Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicken Homicide

Sigh. Unfortunately, I cannot report an end to the dead chickens. We solved the original problem (M caught two raccoons and three opossums in a live trap) and somehow we now we have a new problem: Chicken cannibalism. I mean, seriously? Maybe someone got the bright idea to have a taste of the scraps the predator left behind and they liked it. There's no way to know which chicken is guilty, so I did a Google search and came up with a few strange-sounding ideas, like replacing their water with salt water for a few hours. Maybe the salt resets their little bird brains? A solution that does make sense is to give them more time to roam free, which we haven't been doing lately. As soon as they get outside, they immediately run for our garden and start devouring our not-quite-ripe vegetables. Our peach tree is currently loaded down with hundreds of peaches we can't wait to get our mouths on, and I'm sure the chickens would delight in that fruity feast. There was also a suggestion to hang CDs from the roof at chicken-eye level and they could peck out their bird aggression on their own shiny reflections. One day of salt water and one dangling CD seem to have slowed down the murder rate, but have not eliminated the violence entirely. We are down to eight eggs a day, which is enough for my baking and our Saturday-morning scrambled egg feasts, but falls a bit short of providing the six-plus dozen we have been selling to other families each week. We have several (twelve-ish) Americana hens who should start laying any day, and about twenty chicks who were hatched from our own eggs. We won't be doing any more incubating anytime soon, as the roosters went to live on a 'big farm' in an attempt to cut down the bird-on-bird violence.

Some of the residents of the chick-house
(What -- were you expecting a picture of a dead chicken?)

I'm happy to say that the garden is producing a-plenty, and if you live anywhere near me and have a craving for cucumbers or green beans, please let me know. It's interesting to see what thrives in our soil, and right now cucumbers are taking over! I like them, but I'm the only one in the family who will eat them, so about five per day is more than we can deal with. Luckily, the chickens love eating them and the kids love feeding them to the chickens. Too bad that isn't one of the magic cures for chicken cannibalism. We also have blueberries, blackberries, peaches, herbs, and beans out the wah-zoo. I love all of the fresh veggies at my doorstep and feel blessed that we have access to land and soil and the time to do it ourselves!

 If I could bottle the smell of this peach tree, I'd be a millionaire.

  It's such a treat to head out to the yard every afternoon at snack-time. 

I'm drooling over the green tomatoes and waiting not-so-patiently for my favorite summer meal -- tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwiches. Yum!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stressed-Out Chickens

Gosh, I've been gone for a while. My only excuse is every excuse - the kids, the dogs, the chickens, the garden, the kitchen, my daughter's 4th birthday, and a new baking business. I'm going to try to do better, though! Is anyone still reading? Was anyone reading to begin with?

Right now I am worried about the chickens! Something has been sneaking in at night and killing them. I think we've lost 8 now. It's so sad and feels like a bit of a violation. It's also disgusting and disturbing when I'm the one who makes the discovery and I have to remove the evidence before the kids are mentally scarred. My husband keeps adding reinforcements and the predator keeps outsmarting the chicken house. The remaining chickens are obviously having some emotional issues and have really decreased egg production. I don't blame them, I couldn't cook dinner if my friends' body parts were being strewn around my kitchen. Ew, sorry if that visual was a bit too... visual. Last night M and I were up until midnight after I discovered another dead chicken when I went out to check before going to bed. We decided to chain up one of our dogs to hopefully scare the predator away, and we didn't have any more problems last night -- Except that our other dog had a breakdown without her buddy and ended up attacking the locked garage door so that they could be together. Things I never knew would be the subject of my conversations: stressed-out chickens and lonely dogs.

On a much happier note, the incubator in the laundry room has been chirping again! A week ago I would have said we don't need any more chickens, but now I guess I'm glad for the circle of life. It's just too darn cute to see those little chicks hatch, not to mention the thrill on my kids' faces every time they see it happen! My daughter keeps a stool next to the incubator so she can watch the eggs' progress, and my son claps and yells "Hatch!!!" every time he hears a chirp. Here are some adorable chick pics to hold you over until next time... and next time I will hopefully be able to report no more lost lives!
 within minutes of hatching

 About a week old 
(this one had perfect Easter timing!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chicken Comedy

So much of my daily life is hilarious in retrospect. Aside from living with young children and raising an increasing number of unexpected chickens, there are times I find myself realizing in the midst of doing something that it will be funny later (but somehow not at all amusing while it's happening). I'm mighty glad there are no cameras in the chicken house.

Today we had one of those moments. Or actually about 30 minutes, if anyone was counting. My 3 year old daughter, E, loves to play with the young chickens - I call them teenagers, an awkward phase somewhere in between adorable baby chicks and mature egg-laying chickens. We have 14 that age right now (or maybe 13 after this story). They are in a separate enclosure within the larger chicken "complex." They need to be by themselves because they are still on chick food (rather than full grown chicken food), plus they would probably be picked on by the roosters if we let them all mix together at this point.

E playing with her "babies"

So as I was saying... E gets excited to play with the teenage chickens, and today she forgot to close the door behind herself. She said rather calmly, "oh Mommy, they're getting out" and I turned to see a rush of chickens cramming themselves through the door. Luckily I've gotten good at censoring my words before they come out of my mouth. If you've ever had a 3 year old, it won't surprise you to know that she stood there and watched them go, fascinated, without thinking of closing the door to stop them. Why can't these things happen on a Saturday? Does it really have to be when I'm the adult in charge of the farm? Even calling myself an adult in charge of a farm is just plain comical. The next 15+ minutes involved me inside of the chicken house, trying to herd a bunch of teenage chickens (which is probably about as easy as herding actual teenagers) back to their room. I tasked E with holding the door open but not allowing any more to get out (a few stayed behind, good girls!). Instead she screamed every time one got near her and closed the door. After repositioning her and chasing the crazy chickens around in circles with a long stick, I finally got them back in - one by one. Well... except for one. She is hiding behind a broody hen (a hen that is in a hormonal cycle to hatch eggs. Even though we've removed the eggs from underneath her, she still won't get up until the cycle is over). I really don't like to pick up the chickens, the feathers creep me out, so she's still hiding. Birds who get stuck in the garage have the same effect on me. I have good intentions to help, but I involuntarily freak out when they get too close (probably the same innate reaction that caused E to keep slamming the door). When M gets home from work he's going to have to grab a couple of chickens. Oh, and the whole time this was going on, my son was standing on the other side of the chicken wire whining "Mama, mama, NO chickies!!!!"

 the audience

When I became a stay at home mom 4 years ago, it never occurred to me that I would have funny chicken stories. I was also a bit surprised to hear myself nonchalantly tell my daughter when we got back to the house, "Go get a washcloth and get the poop off your foot."

You know, I say I'm glad there are no cameras in the chicken house, but I would totally be the next YouTube sensation if someone had caught today on film.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Confession and Challenge #2

Happy Easter! My next entry will have to cover how fun it was to hunt for dozens and dozens of eggs here, and the adventure of attempting to naturally dye our brown eggs.  And of course, the precious baby chicks who graciously began hatching the week before Easter. But for now, it’s time for an update of challenge #1.

Hmm… Perhaps I’ve been avoiding this silly little blog because I’m not doing so great with my running challenge. Sorry to disappoint those of you throwing crazy titles at me like “inspiration.” I have a month’s worth of excuses for not running last week. I really did do well the first week – I went out four mornings in a row, and on a rainy morning I woke up early to do yoga. Then after counseling my much more physically fit (and dedicated) brother, I decided a routine of Monday Wednesday Friday yoga and Tuesday Thursday Sunday running would make more sense. And that seems to be when I fell apart – just changing my plan gave me an opening to quit. I really do want to do better – it started with the kids each waking several times a few nights in a row, and I SO wanted that extra 25 minutes of sleep in the morning. Then it was raining (yes, I’m aware rain doesn’t actually fall indoors, so I could have stuck to the yoga part of the plan). Then my throat started hurting. And it won’t stop. But again, I could do yoga with a sore throat, and I probably better get started, since I believe it’s allergy-related and the pollen doesn’t appear to be packing up and heading out anytime soon. But anyway, I’ll do better. Believe me? I’m trying to believe myself. On to challenge #2…

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I become interested in how to cook and eat more healthily. Growing up with the produce from my parents' garden, I have always known where food comes from (in general, anyway). But now I find myself in this generation of people who seem to think food comes from boxes and jars and stores. I actually had someone tell me she wasn't interested in buying our eggs because she didn't like to think about them coming from the back end of a chicken. SERIOUSLY?!?!?! As if the eggs from the store didn't come from the same place, just on a more crowded and more drugged chicken? I find that astonishing and very very sad, that so many of us are so far removed from the process it takes the food to get to us, and we are consciously making the choice to not think about it. I'm not saying I like thinking about the dead cow that gave me my hamburger, but I do find myself thinking more and more about the diet of that cow, the hormones and antibiotics she may have been injected with, and the circumstances surrounding her slaughter. Since we now have our own chickens, I feel so much more at ease when I prepare chicken for my family - I know everything about those chickens from a few days old to the very last day.

So here’s my next challenge: I'm going to do my best to eat food that I can identify the source of, and that has to mean no more fast food burgers, no more chicken nuggets, and I'm going to try to replace more of our non-organic dairy products with their organic counterparts. Knowing that the fast food hamburger almost definitely has ammonia and intestine parts in it, or reminding myself of a filthy chicken truck driving down the highway kind of ruins my appetite anyway. To be clear, these are challenges for myself - I am not judging the choices anyone else makes, I'm trying to do what's right for my body, and for my children. I’m going to work on finding a grass-fed cow to purchase from a local farmer, and until then I will stop buying ground beef. It’s already rare (pun!) that I purchase ground beef, because M is a hunter and brings home plenty of venison that we grind ourselves. E says he goes into the woods looking for meat. I can only imagine what that looks like inside her imagination.

If you haven’t been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, I highly recommend it. He has such a visual way of teaching things that really makes you stop and think about what we’ve been doing to our bodies. And when store owners and restaurant owners and parents say the price of the food they serve is more important than the quality, it’s shocking. I’m not talking about filet mignon every night, I’m talking about paying a fraction extra for something fresh rather than something packaged,  or for something with 5 ingredients on the label rather than 50. We’re all eating too much anyway (and throwing away too much), so maybe the extra expense can be an excuse to buy less!

My learning process started when I read the enlightening book Animal Vegetable Miracle a few years ago, and I continue to be amazed and horrified about how much we don’t know, and how much so many people just don’t want to know. Even if we haven't figured out exactly why so many diseases and disorders have become more prevalent, it only makes sense to blame at least part of it on all of the unnatural substances we injest all day long. When is the last time you saw “partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil with TBHQ” growing in a garden? (Now go read the label on the crackers you've been feeding your children).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Me - A Runner?

My mind is going in several different directions these days, and I haven't been sure which path to take for my next blog. I’m going to start with explaining a few challenges I’m giving myself, all centered around the good health of my family. I hope that writing about these resolutions (I hope calling them that doesn’t make me doomed for failure!) will give me some sense of accountability so I can’t just quit when I want to give up and go back to the easy way of doing things. I mean, I surely can’t let down all 5 of my readers, right?

A week ago I participated in my first 5k fun run / walk. I walked with a friend to support an amazing young mother who is fighting cancer, and over $30,000 was raised to help her in her struggle! I felt so proud to be a tiny little part of such a powerful experience. And I decided that exercising feels pretty good. Before I had kids, I took a yoga class three times a week and occasionally jogged, walked, and did light weight lifting. When my daughter was a baby, I walked a couple of miles with her almost every day unless the weather was absolutely unbearable. Then I got pregnant with baby 2, and my daughter decided she was too big for the stroller, and while I tried to continue the habit of walking every day, a 2-year old’s definition of a “walk” more resembles those old Family Circus cartoons that showed the meandering path of the children, running all over the neighborhood up and down and over obstacles, while the grownups only managed to go about 100 yards in 20 minutes.  It wouldn’t exactly be classified as cardio. So what can I say? Life got busy, kids required more time than I ever imagined, and I just plain quit. But last week I got inspired. There were so many people who were running their hearts out (lots of six-pack abs rushed past me, strollers in tow). I was walking briskly and feeling like I could definitely do more! Before you attack me, I’m not saying I feel like I need to lose weight, but I do want to get healthy, and strong, and have some endurance, and most of all, I want to have something that is MINE, that I do for me, and that improves my quality of life. And wouldn’t it be great if I could start a habit now that enables me to spend more time with my grandchildren, God willing?

So a couple of days ago, I put the kids to bed and went out to run in the dark. I didn’t have a watch on, but I’m pretty sure 5 minutes hadn’t passed before I was heaving in the road. I kept going and probably made it a mile or so, but realized that nighttime isn’t the time for me (unless I skip dinner before running, and I’ve never skipped dinner in my life).

This morning I got up a half hour earlier than normal, put in my contacts and put on my running shoes (which are seriously 10 years old and could probably use replacing) and went out for a run in the daylight. That was MUCH better. As much as I love my sleep and sometimes I consider the snooze button to be my best friend, I really want this to stick. I don’t know how far I went, but I jogged for about 20 minutes and I felt like I started this day right. I’m proud of me, and it feels so good to already have that behind me, instead of being this thing I should do all day, nagging me, but that I never actually do. My legs are sore, but I’m going to try my best to wake up early again tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted on challenge #1.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How It All Began

Although I’ve never been a fan of dirt or bugs, I didn’t grow up in a big city with a concrete front yard. My parents have always had a garden, and I can always remember things needing to be watered, picked, de-bugged, and best of all, eaten fresh. The big lush garden they have now is more than plentiful for their empty nest, and their friends all benefit from their very green thumbs. I personally always dreaded weeding, the removal of tomato worms (those things are NASTY), and yard work in general. Actually, none of that has changed about me.  Yet here I am, the mother of 2 humans and 50+ chickens (not to mention co-owner of our own large garden, but I’ll save that for another post). 

It happened when I was 7 months pregnant with our second child. My husband (M) brought home a couple dozen fresh eggs from a friend at work. We discovered that our then 2-year old daughter could seriously put away some scrambled eggs. And M made the comment that it would be nice to have our own eggs as our family grew. Sure, that all makes good sense. The next thing I knew, one of the outbuildings on our property turned into a chicken house over Halloween weekend. He went to the egg-friend’s house and came home with 5 hens and 2 roosters. Our daughter (E) thought it was SO fun to go see the chickens, and I was grateful for the easy entertainment, as my belly and energy were both maxed out.
E visiting the chickens, October 2009

And then… nothing. The chickens ate, and drank, and required us to do things for them, but they were yet to do anything for us. I looked on the internet for guidance, something neither of us had actually done before beginning the chicken adventure. Apparently chickens need time to adjust to new surroundings. After a few weeks, I was thrilled when I looked in a nest and saw a teeny tiny white egg. (Warning: what I’m about to tell you maybe disturbing to some readers). So I reached in and grabbed… a big soft pile of white poop. I screamed. That was not an egg. I told you I knew nothing going into this whole farming thing, right?

Luckily, shortly after the false-egg incident, the chickens did start laying gorgeous brown and green eggs with real shells and yolks. And even with a newborn and a toddler to take care of, it was very cool to go outside and get a couple of eggs every day. If you know M, you know that if a little bit of something is good, then a whole lot of something is quite obviously better. So it wasn’t long before our first batch of 25 chicks was ordered from a company online. Our excitement was dampened when most of them were dead on arrival. Note to new chicken farmers: do not bring the chirping box into the house to show your daughter before you have looked inside yourself! She was so excited to tell everyone about her new chicks, but always followed up with “a lot of them were sick though.” It was heart breaking. We assume that the box went through a cold part of the country, as it was just March at the time. A few of them survived with us feeding them sugar water through a syringe, and some of them are part of our current flock. The company promptly sent replacements, and they (of course!) arrived when M was out of town. That’s where the Chicken Lady story comes in.

The first shipment of chicks, March 2010

Since then, we’ve had three or four more shipments of chicks, I’ve stopped counting, and we’ve expanded to Cornish Hens so that we can feed our family hormone-free / drug-free chicken. Now I just have to get the kids to eat it…

P.S. After reading my first post, one of my readers took issue with me calling myself a "former engineer." So I'll change that: I am currently not practicing engineering, but I'll always have my degree, and it's a degree that I am very proud of earning.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chicken Lady's Here!

"Chicken Lady's here!!!"  It was almost a year ago, and I was at the post office at a little after 7:00 in the morning. My infant and my toddler were both in their pajamas, and I was exhausted from months of baby-induced sleep deprivation. I mimed through the glass door to the post master that I was there for the baby chicks, and that's when I heard his defining (and deafening) label: "Chicken Lady's here!!"

I'm a mother, a wife, a baker, a cook, a former engineer, a former fashion fanatic, and a former suburbia girl. 20 years ago I thought I would be a journalist or something in the fashion industry. 15 years ago I thought I would be a mechanical engineer (assuming I could get through school with all of those boys who were actually interested in how cars worked). 10 years ago, I was working as an engineer, engaged to a man I at one time actually thought was "preppy" (I blame the curduroys), planning my wedding and looking for a starter home in a small town in Tennessee. So how, HOW ON EARTH, did I end up "The Chicken Lady"!?!?!

My husband and I and our two small children, now 1 and 3, live in one of the most beautiful settings I've ever seen. We have almost 20 mostly-wooded acres, 3 dogs, a dozen or so fish, and about 30 full-grown cage-free / drug-free chickens (for egg laying), 30ish baby chicks (some for future egg laying and some for future eating), and about 6 eggs and counting in an incubator, because... well, why not, at this point?

I love cooking for my family, I love trying new recipes that in my dreams they will all actually enjoy, I love baking for anyone who will eat my creations, and I love trying to keep things as natural and healthy as I can. Over the years I have learned more about organic foods, supporting local farming, and generally just trying to get back to the basics with what I put in my childrens' bellies. And somewhere along the way, I became "The Chicken Lady."

I hope to find like-minded people who I can entertain with stories of cooking, playing, eating, and living in this rural world I sometimes love, and sometimes it just makes me want to take a long bath. Send me a message, teach me, learn from me, or just read along and laugh with (at?) me. Thanks for stopping by!