Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our Flock

The chickens are one year old this week, which also means that we have lived in our house for exactly a year (we brought home our little chicks on our second day here)! With our hens thriving and at the peak of their lay, it seemed appropriate to devote a post to them. (And yes, I am aware that I am now that girl who writes personality profiles of her chickens...).

The hens live on the west side of our backyard. The henhouse and attached coop sits against the house, and attached to it is the long run where they can range about without destroying our yard. Three weeks ago, we (mostly Matt) doubled the height of the fence, due to a certain daily escapee who kept flying over it (more on that below). It looks nice and tidy, if a bit like a maximum-security poultry penitentiary. Matt refers to it as Chicken Fort Knox. There hasn't been a single successful bid for freedom since we increased the height.

 (Click on photos to enlarge)

The hens roost in the henhouse at night (occasionally one ends up on the roof of the henhouse and we have to pick her up and stuff her inside) and the door to the coop (made of welded wire) is barred shut from the time it gets dark till they wake us up in the morning. We haven't had any problems with raccoons yet, but we have seen them in the neighborhood, and we don't want to take any chances (they are almost always nocturnal, so not a concern during daylight hours). Despite our best efforts, none of our flock ever learned to lay in the nest boxes. Instead, they lay their eggs in the straw on the floor of the henhouse, usually in the back corner, which requires us to reach in through the nest boxes at an extremely awkward angle to retrieve the eggs.

Penny, our Barred Plymouth Rock, would probably be rated the "best" of our chickens by any county fair judge. She is big, gorgeous, quiet, and an excellent layer. She was the first of the bunch to start laying and is just a very good backyard chicken!

 "What are YOU looking at?"

Lady Macbeth, our black Australorp, has consistently been the loudest and most obstreperous chicken I have ever experienced (given, my experience is limited). She has been incessantly vocal since she was a small pullet, whining these horrible loud and drawn-out guttural growls from first light every day, when the other hens just cluck mildly to be let out of the coop, please. She squawks all the time, scolds us if we don't bring her food every single time we go into the backyard, and escaped the run every day for two weeks until we constructed Fort Knox. If she weren't such a reliable layer, she would be soup by now.

Esther is probably my favorite of the hens. She's a Rhode Island Red, and she follows me around whenever I go into the run.

She is also desperate to invade the garage every time one of us opens the door (there is a big pile of straw in there that I am sure looks like paradise to a chicken). She is petite and quiet, and lays really beautiful speckled eggs.

Mimi  was not one of our original chicks, although she is the same age. She is a Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte, and came to us in October. She got beat up by the rest of the chickens for a few weeks, but now is fully part of the flock. She is terribly pretty, I think, and also the biggest and fluffiest of all the hens- the sight of her wide, upturned white bum when she is pecking at something cracks me up. Mimi has gone broody on us twice now (none of the other chickens have).

After trying several techniques of getting her un-broody, to no avail, I came across a website that recommended dunking a broody hen in cold water in order to lower her body temperature (a hen's body temperature goes up when she is broody, in order to incubate the eggs). We decided to try it, more because it was funny than because we actually thought it would work- but it worked a treat the first time. She has now been broody again for a week, and we have started finding some broken eggs in the henhouse, so we may need a new technique. Matt is the brave soul who regularly extricates her from the nest (she growls loudly) and gets soaked when she tries to flap herself dry.

Goldie is our Gold-Laced Wyandotte. She holds the position of second-most-annoying-hen--she seems to choose one day every week on which to be very loud and screechy from dawn till dusk. We think she is Lady Macbeth's protege, and that they conspire together to irritate us with their noise. Despite my paranoia about the neighbors reporting us for the noise (we have a permit for a large flock, so the number is perfectly legal, but noise complaints are legit), that hasn't happened yet, so we're probably in the clear. Goldie hasn't gotten as big as many GLWs I've seen, but the iridescent green in her feathers is magnificent.

We have decided that our old Ameracauna, Vivian, is going to be "retired" soon- whenever Matt gets an afternoon free to butcher her. It's sad, but we try to be practical, and has laid us a grand total of two eggs (one of which was yolkless) in nine months, and the reason we keep chickens is for eggs. We've put it off a long time, but she will go, and provide us sustenance in the form of chicken stew. We are deliberating about getting two pullets to replace her, increasing our flock to seven (the maximum we can have under our permit) and thereby expanding our (very small) egg business.

Despite whatever gripes I might have about noise, keeping hens is a real joy, and I love watching them hunt around in the run, come racing down the fence whenever one of us goes into the backyard, and collecting eggs. We have learned so much in this year, and next time we build a coop and a run we will know what to do differently. Since having our hens, we have zero food waste in our house. It is nice to know that even if we let the end of a loaf of bread go stale, the chickens will love it, and we will still get food from it, in the form of eggs. They give us endless fuel for the compost pile, they love when I give them big piles of weeds from the garden, and they are our slug and caterpillar disposal system. Now that I've gone down the road of chickenkeeping, I don't think I can go back to a life without chickens in the backyard.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Start-of-Summer Cobbler (and a Day at the Beach)

The strawberries launched into production full-bore about five days ago. For the first two days it was a handful of ripe ones each day, and now it's a big bowlful. The raspberries are starting now too. I was right- we're getting a bumper crop this year!

Upon inspecting the contents of the freezer, I found that we still had a few small containers of frozen berries from last summer- some raspberries and some strawberries. Time to use those up, with all the fresh ones coming on! I didn't have enough to make a dessert on their own, but some fresh rhubarb from the front yard added enough critical mass for a cobbler!

I used the blueberry cobbler recipe from How to Cook Everything but substituted in the fruit I had on hand. While this recipe is incredibly delicious and super rich, I think it's just a little too buttery for me (and I used 3/4 of the butter it called for) and I think next time I'll use one that's closer to a biscuit dough than a melty cookie dough.

It was so nice to bake something! I don't think I've done that since spring break at the end of March. And also, it was delicious and disappeared very quickly!

On Saturday we celebrated my new found freedom from school by heading to the coast for the day. The surf was up at Pacific City, but I didn't feel like getting in the water- I was looking forward to just laying around in the sun- and it was gorgeous out. So while Matt surfed for four hours, I relaxed and got fairly sunburnt, despite multiple applications of sunscreen and a strange ethereal fog that hung over the water, moving in and out and up and down, veiling the massive sea stack that is Pacific City's icon.
 Fog....No fog!

Berries on the beach!

Getting a start on my summer reading.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

One down, one to go.

I did it. I survived my first year of graduate school.

It was great, it really was. It was fun, and I learned SO much, I met so many people I admire and who share my interests. It was a great 9 months. And it was hard as hell at times. But I did it. One more of these and I'll have my Masters degree in Public Health.

But. This last quarter was really, really hard. That may have been apparent in my lack of blogging! The schoolwork itself was challenging, but in a good way. It was my schedule and the fact that I barely saw Matt and had next to no time for either him or myself, or for our home, that made it difficult. The combination of my work schedule, internship schedule, and class schedule meant that I was gone from home five days a week from before 9 AM, and not home till after 10 PM two days a week, with a not-quite-so-late class on another day. So apart from weekends, the only real time I had to do homework was between 6 and 9 AM. I didn't get much sleep. I didn't see much of my non-school friends. I barely cooked. I washed dishes maybe twice in the past three months, and didn't do laundry once. Matt did all the washing up and laundry, most of the cooking, and kept the animals alive and the gardens watered. He was incredibly supportive, and I couldn't have done it without him, but he was also busy with all of his volunteer gardening work, and experiencing plenty of stress too. So we let some things slide, and I am really looking forward to getting them back.

Since March, we have used the dishwasher far more than usual, eaten out way too much, run out of groceries on a regular basis, stopped menu planning, and spent almost all of our little free time watching movies. I bought coffee way more often than I would like, although I think I at least cancelled out the additional cost by riding my bike much more regularly, and therefore not paying for bus tickets. We did manage to keep up with our routine of baking bread every week, and got the gardens planted and kept almost everything alive.

Maybe this goes without saying, but Matt and I are always both happier, healthier, and more productive when we get to spend more time together. It sucked so much that the time I needed to spend on school--something I also love and am committed to--took me away from Matt, who should be my priority. We were prepared for it, but that didn't stop it from being hard, when we only saw each other for a couple hours every day, and during the precious hours when I was at home, I had to be studying. We talked on the phone a lot more than usual, catching up with each other while I was walking across campus to class or from my internship back to school. But we are both so ready to actually spend time together. Back in January, we made a New Year's resolution to get out of town for a long hike once a month, and we weren't able to make good on that. Hiking together and cooking together have always been two constants of our relationship, and both of those things have disappeared over the last few months.

So. This summer, I will only be working 24 hours a week, and it looks like Matt will be working part time too. I have one quick summer class over the last two weekends of June (which I'm not even counting as school, because it seems so different from the craziness of the school year), but besides that, the only other demands on my time will be the weddings and reunions that Matt and I will go to together this summer. Mostly, I am looking forward to being at home, puttering around in the garden, looking after the chickens and the bunnies, picking up the knitting and sewing projects that were abandoned months ago, re-discovering my guitar, actually blogging regularly, reading for leisure, having time to go to yoga classes, and cooking and hiking with my partner. And, sometimes, just laying on a blanket in the sun in the backyard for hours at a time, doing nothing whatsoever.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bunnies, lavender, strawberries, hail.

At school, the finish line nears. At home:

 It has become apparent that we thankfully got good pollination this spring, and the fruit trees are loaded! They'll need to be thinned a bit in the next couple of weeks.

 The garage is once again bursting with baby bunnies! This batch (two litters born on the same day) are now two weeks old.

 The carrots are looking awfully carroty.

Matt baked cookies in celebration of me turning in the second of two massive big papers this week. They have disappeared quickly!

The dogwood tree has convinced us that when we buy property, we are getting one just like this! The blossoms have been holding steady for three weeks now. 

The lavender start we planted last summer has quadrupled in size and is blooming.

Our first pea!

We had a gnarly hailstorm yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, the rhubarb was the only thing that sustained any real damage. 

The roses just keep getting better. 

We've been eating a lot of spinach. 

And our first strawberries of the summer!

A big pot of veggie stock was made, to help fill our slightly empty freezer.

Lady Macbeth has earned herself several more black marks. In addition to being the loudest of the flock, she has now escaped from the run every single morning for the last ten days, and yesterday morning she decided to excavate a 10 square foot section of the lawn. We've tightened up the fence, but to no avail. If she weren't such a good layer, we'd be having chicken soup for dinner.