R.I.P. Buttercup

Nj6ZZV2sSP+2vXosKu437w_thumb_18006Today started out with the sad shock of going out at dawn to open up for the chicks and finding that one of our Easter Egger hens, Buttercup, lay dead on the drop board. Oh my! She was in perfect condition, not bloody or attacked in any way but it was still a frightful shock to find her this way as she had been perfectly healthy the night before when I closed up the coop. It appeared as if she had been up on the roost and suddenly keeled over and died.

So very sad, but I gently removed her still warm body to my workshop so that I could attend to the rest of the flock after alerting Dave that I might need his help. My mind was all a flutter, trying to think of what could have happened to her.  There is something called Sudden Death Syndrome in chickens that is associated with things such as heart attacks or being egg bound so I knew this could have been a possibility.

Buttercup was a hen that had already been thru a lot in her mere 46 weeks. She seemed to carry a lot of stress and agitation (part of her breed description?) and was a bit of an outsider in the flock. If you recall, she was isolated at several points for her own good to recover from various ailments, including a recent broken beak. But I had just begun to think that she was finding her way among the flock and comfortable in her own skin. She was eating well and laying beautiful blue eggs on a regular basis. Here she is crowding out a Rhode Island Red for a spot in a nest!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17e4eI decided that I really wanted to know the reason for her demise and started looking for locations that would do an aviary necropsy which is the equivalent of an autopsy, only done on an animal. My search came up with the Missouri Department of Agriculture (2 locations – one in Jefferson City and the other in Springfield) and the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine.  I called all three locations and settled on taking her to the lab at the Vet school in Columbia where we had taken Farley years ago for his terrible back.

Dave immediately volunteered to drive the 2 hours each way to deliver her to the lab in the cooler package we had put her in for the best preservation. He took with him the submission form found on line that I had filled out with her history. He was greeted kindly at the lab and handed her over to the pathologist on call. IMG_3458.JPGAround 4pm I received a call back from the doctor who examined her today and he told me that she had died of a ruptured liver, something that could have happened with an injury or just a thin spot in the membrane. He went on to tell me that she was otherwise in good health with a lovely, shiny plumage. He said she was starting to show weight gain and that I should watch for the diet of my birds now that summer was upon us and they did not have to expend as much energy trying to stay warm. Weight gain could also affect the liver so he took time to explain his preferences for dietary supplements and I was all ears for his suggestions. He also told me he found no parasites but had done a fecal float test and was awaiting those results which would be available tomorrow. This would be an indication of worms which, if found, I would treat the entire flock for but he doubted he would find this. I agreed with him that we would now be satisfied with the cause of death and the myriad of additional tests for bacteria, etc. would not be necessary. He will send a final report within days.

Yes, it has been a sad day in the Sauerhoff chicken coop but I can’t help but be incredibly  impressed with the swift and personal response I have had from the veterinary community. If only the same could be said about our nation’s medical care system!

RIP, Buttercup…you were a good egg…xoxo

A Massive Flood of Water and Bees!

Well, we survived another one hundred year flood, this time, just a mere 17 months after the last one! Go figure! Thank you to those of you from out of town who have been inquiring as to our situation…despite the horrific news reports, we were safe and sound…just pretty darn wet! We were inundated with between 11-12 inches of rain in about as many days and the fields turned into rivers…washing away a multitude of newly planted seeds! Arg!IMG_3220.JPGThe swale that runs from south to north before it veers east into our neighbor’s culvert was a strong presence and made us feel as if we should get our fishing poles out and bait our hooks. IMG_3217.JPGNo one enjoyed the swamp conditions more than little Coulter who found such joy exploring in his ‘construction site’ rain boots! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18244.jpgI must back up a bit tho to share some of the fun we had before the endless rain spoiled our progress. We managed to get the potatoes planted in mid April (only about a month late) and despite the soggy ground, they have nearly all sprouted and are happily soaking  up the current sunshine! The panorama photo of planting day makes for a funky image but we got 190 starts of Pontiac Red and Yukon Gold potatoes planted. The promise is for approximately 10 pounds of potatoes per plant but we have never quite gotten that much but we are hoping for the best. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1811eThe next best piece of news is that the deer fencing project is finally completed and we are now (hopefully) secured in the back section of the farm which includes the precious orchard. No one could be happier than Farmer Dave who celebrated with Coulter as the last pieces were put into place.  Yay!!!IMG_3011.JPGAround this same time I began a new partnership with our locally owned grocery store, Schnucks. In an effort to satisfy the need for fresh greens for our chickens, I recently cornered the produce man at our local store as he was obviously trimming away the less viable parts of the lettuces and such to discard them. I boldly asked him what they do with all those ‘goodies’ and he told me that they compost them.

Well, well, well…I was pretty darned motivated to acquire those greens before they went into the compost pile! I was told the best way to do this was to go on the store’s website and “apply” for the waste product. In other words, the store carefully tracks what goes in and what goes out. Okay, I could deal with this and I was delighted to fill out the lengthy forms that gave them an idea of how I would be using the disposables at hand. The best news came days later…we were approved to receive their compost material and now I have a wonderful relationship with the produce department at my local Schnucks store! A big thanks to all but especially to Chris who really looks out for me and my chickens! I now am dragging home glorious boxes like this (weighing 15-20 pounds) several times a week to feed to our flock! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fad.jpgAnd the chickens love, love, love it all!IMG_3146 2.JPGIn addition to all the fun of endless rain, we have had our own little flood of bees! Of course the spring is a very busy time for beekeeping but as I hinted in one of the last blog posts, Dave and I have bee-come the bee whisperers!

We picked up 2 nucleus boxes of bees on Saturday, April 22nd that we had pre-ordered from the bee club I where I am a member, Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association. Although it was a rainy day, we managed to get the bees settled when we had a break in the weather. Later that same day, our neighbor across the lane called to say that she had a swarm of bees in her yard, and she wondered if I could come take a look. Hmmm. I assured her I would, but I first went out to our hives to make sure that they had not swarmed away…they had not.

So I went to investigate what was going on at her house and sure enough, she had a nice, large swarm of bees within reach without tall ladders! I quickly stepped up my pace since swarms can move on to the next location rather quickly and I didn’t want this one to get away. I had two nuc boxes in the our truck at the ready as well as loppers to cut the pine branch where the bees had gathered. Dave joined me in his bee suit so that we could work together. Here we are inspecting the situation. Believe, me, we did much more than just point to the swarm! IMG_0549.jpgWe gathered the mass of bees into two nuc boxes and brought them both into the bee yard and set them in place with some food and some drawn comb. A little background here: Bees swarm when they need to expand and reproduce beyond the colony where they had been living. They do this in the early spring, ‘eloping’ with a new or sometimes an existing queen to find new digs. When they decide to leave, they do so by equipping themselves with as much ‘luggage’ as they can carry in order to quickly begin building their next home. Think of it as every bee in the swarm grabbing a handful of nails, bricks, 2x4s and extra food for the trip. So, bees that have swarmed are FULL of honey and want to immediately start building out the wax needed to make their new home.  IMG_3170.JPGOur best attempt at keeping them (I’ve read one has a 50-50 chance at it) was to provide them with the best space to make their new home. So, I gave them a box full of wax frames and some food which is the quart jar of sugar syrup in the photo. By the next morning they had settled into just one of the nuc boxes and I was able to transfer them into a full, ten frame deep box. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_181ac.jpgThis swarm did decide to stay at the farm and as of today has proven to be one of my strongest hives. It is already putting capped honey into the honey supers and I am thrilled. Here is the apiary after adding the swarm which is on the far left.

But two weeks after we caught this first swarm, the same neighbor called again and said she had another swarm in her yard! Yikes…although we were eager to help out with capturing this additional swarm, our bee yard had become quite populous at this point and we needed to find extra space AND equipment to accommodate this second swarm. Say no more…despite the massive flooding, we drove around (and around!) to find more bee equipment, stumbling here and there as you can see in this photo of a virtual dead end of closed roads due to high water. jW+FZStGRA6XGihQXiUsJw_thumb_182c6.jpgHere is the second swarm in one of the nuc boxes we used to capture it with the small holly branch it was hanging on sitting on top.  IMG_3279.JPGThe best thing about this second swarm is the video I took of the bees alerting their swarm buddies as to which location to chose once in our bee yard.

This is perhaps, my very favorite video which is backed up by the following article on swarm behaviors and how bees communicate with each other…I love the fact that they dance! Fascinating if you ask me! Here is a wonderful article on how bees find their new home!

So, now you have a small window into my life as a beekeeper but things don’t end there. I am branching out and have begun to participate in two exciting new studies on bees. The first is called the Sentinel Apiary Program which is run from the University of Maryland and uses our bee club’s demonstration hives at the Danforth Plant Science Center as part of the sampling. In a nutshell, I am a volunteer beekeeper in the program where we collect wide ranging data about the bees in the apiary once a month and send it all back to the scientists on the other end to analyze.

In a separate but very important program, I am now participating in the HiveScience tracking program that the EPA is doing  as a brand new experiment. In essence, I am volunteering to track one of my hives throughout the year and send them data via an app they created. They will send me sampling kits that I will return to them to verify  results of the hive in terms of diseases and an analysis of the honey they produce. Very cool! I’m excited, once again, to have a chance to be a citizen scientist!

I am continuing to build more bee equipment – boxes, frames, etc. – to accommodate the increase in our apiary. More on that later!

We had a lot of fun hosting Coulter’s 2nd birthday party here at the farm. Although it happened to fall on one of the rainiest days, we entertained a fun group of friends and all had lot of fun! IMG_3211.JPG

Book Signing This Saturday!

We are busy, busy Bees here so I’m way behind on the farm updates (there is so much to tell!) but I wanted to quickly mention that we are taking time out this Saturday to go to the book signing for Kathy Rainey Bussmann’s new book,  “The Uncommon English Teacher and the Forgotten Doughboy.” Kathy will be at Christopher’s Home Accents in downtown Kirkwood, MO  (127 E. Argonne across from the Kirkwood Farmer’s Market which is about a mile from the farm) from 11 am to 1 pm so make sure to stop in and have her sign a copy for you! I’m eager to use some of our eggs to try out her grandmother’s cheese souffle recipe which is just one of the recipes included in this jam packed book!UncommonEnglishTeacher FRONTCVRjpg     4.1.17 - Copy - Copy.jpg

Kathy made the serendipitous discovery of her grandmother’s diaries from Mount Holyoke College (1914-1919) and her grandfather’s World War I letters home to his mother from Italy and France in her basement after her father died in 1993 and spent many years weaving the threads of their lives together to write their love story. I think we need a second copy since whenever Farmer Dave sits down these days (which is rare), he has her book in his lap, often reading passages aloud to me. (Before the book was published, Kathy kindly lent us her grandfather’s farm diaries to read and we found them fascinating as well as the many other artifacts that Kathy displayed at her home several weeks ago!)

We will be at the signing on the later side since we are hosting Coulter’s 2nd birthday party that morning! I’m sure there will be fun photos of that event in the next blog as well as much more!   (Hint: Nancy and Dave went bee swarm hunting…Yikes! )IMG_3125.JPG

Melt Some Hearts!

Why is it that such small gestures can just about break your heart (in a good way)? I had one of those today and just had to report it here. Let me set the stage…

The mailman drove up to the house today with a package that he could not fit into the mailbox and I instantly wondered what I had ordered on line and could not think of anything due to arrive. I was about to start a meeting with visitors so I could do no more than accept the package and set it aside while I continued with my guests but I admit, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had received a mysterious box from my brother and could barely concentrate.

As soon as the meeting concluded, I tore it open. This is what I found…a note from my dear brother, Tim. t9wHLeKVQ1aFxhL2v5Nstw_thumb_18038And of course, wouldn’t you know it, in the box were two packages of my most favorite treats of all time…Hermits from Wilson Farm in Lexington, Massachusetts. My heart just melted.wvfTdQEi9HkV+gWsLwQ_thumb_18037So if you don’t remember the post, I make Sriracha with our jalapenos (no chemicals in my version!) and have given it to my brother over time whenever he visits and I guess he likes it a lot! He uses it (along with our honey) in at least one of his favorite recipes, ‘Chicken Lady Chicken’ from the “My Paris Kitchen” book by David Lebovitz.

Brothers, sisters and friends everywhere, do something kind. Melt hearts…especially now when we need to see kindness in the world. I’m off to package up some Sriracha (both red and green) for Tim and hope his package is as welcome as mine was today.

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs…Pysanky and Dissection

I have heard rumblings that I’ve left some of you hanging with anticipation as you have eagerly awaited the results of the tiny egg dissection as well as the status of Buttercup, our beak challenged hen from the last post. I appreciate your patience and have good news on all fronts but first, Buttercup got a little worse before she got better but is now fully back in the flock after needing to isolate her for a bit. I am actually pretty surprised by how quickly her beak is growing back. When I look at her now, I would not have really noticed a problem with her beak at this stage. If you look closely, you can almost see a newer, whiter layer filling in on the bottom. This girl is now used to my thorough daily inspection of her health, so she poses just so! Don’t you love her fluffy chin beard which is a signature physiology of the Araucanian breed?Nj6ZZV2sSP+2vXosKu437w_thumb_18006.jpgShe is also back participating in all the group activities of the flock. I never tire of seeing them take a group dust bath!

So dissection of the tiny egg was very, very fun. The neighboring kids were very excited at the prospect of becoming my little citizen scientist assistants and brought their “Uncle Luis” with them to witness the event.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f8a.jpgI was prepared with pointy scissors to begin the process but they really took it from there. I was gratified to see their curiosity in all things that had to do with the chickens that day including collecting eggs. Their mom took photos and videos and made the experience into a wonderful iMovie which she shared with us…many thanks Peggy, et. al.!

Later that week we had the pleasure of learning more about Ukrainian egg decorating known as Pysanky from Kate’s friend Mandy who I hope will become a new friend of mine as well. I tried to learn as much as I could about this process from her and this is what I gleaned from the morning we shared.

Mandy was introduced to this process as a grade school student when she took a class offered by the spouse of a local Webster Groves school teacher many years ago. She brought over her growing collection of decorated eggs as well as the original instructions which she had saved and some of the equipment for the process. Here are some of the eggs she has decorated over the years. Gosh, it is hard to pick a favorite! uCZaqow5S6OrOvGT3NCRwg_thumb_17fcc.jpgThe process starts with taking an egg and drawing a design to follow. Mandy now does this with the help of a craft lathe but this can be done by hand as well. She uses the lathe to help draw circles and intersecting patterns.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fb8Then she begins to apply the wax and dyes on the eggs to make layers of colors. The first wax layer protects the egg from receiving any dye at all. The successive layers of wax are applied to continue the design and the deepening of the colorful dyes. Mandy uses a wax applicator called a kistka which is a wand with a copper funnel  that can hold the melted wax as she applies it to the surface of the egg. These kistkas come in various diameters for the wax line of application. The blackened portion you see here is due to the heating of the instrument (a copper ‘funnel’ if you will) done using the heat of a regular candle. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fb9.jpgHere is Mandy filling the kistka (left hand) with beeswax (right hand), heating it in the flame of the candle in order to apply it to the surface of the egg. She blots the kistka as she works which is what you see on the splotchy paper below her hands. The colorful egg sitting on the cloth was one in progress that she started the previous night to help me understand the process. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fbdSimply put, after each layer of wax and dye is incorporated into the design, the egg is nearly completely covered wax. The wax is then melted off of the egg (Mandy says there are various ways to do this) and the egg is then emptied of the contents using a couple of special tools. First, she creates a tiny hole with a burring tool and then she uses a device that displaces the contents of the egg using a small bellows and a hollow needle.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fc6After this point, the hollow, decorated egg is then varnished for safe keeping. Mandy did an amazing job of introducing me to the process of creating these traditional, decorated Pysanky eggs. I hope I did the process justice in my description and told her that if she wanted to teach a class that I would host it here! Supplies for this craft can be found at the Ukrainian Gift Shop.

The new fence at the farm is continuing a pace as Dave (tirelessly) and I (somewhat less) continue to clear the existing line. Piles of debris now litter the sides of the old fence but this is a good thing that we will deal with later when we have more time.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fe1.jpgOne of the worst stumps was taken out with a joint effort by Dave and Jon Lanaghan. They both sweated over this and employed all the tools at hand, including bolt cutters for the fence, multiple axes, saws, shovels and lastly, the power of the tractor to extricate this monster from the fence line. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fe9.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fec.jpgThe new fence installation is coming along. The tall posts are in place on the south side and the fencing has been stretched about half way along before the current rain stopped the progress. cUMKhQMqQOyeUor1fj8uFA_thumb_17fd3.jpgAlthough we are busy here, there is nothing more fun than entertaining some favorite guests from out of town. Kate’s dear friend, Robin, was in town last week with little Damon who is just a couple months older than Coulter and they all had fun in the corn pool!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f9cA rainy day here has given us a break from the fence project but thankfully, the hens never stop laying…we just topped the 1300 egg mark a mere 3.5 months into their laying productivity. I’m so pleased with their progress!    Next blog: looking forward to an interview with Kathy Rainey Bussmann about her newly published book, ‘The Uncommon English Teacher and the Forgotten Doughboy’  available for sale at http://www.mirabooksmart.com. It can be found here as well.


Winter Gets the Last Laugh…But We are Not Amused!

We had lots of warning that a terrible cold blast was coming to our area last week and that temps would dip into the teens, threatening to reverse all the early spring progress that had already begun on the farm. We spent last Friday attempting to protect as much of the beautifully flowering and budding orchard trees and bushes as possible. The peaches and nectarines were in full bloom and a couple of the pear trees were just pushing out with tender buds. IMG_2608.JPGSo we thought if we could cover as many branches as possible with large plastic bags, that we might save some of the future fruit. By the time we were done the orchard looked like lollipop bouquets.IMG_2604.JPGUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f41.jpgThe strawberries were a bit easier to cover since we unfurled plastic sheeting and staple gunned it to the raised beds. IMG_2599.JPGThe blueberries were not quite as worrisome since only one of the varieties (the earliest of the five) was pushing out their buds so we covered that one row as best we could. IMG_2596.JPGWe think we could have survived a day or two of this but in the end, we had nearly a week of frightful weather, including one morning this week when we woke up to 16 degrees. If only the wet, heavy snow had preceded the cold spell, it would have served as an insulator.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f55There is not a lot to do at this point except to wait and see just how much damage occurred. This dire weather pattern should be in the rear view mirror soon but we plan to keep the covers on the plants for a couple more iffy nights.

It is still a very busy time around here. We had our annual orchard check up and pruning with our arborist/horticulturist, Jon Lanaghan. IMG_2484.JPGThis year he knew to bring equipment appropriate for trimming the taller trees. IMG_2498.jpgThis was before the recent cold snap but was still a fairly miserable day to spend outside for hours trimming trees!IMG_2510.JPGIt might look like Jon was doing all the work but Dave takes notes in his extensive record book which has the history of each tree, its root stock, origin and age. I was in charge of supplying Jon with the bleach jar into which he dips his cutters before moving from tree to tree. I also constantly pump him for information as we go along and even tho I’ve heard some of it more than once, it always sinks in a bit deeper each year depending on just how much my teeth are chattering as a distraction!

Dave continues to work on the never ending fence project as we prepare for the official new North and South deer fencing to be installed. He makes me nervous using the chain saw so much. He takes out the tops as much as he can…UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f71.jpgAnd then employs the might of the tractor to pull the stumps. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f24.jpgThe Egg Subscription project has been very fun. As promised, I worked on producing a book that has basic chicken information as well as recipes. Thanks to Sue for providing several interesting recipes. Here is the cover page picturing our 6 breeds. wqqQMeA1Rme2eMq1TSQBxg_thumb_17f70.jpgWe have had several issues of late in the coop that have caused me pause. First, I found a bit of cannibalization in that there was evidence in one of the nest boxes of an egg having been laid and then subsequently eaten with only the wet spot of left over yolk and some shell to show for it. Ugh! I was not pleased to see this since when chickens start to eat their own eggs it can get out of hand and they enjoy them before we can collect them! Of course I immediately eliminated all trace of this and was keen to not allow eggs to sit in their nests very long after this. So far, this behavior has not continued but it made me think twice about feeding them their own shells. Instead, I collect them and have been adding them to the compost.IMG_2648.JPGAlso, we had the egg-citement of a very, very small egg being laid last week which I discovered in the outdoor run. I suspect it to be from a Cinnamon Queen. I showed it around to the subscribers last week and promised the kids who come to collect their weekly eggs that I will dissect it with them tomorrow so that we can see what is actually inside…does it have a yolk or is it just filled with egg white? Oddly enough, it doesn’t sit still on the paper towel for a photo…it swivels a bit as if it is either heavy on one side or magnetized! Hrmph!  Here it is next to a normal sized egg…I will report the outcome of the biopsy next time! IMG_2647.JPGMORE CHICKEN NEWS!….this just in today. When I went out to the early morning clean and feed session in the coop I found that Buttercup, one of our Easter Eggers, had a broken beak. UGH! She seems to have a long list of challenges. I’m not quite sure these issues arise because she is a target from others or whether some of her problems are self inflicted due to her own anxieties. In this case, I think she may have just gotten her beak chipped in a frenzy when the chicks react to sudden noise or action that causes them to panic and frantically flee in all directions. IMG_2646.jpgPoor girl! So what does a broken beak mean for a chicken? First of all, you need to understand that a chicken uses its beak for gathering food and exploring their environment such as preening and nesting.  Their beak grows much like our fingernails but slower. In a natural setting their beak will wear down thru use just about as fast as it grows. The farther back from the tip, the more the beak is supplied with nerve endings and blood. Hard to find a good graphic for this but I doubt you need the scientific names to convince you of the details.

nerves in beak

This injury seems to be fairly superficial but I will watch to make sure it doesn’t inhibit her from eating or drinking. My reading says this may repair itself in the next 6 weeks or so.

A highlight of our egg story happened recently when Kate and an old friend from grade school, Mandy, reconnected after 20 plus years. The two young families had dinner recently and I sent over a little box of eggs as a hello from the farm. Mandy subsequently sent Kate a photo of the project she created using the farm eggs…IMG_2609.JPGWow! This is the art of Pysanka, a Ukrainian egg decorating technique which is not unlike Batik, using wax and dye to create colorful designs on the shells. Mandy says this was her first experience using a brown egg for this technique but we all think it turned out rather well! I can’t wait to get Mandy to share more info on this when she gets time.

Wishing I had more time in the day but I did manage to provide the Artery with a new product recently. The owner, Kim, has been the recipient of my home made granola for years and calls it the Crack Cocaine of snack foods. I sent over the first 5 jars last week and she sold out immediately! I have since sent over another 6 jars for sale in addition to more pickles and jams!IMG_2514.JPGCoulter has kept us active all spring with visits to the local parks. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17ebe.jpgHe was oh so happy recently to find that the zoo train is now back in action!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f14.jpgFinally, a shout out to our neighbor, Luis, who celebrated his 89th birthday on Wednesday. We delivered a small carton of eggs, much to his delight!


Spring Hopes…Eternal!

Goodness, it seems as if Spring has sprung here at the farm and despite the fact that the calendar still says winter, Mother Nature promises to continue marching along these same spring-type lines all next week as well with day time temps predicted to be in the mid seventies. Although there are plenty of other things to worry about, (such as the required number of days below freezing that the blueberries require for production purposes!) we decided to just go along with our activities this weekend (its not as if we can launch a protest or a defiant march or anything!) and act as if it were actually March (instead of mid February).

We stubbornly persist in all our efforts here at the farm with a popular little motto, ‘hope springs eternal’, as we constantly go back to square one to try and get things ‘right‘ or ‘even more right‘ each year. Today Dave so aptly turned this adage around by saying to me in an “oh well, here we go again” sort of way – with fingers crossed – as he started plowing the fields, ‘I guess Spring hopes eternal!’ something I found so endearing and can identify with in every way! I guess we can only hope that the promise of this early spring is eternal and doesn’t go fickle on us! To that I say, hope springs eternal!

So, today we harvested the last of the fall spinach and will give this late crop directly to the chicks in several batches since we expect these leaves to be less tender than we prefer to eat ourselves. IMG_2287.JPGWe also finally harvested the Brussels Sprouts that love the cold weather but benefited from the added protection of a cold frame for the last several months. Here are a mass of plants…IMG_2442.JPGAnd some details of the lovely buds we can’t wait to roast. I cut the leaf matter away and will feed it to the chicks in the coming days. IMG_2441.JPGThe fields are very dry right now so Dave was able to take advantage of this situation to spread an application of lime today followed by tilling everything under in a pre-plowing phase, something that is usually too wet to do with such large machinery at this juncture. Because of the dryness and the lime application, he wisely wore a kerchief while rumbling thru the fields today on the tractor churning in months of chicken poop fertilizer as he went! IMG_2455.JPGThe bees also continue to take advantage of all this warm weather but will find very little in natural food sources so today I gave them some pollen patties. Yummy, right? It turns out that they are much like other active athletes and could use some carbs when there is so little viable food outside at this point in the year. So I supplied them with some purchased pollen from my bee supplier. I hope they enjoy this supplement and continue to thrive despite the crazy weather.

This weekend was also celebratory as Saturday was the opening day for the Seven Oaks Farm & Orchard Egg Subscription! Yay! I hinted at this in the previous post but it came to fruition yesterday when after much coordination with friends, family and neighbors we endeavored to find a way to distribute 7 dozen eggs on a weekly or bi-weekly basis (we have held back sufficient numbers for ourselves) so as to share our lovely eggs. Here is how it worked. Those who have signed up come to the screen porch of the barn on Saturdays between 8-11am to fill the ceramic egg crates that I have supplied. Here is the tray of crates with a money jar and log book in case I’m not around. IMG_2379.JPGSubscribers fill their crates to take home with these lovely, colorful eggs that are set out on another table. I think there are those who enjoy the thrill of selecting their eggs a la carte this way and learning more about where their food (eggs) come from.   IMG_2375.jpgOne enthusiastic subscriber communicated with me that she hoped we could work on an egg subscriber cookbook! A gal after my own heart…Sue and I will plan to work on this in the future!

Today was another Full House or Royal Flush of egg laying with all seventeen hens providing us with a daily egg for the 3rd time this month. Yay!

As the chicks are now at a peak laying time they seem to have out grown the initial 3 nesting boxes which I’ve been watching out for crowding as things progressed. Here they are in a stadium style line of gals waiting for the “bathroom”. In a typical early morning rush to lay, you can see eight of them vying for 3 spots with some already doubling up in some boxes if you look closely!IMG_2130.jpgWe decided to add two more nest boxes to alleviate the crowding. One is an official wooden box that we place each morning on the drop box where the New Hampshire chick so consistently wanted to lay her eggs in the past. The decision to put a moveable box there during the day has become very popular as illustrated by the cluster of eggs from various hens laid here! This nest is called #5 in our record books. IMG_2280.JPGThe other nest is one we bought and is the least appealing to me since it is a plastic form that one can hang from the wall with 4 screws, but despite my snobbery, it has also become very popular with the girls, perhaps due to the darkness it provides them. We placed it under the drop board across the doorway from the original nests and it is nest #4 in the record book. IMG_2008.JPGOf course Seven Oaks Farm eggs played a part in little Coulter’s Valentines Day as I prepared little packages for him to give to his play group teachers that day in addition to the ones he made with his mom and dad for his classmates. He handed each teacher a bag containing a heart shaped egg crate full of colorful eggs, no less! IMG_2332.JPGHere he is busily considering the contents of his Valentines bag…IMG_2339.JPGAnd happily out for a walk with Nana and Gramps in his ‘chickie sweater”, no less! IMG_2346.JPG

Shakshuka (Gazoontite) and Other Yummy Egg Recipes!

Hello, February, or is this May? Where is winter?

Yesterday’s temperature here was 74 degrees! How nice for everyone who visited the zoo, local parks or just got out for a walk but yikes, how will our orchard react to this spike in temperatures? Our blueberry plants require a certain number of days below freezing for good production which is now concerning when the climate is so topsy turvy but more worrisome than that, we do not want to trick all the fruit trees into thinking it is time to bud out. Yikes! Indicative of that, the bees are out and about looking for food and there are reports from other local beekeepers that they are already bringing in pollen in our area which is at least 6 weeks ahead of schedule. If only this was exciting news but I fear it could backfire.

I got this tidbit of bee info after spending all of yesterday (from 8am til 5pm) at a local beekeeping seminar with presenters from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. (No, that is not a typo, but just try pronouncing that fun word!) It was interesting to hear the Canadian beekeepers describe their scientific experiments (which included isolating bee colonies on two islands for genetic breeding purposes) but it didn’t really relate as much to our experiences here since they are not only in a dramatically different weather climate but also adhere to vastly different government rules and regulations that determine which pesticides/herbicides can be used in their agriculture AND what treatments they are allowed to use on their bees for the current diseases affecting the bee population.

The state of our US bees (diseases, fungi, and other colony collapse issues) is such that although Canadians welcome refugees from all over the world, (YAY CANADA!) they long ago closed their borders on the importation of our bees so the only kind that cross their border are the ones that fly  across! Despite my whining, I’m fortunate to get some real-time, continuing beekeeping education and look forward to the coming season when we hope to expand our bee yard.

I can’t tell you how many people try to console us with the idea that this must be the time of year when we take a vacation from the farm. The limited number of daylight hours somewhat restricts our outdoor activities, and yet we are still pretty busy here. Besides the ongoing maintenance of equipment and grounds, our two major winter initiatives have been building the retaining wall on the north side of the barn for the new gravel access road and preparing for the expansion of the deer fencing along the north and south property lines.

Fencing: In order to replace the existing 903 foot expanse of North/South fencing with new deer fencing, we have been clearing the existing fence line of 30 plus years of overgrowth. Dave has been working on this tirelessly and I join in when I can but as you can see, it is tedious at best.  IMG_2316.JPGIMG_2312.JPGHere is an example of the stubborn over growth entwined in the fence after we chopped away as best we could. We are carting away piles and piles of debris from this project. IMG_2317.JPGWalls: The wall we are building is on the north side of the access road next to the barn. Our friend, Jon Lanaghan wears so many hats in our lives as he is our talented arborist but also knows enough about masonry to help us build this stone retaining wall.  Here he is recently getting the base of the wall established, moving about 4 tons of rock in one day. img_2064From what looked like a huge rock pile, he created a baseline for a wall! img_2078And demonstrated how these 82 pound blocks could be hefted from one spot to another with relative ease using the proper tools. img_2076While all this fencing and wall building is taking place, I can tell you that the chickens have been hard at work as well. We have now experienced a “Full House” meaning that each hen laid one egg in a single day providing the 17 colorful eggs you see below. (Hens will normally lay one egg every 26-30 hours so given that cycle, you cannot expect an egg each day per hen for any longer than a two week span at most.) Here is what the excitement of that looks like…and we had this TRIFECTA twice in the first week of February, so what do I know? Best of all is the ceramic tile of our prep kitchen back splash in the background of the photo, illustrating wee chicks flapping about! img_2069We are now selling eggs both at The Artery and to friends and neighbors alike. Subscriptions are now available on a limited, first come, first serve basis so that we can consistently provide to those who are interested.   img_2065Besides being so prolific in the egg department, I find our hens to be artistic as well…here is the impression they left for me this morning as a wing span imprint in the inevitable dust of the nest box lid in the coop…it is almost archeological in nature…or something one might see on an ancient wall in a cave in France?  IMG_2311.JPGCooking with eggs is a current passion of mine and I’m finding some recipes to be regional favorites such as one called Shakshuka. Despite being a wonderfully fun word to say, it is not the sound that you make when you sneeze, but rather a dish of North African origin that is often associated with Israeli cooking. It is another example of incorporating eggs into the lunch or dinner menu. I found various versions of this simple dish and followed one from Molly on the Range despite finding similar ones from favorite sources  Yottam and Smitten Kitchen.

Each version brings me inspiration in that I find alternative ingredients that basically sends the message that one should make a veggie ‘stew’ that simmers on the stove top to which one adds freshly cracked eggs that then simmer in the sauce until baked. No matter which veggies ones uses, the outcome is a flexible feast that uses what one has on hand along with some middle eastern (yet common) spices, topped by the cracking of some eggs; something that nearly defines me as I stand at my stove these days.

So, the easiest way to share this is to link the New York Times recipe so as not to violate copy writes of the recipes from Molly’s or Yottam’s books. Yes, they vary in interesting ways…Molly adds Israeli couscous which we loved for the added oomph at dinner time.

Nearly all versions start out with sauteing onions and adding spices before the addition of the other veggies and stewing a bit on the stove top. Here is my version after adding the couscous which has been fragrantly simmering and was ready for the eggs. IMG_2030.JPGNot all recipes add feta, but OMG, what a favorite of my mine…how can you lose…so here it is with a bit of feta and parsley. The eggs simmer in the sauce and become amazing bits for each plate after a round of time in the oven! I shared a skillet of this with the Wards with good reviews. Shakshuka, gazoontite! IMG_2029.JPGI also experimented with a simple combo of eggs/cheese/ham that I shared with the Wards recently which they now call “Eggie Yum Yum”. This general recipe can be found on line here and is so simple to adopt using other ingredients you might have on hand. I started out with ramekins lined with Canadian bacon…IMG_2088.JPGAdded the sauteed onion and spinach…IMG_2090.JPGThen the eggs on top followed by some of the cheese…IMG_2091.JPGThen cooked for several minutes and viola! IMG_2094.JPGServed with cheesy garlic bread! Yum!IMG_2095.JPGLittle Coulter is happily enjoying all that spring has to offer. We don’t want to take advantage of his good nature when it comes to helping out on the farm, but he seems to think that collecting gum balls is a bit of fun…we won’t break his bubble on this just yet! (The scraping sound is Dave’s rake on the asphalt!)

We also took him to the recent members’ day opening of the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood exhibit at the local Magic House and I’m afraid we miss judged the crowd size and he was one among hundreds of little ones trying to get a handshake with the Neighborhood friends and it was pretty intimidating…for him and for us! Ugga mugga!  IMG_2194.JPGIMG_2213.JPG

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