So Many Eggs!

We sure did miss our farm fresh eggs all winter while the hens took their well-deserved break. We waited with anticipation for the girls to start laying again.

Last week I started finding the odd egg or two in the coop. The kids were so excited each time I brought an egg into the house, clapping their hands and then quickly settling into an argument over who would get to eat the egg.

Imagine our delight when I found 16 eggs in the coop one morning, and a beautiful duck egg nestled in the corner. My children managed to eat all 16 of those eggs in one day!

Now every day there is a multitude of eggs, far more than we can reasonably eat. I am filled with gratitude toward our fine feathered friends each time we enjoy a meal made with farm fresh eggs. What a blessing and a joy to have this bounty!

Keeping hens and ducks is one of my favourite aspects of country living. They provide so much – rich, beautiful manure for the gardens; insect control; companionship for the kids; and of course, those fine, glorious eggs.

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Monday Creature Feature: Miss Cluck

Meet Miss Cluck, one of our Red Sussex hens.  Miss Cluck lays beautiful dark brown/pink eggs with even darker brown speckles flecked over the top.  She leans toward broodiness, loves to be held, and recently spent some time in the bathroom after becoming too chilled out in the yard.  Miss Cluck is an incredibly sweet girl.

You may have noticed in this photo that Miss Cluck is de-beaked.  We purchased Miss Cluck and two other Red Sussex hens from a nearby farm, a large farm with far too many birds crammed in far too small a space.  The farmer who sold them to us failed to mention that their beaks were clipped, and we didn’t get a close enough look at them to notice until we got them home and out of their boxes.  When I first saw their clipped beaks, I was horrified.  Eight months later, it is still difficult for me to look at. 

De-beaking is a horrible, cruel practice that is performed for the purpose of keeping a huge number of birds in a small space.  When birds are overcrowded, they tend to go a little crazy and start attacking each other.  Instead of giving them more space and more bearable living conditions, farmers cut their beaks off to stop them from injuring each other.  It is incredibly painful for the birds and makes it difficult for them to forage.  Our Red Sussex hens have to turn their heads at a strange angle in order to eat or drink, as otherwise their food just spills out of their mouths. 

Despite being improperly treated in her first year of life, Miss Cluck is a wonderful bird and we sure are glad to have her around our farm!  Her eggs are rich-tasting with beautiful, dark yolks and she’s got such a sweet disposition.

A Hen in the House

Last week we were fortunate enough to have a few days of really nice warm weather that melted all the snow. One day even got up to nearly 12 degrees Celsius! Our hens were really happy at being able to see the ground again, and eagerly went pecking around in the damp soil.

Then it got cold again, fast. Overnight the temperature dropped to -15 and we got hit with more snow. The hens seemed none the worse for wear, but one little lady in particular wasn’t doing so well. Miss Cluck was quiet, barely moving, not eating. Uh-oh. A few posts back I mentioned that we lost some hens to very cold temperatures, and I wasn’t prepared to lose another!

Into the house came Miss Cluck, to reside in the bathroom for a time. With a bowl of food and a bowl of water, some nice soft towels and lots of warmth blowing from the register, Miss Cluck recovered from the cold in the lap of luxury.

The children, of course, were delighted! A chicken in the house! They stroked Miss Cluck’s soft feathers, sang to her, told her stories, danced for her. Miss Cluck seemed to enjoy the kids’ antics and watched them with a sparkle in her eyes. It wasn’t long before she seemed to have made a complete recovery.

To be on the safe side, I kept Miss Cluck in overnight. In the morning she was back to her clucky, chipper self, so I thought it was high time she went back out with the rest of the hens. Gathering Miss Cluck under one arm, I went to the back door and gently tossed her out. She gave a few loud clucks and ran off to the barn to rejoin the rest of the flock and seems to be just fine out there.

I do wish it would warm up around here, for goodness sake! This extreme cold chills me to the bone.

Cluck!

Since last Autumn, we have lost seven hens (five to migrating hawks and two to extremely low overnight temperatures) and two roosters (to our puppy – who is, coincidentally, no longer our puppy).  This spring, our flock will need to be replenished.  We had been planning to have the hens hatch some chicks this time around in lieu of ordering day-olds from the feed store, but without our roosters that would prove an impossible task!

Luckily, we know a few fowl keepers and were able to get ourselves two beautiful broody hens and a lovely Australorp rooster.  We brought them home this evening, put them into the chicken coop, and… they immediately hopped right on out of there to explore the farm in the dwindling daylight.  A few of our hens decided to check them out, and the rooster immediately tried to mount them, causing quite a fuss in the hen yard.  The girls were squawking and flapping around, tossing feathers this way and that, not at all sure what to make of the newcomer who seemingly had no manners to speak of.

I have a feeling that a few of those hens will make short work of showing the new roo who’s in charge of the coop – he certainly isn’t!

Life and Death

Yesterday morning, Jae went into the chicken coop and found one of our roosters dead on the floor.  The poor guy had been having some problems – the day after Christmas he had become horribly chilled and couldn’t get himself warm again.  Jae brought him inside and warmed him up over the heat register, and soon he was back to his lively little self.  He seemed fine for a few days, but when we got another cold snap the rooster went downhill again.

The ground here is frozen solid right now, so burying the rooster was not an option.  Jae decided to take the opportunity to learn how to remove the feathers and butcher the bird.  He brought the poor roo into the garage and feathered it, much to our puppy’s delight.  Then he set to work with our sharpest knife (not nearly the right kind of knife for this job!) trying to take the rooster apart.  It was tougher than he anticipated!

I’ll save you the gory details.  The long and short of it is, Jae removed the legs and baked drumsticks in the oven with the intention of feeding one to each of the dogs. As the legs went into the oven, the children and I said a blessing on the rooster, honouring his life and the short time he spent here with us.  We thanked him for the food he was providing to nourish other farm creatures and we talked a bit about the circle of life.

We have been vegetarian for over a decade, and though we have contemplated the idea of eating our own birds, it hasn’t happened.  When Jae pulled the drumsticks out of the oven, he decided they were too good to throw to the dogs.  So he ate them himself!  Wow, was I surprised – and the kids were delighted.  They thought that it was just the funniest thing to ever have happened, Daddy eating a dead chicken.  Though when they were asked if they would like to have some, there were squeals and shouts of “No way!” all around.

I must admit, I was so squeamish when Jae first came in to announce the rooster’s death.  Then, when I knew he was out in the garage taking the thing apart, I was nearly beside myself.  But by the time Jae had the drumsticks in the oven, I had gotten a hold of myself and was in a more rational frame of mind.  The whole experience was a blessing, a chance for us to talk about life and death with our children and a chance for me to face my extreme uneasiness with dead things.  It was also an opportunity for me to see how my children really felt about eating animals when confronted with the possibility of doing so.  They opted out and both expressed a desire to remain vegetarian, but we talked about the possibility of eating animals in the future when we live in a more secluded, rugged, off-the-grid place than where we are now – when we won’t necessarily have the convenience of a grocery store ten minutes away.

I learned a lot yesterday with the death of our rooster.  I am so grateful for our chickens and the relationship our family has with them, so grateful for everything they have taught me, and so grateful to be a part of this great web of life.

 

Eggs by the Dozen

Wonder of wonders, our chickens are finally maturing and we are getting more eggs every day!  Friday morning my wee daughter climbed up to the second floor of the chicken coop to collect eggs in the back corner that were out of my reach – and found 15!  A new record!  Raina was so very proud to have collected a record number of eggs.

Needless to say, we’ve been eating lots of eggs at our house.  Scrambled, hard boiled, fried – my kids LOVE their farm fresh eggs any way we cook them.  Lynden will easily eat six eggs in one sitting if I don’t limit him.  The taste of these eggs is so amazing and good, so rich and delicious.  Store-bought eggs just can’t compare.  And the size!  Some of our chickens lay eggs that are bursting out of the “Jumbo” cartons!  Oh, how I love our feathered friends.  Chickens are the sweetest things. 

And some news from the front lines of Mouse Wars 2010 – Zerzan (aka “Zerzie”) has proven himself to be a phenomenal mouser and is regularly catching, killing & eating mice now.  Who would have thought that this little bundle of gray cuteness could be such a lethal force?  And such a sweet lethal force, too – he sleeps snuggled in the crook of the kids’ necks, purring away all night long. 

What Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Yesterday we brought home three Red Sussex hens, 20 weeks old, who had just started laying. We’ve been putting so much time and effort into our flock of birds without reaping any rewards yet – they are still too young to be laying.  So, we decided it would be nice to get a few eggs for our efforts, and picked up the Red Sussex girls.

They are lovely, very calm and friendly, very willing to let the children hold them and carry them around the yard.  They’re beautiful girls with deep red feathers accented with white here and there.  They settled right in as soon as we took them out of their boxes, checking out the chicken coop and strutting around the place as though they had always been there.

This morning as I hung the laundry on the line, I heard a low clucking sound coming from the bushes beside me. One of the Red Sussex girls was nestled in there, making contented little noises and sitting quite still.  After a few minutes, she got up and wandered away.  The children and I looked around in the bushes, and VOILA!  AN EGG!  A beautiful, perfect, light brown egg, sitting there on the ground looking absolutely lovely and wonderful.  Lynden and Raina were thrilled, and took turns holding the egg in their cupped palms, making  sounds of wonder and awe.  I whooped and danced around, laughing with the kids, being silly and delighted at this, our very first farm egg.  The feeling was akin to opening a present on Christmas morning to find that it was just what you had been desperately hoping for.  Perfect.

We looked around the farm in search of the two eggs that we assume the other two chickens must have laid somewhere, but we never did find them.  The kids checked in the coop, but no eggs in there either.  We’ll have to convince the girls that laying their eggs in the nesting boxes inside the coop is a much better idea than randomly dropping them around the place; I’m sure the excitement of finding eggs in the bushes will wear off fairly rapidly if it becomes a daily thing.

So there it is, sitting in our fridge: the very first egg.  It seemed rather silly to cook up one single egg, so I placed it in an egg carton, right in the centre, where it will sit and wait for more eggs to join it.  When we have a half-dozen we will feast like kings.  My guess is that  it will be the best breakfast we’ve had yet.

Cluck.