Category Archives: Chickens

Vegetarians Beware…

Something pretty intense happened over here recently, and if you are a vegetarian / vegan / animal lover, please forgo this post and let your opinion of us remain untarnished. But seriously guys… whoa. We ate our first chicken. Whoa again.

Black Chicken BikePlease meet the dearly departed chicken. It’s still weird to look at this picture and realize she’s not running around the coop in the backyard.

We always knew it was an inevitability that we would start eating the chickens when their egg production went down, and this little hen in particular was sort of always tapped to be the first to go. Unfortunately, she seemed to have a bad habit of going broody and was never a great layer in any case. “Going broody” occurs when a hen becomes convinced she is hatching a bunch of adorable baby chicks underneath her and refuses to leave the nest to eat, drink water, or be productive. Broody hens without fertilized eggs can starve to death… so this is a fairly serious condition that has to be dealt with in a number of aggressive ways. Blaise had cured her of being broody twice already, and on her third bout, we were starting to become pretty frustrated and more and more convinced she was going to head to the chopping block sooner rather than later. Fortunately, she stopped being broody and was allowed to peck around the yard a few more months. However, she was also a sort of “bad attitude” type of gal, and had another bad habit of harassing the younger chickens and picking squabbles with some of the adults. Ugh.

A few weeks ago, Blaise noticed that this chicken had begun to molt. Molting, as many of you may guess, occurs when chickens lose their feathers and, for a time, stop laying eggs. After molting occurs, chickens may or may not start laying again, but they are never quite as prolific as they once were.

It was time.

At first I was filled with a sort of macabre fascination with the whole butchering process, although as with any death-situation, there is always the forethought and emotional preparation beforehand and then the actuality of dealing with the situation once it occurs. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was really going to react when she was dead, so I was honestly a little nervous.

We invited my brother over to share in the event (he had expressed some interest in the process), and we waited until he arrived to do the deed. Since Blaise had committed to wringing her neck, I needed someone to hold onto! Turns out, when Blaise had the hen in his hands, I bolted inside and made loud squealing noises while I heard the squabbling outside. Real mature, Cal. Nice work.

The death took a little longer than I had anticipated. It was sort of hard to watch, really. I had ventured outside by this point and was a little taken aback by her twitching. I know she was dead, but this post-mortem was a little… graphic.

Black Chicken poseA quick side note: Blaise – and most specifically, his father – are birders and are fairly accustomed to wringing necks of birds and skinning / de-feathering / etc. those of the aviary persuasion. A lot of my family hunts as well, and I am a supporter of ethical hunting although I do not do it myself. I know some of you may disagree, but let’s all realize that everyone’s opinions differ and be respectful and understanding of each other, okay? Deal.

Blaise’s Dad lives next door to us, so Blaise ventured over to ask for a quick word of advice on skinning the bird, and surprisingly, his Dad headed straight back with him to show us how it was done. He was extremely efficient at disassembling the bird and once again, I stood there wide-eyed and by this time was a bit more fascinated by the whole thing. It reminded me a lot of dissecting fetal pigs in high school, to be honest. “This is the heart, this is the liver,” etc.

Blaise had prepared a quick brine solution inside, so we let her sit in a combination of salt water, cloves, citrus, and other spices for a time before we cooked her in a Dutch oven.

Quick BrineSort of gross. Sort of really fascinating.

While the bird was baking, we fried up the giblets with some onions and served them atop homemade tortilla chips as a little appetizer.

GibletsPretty tasty if you ask me!

The finished product was fairly good, although she was an older bird, so she wasn’t as tender as the silly things you get at the market. We fried up some mashed potato pancakes and served the chicken atop those, and ate our feast by the fire outside. We (well, I) felt rather ceremonious about the occasion, and there was a bit of pomp and circumstance involved in the dinner.

In hindsight, I had a strange sense of satisfaction and guilt about the whole thing. I woke up the next morning feeling awfully strange that I had one of my darling chickens in my belly, and that instead of 16 hens running around outside, there were only 15.

However, I have to strongly state that owning backyard chickens comes with an ethical obligation to be responsible for their healthy life and death. Chickens aren’t like cats and dogs (although with those you also must be ethical and thoughtful about their life cycle), and they aren’t cuddly pets that you keep as companions. Our chickens are kept for their eggs, and when they are no longer laying, we have to be practical about whether or not to keep them around.

Furthermore, although I was vegetarian myself for about seven years (a lazy vegetarian, truly, but a vegetarian nonetheless), I have always supported being aware and responsible about where your food comes from – especially your meat. We know each thing this chicken consumed during her life, we know that she was well treated, that she died a respectful death, and that we were responsible in the whole process.

And that, my friends, is the tale of our first chicken dinner. It certainly won’t be the last, but at least we’ve gotten over the hump of finally doing it and hopefully it won’t be so fraught with emotion in the future. Surely I’ll have more thoughts about the experience as time goes on — I already have so many — so we’ll see how it goes.

 

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November? November!

Whoa whoa whoa everyone, please tell me it is NOT already November. October slipped through my fingers so quickly and I feel like I barely had time to relish in my favorite month of the year! Who am I kidding, though… it has been a terrific past few weeks. So terrific in fact, that I have barely had time to sit down and update this space!

Lately I have been…

Going to the AZ State Fair

Reconnecting with dear old friends from high school at Hanny’s

Watching the garden grow big —

Carrots –

Kale –

Buttercup Squash –

Sunflowers –

And the broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, radishes, tomatoes, etc., etc., etc. are all doing fabulously as well!

The baby chicks are so big now that we have been able to put them in the large run with the adult chickens. They are chirping along as happily as ever and starting to get rather fat!

In even more exciting news, we had a group of three lovely cross-country cyclists stay with us around Halloween. Em and Nick hail from San Francisco, and Alex, a friend they met up with on the road, is originally from Austin, TX. Em and Nick are currently in the process of filming a documentary about cycling fatalities and are en route to Orlando, FL. Alex, on the other hand, has been on the road for the last six months biking all around the perimeter of the continental US. You can read more about their fascinating journey on their blog. They also have a pretty sweet map on the website so you can see where they’re off to.

While they were here, we did some hiking

Hung out by the pool
(it was a pretty warm day, even by fall’s standards)

Partied it up at the Crescent Ballroom for Halloween

and Alex managed to snag himself a pretty sweet tat from Golden Rule

I guess he liked Phoenix okay!

It was really amazing to spend so much time with people who are so convicted about what they do, and so hardcore that they are literally biking every mile from coast to coast. Even Blaise has done some serious biking in his life (more at his blog, guys, I am not equipped to tell these stories!), and after our visitors left, I was starting to feel pretty left out. Why was I so scared of just getting on a bike?

So… my delightful beau struck it out of the park once more…

By fixing me up my very own little bike!

My bike has a little basket and lights for when I bike around at night. My very concerned parents kindly bought my an Adeline Adeline nutcase helmet and guess what?!

I’ve been biking to work every day. I have probably already saved $30-$40 in gas this week already! Hooray!

Dear Em, Nick, and Alex: Thank You for inspiring me to get on a bike!

 

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Coming Up Roses

Well… I suppose we don’t have any roses at the moment, but here’s what’s coming up over here:

Radish

Broccoli

Spinach

Carrots

Buttercup Squash

and let’s not forget the sunflowers!

Also growing but not pictured at the moment are onions, kale, garlic, and several other varieties of squash (pumpkin and yellow straightneck!)

Last but certainly (!!!) not least:

(although kind of hard to see, two of the chicks are under the lemon tree and the grown up brood is staring at them from their run)

The Welsummer says hello! She is very, very loud…

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Little Bits

A bit of what’s going on around here:

The little ones are growing up so fast. I have to remember to snap a few shots every now and then because even I can’t tell from day to day, each pic reminds me that they’ve already gotten huge compared to how they used to be.

Sunflowers peeking up

New tomatoes

And because I’ve been blathering on and on about how cute the babies are, I’ve totally forgotten about the other, still awesome adult chickens.

Hey Pete!

and finally,

We also rearranged the house! Yesterday we took most of the day to do a ton of cleaning and moving. The place feels so much more open and airy!

Life is good! Hopefully I’ll get around to writing a more substantive post soon, but I’m in a rush this morning so be on the lookout in the near future!

 

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Seedlings (almost!)

Yesterday we started the process of germinating a few seeds. Not every seed can go directly into the ground, so it’s important to sprout them inside before you throw them in the soil.

To work with a few of the seeds we already had on hand (khulrabi, pumpkin, eggplant, fennel, and a few others), we cut coffee filters into quarters and dampened them with a spray bottle.

We then folded the coffee filters in half, then half again, and tucked the seeds inside, carefully folding the filter back together to lock the seeds loosely in its dampness.

Next we placed the seeds into little baggies to help keep in the moisture. We did not seal the bags up so that air can reach the seeds. We’ll have to spray a tiny bit of water into the bags every now and then to keep them from drying out.

 

Some seeds we were able to do a direct plant into some soil. We had a bunch of tiny pots left over from the mass succulent purchases this summer, so we filled those with potting soil and carefully laid the seeds in them. Each seed needs to be planted at a different depth, so we referred to the seed packets for this information.

We labeled each pot so we won’t get confused as to which pot has which plant in it. Above we have sweet pepper, basil, coriander, and okra. Oh boy!

 

We put the pots onto a cookie sheet so we can spread water across the bottom for the roots to soak up. For now we are okay to water them lightly with the spray bottle on top of the soil, but once they sprout, they’ll need to be watered this way.

I am very excited for all of this garden business! We are also ordering a few more seeds from burpee.com, including varieties of tomato, radish, carrot, parsnip, arugula, spinach, kale, onion, and broccoli. We’re also on a hunt for some herbs, but I’d like to find them already sprouted at a nursery. I’m not sure which nursery around here will carry all the herbs I want… I guess I’ll have to do some exploring!

In other news, the baby chicks are doing excellently! Every day they get a little more clever, a little stronger, and a little more adventurous. I can’t believe that in about six months they’ll be laying eggs! They are so, so tiny right now, and still so very sweet.

 

 

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New Additions!

Two pieces of really, really great news, guys!

#1: One of these things is not like the other…

Blaise discovered a green egg in the coop! His newest chickens (which we still lovingly call “the babies”) have finally started laying! He discovered some white eggs a few days back, which was a little confusing because “the babies” are Ameraucana chickens, or Easter Eggers. Their eggs should be different colors, so the white was a tad disappointing. But hip hip hooray! A green egg! And more colors on the way, we hope! Only two babies have started laying, so there’s four more to go.

The little guy in the center is our green egg culprit, which I had previously named Corbett. (For some reason, all the chickens seem to have boy names. I am attempting to fix this for future broods! They are hens for pete’s sake! [oddly enough… one chicken is named Pete… oh boy.]).

Side note: This is probably just me attempting to anthropomorphize the chickens, but I’ve noticed that the two babies who are now laying are able to compete with the older hens for food a bit better now. When the two broods were first integrated – the older and the younger – the babies got picked on a bit and were rather skittish. Now, Corbett and her laying buddy, Rusty, are front and center of the pack. The other four non-laying babies are still pretty much hanging out in the back and being afraid of everything and everyone. Does laying eggs give hens confidence? Have they achieved some kind of social standing in the brood? I wonder about these things. Does anyone have any info on this?

#2: We may or may not have decided to get more chickens!
(And by that I mean we did!)

But first things first.

While I attempted to do physical labor (i.e. raking the garden beds or mopping inside, rather, to beat the heat), my very industrious boyfriend took to the little baby chicken coop outside. Since he has had several rounds of chickens already, he is old hat at the whole thing and has a pretty good setup. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t want to constantly improve on the process. He’s working on fitting in a “doggy door” for the chicks so it’s easier to get them in and out of the little cage.

In the above, you can see Mabus, Pete, and Henface (yes, Henface. I was not around when she was named!) are clearly doing everything they can to distract Blaise from his power-tooling. Such a helpful little brood!

Then it was off to the store to pick out our little chickies!

At Pratt’s, there are several large tubs full of chicks, ducklings, baby turkeys, etc. I had a SUPER hard time ignoring the ducklings, but we were on a mission.

We wanted very healthy chicks, so we had to watch the multitudes swarm around the tub for a while. We pulled out a few who really stuck out – strong ones, curious ones, energetic ones. We ended up with two Ameraucanas, two Cuckoo Marans, one Brahma, and one Welsummer. Six in all.

We put them in a baggy and took them to their new home!

(the big yellow one is the Brahma. She is slightly larger than the others because she is probably a week or so old whereas the others are just under a week old.)

My first baby chickens! I am so very excited!!

It’s warm enough right now that they could probably go outside to the baby coup right away. However, Blaise and I decided we wanted to keep them inside for a week just so they could get some growing done without the stress of the adults wandering near them. The setup is not so very difficult.

Right now they are in a large round tub filled with hamster-type bedding. They have water and feed in constant supply and a heat lamp.  I hadn’t thought of this, but apparently it’s very important that the chickens have room to get out of the head lamp’s glow, but they seem to really enjoy hanging out in the warmth. By this I mean they have space to move around to different climates. As for their feed, I got them a mix made specifically for young chicks – lots of fiber, grain, protein, and a little bit of calcium. You don’t want too much calcium at this age, so we will add more of that into their diet as they reach laying age. I believe this particular blend has sorghum, soybean, corn, meat/bone meal, sugar, and vitamins.

They don’t have a ton of space in their indoor home so we let them out into the garden every now and then to scratch around and enjoy themselves. I prefer that these visits be supervised, personally, because I have seen some cats sniffing around lately. And of course, once real plants have been put in the garden, they shall have to find a new playground!

As I write this, I can hear their little peeps from across the room. It is the cutest little sound! They are pretty friendly and will sit in your hand for a good amount of time. I want to give them nice, girly names at some point, but I will probably hold off for now. No more Petes, Henfaces, and Mabuses! Only one is named so far, a little Americauna I call Goldie. The other ones will have to wait. But not too long, I’m sure – I am certainly one proud mama hen.

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