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Warm Berry Pie with Crumb Topping

I have had so many friends and family members ask me for this recipe over the years, that I just had to finally share it.  My delicious secret is out and I hope that you enjoy this pie served warm ala mode!  It is incredibly easy and everyone will be asking you to share your secret.

Ingredients:

1 premade pie crust~  I prefer Pillsbury
4 cups of assorted fresh berries~ I prefer 1 1/2 cup blueberries, 1 cup strawberries, 3/4 cups raspberries, 3/4 cup blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2  1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
dash of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preparation:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a pie plate with the pie crust.

2.  Wash and clean all berries.  Cut the strawberries, blackberries and raspberries in bite size pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside.

3.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the sugar, water, cornstarch, lemon juice and salt.  Whisk frequently and continue to simmer until mixture becomes thickened, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

4.  Pour sugar mixture over the berries and mix well.  Then pour into the pie crust and spread with a spoon.

5.  In another bowl, combine the butter, oats, flour, cinnamon and sugar with a fork.  Mash and cut into the mixture with the fork until it is well combined and crumbly.  Then spread this over the top of the berries.  Cover the berries entirely with the crumb topping.

6.  Place pie on a baking sheet on the middle rack.  Bake for 45 minutes until the crumble is browned and the edges of the pie are bubbly.

7.  Remove from oven and let cool 30 minutes prior to serving.


This recipe can be found our very own Tilly's Nest Cookbook.

Chicken Keeping Workshop

Terry with one of her "gems"

Terry Golson has been keeping chickens for the past 15 years.  I first "met" Terry through her fabulous website.  Not only would I sneak a peek at one of her animal cameras but I also found her blog extremely informative and entertaining.  I always find myself looking forward to her farm adventures.  One of my Cape Cod chicken girlfriends, MaryAnn had invited me to attend Terry's chicken keeping workshop.  We both leaped at the chance to finally meet this "iconic" woman herself and absorb her expertise in keeping chickens.





It was a beautiful clear day.  The weather was perfect, bright without a cloud in the sky.  After about an hour and forty minutes, we were west of Boston standing in the middle of Little Pond Farm.  It was even more magical than it appeared on the hencam.


Pip and Caper

About 15 of us wandered and roamed the farm.  We learned so much in the two hours that we spent together.  Time flew by.  We learned about coop designs and predator proofing.  We toured both "coops".  We wandered through her vegetable garden, met her two Nigerian goats and even her koi fish, Beast.  After about an hour and a half of a walking tour and lecture, we retreated to her lovely screened porch for iced tea and cookies.  Here, Terry discussed Breed Selection and Health Issues.  As we wrapped up our lovely afternoon, she even signed purchased copies of her adorable book, Tillie Lays an Egg, for her fans.

Learning to look for chicken lice
I had a terrific time.  It was wonderful to connect with someone so dedicated to backyard chicken keeping.  She is a wealth of knowledge and I loved that we could finally meet in person.  I have only been keeping backyard chickens for about a year and a half.  Today, I was proud to know that I was doing everything right so far.  My flock is still young and I expect there will be many more ups and downs. It was wonderful to reach out today and meet one of my chicken mentors in person.  I am glad to know that I have a person to turn to for advice and support in the future.  I highly recommend Terry's workshop for everyone that keeps backyard chickens.  Whether, you are thinking about keeping chickens or have been keeping them for years,  everyone can learn something from her personal experiences. Thank you Terry for sharing your home, flocks, farm and delicious goodies with us. 

Later this week, I will feature Terry's chickens and coop in another post.  In the meantime, please visit Terry's website, www.hencam.com to see her wonderful animals and read her fascinating adventures.


Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest 

Change Can Be Good

It was a very strange morning today. It started off with Tilly and Oyster Cracker simultaneously exiting the coop and getting stuck in the doorway. Typically, the girls exit the coop in the same order. One by one they fly, hop and leap into the run to enjoy the morning's scratch. However, not today. Wedged in the doorway, were the two girls. At first, I was amazed, then perplexed, then worried. I stood there in shock watching as the two wiggled their way free. It took about a minute and both were unharmed. That was a new one for me.

I went on with my usual duties. As I began to fill and clean the feeders and waterers I suddenly had a visitor. Quietly and softly, I looked up to discover a cute, curious ball of fluff. It was Dolly. Delicately, she peered out of the coop. She wanted to come out. I gently scooped her up and placed her in the grass. There she timidly enjoyed the fresh tender blades of grass as I finished up the chores.  I am always amazed by her grace.

When I had finished, I scooped her up and gave her plenty of love. She sat in my lap, content. After spending a few stolen moments together, I returned her to her feathered family. It had been a while since she needed my love. Usually, I have to love them in a certain order but today Dolly outsmarted the others. She came in private and I returned her in private. Unlike other times, when she returned no one pecked her. They just ignored her as she quietly joined the rest in the run.

Despite their behavior being relatively predictable on a daily basis, they certainly change up their routine from time to time. Sometimes, change is good I suppose, except when you get stuck in a chicken coop door.

Backyard Chicken Fairy Garden


Today,after scouring thrift stores and searching for unique items, the kids and I created our very own backyard fairy garden.  We took a walk through the woods and gathered moss, bark and twigs.  We also had some smooth stones from a recent trip to Sandy Neck Beach.  All of our found items would be incorporated into the garden.  As we live in New England, we decided to create our fairy garden in a large terracotta saucer.  This way, in the Winter, it is portable and we can bring the little house into the garage.  We spent all afternoon creating this magical place.


My favorite feature is the rooster wire sculpture.  I had to have a chicken in there somewhere, given that our real chickens are such a part of the landscape.


We found an old double boiler at a local thrift shop.  We turned it on it's side and adhered the lid to the front to serve as a covered porch.  It is propped up with two twigs.  A miniature metal colander serves as a bed for the home's future resident.  The carpet is moss and the bedding is made with a Black Eyed Susan mattress and a Shasta Daisy pillow.



Created from bark, a separate dining area has been made with hardwood floors, a table covered with a leaf tablecloth and two fairy sized handmade miniature wooden chairs.


Keeping with the backyard chicken theme, hens and chicks and other various plants form the garden.  It is complete with a set of miniature tools.


The watering can, hangs from the porch.


A small empty oyster shell is filled with a miniature leaf and a lobelia bloom.  With a little water, this makes a perfect place for a bath.  



The entire fairy house is enclosed with the sweetest wire looped fencing, keeping their home safe.  We have placed the fairy home up upon the rock wall.  Hopefully, our chickens will not notice this sweet little place.  I can only imagine Oyster Cracker discovering the fairy garden for herself.  We might never be able to keep a fairy if she does. A curious Godzilla sized chicken could definitely effect the occupancy.


This post is linked up to Deborah Jean's Dandelion House Farm Girl Friday Blog Hop.


Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

Clean Eggs

Clean unwashed eggs from the girls

I never wash my eggs.  When chickens create the egg, the shell is "wrapped" in an antimicrobial coating.  This coating, serves a few purposes.  First, it keeps bacteria, viruses and the like from entering the egg.  It also helps maintain the egg's moisture content, extending the egg's shelf life.  Some say this protective coating also allows individuals to keep eggs unrefrigerated for a few weeks.  However, I would never endorse this.  It is important given technology, to refrigerate eggs immediately upon harvesting to ensure the safety of your family.

Eggs available for purchase in the grocery store have been washed.  As the protective coating is washed away, so is the shelf life.  When the coating is removed, the egg's shell becomes permeable, allowing air and microbes to enter through microscopic pores on the surface of the egg. 

This comes around to a question that I get asked frequently, "How do you keep your unwashed eggs so clean?"  I like to keep the protective coating on my eggs, for the reasons listed above. So I am diligent with hygiene in the coop and nesting boxes.  Everyday, I clean the nesting boxes of feathers and poop.   This only takes a few minutes. On a weekly basis, the entire coop is cleaned out.  I have this luxury, because my coop is small.  I also keep my chickens clean.  For some reason, only Oyster Cracker's backside needs tending to now and then.

Do I ever wash my eggs?  Well, yes, sometimes a little blob of poop gets stuck to the shell.  Those I wash and consume first, even before previously harvested eggs.  I don't mind a tiny little smear of dirt, as you can see on the third egg from the left in the front row.  Once I am ready to use the eggs, I typically wash the ones with visible soiling.  I do not wash the "clean" ones. 

To me it comes down to the simple fact.  I would rather nurture nature than interfere with it.  However, that being said, I have been known to wash a chicken now and then.


Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

Zoo Chickens

Today we took the kids on a family outing to the Franklin Park Zoo in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  It is a great medium sized zoo with lots of interactive exhibits.  We had a fantastic day touring the zoo.  As we wandered into the petting zoo and barnyard section, I had the privilege of meeting one of the head zookeepers in their chicken coop.  Her ears perked up when she heard the kids and I start talking about our own backyard flock.  She had as many questions for me about raising chickens in Massachusetts as I had for her raising them in the setting of the zoo. 



Over time, the zoo has lost many of their chickens to age.  It is incredibly difficult for them to replenish their flocks, due to quarantine restrictions mandated by the zoo.  Fear of introducing disease to their numerous species of birds, requires that the chicken are housed away from other avian species for 30 days.  Their best alternative is to incubate eggs.  This way, they can be certain that outside pathogens are not introduced.


 
They have a large barn, approximately 30'x15'.  This is their coop.  Inside, it partitioned off into three sections.  Each section has it's own roosts, feeder, waterer along with four nesting boxes.  These sections house three varieties of chickens seperate from one another.  The floor of the coop and run are cement.  These are hosed down daily.  In addition, the pine shavings that are spread in the nesting boxes and on the coop's floor are also changed daily.  Biosecurity is a top priority around here.  Visitors are encouraged to view the chickens through the chicken wire.



Currently, the zoo is down to two sets of bantam chickens, two roosters and two hens.  I was lucky enough to meet them.  They were quite cute to say the least, especially when the roosters both crowed as I got close to their girls.  The zoo hopes to increase their chicken population come next Spring.  It was very interesting to see how chickens live at the zoo and have been incorporated into this controlled setting.  The only thing that I felt badly about was the fact that they did not have access to a good old fashioned dirty dust bath!


 


 




Photo Credits: Tilly's Nest

Box with a View

Cooler weather is upon us now and that terrible heatwave has, I imagine, drifted out over the Atlantic.  The girls are much happier.  I am too, their eggs have started to return.  This morning I let the girls out,  all of them flew the coop, including broody Feathers.  I have not discovered morning eggs in a long time, so you can imagine my surprise when I lifted up the nesting box and found this.


A beautiful little Silkie egg was laid in the nesting box on the right.  I was shocked.  I have grown accustomed to not expect any eggs from the Silkies.  Their tendency to go broody is really quite amazing.  It was a real treat to see this little gem sitting there upon the pine shavings.  Amazingly though, I cannot be sure who laid it.  It is smaller than the eggs that the Silkies typically lay.  Maybe it is small because the eggs laid immediately after a hen is broody are smaller.  Or could it be that Fifi has laid her first egg?  I cannot be sure.  This egg was most likely laid in the wee hours of the morning.

No sooner had I opened the nesting box, when Oyster Cracker and Sunshine arrived on the scene.  I quickly retrieved the egg, as Sunshine is extremely possessive of these found eggs!  They always love to poke their head out of the nesting boxes and see the world from different angles.  Here they are, content to stick their heads out of the nesting box, like a dog would hang out of a car window.


I wonder what they are thinking.  I wonder what they are "taking in".  Perhaps the view is better from the nesting boxes.  I guess I will never know, but if this bit of indulgence that I allow them for 5 minutes or so keeps them laying their eggs, then I am happy to prop open the nesting box door for their viewing pleasure!  I do have to giggle with them, they make my heart smile.





This post is linked up to Homestead Revival's Homestead Barn Hop.


Photo Credits: Tilly's Nest

Cajun Style Blackened Chicken

I love spicy food!  When we used to live in California, there was a wonderful Cajun restaurant in Redondo Beach that served delicious Cajun food.  Yes, it was as good as New Orleans, maybe because the owners were from Louisiana!  Here in Cape Cod, my mouth waters for Cajun spices along with red beans and rice!  Sadly, ethnic foods are not so easy to find here, which often leaves me left to create and discover ways to bring those familiar tastes into our home.  Here is a recipe that can be used with chicken or fish.  It is quick, easy, spicy and very flavorful.


Rub Ingredients:

This recipe makes enough to store the rub in a sealed container for future use.

Combine 1 tablespoon of the following spices and herbs and mix well:
cayenne pepper
paprika
white pepper
black pepper
onion powder
garlic salt
thyme (dried)
basil (dried)
salt

You will also need:

2-3 tablespoons of melted butter
4-6 boneless chicken breasts pounded flat OR 4-6 fish fillets

Preparation:

1.  Rinse and pat meat/fish dry.

2.  Spread a portion of the rub mixture on a plate.

3.  Coat meat/fish in melted butter and roll in the rub mixture.

4.  Seer in a pan on high until the outside is browned and crispy then cook through over medium heat.  You can also grill the meat/fish on medium high heat until cooked through.


This recipe can also be found in Tastebook.

Summer Day Spa

As we continue to endure this heat wave across New England, I have received many tips and suggestions on keeping the flock cool and not stressed from the soaring temperature and humidity.  I have, created a day spa for the chickens.  There are many options for them to keep cool and hydrated.  Today, I thought that I would share some of those with you.  Also, please be sure to check out Beat the Heat for other suggestions and ideas as well. 


 Although the run stays shaded during most of the day, I typically place a towel to block the high afternoon sun in areas that are directly in it's path.


I brought a fan out from inside.  I angled it, gently create a breeze across the run.  No rain is in the forecast, so I am not worried about an inside appliance being outside.


Dottie Speckles loves to sit directly in the fan's path.


The Buff Orpingtons love to have their tail feathers fanned as well.   Here they are discovering fresh cold treats from the refrigerator.  Vegetables and fruit such as carrots, whole tomatoes, whole apples, halved watermelon and whole cucumbers retain their cold temperatures longer and help cool down the flock.


Today, I created a wading pool with cool water.  This plastic tray works perfectly.  It is about 3 inches deep and the girls, once they try it, should enjoy cooling down their feet and toes.  Tilly, the head hen, will of course have to try it first.  I placed some floating nasturtium leaves to lure the girls.  Of course, curious Dottie Speckles beat Tilly to the floating leaves.  She already ate two!


Then there are some that like to stay inside the spa.  With all of the windows open, Feathers is content to stay in her nesting box, sit on her imaginary eggs, and be broody.


Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest

Ruffled Feathers

Today the thermometer reached 100 degrees F with very high humidity.  It was difficult to breathe and the weather service issued an air quality warning.  As we were inside with the air conditioning on today, I could not help and feel so terribly bad for the girls outside. 

Early this morning, I removed the plexiglass from every possible window in the coop to allow a breeze to get inside.  Unfortunately, there was no breeze.  The air was thick.  It was like a hot, suffocating, heavy, wet blanket.  The chickens could not escape.  Despite being in the shade under trees, it was sweltering. 

I hosed down the run, added fresh ice water to the waterers and filled the treat ball and run with sliced cool cucumbers and chilly tomatoes.  The girls were not showing any signs of stress from the heat except for Oyster Cracker who was inside the coop, laying an egg, panting like a dog.  All the while I did these easy tasks, I was breaking a terrible sweat.  Even though I had been outside doing small work with little effort, the beads of sweat were pouring down my cheeks!  That was it, I had to do something more before the kids and I escaped to the sandy beach and the refreshing ocean.

I went inside and retrieved a fan.  I ran an extension cord to the run.  Instantly, the girls were taking turns being chicken versions of  Marilyn Monroe, with their "skirts" being blown in the air.  It was too funny, especially when the feathers were blown every which way all at the same time!  One by one they enjoyed the fan.  Some ran through the fan's path while other took their sweet old time.  I was entertained and at least there was a breeze now.

When arrived home from the beach, I gave Oyster Cracker what seems to be her weekly backside bath and returned her to the run to let her air dry.  Then, I refreshed the waterers and gave them another tomato and some carrots from the refrigerator. 

The fan really seemed to work today.  The girls were not panting and their combs were bright red along with their wattles.  I think they enjoyed the cool breeze and the intentional ruffling of their feathers.


This post is linked to the Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop over at Deborah Jean's Dandelion House.  Today, she featured her visit with Tilly and the girls!

Egg Drought


The girls have slowed down laying eggs.  In the early Spring and Summer, we were enjoying six eggs per day.  However, lately this has changed.  I was lucky to get one egg yesterday and two the day before.  I knew that the Silkies would not lay while broody.  Yet, I had grown accustomed to seeing three large eggs per day while the Silkies sat on their imaginary eggs.   It could only mean one thing, the heat is taking it's toll on the girls. 

Despite my best efforts to keep them cool, they must be stressed from the heat.  Poor girls.  Other than not laying eggs, they feel fine.  They still enjoy frolicking in the run and yard.  They enjoy treats from the kitchen and water cooled with blocks of ice.  They still enjoy their mid afternoon nap and Dottie Speckles still enjoys living with gusto!

I know that once this heat and humidity will break and the eggs will return.  The Silkies are finally done with being broody except for Feathers and next week Fifi will turn 20 weeks, which means her first egg will be laid any day now.  I miss those eggs, and hate to think about having to go back to the "dark side" and purchase eggs from the local grocer.  Maybe, I will have to make a trip to Wingscorton Farm, pick up eggs and see how their girls are dealing with the heat. 


Photo Credit:  Rodale Institute

From Lake Winnipesaukee with Love

My grandfather and his younger brother purchased adjacent parcels of land within walking distance to Lake Winnipeusaukee when he was just 18 years old in the 1930s.  There over the course of time and many numerous weekends, two jacks of all trades, created what would be "camps" in their families for generations to come.  My grandfather eventually created a two bedroom rustic home complete with running water and electricity.  Here the family would retreat over the decades.  His children brought their children and now I bring mine.   I have many fond memories of  the "camp" and now my children are creating the same and different memories as I did when I was just a little kid.

My grandfather passed away over 5 years ago and left the camp to his children in a trust.  I find now that I do a lot of reminiscing when I am there and everywhere I turn, my mind floods with distant memories, smells, adventures and sights, when I return.  Signs are everywhere and there are so many personalized touches that remain long after my grandfather.  Although he was very strong and rough around the edges, everywhere I look, there is love. 

While away, I also thought about my chickens.  Apparently, they were well behaved, or so goes the report.  They did not lay as many eggs as they had been but I suspect that is due to the horrendous heat wave that we are experiencing.  My neighbors enjoyed their funny little antics and also found it fascinating discovering all of their unique personalities.  They also viewed the girls' eggs as precious as gold.  It is amazing the new found value we place on things once we partake in their creation.  I am sure my grandfather felt this way about the "camp".

Every time I return home from "camp", my faith in family is renewed.   Despite families having their ins and outs and their ups and downs, memories of places and things need to be cherished.  Sharing moments and creating new ones is what it is all about.  I hope that I can help make memories with my family in our home.  Hopefully, even some with the kids and the chickens.  I can only hope that one day my children will return to what we will have left for them and feel the same way that I do about the "camp", remembering the love, laughter and life.

Composting for Chicken Owners

Starting out composting can sometimes seem overwhelming.  It means that, like recycling, a certain level of consciousness must occur when sorting out kitchen scraps.  However, with small changes, you can make a difference for the planet and for your gardens.  Naturally, composting makes sense for chicken owners.  This post will serve as an introduction to composting.  It is not a complicated science and can bring wonderful benefits to your home.

Composting starts by combining a mixture of green and brown materials with water.  Over time, beneficial bugs, worms and microbes take up residence and beautiful compost is formed over the course of weeks to months. 


Green Material (Protein for Microbes):
Fresh green leaves
Chicken Manure
Kitchen Scraps~vegetables, melon rinds, egg shells, fruit
Coffee grounds with filter and tea bags
Fresh green grass clippings
Fine clippings of hair

Brown Material (Carbon Energy):

Dry yellow and brown leaves
Woody plant stalks
Pine Shavings
Straw
Cardboard
Shredded newspaper
Small amounts of wood ash
Dryer lint

When combining green and brown materials you will want to strive to achieve the ratio of 30 parts brown to 1 part green.  But, try not to become obsessed with this number.  It should only serve as a guideline and remind you to consciously always add more brown than green to your composting pile.  This is very easy to do, when cleaning out the chickens.  The pine shavings easily add to the amount of brown!  An easy way to think of this is add 6" of brown then 3" of green alternating layers of green and brown.

Add some water to your pile to moisten but not create a soggy mess.  Then naturally allow the microbes to move in and get to work.  Depending on certain variations, such as whether you keep the compost in the sun vs. shade, in a container vs. open, will play a role in how fast your compost is created.  The warmer the compost pile, the faster the breakdown of your green and brown materials. 

Composting on a small scale for me with my flock of eight chickens is easy.  I find that I compost two ways.  The first, is that I get help from the chickens.  Sometimes, when the run is muddy after the rain when I am cleaning the coop, I just toss all of the dirty shavings in the run and replenish the coop with fresh ones.  This not only keeps the chickens entertained for hours, but also allows them to compost the shavings and their waste products together.  As time passes, matter that is composted the majority of the way will accumulate in the run.  About every 3 months, I rake out this excess material and set it aside in a pile.  I turn it now and then and let it cure.  This partially created compost sits for 3 months and then once cured is safe to spread amongst the garden plants.  Other times, instead tossing all of the soiled shavings in the run, I add them to the compost bin as needed.  This allows me to still compost items that the chickens cannot eat, such as garlic and citrus other items not beneficial to the chickens as well as left over melon rinds from the girls. 

There are many other variables that I did not discuss but should be researched before you get started including location of the composter, open or closed system, covering the compost pile and turning your pile based upon your selected method of composting.

Composters are easy to create/build yourself and are also available to prepurchase.  Here are some resources for those of you interested in getting started in composting. 

Composting Tips:

Keep your compost bin closer to the house with easy accessiblity.  This makes it less of a chore.

Pick a compost bin that is asthetically pleasing to you.

Do not compost meat.  It will attract predators.

Secure hardware cloth to the bottom of your compost bin to deter mice and rats.

Keeping two seperate containers on the counter while cooking makes sorting items for the chickens, the composter and the trash easier.

Have your children get involved.  This is a terrific experiment and learning experience for them.

Books:

How to Make and Use Compost~ Nicky Scott
Composting for Dummies~ Cathy Cromell

Internet:

How to Compost
Composting 101
Compost Guide

Supplies:
Gardener's Supply Company
Build your own Beehive Composter  as featured on Tilly's Nest.

Don't forget about your local library.  It should have wonderful resources including books, magazines and DVDs all about composting.  Today I have just touched on the subject but I hope it is enough to get you thinking about starting.  Finally, talk to your fellow chicken friends, they may already be composting or want to join you in getting started.


This entry is linked up to the Homestead Barn Hop over at Homestead Revival.
Photo Credits:  The Trusty Gardener, Tilly's Nest

Buff Orpingtons

Oyster Cracker and Sunshine 3 days old
Buff Orpingtons are a hardy, cold tolerant breed of chicken that are docile and a delight to raise with children.  They are a beautiful golden color with tan legs and gorgeous red wattles, earlobes and combs.  Dating to the 1800's and originating in Orpington, Kent, England, they have gained popularity for many of these traits.  They come in an array of other colors including black, white, splash and even rare blue.

These birds are known to be a heavy dual breed used for meat and eggs.  Some Buff Orpingtons can reach up to 10 pounds.  Due to their weight, many can not fly.  Other characteristics include soft feathers that cover up the majority of their legs, curvy figures and single combs.  They lay light brown eggs and will even continue to lay in wintry conditions.

These birds also make excellent mothers and will go broody at times.  They are also easy to tame and enjoy sitting in your lap and taking treats from your hands.  They are not skittish, in fact they are curious and a terrific addition to anyone's flock.


Oyster Cracker and Sunshine, 1 year old

Oyster Cracker and Sunshine are our two Buff Orpingtons.  I get the most compliments on their beautiful feathers and their overall appearance.  They also are great friends and seem to get along with almost everyone in the flock.  I rarely see them have to assert themselves with the other chickens and most importantly, they are gentle with the children.  Based on my two girls, I can understand why some people choose to keep a flock entirely composed of Buff Orpingtons.


Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

Dolly

Dolly, our year old Lavender Silkie Bantam, was purchased as pullet last Fall from a farm in Cotuit.  She turned one in May and is one of the sweetest chickens that we own. 

Immediately, when she was integrated into the flock, Chocolate, our rooster, took a liking to her. They were always together.  However, prior to that, Tilly was his girl and she was now replaced by this fluffy little beauty.  Tilly's feelings were hurt and she started to dislike Dolly.  Since then, Chocolate has been rehomed, but Tilly still holds her grudge against Dolly.  Dolly on the other hand, just avoids Tilly and her life is without conflict. 

Dolly is at the top of the Sikie pecking order, which put her in the middle of the order between the 8 girls.  She commands the attention of our other Silkies; Feathers, Fifi and Autumn.  She can be assertive when necessary and can be found bossing the other Silkies around.

She also loves to be broody.  As Silkies are prone to broodiness, so is Dolly.  It seems as though her broody cycles will break for a bit. Then she will lay two weeks worth of eggs, and return to being broody.  We actually allowed her to hatch her own clutch of eggs this past early Spring.  She made a fantastic mother and successfully hatched 7 out of her 8 fertilized eggs.  If you would like to read about Dolly's adventures in motherhood, it begins here

She is also incredibly smart.  She knows her name.  She even understands when I even give her little commands.  She also comes when I call her.  She is a lovable girl with a soft spot for motherhood, making her one of my favorite girls.


Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

Chicken Cacciatore

In the summer, I still crave comfort food from my Italian heritage.  Sometimes, on a damp cooler summery evening, it is nice to have something that tastes like you have been cooking all day.  I have even been known to toss all of these ingredients into the crock pot and let them simmer away on low for about 8 hours.  The choice is yours, the result is pure deliciousness. 

Ingredients:

4 boneless chicken breasts~cut into small bite size pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion~diced
2 cloves garlic~minced
1  14 1/2 oz can of diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions
1  6 oz can of tomato paste
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp thyme
3/4 cup white wine
1/4 tsp oregano

Preparation:

1.  Brown chicken in olive oil, garlic and onions.

2.  In separate bowl, combine all other ingredients.

3.  Once chicken is browned, add tomato mixture and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

4.  Serve over spaghetti.


You can find this recipe in Tastebook as well as other delicious creations from Tilly's Nest.

Vacation Help

We are going away for a few days to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  Our neighbor is watching the girls, as my usual sitter, Mom, is coming with us.  We are looking forward to getting away, but like a good chicken Mom, I can not help but be a little nervous, especially knowing that the fisher cat has been in our yard during the day!

It will be nice to get away but as always after a trip, I can't wait to get home and get the report.  I love to find out how many eggs they have collected and if the girls were good.  I always worry about one of the chickens getting loose and numerous other things that only I would or should be worrying about.  Some people tell me, "They are only chickens."  I tend to disagree.  They are all my pets.  They have names.   Like dogs, yes, I can get another chicken of the same breed but it would not be my Tilly, or Dolly, or Oyster Cracker.  They are one of a kind with their own personalities and I have a relationship with every single girl out there.

So I hope that the reports are good, the weather is nice and the downpours stay away.  I hope that the young ones remember to climb onto the roosts at night.  I will miss tucking them in and checking all of the locks to make sure that they are secure as they drift off to dreamland.  I know that when I come home they will be happy to see me.  Just like puppies, they come running and can't wait for me to hold them.  The good thing is that there will be no copious amounts of slimey drool involved when I get my chicken kisses.

Be good girls, I will be home before you know it!


I do have posts scheduled for while I am away, please feel free to leave your comments that I look forward to so much, I will respond to them once I return.  I am not sure of the internet service I will have when I am away.

Broody Patches

The temperature dropped overnight and I was awake listening to terrible rain and thunderstorms.  We went to sleep with humidity and temperatures in the mid-eighties.  We woke to a, dare I say, chilly breezy morning.  It was 62 degrees F with little humidity.  The chickens could not have been happier.  They stayed nice and dry in the coop during the night and I am sure welcomed the rain and the drop in temperature.  

Taking advantage of the cooler air, I cleaned out the coop.  There are no more signs of mites on the girls or in the coop.  I think sometimes despite your best efforts and hygienic measures, like head lice, anyone can get them.  As I removed the broody girls from their nesting boxes, they were not happy.  As expected, I was met with pecking, growling and fluffed out feathers.  One of our broody Silkies, Feathers, now  has a large broody patch on her chest.  This is where she has removed almost all of her chest feathers.  Broody hens do this to keep their eggs closest to their skin, to maintain better humidity and temperature.  Poor Feathers, she even removed the feathers covering her crop.  Her naked chest looks like it has a mini-ping pong ball sitting on it.  It is even more of a sight to see, as her skin is black in color. 

They ran around like crazy once locked out of the coop.  Oyster Cracker kept squawking at me.  It turns out she had to lay an egg.  Once I finally did let them back in the coop, she quickly ran into the nesting box with Autumn and Feathers trailing right behind.  After I put away the cleaning supplies, I returned to the coop and lifted up the cover of the nesting boxes.  There all three boxes were occupied by Oyster Cracker, Autumn and Feathers.  Standing in front of them was Sunshine.  As you know, she has been very curious about the egg laying process.  One by one, like an assembly line, she would reach her head underneath of each girl and check for an egg.  I am not quite sure what she plans on doing once someone does in fact lay an eggs, but I sure do enjoy watching.  The best part, is that they do not even care that I am there.  They just continue on doing what they do best, being broody.  No other hens have broody patches right now, but that certainly explained all of the feathers I cleaned up today while sweeping out the coop.

Babies on the Brain

The Silkies have had varying degrees of broodiness over the past month and a half.  It all started with Autumn.  Then Dolly, loving to be broody, decided to be broody yet again.  She has been broody at least 5 times since December.   Then add to the mix, Feathers who has been broody off and on over the past couple of days.  Lately, the nesting boxes have had zero vacancy.  However, I never expected today.  While harvesting the eggs, all of the Silkies were outside and Oyster Cracker was inside sitting on two eggs.

Thinking.

I am not sure if she is broody, but she certainly acted the part.  She pecked and growled at me as I checked underneath of her. As a knee jerk reaction, I pulled my hand back and then she very roughly, twisted her beak to her underside and pushed the eggs back underneath.  She still needed practice with the eggs.  To me, she was a little scary and intimidating.  Now I know why all of the Silkies were outside. 

I went back to the house and retrieved some goodies.  Then, I scattered fresh veggies in the run and put a large chunk of ice in their waterer.  I returned to the coop, bravely lifted Oyster Cracker off of the nesting box and retrieved the two warm eggs.  She immediately went outside and was fascinated by a chunk of found cucumber that I threw in the run.  Is it possible for broody spells to be broken by cool cucumbers?

Fisher Cats

My neighbor called me today and told me of an animal he saw in his backyard yesterday around 3pm in the afternoon.  At first glance, he thought that it was a ferret, as it moves very similarly.  However, it was the size of a raccoon.  My worst fears were confirmed.  I had seen them in the night but never in the day.  I never thought that I would have to worry about them during the day, but apparently, this one was out hunting bunnies in my neighbor's yard.  It was a fisher cat in broad day light in the middle of the day.



Known to be vicious members of the wolverine that can even eat and kill porcupines, the only real threat to this animal is man.  They tear through chicken wire with their sharp claws.  Eat through wood and love poultry.  My worst nightmare has come true.  I am a nervous wreck.  I wonder if an electric fence would work?


For more information about fisher cats, click here.



Photo Credit:  catcustomer, funny cats gallery

Tour de Coop: Viola~New Coop, New Beginning



As many of you know, I wrote about the tragedy that struck Viola this past month.  Many lessons were learned from that horrible event and now Viola has begun to rebuild her flock.  She invited me over this weekend to share her new coop at her new home.  Creating a safe home for her flock was essential and she put a great deal of thoughtfulness into her new design.

At her new home, a storage shed already existed with a covered extension behind.  Viola knew that this would be a perfect home for her flock.  After the weasel, only two of her original girls survived, a New Hampshire Red and the Hamburg.  Surprisingly, two new recently integrated Buff Orpington pullets also survived the attack.  She also had two Jersey Giants still in a brooder in the basement.  All of these girls are now happily living together in their new home.  As I visited, finishing touches were being completed.

Viola has divided her coop and run into two sections.  About 1/3 of the coop and run is actually a seperate enclosure that can be used in the future as a hospital, a place to raise meat birds and a place to brood chicks prior to integrating them into her existing flock.  At any time, she can open the doors between these two sections and the flock can roam willingly between the two areas.



 Cleverly, even each side of the coop has its own nesting boxes.  The regular side has three, while the other one has two.  A wooden egg rests inside the middle box, to help encourage her two remaining older girls to lay in the new boxes.



The ancillary side has it's own pop-up door as well and ramp leading out into the run. 



There is ample space for Viola to rebuild her flock here.  Every precaution has been taken, including burying hardware cloth down into the ground.  The girls are timid. I can't say I blame them after all that they went through, but were eager to come out and say hello, once Viola brought them some treats of fruit from the kitchen.


Her seven year old New Hampshire red is one of the survivors and the oldest now in the newly forming flock.  Her Hamburg also survived but was bitten through her ankle by the weasel and had to receive veterinary care.  Today, she appears to be almost fully recovered.

 

The chickens spend most of their time now between both sides of the run and on the larger side of the coop.



Here you can see as I stand with the three nesting boxes to my back, a view of her ancillary partitioned off coop.  The main coop's roost is on the left.   Life is getting back to normal for all of the girls.



The dust baths have resumed.


Their curiosity about things like flip flops and toenail polish is returning.






The gardens are blooming and her potted herb gardens are flourishing.  The bees are sharing in the hummingbird feeder's bounty like last year.


My favorite part of this tour was the two day old Salmon Favorelles that Viola picked up on her last trip to the feed store.  I have never met fuzzier chicks in my chicken experiences.  They seem to be doubly fluffed and their cheeks' appearance are similar to chipmunks when they are filled with collected nuts.


Once out of the brooder, these two will live on the ancillary side of the coop until they are old enough to be integrated with the others.  Life begins again.  More chicks will arrive this September with hopes for a rooster in the bunch.  It was nice to see my good friend excited about her chickens and their new home.


Click here to visit Viola's original coop and other Tour de Coops featured on Tilly's Nest.



Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest