More Chicks!

After our experience with “straight run” chicks, we decided to buy some replacements from a local farm that raises chickens.  The lady at Circle B Farm in Buchanan, Georgia, said she has a 90% success rate when she sexes chicks.  She does this by holding them by the skin on their back, like a mother cat picks up her kittens.  I have also heard that you can put two fingers on each side of their neck and let them hang for a few seconds.  If they struggle to get away, they are most likely male.  If they are calm while hanging, they are most likely female.  It will be interesting to see how many cockerels we get using her sexing method.

She offered an incredible variety of chicks, so we bought 11 new babies to add to our small flock…

2 Barred Rock
2 Black Orpingtons
3 Frizzles
2 Rhode Island Reds
2 Silkies

Aren’t they cute?  Hopefully all of them are females this time.

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Uninvited Guest

While I was watching the chickens last week, an uninvited guest arrived to see what was going on.  At first, I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but when it saw me it quickly went under the ramp at the gate to our coop.  Not knowing exactly what it was, I called my neighbor so he could help ID this creature and chase it away if necessary.

He quickly arrived and grabbed the middle end of the ramp and began to lift it when I told him that it just went under that part of the ramp and was probably right by his hand.  He let it drop to the ground without any hesitation.  Then he grabbed a shovel and slowly flipped the ramp over to revealed a chicken killer.

I snapped a picture right before it attempted to escape…into the coop area.  My neighbor chased it as he repeatedly struck the ground right behind it with the shovel.  He was trying to kill it, but it was too fast for him.  It headed for the fence and escaped through one of the holes in the chicken wire.

Here’s the photo I took right after the ramp was flipped over…

I’ve been told that this is a rat snake, which is not venomous.  However, it would love to strangle and eat our smaller chickens.  Please post a comment if you know what it is.

Whatever it is, I just hope my neighbor scared it enough so it won’t want to come back.  But I’m still keeping a shovel by the gate, just in case.

 

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Our Very First Egg!

We placed an ad on Craigslist and sold two of our white Silkie cockerels for $10 each, and then we traded one white Silkie cockerel for two 3-month-old, black Silkie-Cochin pullets.  The nice lady who traded with us also gave us Olivia, a white Silkie hen.  Olivia is around two years old, and has assumed control of her new domain.

A few days after she arrived, Olivia gave us our very first egg.  It was quite small, but absolutely delicious.

Thank you Olivia, and welcome to your new home.

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Veggie Update

It’s been HOT around here…up to 109º F one day…and above 100º many days.  Many of our aquaponic plants have taken a beating, so we’ll need to focus on replacing them with heat-tolerant plants for a while.

On the brighter side, we have had a wonderful harvest of delicious veggies so far this year. Here are a few photos of some of my favorites.

We planted some cute Jack Be Little Pumpkins for our children.
These miniature pumpkins are small enough to fit in the palms of their hands.

    

And we’ve had cucumbers growing out of ears.  So many, in fact, that we can’t eat them all.  This has been a great opportunity to teach our son the joy of giving to our neighbors and family.

     

The beans were doing great, until the heat wave scorched them.

The Poona Kheera Cucumbers have been growing well.

  

These Royal Burgundy Bush Beans are purple on the vine and then turn green when cooked.

Another Poona Kheera Cucumber

Here’s a Red Burgundy Okra that’s surrounded by Marigolds

Whew, it’s in the upper 90′s today.  A cold front must have come through.

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Don’t Eat Fresh Chicken!

***Warning!  This post contains some graphic language…not vulgarity…just some detailed information about preparing a rooster (actually, a cockerel) for dinner.  As requested by one of our wonderful readers, there are no photos in this post.

We have some sad, yet tasty news…

We have finally confirmed that eight of our ten chickens are cockerels – the three large, white Silkies and five of the Ameraucanas.  They have all been crowing louder and louder every day (well, one of the Silkies just started this morning), and one of our neighbors said they heard them a few mornings ago.  We can’t have any roosters here, so it’s time for them to go to chicken heaven if we can’t find them a home immediately.

We decided it was time to prepare a chicken dinner, so we chose an area behind our house that would allow us to perform the execution without our neighbors having to watch a potentially messy and loud activity.

Since we decided to separate the chicken’s head from his neck with an ax, we needed a stable and flat surface that would not damage the sharp blade.  We had some trees cut down a while ago that were cut into two-foot sections and placed in a corner of our property.  One of the logs was retrieved and then placed on end in the execution area.  We then began to look for the rest of our tools – an ax and knife, a large pot of water, a baking thermometer, a heat source, a small trash can and plastic bag.

Since I have watched a number of YouTube videos about turning a live chicken into a plate of food, I knew that a large pot of water that is heated to about 150° F would help loosen the feathers.  As Kim was heating water on the stove, I remembered that we had an EcoZoom Versa rocket stove that we bought a month or so ago – not for this purpose, but it would work perfectly as a water-pot stand and to keep the water hot as we “processed” the chicken.  This stove uses very little wood to create a lot of heat, so we needed some wood.

It rained the night before and all the wood in our yard was wet, so we used some dryer lint and pine shavings (aka, brooder bedding) to start the fire and to dry small sticks and chunks of ground-up stumps that were laying around the yard.

We also needed a place to drain the blood and to hold the chicken feathers.  Kim found a small garbage can, lined it with a trash bag, and placed it next to the chopping block.

Once the hot water was in place and we confirmed that the temperature was just right, Kim held the roo upside down by his legs to keep him calm and I gently placed his head on the flat side of the log.  Then I held his head with my left hand and the ax with my right.

For safety reasons, I would have preferred to hammer two nails into the log and then place the chicken’s neck between the nails instead of holding the head with my hand.  After all, one slip of the ax and I could remove my fingers instead of his head.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any nails and I am a little too impatient to put off an execution.

As I was aiming and preparing to swing the ax, I was thinking about the French Revolution and imagining what I was going to do if I hit my hand with the blade.  Then I remembered that I should focus on what I want to hit, instead of what I don’t want to hit.

After moving the ax up and down a few time, I swung the ax and hit my target.  Next thing I knew I was holding his head as Kim swung his body over the plastic bag.  I dropped his head in the bag and took his legs from Kim so she could get me a wet towel to wash the blood off my face.  Apparently, it squirted on me after the headectomy or as he flopped around above the bag.  To my surprise, his body continued to move around quickly for at least one full minute before it relaxed and went limp.

Using his legs as a handle, I dipped his body in the water for about 30-45 seconds, wiggling it around gently as I waited.  After removing it from the water, I pulled on a few feathers to see if they were ready to be removed.  They came out easily, but there were so many that it took two of us at least 15 minutes to remove all but a few pin feathers.

When I got tired of pulling out feathers, I took his pale body into the kitchen, slipped on some disposable gloves, cut off his tail with a pair of kitchen shears, and proceeded to cut the skin around the vent.  This took much longer than I expected.  Maybe I was being too careful, but I didn’t want to cut the intestines and contaminate the meat.  After about fifteen minutes I was able to put my hand inside, along the backbone, and pull out most of the organs.  A few more scoops and out came the lungs, heart, and some parts that are still unidentified.

I wanted to soak the meat in some salt water overnight to insure all the blood was removed, but Kim decided that we needed to slow-cook it in a crockpot right away.  After about six hours, she served the roo for dinner with some fresh veggies and homemade bread.

Our first roo dinner was absolutely delicious.  In fact, it was the best tasting chicken I have ever eaten.

As I chewed…and chewed…and chewed…that delicious meat, I realized that something was wrong.  The roo was so young that I expected it to be fall-off-the-bone tender, but, instead, it was chewy like a thin piece of jerky.  Although we ate our first roo dinner and enjoyed the taste, I’m very happy that we didn’t have any guest over for dinner that night.

We learned some valuable lessons about raising and eating chickens.

1. Don’t buy “straight-run” chickens if you want hens.  Technically, you should get a 50-50 mix of male and female chicks, but you will more likely get an 80-20 mix (with the 80 being males).  I suspect that some breeders “sex” their chicks by placing the females in one box and the males in another.  Then they sell their females as “sexed” chicks and males as “straight run.”  While this does not seem to be an ethical business practice, I understand that they need to sell the males as well.  The main lesson here:  Don’t be cheap.  It’s worth paying a little extra to get what you want.

2. Keep some dry wood out of the weather at all times.  You never know when you’ll need to heat a big pot of water after it rains.

3. Don’t hold the chicken’s head with one hand and swing the ax near that hand.  I was certifiably stupid for doing this and was within an inch or so of losing some fingers.  Yes, I got lucky this time, but luck is often short-lived.  I’ll have to find a safer way to hold the chicken’s head next time.

4. Don’t eat fresh chicken!  In other words, don’t eat chicken immediately after killing it unless you are starving and unable to wait 24 hours.  After a little research, I learned that it’s best to let the meat rest overnight so it has time to relax…unless you like chewy roos.

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Roosters or Hens?

A week or so ago our stone sidewalk was messed up when the stump removal company returned to finish grinding up the crape myrtle roots by our house, so I haven’t been able to get down to the chickens since then.  My wonderful wife fixed the sidewalk yesterday, so we all went down to the coops and watched the chicks run around the yard for a while.  We had a lot of fun watching them do their chicken thing, and we even think we figured out which Ameraucanas are roosters and which ones are hens.

The Silkies will probably never get very big, but they even grew a noticeable amount in the past week.

The brown Silkie is very independent, but will quickly run to the other Silkies if they get too far away.

This is their typical standing position…always looking for food or rocks on the ground.

The Silkies look like stuffed toys, don’t they?

They found something in the grass.

We have six Ameraucanas, and we now believe that four of them are roosters.  Those four have very bright red combs and are much more aggressive than the other two.  They run, chase, fight, puff out their chest, and flap their wings a lot more than the other two.

Do you see that bright red comb on the left?  We think he is a rooster.  The chicken on the right has a much lighter comb and is much calmer than the others, so we think she’s a hen.

Here are the four Ameraucanas that we believe are roosters.  The one on the far right is probably a hen.

The white Ameraucana also has a bright red comb.  This is one of my favorites, so I hope we’re wrong.

The Three Roosterteers

“Meet my crazy brother.”

Are you one of our hens?

And you’re the other hen, right?

Such a beautiful Roo

Why are you puffing out your chest? Isn’t this another Roo behavior?

He was left out of the clique.

“I’ll just lay right here and relax for a while.”

“Hey, shorty.”

A rooster and a hen?  Time will tell.

We’re not sure what we’ll do with the roosters, but they can’t stay here.  They’ll either be sold to a breeder or they’ll be a meal for the family.  I guess it’ll depend on how hungry we are when they start to crow.

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We’ve got more bugs…good bugs!

After we found the cabbage worms eating our greens a couple of weeks ago, we ordered some beneficial insects from GardeningZone.com.  Now we have ladybugs patrolling the plants for aphids, mealy bugs, cabbage worms, and other leaf-eating bugs.  They’re on a search-and-destroy mission, and they are enjoying themselves.

Our camera is not taking clear close-up photos, so here is a photo of a ladybug grabbing a meal (courtesy of fatalii.net).

Ladybug – Courtesy of Fatalli.net

We also placed green lacewing eggs around the plants in small paper bags.  As soon as they hatch, those little Aphid Lions will feast on all of the soft-bodied pests and eggs they can find.

Aphid Lion (Lacewing Larva) – photo by Rik Littlefield, 2008

After that little creature eats its share of pests, it will eventually turn into this…

Green Lacewing – photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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