Friday, November 28, 2008

Picky Pullet

As you may or may not have heard I have been gradually switching the nesting material in the chicken coop from straw to pine shavings. I started with three nests about 2 weeks ago. I let a week pass then switched two more nests over to shavings. Then last night I emptied the last 3 (including their favorite one) and filled them with the shavings. I did this late in the day so that when they woke up they would see that all the nests no longer had straw. When I went out to check for eggs I saw that there were two in the favorite nest and one in a separate nest. What good girls! They made the switch!

But it's never that simple with chickens is it? There's always one that has to be "special" or otherwise buck the system. And that chicken is usually a Plymouth Rock.

Case in point...this is Cheese Doodle, my only Buff Plymouth Rock. She's a little girl but a very reliable layer. I happened to be in the coop when she came in to lay her daily egg. She was having a snit. Her favorite nest no longer had straw in it but had pine shavings instead! The nerve! She fretted and fussed hopping from nest to nest looking for one that might have straw in it. The photo shows her eyeing her favorite nest. I picked her up and put her in the favorite nest but she wasn't having it. I decided to leave the coop for a while and see if she settled in. When I came back about 15 minutes later she was under the nest boxes with her backside firmly tucked into the corner! Oh no! My girls have always been very good about using the nest boxes. I couldn't let this bad habit begin! I kept putting her in the favorite nest but she popped right back out clucking away!

I had to come up with a solution and it seemed that compromise was the way to go. I put a large handful of straw in each of the 8 nests, just enough to cover the shavings. Cheese Doodle investigated the nests while I did this and she finally settled on one that seemed right to her. I left the coop again to give her some time alone. When I came back she was still in the nest! Good pain-in-the-butt girl! It seems that the compromise was good enough for her. She left me her signature pink egg. Whew!

Chickens! Oy!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Icy Ducks and Cracked Eggs

I awoke this morning to find that the pond had iced over from the below-freezing temperatures we'd had the night before. I looked out the north window and wondered where the ducks were.

I walked to the other side of the house where the ducks could be seen swimming around in a small open area in the ice. They weren't too upset but seemed confused about what to do.

Derek took some corn out to them and attempted a "rescue" of sorts. They weren't interested in being rescued though and didn't use the escape route he broke for them. Eventually hunger got to them and they crawled up on the ice and went slip slidin' all the way to the edge to get some corn. Some did the splits while others landed on their fat rumps. The clever ones flapped their wings and sort of glided across the ice air boat style! We got a good chuckle or two watching the ducks walk on the ice.

The chickens stayed off the ice, thank goodness. We weren't sure what to expect the first time they saw the pond frozen. It looks like they're not interested in venturing out there with the ducks. When it gets covered with snow I'm sure that will change. Sweet Pea is busy scrounging for some food at the edge.

Derek went to gather eggs and came back with six. One of them had this very odd cracked shell. It's obvious that the cracks occurred inside the hen because the shell was firm. I don't know what was inside because while I was gone to the grocery store Jim sold the carton of eggs I put it in! I hope the customer isn't upset about the cracked egg.

Tonight's dinner was homemade pizza. I used the wheat flour pizza crust recipe that came with my bread maker and we added our own fresh toppings. It was very tasty and very filling! I made sweet dinner rolls earlier this week and everyone thought they were wonderful. The bread maker continues to be my hero.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Out of Town Guest

One of these ducks is not like the others,
One of these ducks just isn't the same...

I came home this morning from work to see this adorable little Lesser Scaup in the pond. As soon as he landed my ducks were on him like...well...ducks on a June bug. Anyway, Jim and I sat and watched their antics out the window. The Scaup is a diver and he would *shloooop* dive down to feed off the bottom where my chubby dabblers can't reach. As soon as he disappeared from sight my ducks swarmed the area where they'd just seen him and look for him! They looked confused and bewildered, "Where'd he go?" And when the Scaup resurfaced they all rushed him, "Oh there you are!" What a fun ducky game! Soon my ducks were diving too. Are ducks copy...uh...ducks?

I figured the little fella would fill his belly then fly off but he was still hanging out with Murphy and the gang when I got up this afternoon! I took these pictures before I headed out to gather eggs.

I wonder if the little Scaup is a braggart, being a well-traveled duck and all.

"Oh this is nothin'! You shoulda seen the weather in Michigan last winter!"

"The last place I was at had a fountain in the pond. Yeah, we had valet parking too. They put mints on my pillow."

I hope my ducks were well mannered and shared their corn with the little duck.

After my whining about egg production yesterday I found this big double-yolker in one of the nests. None of the girls will fess up and they're giving me the "stinky eye". Now, there were only three eggs to collect but there were a few Australorp girls still sitting on nests.

I've got some pine shavings from my father-in-law's workshop that I'm going to use to replace the straw in half the nest boxes. I want to see if the girls prefer one material over the other. The straw is a pain for me because they scratch it out of the nest boxes and I have to pick it back up. Hopefully the wood shavings won't be so easy to scratch out. If they like it I'll do away with using straw as nesting material.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cold Chicks

My poor chickens. The weather has gotten much colder and we've even had some snow. I let the chickens out into their run today and it was so cold and blustery, they turned right around and went back into the coop.

I've noticed a gradual drop in production over a span of weeks. I went from getting 10-13 eggs a day down to 8-5. Now is when I'll find out if those "cold hardy" breeds really are tough. Silver, our Hamburg roo, is a Dutch breed and he's not as heavily feathered as the girls. I see him shivering at times and worry about him. Perhaps someone could knit him a scarf and cap for this cold weather?

The ducks seem undaunted by the weather and they swim around in the pond all day occasionally coming to shore to nibble some cracked corn or what's left of the green grass. The drakes are just beginning to get their curly tail feathers which makes it a whole lot easier to tell the boys from the girls. It looks like I've got 3, possibly 4 hens. I wonder when and where they will start laying eggs.

My main concern with the colder weather is that the chickens are less likely to leave the coop and will stay close together inside. This can lead to a miriad of bad chook behaviors...feather picking and egg eating come immediately to mind. My biggest fear is egg eating because there's no cure for it. Dear God, please spare me this one test of chicken-keeping!

If you have birds I'd like to hear how you are managing them in the colder weather. Do you do anything special for them or do you just let them tough it out like I do? How much has their egg production gone down?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Easy As Pie?

Days like today make me feel like Super (Tired) Woman. Now I'm not braggin' or nothing but I:

  • Made 5 pastry crusts
  • Made 2 apple pies, crust tops, from scratch for the freezer
  • Baked one apple pie, crumble top, for dessert tonight
  • Roasted a chicken in the Crock Pot
  • Made one chicken pot pie for dinner from scratch
  • Decorated the official Erie Ordnance Depot Christmas tree
  • Cleaned the stove and toaster oven after all the cooking was done
  • Ran the dishwasher and did two loads of laundry

I'm pooped. During all of the above I had to keep an eye on my renegade chickens. They behaved themselves and stayed out of my cousin's yard.

Switch gears...

I took a few moments this afternoon to send a message of gratitude to all my veteran friends. The boys said one of our local vets came to the school and gave them a slide show presentation of the twin towers and the carnage the terrorists created on that fateful September day. Derek described a moment of shock and awe when they saw a slide of one of the people who jumped from one of the towers' windows. My eyes well up with tears whenever I try to imagine how horrible it must have been inside the towers for people to willingly jump to their deaths.

Thank God for the people In our Armed Forces who are willing to stand up and do what must be done. Thank God that they are willing to do the job even if it isn't popular, even when people who claim to support them won't support their cause. Screw the ignorant jerks and their cronies. Tell the liberals, "Don't worry! We got it! Now get out of the way!"

Yes, I am also a veteran which is probably why I have such a soft spot for anyone who wears the uniform. My brother was one of the 24 Apache pilots sent to Kosovo. My dad and uncle were in the service during the Vietnam war and my grandpa and one of his brothers served during World War II.

It makes my heart swell to know that my alma mater still has conservative values and allows presentations such as the one given today. Certainly it was a sharp slap in the face to those who needed to be reminded of our own personal tragedy. It's important to remember the events that lead up to the conflict we're in today and to show respect for those who are fighting it on our behalf.

Please honor a veteran today and thank him for his sacrifices. Freedom isn't free.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

World's Smallest Chicken

We celebrated Derek's birthday yesterday. He asked for a whole bunch of HO scale train stuff. He got some interesting buildings, little people doing various activities and a Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco barn. He also got a flock of geese and chickens. He is a happy 14 year old today and is very occupied with his new train components.

You have to see how tiny the chickens are! Here is one pecking Lincoln's ear. Can you believe it? Even at this scale chickens are horrible.

It's cold and drizzly here today. I'm baking a loaf of egg bread in the Breadman and keeping a sharp eye out for my renegade chickens. Wing clipping is in order tonight; there were 3 on the loose when I went out to release them from jail.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How To Make Bread

No, this isn't a complex step-by-step tutorial on how to make a loaf of bread. This is how to get a bread maker to do it all for you. My first loaf of bread was the basic white bread recipe found in the bread maker's instruction booklet.

Start with the right ingredients. I learned that you have to use flour intended for bread to get good results. All-purpose flour isn't milled fine enough for bread makers. The bread flour cost $2.99 for 5 pounds--higher than the $1.97 I'm used to paying for generic all-purpose flour, but still tolerable.

The dry active yeast is another story. Let's just say I need to find a much cheaper source for it than the local grocery store. I paid $7.89 for a 4 ounce jar! Yikes! The sugar, salt, oil and water were already on hand and at minimal cost.

Measure all the above ingredients very accurately and place them in the bread pan in the order listed in the recipe. Insert the bread pan into the bread maker. Next, push a complex series of buttons, enter your four digit PIN number and close the lid. Walk away and have a cup of coffee, go stare at your chickens or whatever suits you. Come back in 20 minutes and you'll see a ball of dough. (That dark blotch on the top of the flour is the very expensive Neiman-Marcus yeast.)

The ball of dough goes through three 30-minute kneading and resting cycles. In that time the dough rises as the yeast burps. Then the bread maker bakes the bread and Presto! You've got fresh baked bread three hours later! The best thing about this entire process is that the mess is minimal. The only thing to clean is the bread pan.

The loaf of bread was just the right texture for my taste: not too light and not too heavy. The crust wasn't like bark and the flavor was just right. As I enjoyed a slice of bread with a pat of butter smeared on it the ideas began flowing in my head. Stratas, french toast, garlic bread, pita pockets, focaccia...the possibilities are endless.

Gift ideas also came to mind. Wouldn't a homemade loaf of bread with some little jars of preserves make your Christmas morning?

I'm out of control.

It Slices! It Dices!

Time to make more slow cooker applesauce! I got out of bed at 9 and Derek and I got started. I had the bottom drawer of the fridge full of Gala apples that I'd picked up off the ground out in the orchard. I had a bucketful of them in the garage too.

I'd still be peeling if I hadn't gotten myself a handy dandy apple peeler. I first saw it on Chris's blog where he explained his method for making apple butter. It doesn't have the nostalgic look that my grandma's cast iron model had, but it does a great job of peeling all those apples. Derek was having too much fun with it and soon I was up to my elbows in peeled apples that needed to be cored and cleaned!

OK, so maybe it doesn't slice or dice, but it sure is a handy tool. All the peelings went right into the kitchen sink. Then Derek handed the apples to me and I cored them in one swift motion, pared off any bad parts and put them in the slow cookers. I've got both my 6 quart and my 3.5 quart slow cookers going and there's still another drawer full of apples left. I want to make two pies and freeze them, but I've still got to make Derek's birthday cake. There just aren't enough hours in the day!

All of the peelings and cores went out to the chickens who are on strict lock down today after their raid on my cousin's landscaping yesterday. I don't care how much they protest--they're not getting out today!

Once again, the house smells like apples and cinnamon!

I went to the grocery store after the apples were prepared and simmering. I picked up a jar of yeast and almost fell over at the price of $7.89 for 4 ounces! Good Gawd Y'all! It better last forever!

So now I'm going to go try to bake my first loaf of white bread in my new bread machine. More to follow...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Breadman TR520

I was in Kmart tonight getting Derek a new winter coat when I walked by a display of bread makers that were marked $10 off their original price of $59.95. Now, whenever I want to keep myself from buying more than I intend to get, I don't get a cart. I just make myself hold everything which makes my arms ache after a while. It gives me a good reason to hurry up and get out of the store. I had an armload of items that I planned to purchase when I walked by that display. Damn! I had planned to get a bread maker this fall and here was a large display of them on sale! A beacon of light from heaven shown down on the shiny boxes. I got a cart.

I am perusing the instruction manual and trying to educate myself on the ins and outs of bread maker operation. I am so glad I asked for you all to recommend one to me. Thanks for all of your input! I like to hear advice from others whenever I venture into unknown territory, and bread makers are definitely new to me. Apparently this particular model is easy to use and gives good results. I won't know until I buy some yeast and give it a shot, hopefully tomorrow.

I am going to be very busy tomorrow making even more crock pot applesauce. I have a lot of Gala apples waiting in the fridge and the garage. I've got a brand new handy dandy peeler that should make the job much faster for me. I'll write more about that tomorrow though.

I am beyond frustrated with my chickens right now. They have begun going across the road into my cousin's yard. They were over there today while I was sleeping. When I woke up I looked out the window and there they all were, digging in her manicured flower beds! HORROR! I called them back over to our side of the road and penned them up immediately. I received a call from her while I was at Kmart. MORE HORROR! She is very nice and very understanding about it all. I've promised her that I will do whatever is in my power to prevent it from happening again just as she does whatever she can to keep her dog off my property. This means that the chickens will have to be penned while I'm not around to watch them. DAMN. Didn't I go through all this before when they were digging in my mulch and I had to put bird netting down on all of my flowerbeds? Apparently, twelve acres of land is not enough for my birds. Oh no they've got to invade my cousin's yard as well! I am so verklempt I could spit nails.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Meet Murphy

Murphy is our Blue Swedish drake. He is unfortunate in that he usually is the one to get caught when Derek wants to hug a duck. But he is fortunate in that he has two hens of his own, one of which is the runt of the flock. She is a loud little hen and will announce anything new to the other ducks. We named her Macaroni. So we have a chicken named Cheese Doodle and a duck named Macaroni!

Murphy would make a very nice roast but we'll never eat him. I bought the ducks with the intention of not cooking them but allowing them to live out their lives on the pond. We enjoy seeing them out there dabbling in the water and swimming by in formation. Ducks are naturally happy birds and they seem to enjoy telling each other jokes. They aren't fond of hugs, but around here the birds get hugged whether or not they like it.