Saturday, March 30, 2013

...and She's Back!

You may or may not remember that a while ago (OK, a REALLY long while ago) I was profiled over on the Life on the (Clothes) Line blog. Jeannie makes AMAZING clothespin bags (that still so remind me of my grammy's!) as well as other things and blogging, but has out of commission since disaster struck in the form of wildfire in autumn, 2011.

You may remember I wrote an ecstatic post about said bags in this post.

But. I'm very happy to report that she's back, and so are her bags. Give her Etsy shop a look if you have a minute!

Friday, March 22, 2013

(almost) wordless.

We will be needing these soon.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Never Rains But It Pours

So... we're not getting any new chickens this spring. Other than the 3 bitties we have that hatched, that is. But odds are at least 2 of those will be roosters, so my point is: we're not getting any significant number of new egg layers this year.

What this really means is that EVERY hen we have now will go into a molt and stop laying for the late fall and winter months this year. Which means no eggs. (or very, very few). Last year we didn't get any eggs for about 2 months. I even *gasp!* bought eggs. (From the co-op. Pastured.) As close to MY eggs as I could get. And worth the price to not be too greatly disappointed by the difference in quality.

And now that it is springtime every hen we have is in laying overdrive. For a while a few of them were laying off in the woods (as you may know) where we couldn't find them and all was OK in the world. This week everyone has gone back to laying in one of our 10 nesting boxes (although I keep getting hens coming out of our new shed with no door squawking their egg-laying achievement... I just can't find any...) and we have more eggs than we know what to do with. As in 8 - 12 eggs a day. Oh boy.

But the chest freezer (best birthday present ever! Thanks Lone reader!) comes in here to the rescue. You can freeze eggs. Woohoo!!

My favorite method is not below. Because my favorite method involves cracking one egg each into the well of an ice cube tray, freezing them, and then popping them into a big old ziploc bag. Wash, rinse, repeat. That way you can pull whatever number of eggs you may require at a time and use as needed.

Alas, I currently don't have any ice cube trays.

And I can not find one with big enough wells for a whole egg (and I don't live in the bay area anymore so those awesome Asian dollar stores that always carry this sort of thing is beyond my reach...).

So my second favorite method:

Figure out how many eggs you want to put in each bag. Label said bag. Use a big sharpie. You know you want to.

Put the bag in a cup, bowl, tupperware - anything that will hold the back with its contents. Flip the fastener portion over the sides to hold it in place, and to help keep from getting egg on said fastener. You're welcome.

Break all yolks. You don't want to add air - just bust them. Why do you do this? No idea. But anyone I've ever spoken to who freezes eggs does this. If you know, let me know.*

Lay flat, and put in freezer flat. That way they will both freeze and defrost faster than if you leave them in a clump. In fact, whenever you freeze anything in a bag, you should do it this way. Again. You're welcome.

This pile of eggs (plus another 8 I pulled from the fridge)...

...turns into this pile of shells.
I freeze them in 6 egg chunks because that's the amount I use most frequently. I don't bake a lot of cakes, etc, anymore - but I make a lot of fritatas. And when I do it's usually in 6 egg increments. So really whatever works.

What to do with the shells? You can do any number of things. I dry them out, grind them up, and feed them back to my chickens. It's the best way for them to absorb calcium back into their systems, and that way we don't have to buy any other supplements for them.

They're also great in gardens. Many many plants do well with a calcium supplement (brassicas and tomatoes are probably the most famous...) and you can grind them up finely and sprinkle on top of the soil, or in the bottom of your transplant hole when putting in seedlings. Or you can grind them up more coarsely and sprinkle around the base of your plants to help deter slugs, cutworms, and a number of other garden pests that might not enjoy crawling over such a sharp surface.

Some people with more time and energy than I blow the eggs out and use the shells for crafts. (I wish I had the energy!).

Or toss 'em in the compost pile.

*If you freeze the whites and yolks separately, you do need to add a scant amount of salt or sugar to the yolks to keep them from coagulating. These two things may be related. My chemistry's not so good. And my copy of Harold McGee is in storage and I can't get to it. So. Again. If you know, let me know.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Baby Chicken Update

I realize that I have neglected to post an update about our little bitty chickens. The bitties are coming along quite nicely and are not only getting to the awkward teenage chicken stage, but are starting to annoying their mama.
Awkward! They look even funnier today - this was taken a week ago...
 I can not seem to get a video of it, but when they're on top of their mama, she tries to walk away...resulting in her not *quite* being able to get her butt all the way off the ground and doing a really funny forward-facing crab-walk type movement across the brooder run. But at the rate that they're growing, it won't be much longer for you mama hen!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Egg Thief

We had an egg thief. As in...someone or something was eating our eggs and leaving broken eggshells everywhere.

Here's the thing - the chickens hadn't been sounding any alarms, the dogs hadn't sounded any alarms, and I hadn't seen evidence of any animal-related damage.

Our chickens free-range at all times. Many chicken keepers will disagree with this approach for many reasons (mainly predators), but this works for us. We live in a heavily wooded area and our chickens spend 90% of their time in the woods. We have dogs that sound the alarm at animals, and one who particularly LOVES to bark at flying birds of ANY kind (sometimes we believe them to be imaginary). 40+ acres of lakefront land means a LOT of bugs and greens and whatnot that they can have access to, and this helps to not only keep our feed cost down, but is so much better for them than anything we could feed them. And to be utterly honest - I am not perfect. I have forgotten to let some of our chickens out one morning (they were sequestered due to ... lack of chicken skills. No joke.) and we lost one due to lack of water access. 100% my fault and I will not forgive myself for that one.

But I digress.

Our egg thief kept stealing eggs daily for a few weeks. From all 3 'official' nesting spots (we have a total of 10 nesting boxes for 16 hens. That's just how many boxes we ended up with). Granted, some of our hens tend to lay clutches elsewhere from time to time and I don't mind if a thief gets those. But the problem is the thief didn't discriminate between the two types.
We used to use this hutch as an infirmary. But the hens like the tub so much (we get 5 or 6 eggs in it a day) that we had to relinquish it for daily use. Thankfully we haven't had any sick/wounded birds that might need to use the hutch.
Finally one day I caught the thief red-handed:
Guilty. Just look at her.
Zora. ZORA IS THE EGG THIEF. We have to keep her tied up during the day if we're all out, and the other day when I let her off when I got home, she made a bee-line for the hutch, grabbed an egg out of the tub, and chomped away at it. Shell and all. She is a very good dog, and when I reprimanded her and waddled my way down there she knew she had done wrong. But 10 minutes later when I was hanging up laundry, she went into our small coop, grabbed an egg out of the nesting box, and went to town on that one. Sigh. She will not be deterred and she is such a good guard dog the rest of the time (she doesn't eat chickens. Unlike our OTHER dog...) that it's not the biggest deal in the world to make sure all 10 nesting boxes are empty before we let her off the line.

Never in a million years would I have pictured myself having an issue with a dog stealing eggs and eating them whenever she could. Life is odd sometimes!