First jam 

First jam at the new house! 

Blueberry peach jam

– Equal parts blueberry and overripe peaches, blend/mash. 

– measure fruit mixture and add equal parts sugar (i.e.: 4 cups of fruit needs 4 cups of sugar) 

– add 1.5 tbsp of pectin per 1 1/3 cups fruit (so 6 tbsp for 4 cups of fruit) 

– add all to pot. Once it reaches a rolling boil set timer for 5 minutes. To test of your jam is ready to can, drop a small spoonful on a cold plate. If it sets, so will your jam. If it runs down the place when tilted it needs more boiling time.

– add to jars to process or freeze. 

Apple crisp 

Apple crisp

Mix ingredients below and press lightly into an oven safe dish:

  • 6 apples, peeled and chopped 
  • 1 tbsp flour 
  • 2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg 

In a clean bowl mix together, then add to the apple mix as a topping:

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup flour 
  • 1 cup quick cook oats 
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 tsp cinnamon 

Bake at 350 for ~40 mins 

Chicken Marsala

I had this dish at a vow renewal reception and had to make it at home. Hope my brood will eat it!

Chicken Marsala

  • 8-12 boness/skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup flour (for dredging)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 packs fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2/3rd cup marsala cooking wine
  • 2/3rd cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, chopped

Dry boneless/skinless chicken thighs in a paper towel, and drudge (coat) in flour. Saute chicken in a bit of olive oil until cooked, turning once. In a clean pan mix chopped onions and sliced mushrooms with salt and pepper. Add chopped artichike hearts. Once cooked add marsala wine and let simmer for ~2 minutes. Add cream  and milk and simmer until thick. Pour over cooked chicken, warm in the oven if needed, and servce with mashed potatoes (or rice or pasta or whatnot).

Tonight’s dinner: meatball subs

I’m home with sick kiddos and have time to make dinner before noon (I try and do this as much as possible – I’m usually too tired to cook something awesome by 4:30/5).

I’m going to use my breadmaker for the baguettes: allrecipes.comfrench-baguettes

And this recipe I’m going to try for the meatballs:

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1.5 cups bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 3 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Shape mix into meatball sized balls, bake @350 for ~22 mins. Place meatballs inside sliced  & lightly toasted baguette and top with tomato sauce and shredded  mozarella cheese and a sprinkle of parm. 


Broccoli Quiche 

Quiches are a fantastic breakfast or pot luck dish, and are super versitle. Your base is really just the milk, eggs, and cheese and the rest can be adjusted. You can swap broccoli for spinach, leave out meat for a vegetarian dish, or add or remove meats (bacon is great for a breakfast quiche).

For one quiche:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Mexican is best)
  • 1-1.5 cups cooked rough cut broccoli  (use 1 cup of adding meat)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A sprinkle of granulate garlic (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped ham or bacon bit (optional)
  • Pie shell

Mix all and bake at 350 for 30-35 mins

Going in!

Out they come.

Rosemary Bread 

This is my favorite bread maker recipe, but there’s no reason you couldn’t hand make it either. Its a great recipe for rolls or make a whole loaf!

  • 2 & 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 cups flour
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp salt

If you are making rolls: divide the dough, roll into balls, coat with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse sea salt, and let rise for 20ish minutes depending on how big your balls are (yes I know I said that).

Bake rolls @350 for 18 mins.

Set the timer though…

Granola! 

The biggest kid goes through phases of foods that are consumed in mass quantities. Right now it’s granola, so let’s make some!

Here is the recipe I use:

Mix:

  • 2 cups old fasioned oats
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup flax seed
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (the inside bits from pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup cranberries
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg

Boil:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup water

Mix your dry ingredients

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Boil your sugar mix (mine boiled over. Oops. Also its hot…)

Mix your boiled sugar with your oaty goodness

Press into a baking sheet (I used parchment paper to avoid getting my hands sticky)

Bake @ 325 for 20 mins, then break apart.

Chickens are slightly less dim than I thought 

With 6 laying hens I figured they would like more than one nesting box. I brought home two more and they refused to used them. I read online about tricking them with cermaic eggs so I picked up two. My Rhode Island decided she would use the new box after seeing the decoys in there, but one of my ladies isn’t tricked and kicks out as many eggs as she can out of the new box.

Results? Every morning Rhode Island’s plus one or both ceramic eggs is outside the new nest box, and the other 5 eggs are in the old one.

Fake egg set up…


And kicked out.

Yay! I’m joyfully wrong! 

UPDATE: our landscaper came over and it turns out they are just ants. A few hours later we saw a pileated woodpecker going nuts on the tree. I feel way better about a woodpecker and a colony of ants (that were actively getting eaten) than I do about termites.
Pic credit to Wikipedia (I couldn’t get close enough and I wanted it to keep eating the ants!) 

New project: sprouting seeds for chickens

I found this great article on sprouting seeds for chickens. “You get your grains or sprouts, soak them in water for the first day, and then rinse them out twice a day until they sprout to the desired length you want.” Sounds easy! 2 tablespoons in a quart jar and off you go. http://www.naturallyloriel.com/growing-sprouts-as-treats-for-chickens/

I ordered 1lb of clover seeds from Amazon: 1lb of Clover Seeds

This is a slower process than I thought it would be…maybe I’m doing it wrong. 

2 weeks later, they’re still not quite ready. I’m starting to think that these may not be worth the effort, given that they have to be rinsed out a few times a day…

Ok. I gave them another week and gave up and fed them the girls. They liked them, but they didn’t go nuts for them either. I might as well make another batch, but this took longer and was more work tham I wanted. 

Termites! Noooo!

I don’t know how to even start with this one. This tree was fine a few days ago and I went out into our wooded area and found this. I sprayed the crap out of them and killed most of them off but I expect I need to do something more extensive like have a service come in. I’m hoping the tree will be OK…

18 days old

Harold and Daisy are now 18 days old, and are pretty much poop factories. They eat, poop, swim, sleep, and eat and poop even more. I can’t believe how quickly ducklings grow, it’s no wonder they eat do much! I cannot wait to get them out of my garage and into the outdoor brooder. They aren’t quite ready though and really need some feathers, so another week or two in the garage it is.


 

So many meat loaves…

Meat loaves are easy to make and freeze really well – you might as well make a few at a time. To make 4 meat loaves:

  • 4 lbs ground beef
  • 4 eggs
  • 4lbs ground pork
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 4 tbsp Worcester sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (or more if preferred)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup quick cook oats

Sometimes I use frozen chopped onions which don’t need to be cooked before hand. If you’re using fresh onions and celery, sauté them in butter for a few minutes to soften them first.

My stand mixer can only handle 4 pounds of meat in a time, so I make it in two batches. Blend all of your ingredients and divide into 4 equal parts. I like to freeze mine in my loaf pan shape so I don’t have to sacrifice my loaf pan to the freezer, but I can still cook the meat loaf in it when I’m ready to.

Each meatloaf will be about 2 lbs and will easily feed 2 adults and 3-4 kids (depending on age).

Sunshine for pears 

Well, the consensus is that these 2 fruit trees are indeed pears! Those cedars on the left block their sunshine and are are between our forest and our back yard. After inspection our landscaper let us know that some of the cedars are dead inside and are really at the end of their life span. So? Let’s take em out! Then we can see our forest, the fruit trees get sunshine, and dying trees are dealt with now.

We are also having the brush chipped and spread through the forest to help cover what will be mud otherwise.


Old pics of baby bunnies

About 2 years ago we were surprised with a litter of babies from our two “female” rabbits. I came across these photos today and it reminded me of how much I loved having all those little babies! I would totally breed rabbits if I could, but really with so many in shelters and being dumped in neighborhoods the only ethical market for them is the meat market, which I don’t really have the heart for. Instead I’ll just look at pictures and smile.

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Connecting food and kids

I’m always surprised by how many people we know that “don’t cook”. I ask them what they eat, and its generally pre-packaged fresh foods, take out, or frozen meals. Convenience foods are, well, convenient!  We have some with regularity, particularly foods like pot stickers, spring rolls, Trader Joe’s frozen dinners if its just for me (love the Indian food!).  While I do make bread sometimes, I don’t make all of our bread.  We love store bought sushi from the sushi counters at the grocery store, and every now and then I do buy one of those non-free-range $5 Costco rotisserie chickens when I’m “low on spoons”. My point here is that what’s below is my ideal and not my 100%, and there can be a happy medium between the two.

Here’s why I teach my kids to cook

Give them the gift of a “Family Favorite”. Prepackaged foods are often (though not always) more expensive than making it yourself, have more preservatives, and frankly lacks the personalization of a favorite meal. Think about your favorite meal or treat a family member makes. Your mother’s chocolate coconut cookies or lemon meringue pie? Is it your grandmother’s potato salad?  Your aunt’s green bean casserole?  Your mother in-law’s scalloped potatoes with ham? None of these can be bought in-store (and they wouldn’t taste the same even if you could), but you can make these things yourself and pass them down to your kids.  Teach your kids to to make their great grandmother’s chicken soup recipe, and one day they might be teaching their own kids to do the same.

Teach them where food comes from.  When my littles were littler, I had a mom friend who lied to her kiddo about what chicken was made of. She couldn’t bear to tell him that chickens were made of chicken, or that pork was made from pigs. He knew these animals from petting zoos and picture books, and (understandably) was appalled at the idea of eating them. I strongly believe in giving kids autonomy over their bodies (this is a whole other post), but essentially it comes down to respecting the choices they make for their own bodies (health issues are an exception, they don’t get to decide if they get shots or take necessary medication). I do want them to understand where food comes from – that chickens are chickens, that pork is pigs, and beef is cows. If they decide even from a young age that they have moral objections to that, I’m ok with it, but I don’t want them to hit 10 years old and say  “What do you mean this is a dead animal! Gross! Why didn’t you tell me!”.  And if they do choose to eat differently from our family we can talk about why, what it means to them, and what we need to do as a family to make sure everyone gets the nutrition they need.

Teach them connection to food. I want them to understand how vital it is not to waste food because its a huge expenditure of energy, life, and money. I want them to know that something grew and lived and died to nourish them. That baby chicks turn into chickens, and they will die if we want to eat them. That amazing steak is most definitely a piece of a cow. I want them to know that it takes a farmer working hard to work their orchards, that the tree took a whole season to grow an apple, that the farmhands worked their asses off to pick those apples, that there’s a truck driver taking them to store, store workers setting them out, and checkers helping us pay for the apple. I could list a hundred different people that all came together to get that apple on the table, the steak to our freezer, or that bread to our pantry. They also need to know that it all costs money – that (in our family) dad goes to work every day to pay for it and mom has to buy and prepare it.

Gardening with your kids (and raising chickens if you can)especially with the little ones, is a great way to connect them to food. Buying seeds, planting them, watering them, and harvesting them helps them understand how things grow, but also that all food came from somewhere – it did not magically appear on the grocery store shelf. The first time I held a warm egg that came out of one of our hens I was absolutely grossed out, but it was a wonderful reminder that living beings grow these eggs.

Teach them what’s in food. Cooking with your kids teaches them what goes into food, and also shows them that what we make at home is different than what you read on the food label from store bought prepared meals. The “hard to read” ingredients aren’t in home-made meals. Why? The answer isn’t always inherently terrible, but at least they will know the difference.

I’m sure I’ll think about this post more with time and update it regularly, but for now the littlest is harassing me to go to, of all places, the grocery store.

In the mean time, here is a recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins. Its the same recipe I used with my mother growing up for banana bread (probably out of the Joy of Cooking book), and now make with my own daughter (plus the addition of chocolate chips).

  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup soft butter
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar (or less if you like a lot of chocolate chips)
  • as many milk chocolate chips (not semi sweet) as little hands decide to dump in before I stop them.

There’s probably an order it should be added in, but honestly we just dump everything into the stand mixer and let it go. Put into muffin tins and bake at 350 for 22 mins.

 

A little heartbroken

We’re down a duckling.😦 Brownie (the runt) who grew in eggs thought too old to hatch, grew stunted with a too large air sac, pipped on the wrong side through a vein, and had to be nursed to health with pedialyte. She survived all that. I cut a hole in a oj container so they could dip their faces in but not climb into the water and poop in it (a recommended way to keep their water clean) and she forced her way into the box and her sister behind her. Without the heat lamp and being so small she didnt make it. Unfortunately today was the day I moved them into the garage as a break from obsessing over them in the downstairs bathroom, so I didnt see her for a few hours and that was all it took. I’m not usually upset when chicks die- they arent very hardy, but we couldnt believe she survived after all that- and then to die by accident. A painful lesson to learn in duck husbandry.

Tah-Dah!

It’s done! I finally built the coop I’ve been trying to get around to making for the last year and a half. I spent $100 making it, which I think is pretty damn good. The loft bed (frame) was something we were given freely, as was the plastic roofing, old window, and some of the wood. 

– $55 of it was on paint, I needed exterior paint and I wanted just the right colors. 

-$10 on hinges

– $25 on wood/trim

– $10 on a tarp and paintbrush  

  
  
   
   
And the pullets gets the big girl’s old set up (red). Doors stay closed until they are old enough to hold their old in the pecking order though (another month or two). It’s low to the ground because I had to fit it in my van and had to cut off the legs! I was going to put it on cinder blocks, since the chicks are locked in there doesn’t really matter.   

The smallest of the 3

Haven’t picked a name yet. The little kids are I are sick, and the one remaining kiddo to pick a name is in bed with a fever. I’m not 100% sure she will survive but I sure hope so.  She had her head tucked under her wing and is sleeping. I gave her some Pedialyte  (didn’t have nutri-drench on hand) and that seems to have helped some. I’m hoping tomorrow we wake up to an energetic chick.

Egg #3

So I’m feeling like a smarty pants this morning. All along one of the eggs has had a giant air sac while the other two have been normal. I told my husband I bet that one wouldn’t be able to turn property since it has so little space in there. It pipped somewhere between 11:30pm and 6:30am (today is day 30, theyre supposed to hatch on day 28) and it pipped away from the air sac against the ground. It was still alive but the pip didn’t push through the membrane which was tan (dried out, which is bad), so I made it a small breathing hole. It seems smaller than the other one – not sure how this will go, but I expect I will be helping it out when it’s ready but understand fully it might not make it. I re-moisened the wet paper towels in the incubator and around the new hole and put her back in right side up. She took a few quick and deep breaths as soon as I make the hole and is now breathing normally – I expect she was short on air.

They’re late.

Let me just say that hatching duck eggs is a painful lesson in patience. I ordered eggs online, they got lost in the mail, only 3/6 grew, and now they are late hatching. I’ve spend today and yesterday researching what’s supposed to happen and when, and what to do when it doesn’t happen.

I have 3 eggs

Egg 1) externally pipped (they make a little air hole) last night around 6:30pm and by tonight at 5:30 had done nothing. Ducks are slow. They are not chickens. I was sure it was dead anyway, and made its pip bigger to see if it was malpositioned. Nope! It’s just slow. It’s still in there, but the membrane has some visible veining which means it’s not ready to come out yet (thing of the inside layer against the shell as a giant placenta). It has to absorb everything from that veining, and it’s egg yoke (I cant see that) before it’s ready. I wasn’t patient.

Egg 2) externally pipped this morning, nothing since. This is normal, I’m leaving it alone.

Egg 3) I’m 85% sure it internally pipped (broke through the membrane into the air sac, but did not break through the egg). The video I posted yesterday has an internal pip. By day 29 this duckling should have externally pipped.

Lesson: ducks are hella slow. If you help you can kill them, and if you do nothing they can die on their own. Do a TON of research either way, and stock up on chamomile tea and Xanax when you order eggs to incubate.

Tomorrow is day 30. Fingers crossed for THREE hatched, healthy, chicks tomorrow.

Anyway – off topic, but I adore this piano version of Feist’s “Intution”. I play piano, and if I had nuts I would give my left one for the sheet music of this cover.

So…chicken math.

It’s not my fault. I’m putting 100% of the blame on the feed store for carrying breeds I don’t have. ;) 

Also, the ducks should hatch tomorrow. We should have 3, but not all 3 are garunteed to hatch or survive. Ducks need other birds – it would be very hard on a lonely single on duckling. Although you I do have 5 other chicks, but they’re too big. I have 14 chickens now…

2x light brahmas  (fuzzy feet!)

   
And another  silver laced Wyandotte because they’re my favorite.   

Camping

My kids love camping. We do not. We love our kids. We’re going camping.

Last year we went to Deception Pass for a single night, and it was gorgeous. The tide goes out and it’s a wonderland of crabs, seastars, fish, seaweed, and sand. This year we will do it again – just one night- and hope it goes well.

(my pics)

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We are also going to Fort Flagler late in the summer, assuming we don’t crash and burn after the first trip. I booked TWO nights. In a row. For camping. We will see what happens. There’s a beach and a fort to explore, we might be ok.🙂

(not my pics)

camp_562630879

Duckling update

Well, not much to take photos or videos of these days – my candler isn’t showing much detail now that the ducklings are big enough to be crammed in their eggs, but I can see movement here and there. Tomorrow is the last day the eggs get turned, and then they are on “lockdown” (no opening the incubator until they have hatched). They should hatch Saturday and I am SO excited. It’s been a very long wait- 24 days so far in the incubator and 16 days since I ordered them (40 days! That’s a biblical amount of time to wait for ducklings). Here’s hoping they all hatch safely, and if get really lucky they’ll all be girls.

I found this video of a khaki campbell cross hatching on youtube and thought I would share. Hopefully I’ll get to take a video of my own ducklings on Saturday.

Ducklings Hatching (not my video)

Save those eggshells!

If you’re raising chickens, keeping the eggs shells is a fantastic way to give your hens some grit and calcium at the same time. Just let them dry out for a few days (I tried putting them in the oven to hurry up the process and they don’t smell very good), and then crush them up. They’re also great in the garden for tomatoes and roses if you aren’t raising hens.

The chicks move outside

Man chicks stink! Truly. The wyandottes are 5.5 weeks and the amber white and Easter egger are 3.5 weeks and it’s time to go outside. It’s a little early for the little ones, but they have 3 big girls and their EcoGlow (warmer) and are doing just fine. Their old brooder (a rabbit cage) was getting too small, so I moved them to this franken-brooder. It’s a baby cage with a tarp wrapped around it to keep out the wind and keep the shavings in.  They have a tarp on the top to help retain warmth, but there is still an area not covered by the tarp on the front to maintain good ventilation.

  

Vegetable Planting Chart for the Northwest Pacific

It’s time to get planting! Here’s a handy chart for gardening in the NW Pacific from West Coast Seeds.

Here’s a PDF if the image is too small: 
https://www.westcoastseeds.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Charts_Veg_BC.pdf

plantingchart

 

This one is also kind of awesome: http://themetapicture.com/pic/images/2014/07/31/cool-vegetable-growing-cheat-sheet-garden.jpg

cool-vegetable-growing-cheat-sheet-garden

Goats?

We might have to get goats. For the greater good.  2/3rd of our property is currently blackberries, and while we are going to have that cleared out it’s really just being scraped to the ground. Unless we spray it, it’s all going to come back – I’m not keen on spraying it at all. See? I’m stuck! Now I have to research goats.

I found this great article if anyone is interested by Providence Farms on how to get started with goats, the article is here: http://kathleen.peterro.com/how-to-get-started-raising-goats/

This image is from Cranberry Brooke Farm (Cranberry Brooke Farm). How can you say no?!

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Gardening begins 

It’s sunny and warm today, and on those rare NW Pacific sunny spring days that means it’s time to start gardening! The first project was to plant our blueberry and raspberry bushes.  Unfortunately we have a ton of invasive grass to dig out first… good thing I had a helper.  

All done! They look small now, but they will grow. Probably want one more blueberry bush.. or 4. Maybe 2 more raspberries.

Oh yeah! The garden bed. We’re late on getting some of the cold-hardy plants in, but late is better than never. I got the bed assembled (after spending an hour looking for a lost drill bit. Grrr.) We pulled up the sod and flipped it over. I’ll cover it with weed barrier and soil, and it will break down just fine. 

Chickens LOVE grass. Their sad bare coop used to be flush with grass – if you want grass gone from a patch in your yard, fence chickens in it for 48 hours. Problem solved.  I try and do something daily that keeps the hens from being bored, and today it was a strip of sod I puled from the garden bed. They will make quick work of the grass, bugs, and even the soil (they pick out small stones to help them break down food).

Home Depot trip: 3 x 3 cu ft of peat, 3 x 3 cu ft garden soil,  4 x 1.5 cu ft manure, 2 x 1.5 cu ft compost (I have more of my own compost to add). Also 7 x 60lb bags of sand for the chicken coop, a can of paint, rollers, and blue tape. This weekend might be busy…

All the soil has been mixed up and added and watered. We didn’t buy anything for starts yet but we bought pumpkin seeds (those will be in a different bed) and snap pea seeds. After the peas sprout I’ll add a nice trellis.

Article: “Why The U.S. Chills Its Eggs And Most Of The World Doesn’t”

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/09/11/336330502/why-the-u-s-chills-its-eggs-and-most-of-the-world-doesnt

“Go in search of eggs in most foreign countries and you might encounter a strange scene: eggs on a shelf or out in the open air, nowhere near a refrigerator.

Shock and confusion may ensue. What are they doing there? And are they safe to eat?

We Americans, along with the Japanese, Australians and Scandinavians, tend to be squeamish about our chicken eggs, so we bathe them and then have to refrigerate them.

But we’re oddballs. Most other countries don’t mind letting unwashed eggs sit next to bread or onions.

The difference boils down to two key things: how to go after bacteria that could contaminate them, and how much energy we’re willing to use in the name of safe eggs.

“The egg is a lens through which to view the entire craft of cooking,” says food writer Michael Ruhlman.

To understand when the rift happened, let’s rewind. About a hundred years ago, many people around the world washed their eggs. But there are a lot of ways to do it wrong, so the method got a bad reputation in certain parts of the world. A batch of rotten eggs, which had been washed in Australia, left a bad impression on its British importers.

By 1970, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had perfected the art of the wash with the help of fancy machines, and it required all egg producers to do it. Meanwhile, many European countries were prohibiting washing, and Asian countries never got on board with it. The exception was Japan, which joined the egg-washers after a bad spate of salmonella in the 1990s.

So what’s the deal with washing and refrigeration? Soon after eggs pop out of the chicken, American producers put them straight to a machine that shampoos them with soap and hot water. The steamy shower leaves the shells squeaky clean. But it also compromises them, by washing away a barely visible sheen that naturally envelops each egg.

“The egg is a marvel in terms of protecting itself, and one of the protections is this coating, which prevents them from being porous,” says food writer Michael Ruhlman, author of Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient.

Chicks in the Perdue hatchery in Salisbury, Md. The company says an increasing number of its chickens are now raised using “no antibiotics, ever.”

Bob O’Connor, a Foster Farms veterinarian, holds an 11-day-old chick at a ranch near the town of Merced, in California’s Central Valley.

The coating is like a little safety vest for the egg, keeping water and oxygen in and bad bacteria out. Washing can damage that layer and “increase the chances for bacterial invasion” into pores or hairline cracks in the shell, according to Yi Chen, a food scientist at Purdue University. So we spray eggs with oil to prevent bacteria from getting in, and refrigerate them to keep microorganisms at bay.

Empty shelves where eggs should be at a Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C. The store blames increased demand for organic 

Why go to the trouble of washing eggs? A lot of it has to do with fear of salmonella.

“It just sort of seeped into our culture that chickens are dirty, or crawling with bacteria,” says Ruhlman. (The Salt stumbled into this when our post started a #chickens*$!storm.)

Salmonella enteritidis can infect a chicken’s ovaries, contaminating a yolk before the shell firms up around it. Cooking usually kills the bacteria before they can harm you; still, eggs contaminated with salmonella are responsible for about 142,000 illnesses a year in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration.

In some European countries, egg-laying hens are vaccinated against salmonella. In the U.S., vaccination is not required, but eggs must be washed and refrigerated from farm to store, and producers must follow a host of other safety measures.
“They’re different approaches to basically achieve the same result,” says Vincent Guyonnet, a poultry veterinarian and scientific adviser to the International Egg Commission. “We don’t have massive [food safety] issues on either side of the Atlantic. Both methods seem to work.”

The important thing, he says, is to be consistent.

“Once you start refrigeration, you have to have it through the whole value chain, from farm to store. Because if you stop — if the eggs are cold and you put them in a warm environment — they’re going to start sweating,” says Guyonnet.

No one wants sweaty eggs. They can get moldy. Another perk of consistent refrigeration is shelf life: It jumps from about 21 days to almost 50 days.

In a lot of countries, constant refrigeration just isn’t possible because it’s simply too costly.

“Some of the countries cannot afford cold storage during the whole supply chain,” says Chen.

And as for why the U.S. and Europe developed such different attitudes about washing, it’s also hard to tease apart how much is about safety versus egg aesthetics.

“In North America, we like to have everything superclean. So they probably initiated the washing of the egg very early on,” leading down the refrigeration path, says Guyonnet.

But in a lot of places, “a dirty egg with poop on it is no big deal. You brush it off when you get home,” says Guyonnet, who was raised in France and now lives in Canada.
A 38-country survey by the International Egg Commission found that people feel strongly about how their eggs should look. The Irish, French, Czechs, Hungarians, Portuguese, Nigerians and Brits hanker for brown eggs. Canadians, Finns, Americans and Indians prefer white shells. Dutchmen and Argentines don’t seem to care.”

It begins! Calculating soil needed for a raised bed.

Not assembled yet, but I bought the wood to make the first garden box! It’s 10x5x1, so it will be about 50 cubic feet. I’m lucky to be putting a bed where there is currently new sod, so it will be easy to tear up the grass. Now I just need soil!

I found a great online calculator to help determine how much soil is needed for a new raised bed. http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/soil-calculator/7558.html

A sad morning 

A sad morning at our house today – we woke up to a sick or injured chick. I have no idea what was wrong with it, it was fine yesterday  and this morning it wasn’t. It happens sometimes, and we know this.

The chick is alive in this pic (I won’t post pics of dead animals). The other chicks were running as usual and stepping on it so we brought it in for a more peaceful passing.

Spring party favor bags (loot bags!)

I try really hard not to put crap in party favor bags (or “loot bags” if you’re from the same country as I am!). I know parents hate bags full of plastic you’re immediately going to through out when you get home. If I’m going to spend the money on favor bags I want them to be useful, disposable, and cheap to buy. In previous years when the littles were younger I would use chalk, stickers, temporary tattoos, a treat (goldfish crackers or grahams), play dough and cookie cutters.

Now that the youngest is a little old for cookie cutters and play dough, I decided on a little plant growing kit (a little pot, sunflower seeds, and compact soil), water beads, chalk, and sour patch kids. Everything is disposable and can keep little hands busy, and was cheap to put together.

Here’s the price breakdown:

  • small pots: $2
  • favor bags: $1 (dollar store)
  • 24 sunflower packets: the dollar store sells them 4/$1!
  • water beads: $7 from amazon for 24
  • compact soil disks: $2
  • chalk: $5
  • sour patch kids: pack of 25 was $3 at the grocery store

Total: $28 (call it $30 with tax) for 24 bags. That’s about $1.25 a bag! Pretty darn good, and we will use the extras playing at home.

An article worth reading if you’re considering backyard hens

I thought this was a great article from Erica at NW Edible Life, and worth reading. It resonates with me because I have yet to cull a hen, and I am in the position where there are only so many hens I can keep. I’m not interested in a chicken retirement home, so I will be faced with the idea of “cowboying up” in a year or two.

http://www.nwedible.com/you-absolutely-should-not-get-backyard-chickens/

“YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT GET BACKYARD CHICKENS

I was talking to a friend the other day. She’s a gentle soul, a kind-hearted person who says, “I could never kill an animal” with wide, pained eyes that let you know she’s not talking in hyperbole.

She wants chickens. She wants them bad. She wants the experience of fluffy little chicks and she wants hens to weed for her and she wants her daughter to have that mini-backyard-petting-zoo experience.

She has, up until now, not given into her chicken-keeping desires. For this I am so proud of her.

You see, there’s a reality to chicken keeping that doesn’t show up when you are scanning Pinterest for gorgeous coops. (I maintain a Pinterest board of chicken keeping and coop inspiration, by the way, if you are into that kind of thing.)

A continuous supply of plentiful eggs requires a continuous supply of hens at laying age. For us non-commercial chicken-keepers, a good rule of thumb is that hens will lay pretty consistently (with periods off for molting, reduced day length and broodiness) from about 6 months old until about 3 years old. Although you will hear a lot of anecdotes about individual hens that keep pumping out eggs until they are 5 or 6 years old, the general consensus is that three years old is usually the beginning of the end for consistent egg laying.

Call it Henopause.

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A well-kept backyard hen, protected from hawks, raccoons and Fido, can easily live to be 8 or 10 years old, and ages of twice that are not unheard of.

Bear with me here as I do some Urban Homesteader math. One layer hen eats about 1.5 pounds of layer feed per week. (Pastured birds will eat less purchased feed – yet another good reason to buy this book and study it before you design your coop and run.)

If a chicken starts laying at 6 months old (this is a bit later than average but it makes my numbers easy) and has essentially stopped laying by 4 years old, and lives naturally to be 8, a backyard chicken keeper is looking at 3.5 years of egg production time, and 4.5 years of Pets Without Benefits time. That’d be 351 pounds of feed going to a hen that isn’t making eggs!

Current, local prices for the layer rations I feed my hens is $28 per 40 pound bag, or $.70 a pound. Admittedly, this is a bit spendy, but I get the locally produced, happy-hippie, GMO-free feed from the lovely folks at Scratch & Peck. At those prices, it costs $245.70 to maintain a hen into theoretical old age and natural demise while you aren’t getting any eggs.

Which means those half-dozen cute peeping balls of fluff you take home from the feed store in spring could cost you $1474 during the time when they are not giving you eggs. And of course I’m not including the cost of bedding, a fractional share of the coop, potential vet bills, etc.

Meanwhile, if you live in a city or suburb, you have an even bigger problem: your now non-laying hens are taking up your legal urban chicken quota which could be filled with younger, laying hens, and you are stuck. You can’t just keep adding to your flock indefinitely when you live on 1/12th of an acre in Seattle. So now you are a Backyard Chicken Keeper without any Backyard Eggs.

If your hens are pure pets, this is all totally fine. These are very reasonable amounts of money to spend on a pet, and if you are not resentful in the least at having to buy both chicken feedand grocery store or farmer’s market eggs, then Chickens As Pets is a wonderful path to take.

There is another option, of course. This is the option you won’t tend to run into on Pinterest. It’s not the solution of a soft heart so much as a calculating head.

You can make the decision to cull your birds when they are past prime lay. This is what all commercial egg operations do, and what “real” (as opposed to “urban”) farmers do, and what everyone who makes a living and not just a hobby from animal husbandry does.

Culled laying hens aren’t good for roasting or frying but they make unbeatable stock and stewing birds.

So basically those are your two choices: you continue to pay and care for chickens that barely give you eggs or you cowboy up and you deal with the slaughter of no longer profitable hens.

Back to my friend who really, really wants chickens.

Could she kill her chickens?

Oh no. Absolutely not.

We both agree, she doesn’t have that in her. Fine, I’ve no problem with that, and I’m glad she knows herself.

Does she want to pay for chickens even if she gets no eggs?

Well, not really.

Fine, I wouldn’t either – I totally understand.

I told her quite bluntly (as is my way) that she should not get chickens.

Can I give them to a chicken sanctuary when they get too old to lay? Some place that has a no kill policy?

No. No. You cannot do that.

She can’t, and no one reading this can. You know why? Personal responsibility. Your chickens, your adoption, your decision, your responsibility to see it through to the end. You do not get to embrace the idea of a more intimate relationship with your food chain and then make that food chain – the food chain you specifically set up – someone else’s problem when shit gets real.

There is a local urban farming message board that is filled – filled – with people trying to give away their three year old chicken to a “good home.”  Are you kidding me? You own the chicken. Your home is a good home. And once it’s not, your soup pot is a good soup pot. I once joked to a good friend that I could stock my freezer for the entire year off no-longer-laying hens being given away free “to a good home.”

This pisses me off, as you can probably tell. There is absolutely nothing ethically superior – and quite a bit that is ethically dubious, if you ask me – about enjoying the benefits of a young laying hen and then turning over the care or slaughter of that hen to someone else once it stops laying.

That is not how animal husbandry works and it’s not how pet ownership works, and those are your two choices. I don’t care which path you take with your chickens, but pick one. Playing Little Suzy Farm Girl until it’s time to get the axe and then deciding you aren’t up for chicken ownership just doesn’t fly with me.

Normally I am a Rah-Rah Cheerleader for this quirky way of life, and I think any fair assessment would deem me particularly encouraging to beginners. But a chicken is not a seed packet, it’s an animal and a responsibility. If you can’t cull your own birds or can’t provide for them all the way into their Chicken Social Security, then please, do not get chickens.”

Freeze and frost dates by zip code 

Here’s a great website to look up your last freeze & frost dates by zip code (scroll to the bottom of the website to enter it).

http://www.howdogardener.com
I’m SO excited to build my raised beds and get gardening!

This is my rhubarb that I didn’t cut in time late in the year. It didn’t every turn red so I left it alone, a little too late! I’m happy to say I brought the whole thing to the new house though, and it’s growing well in its new spot.

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Meal planning – make ahead meals

E Fagioli Soup is one of my favorite make ahead meals. It freezes really well, and it tastes fantastic. Here’s a recipe I love from Damn Delicous (photo is theirs too):  Recipe for Pasta E Fagioli

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I haven’t made these specific kabobs before, but they look good so I’ll make ’em! (photo is from All Recipes). Recipe for Chicken Kabobs: ranch & rosemary

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Italian wedding soup is another easy one that the kids like. A bag of frozen meatballs makes it quick to put together: I dump everything in a ziplock bag and it goes in the freezer. Recipe for Italian Wedding Soup

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Duck embryos – day 4

So this is day 4.5: Exciting stuff. That dark little blob with veiny bits is a baby duck! 3 of the 6 eggs looks like duds (not unexpected since I got them so late after the USPS delivery mess). 2 are definitely growing, and 1 is a solid maybe.

Day one starts the morning after I set them (put in the incubator) since I set them at night. Yaaaaay! They aren’t all dead!

Hens!

Do you ever have a “duh!” moment? I had one last night. I realized that I didn’t need the back panel of my 4 panel run, because the run is against the fence anyway. I significantly increased the size of the run from 10×10 to 10×20 by using the fence. Duh! I did run some wire fencing along the wood fence, mostly to make sure there weren’t gaps where the fence met the panel. I don’t want the hens squeezing out or a raccoon squeezing in.

The hens were so happy to have a new area full of sticks, bugs, and grass to dig through they abandoned their feed! I only feed them once a day to make sure I don’t have a buffet for rats. They do always have water, of course.

I do, however, need to get some deer netting for the 10×10 open area I created that isn’t covered by the tarp because in the NW pacific eagles are very pretty until they fly off with your chickens (it happens, I kid you not). Also raccoons, minus the flying, but they will drag one over the top of the fence. Assholes.

Before (10×10 square):img_92351

After: 10×20

They’re pretty stoked about bugs and grass. Ignore the coop looking odd, the roof is just sideways. The tire will get some sand or dirt soon for dust bathing.

A video for fun

Chick setup 

This is our chick set up. It’s not particularly exciting but it’s good for when they are small. I turned the lamp off for a sec to get a better pic, but you can see they have food, water, a lamp, and a place to perch. In about 2 weeks they will be too big for this, and will move over to one of those hexagon folding gate things, and the ducks will hopefully hatch and use this.

When you’re setting up your brooder keep in mind that chick poop smells bad. This wasn’t something I had considered last year when we raised our first chicks, having them indoors would be exceptionally stinky (even if you changed the shavings every 48 hours). We are lucky to have a garage!

Make ahead meals: March 14th

I try my best to make a few meals ahead of time at some point in the week. I do my best to keep our evenings calm-ish, but living with chronic pain has taught me to cook when I can. If you’d heard of “spoon theory” (www.butyoudontlooksick.com) you know you’ve got to get things done when you have enough spoons, and prepare ahead for when you don’t. This applies to everyone though, regardless of it you’re swamped with life, know you might have a tough week, or just don’t know what your week will look like. No matter the reason though, it’s always a good idea to have a few meals in the fridge or freezer for when things go a little haywire.

This week’s make ahead meals are below and I manage to get them done in about 2 hours (after the grocery trip).

Slow Cooker Jambalaya Recipe  (whoops! I forgot to add the shrimp & celery. shoot.)

Cabbage Rolls Recipe – I made 2 trays because they freeze really well.

Chicken Coconut Curry  – I threw everything in the bag and tossed it in the freezer!

Chicken thighs in teriyaki sauce. Ok this doesn’t need a recipe – it’s just thighs marinating in teriyaki sauce from a bottle. Bake it ’til it’s done! Serve over rice.   

Shepherd’s Pie as a microwave warm up meal. Everything is cooked and layered. Ground beef with onions, frozen corn, frozen peas, cooked carrots (I don’t like frozen carrots), and mashed potatoes.  

Today’s haul 

I check for eggs and feed the girls once a day, which means sometimes I bring in as many as 7 eggs (but only because yesterday I only brought in 1). Hens lay at different times of the day, and not everyday. Different breeds lay more/less frequently than others, they lay a different amount seasonally, and then of course older hens don’t lay as frequently as the young ones. I actually have no idea who’s laying and who isn’t! There are some tips you can Google to try and see which hens are laying in which aren’t, but at the end of the day I don’t really care as long as I’m getting eggs from somebody!

Guess what I ordered?

I convinced my husband that an “Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder for Chicks or Ducklings” would be a good idea, even at $80. My current heat lamp uses 250 watts, which is quite a lot if you consider that it’s on day and night for at least 2-3 months (between chicks and ducklings). The EcoGlow brooder uses 18 watts and is radiant heat. I’ll post pics when it shows up!

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Our Chicken Set Up

This is our current hen set up. The chicks are still in the brooder, and I’m going to need more space pretty soon, but for now this is the setup we have for our 6 hens. We got a free 10×10 chain link dog run through our local Buy Nothing group, and it’s great at keeping the predators out. I have a pop-up tent with a tarp over it over them to keep them dry and keep the eagles out. I do need to put down a ton of sand in there, but it will have to wait until another day. 

  

At the old house they had a big fenced yard to roam in, eat grass dig in the garden, and poop on the deck – but our new property has a forested area that isnt yet fenced. Since I had no idea what’s lurking back there, just for now, they stay in the run. Next summer we will be clearing out the brush (the “forest” is about 2/3rds of an acre of big beautiful trees surrounded by 6+ foot tall razor sharp blackberry bushes).

If you don’t let your hens free range it’s important to give them something to do. Add what you can to make the coop interesting for them. I always say hens are dumb as rocks (and they are), but bored hens will eventually start pecking at each other. Some fun chicken stuff includes tossing in a rotting tree limb (lots of bugs to peck at under the loose bark), a lettuce pinata, a tire full of compost (they love to scratch it in for bugs and tasty nibbles and even poop in there. Its a quick way to make garden compost!), and a dust bath made by putting dry sand mixed with food grade dichotomous earth in a tire. Or just dirt. I doubt they care either way.

Chicken dust bath, photo credit to Sheila on backyardchickens.com

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Some folks have made chicken swigs by hanging a branch in the coop! Here’s a pic from PetDiys.com:

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It’s a good thing hens don’t know their names, but because apparently I can’t keep track.

Our hens

 
We have:

  • 2 Buff Orpingtons (Cupcake and Nugget), 1 year old (bought from another family)
  • 1 Silver Laced Wyandotte – raised from a chick last spring. I honestly cant remember her name (it might be Rainbow).
  • 1 Salmon Faverolles (Jojo), 2 years old and one of our first hens
  • 1 Barred Rock (Sunshine), 1 year old (came from the other family)
  • 1 Rhode Island Red, 1 year – craigslist purchase. No idea what her name is.

It’s March and yesterday for the first time I got 4 eggs! I’m so glad the sun is coming back, because I’m way too lazy to run a light out there.

 

Our bunnies

These are our bunnies, Skittles and Sprinkles. Skittles was a rescue having been dumped at a strip mall, and Sprinkles came from a rabbit exhibitor that was reducing her numbers. We aren’t breeding them since a) they’re both male and b) we aren’t planning on eating their litters. These guys are just pets that needed somewhere to be, and it’s with us.🙂

I’m still getting their run put together at the new house, but once I do I’ll take pics.

 

The Hatching Eggs are Here! Day 1.

If chicken math wasn’t bad enough, I am now hatching 6 Campbells duck eggs. I did, in all fairness, plan this. I asked Santa for an incubator for Christmas and was very happy to receive one. I ordered fertilized Campbells duck eggs on eBay and they finally got here.  Unfortunately USPS seriously messed up delivering these, and they were 10 days late. I’m not sure if they will hatch or not, but if we are lucky we will get one or two.

I’ll be posting pics of the eggs being candled so we can track their development. Candling is an excellent way of determining which eggs are viable and growing and which are duds. The first candling will be on day 7, so not for another week. It’s going to be a long week waiting to find out which eggs might hatch chicks!

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Where our meat comes from

I’ve always loved caring for people and animals, and grew with with cats, dogs, birds, gigantic fish tanks, lizards, hermit crabs, and a variety of rodents and small mammals. I remember being in 3rd grade and catching worms in my lunch container and hiding caterpillars in my desk. I even caught a squirrel once in a live trap (I immediately let it go, the poor thing was terrified and I’m lucky I wasn’t bitten).

Predictably when I got closer to being a preteen I decided to become a vegetarian. I stuck with this for many years but abandoned it when I had my first child. Over the years I evaluated why I was drawn to become vegetarian, and for me personally, it had to do with how the animals were farmed.  As an adult my husband and I moved from far, far, away to the Northwest Pacific, and found that there is a large “Farm to Table” movement here. There are fantastic farmer’s markets for fruits and veggies, but also farmers who raise free range/grass feed beef, pasture pork, and free range chickens.

The Price of Beef
After buying a large freezer off Craigslist I ordered our first side of beef and I’ve never looked back. The great thing about buying right from the farmer (in addition to knowing where it came from and that it was humanely raised)  is the price. Right now our chain grocery store sells extra-lean ground factory farmed beef for $6.39 a lb (free range beef is very lean so it’s as close to a comparison as I can get if we’re talking about money). NY steaks are over $15 a lb, and ribeye is closer to $13.  At the end of the day we pay about $7.50-ish a pound for from the farm & butcher, but that price is the same no matter what cut it is. It’s that price for ground beef which might be a little more than the grocery store, but it’s also that price for the rest of the side which includes prime rib roasts, all cuts of steaks, ribs, jerky meat (I’ll make a whole other post about making jerky soon), and pot roasts. In the end it works out to be cheaper for us to buy free range meat than it does to buy it from the store. Win-win!

Eat Wild has a great article about the health benefits of grass fed beef. The animals have been eating different food and it affects the nutrients in the meat. If you’re interested, it’s well worth the read.  http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm

Pasture Pork
Pasture pork is something that financially isn’t much of a money saver, but man it tastes differently- it has flavor. One major differce t is the amount of fat on the animal; factory farming has bred leaner and leaner pigs, making for lean pork. Where people typically assume less fat = better, you can imagine this as been widely accepted. The problem though, is that so much flavor is lost when you take all the fat out of the meat and you’re left with a dry, tasteless, pork chop. Pasture pigs are often “heritage breeds” that are natural fattier and taste so much better. Aside from the benefits to the animal being raised outside a holding pen, the taste of the meat has no comparison to anything you will buy at the grocery store.

Free Range Hens
So you guys already know I raise hens for eggs, but what about meat birds? Well, that’s actually a project for next spring. We just moved to a space where we can raise meat birds but I need to built a better set up for raising them. In the meantime I buy free range hens from the grocery store. They are of course more expensive than factory farmed, but again- aside from the ethics of free range vs. caged-  you can’t beat the taste. Now there are local farms I would much rather buy from but can’t afford. There are limits to our finances, and the cost buying from the farmer isn’t one we can do when it comes to hens. Eventually I will raise our own meat birds, but in the mean time our compromise is to buy free range from the store.

Fish
I did, once, go on a boat and catch a salmon. It was a cute touristy thing to do, but it’s not a sustainable way for me to get fish into the freezers. I buy wild fish from the store, and that’s what we eat. I know there’s a big debate about wild vs. farmed, and I haven’t taken a side really one way or the other: I truly haven’t done enough research. I do know that I much prefer the taste of wild fish, so that’s what I buy.

This is the one and only salmon I’ve ever caught. Did I mention I have awful, gut-wrenching car/sea sickness? I literally will feel sick in a rocking chair. I caught that fish having had four Dramamine, and I barely remember it, but I know it felt amazing to catch dinner.

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Chicken Math

Those of you familiar with raising chickens probably have heard of “chicken math”. If you’re not, it goes like this…

You’ve decided that you want to have a small coop in the back yard with a couple of hens. Maybe 2-3. Maybe you’ve planned ahead: you build/acquire a coop, the feeders, the run and the finally the hens. Maybe you went to the feed store to pick up dog food and “ohmygodlookatthosechicks!” and you ended up needing to build a coop.

So a few months go by and your hens are laying, and you think “we really eat more eggs than this, this isn’t as hard as I thought. Maybe a few more.” You find someone with hens but they have 4 and you really only needed 2… but those other 2 aren’t breeds you have and sometimes hens die for no good reason… Maybe I can sell the eggs!”. Now your 2-3 hens has turned into 6-7. A little time goes by and you hear a story about a lone survivor hen that had her entire flock eaten by a raccoon! Wont you take her in? And you do. You’ve got 8.

Time goes by and you see a picture of a silver laced wyandotte, or a silkie, or a speckled sussex and they’re just so pretty! Spring hits again and you’ve been doing this a year. You’re a pro. You’ve suffered a loss or two and you’re down to six, and you go to buy layer feed and it’s chick season again and guess what? They have wyandottes and Easter eggers and you remember how pretty that photo was and how cool it would be to have blue or green eggs. The kids would think blue eggs are amazing! But you’d better get 4 in case they die or one is a rooster. On the way out you notice schedule says tomorrow they’ll have specked sussex. A week later, you’re at 12.

This is chicken math.

For your viewing pleasure, this is a photo I found on Pinterest (not my hen, but I would give the photographer credit if I knew where it came from!)

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Welcome!

Welcome to my little blog! As we unpack in our new home (my husband is literally sitting next to me unpacking) I decided to document the challenges and adventures our family has learning how to turn 0.86 acres into a small but fantastic suburban homestead.

Our old home was our first home my husband and I ever owned. It was on 0.28 acres, and it’s where my desire to learn canning started. It was where I planted my first veggie garden right in the ground. It’s where we expanded our family to the size it is now. It’s where we brought home rabbits and they had their own litters (whoops! those weren’t both girls) and I built my first chicken coop.

In time our children will grow up and hopefully one day bring home grandchildren. Our vegetable stalks will return to the earth. The hens and rabbits will “retire” and be replaced by younger broods. My husband and I will grow old, too. In the meantime lets raise the kids, the chicks, the hens and the drakes and make jam in there too. And take pictures. And blog.

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