Twins and Unicorns…Are You Puzzled?

Our chickens continue to amaze me for oh so many reasons. They are such fascinating creatures with more personality than one would think given that they aren’t supposed to be blessed with too much in the smarts department.

But one, a dear Buff Orpington, gave me quite the scare this week when I went out to do the dawn feeding and I noticed she was limping badly. Oh my, this was not good. I picked her up and did a thorough examination and did not find any blood or obvious cause for this malady. I examined the “pads” of her feet and they were normal as was the rest of her leg structure.

SO, I had a few ways to handle this. I could isolate her until whatever was bothering her healed but re-entry into the flock after isolation is tough since the isolated hen goes to the bottom of the pecking order upon her return. But leaving an ailing bird in the flock makes her an immediate target…some sources say it doesn’t take long for the flock to turn on her and peck her to death within hours! Yikes! Of course I wanted to avoid both of those situations if possible so I decided to try one middle ground suggestion from my reading which was to give half of a baby aspirin to help mask her pain. In other words, if she could get enough relief to stop limping, perhaps she could avoid attack AND start to heal in the meantime.

Citizen Scientist to the rescue (perhaps I need a cape?!?)  While I held her, Dave dashed out to the pharmacy for some baby aspirin (not sold in that form anymore but rather as ‘low dose’ aspirin). We cut one in half and she gobbled it up as if it were a piece of corn. I observed her closely all day and hoped for the best. She was relieved enough of her pain to get thru the day without any pecking and I repeated the dosage the following morning, noting that the limp was improving too. Now back to normal…I may never know the cause of her malady but I’m glad we didn’t have any carnage!

Other odd behaviors include the sole New Hampshire hen who has insisted on laying her eggs on the drop board, much to my dismay. The reason for the dismay is that chickens actually stand up when they pop out an egg so when her eggs would hit the metal surface of the drop board they would crack just a bit. They never cracked wide open since the tough membrane remained in tact, but I also do not want the other hens to seize on the opening to feed on their own eggs. Yes, given the opportunity, chickens love the taste of eggs as much as we do and will make a bad habit of it!

Sooo, I finally broke down and put a nest pad in the corner she preferred so that she could lay her egg soundly. Here she is, happy as a clam. No broken eggs, but a misbehaving hen none the less! IMG_1834.JPGIn other chicken news, when collecting eggs this week I was stunned to find this GIANT EGG laid by a Barred Rock hen! It weighed 92 grams, nearly twice the normal egg size! OMG, Dave and I wondered if a Duck had meandered into the coop to lay an egg like this! IMG_1814.JPGSo it was no surprise when I cracked it open that we had TWINS! Yep, although not the norm, there are times when you will find a double yolked egg. Still yummy in my tummy but that poor chick…delivering such a large baby! img_1816So how did I know that was a Barred Rock egg? I’ve become quite expert in differentiating between each breed’s eggs. We have six varieties and here are examples of their output. From left to right: Easter Egger – the color is the best clue, Buff Orpington – they are pale ecru and blunt ended without being too large, Rhode Island Red –  yellow ecru with a typical egg shape and medium sized, New Hampshire – a bit more mauve in color with slight speckling which is hard to see in this photo, Cinnamon Queen – large brown eggs, and lastly, Barred Rock – largest of all and not always as brown as the Cinnamon Queen but often speckled. There you have it.  IMG_1936.jpgAll farm fresh eggs are supposed to have a darker, more yellow-orange yolk and I think that is true but I can see a little difference between breeds. Take these two, for instance. They are eating the same diet but the distinction is obvious. IMG_1675.JPGYou can affect the yolk color by feeding them dried marigold leaves which they like mixed in with their oatmeal! IMG_1694.jpgOf course, I continue to find ways to incorporate eggs into many of our meals. Pasta Carbonara is just another justification for eating bacon and eggs for dinner…but of course delish! IMG_1767.JPGI tried a potato fritatta that used a pound of our potatoes and 6 of our scallions. IMG_1822.JPG I added nine eggs and 2 cups of basil (which, at this time of year is a crime to buy at the store due to the exorbitant price) and then it is topped with feta (YUM). Seen here as it is ready to pop into the oven to bake. img_1824I have also made a point to set eggs aside for a week in order to hard boil since they don’t peel well when fresh. I made the best egg salad this week…just ask Kate! ;-D

SO, perhaps the best news is this…with an unseasonable warm day (68 degrees!) I decided to gird myself and do a bee inspection. I’ve been so worried about them all winter that I nearly dreaded this day. But, what did I find???? It felt like I had seen a unicorn when I spotted bees flying around the hives! Granted, they were fewer in number than I would have liked (and this doesn’t guarantee that they will survive until spring) but joy, joy, joy! It was absolutely delightful to hear them buzzing around! I replenished their sugar supply and combined the two hives to help insure a good outcome. Crossing fingers!

Warmer weather helps our visits to the park with Coulter. Who loves the swing more???IMG_1806.jpg But when that isn’t possible, he loves to stroll through the Puzzle Warehouse with his cart looking for deals! IMG_1847.JPG A boy after my own heart…puzzles and deals!

A Must Read…Eggs on Ice…

What strange weather we are experiencing in the second week of the New Year! (The first week was spent with the stomach flu…something we are glad to forget and does not merit any further details here!)

I could describe this crazy weather pattern in a paragraph but I think the phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ gets to the point rather quickly with the illustration of the graph below. weatherIf you have an aversion to reading graphs, the synopsis is this: we had a 67 degree temperature swing in a 5 day period…from a low of 5 degrees last Saturday to a high of 72 degrees the following Wednesday. And now, low and behold, we are the midst of an ice storm which has brought much of our area to a standstill. Everything is coated with ice and the weight of it all has the potential to be destructive on several fronts.

img_1743-2img_1760We are tolerating this with an eye to our fruit trees and other plantings that are unduly burdened by the extra weight of ice but we have some real concerns as to how the blueberry/strawberry netting enclosure will fare under this frozen weight. The deflection or sag of the netting is evident here. Arg! We have fingers crossed that the nylon netting will be resilient in the end. IMG_1761 2.jpgSo, perhaps it is time for some chicken news!?! Our dear flock of hens has provided us with a steady flow of eggs (as many as 14 a day so far – not bad for their first winter) which we have shared with friends and family…as well as finding a long list of daily uses in our kitchen.  img_1740The range of color has been enhanced by the recent activities of Myrtle, one of the Easter Egger chickens whose eggs range from green to blue.

I love the phrase attributed to Mark Twain, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Well…my version of that is “To a chicken farmer, every recipe includes at least one egg”…or two or three or four!

Toad in the Hole…on the griddle and plated…

French toast with Canadian Bacon…IMG_1674.JPGSpinach salad with bacon, mushrooms and hard boiled eggs…IMG_1666.jpgBeef tenderloin hash with egg on top…IMG_1651.JPGChili Huevos Rancheros….   img_1683And perhaps the most fun of all so far…a luncheon yesterday of Croque Madame…a type of French sandwich which we gladly shared with the Wards.

I started with a lovely loaf of rustic sour dough bread (not an easy find in the middle of an ice storm!)  Then I coated the undersides of each slice of bread with a healthy spread of Béchamel sauce (essentially a basic white sauce with cayenne pepper). I placed the bottoms on my buttery griddle, added Gruyere cheese and a nice slice of prosciutto. The top slice of bread was added and these cooked on both sides.img_1752 I added some more cheese on top to melt under the broiler while I started a pan full of easy over eggs. img_1753 Voilà, Croque Madames for four!img_1754A few stats to report: Since the first egg was laid on December 3rd, they have produced 303 precious eggs to date.  We gave many as holiday gifts and have been doing our best to continue to share with friends and family but I am now scheming just how to market these to those interested in buying them. More on that next time!

In the meantime, here is what we are reading: Dave is enjoying this book on composting that lists chicken manure as one of the most valuable assets a chicken can provide to the farm. “Chicken, goat and sheep manures are at the high end in nutrient content, cows and pigs at the low end, and horses and cattle (on feed) in the middle.” As I walk the daily container of poop from the coop to spread out onto the fallow fields, I am reminded of another quote that indicates that the farthest fields receive the least manure due to their distance from the source. What an incentive to walk a few more paces!  img_1757And I am enjoying this book about a husband and wife (in this instance, the wife was the one dragging her feet) who started an unusual egg farm and made it into a going concern. I can agree with the reviewer, the story is both funny and informative. IMG_1759 2.jpgSpeaking of chicken facts, in the past year I have read extensively about raising chickens and dealing with their wonderful eggs but I must admit that I had an embarrassing moment recently when I shared a dozen eggs with the Burroughs chemistry teacher, Eric Knispel, who so kindly adopted our roosters. Here is the package Kate delivered with a little chicken humor on the label! IMG_1678.jpgHe ever so gently reminded me that eggs always need to be stored pointy end down. Drat, I knew that but in my excitement in putting his eggs into their package, I nestled them willy nilly in the carton! Even though I knew better, I was grateful to have this detailed explanation for why this is the best practice. Aren’t chickens…and Mother Nature…fascinating?!? Thank you, Eric!

As dinner time nears, it is time to figure out the next use for our eggs. I hear that Kate is making a Frittata and I am making pasta Carbonara. Little Coulter seems to go along with just about anything we cook. Here he is, exploring the winter wonderland! fullsizerender