Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

Farmer's Market Day, Chicken and Dumplings and Incubating Eggs

12:38 AM
Yesterday was Farmer's Market Day.  To my surprise, the woman who sells bison was there, so I picked up two mock tender steaks and three pounds of bison hamburger.  I also bought green beans, bacon, garlic, cherries (Flathead cherries are late this year), a melon that is called "Sinful" which is a cross between a cantaloupe and honeydew, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, peaches, salad mix, kale, butter, celery, zucchini, eggplant, sugar snap peas, corn and carrots.

One of the tricks of going to the farmer's market is to know who sells what.  There are families who sell the same produce or similar produce and the prices may be similar or a few cents either direction.  What they hope is that you'll be in such a hurry that you won't shop and thus will buy the highest marked items first.  The highest marked items are usually on the ends, but not always.  Certain things like fruit, eggs and cheeses tend to be rarer and people are quick to buy them out.  So, it helps to arrive early and figure it all out.  Of course, I never arrive early, but I do recognize certain folks and shop first for the rare items, like fruit and meat, and then shop for the vegetables.  The other trick is to know the pricing between the two markets.  Fruits and vegetables are almost always cheaper at the Higgins Market.  The Clark Fork market vendors tend to price produce higher there, but that's where you get your meats and cheeses.  So, it's kind of a trade off.  I go to both and don't dally.  The quicker I can make sure I have food is to see what's new and popular.  Even so, I get smacked a bit.  Last year, for example, I waited until the huckleberries dropped to $35 for 5 lbs.  They had a bumper crop that year and ended up selling them for $20/5 lbs.  I ended up buying a second 5 lb bag.  This year, it looks like we're going to have a shortened season.  Good thing I have some frozen huckleberries from last year.

Tonight I made my Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings for dinner.  It was just perfect for a cold August day (the temperatures only got to 56F today).  Autumn is around the corner.

Speaking of chickens, I'm getting about 5 eggs a day from my girls, which is really cool.  Eventually, when the Buff Orpingtons come on line, I should be getting about 15 eggs a day.  Enough to sell some eggs.  Assuming everything goes okay, the eggs in the incubator should be hatching in the next few days.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Farmer's Market Day

2:41 PM
Saturday I went to the Farmer's Market.  I loaded up on fruits and vegetables which included salad mix, fennel, celery, carrots, onions, green beans, purple beans, cantaloupe, strawberries, Flathead cherries, zucchini, basil, potatoes (red, purple and yellow), green peppers and cucumbers.

I was so glad to see Dixon Melons here with their cantaloupes.  The family suffered a horrible year with a robbery and then a couple of hailstorms.  I heard from another farmer at the farmer's market that the Hetticks are only going to sell their melons at the Farmer's Market because of the loss.  I let the folks there at the market know our support. 

I went over to the Pet Expo thing over at Caras Park to see if PetsMart was there this year.  Last year, they were handing out free stuff toys.  Unfortunately they weren't there, but I did pick up a free tennis ball, a free flying disc and a dog cookie that I shared with Kira and Kodiak.

Thoughts About the Salmonella Scare

12:38 AM
By now, you're probably checking your egg cartons over the entire salmonella/egg thing.  Some of you are probably sighing and thinking that it isn't a big deal because you cook your eggs.  (Yes, I know -- I cook my eggs too).

Hawk, my lovely Easter Egger
I think the main issue with salmonella isn't that people eat raw eggs (although some do), but that there's 1.  a basic problem with what constitutes a cooked egg and 2.  the chance for cross contamination.  I don't like overdone eggs, just like I don't like overdone meat -- and yet, if you follow the government's guidelines for what constitutes "safe food," you'll get well done steaks and hamburger and rubbery eggs.  I like my eggs "over easy" and don't like them cooked the way the government tells me to cook them. 

The second and more important point is the problem with cross contamination.  When you handle eggs, do you wash your hands all the time after touching them?  What about touching the egg and then touching the handle to the spatula?  Do you wash the utensils you use while cooking so that a less cooked portion of the egg doesn't contaminate the cooked portions?  You might, but I would bet a lot of people aren't as careful.

Growing up, I don't remember so many food poisoning scares.  I ate eggs sunny side up and rare steaks and never got sick from them.  Only when the food was switched from small farms to big agricultural businesses did I notice a problem with the quality of meats and produce.  I kept switching stores back when we lived in Colorado in the hopes of getting meat that we wouldn't get ill off of.  When I moved to Montana, my husband and I pretty much stopped getting food poisoning when I started buying food from local farmers. 

I have tried to stay away from big business food stores and to buy organic.  I find that organic and local food tastes better, is fresher, and we're less likely to have problems with it.  I understand the need for large food distribution systems and the need to feed a large number of people, but the engineer in me is frustrated over our agricultural systems' single points of failure which puts the entire country at risk when something goes wrong. 

I don't have an answer for the world, but I do have an answer for myself -- and that is my own chickens.  The eggs are awesome and the meat is just as good.  And I know how they've been handled.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Egg Recall and Eggs from the Barred Rocks

6:15 PM
Barred Rock (speckled black and white) hen
Since we're in the midst of the largest egg recall in history, a friend of mine asked me to weigh in on how to choose eggs.  So I wrote an article on Buying Eggs -- Avoid the Egg Recall and Salmonella Tainted Eggs.  One thing that people forget in all this is that if the eggs are cooked until rubbery, there's little or no chance of getting salmonella.  The problem is that people don't like overcooked eggs and quite often the salmonella can be passed to the food through utensils, hands and whatnot.  So, check out the article and digg it if you feel in the mood.

On another note, one of my Barred Rock hens laid a beautiful brown egg for me this morning.  Not one of those tiny pullet eggs, oh no.  This one was about the size of a large brown egg.  I took a picture of it today next to the Easter Egger and a Extra Large store egg for comparison. From left to right: Easter Egger, Barred Rock and Store Bought.  I was thrilled, but I don't get out much.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Clueless In Montana

6:22 PM
Somehow, I thought it'd be a good idea to incubate eggs.  Then, the insanity passed but not before I found myself with about 20 eggs in an incubator.

Barnevelder Chicken from FeatherSite.com
You can read about the thought process HERE.  Basically, I started thinking how wonderful it would be to have a kind of chicken called a Barnevelder.  I got it in my head when my chicken crack dealer friend offered me some Barnevelders because I wanted chickens with dark eggs.  Well, after she lost her Barnevelders to a fox, I looked online and short of hatching them, I figured it was impossible to find them.  So, I bought an incubator on Ebay.

Then, I went looking for Barnevelder eggs, only no one seemed to have them.  Many folks recommended French Black Copper Marans (FBCM). These birds lay very dark, chocolate colored eggs, which is a bit of a novelty.  Combined with the fact that I have Easter Eggers, breeding them to FBCMs will produce a bird that lays an olive colored egg.  Way too cool.
FBCMs from FeatherSite.com
 But again, there's that niggling problem of getting the birds.  Husband, bless his heart, doesn't know a Maran from a Rhode Island Red and can't imagine why I would breed such birds.  Well, they're cool and they're more what I'm looking for.  And they have feathered feet, which is an oddity. 

So, the problem was trying to purchase eggs for the incubator.  A couple of bids on Ebay won me Marans eggs of various breeds including blue and cuckoo as well as FBCMs.  I also picked up Blue Orpingtons -- since I like the Buff Orpingtons.  So. that will be my flock: Easter Eggers, Marans and Orpingtons.  My current flock of Rhode Island Reds, Black Sex Links, Gold Sex Links and Barred Plymouth Rocks will lay eggs for me for the next couple years while I phase in the chicks -- assuming any hatch out. 

As I said, sheer insanity.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Soup is Good Food, History and Hedgehogs

3:18 PM
Campbells Soup got it right when they said, "Soup is good food."

Today, I cut up a chicken for oven fried chicken tonight and tossed the back and what was left of the wings into the soup pot for broth. I also added another chicken breast and thighs from another chicken and added celery, onions, carrots, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, bouquet garni and some salt and pepper.  Of course, I added water and let it simmer.

I started thinking as I was tossing in the leftover carcass that I should do this more rather than buy the organic/free range chicken broth at more than $3 a quart.  I mean, for darn near nothing, I get a couple of gallons of broth that I can cook with that costs just some containers and refrigeration/freezing.

This little guy was on the dinner menu thousands of years ago.
My husband, bless his heart, looked in the pot and frowned.  "It doesn't look appetizing, does it?" I asked.  He agreed it didn't.  And I started to think about how our ancestors figured out that if you boil something long enough that doesn't look that tasty ends up making something tasty.  At some point in prehistory, someone was cooking something in a pot and figured it out.  Maybe it was just a happy accident. 

According to the British newspaper, the Telegraph, soup and stews have been around a very long time.  Called pottage, it is a very thick soup or stew, which suggests that broth is probably older yet.  Other foods that have come from ancient times include pancakes and barley bread. But there are certainly odder foods like hedgehog and meat pudding, which just goes to show that our tastes have changed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Poultry Articles and Egg Update

1:20 AM
 For those of you who don't know -- and for those of you who do -- I write articles as part of my "day job" to make money.  These articles are totally free for you to view and it would please me if you would click on them and take a look.  I do get paid per click, if you need extra incentive.  Post them and pass them along, if you feel the urge.

Free Poultry Articles
Waiting for that First Egg from Your Chickens

Low Cost Ideas for Chicken Nests

Feeding Wild Ducks

Feeding Broiler Chickens

How to Build an Outdoor Free-Range Shelter for Turkeys

Percher and One of the Barred Rocks
Today, I caught Percher, a second Easter Egger, in the act of laying.  She was lying down in one of my cheap nest boxes and I slid my hand underneath to see if she laid an egg.  She didn't.  I removed my hand and she stood up slightly and I heard a plop!  Then, there it was: her first-ever egg!  It, too, is a light greenish-blue like MIFChick's eggs.  When I came back from town, I found MIFChick sitting on her own egg.  So, now I have two egg layers.

I suspect that my next egg layers will be Ginger, a golden-laced Easter Egger and Enforcer and Watcher, my two Barred Rock gals who are acting like they're going to lay. Both chickens were supposed to be black sex links, but when I realized they were barred (technically a barred black sex link is a rooster), I thought I had roosters.  Then, when they were old enough, I had some other chicken owners look at the pictures and they confirmed Watcher and Enforcer were Barred Plymouth Rock pullets and not roosters.  For a while, I thought Enforcer might be a rooster in disguise, but her current behavior is all hen, not rooster, and she doesn't have the rooster saddle feathers.  I know I'll be getting eggs from her.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Covert Chicken Deals, Incubators and Other Oddities

2:19 AM
Well, you just never know.

The guy who contacted me about the leghorns had some funky music on his voicemail and called his business something "greens" -- which I incorrectly assumed in my naivete was a grocery store.  We agreed to meet in front of a grocery store we both knew.

The dude was a hippie with dreads, which I totally expected, and brought along a stern looking Russian guy who looked like he could crush a steel pipe in his hands.  The Russian guy was okay and, as I discovered, like birds.  The hippie guy worked (I think) for a medical marijuana store, hence the groovy music and the "greens" -- not to mention the logo on his shirt.  (ahem).  When I took the birds out, both guys went into cooing mode (it's amazing how animals can turn even the sternest folks into big softies).  I explained the types of birds, why they were small and that they would grow and they should expect eggs anytime.  The Russian guy told me he had owned birds when I was asked if they flew and I showed them that I had clipped their wings.  It seems the hippie dude was buying them for his wife and was amazed at how beautiful they were.  They were already naming the birds as I took them out.

Marans Eggs
The hippie guy was short a dollar, but his friend gave me the extra dollar and they took the birds and I pocketed the money. 

That's good, because on the same day, I got 12 Blue Copper Marans, Black Copper Marans, Cuckoo Marans and Blue Orpington eggs in the mail.  They're sitting in the incubator as I write.  Who knows if they'll hatch proper?  These are chocolate egg layers.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Leghorns, Marans and Flock Management

11:57 PM
The two leghorns
Today I received an email and subsequent phone call from someone wanting to buy the two leghorns. That's a relief, because it means that I'm pricing the birds to sell and still making some money on them for all the work I've done to get them to this age.  The reality is that even though leghorns are great egg producers, they're not what I'm looking for in a chicken program.

White leghorns are the chickens that lay the white eggs that you see in the grocery store.  While I have brown leghorns, these birds will eventually lay white eggs and lay a lot.  Like most Mediterranean chicken breeds, they're not particularly friendly and they're lightweight, making them not exactly suitable for chicken dinners.  While my late mom would only eat eggs with white shells, I'm learning how valuable it is to have calmer brown and blue egg layers.  I guess I like birds I can handle without feeling like I've just abused them.  I hear that once they start laying, they calm down, but I'm starting to think they're not staying in my program.

Leghorns are very good in confinement and won't sit on their eggs (hence excellent production egg layers).  They are lightweight egg producing machines.  While there is something to be said for that, I think I've come up with the breeds I really want.  These breeds include Orpingtons (Buff and other colors), Easter Eggers and Marans.  The Orpingtons are dual purpose chickens that lay brown eggs.  Easter Eggers lay green and blue and Marans, also dual purpose, lay chocolate colored eggs.  What's more, you cross a Marans rooster with Easter Eggers and you get Olive Egger chicks.  (They lay olive colored eggs).  Very cool!

Why raise chickens that lay different colored eggs?  Well, I think it's a bit of a novelty.  When you can show people that your eggs look different from eggs they buy in the store or eggs that they might buy from other farms, I think it's a selling point.  I also think it's kind of cool to plan on owning different color breeds because they're just naturally more attractive.  Plus the personalities of the birds are a big plus.  Now that my Easter Eggers are laying and getting close to laying, they're settling down and becoming very friendly.  Orpingtons are known for their friendliness and my Buffs are very sweet.  As for Marans, well, I will be getting some eggs to try to hatch.  Hopefully, we'll get some decent chicks.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Farmer's Market Day, Crispy Fried Muskrat and Cherry Muffins

2:45 PM
Flathead Cherries are the Best
Yesterday was Farmer's Market day, which meant it was time for me to get food.  At the same time, there was a antiques and weapons show we wanted to go to, so I had to hurry up and make dinner for Saturday night, which was throwing a chicken in the crockpot for chicken and dumplings (I will write up my recipe later), and hurrying off to the market.

We arrived late, but that didn't mean I didn't get good stuff.  Flathead cherries are in full swing, which means that everyone is selling them and the prices are dropping.  Cherries are about $2 a pound and you can get a big bag for $5.  With so many cherries, you either have to freeze them or make something out of them.  I made some yummy Flathead Cherry Muffins.  They're great.

I also picked up cheese, butter, lettuce, sugar snap peas, green beans, purple beans, red new potatoes, strawberries and carrots.

At the show, there was a vendor selling basic homesteading books from Storey publications.  I picked up three on making homemade wine (I'm going to break down and make mead again), game recipes and quickbread recipes.  Under the game recipes, they had a bunch of small game recipes that included Squirrel Skillet Pie, Roasted Raccoon, Barbecued Opossum and, yes, Crispy Fried Muskrat.  Now, I'm not against eating game, or even small game, but I think I would be pretty hungry to fry up a muskrat.  I'm just saying.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eggs from MIFChick

1:48 PM
Too much excitement -- or maybe EGG-citement, as the case may be.  This morning, I went down to the coop and MIFChick was pacing around to find a nest and sounding very upset.  I came back up to the house and later, when I came back down I saw an egg bigger than the extra-large eggs I bought at the store.  Wow, no wonder MIFChick was upset!  She had to feel better after laying that.  Poor girl -- she suffers for her art.

MIFChick's giant egg left--the brown is an X-Large for comparison
MIFChick has produced 4 pullet eggs and one normal sized (well, giant, actually) egg.  Yesterday, I scrambled up the eggs and had them for breakfast.  They were yummy. 
MIFChick is what is typically called an Easter Egger, which is a mutt bird that most people incorrectly call an Ameraucana or an Araucana (both are established breeds).  Easter Eggers can lay all sorts of colors, which makes them popular among enthusiasts because the color is a novelty.  Ameraucanas and Araucanas lay blue or green eggs.  MIFChick obviously has the blue gene and is laying blue eggs, which is very cool.  If you're wondering about the purple on her feathers, as a chick, the geese harassed her and pulled out her tail feathers.  I put some blue stuff on (that keeps chicks from picking on the skin) and it's still on some of her feathers.  She'll eventually grow back tail feathers, which is okay for now.  So far, as far as I can tell, MIFChick is the only chicken laying.  I thought maybe Percher was laying, but if she is, she isn't doing it with the frequency of MIFChick. 
MIFChick's pullet eggs -- X-Large store eggs are on the right

As you can see from the four pullet eggs on the left, they're smaller than my store-bought ones.  Young chickens will lay several "test" eggs before laying eggs of a normal size.  Even so, the pullet eggs are just fine. These are the eggs I scrambled up for breakfast yesterday.

Monday, August 2, 2010

An Egg! An Egg!

12:32 AM
It finally happened!  MIFChick, who is my most mature hen of the group, gave me a welcome home present!  An egg!  Not a huge egg, but a blue smallish egg.  It was well-formed with a nice shell and sitting in the corner. 

Young chickens, known as pullets, will lay small "test" eggs before producing bigger eggs in the size we're used to.  Her other buddies, Ginger, MaryAnn (yeah, named for Gilligan's Island) and Percher are all pretty psyched.  The loopy leghorns are also making dinosaur noises, so I should expect to see white eggs too in the near future.  The brown egg layers are making noises too, so I suspect we'll see some eggs in their pen. 

MIFChick will continue to produce blue eggs because that's her egg color.  Chickens won't change colors of their eggs, so a brown egg layer will  lay brown eggs; a green egg layer will lay green eggs.

On another note, I've discovered why Crooked Toes, the rooster doesn't crow much.  The barred rock hen  (who is getting the name,  Enforcer) hates crowing.  She goes right after Crooked Toes if he crows and pecks him.  She gives him the ugly velociraptor impression, raising her hackles and launching at him.  It's really funny to watch.