Homestead Chickens

So far in this homesteading series we have covered growing crops, finding land, and deciding between country and city homesteading.  So, now let’s talk about the quintessential dream of a homestead; chickens!  They make an ordinary house in the city feel like a farm.  They provide lots of colorful eggs and they replace cable television.  All you need is a lawn chair and a drink in the evenings and watch them run and dirt bathe.  It’s hilarious.

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Now, I can be pretty sassy when I think I am right. (Aren’t I always right?)  But I will be the first to admit when I am wrong.  And I was wrong.  Let me swallow my pride right quick.  Ahem, okay, well, I have been a vegetarian/vegan for the better part of thirty-three years and have been pretty adamant and downright pushy about the health benefits and a utopia society.  I realize that every culture since the beginning of time has consumed animal protein.  I realize that cultures without access to animal protein usually have nutritional deficiencies.  I realize that the environmental impacts of animal husbandry and our own health are caused by factory farms, not the small, local ranch or fishing hole.  Getting soy fed hamburger from New Zealand and salmon from farms is a really great way of screwing up the earth and body’s health.  Trucking in out of season produce and processed soy products aren’t so great either.  I recognize that keeping meat chickens so long on a perfect urban farm was to cause pain and suffering to them.  Death is quick and is not necessarily a negative to the party affected.  Five ten pound chickens came back to me without pain.  The rooster no longer crying in the corner of the coop with broken legs.  My daughter was overjoyed to receive one for food.  It will feed her family for a week!  They are sweet and dopey and then they are food.  I get that now.  Now on to chicken husbandry!

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Chickens- You can keep laying hens and get close to 300 eggs a year from one.  They produce eggs for two years pretty good and then start to decline.  They produce a certain amount of eggs and there is no tricking them into having more.  I haven’t had a chicken live longer than three years, though I have heard they can.  You can keep meat chickens and keep them for ten weeks then send them to camp.  They can all be kept together.

Home- They need a sturdy house.  A shed or designed coop works great with a sturdy fenced in yard.  Everyone (dogs, raccoons, hawks, skunks, coyotes) loves chicken dinner, so you must close the door to the coop each and every night!  The girls put themselves to bed at dusk.

Yard- Forget the Country Living cover photos of chickens in the kitchen (they poop) or luxuriating amongst plants (they will eat every one of them), they just need some good foraging space to dust bathe and eat bugs and what greenery they haven’t already eaten.

Food- Free feed them organic chicken feed and every day give them a few scoops of organic scratch for treats.  They love slightly off veggies and fruit and leftovers.  Feed them back their own eggs shells crushed for calcium.  Give them oyster shells if they need stronger shells.  Always keep fresh water available.

Chicks- When you bring home your peeping box of joy, place them into a plastic bin with a little shredded newspaper or straw, a little feeder of organic chick starter, and another one of water.  Have the heat lamp on the edge of the box.  They should be at a cozy 95 degrees.  If they hover in the far corner away from the lamp, they are too hot, if they huddle under it, they are too cold.  You want to adjust the heat lamp so they are running freely and pile up wherever.  Dip their beaks into the water to teach them to drink.  Raise the heat lamp a little each week, lowering the temperature ten degrees a week until it matches the outdoor temps.  By then they will be jumping out looking for food and fun.

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I have been writing and speaking about chickens for over six years now.  You can read through any of my articles under Animals/Chickens for laughs and info.  This article was published in the newspaper some years ago. You may be surprised at some of the chicken facts!  13 Things the Ladies Want You To Know 

 

 

 

Two Easy, Delicious Dinners for Autumn

Green tomatoes are piled up in a basket, each turning red one by one.  There are spices in the cupboard.  We have piles of retrieved peppers before frost.

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Autumn Curry

Curries are so versatile and very easy.  For this one, I chopped up a head of cauliflower and rinsed a can of chickpeas.  I spread them out on a cookie sheet and drizzled generously with olive oil, and sprinkled on salt and pepper.  That went into a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes.

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If I had been thinking straight, I would have added one of the three dozen peppers waiting to be eaten.

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Now for the sauce.  In a good blender combine 5 red tomatoes, 1 Tb of your favorite curry powder, 2 Tb of cashews, 1 Tb tomato powder, 1 ts salt, 1 ts agave.  Blend well then taste and perfect.  Pour into a saucepan and warm slowly while vegetables are roasting.  Add 1 Tb butter or coconut oil and let that melt in.

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Get a big pot of rice made because you can use it all week!

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Alright, you are done!  Top rice with veggies and sauce and enjoy with a cold pumpkin beer!

Fried Eggs Over Greens and Potatoes with Hot Sauce

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I got out of the car after a long day of visiting relatives in Denver.  On my way to the porch I gathered the collard greens and picked some chives still in the garden.

I had read that morning in a magazine to smash parboiled potatoes and roast them, then top them with eggs and hot sauce.  It sounded so good to me.  But I always like to add a bit more.

Doug had boiled the potatoes before I got home just past parboiled.  This was a triumph because they came out of the oven creamy and crisp.  He transferred them to a cookie sheet smashed them with a saucer.  They had been in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes when I got home.  He then added a dollop of butter and salt and pepper to each one and I went straight to work on the greens.

Wash and chiffonade a good handful of greens.  Heat a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add greens.  I sprinkled on Cajun seasoning and garlic powder, along with salt and pepper and cooked them just past wilted.  Transfer to a plate.

Sprinkle bread crumbs on potatoes and keep baking.

No need to wipe out the skillet.  Add a touch more olive oil and cook four fresh eggs to over medium.

Split greens and potatoes on two plates and top with eggs and chives.  Serve with hot sauce.  Oh my, people, I cannot tell you how incredible this flavor combination is.  We grew all of the vegetables and our chickens laid the eggs.  A true farm meal.  And delicious.  And fast.  Also good with pumpkin beer.

 

Ostara, Easter, and the New Beginning

crocus-spring-equinoxToday is a celebration of hope.  The indigenous cultures of old and the modern spiritualists and witches of today will be celebrating.  So will gardeners everywhere.  ‘Tis the Solstice, also known as Ostara.

Seeds in hand, faces to the sun, coffee hot, hose at the ready, we are grateful and joyous that the days will now be growing longer.  Oh, happy day.  More sun.  More Vitamin D.  More outdoor play.  Spring brings with it baby animals and freshly turned soil and new life.

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Ostara celebrates life conquering death.  It had been celebrated long before organized religion did it.  The word “Easter” comes from the word “Ostara.”  Now, Pagans were nothing if they weren’t artists.  Eggs were symbols of new life and fertility and were painted in beautiful colors.  The Ukrainian folk art depicted on eggs is a fine example of art.

Ostara, the Greek goddess of fertility, loved the painted eggs so much that she asked the rabbit to distribute them all over the world.

The Solstice on the agrarian calendar was the date that seeds began to be planted and new life was born.  The death of winter was past and new life has begun.

Our bodies and our lives are a part of nature as much as they ever were, we just kind of hid away behind screens and modern lives and forgot.  You will find that death and new beginnings are prevalent right now.  The Universe may have a bright new beginning for you.  That means death comes first, but know that the sun is shining every day and that life always conquers.  Welcome your new beginning.  Happy Solstice!

The Mystery of the Defective Chickens

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One egg.  Buttercup is a sure thing.  Nearly every day we get a small white egg from her.  Owlette the Araucana lays one a few times a week…on a rickety shelf, where it falls and cracks.  Once in great awhile we get an egg from the Salmon Favorelles.  Never two, just one.  And once a month we might get a small light brown egg from either the Giants or the Marans, it’s really hard to know.

All I know is that for having seven chickens it sure is suspicious that I am only getting one or two eggs max a day when I have seven first year laying hens.  Anyone else find this odd?

There are no signs of egg eating.  They have plenty of scraps, sunshine, running room, oyster shells, water, and food.

They have never laid more than this so I can’t blame the lack of light.  Gosh, they aren’t even friendly chickens like the ones I used to have!  I threaten them with freezer camp as they run screaming from me.  I even named them and talked to them sweetly.  To no avail.  No eggs.

What do you all think?  Egg eater?

 

The FSA (Family Supported Agriculture)

veggie 2“Do you know what you want in your FSA this week?” I asked Emily.  Eggs, goat cheese, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, sage, and pumpkin piled into the cooler.

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I have always been on that in-between-sized farm.  I can grow a lot of produce, but I have run into a few problems with a small farm.  When I take produce to the farmer’s market, most folks will pass up my small display to go to the big farm tables.  You have to have a big, vibrant display to get folks to stop.  I tried to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) one year and some weeks my customers got a lot, and sometimes barely a shoe box.  We used to pick the best to go to the market and for the CSA’s and then ended up with the garden dredges ourselves, or worse, out to eat because we didn’t have enough!

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This year I took produce to the market early on and ran into the very same problems so I stopped.  Our kale is still four feet high out there and vibrant ruby beets line the row.  We have eaten more of our own produce then we ever have before.  We put up quite a bit as well.  I still have Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and cabbage to harvest but the garden is sleepily falling into slumber.

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I have found more joy in delivering large bundles of produce to my grown children then I ever did going to market.  Knowing that they are eating delicious, organically grown produce, cheese, and eggs makes this mama’s heart happy.  I always throw in some meat from my friends’ ranches.  It is my way of giving gifts to my kids.  I can’t always help them repair their cars or pay their bills, but I can feed them.  It’s what I do best.

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FSA stands for Family Supported Agriculture.  Payment comes in the form of a hug, and that is just right for me.

Chicken Mama

I simply cannot wait to hold those babies in my hand.  Those little balls of fluff.

As we were losing our rented farm and needing to find someone to live with, we had to give away everything.  I stood outside and watched those chickens be placed head first into crates.  My chickens.  Laverne, Luisa, Ginger, and twenty-two of their named sisters…the ducks too.  I kind of lost myself there for awhile and as Doug helped them pack up my chickens, I stood screaming.  Screaming.  Losing my animals was worse than losing my antiques.  Worse than losing my three cords of wood, my newly planted garden, my homesteading school, my dreams.  Our chickens made us farmers when we first started out.  Our little house in town where our children would spend hours in the coop kissing and cuddling each chick.  Chickens took us to the next level.  In four weeks we will have chickens again.

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Doug and Maryjane drove to the feed store to order chicks and picked out two Salmon Faverolles who lay pinkish eggs, have slippered feet, and who are docile and good layers.  They are also very pretty.  We do love pretty chickens.

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Two Marans joined their order, those beautiful dark chocolate eggs and pretty feathers.  This is a picture of me holding one of our Marans.  It was used in an article that was written about our family in the Huffington Post.

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Four Jersey Giants, our favorite.  One of our Giants, Shirley used to sit in the lawn chair and read magazines with me.  They were among our friendliest chickens.

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My friend is raising Javas.  They have pink eggs, are a little conceited, but they are pretty enough to warrant it.  We are getting four of them.

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To complete our order, after much begging from me and Maryjane, Doug chose two blue Runner ducks.  My heart is full.

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In four weeks I will be a chicken mama again.  I know I keep saying it, but it sure is good to be back.

Farmgirl’s Eggnog Revisited

I wrote this post a few years ago to use up all the fresh milk and eggs from my farmer girlfriends.  Now with my own, I felt it was certainly worth repeating.  You can use store bought milk and eggs if you trust your eggs.  A nice addition to this recipe is 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of peppermint, orange, or almond extract.  Enjoy!

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Farmgirl’s Eggnog

In a blender combine:

3 eggs (We use farm fresh eggs from the coop.  They are raw in this recipe so use eggs you trust!)

2 1/2 cups of milk (You can use any milk but I sure love my goat’s milk.)

1/2 cup of organic raw sugar (Yup, half a cup, this is the holidays.)

2 Tablespoons of homemade vanilla extract (Or 2 teaspoons of store bought. Click here for homemade vanilla extract recipe.)

1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

Turn blender on and in a minute you will have a delicious way to start the holiday season.

Add spirits if desired but I like mine fresh and cold as is.  Cheers!

How to Make Easy Farmer Cheese (and supporting your local farmer)

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A ex dairy farmer who then has to begin purchasing from other farmers has a small heart attack when billed.  Never mind the cost of sweet feed, alfalfa, minerals, milking implements, and boyfriends, we don’t see all that, we just hear $8 for a half a gallon of fresh, frothy, raw milk.  $6 for free roaming delicious eggs.  “Oy, I used to get that for free!” I yelp. (Of course it wasn’t free…)

Okay, so yes, for a buck fifty you can get subpar, pasteurized, feed lot cow’s milk.  Some cheap eggs from chickens that don’t move…ever.

Now, relooking at costs.  I made 3 cups of fresh farmer cheese last night for the cost of the milk.  $8.  If we consider how much 4 ounces of goat cheese or farmer cheese costs in the store (around $5) we can easily see the deal we are getting.  This constitutes the protein in a meal, so replaces meat.  Eggs make several meals and additions to recipes, making it a very economical meal, even at $6.

The key is changing one’s perspective that farm food is the same as supermarket food.  It is much higher nutritionally and much more delicious.  It provides more meals at home around the table.  And helps a farmer.  We are a dying breed.  Women farmers represent 20% of all farmers.  But with up to 5000 farmers calling it quits (or losing, like we did) we need to support local agriculture.  We just have to.  I’ll be joining the ranks of women farmers again but I cannot have goats in the city we are moving to so no milking…yet.  In the meantime, I will support a farmer.  It is well worth the extra few bucks.

Here is an easy recipe for farmer cheese.  You can use store bought milk but if you can get a half gallon of raw, please do so.

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Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into pot and heat over medium heat stirring often until just boiling.  Turn off heat.

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Pour in 1/4 cup of homemade red wine vinegar (click here for the recipe), other vinegar, or lemon juice.  Watch the curds separate from the whey.  If needed add another 1/4 cup.  The red wine vinegar makes a pretty color.

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Once separated, pour into a colander lined with good cheesecloth.  I mean it, spring for the good cheesecloth.  (Geez, I don’t even have clothes pins anymore.  I am starting my homesteading journey again from scratch!  I used a headband to secure the cheesecloth to the colander.)  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sea salt over cheese.

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Fold sides together and hang off the side of the pot for 2-12 hours.

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When finished, remove cheesecloth while placing cheese in bowl.  From here you have a very plain tasting cheese.

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Here I added 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning.  1 teaspoon of truffle salt.  A drizzle of garlic oil.  1/4 teaspoon of pepper.  A dash of sugar.  Use hands to combine and crumble.

Other ideas would be sugar and cranberries, and orange zest.  Or minced garlic and chives.  Use your imagination!  Put in enchiladas, lasagna, in salad, on crackers topped with jam.  Homemade cheese is an easy homesteading staple!

Growing Your Own Food (comfort, joy, and mushrooms on the counter)

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One of my favorite things about homesteading is being able to provide our own food.  To watch it grow, to prepare it, to preserve it, to savor it later.  To watch the milk hit the pail, turn it into cheese, or pour the delicious cream straight into dishes.  Fresh eggs, which taste nothing like store bought, being broken into a bowl.  Such comfort comes when combining foods that have traveled a very short distance into the kitchen.

The other day I looked over at the counter and there were oyster mushrooms sticking up!  Mind you, I have failed at every mushroom log venture and the like and I sure didn’t expect this one to be any different.  I took a mushroom class and it was fascinating watching the inoculated wheat be added the warmed straw and stuffed into a bread bag with promises of culinary treats.  Our house is so cold that I doubted that it was warm enough for the mushrooms to fruit.  They needed to be kept at 70 degrees for three weeks.  I couldn’t find a place over fifty-five degrees anywhere in the house except by the ducklings.  Their heat lamp helped raise the temperature just right.  A few holes were punched in the bag and after awhile these beauties popped out.  Now, one would take this bag after it was done fruiting and plant it.  So to speak.  Create a simple raised bed and fill with used coffee grounds.  Sprinkle the inoculated straw all over it and let nature do the rest.

Buckley’s Homesteading Supply has regular classes and Manitou Mushroom is the teacher’s site.  Fun stuff.

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So fresh eggs cracked into the bowl, whisked with creamy milk.  Add homemade goat cheese and chives.  Add chopped oyster mushrooms from the counter.  A bit of salt and pepper and there you have it.  Homegrown, homemade, homesteading scrambled eggs.  What a blessing to grow a bit of our own food!

Choosing Farm Animals (no alpacas this time…)

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We went over to Sylvia’s farm Sunday afternoon.  The day was warm and sunny and her alpacas were wandering happily about their pens.  Sylvia was a gracious host and went over again everything we would need to know after taking the two alpacas home that she had generously offered us.

They are very cute boys.  Buddy is small and fluffy and his friend, Carmello, looks like a camel.  Their fleece is lovely and they didn’t kick me or spit at me.  They did immediately head away from anywhere we were.  That is how alpacas are.  I don’t know if I thought these alpacas would be different.  They would run up to me and want their noses rubbed and a hug around the neck.  They aren’t mean but they aren’t really friendly either.  A little newborn kept nibbling at my shirt and was absolutely adorable but would skitter away as I turned around.

We thought it through, we planned.  We decided.  Not this year.

Our Lady of the Goats

When I write something on this blog and set it out into the universe it starts spiraling.  It starts manifesting.  And my dream for this year is Doug’s as well and we are going to make it happen.  (Look for the full scoop later this week!) but for now, our entire income will hinge on the success of our Homesteading School including the Certified Herbalist arm.  Farm tours and interns, vegetables, milk shares, eggs, lots of folks coming to the farm.  The aura of the farm needs to match our intention.  Having families come tour our homestead is always a delight for me.  I love how excited the kids get when they hold a docile chicken or play with Elsa, the uber friendly goat.  When they talk non-stop about bottle feeding goat kids or kitty “hunting” (can you find all nine in our house?).  If we had terrified animals in the back corner…well that doesn’t really fit in.

I am getting two lambs next month that will be bottle babies to make them tame and I will try my fiber fun with them and if I love it, I can always get an alpaca next year to add to the fiber animals but in the meantime, we need more of a petting zoo environment, I think.  A good experience for kids (and adults) to hold onto when dreaming of their future farms.