Monday, April 30, 2012

fresh eggs: week 2

By now these girls are just becoming a regular part of our daily routine around here. They go through a little bit of their own newborn stage, needing constant care for a few days to quickly falling into an easy go with the flow of the rest of the family by just a couple weeks old. These gals have brought plenty of laughter to our family as we watch them run around curious and sleepy all at once most times. The boys have done well keeping up with their needs and Jaxon has written out his "business" plan to stay on tract for selling some good ole' grass fed fresh eggs eventually. Check out below for a follow-up from the first week of the girls arriving!

 These chicks really know how to party, but when they are done, they are done! They will literally run crazy and then fall flat on their face and just fall asleep. I crack up every time I witness it. See above photo :)

 The cute little fluff is quickly disappearing as little pin feathers start to grow. How exciting! I didn't think it would be so fast, but it's been so neat to come out each morning and see how much more they resemble chickens and less a ball of fluff. Of course, as any new gal growing new hair, there are some "ugly" moments... bald spots, prickly dangly feathers pointing out but not yet sprouted, and funky looking shafts that turn into feathers. Hey, it takes time to be beautiful!

 One of the most important things with young chicks is a clean brooder. I so badly want all these gals to live so I clean it out about every 3-4 days. I have become a huge fan of the pine shavings, as they smell good and keep things tidier then anything else. I layer a good inch of newspaper and then follow up with pine shavings (I read that anything other then pine can cause respiratory problems, so if you are using this blog as your own guide, do not use anything cedar and do not confuse pine shavings with pine chips!). I layer so much with newspaper, so if there is an accidental spill of water I can quick pick up the wet layers and easily recover with dry fresh pine shavings. A wet or damp brooder can make for some real sick chicks, real fast. The boys are good about filling the feeder twice a day and getting fresh water twice a day. These girls can put it down!

 Our neighbor made me laugh when she sent these chicken shaped cookies home with my kids the other day. What a perfect treat! I loved them!

 Week 2 meant introducing the girls to a roost. All chickens roost, out of instinct for survival. In the wild they will perch high in trees. In the barn they will find a rafter or light poles. In your back-yard coop, they need a place to roost. This is where they will sleep and go when needing to relax or if they feel like they are in danger. Perching for chickens is like a baby's first steps. It gives them a chance to practice their balance, learn to roost, and gives them something to play on. The start of this week, Jaxon and I sawed a few sticks we found to give them a beginner perching spot.  They pecked at it for a bit and went on their way. I know in time they will find their way to the top! (except our silkie banties...they sometimes prefer to sleep in a pile on each other like a bunch of kittens, We'll see what ours do!)

 A close up of their pin feathers falling into place. Their wings are so wide and so pretty. The reds have startled me a few times and almost flown right out of my hands. I guess they are growing faster then I realized! Letting little hands hold them lately has been more of a one on one experience with an adult to be sure these gals aren't flying the nest!

 Austin is still all about anything chicken. Love this kid. Here he is being a good trooper again as we clean the brooder box.

 Week 2 also meant it was about time to introduce grit. Not the kind of grit you eat in the south, but little pebbly grit for chickens that help them digest their food. Chickens do not have teeth or stomachs. Their food goes straight to their crop, the little pouch at the base of their necks.If you've ever seen a bulge on a chicken's neck, you've probably caught them in a moment right after they've eaten. Eventually that food passes into their gizzard where it is digested. They need a grinding agent, called grit. Since these chicks can't find their own pebbles on the ground just yet, we purchased a bag of grit for them at our local feed store. A cheap $4 bag of this will get you a longs way. The first few times I just sprinkled some of this onto their fresh bedding so they could learn to search for their pebbles. Some say you can just place in a dish for them, but I preferred the more natural search and find method :) Sometimes grit is called "scratch", when the birds can find their own by scratching around on the ground and grass.

 Week 2 has had plenty of necessary petting times too. These gals are getting a little more skittish as they grow, so holding and petting them for taming reasons is crucial at this stage so they won't run and hide every time we go to see them in the yard someday!

Little Joanie is still hanging on, but she is much smaller then her brooder pals. Here's the flock mid-way through week two! They already look so different! Stay tuned for week 3 as we bring up the heat lamp a bit to 85 degrees and take the girls outside for their first yard visits! The weather man says 80 this week and these girls are anxious to greet the great outdoors!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Day 3 & 4: recipe for fresh eggs

These girls are some fast growing chicks! Well, everyone but little Joanie. By day 3 Joanie was finally eating and drinking on her own, but she is clearly still hobbling around and about a 1/3 of the size of her box buddies. I hate to write it, but I think the inevitable is upon us. 

By day 3 I could surely smell and see the box already needed a thorough cleaning. It's a different smell, not so unpleasant like a kitty litter box, but definitely a smell you don't want blowing into your family room from the garage door! Luckily, day 3 I had four  little friends coming to play in the morning and they were pretty excited about all the chirping coming from the garage. After setting some ground rules with the little hand people, I put them to work! The girls got placed in a holding box and one boy and one girl were put on "heating" duty, aka hold the heat lamp over the box while the rest of us quickly clean out and haul them back. The kids moved fast and it was clean in about 7 minutes. Like any woman who likes to walk into a clean home when she returns from a trip, these gals were very pleased to explore the new arrangements made for them. See below for what day 3 and 4 have brought us here at this homestead!

 Boys cleaning fast. Austin took the job seriously, as you can see.

 The holding box...their vacation :)

 Doing a great job keeping the girls warm while in transition. 

 To sit and watch... these chicks are really amusing at times. They are developing little personalities and act quite quirky. Even more so then the 2 legged people that live here. The girls will run ramped in circles and in 0.5 seconds fall flat on their face and fall asleep. Jaxon has asked me more then once..."did she just die"? It's very funny to witness and some days I feel a little like them myself, running in circles and able to fall asleep in that short amount of time when my face hits the pillow!

 Ah, fresh water and food. We be sure to offer them fresh condiments twice a day and every time they know it's coming. Once we set the fresh items down they scurry over to get the first bites! (and how about that fancy $3 feeder. :)

 Finally, day four we really decided on names. The kids had been going back and forth since day one on a variety of names. Some have stuck, but a few we had to change it up. I promised them our Aunt Heather and good friend Becky and recently deceased grandma Juanita did NOT want to have a chicken named after them. They weren't convinced and I had to be very persistent that the real Heather's and Becky's and grandma Juanita's would rather keep their name sharing for a future granddaughter or something like that :) I put a little speck of finger nail polish on a few to help us tell the difference and as you can see, with Dad's help, the names will not disappoint as they grow into these respectful chicken names! I had two little friends who came to visit ask which one was Henny Penny, so I insisted we name a red one after the favorite book character. Other then that, I really like the sound of Betty White and Darla :)

 Jaxon has some quick hands, but even these gals can out run him by day 4! I can not believe how fast they grow! We'll be dishing out fresh egg omelets in no time!

 The girls after some playing time with the little people here. Usually I sneak out to check on them after they have been handled for a bit. Twice now I have quietly walked into the garage and found them all sound asleep in a perfect half circle shape. I think their visitors wipe them out, but I can't complain about 7 girls taking good naps in this house!

 Joanie, Henny Penny, Rhonda

 Casper and Darla

A room full of little people loving on the girls. Makes my heart smile :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Day 2: recipe for fresh eggs

We made it through the night and still had 7 chicks the first morning. I was proud. Proud because we had managed to keep 7 living things alive and proud that I didn't have to give my boys the "one didn't make it" speech yet. Usually when I crawl out of bed after a broken up night of sleep with Carson, I find Austin either in bed sleeping still or snuggled under his green blankie on the couch. This morning, he was no where to be found. Where did I find him? Green blankie in hand and sitting with the girls. He ate breakfast with them and I had a lot of pursuing to get him to come in to get dressed and not show-off his scooby-doo jammies all day.

Day two I quickly went to "vent cleaning" duty. I had read in more than one book that "pasting up" could be a real issue for new chicks. For those of you not familiar with "pasting" and "vent" terms... just use your imagination. Yup, that's right. Their vent can quickly become pasted up with poo. And that is no enjoyable experience for any chic, feathered or not. As I reached down into the box to grab a chic and examine her vent, I would clean any necessary bums with a wet wipe and then hand the chic to a boy to hold until all had been examined. For the most, vent areas were clean. 

One of our black silkie gals was still hobbling pretty bad on her right foot, so I attempted to correct the leg sticking out by using a band-aid to make a little splint and hold it in place. Susan from My Pet Chicken was super helpful when I called and asked what to do about old hop along. I separated little Joanie (quickly given a strong gals name, after Joan of Arc) from the others with an old baking dish and her own bed of shavings. Day 2 was spent monitoring her, hand watering her, and making sure she didn't get pecked at by the healthy gals.

By day 2 these awesome chicks also had some awesome visitors. We've had a handful here and there of little and big friends coming to meet the girls. My boys love showing off their flock and I think the chicks don't mind being the center of attention a little too. What chic doesn't like a little praising? By the end of day 2 we had mastered the heat lamp height to give the gals a good 90 degree feel to their oasis (chicks need to stay under a heat lamp source first couple weeks at about 90 degrees) and all went to bed that night with the sweet little chirps of day old chicks still ringing in our ears.  Check back to see what day 3 brings us!

 How I found Austin first thing Wednesday morning...

 They made it through the night!

 These Rhode Island reds seem to be about a day or two ahead of the silkies. See their little "real" feathers starting to poke out on their wings already!?

His camping post...ready and waiting.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

recipe for fresh eggs

This will not be your typical recipe sharing today! :) Where do I start? Well, for starters, it has been a few years of this "recipe" brewing on my mind. 

A few things you should know as you follow this journey with us... one- I was raised a farm girl. 100% mid-west full-time farm family in the heartland of the good ole' USA. Animal life-cycles and harvest time were the patterns that my life revolved around as I went about being a typical little girl, adolescent, and teen gal in the 80's and 90's. Being a farm chic wasn't all that cool for me at times, but I sure did learn lots from my farmhouse mama and my hard-workin sunrise to sunset dad. For many years I couldn't wait to get off that farm, but as I grow, I find I yearn for those quiet and simple farm ways of life. Second- I loved animals as a kid, but as I found town life to suit me well in college, I decided I didn't even want a dog in my house. Well, married and 3 kids later...I have two lap dogs :) Third- I have always been fairly health conscious about what I eat and as I started having kids paid even more attention to what I was buying and from where. Fourth- My middle son came out loving cars and animals. He actually is what convinced me we needed a dog. Then he got me with two. Dang kid. However, through his eyes I have come to see how animals can really have a very positive effect on people. Especially pets. And I remembered how much I enjoy animals too, most the time. Fifth- I love to cook or bake for people. I love breakfast food. I love farm fresh eggs. I love things made with farm fresh eggs. There truly is a huge difference, research to prove it. And last- I really have wanted some sort of "chore" or "thing" my kids could do. Something where they could do the work to care for something, learn about basic animal care and responsibility, and then use their efforts to understand the concept of working and getting paid at this young age.  Okay- that is a lot of background, but it will be helpful to know those things as you follow this crazy chick loving journey!

So back to the beginning. I have been following some backyard chicken farmers for a couple years and love what their journey has brought to their kitchen table. Last spring I was ready to jump on board, but the crazy looks from my husband and the baby about to be born at this house convinced me to wait. Winter time this year I started seeing chickens in my head again. Crazy lady laying in bed dreaming about chickens, I know! I do not want to even tell you how many hours I have read about and researched on chickens. Pretty sure I could be a chicken judge at this year's county fair in the poultry department, but that is a number I will keep to myself to save a little embarrassment (and my husband's!). All the reading and researching had me pretty excited and convinced that THIS was our spring to dip into the backyard chicken business. I narrowed down my choices as to where to find such lovely girls and found the perfect place on-line, MyPet Chickens. After saving some money (not much, chicks are low costly!!) and a couple wonderful informative phone conversations with Les at My Pet Chicken, I had hand selected our flock with just the right mix of breeds I wanted and put an order in for our girls to arrive mid-April! The kids and I were pretty excited! I knew they would be arriving (7 total) via post-office sometime the week of April 16th. Tuesday we got the call. The girls were here! Check out the pics below to catch you up to where we are now...

Before the girls arrived the boys and I had to come up with some rules. We also spent a little time preparing the brooder with a heat lamp, having fresh water ready, and food available. Did you know chicks can survive the first 48 hours of their life with no food or water? They live off the yolk they swallow right before hatching. These chicks would arrive just a day old and ready for some food!

Tuesday morning our wonderful postal service called that our chicks were here. They offered to bring them out early for us and the boys jumped with excitement when they knew they were in-route. Both boys met him at the little postal car and heard the little cheeps for the first time. Their smiles were priceless.

We opened the little box and there they were...2 white silkies, 2 black silkies, and 3 Rhode Island reds. I chose the silkies because they are a very docile laying hen that are also very winter hardy and do well with children. Their calm gentle personalities were exactly what I wanted for all the little hands around here. The Rhode Island reds are classic all American laying hens. They lay a beautiful brown egg and are one of the most reliable chickens for laying purposes. They are here for practical reasons, aka, egg source. They also are very winter hardy and if raised with people, become good pets as well. Not all 7 girls get to stay though. As they get bigger we will choose 3-5 to keep around here and the other ones will find new homes at my family's farm and their flock. Aren't they cute?

First step, get those gals some water! I read that they eat much better if given water first. I had the boys on watering duties within minutes of opening and greeting the girls. Jaxon did a great job helping them figure out how to hold their heads back to swallow.

My original plan was to keep them in our house for the first week. They got adjusted to their little box very quickly. I also read you could just use tuna cans for feeders or opt to buy a $3 feeder to attach to a mason jar. I also read conflicting research about using newspapers vs. pine shavings. I again chose the free newspapers I had laying around here, at first. Since I wanted to do this for as cheap as possible I skipped the feeder and the pine shavings before hand. The girls were here 2 hours and I was already at the feed store buying my $3 feeder piece and $4 pine shavings bag. Those gals are not that smart and kept pooping and standing in the tuna can feeder and the newspapers were too slippery for their weak little legs and made it so they fell often. I had one arrive with a bum leg and wanted her to not have to walk in pain on slippery newspapers. Plus, the shavings are much easier to clean after. Anyways, as I returned from the feed store I walked in my home and smelled...wait for it... chickens. Weird, huh? The girls got moved to the big good-will wood box in the garage in about 30 minutes after that experience.

Carson LOVED his first sight of the chicks. He just calmly stared and smiled back at them and me. I think I have another animal lover on my hands.

Austin has done just what I need him to do. I want these gals to be tame and able to be around kids. Lots of early exposure to kids and handling is just what they need to fulfill those goals. And Austin is my man for the job. He has spent hours already holding each one, talking to them, and watching them. Once the girls got settled into their semi-permanent home in the garage, under the "sun", and with clean bedding they have been the entertainment for this boy especially. Day 1- so far so good. 6 healthy girls, 1 with a bad leg, and a mom with her sanity still.  This recipe is going well so far... stay tuned for day 2!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Baked Parmesan Potatoes

Okay, I started this post with "my favorite time of year for cooking...", but then I remembered I love fall food and winter food and I just can't decide which season I love cooking in best! I do love grilling season too though and I believe it is here to stay! Ya-hoo for early grilling on the back deck! I love to marinade a meat of some sort all day and throw it on the grill quick once we settle in from the outdoors for the day. Some nights though, I just don't have time to cut up veggies to get on the grill in time to be done with the meat.  A quick fix to add to any grilled meat are these yummy and easy potatoes. If you have a cooking stone, even better!

Baked Parmesan Potatoes
3-6 red potatoes (I usually slice up as many potatoes as people I am feeding, 4 mouths to feed means 4-5 potatoes cut up)
fresh grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil
garlic salt
fresh ground pepper

Simply slice potatoes the long way and place on a cooking stone. Sprinkle olive oil over potatoes, shake some garlic salt and fresh ground pepper over each potato, and then sprinkle with fresh grated parm cheese. (This really makes it!) Bake in your oven at 400 for 20-35 min.
Serve hot! And like always, enjoy with your loved ones!