The new poultry catalogs started arriving in the mail this week and the chatter online has turned to baby chick orders. As I page through the catalogs I find I have a bad case of chick envy.
Aren’t they just the cutest?
I’m not planning on ordering any chicklets this spring, but as I look at all the cute pictures I’m really tempted. The more you learn about chickens and read about the marvelous varieties available, the more you want to try them all. Chicken owners are much like gardeners with their new garden catalogs: each variety seems more promising and, like kids in a candy shop, we want them all!
The trouble with raising chickens in a suburban backyard is there’s only so much room, so you’re limited in how many chicks you can manage. I’m aware that plenty of backyard chicken owners start a whole new flock every year or two, but in order to do that you have to be willing to dispose of the original flock either by processing them (read: butchering) or giving them away. I’m not willing to go there with my girls. Hence, my options are limited.
Right now I’ve got four chickens who are laying like crazy in spite of the frigid weather. In fact, I can hardly keep up with all the eggs they’re giving us, so I really don’t need any more chickens. But I still can dream. Someday I’d love to have Marans for their dark chocolate-colored eggs, striped Barred Rock for their plumage, or Silver Spangled Hamburgs for their regal look. And of course I’d like to have Silkies just because they’re so cute. These tiny bantam chickens with black skin and feathers as soft as fur don’t take up much room at all. (Maybe……just maybe…..I could get a couple this year?)
If you’re wondering which breeds of chickens would be best for you, they all have their own qualities. While I love the elegance and the unique blue and green colored eggs laid by the Easter Egg chicks, my plain brown egg-laying Rhode Island Red hen Ruby has laid more eggs than any hen I’ve ever owned. And my Silver Wyandotte Coco is not far behind.
Good luck on your own chick hunt and let me know what you’re ordering. (I’ll be jealous, but it’s okay.)
As I mentioned, lately we’ve had almost more eggs than we can eat, so I’ve been eating an egg every day for lunch just to make room for the next day’s collection. I usually throw together a salad and top it with a 4-minute cooked egg. The combination is perfect and oh so satisfying, especially when you know the hen that laid your egg.
It’s hard to convince people this time of the year that keeping chickens can be fun when the weather fluctuates from freezing cold to nose-biting frostbite, gentle snow to blizzard whiteouts, and bone-chilling wind to hurricane-force gales. All in one day! No one wants to be outside—for any reason—let alone take care of chickens.
In spite of the weather, there is a certain sense of magic whenever I head outside to the coop, especially late at night. I must admit I’m not eager to take time away from what I’m doing to pull on my heavy winter jacket, Sorel boots, ear muffs, neck scarf and ski gloves and tromp outside into the cold. But once I’m outside I often linger. The backyard has a different quality in the winter darkness. The snow and ice luminously glisten in the pale light, making the snow look so fluffy, so precise, and so perfect it looks fake. The crunch and squeak as my boots cut through the path, however, quickly prove that it’s real as I head out to tend to the chicks.
Chickens put themselves to bed when the sun goes down (something most parents wish their children could learn), but I add extra light during the winter months so they’ll continue to lay eggs. I therefore head out around 9 pm to tuck them onto their roost and turn off the light (the light’s on a switch, so there’s no timer). They know the routine and are waiting for me. They’ve had their suppertime snack and are usually on the roost although flighty Ruby has a hard time settling down and keeps thinking I’m bringing her more treats at bedtime. But, eventually they snuggle down and I switch off their light then head back to the house. The short walk is quiet and peaceful. Yes, it’s cold and yes it’s hard to leave the warm house, but the stillness and gentle cooing of the chickens more than makes up for it. It’s often the best part of the day.
Latest Book News: My book Chicken and Egg has been spotted on the shelf in Crate & Barrel and is featured on page 60 of their latest catalog! I can’t wait to get over to the store to see it in person. Let me know if you catch sight of it.
I grew up in a family of three sisters. I was recently reminded of my teenage years and the hours spent battling over use of the bathroom with my two sisters as I watched three of my hens last week trying to use one nest at the same time. Watch the video below and you can almost hear their mutterings translated as “It’s my turn now—you’ve been in there forever!” and “I can’t hold it, I have to come in now!”
Ruby, the red chicken on the left, was the first one in the nest. She’s then joined by Cleo on the right, while Coco, the black and white hen, demands to be let in too. The video starts with Coco’s attempts to barge her way in. Listen to the gutteral cooing Ruby makes as she’s laying her egg (which sounds like growling in the video). Ruby finally manages to lay her egg through it all but watch carefully as Cleo seems to claim the egg as her own and even pushes poor Ruby out of the nest.
I must admit, chickens are a lot calmer than teenage girls, with no shrieking, shouting or crying. All three hens eventually laid their eggs that day and they’ve taken turns ever since.
The tension is building in the coop tonight. It’s cold and the girls are tired of being literally cooped up in the coop and the run. They’re used to having the entire backyard to roam in and this winter cold and snow is cramping their style. So they’re starting to take it out on each other.
Tonight when I brought the girls their suppertime snack they crowded around me as usual, each wanting to be petted while at the same time getting to the treat first. They started eating and I was tidying up the coop when I began to hear short little barks coming from below. As I looked down I saw Cleo giving a bark-like warning cluck while simultaneously nipping at the head of whoever got near her. There was no way she wanted to share her treat tonight and this grand dame was going to make sure that everyone else stayed away.
I think I understand how she feels. I’m getting a little crabby and feeling cramped having to constantly be inside too. We all need a break from this year’s vicious cold. Tomorrow I’ll give the girls some special sprouts to eat and something new to play in. I’ve saved some bags of dry fall leaves and they’ll have a fun time digging in those, at least for a day. I don’t think dry fall leaves will cure my cabin fever, however; if only it were that easy.
Merry Christmas from the Three Swingin’ Chicks (plus one)!
The chicks have presented us with wonderful Christmas presents: eggs, LOTS of eggs. After not laying since March 27th, Roxanne started laying a few weeks ago and now she and other three chicks haven’t stopped. I’ve been getting 3 to 4 eggs a day on a regular basis for the last three weeks. It must be something about the spirit of the season. Or it could be the beautiful snow, the Christmas carols playing on the coop radio, or the warm mash I’ve been feeding them each morning. Either way we feel lucky to have such generous girls.
I hope you all enjoy your holiday times with friends and family. If you’re not too overloaded with cookies, you might try one of our favorites, chewy Almond Drops. Simple cookies of almond paste and egg white, these gems are perfect. Plus they’re gluten-free! I’ve altered the recipe only slightly from the original version posted by King Arthur.
Sometimes taking care of chickens is hard. Like today. We’re in the middle of a blizzard. This is the view as I stepped out back this afternoon: waist high drifts on the way to the coop.
The snow has been falling since midnight last night. We’ve already got 18-inches on the ground with more on the way.
Everything in town has been called off, the airport’s closed, buses aren’t running and Christmas concerts and plays are canceled. But chickens need care no matter how much snow we get, so out I trudge. I’ll be back out later in the evening to bring them lots of cracked corn and scratch feed. The corn and goodies in the scratch digest slower in their tummies keeping them warm through the night. Kind of like covering them with an extra blanket. With the wind howling and temperatures plummeting to below zero tonight, keeping them warm and protected is crucial.
We plan to warm up our own tummies tonight with my family’s special holiday drink: Tom and Jerry’s. My grandfather’s neighborhood bar was known for this drink and customers came from miles around to warm themselves up during the cold holiday season. Keep warm everyone and cheers to all!
The kitchen’s getting steamy and overheated—the food marathon has begun. First up: Pumpkin-Toffee-Pecan Cookies. It’s a variation of a recipe from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Victory Garden Cookbook. I hadn’t planned to make cookies as we’re already having an over-abundance of desserts in the way of pies tomorrow, but I had an extra cup of pumpkin puree leftover so decided to put it to good use. I’m glad I did, yum!
These puffy cake-like cookies are very special with a strong hint of orange combined with toasted pecans and bits of crushed toffee. They’re almost like mini cakes with a large dollop of cream cheese frosting on the top. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. I just have to remember to put some aside for our Thanksgiving guests or we may just nibble them all away.
Great news: My book, Chicken and Egg is available for pre-order online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books. It’s also available from the Good Cook Book Club and Home Style Book Club. It looks like the earliest you’ll be able to get it will be January 26th. The official release date of January 15th that I mentioned in my last post is apparently the date the book ships to all of the stores. (I’m slowly learning about the publishing world.)
For anyone who wants to pre-order the book and give it as a delayed Christmas present, I have good news as well. Chronicle Books, my publisher, will be printing up cards with an image of the book on the front and a recipe from the book on the back. You’ll be able to wrap up the card with a note that the book will be coming soon. Just drop me a line or give me a call and I’ll be happy to send you as many cards as you need. Also a big thank you to everyone who has already pre-ordered!
The chickens are worrying about the ominous weather report for this weekend. A possibility of a foot of snow in some areas. Hard to believe it was 70ºF on Monday! The chicks are trying to figure out a way to follow the 3 trumpeter swans I saw flying overhead this morning. Beautiful graceful birds running before the storm.
We’re ready for whatever happens this weekend as the last of the deck furniture got put away yesterday and all the leaves have been swept aside. A big pot of soup is cooking and I’m planning to make my favorite Buttery Giant Biscuits. (Recipe below.)
I’m so excited! My book Chicken and Egg, A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes is over in China being printed as I write and will be officially released on January 15, 2011.
What a New Year’s present! It’s strange to think that after all the cooking, testing, writing and hard work that went into putting this project together, that I’ll soon have the actual book to hold in my hands.
I’m a little nervous, although I know it’s going to be beautiful. My publisher, Chronicle Books, has done a fantastic job of melding my recipes together with stories of my first year of raising backyard chickens to create this unique cookbook memoir. I hope you’re going to love it.
As more details become clear, I’ll let you know where you can purchase it, if you can pre-order, whether I’ll be signing books and all sorts of other fun things.
In the meantime, the chickens are oblivious to their upcoming fame. Cleo’s in a terrible mood as molting has given her a bad hair day for a month now. She’s only 3 but acts 13 and truly embarrassed. Roxanne, who molted in June, is beautiful but bossy. She hasn’t laid an egg since summer causing me to wonder why we put up with her.
The two little ones make up for the quirkiness of the older two. They laid their first eggs 2 weeks ago and haven’t stopped. Ruby has laid 14 eggs in a row! I think it’s a record. The older girls always take a break every couple of days, that is when they’re laying at all, but not Ruby our tiny runt of a girl. Hens are born carrying the entire number of ova that will develop into eggs in their lifetime. I hope she’s not using up her stash too quickly. Coco has laid 8 out of 10 days so she’s also doing her part. It’s great fun to be back in the egg business. I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it.
Look at the posts below for some of the new recipes I’ve been making. I don’t have room to post them here so thought I would share them in individual posts. Also, I’ve finally updated the tabs About Me and Recipes. Check them out and let me know what you think.
Zucchini is one of the few vegetables that’s not good for me. Which is surprising considering it’s extremely low in calories (13 calories in a half cup), has a considerable amount of vitamin C along with good amounts of folate, potassium, and vitamin A. My problem is, when I see zucchini I think of zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, and zucchini bars. I do not think of steamed zucchini, stir-fried zucchini, or raw zucchini.
So, the other day when I had a couple of zucchini to use up, I immediately thought of the Zucchini Bars my mother made when I was growing up. They’re moist, fragrant, filled with spices and raisins for extra sweetness.
The girls ate the leftover shredded zucchini thereby getting all of the good vitamins without the added fat and calories. But I know I enjoyed the bars more than they enjoyed the raw zucchini.