Sunday, September 25, 2011

Free Range

Our experiment of free ranging our chickens last week was a semi-success! The chickens stayed fairly close and went right back into the pen. We did have to herd them in, following them with a rod. I think they see the rod and remember the crook Mr. Ireland used to transfer them to the big pen, which they disliked very much. Whatever the reason, they see a stick or pole and immediately run into the coop!

The reason I call it a "semi-success" is because I let them out again the next day and they wandered off! Here's what happened....

It was a lovely fall day. The sun was out, the grass was crisp and frost free. I was so pleased with how well the chicken's previous day out had gone that I decided to let them out again. They gladly galloped out of the pen. Convinced they would stay in rather close proximity to their coop, I went back indoors. I continued my day, making lunch for the kids, tackling home school projects....

Three hours later, I realized I had forgotten the chickens! I flew out the front door, ran around to the back yard and they were gone! I checked in the coop "Maybe they're all roosting," I said to myself, "it is very warm out today." The coop was empty. I started to panic and began frantically running around the house, looking for any trace of chickens - a cluck, a feather, a pile of feathers... I worried that they had been eaten or carried off, but I reminded myself that there were 12 chickens, and it wasn't likely that all 12 had met their demise. Then I wondered "Would a neighbor steal my chickens?" I doubted it, and continued to search. Our chickens are very noisy. Where could they be?

I ran down the driveway and made my way to my closest neighbor's house. She has 2 dogs and if those dogs were out, my chickens were in major trouble! I shouted up the driveway, announcing myself, hoping not to encounter the pit bull or the German shepherd at the front door, and notified my my neighbor that all of my chickens were out. She assured me the dogs had been in for quite a while and she hadn't seen or heard any chickens. At this point, I became very concerned with what Mr. Ireland would say when he came home. Oh, he would be so upset! He had spent so much time preparing the coop and fence and now I had come along and set the silly birds free!

I came back to the back yard, hoping to see them poking around the other out buildings. They were not. As I approached the coop and pen, I realized that I had not checked behind the coop. Walking just past the back of the coop, I caught a glimpse of feathers through the bushes. Could they be wandering in the woods? I followed the little trail through the adjacent acre and there, halfway down the path, were all of our chickens! They were flocked together, snacking on berries and lichens, a delicious feast I am sure. I found the crook and after 15 minutes of chasing then through bushes, managed to get them back into their pen.

I am so glad that we didn't lose a chicken to an eagle or dog! I will not be letting them out again. They can have a bigger pen next summer. I'll fence in the whole dang yard and they can eat grass until they pop! That's about as free range as it will get.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Egg hunt

We are trying something new today. Letting the chickens free range in the back yard. Now you might think that this is a fine idea for chickens. If you live in the Midwest or keep a coop in the suburbs of a large city, this might not be a problem. Here in Alaska though, many chickens fall victim to bears while in their coop! Letting them wander about offers the chickens a buffet of grass, yarrow and nettles, sure, but their wandering could provide a buffet for predators! I was feeling sorry for them in their pen - they pecked the enclosed area clear of grass and leaves in the first few days! It may be that we extend the enclosure. The chickens are fairly well trained to go into the coop at night, and I think that they will stick close to their pen.

I thought you might get a chuckle out of the chicken's names. They have been named by the children:

Goldilocks - gold Auracana
Victor- the rooster that we originally named Violet
High Flier - middle sized Rhode Island (R.I) hen
Cinderella - smallest R.I. hen
Ms. Hawkins - white Auracana hen
Lucy - only Golden Wyndotte hen
Buck and Jack - Wyndotte Roosters
Percy - R.I. with lightest coloring
Toby - R.I. with yellow on her back
April -smallest R.I. hen
Shiloh - R.I. hen
Ninja - grey Auracana

One of the hens likes to sit on her eggs. I think it is Percy. She is not quite what I would call "broody", but she will probably sit very well in the spring. I suspect she is the hen laying 2 eggs a day, since I find her sitting on two almost every day. She refuses to let the boys move her and I have to go out to the coop and take her out of the nesting box. Prior to the nesting boxes being installed, she was laying in a corner. When I mucked out the coop, I found two more eggs buried in the layers of hay! She is going to make a good mother hen.

(Above, Callen making hot dog buns)

(Liam and Verity in the crib; Eddie reading to his brother and sister)

There is so much going on around here. I'll be back soon with some good stories and pictures (that actually . Hang in there, fall is nearly finished!

A Day in the Life..... a peak into my kitchen

Today, my kitchen looks like a science lab. On one counter I have a large pot of milk inoculating, another pot of whey waiting to be recooked for ricotta cheese and a stand mixer with a dirty mixing bowl that was used to beat egg whites. Dinner is cooking on the stove, tortillas frying in coconut oil, black beans and ground beef melding with some onions in another pan. On another counter sits a tub of cheese curds, draining into a pie pan, with a plate and jar of salmon sitting on top as an improvised cheese press. And out on the back porch, an old electric ice cream maker is loudly spinning goats milk, cream and vanilla bean into dessert. Its been a busy day in the manor!

From this description, you might think that we have a spacious kitchen, and wall to wall counter tops. I assure you, it is far from it. It is a crowded and over worked space, currently holding 2 refrigerators, one of which is blocking a window and blocking out the day light. My cabinets hold more small appliances than I would care to admit I have. Because there are so many, several of the large, less used pieces are relegated to other areas of the house - the basement storage shelves, the bureau in the dining room. Some of the upper cabinets are screwed together, and screwed to the ceiling, because we found that some of them are not fastened to the wall correctly! I can't complain too much though - I do have a working gas range. Yeah, maybe it only has one oven rack, but it bakes a pie.

My kitchen is the center of my home. I cook to show my family how much I love them - birthday cakes, beef wellington, home made ice cream. These are my love letters to my family. Give me a working coffee pot and a dishwasher and I am pretty happy! It's my creative space. Someday it will be remodeled and perhaps become the kitchen of my dreams, but for now, I make it work.

I'm sharing this to encourage those who might feel like their hands are tied - their kitchen is tiny, only has a hot plate and a microwave, no dishwasher. Whatever the situation is, you can cook delicious, healthy foods for your family. Make use of what you have and try to enjoy the food itself, not the process.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sabbath Egg

We recieved our first little egg this morning! Edward was the lucky finder of the egg. We cracked it open and it had two little yolks! We made french toast with it so everyone could say they ate the first egg.

Our little egg next to a store bought "large" egg; two little yolks!

I have a secret to share -our children primarily care for the chickens. Every day each boy does their part: Callen brings them grain and feed, Brody brings kitchen scraps and weeds from the garden, and Eddie hauls their water and scrubs the dispenser. Eddie is also the one who lets the chickens out in the morning and shuts them in at night, so he has the privilege of bringing in the eggs. Mr. Ireland and I change out straw and check on the birds every other day. We don't expect the children to look for health problems. Caring for the chickens is a responsibility that we all share.

Having chickens is very educational too. Our littlest boy, Liam, can crow just like a rooster! He is very loud. We have also had some interesting conversations about where eggs come from, how chicks get in the eggs, and why the roosters jump on the backs of the hens! There is nothing that teaches children about mating like keeping animals!

Here are some photos from the early part of September. Verity is growing quickly - she is starting to reach for everything and watches me when I eat. I am trying to hold out on feeding her solids until she is 6 months, something I find hard to do when the baby is watching every bite I take.

The other pictures are of Edward holding an enormous mushroom found in the woods. It was so big we could see it from the dining room, growing an easy one hundred feet from the house to its dark hiding place down the hill. The boys tolerate my mushroom forays. They lost interest in identifying them, but they will still come pick them with me. I just love to find out what they are. We have yet to eat what we find, but that is because I am usually pregnant or nursing an infant and I don't think it is wise to try new mushrooms in those circumstances. I also refuse to feed them to others without trying them myself. We are very good at identifying a couple of choice edibles and may be ready next year. I have found a few mushrooms on our new property that I have never found before and I am so excited. Some of them can be used as dye, something that I will try this winter with the specimens I dried after picking. I also went to one of the clinics at the local mushroom festival yesterday and learned how to grow oyster mushrooms at home. I'll share results when I get around to these projects.

All of these were found on our property! The white one on the right had an icy cold root (stipe) - odd.

Hope you are having a wonderful fall. I was told that the first official day of fall for Alaska is today. I know seasons usually are marked by an equinox, but the seasons shift much earlier here. The trees and I think that it feels like fall, don't you?