Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chicken Talk II: Fowl Language

Today on Chicken Talk we will examine the adage "Don't count your chickens before they hatch": a fairly straightforward piece of advice that would not seem to require chicken experience. Some eggs might not hatch. You might get, like, nine actual chickens from ten eggs. Got it.

Well. NOW I got it even more. I submit, for your perusal, our hens' wildly varying hatch rates this spring and summer:
1. 0/5 = 0% (Mama Orpo)
2. 4/5 = 80% (Wyandotte hen)
3. 8/10= 80% (Orpington hen)
4. 1/16= 6% (Mama Orpo again)
5. 2/6 = 33% (Barred Rock hen)
6. 4/6 = 66% (Brahma hen)

The main story up there is Mama Orpo, who comes in with 0% in slot #1 and again with 6% in slot #4. Mama Orpo is clearly an ill-fated mother. (note: despite the title, that sentence is as close as we'll be getting to foul language.) Her story has it all: highs and lows, hopes and disappointments, a heroine who overcomes a fatal flaw, a frenemy...and ultimately even a happy ending. That's right: her story, in the next post, will be a Very Special Episode.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chicken of the week: The Ladies

The Ladies were already two years old when we got them from a local farmer. This gave them two years' more "chicken experience" than us or the young pullets we got at the same time. People and pullets alike watched The Ladies carefully. But The Ladies disdained all this attention: they formed an instant clique with each other and established themselves solidly at the top of the pecking order. They are quick to peck other hens who might get in their way at the food trough. They even used to peck the Red Rooster, who was a jerk and deserved it.

Like all of our “named” chickens, The Ladies have more of a description than a name. I made a rule early on that we would not name any chickens, since at some point a few would probably get eaten by predators, or uncomfortable culling-type decisions would need to be made, etc. And yet we still notice their personalities and need to refer to them...and so these label-names like “The Ladies” evolved.

Here is one of The Ladies, and the other one looks just the same. They were sold as Ameraucanas, a breed that lays pastel green or blue eggs, but are no such thing. I guess they are some kind of barnyard mix. The Ladies are "ladies of a certain age"--they are our oldest hens--and they are a great favorite with our current rooster. He is an alert and chivalrous fellow, unlike the Red Rooster. They do not peck him.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chicken in the bathroom...part II

If I were smart I would buy these before posting them here...because the pictures below are ORIGINALS! So once they're gone, they're gone. Yet this gorgeous original artwork is STILL under $20 per art. Let's get to it:

Chicken Bubbles. From the awesome item description: "What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "chicken bubbles"? Is it magical, transparent spheres filled with beautiful poultry? We think alike, my friend, we think alike." Also from the same artist, an excellent little ACEO 2.5" x 3.5" original called Awakening Chicken.

Another ACEO size (2.5" x 3.5") original that just blows my socks off is "One Was Left". Creepy name aside (are those hawks in the background??) what a sweet and effortless-looking, yet crazy-good pen and watercolor sketch.

Finally, here is the thing about rules: LITERALLY, they are made to be broken. If not for the idea that it may be broken, a rule would not even exist, right?

With that bit of sophistry aside, let's examine "Chicken House Road", which breaks a couple of rules. For instance, it does not feature a chicken, and costs more than $20. What is it even doing here? Well, hear me out: this painting features a chicken house, plus it features the WORD 'chicken.' (I love words; I am just as happy to feature the word 'chicken' as an actual chicken.) And it is just barely over $20, coming in at $22. It's my blog, and my bathroom, and I decide "Chicken House Road," with its wild splashy tree, is the rule-breaker.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chicken in the bathroom...part I

"Blue Chicken Taking a Bath"
Until now, I have resisted using chickens as a decorating motif. To me, nothing says, "Pretend You Live in the Country, by T.J. Maxx" like a rooster-themed kitchen. But it turns out that I like chickens (also I like T.J. Maxx), and I would not mind seeing them around me indoors.

At least they would be something: we have lived in this big old house for 2 1/2 years, and there are still some rooms with nothing on the walls. (We've been busy, ok?) The downstairs bathroom is one such room, and I decided it would be a good place for chickens. But not crummy kitchen-rooster chickens--AWESOME chickens! And where do we find awesome pictures of chickens? On Etsy! Click each picture's title to visit the reasonably-priced Etsy listing.

The artists on Etsy have created some incredible original chicken artwork for under $20 per art. ($20 was my limit because I am thinking of hanging many, many chicken pictures.) Here are my very most favorite chicken art prints:

The puzzling "Faith". This one is favorite, because of the surprise factor. Why is this chicken on a boat? And how can the storm-tossed hero seem so unperturbed? It must know the secret of being at peace: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” I don't know how this chicken learned that, but I learned it from a refrigerator magnet.

The sweet "Her Favorite Chicken". Because I, too, have a favorite chicken.

Finally, remember my railings up top about chicken decor in the kitchen? Well, apparently I am both judgmental AND hypocritical, because this photo, "Mom's Kitchen", appeals to me greatly.

And those are my top four chicken prints for under $20--it was an agonizing decision process, let me tell you. See that ominous "Part I" above, though? That's because I'ma hit you with "Part II" real soon.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


A recent New York Times article about self-reliance and chicken keeping got me thinking about my own chickenomics. The article's angle is that in tough economic times, chicken-keeping may fulfill a desire for greater self-sufficiency. But really, if you're trying to stave off financial insolvency, the Thin Feathery Line will not shield you for long. Between the costs of building a coop and the price of feed, it's cheaper to buy your eggs at the store. That's what the Times tells us. Our own chicken finances are organized via cash and receipts kept in a tea tin (above), and a spreadsheet kept on Google Docs (not pictured).

Here's how our chickenomics break down: Friends at work buy our eggs for $1.50/half dozen. (The hens can reliably deliver about 6 dozen salable eggs a week, and there is a waiting list.) Proceeds cover the costs of the hens' sundries (oyster shells, DE, bedding) and feed. Between kitchen scraps and the giant 'pasture' over which they forage, the hens' feed costs are not as high as they would otherwise be. The ladies are even managing to stay ahead of the curve and buy feed for the teenage chickens, who get copious garden weeds delivered frequently from our giant, weedy garden, but do not have access to forage. They are eating enthusiastically, as teenagers will, but it will be a few months before they are old enough to lay. And as fall and winter approach, the rate of laying will decline--and therefore revenue will decline--and the availability of forage will also decline--making feed expenses increase. So we are unlikely to cover costs over the winter. But in the Spring, laying will resume, augmented by the current crop of teens. We'll be able to whittle down that waiting list for eggs.

So, day-to-day costs are covered for now, but what about overall costs? The main chicken house (which is big) and the teenagers' house (also pretty big) were built mostly from free materials. BUT. Since we want to keep the hens separate from the garden, and from the dogs, plus separate the adults from the motherless babies/teens, separate sitting or ill hens, etc... we needed fencing. That means chicken wire, and a lot of it. The hens' giant chicken enclosures were far more costly than their actual chicken houses. Then there is also the initial cost of the chickens, which is a few dollars each. If a rooster is available, the chickens will take care of future chickens themselves... except that you probably don't want to line breed your chickens year after year after year. We just have the one adult rooster, Rooster Boy, who obligingly produced many motley offspring for free this summer. He IS the Boom King; I take back what I said before. We also ordered babies of a few different breeds--the current teenagers--from Randall Burkey.

I really like having the chickens, and their eggs are much better than grocery store eggs. I like that I can provide the tasty, local eggs from pastured hens to my friends, too. And if we got hit hard by the economic downturn I suppose it is a consolation that we could eat eggs indefinitely. But, the greater danger to our self-sufficiency would be that we would quickly be out of a place to live. So my plan for that eventuality is...{drum roll} go out and live in the chickens' big house. See? Pay no mind to the New York Times--the chickens will save us after all.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Chicken of the Week: "Red"

We have 18 adult chickens, and "Chicken of the Week" is here to highlight a few of the most notable. Red, Uh-Oh Chicken, The Ladies, and Mama Orpo are curling their hair and trying out expressions in the mirror for their big upcoming photo shoots.

This week's chicken is our Rhode Island Red hen. She is red. Since we lack any imagination at all, we call her...Red.* We got Red from a local farmer when she was just a youth. She was one of our first chickens--the chicken house wasn't even finished yet when we brought her home. Amy and Red are good buddies; Red likes to ride around on Amy's shoulder. She (Red) likes to sleep in a weird spot: the ledge above the door of the chicken house. It wasn't designed as a roost, but Red roosts** there every night. Red is the smallest hen in the flock. It makes sense that she is small: Rhode Island Reds are among the most prolific breeds of backyard egg producers. So Red has been bred to put more of her caloric resources into producing eggs than into developing and maintaining a larger body. Thanks Red!

*Actually, see next week's Chicken of the Week for the real story on names.
** “Roost” is fancy chicken-farmer talk. Like the word “perch,” “roost” can either be a verb, or the noun on which that verb takes place. The only difference between the terms is that perching means just sitting there, while roosting means sitting there and sleeping. See? Fancy talk.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Truuuuue colors

We number-banded a bunch of the little Reds a couple weeks ago. Now they are all running around with blue leg bands and white numbers and we can tell them apart. Every Red who I thought was friendly before was probably Hen 18. Hen 18 just can't get enough of seeing what I am doing.

Here Hen 18 has jumped onto my arm for a different angle on the apple core. (She has settled in, too, so we can't see her blue "18" band, sorry.) The buttery-colored lady on my foot looks like an Orpington--she fools me a lot--but she is an Ameraucana. See her green legs? She will lay pastel colored eggs; I can't wait to see whether they are green or blue.

Also, speaking of different colored legs, you may notice in that picture that my left knee has a bandage on it. That's where I had surgery, and I make sure and wrap it up before I hobble carefully out to the chickens. Because even though they didn't SAY at the hospital not to let chickens get their poopy feet all around your incisions, I want to avoid Chicken-Poop Blood Disease. Also, this kid that Amy drew all around the stitches on my crazily swollen knee is like, "c'mon, chickens, c'mon...just try and walk on my face." He looks like he's ready to give a chicken a black eye.
So I cover him up.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Free tatas:

Or, as they are normally spelled, frittatas.

If you are plumb out of dinner ingredients, but you have some chickens and some plants, frittatas are here to save the day.

Tonight's tasty dinner frittata (hastily planned after a brief 'no-ingredients' freakout) featured the following home-grown goods: broccoli, red onions, basil, and eggs, plus sliced cherry tomatoes on the side. From-the-cupboard ingredients were garlic, olive oil, and grated cheese. And voila, a tasty meal was pulled out of my...hat. Out of my hat.

Only egg whites went into the frittata, per the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home recipe for Light Broccoli Frittata on p. 296. This did make the product admirably light and not too eggy, but left six extraneous egg yolks. These were fed back to the chickens when I went out to the garden to cut the broccoli. It's a little gruesome to the thoughtful person, but the hens with egg yolks are like me with ice cream. They get inexpressibly delighted, rendered incapable for a minute even of making their normal 'great food here!' noises. They peck and glug, peck and glug singlemindedly at the delicious, sticky nectar. know what's good dessert after frittatas? Ice cream.

Mmmmmm...iiiiice cream. I have to go now.