Monday, June 29, 2009
I've made a new apron for the Tie One On challenge --
The Pie Makin' Apron.
The idea is to submit an apron and a pie recipe alongside it. I submitted my Rhubarb Pie with Crumb Topping. I had intended to give this apron as a bridal shower gift, but flubbed up when appliqueing a flower. Now there is a pocket covering up the flub so this one will stay in my kitchen. I'm actually glad because I really like it. I didn't have a real pattern, but used my halter-top swim top as a guide for the bodice part. I only wear that top for lawn mowing in my very secluded country yard, but I liked the style and thought it would make for a cute apron.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
It's haying time!
My favorite job is to rake the hay. Not with a hand rake or a garden rake, but with a John Deere bi-fold wheel rake that pulls behind my trusty John Deere 2520 open-air tractor. This old tractor was here long before I was and I'm guessing that it's a 60's or 70's model.
When I turn around to see what's going on behind me, this is the view I see. I'm sorry for the crooked photo, but just tilt your head a little to the right and it'll look ok. I'm raking two windrows of hay together into one large one. As I pull the rake behind me, the tines on the wheels turn and pick up the hay and roll it into the center as you see here. This saves the baler time in the hayfield. It's also a more efficient way to cure the hay (dry it) before it's baled up into big round bales. If the hay is too wet, it will rot. Too dry and it will fall apart.
This is the view from the front of the tractor and the work ahead of me. If I keep my tractor right between the two windrows, I'll pick up every little bit of hay.
This is the Fourth-born Child taking over and giving me a break from the hot sun. The temp actually climbed up to 95 here today --perfect hay-curing weather.
Here's Hubs in the tractor pulling the baler behind. The hay in the foreground needs more drying time. Tomorrow's another day in the field. I'm so glad that there are several of us here to pitch in. Many hands make light work!
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Another easy-peasy sewing project is complete! I've been wanting to sew some pillowcase dresses and tops for quite awhile. I went to the local thrift store a couple days ago and found two great pillowcases -- one with blue and white crocheted lace on the bottom and one that was plain, but had a scalloped edge that I liked. Both were only 99 cents! My 21 year old daughter is begging for a pillowcase top so I'll use one of these for her.
In the meantime, this li'l pillowcase dress was made for my Grandangel, "Hazel Peach." As you can see, it is not made of a regular pillowcase, but instead, I used some great fabric I found at my local sewing and fabrics store, Tri-State Bakery. Anni sells fabric and her handmade goods on Ebay. Check out her blog, Itibit of Time.
The best tutorial I found for the pillowcase dress was here at Augustus World (click Macy's Blog) I appreciated her idea to make all French seams so there would be no frayed edges peeking out of the garment. I also liked the simplicity of her tutorial. (Remember, I'm a simple woman) Instead of using a ribbon for the strap/tie, I made my own ribbon out of the polka dot accent fabric. One thing I did not agree with is the width of fabric she recommended. I chose to keep the total 45" width of the fabric for the dress. Even on my one-year-old grandangel, the flounce of the dress came out perfectly. A standard pillowcase is approximately 45" wide (opened up). As you can see, I've changed this pattern up a little bit and so can you.
Next up, I'll make a reversible headband to go with the dress. There's another easy-peasy instruction for that here. I'll measure the angel's li'l head and make one just her size.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I love rainy weather because I get that cozy-homey feeling and I want to bake and sew and do all things domestic. Today I made brownies (yum-O!) and then I turned to the "workshop" for a little sewing. This is what I came up with....water carriers. I started with this tutorial from Pink Chalk Studios and although it's adorable, it's fairly difficult to make due to the fussy round bottom. I'm a woman of simplicity and I really hate struggling with a "fun" sewing project, so I discovered another water carrier tutorial from Mad Quilter that had a square bottom and was MUCH easier to sew. The other plus to this water carrier is that it will hold an 800 ml bottle of water which is larger than the other carrier. With summer coming on, I think I'll stitch up a few more of these.
I used some ideas from both tutorials and improvised using materials I had on hand. Instead of pellon or Insul-brite, I used a thin cotton batting to line my carriers. Instead of twill tape or nylon straps, I used grosgrain ribbon for my straps. You could also make straps out of the fabric you used for your carriers. Change up the patterns and add embellishments in any way you'd like.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Killdeer from Wikimedia Commons
I've been on a mission to find the elusive Killdeer nest and I have accomplished it! A couple days ago, I wandered upon this pebbly nest with just two eggs in it. I put my thumb beside the eggs so you have an idea of the size of them. Aren't they the speckliest?
The next day there were three eggs in the nest.
And today, four! Usually four is all they will lay and that is why when I found just two, I knew there would be more so I've been checking the nest daily. Do you see that all of the pointed ends of the eggs are tipped downward except for one? When I went back later in the day, they were all tipped downward. I don't know why, but that's how they want them. I know that hens will continually roll the eggs in the nest as they incubate them so I suppose it's the same with other birds.
Now for the exciting part....waiting for Mama and Dad Killdeer to hatch them into chicks. I plan to visit here a lot to see if just maybe Mama Killdeer lays one more egg in the nest. Then I will begin the countdown, marking it on my calendar -- 24-28 days of incubation. The tricky thing about seeing the Killdeer chicks is that once the chicks are hatched, within hours they are dry, fluffed-up, and out of the nest, following their parents on foot, pecking at the ground like hen's chicks. They are THE cutest little baby birds you've ever seen. I've mostly seen then when riding horseback. They're fairly easy to spot from up above. I hope I get to see the chicks from this nest. I'll keep visiting and waiting. Maybe I'll get a pic of Mama on the nest or of her "playing hurt."
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I refurbished the old metal chair that my mother-in-love used to have sitting out by her clothesline every summer. I think of her every time I sit down to rest in it or whenever it catches my eye. It is very eye-catching, isn't it?
What do you do with a worn-out pair of boots? Plant flowers in them! These were once my boots. I wore them until the dirt sifted in through those cracks.....which now make good drainage holes for the violas. I have a pair of Hubs' boots on my front porch with purple violas.
In the foreground are the profusely blooming bleeding hearts and in the background, sheets are hanging on the clothesline. I didn't really plan the picture this way, but I guess you could say that I'm "keeping it real."
Yes, in the poor man's garden grow
Far more than herbs and flowers ~
Kind thoughts, contentment, peace of mind,
And joy for weary hours.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
Hickety-pickety my black hen
She lays eggs for gentlemen.
Gentlemen come every day
To see what my black hen doth lay.
For the last part of my series on raising chickens, I'd like to give you a look at what your chicks will be when they mature into laying hens, producing the precious "country egg" that we all desire and love so much.
You will notice how very quickly your chicks will mature. They will begin to sprout their pin feathers quite soon--within a week or so of delivery. They won't stay fluffy and cute for very long. As they mature, they will need more space in the coop and more ventilation. It is good to have windows open during the day and slightly closed during night if the weather is warm. It is very important to put chickens inside over night. They need to know where "home" is and they need the protection from predators. If you leave them outside or do not close them up at night you could lose the whole flock. One year I lost all but about 10 chickens of my 50 in two nights. Someone forgot to close the door on the coop and raccoons got in and dined very well. Once predators start coming around and finding those delicious chickens, they'll be back for more and will bring their family and friends along with them! Even the screens on the windows of your coop should be predator-proof. That summer I had to put a heavy mesh/screen over the coop windows because the 'coons kept trying to get in and they can easily rip regular window screen off to gain entrance.
When the chickens are around 6 weeks old, I open the door to the the adult laying hens' coop and also leave their outside door open so they can venture outdoors as they see fit. They will do this on their own gradually. One minute the pullets will scurry up to the open door and then race back into the coop. They will run up and down to the door continually until one brave chick decides to step out into the sunshine and the rest will follow.
The young pullets will continue to get a commercial feed called grower pellet or laying pellet, and I will add in other grains like wheat and cracked corn. Some people like to buy a combination of several grains called Chicken Scratch which is fine too. Otherwise, I allow my hens to free-range all day long and then close them up in the coop each night before sundown. This makes for very happy chickens. They love to forage about in the weeds and grasses and eat grasshoppers and worms, and they also appreciate a good manure pile to scratch and dig in. I told one of my customers when he asked what I fed the chickens, that my laying hens get only the best feed -- picking in the manure piles. And yes, he still likes my eggs.
Table scraps is another excellent feed source for your laying hens. I have found that they will eat anything but citrus fruit rinds. Some people say you should only feed vegetable and grain scraps, but I feed them everything that comes from my kitchen. Do NOT, however, feed them egg shells unless you first dry them and crumble them up so they do not look anything at all like an egg. The crumbled egg shell will provide them with good calcium, but if you allow them to start eating eggs shells that look like eggs, they will begin pecking the fresh eggs in the nest and then you have a big problem.
In the winter months, I leave my hens inside their coop unless the temperature goes above 32* F and if there is bare ground for them to walk on. Hens do not do well in the cold nor do they like their feet cold. During spring/summer I don't let my hens out of the coop until after 9:00 a.m. or so unless it is unbearably hot. I want to give them time to eat the indoor feed and drink plenty of water before free-ranging outdoors. They will continue eating and drinking all day long, but they won't be dining on wheat, corn, and laying pellet. I leave a tub of water outside the coop as well as one inside so I never have to worry about my hens getting enough water which is so essential for good egg production.
Perch and Nesting Boxes:
Make sure your hens have a perch up off the ground where they can roost for the night. This is a hen's natural defense against predators but you will want your perch inside the hen house. Allow 4" of space per bird with roost poles at least 6" apart. My perches are only about 3-4 feet high off the ground. They can be staggered in height like stadium bleachers if you need perches for lots of hens.
You will also want to have nesting boxes where your hens can lay their eggs. I have mine on one side of the wall in the coop. They look like little shelves with slats between and little ledges on each box so the eggs won't fall out. The boxes are about 1' by 10". You will want to put some clean straw or hay inside the boxes. It will help to keep the eggs clean and the hens will appreciate a dark nest to lay in. I usually have old hens which will "teach by example" the new pullets where and how to lay. If you are starting with brand new laying hens you can put a couple golf balls into the nests so they see that there is something in them that looks like an egg. They may begin laying on the floor of the coop at first, but eventually they should go up to the nesting boxes to lay.
Hens taking a dust bath
Cleaning the Chicken Coop:
Keeping the chicken coop clean is very important. During the summer months the coop stays fairly clean since the hens will be outdoors most of the day. I don't put much of anything down for litter in the summertime except for some wood shavings underneath the perch. In fall and winter, I begin to put down fresh litter. They do better if their feet aren't cold and they can walk in some clean straw or hay. If you put down some fresh straw or hay every couple weeks, they should do fine. I like to clean my coop with pitchfork and shovel every fall before winter sets in and again sometime during the winter when I get a nice, warm day. In early spring when it gets to stinking and you've added about all the litter you can, it's time to clean it again in April or May. Keep litter down on the floor during the colder months of the year and reduce it during warmer months. Chicken manure is great for the compost pile, but do let it age and mellow. It is a "hot" fertilizer that you don't want to put on the garden while it's very "fresh".
Once a year in the summertime, I like to spray the inside of the coop down with soap and water or with some Pine Sol and water to give it a good cleaning and disinfecting. It's also a good time sprinkle some Sevin garden dust or any garden powder underneath the roosts and in the areas where your hens like to take dust baths. When your hens are fluffing through the dust, they will be giving themselves a treatment for mites and insects that attack them.
Sample chicken tractor
I have never used a chicken tractor, but I think they are a very clever invention for free-ranging chickens. A chicken tractor is basically a portable chicken yard that can be moved around the so chickens can graze freely and evenly over your land. For some excellent pictures of various styles of chicken tractors, click here.
I have to tell a funny story in this section. One day my young children and I were watching a broadcast of the Martha Stewart show on television. Her feature was on laying hens so I thought I might learn a thing or two. Martha was out gathering eggs in her very chic hen house when she came to one nest where a beautiful Buff Orpington hen was sitting. She reached under the hen and pulled out 3 eggs. "Well, look here," remarked wise Martha, "this hen layed three eggs today!" My even wiser country children laughed and said, "Martha Stewart is a fake! Doesn't she know hens can only lay one egg a day?" They have never trusted Ms. Stewart since.
Your hens will begin laying eggs at approximately 5 months of age. Their eggs will be smaller than your "grade A large" grocery store eggs, but in time they will get larger as the hens mature. I gather my eggs every day in the late afternoon. If you are having very cold weather, it is best to gather them in the early afternoon so they will not freeze and then crack. I know some people who gather eggs in the morning and afternoon.
How long will my hens lay?
Usually your hens will produce an egg a day for a year or a little more. After this, they will continue to lay, but will not shuck out an egg a day as before. If you keep your hens for over a year, you will get what the store calls "jumbo" eggs. These are more expensive in the store because they come from older hens which only lay an egg every other day or so. I have had some hens for 3 years. They will lay a few eggs here and there, but their egg production days are coming to a close. It is wise to replace your hens (or part of them) each year by raising a new set of chicks every spring. While the chicks are maturing, you are still getting eggs from your mature hens and when the pullets begin laying, you may decide to start butchering your old hens gradually or keep them on as old friends as I sometimes do. Laying hens really don't live long lives. I have rarely seen a hen live over 4 years.
What do I do with an old hen?
The best thing to do is to butcher your old hens and roast them for a LONG time in a covered dutch oven. Coq Au Vin is the name of the recipe you will want to make. Old hens are not very tender, but if you cook it slowly at a low temperature until the meat is falling off the bone, you will find it "good eating." You can also keep your old hens around as friends until they die a natural death.
How do I butcher a chicken?
This is not for sissies or the faint of heart. Grab the chickens you wish to butcher in the early morning while they are still on the perch. It's easier to catch them this way. Stun the chicken first by hitting it in the head with a stick or side of a hatchet. Chop off their heads with a hatchet or place the head between a board and stick, step down on it and pull up to pop their heads off. They will run or flutter around for a few minutes. Next, you may either pluck or skin the chicken.
To skin a chicken, first make a slit in the skin with a sharp knife between the breast and wing. Next begin to peel off the feathers and skin. This happens fairly easily. When you get to the legs and wings, you will want to cut the legs off and very end joint of the wing.
To pluck a chicken, you will need a big pot or wash tub with boiling water. Dip the chicken by the feet into the scalding water for a few minutes. Then you remove it and begin to pluck the feathers, plucking "with the grain" of the feather growth. Be sure to get all the pin feathers removed. If the chicken gets too cold, dunk them again into very hot water to help the feathers release as you pluck.
I do my skinning or plucking outdoors near a burning barrel or tub so I can toss the feathers/skin into it. When this job is done, you will need to gut the birds. Make an incision below the breast bone (there's a hollow there). Do not poke your knife in too far to nick any organs. You should be able to nearly break your chicken in half from the back in order to put your hand inside. Next you will reach your hand inside and pull all the entrails out. There is a clear sack-like covering over all the organs which makes it fairly nice to pull them out in one fell-swoop. But you will also want to feel around for the trachea, lungs which are against the breast bone. I like to take my knife and cut the yuk around the chicken's rear out and cut off some of the neck.
Now plop your cleaned chicken into a washtub and wash with cold water. It's nice to do some of the washing outside. Feathers and dirt will float to the top. Rinse several times. Then bring into the house and wash several more times in a large sink. I do put a drop of dish soap in the water once and scrub the chickens with my hands a little. Then rinse several times until you are satisfied with the result. Now you can either cut the chicken into pieces or leave whole and sack up for the freezer or to roast for supper.
Washing Eggs and Storage:
I wash eggs every day. Some folks say you should never submerge an egg in water, but I do. I put my egg pail under the sink and pour a little dish soap and water over them. Then I wash them carefully with my hands and set them on a towel to dry. I'd rather have my eggs clean than risk the alternative of ecoli or some nasty bacteria being on the shells. If you have any cracked or broken eggs, it is really safest if you feed them to the dogs. A friend told me once that her nephew got food poisoning from eating the cracked eggs since the bacteria can get into the membranes of slightly cracked eggs. After washing and drying your eggs, store them in egg cartons or clean pails in the refrigerator.
Can You Eat This Egg?
If not sure you ought-ter,
then place it in water.
If it lies on its side,
then it's fresh; eat with pride.
After three or four days,
at an angle it lays.
But, it still is a treat,
so go on and eat.
Ten days, stands on end,
in your baking 'twill blend.
'Cause it's definitely edible,
in your baking, incredible.
But, if it floats on the surface,
that egg serves no purpose.
'Cause a floater's a stinker!
Out the back door best fling 'er!
Additional chicken keeping websites:
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Let's Get Started...
What you will need:
Chicks: You may order them by mail order catalog or from your local feed store. I see in my McMurray Catalog that the going rate for a female chick is about $2.50 and up and for a rooster, the price is from $1.20 and up. The Bible said that sparrows were selling 2 for $.01 in Jesus' day. Wow, what inflation!
A space for your chicks: Baby chicks need a warm place to be for the first weeks. They need a place that is not drafty and allows them to have enough space to run and move about freely, getting in and out from the warmth. A brooder box can be made simply out of anything. You can use a cardboard appliance box with a heat lamp above it, you can use a wading pool, an aluminum stock tank or a large Rubbermaid tub to give you some ideas. First of all you will need approximately 1/2 sq. ft. of space per chick. The floor will need a steady temperature of 90-95 degrees for the first couple weeks. I use a heat lamp or two, depending on the season and where you will be housing your chicks. Often early spring can still be very chilly here in the North in my chicken coop. I prefer red heat lamps because they are not so bright. It is said that bright lights can cause chicks to peck at each other, which is not good. In one side of my coop, I block off an area for my chicks with square bales of hay or make a board frame in a corner. I like to use the rule of thumb: if it feels cozy to you hand under the lights, then your chicks will be warm enough. For some DIY brooding boxes, click here.
Feed & Water: When you get your chicks home, make sure that each one drinks a little water. Dip their little heads in the poultry waterer and soon they will be dipping their beaks into the water and raising their heads to swallow it down. It is very important to get each one started individually. Also you may like to put a newspaper down and sprinkle some of the feed on it. The chicks will naturally begin pecking it and eating. Fill small feeders for them once they get the hang of eating off the floor in about one day.
Feed the chicks a commercial "chick starter" (18% protein) feed which you can purchase from your local feed store. I like to keep them on this for the first 4-6 weeks and gradually add other grains like cracked corn, wheat, oats. When feeding the heavy , you will feed a high protein feed called "grower" (22% protein). This feed is also fine for your other chicks that will lay eggs. The meaty birds will also enjoy going to cracked corn, but usually prefer the "grower" feed.
I like to add 1-2 t. of sugar to my chicks' first gallon of water. It gives their bodies a little extra energy as they start on their first feed and water. Always give your chicks and chickens fresh water daily and never let them dry out. You will need to get a watering fount for your chicks. I like to put mine on a board so it stays level and up out of the bedding. Have a 1 gallon waterer for each 20 chicks. In a month or so, you may want to put another gallon water fount or a 2 gallon fount in their coop.
Keep bedding clean. After the first few days of using newspaper under the chicks and changing it daily, I change bedding. I put a layer of wood shavings down first (for absorbency) and then top it with a layer of straw. Check to see if any of the chicks are having trouble with their rear ends pasting up. Sometimes they have manure stuck to their bottoms which ends up plugging them up and killing them. Pull this off and keep bedding clean to prevent pasting. I usually keep adding a little new bedding (straw or wood shavings) daily until they are about 2 weeks old. Then I clean out the pen and put all fresh bedding down. (If you are raising Cornish X Rocks, they really do poop a lot. You'll need to keep changing bedding more often with this breed.)
You can purchase all kinds of feeders at your local farm/ranch supply store or feed stores. Use a 2 ft. long feeder for each 50 birds. After four weeks increase the feeder to 2-3" of space per bird. You may also find other containers that will accommodate your birds better than the little feeders. The thing to remember is that chicks will walk around in their feed and make it messy, so it's best if they can't hop into their feeders.
Grit is something you will eventually want to provide your chicks with. I usually don't do this until the chicks are around 2 months old. Ask your feed store man for the proper size for the age of your chickens. Commonly, you will get crushed oyster shell. Grit allows the chickens to digest their food better.
Plenty of space
As your chicks grow, they will require more space. Chicks will peck one another to death if they do not have enough space, are too hot, or do not have enough ventilation. If you notice them pecking at one another, give them more space and reduce heat. Mature hens will need 3-4 square feet per bird to keep them happy. More is always better, especially if hens must be confined during winter months.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Barred Rock chick
June 1, 2009
8:00 a.m. at the feed store
In my Home Town
6 Barred Rock
6 Pearl White Leghorns
6 Buff Orpingtons
All healthy, fluffy, and peeping!
Normally I order my chicks to arrive the first or second week of April. If I can, I like to have them by Easter week because it just seems right to have fluffy, live Peeps at Easter time, and especially if there are Littles around to enjoy holding them and feeling their downy softness on the cheek. This year I put in my order for April, but the hatchery was so overwhelmed by requests that the feed store's order was pushed into June. I've read that the newest rage in America is raising a few backyard chickens and I guess it's true by the back orders at the hatcheries this year.
This week I'd like to do a little series on raising chickens. I have been raising chickens for 26 years and I would like to share a little about what I've learned in the process.
The golden chicks are Buff Orpington, black are Barred Rock, yellow are White Leghorn
When buying chicks, What do I choose?
I have raised several breeds of chicken and I must admit that the very best egg layer is the Pearl-White Leghorn. This chicken is not heavy, not a good-eating chicken, and not a great pet, but it converts feed into eggs better than any other bird I know of. She's a little high strung, but one heck of a white egg layer.
My two favorite egg layers are the Barred Rock, a calm, plump, black and white hen that lays well during cold snaps and the Buff Orpington, my favorite because she's reminds me of the perfect farm hen like Henny-Penny in the children's storybook. She is the color of a gold watch, plump, gentle and would make a nice pet. Both breeds are considered dual-purpose chickens which means they can be used for eggs and/or for meat. Both hens lay brown eggs and are very consistent layers. What the Leghorn has in the best egg production, is easily overshadowed by the Barred Rock and Buff Orpington for personality and charm as well as eggs. I have also raised the Rhode Island Red, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Golden Laced Wyandotte, Black Australorp, Light Brahmas and the Auracana. All are good layers and offer a nice variety to choose from. The Auracana is called The Easter Egg chicken because she lays blue and green eggs.
The largest, best eating chickens I have raised in this category would be the Jumbo Cornish X Rocks. They convert feed into meat very well and at the fastest pace. You should get a 3-4 pound chicken in approximately 8 weeks (the roosters mature the quickest). The drawback to these chickens is that you really must begin to butcher them within 6-8 weeks or else they start having heart attacks and getting so heavy that their legs begin to give out. I have raised some of these to about 9-10 pounds (and they are delicious) if you can keep them alive to this weight.
The Cornish Roaster is another good choice for meat. These chickens don't have near the leg problems that the Cornish X Rocks do but they do take a little longer to finish. Butcher the hens first for fryers and allow the roosters to mature up to 8-9 pounds for delicious roasting.
As mentioned before, the heavy breeds (dual purpose) will work for meat, but they certainly won't have the larger breasts and thighs that these chickens will. If you want meaty, tender birds, you want these two breeds.
Roosters. Do I need one?
I sometimes enjoy having a rooster in the chicken yard. Roosters are the best-dressed and have all the finest feathers among the chickens. I consider the rooster the "guard dog" of the flock. He will always be among his wives protecting, watching, and making sure that they are well fed. One time I noticed a mangy fox snooping around the chicken coop and immediately the rooster spotted him and attacked him, grabbing onto the fox with his claws and beak and beating the poor, unhealthy fellow off with his wings. What a ruckus! I was glad I had that rooster at the time, but there are those times when the rooster can be quite a pest to his harem, if you know what I mean. In this case, he is cooked into a nice roasted chicken dinner.
The rooster's main job is to fertilize your hen's eggs. The only way they will hatch however, is if the eggs are brooded by the hens or incubated. If the hens refuse to brood (sit on the eggs continually) then they will not mature into chicks. Fertilized eggs are said to be very healthy to eat, but I'm not sure why. You do not need a rooster, however, to produce eggs. The hens will gladly supply you with all the eggs you want with or without the rooster.
Roosters will always mature faster when raising them for meat and some folks like to order a straight-run -- a mix of cock and pullet chicks. This way they will have at least half the chickens for laying eggs and half for meat. Buying chicks this way is usually very economical too.
If you would like more information on various breeds of chickens and ordering, the only hatchery I've ever used is McMurray Hatchery. You'll enjoy browsing their website.