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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Raising chickens the "old fashioned" way

Before commercial production, it used to be that every early American farm kept a laying flock.  The old, weak, lazy layers and young roosters were culled and made their way to the stew pot or family table, and the rest were kept for eggs.    I’m not sure anyone keeps a flock this way anymore, the people we know who have raised chickens either keep them for eggs, or raise the commercial Cornish Cross breed for meat, or both, but I don’t know anyone who raises their flock in the “old fashioned way”.  

Last year we started keeping chickens.  We have 18 hens and 1 rooster, and have several different breeds, all dual purpose, that we keep for eggs.  We have Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Ameraucana, and Australorp.  Our rooster is a Barred Rock, chosen because they are supposed to be docile and easy to get along with, which I can confirm he is. Anyone who grew up terrorized by a mean and aggressive rooster will understand why I made my choice based on personality.   I wanted all heritage breeds, but the pretty blue eggs of the Ameraucana won me over, so we got a few, and I’m really glad we did.  All our breeds handle cold weather, and confinement well, although the barred rock rooster has a large comb which can get frost bite if allowed to get too cold.   This is not a problem for us because we keep their housing above freezing year round. They are not known to be good foragers, but they do quite well I think.   They also handle being shut in their coop for the winter, and have continued to lay all winter with some artificial lighting.  I’ll write more about their housing in a later post. 

Chuck and his girls

Initially we planned on eating a few to see if we liked them well enough to raise them the “old fashioned way”.  However, after getting our Cornish Cross and turkeys in the freezer, we never got around to it. From my research they grow slower and smaller, have a tougher texture, but more intense “chicken” flavor.  We, like most Americans our age, have eaten only the commercial breed of chickens, for most of our lives. We have grown the Cornish Cross, and I’ll write more about that experience later, for now I’ll just say I can’t stand growing them and am looking for more natural alternatives.  We bought a simple table top incubator; it has a fan, but not a digital thermometer or turner.  We separated our Barred Rock and Ameraucana’s from the other two breeds, and are starting with those two first.  I wanted to have an idea of how each breed did, so this was the only way I could figure out who laid what.  I’ll talk more about our collection process and will make regular blog updates on our progress.

 Enjoying the return of the warm sun

I have some questions for those of you out there who keep chickens.  Do any of you keep dual purpose breeds for meat as well as eggs?  Would anyone mind sharing their process?  To what age to you raise them? How large do your birds get? Does anyone caponize their roosters?  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Apples and Cinnamon

Apples and Cinnamon

2 apples or pears cut in half and core removed
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons raisins, chopped
1/4 cup of water

Whisk together the cinnamon and water and put in a pan over medium heat, sprinkle raisins over, place apples and/or pears cut side down in pan and cover and simmer until desired tenderness.  Check often and add extra water if needed.  When done, remove the apples and place cut side up on a platter.

Mix with the cinnamon mixture:
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) Honey
1/8 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans

Stir together until thickened, and then spoon into the center of the fruit.  Serve warm. 

Hmmm.... more snow

So my reward for posting about spring yesterday?  2" of new fresh snow... 

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Ok so there is still a couple feet of snow on the ground, and as I write this it actually started snowing, but it’s melting and I definitely see grass in some places.  Dead, brown grass, but hey grass is grass, and after 5 months of seeing nothing but white, I’ll take it!  I have to admit that I’m jealous reading about those who are already planting their gardens, or even harvesting.  Since there won’t be anything green outdoors until  April or May,  March here is marked by icy mud puddles, warm highs just above freezing, yes more snow,  and indoor seed starting.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to put my hands in dirt again, and to see my green seedlings peeking through the soil, even if it is on a bakers rack illuminated by florescent shop lights.  

Living in zone 1-2, I start as much as possible indoors.  So far I have started tomatoes,  Nova for sauce and drying, Manitoba heirloom for slicing, sun gold and sweetie for snacking.  These are all new varieties for me.  None of my tomatoes, produced last year except for a few snacking tomatoes.  I have ancho and jalapeno peppers, these are left over from last year, they germinated well, these also did almost nothing last year and were attacked by aphids.  I started the tomatoes the end of February this year, which is about a month earlier than I did last year.  I chose all determinate varieties because they ripen earlier and all at once, which I hope will be better for my short season.   They will go in the green house; I’m going to attempt to get them out there in May.  We’ll see how that goes.  June is our date of last frost, but  I’m going to fill milk jugs with water and put those around the plants to reflect back heat at night and hopefully keep them warm enough.  I also have started thyme, basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, sage, oregano, lavender, echinacea, peppermint, calendula, chamomile, cosmos, and columbine.   I use a lot of Denali seeds, my tomatoes and peppers I got from territorial seed and some of my herbs are from seeds of change.   I primarily garden for food, this year I’m trying out some flowering herbs for tea and soap/lotion making.  Today I repotted many of the larger plants into 4” pots.  Usually I put only one plant to a pot, but the herbs I put 3 to each 4” pot and will eventually put into 10” pots that will be in the green house.  
I start my seeds in 1x1 packs of 9, and then transplant them into bigger containers as they need.  I usually just start 1 seed in each pot, and a couple with 2 seeds to avoid waste, and so I have seeds left for next year.  if one doesn’t germinate, I use one of the ones that had double in it, and sometimes I have to replant.  Some of the harder to germinate seeds like lavender and thyme, and rosemary, I will sow heavily.   I save my seeds for 1-2 years.  Once I have what I need from the package, I place it in a plastic sandwich bag, and then put all the packets into one gallon size freezer bag, and store them in my garage.  It stays about 45-55 in there, I’ve heard you can keep them in your fridge, but haven’t tried.  I use fluorescent shop lights on chains, I put it as close to the plant as I can, and raise it as the plant grows.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

BBQ sauce recipe

In my quest to feed my family "real food", there are some things that I don't find to be practical to purchase at the grocery store, and prefer to make it myself.  BBQ sauce is one of them.  Either I can buy in bulk HFCS laced chemicals, or I can buy a cute little jar of organic, for a very large price, that my family eats in one sitting.  The following recipe is one I adapted for my purposes from several different ones on the internet. I use a lot of organic items, but any non-organic work too.

32 oz tomato sauce (I use POM brand strained tomatoes, no BPA in packaging)
1 1/4 cups organic cane sugar
1 1/4 cups organic apple cider
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika or cayanne pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 tsp liquid smoke

Simmer until starts to thicken, about 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Recipe makes about 6-8 cups.  I store it in a large recycled ketchup bottle with a squeeze top.  It stores for a long time in the fridge.