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January 31, 2011

Chicken Marsala

So, the Chicken Piccata was a huge hit!  I thought that I would share with you another equally delicious dish. Again it can be a crowd pleaser with the kids; minus the sauce that is.  I typically serve this with mashed potatoes but pasta works just as well.  Even if you are not a big mushroom fan like my husband, I think that you will still enjoy this.  I know my husband does!

Ingredients:

1/4 cup of flour
salt and pepper
4 boneless chicken breasts-pounded flat
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2/3 cup beef broth
3 tablespoon Marsala cooking wine (I like the Holland House brand you can find it in the salad dressing aisle of your local supermarket.)

Preparation:

1.  Salt and pepper the chicken.  In a shallow dish, spread the flour and coat the chicken on both sides.

2.  In a large skillet, over medium heat add the oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add the chicken and brown both side cooking completely through. 

3.  Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm.  To the pan, add the onion, garlic and saute about about 3 minutes.  Next add the mushrooms and cook until they are lightly browned about 3 more minutes.

4.  Next stir in the Marsala, beef stock and remaining butter.  Return the chicken to the pan.  Simmer until the liquid is reduced by 1/3.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

January 30, 2011

Chicken Kisses


A kiss for Chocolate
 Yes, I do kiss them.  I love to show them that I love them.  They seem to like kisses too.  They each take their turn.  Some people kiss their dogs and cats.  I give chicken kisses!

January 29, 2011

Yes, There is a Difference

Over the past couple of months, I have been sharing some eggs with the neighbors and today I had my first sale.  People who see the eggs usually tell me that the eggs are beautiful.  I have to agree.  I also find the eggs' beauty and uniqueness often bring about questions.

Supermarket eggs to the untrained eye all look the same.  They are sized, cleaned and need to pass various inspection points prior to making it into commercial egg cartons.  I can't help but think about all those poor chickens confined to cramped cage conditions.  On the other hand, when the carton says "free range" it is not entirely what you would think.   Chickens able to roam free are housed in large warehouses with fans.  Instead of sunshine, green grass and rich soil, their feet will only experience the chill of a cement pad.  I will not even get started about their diet.  Lets just say that the chickens are fed ground up dead chickens.  Cannibalism.  They will never live longer than about 2 years.  If they are not laying eggs, then they are seen as no longer valuable.  They are culled.  I was not aware of all of these facts until I started researching chicken keeping.

Our fresh eggs are different.  As I have said before, despite variations, they all taste the same-fabulous!  People are not used to seeing things as nature presents them.  I thought our eggs should come with some basic information for those new to enjoying eggs that come from happy chickens.   Our happy chickens get fresh fruits and vegetables everyday.  Our chickens roam free on occasion and have plenty of stretching room.  They breathe fresh air and build loving relationships with each other.  They live their full natural lives.  They also eat a predominantly organic diet.

As of today, I am attaching an information sheet to all of the eggs that I both share and sell.  I hope that this proves to people that there truly is a difference.  I hope more people will start to think about their food sources and what they are feeding their families.  I know that I have. 

Here is the information we are sharing with our egg lovers:

We hope you enjoy your eggs. Here are a few facts about your  fresh eggs.

Our chickens are fed a 100% organic diet of chicken feed and scratch. They also enjoy fresh
fresh fruits and vegetables everyday.

Each of your eggs was laid by an individual chicken. Unlike store bought eggs, farm fresh eggs are all unique in size, color and shape. They do however, all taste equally delicious!

We do not wash our eggs, nor should you. The chicken laid an the egg with a protective membrane. This membrane prevents harmful bacteria from entering through the shell and also helps keep your eggs fresh by retaining moisture within the shell. Do not worry about any dried matter on the shell of your egg. The chicken has already taken care of it.

www.tillysnest.blogspot.com



January 28, 2011

Our First Sale

Today I was at my son's school helping in the classroom.  One of my friends was there as well.  Together with the group, we helped create a worm composter with the kids.  As we created the composter by adding layers of damp newspaper, soil, egg shells, kitchen scraps, cardboard and worms, we talked about what worms liked to eat.  Interestingly enough, I was quick to point out that they eat almost the same diet as the chickens.  The kids thought that was funny!  Amongst the giggling, I told them worms eat almost everything except for citrus and onions. 

My friend then asked how many eggs we were getting per day.  I replied about 4.  She asked if I would sell her some.  I knew I had an extra dozen in the fridge from this week.  "Sure, my chickens eat an organic diet too!", I replied.  With that said, she asked the price for a dozen and I told her $4.  I never in a million years would have thought that while building a worm composter, I would have my first sale.  No wait,  I never in a million years would have thought that I would go from being a city girl in Los Angeles to a Cape Cod Mom raising backyard chickens!

January 27, 2011

What Are You, Chicken?

Last night we had a blizzard.  I was often woken during the night hearing the hail and sleet hit our skylight.  We had it all; snow, rain, high winds, sleet and hail.  We awoke to a winter wonderland and a snow day for the kids.  I went out today at 7:15am.  I shoveled my way to the coop.  The chickens were very quiet.  For a moment, the crazy thought that they might all be dead danced through my mind.  No, they probably had a rough night too!

With neatly shoveled pathways, I brought their morning fresh water and scratch.  I opened the door to the coop and no one came out.  Usually, they can't wait.  I tried sweet talking them.  Still, I could see them poking their heads out but they did not want to come out.  I went back to the garage and grabbed some extra scratch.  I purposefully threw some into the run while the chickens observed.  They didn't move from the coop.  Finally, I went to the end of the coop where there is no plastic tarp.  It was covered in a blanket of snow.  Maybe this is what the chickens feared.  After all, they are snow blind.

I gently brushed off the snow, did some more sweet talking and out Feathers came.  For one of my littlest girls, she sure does love to say good morning.  Usually, I expect the larger breeds or the rooster, Tilly, Oyster Cracker, Sunshine or Chocolate to come racing out.  Funny, I think they were too chicken!  After, brave Feathers gave everyone the okay, they all came running out to begin their morning routine.  Today, they were not happy about the snow, nor was I. But I know that they still must be happy overall.   I had a warm egg waiting in the box for me this morning.

January 26, 2011

Jack Frost Nipping at My Coop

Earlier this week we had some of the coldest temperatures in years.  Two days ago, I awoke to find the thermometer reading 1degree F with a wind chill of -15 degrees F.  I certainly forgot how cold that truly felt.  The warnings on the TV said frostbite could happen in exposures lasting 10 minutes.

I was nervous to see how the girls were fairing in the weather.  I found the water dish in the coop was a frozen block of ice.  Some say the coop remains about 10 degrees warmer inside than outside in the night.  All I know, is that for the first time in a while, the water was frozen through.  The girls ran out into the run as usual.  They did not seem to be affected by the cold.

I then checked for eggs.  Suddenly, I heard an unexpected cracking noise.  Uh oh...what was that?  I put the lid down, revealing the weatherproofing cover I had made for the coop had become brittle and cracked; snapping into shards of little pieces.  I felt defeated.  My heart sunk.  I also knew that I needed to repair this problem before the afternoon.  Predictions said we were going to get snow and rain later in the day.  If I did not make the repair this morning, the flock would get wet.

As quickly as I could, I removed what remained of the old plastic.  My gloved fingers were like ice kabobs.  My nose was frozen and I knew that time was not on my side!  Into the house, I took some new plastic from the garage, what remained of the old original plastic and the screws.  After about 5 minutes, the plastic warmed up enough to regain flexibility.  Warm in the house, I used the old plastic as a template.  In the new plastic, I partially turned the screws into their preset locations.  Then back outside I went with my new cover.

As fast as my fingers could work, I screwed in the plastic.  It is not perfect.  Within 2 minutes of being outside, the new piece began to become very cold and lost most of it's flexibility.  By the last screw, a corner cracked off when I mistakenly placed my hand there for leverage.  Oh well,  I thought, at least the coop is weatherproof once again.  I had a sharp reminder that I am not is Southern California anymore.  I learned what happens to plastic in the cold!  For now, the job that I did should last until Spring.  I just hope Spring does not take it's time to arrive as it usually does on Cape Cod.

January 25, 2011

Chicken Piccata


Here is a great easy recipe for you to try this week.  This is Tilly's Nest's take on the original classic.  It is great if you have fussy kids.  Just serve them the chicken and pasta without the sauce.  Your entire family can eat the same thing without you feeling like a short order cook.  Enjoy! 


Ingredients:

4 boneless chicken breasts--pounded flat
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread crumbs
1/4 cup fresh shredded parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons or so of olive oil
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon parsley
3 cloves garlic-diced
2 tablespoons of capers


Preparation:

1.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium

2.  Whisk the egg and milk together in a bowl. 

3.  Combine the bread crumbs, 1/2 cup of flour and parmesan cheese together and spread on a plate

4.  Salt and pepper the chicken breasts.  Dredge them in the egg mixture.  Coat with the breadcrumb mixture and place the pan with the heated olive oil.

5.  Brown the chicken on both sides.  Do not flip it too soon, wait for it to be browned.  After about 5 minutes on each side, check the chicken and make sure it is cooked through.  If so, remove from the pan and set aside.

6.  In the skillet with the remaining oil, add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute.

7.  Next add the tablespoon of flour and whisk it into the oil.

8.  Next gently add the chicken stock whisking constantly causing the flour to become well incorporated into the sauce.  Add the white wine, capers and lemon juice.  Reduce heat to a simmer.

9.  Add the chicken back into the simmering sauce.  Cook for about 5 minutes.

10.  Serve over pasta, rice, risotto or mashed potatos.

Don't forget, you can find all of my featured recipes combined in their very own cookbook.  Click on Tastebook here or the link on the right hand side of the page to see all of my recipes so far.  This helps me keep the recipes organized and easy to find.

January 24, 2011

Free At Last

Yesterday, I let part of the flock out for a little while to free range.  Those days seem so few and far between during the Winter.  Here they are in action.

Oyster Cracker

Oyster Cracker struts around the yard with a certain grace and attitude.  She commands attention from the flock just with her sheer size.  She is so graceful and dignified.  I think she knows it too.

 
Outside the run
Chocolate








Here the girls find snacks that my kids most likely dropped on the ground.  It is now fair game outside of the run!  I bet it is some scratch that the kids like to call chicken trail mix.   Chocolate was also incredibly sassy and bragging to all humans and the girls that he was feeling especially good.  I had to pick him up for a while and remind him just who is boss around here.  He was not too happy about that.
 
Finds in the grass

Sunshine loves to inspect every little details before she pecks.  She is cautious and meticulous with everything that she puts in her mouth.  She is also our noisiest girl.  Often she will do this call that sound like an angry yell.  She seems so upset about something and she want the world to know all about it.



                      Feathers                                                                                        Chickens in a row

Dainty and so very tiny, feathers is just that most adorable ball of fluff.  She is like a little black snowball flitting around the yard.  She is fast.  She is sweet and often comes to me first when free ranging for a visit.  Sometimes she likes to be picked up but most times she is just coming in to say hi and get a little reassurance.

Fluffy bottoms
 One of my favorite things about the chickens are their beautiful fluffy bottoms.  The feathers are so different in this area; downylike.  When bending over eating, they remind me of light and airy clouds.  I love their fluffy bottoms!


January 23, 2011

The Return of Dolly

Dolly our Lavender Silkie went broody on December 22, 2010.  I let her broodiness take it's course.  Her broody period lasted until January 3, 2011.  She was broody for about 2 weeks.  She has not laid any eggs since she came out of her broody zombie-like state.  My research told me that it takes about 2 weeks for a hen to start laying again after a broody period.  Twenty days later, she laid an egg for the first time since she was broody!

I do have to say that we did miss her beautiful little silkie eggs.  As I cradled it in my hand this morning, it was like a little pearl.  Her eggs have a beautiful creamy sheen to them.  In fact, I know which egg belongs to which chicken based on their unique characteristics.  We missed Dolly's eggs.  Chocolate missed her too.  She was not interested in any of his antics over this past month.  Slowly, she has returned to us with eggs, personality, and spunk.  Welcome back Dolly, we sure did miss you!

January 22, 2011

Cold Feet, Dirty Water and Monster Trucks

To say I am frustrated is a huge understatement.  I think that the chickens are also frustrated too.  I am having a dilemma with my waterers.  No matter the height of the waterers, the chickens keep scratching copious amounts of dirt into the water.   If I didn't know any better, I would think that they are having monster truck shows in the run.  As the chickens drive these mini chicken sized monstrosities over the dust bath craters dirt shoots in the air everywhere. 

When I have been going out around 11am each day, I find a slurry of muddy sludge in the drinking part of the waterers.   It seems as soon as I refresh them, they are again filled with mud scratched up from the run.  The run itself is not wet or muddy.  In fact, it has stayed relatively dry because I have had it covered during the rain and snow.  When I clean the coop, I have been tossing the old shavings and straw into the run area as well.  It is composted rather quickly by the chickens and seems to be a source of busy work for them.  They love to scratch at the shavings and find goodies that were missed in the bedding when it was in the housing.

Today and tomorrow the weather is going to take a dive from the 20s to single digits.  I hope that the chickens are able to stay warm.  So far, without any types of heat in the coop, the chickens remain unfazed by the cold.  I do have to remember that our breeds are listed as "cold hardy".  I also have to remember that I am a mammal and they are not.  They are birds.  They probably feel things differently.  However with this  weather, the waterers will likely need to be thawed a few times during the day.  I guess thawing the waterers repeatedly is one way to clear the dirt for now.  I am definitely going to have to figure out a solution come Spring.  At least when the snow disappears they will be able to free-range more often, taking their monster truck show on the road.

January 21, 2011

Forever Would Be Nice


A peony growing in our Garden last summer
  "Mom, are we going to be able to keep Chocolate forever?"   I heard this coming from the backseat of the car yesterday from my eight and three year old.  And so, the discussion about forever began.

"We will keep him for as long as we can.  We are lucky to have him.  As he gets older, I am not sure if he will get noisier or mean.  Right now, I am so happy that we have him.  I think that we should just enjoy him for as long as we can.  I'm not sure how long it will be."

My three year old then asks,"Can we keep all the other chickens?"

I replied, "Yes." 

Then I heard, "How long are the chickens going to live?"

"I know that some chickens can live to be twenty but most live for about 4 or 5 years.  Everything dies at some point.  Nothing can live forever.  When they die, they'll go to the Rainbow Bridge where we can see them again.   I'm sure they will try to live as long as they can."


Foxglove, Rhododendron and Catmint in our
Garden last summer

"How long are you going to live?"

"I am going to try and live a very long time.  I hope to be 100 some day.   My Greatgrandma lived to 101!"

"Does everything die?" 

"Yes, some things live a long time and some things live a short time like the plants in the garden."

"I wish the chickens and us could live forever."

"I agree, forever would be nice...."



January 20, 2011

Chickens-3, Predators-0

Last night when I arrived home, it was around 5:30pm.  The flock was in for the night.  Quickly, I refilled the water bowl for inside the coop, slid it in and tried to shut the door.  Oyster Cracker came off the roost to see what I was doing.  Unfortunately, the chickens can't see well in the dark and she was so confused.  Interestingly enough, as I peered into the coop to try and settle Oyster Cracker back onto the roost, I noticed that the sleeping positions on the roosts had changed.

Usually on the front roost, I find Oyster Cracker next to Sunshine; next to her is Tilly then Chocolate.  Well tonight was different for some reason. All four silkies and Tilly were on the front roost with Chocolate.  Six were so tightly squeezed together that I wondered how they could be comfortable.  However, apparently they were.  They were all nuzzled and fluffed up together fast asleep.  I finally locked them inside and rechecked all the doors for security.  I find it funny that instinct tells us to do certain things.  I am not sure why I did that, but now I know.  My intuition was trying to tell me something.

Around 2 am, I awoke from a very deep sleep.  I heard some sort of eerie yelling noise.  I heard it again.  It was a high pitched howl coming from the side of our house near our bedroom.  There was no mistaking what I had heard.  We had a visitor; a coyote again.  I leapt out of bed and put the lights on in the front and the back of the house.  I heard the howl again but from the other side of the house.  I checked on the coop through the window.  All the doors were closed.  I did not hear the rooster so, I assumed that they were all safely locked inside.  In fact, they were probably sleeping unaware of their unexpected guest.

I looked all around the yard and never did see the coyote.  I waited for about 5 minutes and then I turned off the lights and went back to bed.  My heart was still beating like crazy.  I laid there.  In the distance, I could hear the coyote howling.  It was gone but my mind was awake.  Finally after what seemed an eternity, I did doze back off to sleep.  When I went outside this morning, there were no signs of the visitor.  My chickens happily came out into the run and started to scratch in the dirt and it was just like nothing ever happened.

January 19, 2011

Bedtime Routines

The flock seems to be so happy that the days are getting longer.  They are starting to lay more eggs and each day they seem to be returning to the coop a tad bit later each evening.  I am starting to find the routine comical.  In the evenings, I peer out the window to see if the flock has gone in for the night.  I don't dare open the garage door to let them know that I am coming.  They are so curious.   As soon as I venture outside, there they are in the run staring back at me wondering if I brought them any treats; those silly chickens.  I tell them to go to sleep. I return inside and then wait 5 minutes more.  At some point,  this week I realized that I could no longer go out at the same time everyday.  The days are indeed getting longer.  I also find that this is starting to remind me of bedtime with my kids, only I don't find it as amusing.  "I need water."  "I need the light on." "Will you stay?"  Many return trips have often yielded a cranky mom.

Last night, I went to put the flock in around 5pm.  They were all inside.  I could hear low chattering and peeping that they do to one another.  They make their rounds saying goodnight to each other and checking to make sure everyone is okay.  Quietly, I opened the run.  As I was closing the coop door, I whispered, "Goodnight".  Like popcorn, out came Meesha and Feathers.  It was too funny.  Again, I found myself waiting for them to go back inside.  I am glad that my chickens are happy.  I think that they are starting to sense that half of winter is now behind us.  If only I can get my timing right and remember that bedtimes are never easy for kids and apparently chickens.

January 18, 2011

Future Elected Town Official?

I attended the last Barnstable Agricultural Commission meeting in November 2010.  When I was at the meeting,  I was invited by one of the Commissioners to apply for a vacancy on the commission.  At first, I thought that I could potentially be overwhelmed by adding one more thing to the ever growing list of my volunteer work.  Then I thought it over for a while.  If voted in, I could help make a direct difference in how livestock, farming and gardening are represented in the Town of Barnstable.  I could be beneficial and positive in many ways through bridging the gap between farmers and non-farmers, supporting Farmer's Markets and community gardens while fostering relationship with various regulatory agencies in Barnstable. With my background, personal experiences, my career in medicine, volunteer work, gardening and raising backyard chickens I felt that I could be an asset to the the commission.  I submitted my application for review.

Over the past couple months, I have been going through the application process.  Last week, I was interviewed by the Town of Barnstable Commission Board.  I am pleased to announce that the board voted in favor and nominated me to the Town Council for final consideration.  The long and short of it is, if all goes well, then I should be voted into the position by the beginning of February.  So, wish me luck and send positive thoughts.  I hope that bridging the gap with fairness-especially when it comes to keeping chickens-will keep their future bright.

January 17, 2011

Water Water Everywhere

After yesterday's drama with Oyster Cracker, I decided that I needed to find a way to keep water from freezing in the coop at night.  This past Fall, I made the decision that I did not want to have electricity running to my coop or attractive wires for the chickens to peck.  In my opinion, the dangers of coop fire and injuries to the chickens are two things that I did not want to take a chance on.  So, I decided to go to the Cape Cod Feed and Supply Store.  The people that own and work there are very nice and very helpful.  I was able to pick-up some vitamins and electrolytes for the chickens.  I also had another idea for preventing water from freezing overnight without using electricity.  So, I picked up a stainless steel dog bowl that holds eight cups of water.  I left feeling confident.

Once I got home, I decided to give the chickens the vitamins and electrolytes right away.  They come in a small white plastic jar in a yellow powder form.  As soon as I opened the jar, it smelled just like a vitamin.  I diluted it according to the package's directions.  I used an empty one gallon milk jug for mixing.  I filled the chickens' waterer half way with the vitamin and electrolyte mixture and then I filled the rest with plain water.  Since they are not full grown, I did not want to harm them with an overdose.  I put the treated waterers back in the run.  The chickens loved it.  Bizarre as it may seem and to my surprise, they loved the vitamin and electrolyte water.  Best of all, Oyster Cracker took about 5 drinks in a row and did not vomit!  Next, I moved onto my idea to prevent water from freezing in the night.

In the Northeast, we have been having nighttime temperatures dip into the low twenties.  When, I open the coop up in the morning, I discover a solid block of undrinkable ice in the waterer.  If Oyster Cracker was over drinking because she was so thirsty from the night, then I had to try and remedy the situation.  I scoured my yard for a rock.  The rock had to be about 5" round.  The ground was frozen and covered with snow.  Where the heck would I find a rock?  Then, I remembered,  I had a rock about that size under one of the gutters.  I retrieved the rock.  It fit perfectly inside my new stainless steel dog bowl.  I brought the rock inside and placed it in a large stew pot.  I added water and brought it to a boil.

I recalled watching survival shows on TV and hot potatoes from the oven.  I remembered that survivalists placed rocks in the their fires and removed them at bedtime.  The rocks were placed strategically around their bodies and radiated heat for them all night long.  I also recalled how long potatoes keep their heat after removed from the oven.  If I could heat up this rock, without burning the chickens or overheating the water, it might just prevent the water from freezing at night.

Once the water was boiling, I carefully removed the rock from the pot.  It was very hot.  I placed it on the counter to cool.  By 2 pm, it was cool enough to add to the stainless steel bowl.  I added warm water and then placed it in the coop.  Optimally, I would have liked to place it in about 4pm.  However, by placing it in earlier, the chickens would have a chance to explore it prior to nightfall.  Five o'clock finally came and I locked the flock in for the night.

This morning I went outside, replaced the run's waterers with water, electrolytes and vitamins and scattered scratch on the ground.  I let the chickens out.  Everyone ran to the scratch first and ignored the water.  I thought that this was a good sign.  Next, I opened up the coop.  To my amazement the water was not frozen.  It was a little slushy, but not frozen.  Given the fact that I had placed it out there early yesterday, I imagine that if I bring it out at 4pm today, then my success might be better.  I think the best part of my discovery was that half of the water from the stainless steel bowl was gone.  They finally were able to get an early morning drink inside the coop in the winter.

January 16, 2011

Under the Weather?

So, yesterday morning and today, Oyster Cracker drank water like crazy!  Then she walked over and vomited what appeared to be water.  Other than that, she appears to be totally normal.  She is eating, drinking and pooping normally.   Her crop is normal and she doesn't have any foul smells coming from her. Her tail is up.  She has bright eyes and her comb and wattle are both brilliant red. 

I searched around this morning.  I found one post on www.backyardchickens.com.  The poster said that sometimes chickens can drink too much and they vomit up the rest.  After she vomited, she did sound a little congested, but that cleared with time.  I removed her from the coop and placed her in my makeshift infirmary.  I put food and water in the infirmary.  I also scattered some scratch on the ground.  Finally, I gave her a big bowl of yummy yogurt.  Over the course of the next couple hours, she acted entirely normal.  She ate the entire bowl of yogurt and did not vomit anymore. 

While I was back inside, I heard the hens and rooster calling for her from the main coop.  Then she started answering them.  It was the loudest BWACK, BWACK I had ever heard.  After about a half hour of this continuous chicken talk, I caved in.  I decided that I would take my chances and return her to her family.  Their reunion was beautiful.  Everyone came over to talk to her and ask her where she had been.  They truly did miss her and their love was clearly evident.  So, for now, I am taking a risk that perhaps she has a little cold or just drank too much water.  I will be picking up some electrolytes to add the everyone's water supply to help boost their immune systems.  If she appears to be getting worse, I will separate her again.  However, sometimes being around your loved ones is all you need to feel better.

January 15, 2011

Chickens on Hoarders

Some people may find this post too upsetting to read.  However, after viewing this situation I felt a strong urge to write about it today.

Last night, we watched an episode of Hoarders.  The woman featured was your traditional hoarder of junk, clutter, food, garbage and clothing.  However, she also hoarded farm animals including chickens!  Watching the show was upsetting to say the least.  The woman was older.  She has 16 children that were taken away by the state due to her abusiveness.  She says her hoarding tendencies began when the children were taken away in 1983. 

Living on four and a half acres of land, over time she accumlated stuff and animals.  With her regular house filled to the brim, she bought a single wide trailer.  She filled her single wide trailer with storage bins filled with chickens and traditional collections of hoarders.

I felt terrible for those poor birds.  The storage bins had about ten birds per bin.  She never cleaned them, so each had about a foot and a half of chicken feces in them.  Upon closer examination, some birds were even found dead in the bins with the live birds.  Outside, she had similar poor living conditions for ducks, turkeys, and goats.  Unbelieveably, they showed her hitting one of her goats during one of her fits.

Over the course of the program, a few specialists were brought in for assistance.  They included a psychologist, a professional organizer and in this case animal rescue agents.  Over the course of the hour, I heard the psychologist say that this woman lacked the capacity to understand the seriousness of her situation and also the needs of her animals.  I watched as this incredibly disfunctional family threw fists at one another.  In the end, not much was accomplished.  All the chickens were let loose on the property.  The house and trailer were barely cleaned and about 5 ailing animals were removed from the property. 

As I was falling asleep last night, I could not help but feel like the situation was not dealt with properly.  As far as I could conclude, this woman is still living in her uninhabitable single wide trailer with no heat and is still responsible for a large menagerie of animals.  As healthcare professionals, the individuals leading the intervention, including the psychologist, should have called the proper authorities.  She was under a legal obligation to not only notify Adult Protective Services but also the local Animal Rescue agency.  I was disappointed that this incompetent woman was abandoned by those that exposed the situation.  However, I mostly felt bad about those helpless animals.  Maybe I should write the show.

January 14, 2011

Tips for Chickens from Our Coop to Yours

Well it has been seven month since we started raising chickens.  I thought that I would share a few tips that I have learned along the way since raising chickens.  They might make a difference in how you do things too.

1.  Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 gallon of water that they drink.  This helps to promote gastrointestinal and crop health.

2.  Mix food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) into their feed.  Approximately 2%.  This helps to keep parasites down and also provides the chickens with extra vitamins and minerals.  This also keeps pest from living in the chicken's feeders and eating their food.

3.  Buy a Pest Pistol from www.treatsforchickens.com.  Fill it with DE and blast the nooks and crannies of your clean coop.  This will keep down any mites or bugs that like to bother your chickens.  You can also dust your chickens' bottoms and under their wings too. 

4.  If your hen ends up with an egg stuck in her vent, gently coat the area with Vaseline and coax the egg out.  If the egg breaks inside, then you will need to go to the vet.  It can lead to egg peritonitis.

5.  If your hen has a prolapsed vent (the inner portion of the vent is sticking out), treat it like a hemorrhoid.  Put a mixture of Neosporin and Preparation H on it.  Keep her in a warm dark place and limit her amount of food, not water, until the vent returns to normal.

6.  In winter or a wet spring while cleaning the coop, toss the dirty shavings and straw from the coop into the run.  This helps dry out wet areas and the chickens will turn it into compost very quickly for use in your garden.

I hope you enjoyed these tips.  Do you have any to share?

January 13, 2011

Runny Egg

Late this morning when I went out to collect the eggs, I found 2 eggs in the nesting boxes.  After collecting those two eggs, I looked out into the run to see all the chickens.  In the middle of the run was the smallest little Silkie egg you ever have seen.  It was being trampled on by the chickens.  I had to retrieve it.

I went into the garage and grabbed a small child's bamboo rake.  With the gentlest outstretching of my arm and the rake, I slowly rolled the egg to safety.  I think that one of the new Silkies laid it.  It is very tiny and has a small streak of blood on the side.  I have seen this before, when when the other chickens laid their first eggs.  I think that it is Autumn.  I saw her sitting in the nesting box early this morning.  I did not disturb her but I wonder if one of the bigger hens kicked her out or if she got confused.

I have heard of this before, chickens laying their eggs outside of the nesting boxes.  I just hope they don't get in the habit of laying "runny eggs".

January 12, 2011

Earlobes and Eggs

Did you know that chickens have earlobes?  Well they do and some are very colorful!  You might also find it interesting that chickens will lay a certain color egg based on the color of their earlobes.  This is one of the most remarkable facts about chickens that I know.  Chickens have tiny holes in the side of their head covered by feathers.  Below, dangle their earlobes.

My Sikie Bantams have blue earlobes.  You can admire them hanging down in all their glory in the family portraits to the right side of my blog.  My silkies lay rose colored eggs.  The Buff Orpingtons and the Australorp all have red earlobes and their eggs are various shades of brown.  Here are some lovely pictures of chicken earlobes up close and personal.  Now you can say, that you know what chicken earlobes look like.   Yet another great topic to discuss at your next cocktail party conversation courtesy of the chickens!
 
        


January 11, 2011

A Letter to the Editor

I was recently interviewed by a local paper about keeping roosters in Barnstable, MA.  I felt that what I stated in the interview to the reporter was not clearly conveyed in the article.  So, I wrote the editor a letter.  I hope it will be published in this Friday's paper.  I'm crossing my fingers!

Dear Editor,

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for an article by James Kinsella that was published on December 24, 2010 about roosters in the town of Barnstable.  However, after reading the article, I felt that I was not represented entirely correctly.

The closing line of the article said that I felt raising roosters “should not only be for the rich.”  This quote was taken out of context and the remainder of what I discussed was not presented in the article.  Initially, the draft form of the proposed rooster ordinance would require individuals keeping roosters to live on two acres or more of land.  Through urban planning and zoning within the town of Barnstable, many people do not live on more than one acre.  Affordable lots of land two acres or more in Barnstable are scarce.   Thus because of the high cost of land in the town of Barnstable, it would, in my opinion make owning a rooster something that only the rich could afford.

I also feel that keeping a rooster was made into a very black and white subject.  In my opinion, it is a gray area.  I believe that roosters can be a disturbance.  I also believe that if there are situations that cannot be remedied, then the rooster must be rehomed.  Owning a noisy rooster requires the owner to be more responsible than just raising hens.  The owner is responsible for controlling the noise of their animal if it is found to be an annoyance to those around them.

Keeping roosters is not for everyone.  We ended up with our rooster accidentally.  Our she turned out to be a he.  We did not discover this until he was 20 weeks old.  We became attached to him.  We quickly discovered he serves a purpose in the flock.  He acts as a protector to the hens.  He also enables us to raise chicks if we so desire.  By hatching our own chickens, we avoid ordering chicks from out of state hatcheries and potentially introducing foreign diseases into our current flocks.  It also keeps raising chickens local.

Through keeping hens and a rooster, my family has learned many valuable lessons.  We have learned about the roles of the hens and the rooster.  We’ve learned the lifecycle of the chicken.  We have learned about the importance of knowing where food comes from.  We are eating eggs from our local organically fed chickens.  We have also learned lessons in responsibility and see our chickens as members of our family. 

Thank you for your time.

January 10, 2011

Tour de Coop: Viola in Barnstable

Peering out of the coop at the snow
 At first glance, you would never know that Viola and her family have chickens.  Tucked away behind some rather large rhododendrons is a large shed/coop and the chicken run.

Viola has been raising chickens for seven years.  Her first three chickens, 2 hens and a rooster, arrived to her when she lived in New Hampshire as a housewarming gift from a friend.  From there, her flock grew to about eight hens.  Her flock moved with her to Cape Cod four years ago.  They have now settled in Barnstable.

Viola's current flock consists of a Hamburg, Silkie Bantams, a Buff Brahma/Araucana mix, an Araucana, a New Hampshire Red, a Barred Rock Plymouth, a Columbian Wyandotte and a Label Rouge.  She currently has 10 hens and three roosters.
 
Hamburg Hen



Scratching in the snow covered run



Bread Treats

The infirmary

A self-professed animal lover, Viola and her family always seem to adopt chickens that would have met unfortunate events if not for their interventions.  Over time she has integrated many new additions into her current flock.  Her son even saved a broiler hen that should have ended up on a dinner plate long ago.

Viola's current coop was created from using half of a storage shed.  The coop itself is 8'x3'.  The run is about 12'x 20'.  Viola uses the other side of the storage shed for lawn and garden storage, chicken supplies, her infirmary and brooder.  Due to various ages of her flock, in the winter she currently gets about a dozen eggs a week.  She keeps roosters in her flock for a few purposes.  The roosters can provide her with chicks in the future.  She also keeps them to educate her children about the biology of keeping chickens.  However, most importantly, she just really likes roosters.

Her flock's favorite foods include oats, oatmeal, cream of wheat, tomatoes, lettuce, melon and cucumbers.  She shared two of her top chicken tips with me.  She suggests feeding items that you typically would compost to the chickens, bearing in mind the chicken's dietary restrictions.  She also suggests using flat inner tubes of bike tires as anti-slipping devices.  Pieces of cut tire easily slip onto hooks used to hang feeders and waterers and prevent them from tilting askew. 

Viola has had only had one encounter with predators.  She recalls that it happened when she lived in New Hampshire many years ago.  A sneaky skunk pulled some young chicks through chicken wire.  She also recollects having a rooster die from heat stroke.

It's been a long time since she put those original eight chickens on a moving truck to Cape Cod.  As she speaks, her love for all things animal and chickens is evident.  I am so glad that she let me interview her for my first post on my Cape Cod Tour de Coop.

 
Tucked away beyond the rhododendrons

Inside Viola's coop
If you live on Cape Cod and would like to have your coop featured on my Tour de Coop series, please send me an email.

January 9, 2011

Mr. Mom

Yesterday evening, I got home around 4:45 to lock in the flock.  I wanted to check for eggs because I didn't want them sitting in the nesting boxes overnight.  Since some of the chickens sleep in the boxes, the last thing I wanted to happen would be for another hen to go broody!

All the chickens were already inside the coop.  I gently lifted up the nesting box lid.  In the far left box, I retrieved a small Silkie egg.  In the far right box was our rooster, Chocolate.  I had never seen him sleep there before.  Afraid of getting attacked, I gently closed the lid.

Early this morning I went to let the chickens out and check for eggs.  In the box, where Chocolate had spent the night, were two large very cold eggs.  I swear he must have been sitting on those eggs when I checked for eggs last night.  For reasons unknown, I think he sat on those eggs.  How long, I do not know.  Be it possessiveness or fatherly instinct, as of today I shall nickname him Mr. Mom.

January 8, 2011

Divide and Conquer

Every time after cleaning the coop, the chickens love to rearrange the pine shavings and straw.  When I first started using this coop, the chickens were so efficient at scratching.  They would scratch all of the bedding out the front door into the run.  They accomplished this feat within an hour.  After replacing the bedding multiple times and being out smarted by a chicken, I decided to place a brick at the door.  This solved the problem.  The brick now acts as a boundary and keeps the majority of the bedding inside.

As winter approached, I decided to make the pine shaving bedding deeper for added warmth.  This created a lot more fun for the chickens and many more opportunities to do some chicken redecorating.  The chickens are fantastic at keeping their home.  They have preferences with how they like the bedding.  Some areas are kept deeper and others without bedding at all.  I had no problem with this except when it came to the nesting boxes.

My coop and nesting boxes are lined with commercial grade linoleum for easy cleaning.  The roosts are removable, making cleaning a cinch.  I just push all the litter into the center of the coop, and then empty it out.  It takes only 5 minutes.  However, because of this design, there is no barrier in place to keep the bedding in the nesting boxes when the chickens are redecorating.  Several times a week, I found myself adding new bedding to the nesting boxes.  Unfortunately for me, as quickly as I replenished the shavings and straw, the chickens quickly removed it; until this week.  I came up with a solution.

I decided to cut a 1"x2" piece of non pressure treated wood to fit across the nesting boxes.  I did not adhere it into place.  I left it free floating.  I wanted to be able to remove it for easy coop cleaning.  It has been 3 days now; so far so good.  Despite some scratching to make themselves comfortable while laying, I think the eggs are happier to land in soft pine shaving beds. 



Photo on the left shows the new divider running across the nesting boxes.
Photo on the right shows the snug fit of the divider in the corner of the coop. 



January 7, 2011

Ham and Cheese Puff Tart

image courtesy of marthastewart.com
This is hands down one of the BEST recipes that I tried in 2010.  Thank you Martha for sharing!  This is from her Everday Food Magazine.  It makes a great dinner or appetizer.


Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons flour plus more for rolling
2 sheet  frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup whole milk
6 ounces thin sliced deli ham
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 large egg, beaten
ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

Preparation:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place oven rack in lower third.

2.  On a floured surface, roll each puff pastry sheet until they become 10"x13" rectangles.  Transfer to two parchment lined cookie sheets and refrigerate.

3.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and then cook until golden colored about 1 minute.

4.  Add milk and simmer.  Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.  Pour sauce into bowl and let cool for 30 minutes.

5.  Arrange ham evenly on one of the pastry sheets keeping a 3/4" border.  Top with cheese and sauce.

6.  Brush the pastry border with egg and top with second pastry sheet.  Fold the bottom edges over and press to seal.  Brush the top with egg and cut vents in the tart's top. 

7.  Bake until browned and puffed, about 30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.



The original recipe can be found at www.marthastewart.com/recipe/ham-and-cheese-puff-tart

January 6, 2011

Chasing Chickens

Some people chase dreams.  Children chase each other on the playground.  Dogs chase cars.  I chase chickens!  Yesterday, I let the entire flock free range for about an hour.  When it was time to return the chickens to their home, I coaxed them in with veggies and scratch.  However, two of the new silkies would not come inside.  I tried everything.  I tried to entice them with all sorts of goodies.  I spoke to them gently.  I even tried to speak chicken!  Nothing was working.

The chickens had not free ranged in a while since there was so much snow on the ground.  The older flock free ranges all the time without any problems.  I wanted to be fair to the new additions, so I felt that they too should be able to enjoy free ranging.  In the beginning of December, I had let the entire flock out.  During that time, it was difficult to get the newer birds back in the coop, but I managed after about 5 minutes to catch them.  You see, my original flock is so docile, that I can just walk up to them and pick them up.  Even if they are reluctant to go in, they are never reluctant to be held and loved.  I am not used to skittish chickens. 

Getting back to yesterday, there the two bird brains stood in the thicker underbrush of the woods near their coop.  I crawled on my knees. I tried to throw towels on top of them.  I even brought in reinforcement from my mother and my three year old.  Finally, after 3 long hours of chasing chickens, I caught them.  One I caught in the rhododendron bush and the other I caught climbing up the wire on the run.  Once caught, I held them.  I gave them a nice snack for positive reinforcement and then I put them back into their run.

I felt defeated.  After relaying this story to some friends, they were laughing and telling me that they wish they had a video camera set up.  I'm sure if it had been a weekend, my neighbors would have thoroughly enjoyed watching my antics all over the yard!  The next time the chickens free range, I will not be letting out the two escape artists.    Instead, I have decided that in the spring, I will let the entire flock out about a half hour before sundown.  Leaving every door open, I hope that their instincts will tell them to go into the coop and roost at bedtime.  Yesterday I learned the hard way; never chase a chicken. 

January 5, 2011

Like Snowflakes...

No two eggs are ever alike.  I now appreciate the beauty of each and every egg produced by our flock.  The eggs themselves are all unique.  Even eggs laid by the same breed have variations.

Since raising backyard chickens, I have paid closer attention to what we are eating.  I carefully inspect each egg that is laid, guaranteeing that it is not cracked or pecked.  I notice tiny little bumps encased in the egg's shell, like a grain of sand from the beach.  Some brown eggs are lightly speckled with flecks of white.  Some eggs are rough and some are smooth like glass.  Some are pointy and some are very round.  I find beauty in their creations.

We still supplement our egg supply with ones from the store.  I have noticed that if I look closely enough at those eggs, I can tell that they are from different chickens.  Society has trained us that eggs should look a certain way, all uniform in size, shape and color.  In fact, society goes much more beyond eggs.  (That subject is another blog in itself.)  Supermarket eggs appear to all be identical.  However, everyday I am reminded that nature celebrates uniqueness in all of it's creations.  I have found no matter what the size, color, or shape of our eggs, they are all equally delicious!

January 4, 2011

Family Portraits

You might recognize these pictures from the side of the blog.  They are the family portraits.  These were taken in October when the chickens were about 4 months old.  Today, I was able to take new pictures of the flock.  I have posted them along the side of the blog. 

Unfortunately, the new chickens are not as tame as I'd like them to be.  I promise, I am working on getting their portraits.  It may just take a little time.  However, I did get Dolly!  The chickens are now seven months old and a couple of weeks.  You will notice that their combs and wattles have grown more vibrant red and are larger.  I am archiving these older photos today in this post.  I am so proud of the beauty my flock displays.

OUR FAMILY     
Tilly                                                          Oyster Cracker
  
Feathers                                               Chocolate
  
Sunshine 

January 3, 2011

What Comes Natural

Dip the hen in cold water.  Put in her in a wire bottom cage so she feels drafty.  These are ways that many people try to break hens of broody behavior.  In my personal opinion; cruel.  I gave it time; twelve days to be exact.  It appears to be lifting.

Two days ago, Dolly came out in the morning on her own.  However, yesterday she needed coaxing.  Today, she went out on her own again in the morning.  When I went to deliver some treats around 11:30am, she was out in the run.  Could it be breaking?  Could the broodiness be coming to an end?

Dolly will not begin to lay eggs until about two weeks after she comes out of her broody world.  Nature prevents her from laying while potentially raising new baby chicks.  It also gives her body a rest after sitting for so long.  It does weaken the hen.  Dolly has clearly lost weight. 

Nature takes care of most things as well as time.  I was not in a rush to end the broodiness.  I relied on Mother Nature to do what she does best.  So often, humans try to intercede and beat nature.  Mother Nature deserves much more respect than many give her.  Meanwhile, nature is also at it's finest for Chocolate.  Tilly and Dolly now willingly participate in humpty love with him.  Now, it is only a matter of time and nature until he has all 7 girls under his spell.

January 2, 2011

Spring Chicks

If you are interested in starting to raise backyard chickens, now is the time to start planning.  It is incredibly easy and rewarding for families.  I cannot begin to tell you the joys that your family will experience.  I was just notified that www.mypetchicken.com is starting to take order for chicks this year.  I would suggest putting your order in early.  Research the breeds with attributes that you are looking for and choose a delivery date in late Spring. Certain breeds of chickens will sell out.  With a little planning, you can have a brooder ready for your new little flock in a couple of days.

There are plenty of resources if you are a newcomer.  Please look back at my older posts.  I have given book reviews, introductions to chicken raising, and coop overviews.  I think you will also be surprised that once you start looking, you will find people in your area that raise chickens.  Spring is around the corner.  I can just envision people's faces lighting up and that joyous feeling in their heart as they open those peeping boxes from the hatchery with day old chicks. What are you waiting for?

3 day old chicks

January 1, 2011

The Natural History of the Chicken

We had the pleasure this year of spending New Years with some fabulous friends.  For Christmas, my friend received a DVD of the PBS broadcast The Natural History of the Chicken.  Over homemade chai tea, we watched the DVD comprised of chicken vignettes.  A few of the stories we watched included one about a woman who gave CPR to her frozen chicken, a man who raised 100 roosters in his backyard much to their neighbor's dismay and a story about Mike the headless chicken who lived for a year and traveled the world with his owners.

While watching, I had a revelation. Some owners viewed the chickens as farm animals and others viewed them as pets.  One eccentric woman had a very loving relationship with her chicken.  She swam in a swimming pool with her bird, bathed it in baby shampoo and gave it a blow dry!  On trips in the car, the chicken rode in the front passenger seat in a special booster seat.  It could gaze out the window.  She even brought it into the supermarket with her! 

I was glad to see that there were people out there in the world who own chickens that feel the same way as I do.  My love of their personalities, their virtues, and their wonderful attributes are shared by others.  Granted, I'm not sure about letting one live in the house, but who knows.  When my children grow-up and leave the nest, a chicken just might fill the void.  However, I'm not sure what my husband would think!