June 29, 2009

Hen Pecked

We had our first case of picking among the chicks today. We have noticed them jostling for dominance lately, establishing the pecking order of the group, but this afternoon things went a little farther than it should have. Sometime between my afternoon visit and when I went down to take them some leftover greens after dinner, one of the White Wyandottes had a large bloody spot on her back and another one below her vent. I've seen them occasionally pulling at each other's feathers during their little tiffs (which are never very bad), but I think today one of them actually pulled hard enough to dislodge an adult feather, resulting in some blood, which on her white feathers stood out like a beacon for the rest of them to pick at.

Needless to say, she has been removed from the group for the time being. The insect cage that the mantises recently vacated has been repurposed as an isolation cage. Luckily it's just the right size to tuck into a corner of the brooder, meaning she can stay close to her friends (and the heat lamp) until she heals up.

Alan's wondering why he can't get in to those nice full bowls of food .

There was a bit of confusion while they all figured out why they couldn't get in to that area of the brooder anymore (and why she couldn't get out), but everyone has since calmed down and they are even managing to cuddle with her through the screen at naptime.

Hopefully she heals quickly and this is the last time we see anything like this for a while.

June 28, 2009

Praying for Garden Pests

We've experimented with adding several different kinds of beneficial insects to our garden community over the years. We introduced ladybugs one spring and had fun watching them multiply by the hundreds over the summer (click here to see our photos of the ladybug lifecycle in action). Mason bees are another insect that we have encouraged to take up residence in our garden. With honeybee populations dwindling in some areas, we may eventually come to depend on mason bees and other lesser known pollinators to keep our plants productive.

Some good friends of ours, fellow homelearners, ordered Praying Mantis egg sacs (or "ooths") from a science supply company this spring and ended up with an extra one, which they kindly offered to us. The literature said that each of these dried-fig-shaped egg cases could produce between 100 and 400 baby mantids, which quickly begin cannibalizing each if they're not separated, which they keep doing until there's only one left standing. Since we weren't particularly interested in hosting insect gladiator battles, and we haven't got nearly that many bug cages, we had to come up with a plan B. It occured to me that I remembered reading that mantises are good to have in the garden, as they are voracious eaters who will make quick work of all kinds of garden pests, including aphids, mosquitoes and caterpillars when they are young, and beetles, flies, wasps, crickets, and grasshoppers when they are fully grown. The decision was made to give them their freedom rather than keeping them as pets. I'm hoping that they also have a taste for termites and carpenter ants, which are two things that we have in abundance around here.

We hung our egg case up in our insect cage (which has housed stick insects and served as a brooder for several generations of butterflies over the years) a month or so ago and pretty much left it to its own devices. I had almost forgotten about it until one morning last week when I noticed that we suddenly had a cage full of mantid nymphs:

Close-up of the ooth.

We kept them in the cage for a little while so that we could observe them and their behaviour, but when it became clear that there weren't going to be any more hatching, we decided to release them into the garden rather than watch them make a buffet brunch of their brothers and sisters.

We let them go several dozen at a time in various spots around the yard, and they seemed happy to be free.

They're cute little things when they're only a day old, but I'm not looking forward to coming face to face with this guy anytime soon.

June 24, 2009

Chick Update

I woke up to the sound of rain this morning and did a little happy dance. It's been well over a month since we've had any precipitation here (except for a couple of minor sprinkles that didn't even get the ground wet), so my garden is suffering, as I've been avoiding watering too much in an effort to not drain our well dry. We (stupidly) didn't have our rain barrels set up before the last major rainfall, thinking we still had lots of time. June is fairly wet in these parts (in fact, we often call it Junuary), so gardens usually have time to get well established before the heat and dry weather sets in, but not this year, so many of my plants aren't as far ahead as I'd like them to be.

What is growing like crazy is our brooder full of chicks! They quickly outgrew their 3 X 3 enclosure in our mudroom and needed a larger space to roam. As fate would have it, someone offered up some large plywood shipping crates on Freecycle that week, and we snapped one up to house the chickens until we get the coop finished.

The box is about 4 1/2 feet by 5 1/2 feet, by 18 inches tall, and we added a row of 2 x 10's around the top so they can try out their wings without flying out entirely (although we're going to have to add a screen on top very soon, because they're getting close). Because of its size, we've had to put the new brooder downstairs. This spot is ideal, because they get direct sunlight for some of the day, and at night we lay cardboard across most of the top to keep in the heat.

Princess keeping an eye on things.

The kids like the new brooder because there's room enough for them to climb in for a visit!

As for the chicks themselves, they're growing like weeds! Everyone is healthy and happy and quickly becoming like members of the family. I don't usually like to play favorites, but I think I have one. She's a Speckled Sussex, and I think she's just about the prettiest thing ever. She runs and hops into my hand whenever I stop by to say hello, and if I take her out to hold her, she curls up and falls asleep in the crook of my neck, trilling happily to herself.

Her sister, however, is not such a fan, and refuses to be held. I can tell them apart not only by their reactions to me, but because the cuddly one has those dark spots just above her beak.

Another favorite is Reepicheep (named after the warrior mouse in Prince Caspian - click here to see a clip from the movie), my son's Blue Laced Red Wyandotte. She's an adventurous gal who loves to play. Here you see her enjoying a horsey ride. You've heard of a boy and his dog? Well, I think we might have to revise that a bit...

The mystery of the Faverolles also seems to have been solved, as their feathers have come in enough for us to tell whether they are male and female, and the consensus seems to be that we have one of each (yay!). The female is called Sadie, and the male has been dubbed Alan A'Dale, after a character in Robin Hood who was portrayed by a singing rooster in the Disney version (click play below to watch a clip - careful, the song is really catchy!).

June 16, 2009


As if there weren't enough things to distract me from blogging, having a box or peeping fluffballs to watch certainly doesn't help!

The post office in Blaine, WA, called bright and early last Monday (6:15 to be exact), to let us know that the chicks had arrived, and you'd have thought a family member had gone into labor with the flurry of activity that ensued! My mom had offered to pick them up for us, since border rules changed on June 1st, making it so that a passport is required to enter the US, and mine expired years ago. Thankfully the crossing was pretty quick at that time in the morning, so we had only just gotten to Vancouver by the the time they were on their way back. There was a bit of a panic when they couldn't find the health papers (which were under the chicks inside the box - seems like poor planning to me), but it turns out that it's suprisingly easy to import live animals into Canada!

Our first peek at the chicks - everyone seems to be in great shape!

All of the chicks were alive and well, and the hatchery included a second Salmon Faverolles male as a bonus. We spent a little while getting the chicks fed and watered, and set up a temporary brooder box for the trip home.

We got them home and set up in the main brooder, and everyone seemed to be happy (it's a little scary in the beginning - there are so many things that can go wrong!). But by Tuesday evening, it became apparent to me that one of the Salmon Faverolles wasn't doing so well. It was chirping loudly and swaying back and forth on its feet. I kept an eye on it for a while, but by morning it had really gone downhill. I spent all day Wednesday trying to nurse the poor babe back to health, feeding it softened food and vitamin water drop by drop, but nothing seemed to help, and she (he?) got progressively weaker. By that evening, another of the Faverolles was starting to exhibit the same symptoms. I separated them from the others for the night, and by morning, the second one had died. The first one was still clinging to life, but within an hour or two, she was gone too. It still seems odd to me that we would lose two of the same breed for no apparent reason, but one of them did have an eye gummed shut when it arrived on Monday (we managed to soak it open), and two of the Faverolles (we're assuming these two) were chirping very loudly all the time, as if they were in distress. We were joking about it actually, that the breed we got because they were supposedly so quiet turned out to be the loudest of the bunch. I guess they might have had something wrong with them from the beginning. Now the question is, who survived? Do we now have two Faverolles males? Two females? It even occurred to me that they might have sent an extra because they knew they were having problems with them - who knows. Hopefully it will turn out that we still have one of each.

On the bright side, the rest of the chicks are doing really well. They seem to have bonded with us and come running when we go in to see them (especially when they think I've brought them corn on the cob!).

My daughter and I tried to get some good photos of them when they were about 5 days old so we would remember what they all looked like. Here are the resulting "baby" photos:

New Hampshire Red

Salmon Faverolles


Dark Brahma

White Wyandotte


Red Star

Buff Orpington

Barred Plymouth Rock

Jersey Giant

Speckled Sussex

Black Star

Blue Laced Red Wyandotte

Rhode Island Red

The kids have been giving them the occasional bug, and one of the Barred Rocks seems to be the huntress of the group, snapping them up before anyone else knows what's going on.

First time outside!

We're enjoying this latest adventure immensely, and in the words of my son, "I want to always have chickens!"

June 07, 2009

Chicken Run Around

One of our (my) main reasons for leaving the city was that local bylaws didn't allow us to have a flock of backyard chickens (of course, less than a year after we moved, they changed the rules).
Once we got our occupancy permit for the new house and were able to negotiate a regular, non-construction mortgage (back in mid March), we were finally able to relax a bit and start thinking about things other than the inside of the house (not that it's finished, mind you, but we can live with it).
I started researching hatcheries early in the spring, looking specifically for heritage and rare breed chickens, and preferrably sexed so that we could control the number of roosters we'd end up with (because as we've already established, I'm not going to be dispatching animals anytime soon). I found one that sounded perfect, but after placing my order and waiting for several weeks to hear back (the website was very reassuring that they were just busy and would be in touch), I finally managed to get ahold of the owner only to be told that their posted minimum of 24 chicks required for delivery is actually a minimum of 50 if they're being sent by airmail (why the website doesn't mention this, I don't know). After much deliberation, we decided to go ahead and order the 50 and find homes for the ones we didn't need. But, after nearly 2 more weeks of not hearing back from him, we gave up and started looking elsewhere (he did eventually get back to me three days ago - a good month later - to tell me that he couldn't fill our order. Good thing we didnt' wait).
We more or less gave up on getting the breeds we were after (my daughter was desperate for her Salmon Faverolles), as there wasn't much variety available from local breeders at this point, and rare breeds are, not surprisingly, kind of hard to find. I was beginning to think we'd have to order sex-link hybrids to at least ensure that we'd be getting females, but then we discovered that McMurray Hatchery would ship an order to the nearest US town and provide all the paperwork necessary to bring the chicks into Canada. Yay!
So, long story short, we've got 26 little fuzzballs arriving sometime in the next couple of days! We ordered 23 females, 1 straight run, and 1 male. We wanted one rooster to act as a watch dog, and decided to go with the Salmon Faverolle male, as they are reportedly very sweet and quiet, and are one of the best looking roosters out there. The females are:

2 Salmon Faverolles
2 Black Australorps
2 Dark Brahmas
2 New Hampshire Reds
2 Barred Rocks
2 Buff Orpingtons
2 Delawares
2 White Wyandottes
2 Speckled Sussex
1 Rhode Island Red
1 Blue Laced Red Wyandotted (this one's a straight run, so it could be male or female)
1 Jersey Giant
2 Black Stars
2 Red Stars

I decided to get a few of the hybrids (the Stars) because I'm going to be providing eggs for my mom's Bed and Breakfast and wanted to be sure that we'd have a consistent supply (and besides, they're just pretty).
One of my husband's co-commuters (he travels to work in a van pool) is also a small scale chicken/egg farmer, and he finds our mixed-bag chicken order (as well as the whole concept of choosing chickens based on looks and personality) rather amusing. I may never be a hardcore poultry farmer, but I think I've discovered a new obsession - there are many more breeds out there that I'm dying to get. Maybe "poultry collector" is a more accurate description.

We found this video on Youtube today. It's a segment from Dirty Jobs (a great show, if you've never seen it) where Mike Rowe goes to McMurray Hatchery to learn about chicken sexing. It's a little alarming to see what the poor things go through before they're stuffed in boxes and mailed to their new homes, but it's exciting to know that they're finally on their way!

June 03, 2009

My Latest Favorite Cookbook and the Perfect Summer Potatoes

Well, there goes another month without a post! Oops.

It's no secret that I am a cookbook junkie, so I have no problem admitting that one of my favorite pastimes is spending hours pouring through the pages of a new cookbook, imagining how each dish will taste. Whenever I hear of a cookbook that sounds interesting, I will request it from the library and spend the next few weeks trying out recipes to see if it's worth buying. I did that last summer with Moosewood Simple Suppers, and I have renewed it so many times since that the librarians are starting to get suspicious. When they won't let me renew it anymore, I return it and then check it out again. It spends so much time at my house that it's almost like I'm lending it to them when it goes back. It's with them right now, and I'm starting to go through withdrawal.

Because we're on a limited budget, I've been scouring the cookbook shelves at second hand stores, hoping to spy a used copy, and sending out not-so-subtle hints whenever a birthday or other gifty holiday rolls around, but so far, no luck.

I've got lots of other Moosewood cookbooks (these are the ones put out by the restaurant, not Mollie Katzen), but this one is special. The premise of the book is that this is the food the chefs from the restaurant make when they're cooking at home. Quick, simple and delicious, and boy are they ever. Within the first couple of weeks of using the book, I cooked from it almost every day. Favorite recipes include Roasted Ratatouille, Rarebit Risotto, Greek Fritatta, and the one I'm going to talk about today - Potatoes with Lemon and Capers.

I can't get enough of these. They're fast, light (not heavy like other potato dishes), and sooo yummy - the perfect side to any summer meal.

Potatoes with Lemon and Capers:
  • 4 or 5 potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds - I prefer waxy ones like Yukon Gold or Red)
  • a lemon
  • 1 tbsp capers, or more to taste (I use about 3 tbsps because we love capers)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While you're waiting, scrub or peel the potatoes, and cut into one inch cubes (you can leave them whole if using baby potatoes). Add to boiling water and cook until knife tender, about 5 - 7 minutes (don't overcook them or they'll fall apart).

Zest the lemon into a large bowl, being careful not to get the pith (the white part underneath). Juice the lemon and add 2 tablespoons of the juice to your bowl. Add the cooked potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil. Toss. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I almost always double the recipe so that I have leftovers to make potato salad with the next day, which is almost better than the original recipe. Just stir some mayonnaise into the cold potatoes and serve. Ooh baby!

I hope you'll try them, and that they become as much of a favorite for your family as they have for ours!


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