Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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It's OK to Play with your Food

Since I'm the one in the family that has chickens, one of the dishes I was to take to the family Thanksgiving dinner was deviled eggs.  Anyone who has tried to boil and peel a fresh egg knows that it's nearly impossible to cleanly peel them.  So, in anticipation of being the designated deviled egg maker, I held 2 dozen eggs in my fridge for 6 months...no, just kidding!  2 weeks is more like it.  They peeled pretty good--I put them in a pot of cold water, brought it to a slow boil and set the timer for 10 minutes.  I put ice cubes in a big bowl with water and when the timer went off I put the eggs into the ice water for a few minutes, then peeled them.  The shells came off pretty easily.  A couple were a little testy, but not too bad. 

I wanted to use some olives stuffed with peppers as a garnish on some of the eggs, just for something a little different.  I took 2 capers and placed on each deviled egg (eyes) and sliced the olives to make a mouth that was open like it was hot.  I scattered the peppers around the plate to let everyone know they were hot so I wouldn't scorch the family members who don't appreciate hot!

 Remember Mr. Bill?  These reminded me of Mr. Bill---"Oh Noooooo!"

See, it's okay to play with your food!  These were a hit at the table :)

 

 
 

Living with Chickens

About 15 years ago my oldest son joined 4H.  He wanted to have chickens for his project, so a chicken house was constructed and 30 chicks arrived; 25 girls and 5 boys.  The chickens roamed around the yard for the first several months but they poop wherever they get the urge, so a pen was constructed, one wing clipped, and the girls and boys were confined to their own corner. 

The chickens grew up, laid eggs, and were auctioned off at the end of the season to raise money for the future chick-chain projects. 

Last year I decided I would like to have chickens again.  With so many gardens to tend I though they might be a useful addition to the farm menagerie.  I bought 6 Red Star chicks last summer, built them a tractor that's way to heavy for me to move without the tractor, and they started laying big beautiful brown eggs in November. 

They do a wonderful job cleaning up a garden bed once a crop is finished.  The spring crops are starting to fade out and the chickens have been very busy eating lettuce and spinach to make way for more crops.  A more user-friendly portable pen was constructed a few months ago so the chicken mom can move her small flock around easier.

 

The contraption on the left is the first tractor which has their roost and nest boxes upstairs and open pen downstairs.  The pen on the right is just pvc pipe covered with chicken wire and a tarp so they have some shade.  They love to go for walks in the mornings.  Chickens have a surprisingly large vocabulary.  When I go to greet them in the mornings they say "wok, wok, wok" which I know in chicken is "walk, walk, walk" (they don't do "L's" too well).  When one lays an egg their joyful screams echo from the mountain behind the pen "Buck, buck, buck-et".  Right before they do the bucket scream though they sit and almost hum while they're actually laying the egg.  It sounds painful to me.  I think the bucket song is a song of happiness that the egg-laying thing is over for the day. The other day when I was working in the gardens near the pen I heard one of the chickens making a noise I'd never heard before; sort of a growling-chirping noise.  I looked up and one of the other hens was pecking her on the back.  There were 2 roosters with them for a while until they wore the feathers off the girls' backs so the roosters are "cock-a-doodle-gone".  Now I see why the feathers haven't grown back on that one hen. 

The biggest problem with a portable pen is you have to remember to move them ever so often and you have to remember to put them up at night.  One night I was getting ready to go to bed and something reminded me that the chickens were still out.  I found a flashlight, traipsed down to their pen, woke them up and took them back to their pen.  I actually think they were fussing at me.

In April, 21 chicks arrived on the farm.  There were 5 Cherry-Eggers, 5 Barred Rock, 5 Buff Orpington, and 6 Amerecauna.  All were chosen for their disposition and eggs.  I built a chicken house for them and recently got their chicken yard fenced in so they can run around and catch bugs.  They're really fun to watch.  It's kind of like watching a lava lamp or an aquarium; you have to make yourself get back to work!

Inside the coop they fight for the top roost pole at night.

 

I guess I'll have to extend the top pole the length of the house so everyone can have "pole position".

The Amerecaunas are kind of like calico cats.  They all look different but they've all got a thick neck and no comb on their heads. 

The CSA members are eagerly awaiting fresh eggs sometime in the middle of the summer.  The 3 Red Star chickens will eventually be integrated into the new flock, but for now they are my garden slaves.......

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Babies on the farm

Lots of farmers will be saying this over the next few weeks "Look at the cute little chicks"!  And are they cute....little balls of fluff that make lots of noise.

 

I've been waking up in the middle of the night worried about them being too hot or too cold, so I've been treking the 75 or so steps in the dark to the shop to check on them.  So far, so good, but they are so dependent on someone for EVERYTHING! 

Looks like a schmorgasbord (sp?) with all the different colors, and there are 4 different varieties, all brown eggers except for 5 Amerecaunas (sp?) (blue/green eggs). 

Gee, I needed a spell checker for this blog!  Back to the garden with me now.  All this beautiful weather is killing my back :)

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Easter Eggs: Brown vs. White

I've always loved Easter eggs.  I loved changing an ordinary object into one of colorful beauty.  I loved coloring eggs when I was little and trying my best to imagine what I was writing on the eggs with the wax crayon that came in those egg coloring kits.  It was also difficult to keep those transfers still enough to keep them from being blurry; but it didn't matter--by the time we got through hiding the eggs for a week (imagine that much time out of a fridge now!) you couldn't tell what it was anyway. 

My best friend Kim and I colored eggs.  She thought I was a lunatic because neither one of us has had kids at home for several years, but it was fun!  I was always curious how brown eggs would look when colored so we did a "scientifical" experiment.  Here are the results:

 

The eggs on the left side of the towel were white eggs (notice the blowout) and the ones on the right were the brown eggs.  Overall, I would vote for the brown eggs.

I called my Mom and Dad a while ago and asked the proverbial question "Whatchya doin?"  They were COLORING EGGS!  75+ years old and they've colored eggs every year--gotta love it :)

The best part of the whole thing is that at my age I don't have to beg an adult to hide my eggs for me; I can hide them myself!

 
 

All Cooped Up

Yesterday my friend Kim came over to help me install handrails on the house porches.  After we had been working for a while I noticed that only 3 dogs were around (I have 4).  Reuben, the catahoula, was no where to be seen.  I called several times, but still no Reuben, which is quite unusual.  About that time I noticed Angus, the boxer, racing around the shop toward where the chicken tractor was parked.  I ran over there to see a chicken flapping around the field, my really old Great Dane Buck, with a rare surge of energy, chasing the chicken, and Angus was double-teaming with Buck for fresh chicken for dinner.  That wasn't my plan for the bird, she just started laying eggs!

I was able to scream, stomp, and flail my arms enough to scare the dogs away. I scooped up the trembling chicken and headed back to the coop.  Inside the coop was Reuben.  His ears were down and his tail was way between his legs.  He was terrified of the roosters in there and he wanted OUT.  I had fed the chickens some bread earlier and Reuben decided he wanted to try some. 

After coaxing the very skittish pup out of the chicken coop, and securing the wire where he had gotten into the coop, my friend Kim shouted "Hey, an egg!"  That makes 4 eggs so far! 

 Each day on a farm is an adventure, and I wouldn't trade it for any other lifestyle.

 
 

The $148 Egg

 

Last year I saw a picture of a chicken tractor in Mother Earth News magazine and I thought that would be a great way to dispose of vegetable scraps, control bugs, and fertilize all at the same time.

Several weeks were spent building "the perfect tractor", although it’s too heavy for me to move around without John’s help (John Deere, that is).   In August I drove to Gainesboro (about 55 miles from here) to buy Red Star chickens because I had researched several breeds and these are gentle (they won’t step on you and hurt you like a cow or a horse will) and they are good layers, and they lay brown eggs, which is what I wanted. 

They were little tiny things but they were also getting feathers so they didn’t need a light to keep them warm.  I read up on them some more and this particular breed is supposed to start laying at 18 weeks.  I got out the calender and oh boy, fresh eggs for Thanksgiving!

One day after harvesting green beans, I pulled the chicken tractor into  the green bean bed  and it promptly sunk up to the axle in the soft ground.  Well, so much for taking the chickens to the plants, so I pulled the exhausted bean plants out of the ground and tossed them in to the chickens–they went crazy!  It’s fun watching them as I move the tractor around the yard; they get all excited about the “new territory” and if one of them catches, say a grasshopper, everybody chases the one with the bug until somebody wins and gets the bug.  I always cheer for the one who caught it in the first place, but I’ve told myself I’m not getting involved in the fights!   Back to the egg……

I’ve got about $100 in the tractor; $48 in feed, feeder, waterer, grit, etc.  Today I found an egg!  (note that it’s been almost 2 months since Thanksgiving)  It’s the most expensive egg I’ve ever bought, but it was as much fun as finding the prize egg on an Easter egg hunt:)

I think my chickens will get a permanent house, more chickens to play with, and they will take daily excursions in a more lightweight, sporty edition of the clunky tractor they now have.

 
 

Goat Cheese, chickens, Great Danes, and cold weather

chicken tractor

You might be wondering what in the world do goat cheese, chickens, great danes, and winter have in common?  Well, the goat cheese is something I've been wanting to try for quite some time but just haven't done.  Yesterday, a friend and I did our grocery shopping together (it makes it more fun to go with somebody) and we split a package of goat cheese.  Today I made the most awesome salad for lunch with spinach, a thin slice of onion, about 4 sliced up mushrooms, a small handful of walnuts, 1/2 apple sliced up, and about 2 TBS of goat cheese crumbled over the top.  I like honey mustard dressing, so that's what I used.  It was very tasty.  The cheese has a very strong flavor and is somewhat salty; I'm anxious to find a recipe to use the rest of my half package.

The chickens have to do with winter, as does the great dane.  I've got a light bulb on in their roost (upstairs part of the tractor pictured above) to keep them warm during these frigid days.  I've also had to swap out their waterers twice a day because they have been freezing pretty quickly.  Chickens drink a lot of water and take extra time during frigid temps! 

Today it reached 33 degrees; the first time it's been above freezing since New Year's Day.  I know other parts of the country get that cold every year, but we usually don't get that cold for that long.   The great dane is very old (his name is Buck) and he shivers and chatters his teeth (he does it in the summer too), so I feel sorry for him even though he has a nice warm doghouse.  I've been letting him stay in the house during this really cold weather, along with Reuben the Catahoula, Angus the Boxer, and Cooper, the bad-haired terrier (he's a shelter rescue).  We're all snug and cozy in the house waiting for warmer weather---oh, and waiting for eggs too!  Yep, that's why I got chickens :)

 

 
 
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