Monday, December 3, 2007

A Record Day

Today we collected 5 eggs from 6 chickens--the most collected in a day so far. Will we ever have a 6 egg day? Charlotte found 4 this morning when she opened their door, and I found one at lunch time.

They still are using the nest they made on the floor of the chicken house, despite our putting warm comfy hay in their nesting boxes and putting in a golf ball. The golf ball is a ruse to get them to think that other chickens have laid eggs/golf balls in there, so it's real nice and they should lay their eggs in there too. Maybe they're smarter than I thought and we need a more egg-shaped decoy...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Terrible Thomas Tragedy

Earlier this week I was upstairs, and I heard Peter crying a funny cry downstairs. He was upset. As he found me at the top of the stairs, I realized that his favorite battery operated Thomas engine with its rubber tires was firmly gripping a tightly wound strand of his hair. It was wound so tightly I couldn't see a good place to start unwinding, and it was so tight to his head I couldn't see where to get my scissors in to cut.

Oh great, I thought. Christmas pictures will be great with a chunk of his hair missing. Oh well, it will be true to his two year old image.

The train was still on, so I turned it off and realized I could spin Thomas around and unwind Peter's hair a bit. But I could only go so far, so it was time to break out the scissors. I was able to cut close the train and farther from his head. Yay! Only a few strands of hair left on Thomas and unable to be seen by the naked eye.

Our Bounty

We're up to seven eggs as of this morning. Yesterday I had eggs for lunch, using one of my favorite egg recipes made in the savory version. I first learned it as "Two Eggs and Four People" for breakfast, but I've also seen it called an Oven Pancake, Finnish Pancake, and maybe as a few other things.
I used 3 small, pullet-sized eggs for this one, but would have used 2 large eggs

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup milk

about 2 tablespoons butter
some chopped up deli ham

some slices of cheddar cheese, or whatever you have on hand and sounds good.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While oven is preheating, put butter and ham in a cast iron skillet or pie pan. We have an extensive collection of Griswold cast iron skillets (the best because they were made in my hometown of Erie, Pa) and I used the #6 for this one. Mix the flour, milk and eggs in a bowl, get everything wet, don't worry too much about lumps. When the butter is melted, swirl to make sure your pan and 1/2 way up the sides is coated. Spread the ham out over the bottom. Pour egg mixture into pan and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. I sprinkled cheese on the top before I put it in the oven:

When your timer beeps, it looks quite impressive, but deflates a bit as it cools:

Serve for lunch or light dinner with a salad.

Variations include slicing an apple into the melted butter, sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on top. Also can increase to 3 eggs, 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup flour for more people and a #8 or #9 skillet. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Looky, Looky

Tuesday morning I thought I heard funny squawks from the chicken coop as I was eating my breakfast, but later looked out and counted all six hens running around their yard. I ran some errands in the morning and didn't check on them until after lunch. When I opened up their back door, I saw this:

See anything in the hay? And this hen was nervously strutting around inside the coop:

This whole operation may look like a poultry exercise, but actually it is an economics lesson for our children. Lesson one is on Economies of Scale. Egg #1 is a very expensive egg. I think we'll bronze it. Isn't it beautiful?

Here it is next to an officially classified large egg from the farmer around the corner for comparison:

Hens lay pullet-sized eggs (smaller) for the first few weeks, then they get larger. I'd say they are about 75% of your usual supermarket large eggs.

I called my husband at work to tell him the good news, starting with, "Guess what we got today? Something we've been waiting a long time for!" He replied, "My package came!"

When I picked up my daughter at school for an after-school appointment and asked her to guess what came today that we've been waiting for, she answered, "Peter got words!!"

Upon further prompting neither one guessed chicken egg until I made clucking noises. Yup, we're all on the same page around here.

This morning I woke up right before sunrise to go to the bathroom, and I heard stressed squawking from the chicken coop. They have a light in the coop that is on for two hours in the morning to give them about 14 hours of light (so they lay eggs). I looked out, saw the light glowing in the coop window and wondered what kind of party was goin' down. I hoped it was an egg-laying party and not the chicken version of a Tupperware party.

I was tempted to go outside with a flashlight, but my warm bed sounded much better. An hour and a half later I sprang out of bed and went outside to check on the ladies. I opened the back door of the coop and was greeted with 2 eggs! Chickens lay an egg every day and a half or so, and I suspect that hen #1 laid another egg and a new hen started laying. Another possibility is that hens #2 and #3 started laying and hen #1 is still in shock about what happened to her two days ago. If they keep to the day and a half schedule, we should get another egg tomorrow afternoon. We shall see....

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chicken Update

No eggs yet, but we hope to have some in November sometime, even though it is getting darker and egg production goes down in the winter months.

The movable chicken house is more permanently moored in the back yard so we can easily watch them from the kitchen window over the sink. We were letting them out during the day if we were home, but they were wandering into the neighbors' yards a little bit, and although no one said anything and they didn't wander far into other yards, we don't want to ruffle any feathers. Lately we just let them out around 4pm, that way they don't wander far before they come home at dusk and they go check out their favorite spots, starting with the rhododendron behind the garage.

Also -- and this shouldn't be news to anyone who has been around large birds, including Canada geese -- chickens have big poops. When they wander, they poop on the front sidewalk, the driveway, the yard, in the garage if someone's left the door open and wherever. Not fun to step in. And they scratch in the grass and dirt, usually not in the direction you'd like the mulch to fly, more likely throwing the dirt onto the grass or sidewalk.

Our yard is far from manicured, but we had to draw the line somewhere. We're planning to make a large fenced area for the chickens behind the barn, and as an experiment to see if they would fly over the 4 foot wire fence, John made a pen for them. One "flew the coop" their second day out, but then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering up and down the outside of the fence trying to get back with the rest of her flock. And one afternoon last week I heard a funny scratching noise out the window and saw this:

Charlotte shooed her back into the pen. I think there is one adventurous one in the bunch. Overall though, the fence seems to be working.

At dusk they go into their coop and like to perch on the tippy-top perch at the peak. Our 13 year old neighbor was taking care of them when we were on vacation in August, and he was alarmed when he checked on them one evening and they were nowhere to be found. He brought his dad over to help look for the missing chickens, then was quite startled when he stuck his head inside the coop and realized they were above his head. I've experienced this, and it is quite disconcerting because their feet are above your head at the door, and they poke their heads below the perch level, peering down at you like some kind of vulture. You know you're invading their space.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Ok, I fell off the blogging bandwagon. Went on a vacation at the beginning of August to visit my parents, then went to Maine on a family vacation, then school started, the computer went into rehab, blah blah blah. So any hope of developing a blog readership flew the coop, so to speak. But now I'm back, turning over a new leaf. I hope you one or two readers (hey, I'm optimistic) will return.

The good news is that we got a new camera in August, a digital SLR, Canon's Digital Rebel XTi. We didn't get the kit lens, instead opting for an L class f/2.8 24-70mm kickin' lens that was more $$ than the camera body. The thinking behind this is that one may upgrade the camera body at some later date, but good lenses work on any Canon camera. We're still learning all the features, but it takes awesome photos right out of the camera.

At the end of September we went to the Durham Fair, which is Connecticut's largest agricultural fair. Food, rides and animals galore, plus tractor pulls (small, medium and large, including the kids division pictured below) and horse/pony pulls.

We we arrived on a beautiful Saturday morning before the bulk of the crowds. We first hit the animal barns, paying particular attention to the poultry. Our conclusion was that our Barred Plymouth Rocks were prettier, but we're not sure it's worth the trouble to exhibit them. So kudos to those who do.

Peter liked the turkey which was at eye level for him.

Charlotte liked the bunnies. They make me sneeze, however.

Kids could pet this large rabbit specimen, I think it was of the French Lop Eared variety.

We spent a large part of the afternoon sitting watching the draft pony pull. Very impressive, as the winning 3 pony team pulled 7,800 pounds. Since we were sitting there, I took a million photos of the pony teams. The fair has a contest each year for a photo of the fair to use on the cover of their exhibitor guide. I might enter one of the ones below. Which one do you like best? Respond in the comments, please.

Photo #1:

Photo #2:

Photo #3:

Photo #4:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Moving Day

Last Sunday John started moving some of his stuff out of our garage attached to our house and into the barn. The plan is that someday I'll be able to park my minivan in the garage. Ha ha ha, hee hee hee, ho ho ho!!

I'll let you know when that happens, as it will be a first in our almost eleven years of marriage. Summer isn't so bad, but snowstorms remind me of the garages my parents always park their cars in. I suppose I knew what I was getting into. John's parents didn't park their cars in a garage when I met him (well, one was in a carport, does that count?) and John did say early on "Pshaw! What a waste of valuable space to park a car in a garage!"

I'm always amazed at how my un-huge husband (just stating the facts, dear) can move things larger and much heavier than he is. Levers, come-alongs, pulleys, wheels, ropes, chains and ramps are all his friends. And he usually doesn't break a sweat when moving something 1000 pounds.

Case in point: moving his milling machine from point A (the garage) to point B (the barn). It helped that the barn is downhill from the garage, but have you ever tried to stop a speeding milling machine? Neither have we, and let's keep it at that, thank you.

Step 1: Getting it out of the garage. I didn't have the camera around for that, but it involved a long length of chain and dragging the thing to the door using the tractor in the driveway, whereupon John tilted the motor back so it could clear the door. Then a piece of plywood appeared from somewhere and some 2x4 blocking. It was my job to slide the plywood under the machine at the edge of the garage's concrete floor. Some more tractor pulling, and the thing was out of the garage on its little sled.

Step 2: And they're off! (hum Lone Ranger theme for the rest of this)

Step 3: Like a good little milling machine, it followed nicely down the driveway. Just ignore the scrapes. They came off during the next day's rain.

Step 4: Pulling got a little rocky with the turn onto the stones in front of the barn, but slow and steady wins the race.

Step 5: And here it comes into its new home. *Sigh* I guess we won't be having any more big parties in here.

Step 6: Did you see him break a sweat? I didn't.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

All Cooped Up

It was for my birthday in January this year that my husband John said he would build me a chicken coop. John is very creative and handy, and I expected this project to be banged out in a weekend or so.

But first it required me to do a bit of research on how the chicken coop should look. So, I looked through my back issues of Backyard Poultry magazine to see any designs or ads for designs. The Eglu looked interesting, akin to IKEA's answer to a chicken coop, and it comes in colors, but it only held 2 chickens. John's comment? "I'm not having any plastic chicken coop!"

The Henspa seemed to be the Cadillac of chicken coops (movable on wheels, slanted nest boxes so the eggs roll back for easy collection), but starting at $1200 plus freight, it seemed a bit pricey. Plus John was eager to take on the challenge: "Pshaw! I'm not buying a chicken coop!"

A British company, Greenhill Joinery, had some interesting coops also (run area sized for a human to walk in, elevated roost area to keep predators out), but seemed heavy on the joinery. John's response: "I'm not shipping a chicken coop from England!"
We discussed the merits of all the coop examples we saw. John started drawing and planning, and soon he was buying wood. The project was most definitely not banged out in a few weekends, what with our barn project also taking priority this spring. But the coop was mostly finished by the time the chickens arrived last month, and was rolled out of the barn and housed the chickens during the daylight hours of the barn party.

So, here it is...the new coop painted Childlife swing set green: (really it is for chickens. Just ignore the human in there.)

With a human door in the front and windows in the side of the roost to check out what's happening in there.

Removable nest boxes.

Several perches and a chicken ladder for the ladies to access their evening roost.

And wheels on a scissors jack to help move it around, which you can't see very well in these photos.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Barn Party!

Postings have been sparse around here lately, many apologies. We've been getting ready for our Barn Party, which was a rousing success yesterday evening.

It all started when construction finished on our new barn in mid-January. We realized that we needed to have a big party in the barn before it got filled up with my husband's project equipment and whatever else he plans to put in it.

We were thinking maybe March or early April would be a fun time for the party, before the weather got hot. Well, it is amazing what high hopes warm January weather can create.

Then it got cold, like January and February should be.

And painting, backfilling and those other details John wanted to get done were pushed out to the spring.

Fast forward to May and June. Much painting, a little dirt moving, a little grass growing, a little electrical wiring, a little cement sealing, and many long Saturdays and Sundays made for a mostly-finished barn:

Time to send out the invitations!

And book the band. Wild Notes was great, they were fantastic to work with, they suggested a caller to call the square dances, and the music was wonderful.

The weather cooperated and the guests came pouring in from near and far, including a surprise visit by my parents who drove 1000 miles roundtrip to attend, and a visit from John's sister and daughters from England. A great time was had by all.

And no party is complete without the tiki torches and a hula dancer!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tomato, Tomahto

I love a fresh-picked, sun warmed tomato in the summer. Who doesn't? This year we planted sweet 100s cherry tomatoes and some Big Beefy tomatoes. In the past we have tied up our tomato plants to cages and then scrounged among the greenery for the produce.

Around about February of this year I stumbled across a book called Square Foot Gardening that explicitly showed how to maximize the garden in a small space. Even though we have a large lot for suburbia, most of it is woods, and precious little gets enough sun to support a garden. This was my kind of program. More on square foot gardening in future posts, stay tuned.

In the tomato section, it showed how to prune tomato plants in the clearest manner I've seen. So I decided to introduce some discipline this year. Experts say that we'll get bigger tomatoes, which would be nice, since last year the biggest was probably the size of a small plum.

But first, I have been a bad gardener and I needed to tie up my tomato plants, which were flopped all over the place. Good thing I did because they were thinking about putting down roots from the stems, I could tell.

There, now it is all neat and tidy:

Ok, back to the pruning. Do you see how the tomato plant below has the central stem and another main stem branching off to the left? But looky, there is another stem growing between the main stem and the branch!

Did I hear you say "So what?" Well, according to tomato growers more knowledgable than I, those extra shoots will sprout tomatoes but will result in smaller tomatoes over the entire plant because the plant's energy is spread too thinly. As The Queen of Hearts would say, "Off with their heads!"

Whoa. Did I go too fast for you? Here's another example to help hone your pruning skills. Which stem doesn't belong?

If you said the one in the middle, DING DING DING, you're right! Sorry we're all out of prizes today, as my dear sister-in-law DB will attest because she hasn't gotten hers yet for naming this blog.

And we'll close today's lesson with some lovely cosmos and a zinnia that are staring to come up. Thank you for tuning in to this week's edition of The Quigley Bend Garden Bender with Enders.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sunday Afternoon in the Park

This afternoon we moved the chicks to larger quarters, which involved putting them outside in the grass while we swept up the old litter and put down new newspapers and litter in the garage, and prepared their new cage (ten points to the first person to name the previous use of this new cage, respond in the comments section).

They enjoyed being in the grass, started scratching around and pecking at things that might be bugs. I don't think they found any real bugs though. But they were ready.

While Charlotte was carrying each chick back into the garage when we moved the cage in there, I heard, "Uh, Mom, come quick!" Well, the usual call to get me to come see something invariably has some urgent exhortation to it, but after about the 10th time by 8am, I start to prioritize these calls. This come-quick-call had a genuinely urgent tone, and when I rounded the corner into the garage this is what I saw:

Not a calamity, to be sure, but something that needed my assistance. Can you pick out the bird in the garage mess?

This incident gave other family members the idea to try the same thing:

Arrg, call him Captain John and his trusty chicken. Creative thinking, indeed.