Backyard Chickens: The Isolation Cage

September 27, 2013

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Here's an update for those of you who read my last post about Miss Olive Snook. Unfortunately, not only is her leg still sore, but it seems to have worsened. Instead of hobbling around with a limp as she was before, she can barely move now, and holds her foot in the air whenever she's standing. Luckily, she still seems her perky self, and continues to eat and drink, so I'm hopeful.

As expected, the other chickens peck at her even more than they did before due to her weakened state, so Matt and I have decided to isolate her from the other girls. To do this, we first thought about buying a large dog crate or something similar from the store, but we decided against it because something with a floor would be hard to clean and too expensive for the size we were after. Instead, we built a small enclosure inside the coop with scrap wood and leftover chicken wire. It took a few hours to build, and it needs a little fixing here and there, but it does the trick.

Although this makeshift isolation enclosure was initially meant as a temporary fix for Olive, I'm thinking about keeping it long after this ordeal has reached its conclusion. It will come in handy for future medical issues, and will also make the perfect space in which to safely introduce young birds to the rest of the flock if we ever decide to add more.

But the thing I like most about this is that Little Olive can be separate and safe from the other chickens (and herself) while still feeling like she's part of the group. Occasionally they'll wander off too far for her, and she'll put up a fuss, but they usually keep her company. In the meantime, we're hoping that her leg will have the time it needs to heal. At night, we carry her back to the hen house so she can sleep with the other girls and stay warm. We're also giving her a bit of crushed baby aspirin with some food to help with the pain. Aside from calling the vet, which I'd very much like to avoid, I'm not sure what else to do other than to just wait and see.

Anyway, here's to hoping I come back with better news next Monday.

This and That

September 24, 2013

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The last tomato harvest.

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Cotton yarns for a new knit/crochet/sewing project.

For a size comparison, Seven's first egg is bigger than eggs from both Starbuck and Amelia Pond. #backyardchickens #firstegg #eggs #pullets
Seven of Nine's first egg! (middle)

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Cozy kitties.

Fall has come, and so has the rain, so yesterday I went out and picked every ripe tomato I could find. I'll still wait another week or two before I take down the plants (unless they show signs of blight), but I'm not expecting to harvest many more tomatoes, which is fine. We've had an abundant year.

On Friday the 20th, Matt went outside to collect the eggs from our two layers. He came in and reported that Starbuck's egg had a little blood on it, and that he found it laying in the nest box. Normally Starbuck lays her eggs on the floor of the coop, behind the food and water, so all of this registered as a little strange to me, but I figured hey, she's still new at this. Nothing to worry about.

And then an hour or two later, I went out to check on the girls, and I saw an egg on the floor of the coop in Starbuck's usual spot. So guess what! Three layers. Yay!

The mystery egg was never really a mystery to us. Miss Seven of Nine was acting like she might lay any day, so I'm surprised we didn't figure it out a little sooner. As you can see in the photo, her egg is slightly larger than both Amy and Starbuck's eggs, and it's a darker brown, too.

So here's what we've got so far:

First Eggs
Amelia Pond (Ameraucana/Easter Egger): 9/8/2013
Starbuck (Buff Orpington): 9/12/2013
Seven of Nine (Black Australorp): 9/20/2013
Olive Snook (Welsummer): n/a

Number of Eggs
Amelia Pond: 14
Starbuck: 9
Seven of Nine: 4
Olive Snook: n/a

Total Egg Count: 27 eggs to date

Number Eaten:15

Verdict: Delicious

So now we're just waiting on Miss Olive Snook. To be honest, I'm a little worried about her. Not because she hasn't laid any eggs, but because she's very small, she doesn't eat nearly as much as the others, and she's got a slight limp.

I noticed the limp a couple months ago. Matt and I examined her thoroughly for signs of injury or bumblefoot, but there wasn't an obvious problem. We decided to wait it out, and her condition eventually improved. Her limp was barely perceptible, and even then, I just figured I was imagining things. Then a few days ago, I noticed she was favoring her right leg again, and since then, it's only gotten worse.

She gets around alright, but I'm not really sure what I can do to help her. My guess is that she never fully healed from her first injury, and did something recently to flare it up again. Everything else seems like it can be explained by the fact that she's the lowest in the pecking order, but still, I worry that there's something else going on that I can't see. If she doesn't look better in another day or two, we might have to call the chicken vet.

Garden Fresh: Roasted Tomato Soup

September 20, 2013

roasted tomato soup

The origins of this recipe come from my first year of vegetable gardening. It was tomato season, and being new to growing my own food, I suddenly found myself with 20 plants worth of ripe tomatoes to process all at once. Those of you who regularly plant vegetable gardens know that 20 tomato plants means a whole lot of tomatoes, but I didn't. Not back then. And I wasn't prepared for it.

So to deal with the harvest, I canned (this was back before I had a freezer) as many tomatoes as I could tolerate, and found recipes for the rest. One of those recipes was for roasted tomato soup with Parmesan wafers (I skipped the wafers), which was a big hit. I made batches and batches of the stuff, and slowly but surely used up all of my tomatoes with minimal waste.

roasted tomato soup

Over the years, I've continued to make roasted tomato soup during tomato season to help deal with the harvest. It's one of the foods I dream about every year when I'm planting my tomato plants. And now that we have a chest freezer, I'm taking advantage of it by freezing as many gallon-sized bags of this soup as I can so we can continue to eat it throughout the winter.

I should mention, I don't follow the recipe anymore like I used to. For instance, because the tomatoes are so fresh and flavorful, I use very little cream, if any, and only as a garnish. I'll also occasionally throw in a bell pepper or two to the roasting pan alongside the tomatoes, or some herbs and spices if I want to change things up. It's a very customizable soup!

Roasted Tomato Soup
Serves 2-4
 
3lbs (8-10 medium sized) tomatoes, rinsed and sliced in half
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, left in skins, with rough ends sliced off
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chicken stock or water
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heavy whipping cream (optional)

roasted tomato souproasted tomato soup

Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange 3lbs tomatoes (or as many will fit), cut side up, on your cookie sheet in a single layer. Between the tomatoes, place your onion and garlic. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Place on center baking rack for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the edges of your onions have browned and your tomatoes have deflated. You don't want to go too much longer than that or the juices will evaporate and your cloves of garlic will burn.

Remove from oven and let cool for five minutes. Remove the garlic cloves from their skin and place in a large soup pot. Add the rest of the contents of the cookie sheet, juices and all, into the pot along with the garlic, and then add your two cups of stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if needed. To serve, strain the puree using a fine mesh sieve directly into your serving bowls, and garnish with a splash of heavy whipping cream.

To freeze, strain the soup using the sieve into a large bowl or saucepan, and allow the soup to cool. Once it's at room temperature, pour the soup into a freezer-safe container. Best if eaten within 2-3 months.

Optional Ideas:
-Add a bell pepper or two, seeded and sliced in half, to the cookie sheet for roasted tomato soup with bell peppers.
-Add herbs like thyme, rosemary, or basil to the simmering pot for additional flavor.

Red Rikke Hat

September 17, 2013

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The Rikke Hat is something I should've made back when I first started knitting. One, the pattern is free. Two, it's a quick and easy knit. And three, it makes an excellent slouchy hat - not too heavy, not too light, and perfect for fall. Plus, I love garter stitch!

The yarn for this is Wool of the Andes in cranberry from Knit Picks. I had two balls leftover from the red and white tube scarf I made last year, so I knew I'd eventually make a hat with it, but I wasn't sure which pattern to use until I remembered about the Rikke Hat. Although it's a very basic pattern, I'm drawn to simple, functional things, so I'll be making more of these in the future. Perhaps a black or charcoal colored Rikke next?

Anyway, I know I wrote about feeling anxious for fall in a previous post, but I couldn't be happier about it now. We've had an amazing summer with beautiful, sunny weather. We've even had a couple good storms, but now I'm ready to wear socks, and layers, and to feel cozy again.

Garden Notes and an Eggciting Development!

September 13, 2013

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Right now, my kitchen counters are covered with boxes and bowls and plates full of beautiful tomatoes of different colors, shapes and sizes. Most are destined for the freezer, whole & peeled, but this year I'll be freezing large quantities of homemade roasted tomato, onion, and garlic soup too. We eat soup a lot. Like, a whole lot. So it's awesome to have frozen soup to thaw anytime I don't feel like cooking, which is often lately.

We've still got a few bean, zucchini, and cucumber plants producing, but they're starting to dwindle. What I'm looking forward to most are the potatoes (some of which I've already dug up), and the winter squash. Acorn squash are my favorite, so I've planted two varieties here at home. Unfortunately, none of my squash, winter or summer, has done well this year, so I'm not sure what kind of yield we'll end up with.

That's the thing I'm learning with gardening. Each year, some vegetables produce like crazy, while others don't. And it's not the same plants that do well every year, either. I've only dabbled in vegetable gardening for the past five years or so, and in three different locations, so my experience is limited, but it'll be interesting to see how things change now that our garden location remains the same. I'm taking detailed notes.

Starbuck's first egg!

In other news, I found something very eggciting yesterday afternoon! My first layer, Amelia Pond, was due for another egg, so I was outside snooping around the chicken area when I spotted this brownish-pinkish egg laying on the floor in the middle of the coop. What?!

At first, I thought this must be Seven of Nine's egg. She's been squatting a lot lately, so I thought for sure she would be the next to start laying. Only, this egg is a pinkish-tan, which is typically the color of Buff Orpington eggs. So, this afternoon I decided to hang outside with the girls to observe the situation.

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It didn't take long to realize that the egg-laying culprit was not Seven of Nine as I originally thought, but Starbuck! This blew my mind, honestly, because her comb and waddles are still quite small and pink compared to the others, plus everything I've read tells me that Buff Orpingtons are slow to mature, but it was definitely a happy surprise.

I watched her run around for at least two hours, hobbling awkwardly from place to place in search of a suitable nest for her egg. Eventually she chose a small area back behind our food and water dispensers, and scratched and dug for awhile while I harvested potatoes. At some point, I looked over and noticed she wasn't moving at all, so I came over to inspect. That's when I took the photo you see above.

I was a little confused at first. Why was she resting? Where was my egg?! It took me awhile to realize that she was sitting on it.

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So there you have it! We have two egg layers now, soon to be three, and the eggs are beautiful. In these pictures I've got them lined up from left to right to indicate the order in which they were lain (top = Amelia Pond - Easter Egger, bottom = Starbuck - Buff Orpington), and in the photo with the egg carton, the bottom row of eggs is of the store bought variety. I think it's kinda neat to compare them in size and color, and to see how they look versus what we consider the standard. Cool, yes?

Anyway, have an eggcellent weekend, and happy Friday the 13th!

Home Again

September 11, 2013

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Matt and I were gone last week, helping my dad with a much needed project that took all of the seven days we were there to complete. For most of the week, the weather was nice and cooperative, but then on Thursday came the thunder, lightning, and rain, so we were forced to pack up early. While it was irritating to have to postpone our work, the storm was especially beautiful to watch, especially right off the river where they live.

Although it was hard to say goodbye to my family, we were happy to be headed home again. We missed our cats and our chickens and our garden. And as if coming home isn't nice enough on its own, it was doubly exciting this time because of the surprises that were waiting for us:

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First, this delightful package in the mail from Sherri over at Little House in Paradise. Sherri has been one of my favorite blog friends for a long time now, so I was super excited to win her giveaway, complete with her handmade potholders which I love, and a few pretty knickknacks and trinkets that have settled happily into their new home here at the nest. This type of generosity is super infectious, and it makes me want to host a handmade giveaway here in the future, too. Definitely something to keep in mind. Thanks Sherri! This made my day.

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The second surprise was this sunflower bloom. I actually planted several sunflower seeds this year, but only a few actually grew, lagging behind everyone else's. I wasn't sure they'd bloom this year, but I'm really happy to see them now. Perhaps I'll try planting them again next year after all.

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As for the third surprise, the day we arrived home, Miss Amelia Pond laid her first egg! We knew it was hers immediately because of the color, which is somewhere between blue and green, depending on the lighting. And since Amy is our only Easter Egger, we knew it had to be hers.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting Amy to be our first layer. I was almost certain it would be Seven-of-Nine, our Australorp. Seven's comb and wattles have been growing like crazy, and they're bright, bright red. Plus, she's squatting already, so we're pretty sure she'll be laying her first egg within another week or two.

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Here's a shot of Amy's egg next to a store bought egg. It's really hard to capture the color on my iphone, but you can tell it has a blue-green tinge compared to the white egg, and it's much smaller.

Egg #2! #backyardchickens

As of now, Amy has given us three eggs. Her first was a bit smaller than the other two, but they've all been sturdy-shelled and uniform in color. We haven't eaten any yet because we're waiting until we have enough to make an omelet, but I'll tell you how they taste as soon I know.

This Week in Instagram

September 5, 2013

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First batch of drinkable kombucha.
A blank page.
Freezing tomatoes.
Dad and Tricia's koi pond.
Dream catcher.
Racing the rain to help my dad rebuild his deck.