Category Archives: Chickens

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Eggs

Why You Don’t Want to Buy Organic Eggs at the Grocery Store was the title of an article recently delivered to my inbox. Basically, the article revealed industry requirements in readying eggs for market. Specifically washing eggs in chlorine baths, or other harsh chemicals, and then coating them with mineral oil.eggs

One of the first things I learned from the resident farm-pro down the road, is that washing eggs opens them wide up for contamination, which is why commercial producers have to coat their eggs with mineral oil. With 7,500 pores or openings in the eggshell, it’s best to leave intact the protective bloom, or waxy coating that God intended to protect the egg from harmful bacteria.

Spot-washing here and there is how I’ve always dealt with unwanted, errm…*smears*…but come to find out, the best way according to the above article, is to wash those spots off with warm water (20 degrees warmer than the egg) that’s been mixed in a 3:1 ratio with vinegar. Just like my grandma used to do it! (Read the above article to find out why)

We have 39 organic laying hens, and we sell about 10 dozen eggs a week–very small scale. But what you see is what you get. Our chickens free-range from early in the morning till dark, from their chicken “barn” with its two doors flung open wide. We supplement their free-ranging with organic feed that’s been mixed with Fertrell’s Nutri-balancer. This organic supplement contains 10-20% more nutrients than what the USDA requires, plus kelp meal, probiotics, chelated minerals (makes the minerals more bio-available), and phosphate, which enhances the layer’s absorption of calcium for  strong shells.

With organic eggs at the store costing anywhere from $4/dozen in our area, you might want to find a local farmer near you who does things the common sense way. Query him to know exactly what you are buying.

For more on how good free-range eggs are for you compared to your typical grocery store variety, visit Mother Earth’s Chicken and Egg page. I like to print this off and share it with my new egg customers. Most people can’t believe that pastured (free-range) poultry eggs can boast of the following when compared to their grocery store counterparts:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Happy News for the Kiddos: Did you know that out of the 69 billion eggs produced annually, only 2.3 million of them are contaminated with salmonella. That’s .003 %, or 1 in 30,000 eggs. Go ahead and enjoy that raw cookie dough! Salmonella infections are typically found in commercially raised hens. Sick chickens lay salmonella contaminated eggs. So buy high quality, cage free, organic eggs from a local producer and your risk of salmonella disappears!

One more thing before I sign off…yesterday we butchered around 60 chickens with the neighbors, along with another family’s help. This other family had helped friends of theirs process chickens just a week or two prior.

(This chicken killing thing is catching on…)

Anyway…the point is, this family told us how two families brought their birds to be processed, one family had fed their broilers organic feed, the other family hadn’t. The organically fed birds had more fat and healthier livers than the non-organic birds. Believe me, if you have ever butchered chickens, the liver tells the whole story. They should be dark and smooth, not spotted, green, enlarged, etc.

I’m telling you, God created us and our environments, and man keeps messing with a good thing! No antibiotics or GMO feeds for my birdies!

Get thyselves educated! We ARE what we EAT.

Where Is Your Treasure?

To find out what *I* personally think your treasure should be–and it might surprise you–hop on over to Parenting Q & A for my latest article!

Here’s a hint as to what it’s not:

Not our new vehicle, or our mortgaged “house beautiful”, or anything else that a second income could buy. In light of Matthew 6:19-21, we need to turn our hearts away from earthly corruptible things, and towards God and the values He assigns.

What does this have to do with parenting? Well. Everything.

australorpsMeanwhile, here on the “chicken ranch”, things are popping! Color everywhere from my veggie garden and purple redbud trees to the newest little chicks we added to our 70 up-and-coming layers. They are black and yellow with white-tipped wings and are called Australorps! I’m told that they will be all black when full grown, with purplish-greenish sheens. And they are excellent layers of brown eggs, which is a very good thing these days, as my organic eggs are finally in great demand!

Happy Spring, friends! A post on super foods coming up!

Please Pass the Organic Chicken Meat!

chicks09This news in! Organically fed chickens develop different and superior genes than conventionally fed chickens.

Why is this exciting to me? Well, our spring broilers arrived last Wednesday which means my freezer will be 25 chickens richer in about 7 weeks, Lord willing. Makes this organic, grass-fed effort to raise quality meat for my family much more satisfying.

Get this: Two groups of chickens from two generations were fed exactly the same things, except one group was fed organic feed, and the other, conventional feed. When all was said and done, scientists evaluated RNA (Ribonucleic acid–similar to DNA but different) samples from both groups’ intestines to check out their differences in gene expression. They were unprepared for the amazing results! For more info, check out this article at naturalnews.com: Organic Chickens are Genetically Different from Conventional Chickens.

My immediate thought is this: what does this say about us? If the different cultivation methods of chicken feeds can cause such changes in a chicken’s gene pool, then what does eating conventionally raised veggies and fruits as opposed to eating organically grown veggies and fruits cause in my own personal gene make-up?

Another thing–this study was done in the Netherlands. The conventionally fed chickens were NOT being fed feed containing genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), ie: “Frankenstien foods”, as they are known in Europe. Farmer John, my organic CSA farm neighbor, tells me that currently, most all corn grown commercially in the USA contains GMO’s, so it would be interesting frightening (!) to see a study comparing GMO grain fed chickens with their organically fed counterparts.

A 2006 Consumer Reports study urges that chicken is among the top products to purchase organic. It does not contain the toxic hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides that conventionally raised poultry do. This report even suggests that low levels of artificial hormones can increase one’s risk of developing cancer. Traces of toxic heavy metals have even been uncovered in commercially grown chickens. For a list of more chemically laden foods to avoid, go here.

Not only that, when you raise your animals on pasture and feed them organic feeds, you reap a huge bang for your buck. Why? Omega-3 fatty acids are created in the leaves of green plants, where they are vital to photosynthesis. When my chickens graze fresh green grass every day, they are accumulating more of these essential fatty acids. When I eat my chicken, I’m eating its Omega-3’s–and that’s just one of many nutrient benefits.

So…how about that? We really are what we eat, or er…what our animals eat.

In My Garden

This intriguing fellow is only one of the fun finds galore on gardening days at our place! He was so not happy, that “grin” is really a snarl, if  you can’t tell! Yikes!

This picture, gingerly taken by soil-dirty fingers belonging to yours truly, shows you the view from my garden facing North, toward our house.  Behind the red tiller is our puppy run, current home to three adorable Australian Shepherd puppies.  See our Suburban behind my potato patch? The potato patch I’m forever scaring our chickens out of. My hubby swears he is going to catch me on film and turn it into millions on “Funniest Home Videos”–I guess I’m rather a hilarious sight to behold, giving those hens a piece of my mind for enjoying the loose soft dirt around my taters. Poor taters–er, chickens.

Tonight, at 10 p.m., on my way back to the house after shutting our chickens up for the night…I just couldn’t resist a visit to my garden.

It’s one of those cool, rustly summer nights. If the wind in our state could ever be termed “peaceful”, it is tonight. Loving the sound of it in the treetops, I panned my flashlight through the garden fence, tiptoeing to the old wooden gate as if my light hadn’t already scared away those pesky rabbits who made away with my cauliflower and lettuce transplants a few weeks ago. But even the rabbit raids make for great memories, as my eldest and her daddy have taken to “rabbit hunting” with their rifles at dusk. They’ve eliminated a few rabbit pests from the property in past weeks. I’ve eliminated rabbits from my garden with good old cayenne pepper on the plants. *Smile* (Thanks for the tip, hubby’s mom!)

The garden is dry, in spite of the wonderful rain we received on Tuesday. I bend to pull some weeds in my lettuce bed and realize I’m unearthing radishes–oops. Best save weeding for daylight. Weeding wasn’t meant to be done by the glow of the moon anyway. About as unromantic as a gardener that mistakes radish tops for weeds. Ah-hem.

I’ve meant all spring to write a post about the fun we had making soil blocks at Farmer John’s, which we planted and stowed beneath grow lights in the basement. Perhaps I still will post about it, I’ve got some great pics to share, and soil blocking is a super fun and economical way to start seeds. The second picture on this page showcases my Romaine and Salad Bowl lettuce still in flats on planting day several weeks ago!

Here’s a picture of my wide row of yellow onions, the first thing in the garden–pic taken back in April. I’d love to keep a garden journal, from year to year, not only for the memories, but for the practicality of having a record. My memory is mush when it comes to details. Too many in my life already!

And last but not least, my garden is full of these homemade stone markers. Since we grew most of our plants with the help of grow lights, we needed garden stakes or markers to know what was growing where. Rather than buy blank stakes and keep track that way, my girls and I decided to paint stones. Here’s the one we did for “cherry tomatoes”.  For watermelon, we painted a triangle shaped rock pink with a green “rind” and dotted it with dark brown seeds…

This will be our first year gardening “organically”. I do hope the cutworms and squash bugs don’t dampen my resolve at first sighting! I keep asking Farmer John about organic pest control, and he keeps saying…vigilant patroling of plants and a lot of bug picking.

Joy.

Speaking of Joy. My mom would agree that our favorite gardening book of all time is The Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond. Farmer John thinks it’s a must have as well. If you even think you might want to learn about gardening, this is a book  you won’t be able to put down. It’s full of great pictures, how-to’s and tips from a pro on everything from starting seedlings, to tilling, creating raised soil beds, wide row techniques, composting and root cellar storage. I even take my copy to the garden with me, and have dirt smudges on the pages to prove it.

Who all is growing veggies this summer? Do you have a favorite book on the subject? Organic pest control tips? I’d love to hear them in comments!

Snapshots of the good life!

“Farmgirl livin’ makes for a more cheerful person, no matter where you are. It’s hard to describe in words what that means–you just know; you just live it.” ~Michaela Rosenthal, in the Apr-May issue of MaryJane’s Farm magazine

Check out this adorable Barred Rock chick, one of 156 that arrived this past Thursday morning. Fear not, these chickies are for laying eggs, not for butchering! (and not for possums either!!!!!)

Farmgirl livin’ to me is…

  • planting green beans barefoot in a gentle rain
  • flats full of plants I started from seed under grow lights
  • cute lil chicks with yellow diapered bottoms
  • cute lil girls with garden hoses–watch out!
  • fresh rhubarb crisp with a few dark sweet cherries thrown in
  • grilling steaks over a pile of smoldering logs in the back yard
  • puppies frolicking with chicks
  • letting the goats do the mowing when I don’t want to
  • cast iron skillet cooking–and fried chicken fresh off the broiler I raised myself
  • collecting clean bee-you-ti-ful brown and green farm eggs and having an overabundance for angel food cakes, deviled eggs and egg salad sandwiches
  • running down the road to the neighbors to watch them capture a swarm of wild honeybees

Aren’t these “cackleberries” purty?

Check out our fully critter proofed barn stall. See all the “playpens” outfitted with heat lamps, feeders and waterers? There are six such “stations” in this one barn stall…each with 26 chicks. Four Aldi’s orange boxes, and two large green wooden crates. All in all, a cushy brooder house, completely wrapped in chicken wire so no bad guys can harm the tenants. This project kept dh and I busy till 1 am the night before–nothing like waiting till the last minute…

See the post office boxes atop the green crate? Can you believe those small boxes were home sweet home to 156 chicks? Kept them nice and warm, and we had no casualties! Yay!

Another fun thing to note, the circle of sleeping chicks who’ve found their preferred temperature range…just beyond the radiating heat lamp!

This is the other half of the barn stall full of chicks…the blue barrel is full of organic chicken feed…$100 worth! We’ll see how long it lasts…

Lovely day for mowing, but who needs to? Just turn the goats out…see my irises? They’re the only flower that goats and chickens leave alone…to my knowledge and experience! Behind that grain bin is a nice expanse of green grass, home to our two field pens. When they are full of chicks, I get to traipse down the hill twice a day to check their feed and water, croon at them a bit, and move their pen to fresh grass. Thus the term: Pastured Poultry.

I’m in love with this 10 inch cast iron skillet my mother in law gave us. It’s the best for frying chicken,  scrambling eggs, baking deep dish pies…

By the way, this chicken was my smallest of the broilers, weighing in at 4 lbs 14 oz. Not too shabby! We even had a couple that were close to 7 lbs! One chicken was just enough to feed our family of 5, with one piece leftover. In telling my mom this, she said that in her childhood, one chicken had to feed their family of 8, and  her mom always claimed that her favorite piece was the neck. What a woman.

Saving the best for last…rhubarb crisp! Watch for a post soon in which I explain my reformation from being a rhubarb snob into a rhubarb hog…this is GOOD stuff! We are a family of converts…

This is the life for me! “Have what you want and want what you have”…right?

Hard Life Knocks on the Farm

fieldpenA horrible sight greeted me in the field pen this morning. Let me preface this gory tale by saying I haven’t experienced this scale of blood boiling murderous rage and trembling hysteria ever! And all over a chicken!

That shows you how sheltered a life I’ve lived, if nothing else. Let me remind you, I’m an Austin “pansy” transplanted into this mid-westernly rugged way of life. My husband has kindly dealt with most of our animal euthanization, and up till last fall, I wouldn’t have thought I could even stomach butchering chickens.

Two long days last week were spent helping our neighbors butcher their 100 broilers, along with 12 of our 16 broilers. I left four of my broilers home to “grow up” a bit more. Now I’m wishing I hadn’t.

On Friday night, something got into the field pen (pictured above) and made away with one of my birds. It left a chicken foot and back to tell the tale. Now this only slightly appalled me. The thought of a predator calmly sitting in the pen licking his chops on friend chickie WITH the other 3 chickens cowering in a corner watching?!? The nerve! The other thought for consternation was: Well then, now something has discovered a pen full of tasty treats and he will for sure be back for more! Argh!!!

Hubby assured me he had it under control. Somehow a varmint had popped a couple of zip ties off the base of the tarp and pen, and then had climbed up the inside of the tarp till he could get through the pen’s panels to the chickens. Hubby, an accomplished trapper, set a trap using the chicken remains I’d found, and though I had a few issues with leaving my remaining three birds at the crime scene another night, I decided to leave it in God and hubby’s capable hands.

After all, it was a perky Saturday afternoon, and I was blithely gardening and selfishly didn’t want to think about where to put three homeless broilers. Yes, I could have/should have butchered them, but I had a glorious day for gardening, a dry garden for once this wet spring(!) and lost myself for eight straight hours tilling, planting, making wide raised beds with my fun eight year old’s help…

Along came Sunday morning. Dh went to check his trap. Bad news. The thief  set off the trap, successfully stole the bait AND made away with TWO more chickens!!!

In a snit I stomped down to the field pen to gather up lone birdie intending to put it in a safe spot till I could get around to butchering it in the afternoon.

TOO LATE! Upon arriving at the field pen I caught said varmint in the process of enjoying one last luscious morning snack. In broad daylight!!! Good grief. There goes another fried chicken dinner!

I’m glad no one saw my snarling face as I gave that POSSUM the what for. If Christians had swear words, I would have used them. I mean, I screamed at that mangy, nasty, greasy nosed snot. And then I screamed for my husband!!! Finally he stuck his head out the front door and I yelled, “GET YOUR GUN AND GET OUT HERE!!!”

He kindly obliged.

Meanwhile, Possum is stock still, mildly looking me in the eye, probably wondering what kind of crazy weirdo could make such a racket. I can’t tell whether the chicken is dead or not, so I assume it is. It’s laying inert in the grass in front of Mr. Bad Guy. I’m standing there, shaking like a victim, throat burning from my hollering fit, heart racing, eyes streaming. SO mad and just willing my husband to hurry so Possum will get his just desserts.

Finally hubby arrives, pistol in hand, and possum scrambles for his life. How satisfying. Take that, and that. BANG BANG. We see the chicken move around in the pen and dh is optimistic.

“Maybe the chicken was just playing dead,” he says, opening the door and going in to scope things out.

I’m feeling more and more of my city girl roots. Frozen to the spot. About to melt into a sniffling puddle of writhing anger and grief. Very weird combo. I really think it scared dh because I’m normally cool as a cuke.

“Nope. It’s not playing dead. But it’s not dead either.”

Possum has been eating my live chicken from the feet up. It’s missing its entire back end, and it’s still alive!

Okay. At this point, I’m a bawling mess. I don’t care if I resemble my four year old after a nightmare. Thinking about that stupid possum not even having the decency to kill the chicken first. COME ON.

And you’re thinking…sheesh, you just participated in a killing spree of these same chickens only three days prior! What gives?fieldpeninterior

Well…to that I’d sputter…”But we did it humanely! And-and, that was the purpose behind the past eight weeks of growing up chicks. To feed my family, not a family of possums!”

So I’ve had all day to ponder this ordeal, and have come to some conclusions. Bear with me. You might wonder at my need to make this mean something…but I believe God allows all things for a reason, and that we can learn so much if we just wait on Him to open our eyes and understanding. After all, Jesus used many every-day things to portray his teachings through parables. So here goes. This is what I’ve processed about my emotional upheaval this morning.

The quivering rage I felt towards that possum helping himself so INHUMANELY to my chickens is NOTHING compared to the righteous anger of God when another one of His children dies without Him. The Bible tells us that “He is not willing that ANY should perish, but that all should come to repentance…” How impossible it must seem to such a loving God, that any of His creation could live a life for any purpose other than what God created it for, much less live life rejecting God’s free gift of salvation–free to us, but costing God so great a price–His son’s life.

How angry He must get at our apathy towards people who don’t know Him as their personal Savior. He’s given us very clear directives–the Great Commission,  for Heaven’s sake–and how many of us are actually actively sharing what Christ has done for us with our friends and neighbors and yes, even strangers at the grocery store?

You know, I was pretty apathetic towards my chickens’ plight, preferring to garden the day away. I spent from 2 p.m. till 10 p.m. playing in the dirt, letting hubby deal with the traps, and do the evening chores for my chicks. In retrospect, he thinks he only saw 2 chickens in the pen Saturday night, which means one more was whisked away during the daytime Saturday. I could have been more on top of things. Knowing something had gotten to my chicks was one thing. SEEING it with my own eyes on Sunday morning was an incredible SLAP in the face.

You know, in other countries and continents, mutilations and killings of Christians is something people see on the streets. Subscribe to Voice of the Martyrs if you don’t believe me. It’s one thing for me to tell you about it. But what if you had to watch it happen to your little girl? Or your husband or wife? God sees these horrendous happenings every minute on our planet.

What anguish,  grief and anger He must have towards the evil one, and yes, even those of us who go life’s merry way. Too busy gardening or homeschooling or working to worry about messy things like that happening half a world away.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 4:8, that we need to be sober and vigilant because the devil is like a roaring lion, roaming the earth,  seeking whom he may devour.

God is a real and personal God. We are His creation. He cares about us to the point of knowing how many hairs we have on our heads! He knows every sparrow that falls! This is a loving God–this kind of love none of us can fathom. How He must long for us to exhibit even a blink of compassion for the lost who have before them the yawning hole of everlasting fire! Or the ones that are being martyred for daring to have faith in Him? How much time does it take to remain aware of the persecuted ones and pray for them on a daily basis? Why is it so hard to share the good news with the unsaved people in our lives when taken into account that they will burn in hell forever without it?

It supremely bothered me to see the wasteful demise of something I’d raised for a worthy purpose. It’s been worrying at my mind all day. Hymn singing and my daughter’s homemade brownies have helped somewhat, but I hope this experience stays with me enough to remind me that real Christianity happens in the nitty gritty ugliness of life.

Until next time,

Mary

Baby Chicks Arrived!

chicks09Up at 5:50 A.M. anticipating a phone call from the neighbors…who were anticipating a call from the Post Office…saying, “Come get your chicks!!”

Yes, you too can order chicks via a reputable hatchery.  Or check your local farm store, many of them advertise “Chick Days” this time of year and have everything you need to get started.

In our case, our CSA farming neighbors, Farmer John and his sweet wife let us order fifteen broiler chicks along with their 150…and today was delivery day! I actually waited about an hour for “the call”, at which time I fished three girls out of bed where they’d been snoozing fully dressed for a half an hour, loaded them in the vehicle and off we trucked down the road to the farm.

All 165 chickies were packed in two smallish post office boxes, little mounds of vibrating yellow. According to John, they’re packed tightly to ensure they’ll stay warm. After all, day old chicks need to be in 95 degree temps to thrive. Thus, a heat lamp is an important part of chick-rearing!

We stayed at the farm long enough to watch John’s wife count out the first thirty-five chicks and introduce their little beaks to the waterers, familiarizing them to their new digs. Picked up on a new-to-me tip while watching:  use a cut and slightly smashed garlic clove in their waterers as a natural antibiotic. That’s helpful info when you’re trying to go au naturale!

Collected our little cheepers and their organic feed and headed home to settle them in a warm home, a thigh-high produce box from Aldi’s that’s about 3’x4′ and honewchicks09gging a whole corner of my already crowded laundry room!

Aren’t they sweet? Just don’t get too attached, as I’m telling my girls…in 6-8 weeks these Cornish meat broiler babies will be in the freezer…yes, we are not naming this batch. No siree. I’m not wavering on this not one little bit. But oh they’re soooo cute…

Yes, it feels like Spring has officially begun Winter’s thaw. Meet one of our two baby Boer goats and hopefully soon I’ll get pics up of our three Australian Shepherd puppies who are one week old today! babygoat2

You’ll remember my similar post last year when we pioneered our way through raising baby chicks for laying purposes. Those twenty-five babies are full grown beauties shelling out about 18 eggs a day. We LOVE chickens! If you are serious about pursuing this calling, *wink*, I highly recommend this book: Living with Chickens by Jay Rossier. While our chicken house was still a work-in-progress, I used to take this book out there and dream while thumbing through all the glossy pics of chickens and myriad chicken houses across the U.S.A.

If nothing else, get yourself a copy for the coffee table conversation it will bring…and maybe it will come in handy in the next few years. You just never know.

;O)

After all, I ordered laying hens last year for a reason. I’ve come a long way to thinking I could butcher my own meat. And it too, remains to be seen.