Cast and Crew

Monday, September 27, 2010

What's For Dinner??

Chickens are omnivores. They'll really eat anything. Sometimes they even look at me with those beady little eyes, and I wonder if I'm on the menu. But seriously, this time of the year many chickens are molting, and the loss of all those feathers makes them ravenous. Our three pound feeder gets emptied twice a week by our seven girls, so we have to keep an eye on it to make sure they don't start chewing through the coop wire to get at the fridge in our kitchen.

We recently procured a couple of large metal bins for storing chicken feed. Why? Rodents, of course. Our garden shed was once the Hilton for a couple of very plump mice. They got into the food, the cracked corn (for treats), potting soil, garden seeds, fertililzer... You name it, they wrecked it. Solution? Metal bins, and a new concrete floor in the shed. The floor won't be done for another couple weeks, but the metal bins are a great way to put an end to the mousy frivoloties. Each of these bins has a thirty gallon capacity, which means they can each comfortable hold two fifty-pound bags of feed. The one in the foreground here has that amount in it, and you can see how much room is left. Bear in mind, this means that each bin will weight over one hundred pounds when full.

The lids fit snugly, and we have yet to experience any problems since using the bins. Price your local co-op and hardware store for the best deal. We got these for about $28 each at the big chain hardware store a mile from the house. They beat the local co-op by two bucks.

Buckets with tight-fitting lids also work well, but rats have been known to chew through plastic when desperate. Ours have held up well, but we're also careful to keep them in areas with lots of activity and foot traffic. Shifty little rodents prefer dark corners and quiet places to perform their acts of pilfering. The one pictured above is home to our supply of weed seeds.

Weed seeds? Really? Here in our little urban farm, we like to call ourselves frugal (aka cheap). Why pay for something when you can trade, barter, or get it for free? One of our neighbors works at the Snohomish County grain facility. Farmers bring in their grain, it gets ground, and the waste (weed seeds, hulls, bits of wheat, etc) falls to the floor. That neighbor expressed an interest in getting a herd of chickens to roam around and eat all that good stuff that was getting thrown away. Better solution - We'll take it! We mix this in a 1:2 ratio with their regular feed. The girls love it, it gives them extra protein and variety in their diet, it cuts down (a little) on feed cost, and it keeps perfectly good grain out of our county waste facilities.

We also add oyster shells to our ladies' meal plan. I've tried several ways of providing them with these shells, but the least messy method I've used is to incorporate it straight into the feeder. This gets mixed at a 1:4 ratio with the standard feed. So filling the feeder is easy. Four scoops of feed, two scoops of weed seeds, one scoop of oyster shells. Repeat.

A bag this size will last a long time. We've had this one for a year already, and it's still 3/4 full. And heavy!! Ground up oyster shells are also great in your garden. They repel slugs and other soft-bodied pests, and they provide a great source of calcium and magnesium for plants. We don't bother since there are loads of egg shells to fill that need in our raised beds. 

Last, but possibly most important, access to fresh, green grass is really important to the dietary health of a chicken. Apart from fresh air, space to run and flap, crunchy insect snacks, and mite-busting dust baths, getting outside lets your chickens feel like chickens, not nuggets in a cage. If you can't let your hens out, or if the weather is just too nasty, make sure to give them plenty of treats to snack on. Cabbage leaves, melon rinds, and loads of other scraps from your garden and kitchen give them variety to nibble on, and they cut down on aggression during times of confinement. Chickens (like cows, sheep, and many other farm animals) also have the ability to digest grass and turn it into an edible product for humans to consume. This is our best way to get Omega 3 fatty acids. Check out this article from Eat Wild for more information on the benefits of consuming meat and eggs from grass-fed animals. The more they roam in the yard, the darker our hens' egg yolks get, and that's the whole reason we wanted to raise chickens in the first place.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is It the Weekend Yet?

You know you need a new job when.........

Clicking on the photo will enlarge it. Ignore the agenda items. Can you find the little mouse I hid in there? Honestly, I need to go home and plant something.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Annual Visit to the Fair

Each year we celebrate our anniversary with a trip to the Evergreen State Fair. I know, terribly romantic! Still, nothing makes me smile like baby piglets, stroking the mane of a Clydesdale, or watching the pygmy goat kids play.

But what about the chickens?

It's lots of fun to walk through the poultry and waterfowl barn. The roosters crow, some of the hens guard eggs in their cages, and the geese nip at children's fingers.

A lot of the chickens at the fair are banties. This little roo was quite the gentleman. I don't see the appeal of miniature chickens, but many urban farmers think they're great. Me? I love fat, fluffy, sassy hens.

This one looked so much like Winnie! Now that our girls are officially hens (except for the pullet crew of two), showing them at the fair or with poultry groups is more appealing. It can be a lot of work to get your chickie ready for dispalying and judging, but perhaps we'll try it!

Blueberry Picking

Alas, I am a bad blogger. I've not kept up with my posts lately, and it appears that the summer is quickly fading into memories. Let's take a walk back through a hot, sunny morning. On a cloudy, drippy day like today, it's good to think of summer's warmth.

We've never been berry picking until this year. With our decision to eat more local foods, stocking up, preserving, and freezing have been some of our prime summertime activities. We started off easy. Blueberry picking is simple and fun, and there are no thorns.

Blueberries start coming into season in July, and they keep producing right up through the end of September most years. The plants in our yard are still giving us a few berries each week, but our harvesting at Bryant Bluberry Farms in Arlington was in the last few weeks of their prime blueberry season.

You can see how many unripened berries were still hanging on the bushes, but the ripe ones fell into our buckets with a satisfying thunk.

Twenty pounds later, we headed for home with dreams of blueberry muffins, pancakes, scones, and more.

The best part of harvesting blueberries is snacking as you go. Once you get them home, rinse them off, pat them dry, and bag them for the freezer. Blueberries, unlike other types of berries, don't stick together when frozen, so it's easy to grab as many as you want without having to thaw a whole batch.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chicken Vacation!

You may have noticed that the girls haven't posted anything exciting for a while, but that's only because we've all been on vacation for a week! What's been going on around our urban farm?

The garden has been growing like crazy. We've gotten several days of rain over the last few weeks, and it's worked more than a few wonders. Hmm.... How did this pumpkin get here?

A funny thing happened in the compost pile... We always throw in lots of veggie scraps and leftover bits from growing things, and sometimes things sprout up from the compost after it gets spread around the yard. At least two pumpkin vines were determined to grow this year, despite the fact that I did not plant any.

We hit the motherlode! This lovely specimen was growing OUTSIDE the fence along the sidewalk. Bad idea. I harvested him a bit early, but we were afraid he would get victimized or vandalized by someone walking by. We joked about these pumpkins (affectionately called punchkins in our family) as they began to grow and mature. As many of you may know, cucurbits are extremely promiscuous plants, and they'll cross-breed with anything nearby. Last year we grew three varieties of punchkins and one type of cucumber, so our early plants were named punchcumbers. Thankfully, it appears that the pumpkins are indeed pumpkins, and they are most likely a cross between Jack-Be-Little and Rouge vif d'Etampes, better known as Cinderella pumpkins.

We've eaten a LOT of cole slaw lately...

And I cannot wait to taste my first home-grown brussels sprouts!

Our tomatoes are the talk of the 'hood. No one else has red ones yet, and we've already collected over three pounds of ripe cherry, grape, Vintage Wine, and Brandywine tomatoes. What's our secret? Pruning, trellising with twine, snapping suckers, and generous heaps of crushed egg shells for each plant. Okay, okay, and we bought FABULOUS starts at the farmers market in the spring.

We've had lots of visitors and friends in the garden, and many of them are keen to hold still for a photo op. Can you believe I grew this Echinacea from seed last year?

There's been lots of vacation time just spent lounging and sun-bathing.

A little work got done, too. Look at that brave contractor replacing windows upstairs! Almost all the windows in the house are now energy efficient. Best of all, they open and close and they don't leak!

The girls have had lots of fun, too. They've been out in the yard nearly every day, they've gotten lots of veggie scraps, and the coop got a good cleaning. You can see here that the straw on the floor is all gone. When we clean the coop out, we give the hens a few days to scratch around in the dirt and clean up the extra feed and seeds that fall through their bedding. When fresh straw goes down, they go crazy! It's fun to scratch, fluff, and play with new bedding, so this is a pretty exciting time to be a chicken. By the way, make sure to wish our older girls a happy birthday! They're officially one year old now!

The babies are still babies, however. Winnie and Dark Meat never get to roost on the pole with the older girls, so they sit on top of the nest boxes every night. And no, they have not started laying yet. Portia (pictured in the background) has been looking for creative places to hide her eggs. We found one in the compost bin earlier in the week. Bad chicken!

No vacation would be complete without a few tasty treats. The hens get their own designer pancake this morning. There was a little leftover batter and some raspberry seeds from the compote I made, so a fancy chicken brekky was born. Happy vacation!


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