperatures have finally climbed above the finger-numbing range so I took it upon myself to off a few supernumerary roosters on Sunday.

It seems that March through June is such a fraught time around the place, so much so that I awake at night with worries of “did I do that already?  ohgah when am I going to find the time to do X time-intensive, necessary farm task?” and it’s tasks like killing roosters that I put off and put off again and again.  Usually, things need to rise to near crisis level (read:  they’ve begun fighting) for me to really jump into action.  Let’s face it:  Chores like cleaning out the chicken coop or putting up a new fence, however distasteful, beat chicken killing any day.  But it’s come to that with these birds.  Spring means rooster testosterone flows just as readily as chlorophyll in the grass or lutenizing hormone in the egg chickens.

Life became a lot more cushy for this farmgirl when I found a local butcher to do in my critters for me.  Fifteen chickens takes him two hours, whereas five chickens nearly kills me and shoots my whole day (it takes me four hours, plus recovery for my feather-plucking fingers).  At $2.50 a bird, it beats the heck out of what I bill an hour, and even math-averse me can see that Mike’s skills, though cheap, are priceless.  But I won’t bring him these eight-month-old little bantam roosters.  It’s not worth his time!

Me, on Sunday

Two of the birds went to the freezer, but the last went into a wonderful mild soup called Cock-a-leekie…it’s a Scottish dish.  It’s traditionally prepared with the losing roo in a cockfight, actually!  Perhaps this boy didn’t lose a cockfight, but he lost the game of numbers…a farm only needs a tiny number of roosters.  Caput kaput, which makes me snort.

Cock-a-Leekie:  I harvest a good pound or more each of leeks and carrots out of the outdoor garden, grab a huge hank of thyme from the herb garden and scrounge up celery leaves, parsley, scallions and chervil from the greenhouse.  The rooster, gutted, headless and footless, is in a heavy pot with hot salted water to cover; I start braising him at the barest boil while I prepare the veggies and herbs.  After about an hour, I take the meat off the carcass, pan-sear the leeks and a handful of pearled barley in some butter and then put the leek/barley mixture, meat, bouquet garni (thyme, chervil, parsley tied w/ string), chopped carrots and celery back in the broth pot to cook another hour or so until the carrots are softened…adding spices to taste.  Traditionally served with prunes, this soup is sweet enough without them thanks to the winter-grown leeks and carrots, methinks.  Thanks, little annoying rooster!

On pea-planting season

I often feel like a poultry Pied Piper

There is a small window of time between melting snow and garden season when the chickens are allowed to run around unpenned.  They wander fairly widely, mostly in pursuit of the newly-sprouting grass, but mainly they all make a beeline for the gardens.  Deeply mulched beds need to be deeply scratched to find those worms within, you see, and then there’s the magic of The Compost Pile.  Oh the delectable wonders to be found in that monstrous pile of stank (if you’re a chicken, that is).I have set the compost bucket down to open the gate.  They have found it.

And then that window closes.  Slams shut, if you ask them: whaddya mean, we need to stay in here all day?  Their protestations are mighty.   Squabbles break out.  Feathers fly.  They are now confined until Happy Hour, usually around 6pm-dusk.  And they can tell time, so…at 6 you better be prepared to spring them loose.

The reason for their confinement?  The garden has been planted!  Yes, St. Patrick’s day, traditional pea- and potat0-planting day, was wonderfully warm and even sunny, so I locked up the birds and began the season.  These wily critters easily can fly over the 5′ fence encircling the gardens, and once they do, inevitably they will scratch up things that they should not.

Queen Ruby asks “but can’t I stay?  I won’t scratch things as much as the chickens,” to which I reply, no, m’dear.  She loves sprouts even more than worms.  (and notice the greenhouse roll-up side is up!  this is the earliest ever that I have had to do that.)

On things that happen when you’re not paying attention

This–and chicken soup–would make anyone feel better

So.  Last week was an eventful one:  I spent it in the hospital.

Granted, I was not sick.  Our daughter was.  Asthma.  Scared us all half to death.  She’s fine now; in fact, she’s playing tennis Monday and looking forward to snow tubing and cross-country skiing on her upcoming birthday weekend.

But yes, hospitals.  She learned the important life skills of opening a milk carton and opening a bag of chips.  How they expect patients to get well while eating such crap is beyond me, but then again, perhaps that’s the point and icky food helps the bottom line.  So she sampled her first powdered potatoes and gravy, breaded chicken, iceberg lettuce, white bread and Froot Loops.  And her parents ate take-out for all meals.  Yes, a greenhouse salad was a welcome event on Saturday night.

I would spend all day and night at the hospital, and return home in the morning to milk the goat, feed the critters, answer work emails, and shower. Fun week!

Thursday morning:  While letting the goats out for their morning passagiatta to the mailbox and back, I heard the tweeting of the feed-stealing sparrows in the chicken coop and went to chase them out.  Instead, five tiny madly peeping bantam chicks greeted me in the straw, with a mightily defensive mother flying at my head.  What an idiot, that hen:  who sits eggs in January?  It was maybe 15 degrees outside and there was no way the chicks could live in the cold, so I collected them in my pockets to put them in a makeshift brooder.  I turned around to see that the goats had followed me and were now themselves eating the chickens’ feed!  Dang caprines!

I flew at them, pocket chicks shrieking, snow flying, lunging with the dog to get them out of the henyard.  Feathers flew as all the yard birds took cover, making a huge ruckus, crowing, cackling, and the damnable guineas pealing.  The goats ambled out, licking layer crumbles off their lips, while the dog and I fumed out behind them.   It was an amusing sight, surely.

And yes:  I simply thought the mother hen had escaped about three weeks ago. She’d flown out of the henyard and I assumed she’d, you know, made a break and gotten lost and/or eaten.  In hindsight of course I had wondered why I hadn’t any bantam eggs in a while, but I also figured it’s the dead of winter so goodness maybe the girls were giving themselves a break.

The babies are now living in the toasty confines of the goat shed.  Anyone want any bantam chicks?  Just let me know!

On changing seasons

Every year I go through incredible seasonal denial when the earth tips away from the sun.  I need actual physical events like the first threat of frost to jolt me back to reality.  Frost!  Crap! In the first week of October?

Chilly broccoli

So yes, frost.  Brr. I guess it’s no longer summer.

Patchy frost too.  “Killing frost” as many Floridians know is a magical number: anything below 28* for something like 4 hours of time will severely damage tender vegetation, citrus trees, etc.  But “patchy frost” here means there’s frost in the lowest-lying areas only, and perhaps the thermometer didn’t dip down quite so much as to outright kill all vegetables still standing out in MY garden.

All buttoned up.  I wonder if those tomatoes on the bench will ever ripen…

I thought ahead, though.  This weekend I put the plastic back up on the end walls of the greenhouse.  People of Southwest Michigan should thank me:  my precaution all but guarantees we’ll have a scorcher of an Indian summer.

But inside the house this weekend?  Spring!

GO SEE THIS VIDEO: http://player.vimeo.com/video/15532431

The school’s egg incubator came home with us on Friday.  (I kind of insisted:  they were due to hatch today (Monday) and I…had a feeling they’d hatch before then.)  We excitedly heard the peeppeeppeep from the first eggs Saturday night, and I was up helping the first one hatch at 3:30 a.m.  Another followed on Sunday night.  They’re back at school now, with more eggs hatching.  The house is almost too quiet now.

Nomnomnom

If that’s not adorable enough, we also have baby bunnies.  That says “spring” to me too.

Five, or make that six, or even seven, funny bunnies

On the killing season

From the Class of 2010:  Peaches (left, a roo) and Eagle (right, a pullet)

The wind is coming in strong puffs, and it’s bringing with it the smell of the lake.  I’m not too happy about the task at hand.   I am dry-plucking a chicken.  A half-grown chicken, actually, a half-grown bantam…that’s practically no chicken at all as he probably only weighs a pound, a pound and a half.  Four and twenty of them, yes, might just fit in a pie:  I am holding him by his legs and I believe I have eaten bigger frog’s legs in my lifetime.

I had to put the guy out of his misery, you see.  His foot had gotten stuck in the little fence surrounding our back yard garden, and his compatriots had pecked him into a stupor.  I seriously doubted he’d recover from his head wound.

Poor guy.  I know I am either grimacing or am biting my lip; I try to just relax and do what is needed before my husband and daughter get home.  Poultry deaths aren’t easy, unless they’re expected.

It’s been a year of lots of birth and little death around here this year.  Six turkey poults followed the original seventeen of this spring.  (We kept three.)  Twenty-eight chicks have hatched under various chicken mothers; of them, eight of those cute bantam babies died when their idiot bantam mother decided she needed her nest up on top of a box, and the chicks couldn’t reach it, dying of exposure in a 60-degree night.  I walked in to the goat shed in the morning gloom and thought, who left these kleenex lying around, when it was little bantam bodies I was seeing on the straw.  And then this little death in my hand:  we’re left with twenty.  Plus the twenty-five meat birds (Freedom Rangers, much overrated) and the five girls whose egg-eating habits have sealed their freezer fate…as you can see, exponentially, the poultry population explodes every summer here.  And it recedes in the fall.

We’re keeping two laying hens out of the twenty home-hatched babies that remain.  There are three female bantam chicks who might live another year too, depending on how generous I am feeling.  All the home-grown chicks are amazingly colorful, but all the bantams have their father’s boring white plumage.  With all of them, I stare and think “Who’s yer ma,” hearkening back to one of the putative definitions of Hoosier (i.e., one of the thing Indiana residents said in days of yore was this direct question of your parentage:  who’s your ma, who’s your pa, who’s your folks?, who’syer, hoosier).  Daddy is definitely known:  he’s our handsome Black Sex Link boy Mary Ellen, and he’s lent speckles to every baby.  All the chicks are named and cared for by our daughter, which is why I was hurrying in my grisly task.

Plucked, gutted, de-headed, de-footed; this little creature is reduced to nearly nothing.  He’s crowed his last croaking adolescent crow.  I pluck the last of his down off his waxy skin, hose him off and bag him up for the fridge.

On new cute fluffy things

First goats, then bunnies, then turkeys…now chicks!

Here’s the first chick conceived and hatched on our farm.  Congratulations go to the bantam for sitting so patiently.  This is a half Araucana, half black sex link (Barred Rock/Rhode Island Red) so…s/he’s quite a mutt, chicken-wise.  So tiny!

Small packages don’t get much cuter than this.  Cheepcheep!  Happy Friday….