Tag Archives: hens

Thanksgiving Tinsel

Roy walked in the house this afternoon with an armful of dried Japanese maple leaves. “Wanna see something cool?” he said, as I scraped pumpkin cheesecake batter into a gingersnap-crusted springform pan. I turned around and fell in love at once with this wispy pink cloud of rosy what-nots. Our first holiday decoration, we decided—Thanksgiving tinsel.

It’s funny about Thanksgiving week, how different and special it feels. The normal routine is knocked about just enough to open up space and time for those pause-button moments, when you notice something beautiful that the wind blew in to your back yard.

Sure, it’s cold. The chickens’ water is frozen. Ratzilla is back in the attic. (And his cousin, Ratatouille, is in the kitchen. I found his stash of chocolate chips, toasted almonds, and doggie kibble behind Mastering The Art of French Cooking the other day.) The wind blows through the windows of this old farmhouse like nobody’s business.

But the hoop house is warm and snug in the early afternoon sun—a good place to go and just rest for a minute. And Roy’s newly built insulated “walk-in” shed is keeping the eggs from freezing.

This week the sun is closing down before 4 pm, and the early darkness is startling. But morning brings customers down the driveway to buy three or four dozen eggs at a time. Everyone is smiling, talking about who’s coming to visit, whether the boats will run in the storm, what they’re planning to cook, how the menu’s coming together. For cooks, there’s sheer joy in all the choices, the dogearing of cookbooks and downloading of recipes. The permission to bake everything from dinner rolls to lattice-top pies. Or to completely deconstruct the spice rack, as I did this afternoon. That I admit, was probably not necessary. If the spices are getting a little old, well, at least there are fresh herbs still alive outside. Sage and rosemary—my heroes.

I love this holiday that celebrates food and gratitude. What more do you need, really? Well, a warm house would be nice…not that there’s anything wrong with this one…

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Rooster-ettes

Way back in May, we got 26 baby chicks: Twenty-five Aracaunas, who are about to drop blue eggs any day now, and one “bonus” exotic mystery breed chick, which turned out to be a Silver Polish Crested.

Now that the girls are four months old, we have to face the reality that not all of the girls are, well, girls. Though they don’t seem to actually know that.

Polly, our Polish Crested, didn’t get along with anyone right from the start, so she had to be separated. She had her own special dog crate in Roy’s shop for the first couple months. When it was time for her to graduate, Roy fashioned her a special little coop-within-a-coop that opens out onto her own little pasture-pen. It’s no wonder Polly is fond of Roy. Only problem is, Polly is really Pauley. She crows. (Or tries to crow—it sounds painful.) And she doesn’t cock-a-doodle-doo at the usual rooster-crowing times, like sunrise. She crows when Roy gets home from off-farm work in the early afternoon. And she crows at sunset. (See, I still refer to her as She.)

She also stays happily in her outdoor pen until dusk. Then she decides to roost on top of the deer fencing between her pen and her neighbors until Roy comes along, plucks her off, and tucks her into her little coop for the night. She could fly out and wander around (any time of the day), but she doesn’t. Okay, I mean he doesn’t. It doesn’t look like a terribly comfortable spot to hang out, but apparently it appeals to him.

Over at the Aracaunas’ coop, we have Henzilla (above). We started calling her that when clearly she was growing twice as fast as the rest of the girls. Honestly, we knew she wasn’t a hen, but the name kind of stuck. And the funny thing is, though Henzilla wanders around the pen towering over all the other girls, she doesn’t seem to be very aggressive and she hasn’t learned to crow yet. She’s pretty mellow in fact. (If you can describe an Aracauna as mellow—they’re all pretty skittish. If you want docile, go for a Buff Orpington like Martha.) Anyway, I feel sorry for Henzilla, because she just seems like a really awkward teenager to me (handsome though she is!). And plus, once she  does get her Superman cape on and transform into a real rooster, she (he) might not be around for long. Roy has always said, “no roosters.” Except Polly/Pauley, who he thinks is special just because she looks exotic. Which he does. If you like feathers.

Well, who knows what will happen. With 550 chickens, 9 coops, and several large chicken pastures (not to mention 450 eggs a day) to manage, Roy is always fine-tuning the chicken operation. If I were a rooster, I might try and impress Roy, too. Considering it’s all about the eggs around here, just being exotic might not cut it.

 

Will it be Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3? Only the Hens Know

Our 300 new pullets arrived yesterday. That makes a total of 540 chickens for us. The pullets are 16 weeks old and will begin laying small eggs in about a month. By high summer, we will be collecting more than 3000 eggs a week. That’s 250 dozen, plus.

Should be interesting.

The delivery came a week early (of course), with a few days warning. So Roy has been working like mad to get the three new coops built and the fencing up. When the girls arrived at 10 am yesterday, we took them directly out of their travel crates and put them right in the coops to get them used to their new homes.

After setting up the farm stand this morning (above)  and eating my breakfast (Green Island Farm eggs of course!), I went down to watch Roy let the girls out into their lovely grassy field.

But the girls were not in a hurry. We watched and waited a bit, then went back to work. It took the first birds until 2 pm to get up the courage to go out (even though they could see their big sisters in the pen right next to theirs.) And even then, one entire coop stayed put for another hour. It was the funniest thing watching them all standing in the doorways. Which ones would come out first? All I could think of was the “The Price is Right.” Would it be Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3? Well, the group behind Door #1 were definitely the brave ones, out and about first. (Top photo.) Group 3 (bottom photo) followed, while Group 2 (middle photo) must have had something pretty interesting going on in the coop, because they didn’t budge for quite a while.

It’s a beautiful day for the girls to be settling into their new digs. Let’s just hope they don’t get too adventuresome too quickly. Their big sisters found an opening in their fence yesterday, and about 60 of them went strolling down the Land Bank path right about the time the pullets were arriving. (At least there weren’t as many escapees as last time.)

And fortunately the pullets don’t have to worry about being the new kids on the block for too long. Our 25 baby Aracauna chicks are due to arrive at the post office on Monday. Yes, you heard that right. But they won’t start laying (blue) eggs until September, so that’s two dozen we won’t have to think about for a while!

 

 

 

Jumbo Eggs & Chicken Collectibles; Plus A Cabbage Recipe & A Candle for Sixburnersue

Merrily skipping outside with my camera this morning, I had visions of writing about hope and rebirth (jumping right past St. Patrick’s Day to Easter), so I started snapping photos of chives and daffodils poking through the ground.

Then down to the hoop house I went (again) figuring I hadn’t yet inundated you with enough baby seedling pix.

 

Oh, and the first true leaves on the tomato seedlings under the lights—you’d have to see those.

But very quickly I got distracted. I went to check the nest boxes and found a lovely egg in a sunny bed of straw.

And then I remembered that every night while we’re washing and packing the eggs, I marvel at how striking they look in their almond and apricot and melony hues, so tidily arranged in their cartons. I wanted to show you our cool product.

 

And then I remembered that I keep meaning to photograph the jumbo and miniature eggs we get. The jumbo eggs, mostly double-yolkers, are so huge (sometimes more than 3 1/2 ounces) that it makes you wince thinking about those 4-pound hens laying them. We get three or four jumbos every day. The minis are more of an aberration. (The egg in the middle, below, is normal sized.)

Off I went to photograph eggs, and in the process, I added a chicken to one of the photos (see top of blog). We have a lot of chickens. Not just live chickens…

…But wooden chickens, china chickens, iron chickens, chickens on dishtowels and pot holders, chickens on plates and mugs. We are guilty of collecting them, and friends and family give us more. (Roy already had the one below when I met him. He and Libby bought the one above for me a couple years back.)

 

My friend Eliza gave us these great hen and rooster salt and pepper shakers.

 

My friend  Heidi dropped by yesterday with a cool hen tote bag and some produce bags from her sister’s company, Ecobags.

 

My mom recently passed along this lovely Nicolas Mosse plate and the great Barred Rock look-a-like (at top).

 

Our friend Mary gave us this wonderful Bridgewater chicken mug.

 

Roy’s mom found us an old egg carton stamp in an antique store…

 

…and Roy picked up this old egg scale at a tag scale.

 

One chicken-y shelf in our mudroom includes Roy’s egg cup from childhood and a little wooden toy rooster from Portugal I had as a child.

In the end I decided to share our chicken collectibles with you in the blog today. But then I figured I shouldn’t ignore St. Patrick’s Day altogether, so I found the link to this fabulous cabbage and potato gratin I created and posted two years ago. Reading that post, I realized (yikes) that St. Patrick’s Day is Sixburnersue.com’s official anniversary. Apparently you folks have been putting up with me and my rambling blogs for three years now—wow!

I have to thank you for that. And for helping me get through a nasty winter. Whether it’s shamrocks or garlic chives, fresh eggs or baby lambs, there’s plenty about spring to jump start our spirits.

 

This Business of Eggs: Green Island Farm Grows Up

Four years ago, Roy and I (newly besotted), rented a little plot of land on a Vineyard farm. We grew vegetables and sold them at the farm’s roadside stand. Living in a tiny apartment over a general store, we shuttled back and forth to tend our plot.

That fall, our friend Joannie tracked us down one day, took us by the hand, and led us to a little farm house on two acres of land. Right on the spot, she introduced us to the owners and insisted that they rent the farm house to us. I’m not sure if the owners knew what hit them, but in about an hour, we had all shaken hands and Roy and I were packing up the apartment. Our new landlords said, “Sure, grow whatever you want here.”

We moved into the little (uninsulated) 1895 farm house a few weeks later, and by spring we were turning over the soil and putting up the fences for our first vegetable plot. Roy built a little farm stand, and we stuck a sign out by the road. One summer, then two summers went by. We got 8 laying hens, and then 50 more. The garden doubled in size, and we built a hoop house. We made a tiny bit of money off our tiny farmette, keeping the farm stand open almost every day while writing books and building houses (our real jobs), too.

Then one day Tom came by. Tom and Roy talked, like men do, standing next to their trucks, arms folded. I watched from the kitchen window, my hands covered in olive oil and salt. Tom and Roy walked down to the fence line at the bottom of the farmette and looked out over the fields beyond, fields that have been in Tom’s family for hundreds of years. Tom and his mother Druscilla (yes, our landlords) lease some of that land to Morning Glory Farm to grow corn and squash. But there are eight grassy acres spiked with pines and cedars right behind us that long to be farmed.

After a spell, Roy and Tom walked back up to the house. I wiped my hands and stepped outside. “We’re going to be chicken farmers, dear,” Roy informed me, Tom smiling beside him. They’d made a deal.

At that moment, our fuzzy dream snapped into focus and took on the shape of reality.

With the extra acres Tom would lease us (four to start), we’d be able to turn the farm into a real business. Roy knew he wanted to spend less time on big building projects and more time farming, and we knew from a bit of number crunching that laying hens would be profitable. We played the numbers out a bit more and decided to make a phone call. To our surprise, we hung up the phone with (gulp) an order of 200 16-week old pullets scheduled to be delivered to the island in only a few weeks time. That was late October.

While Roy and our friend Scott quickly built the new coops and erected the huge (60′ x 90′) initial yard for the pullets, I worked up a real business plan, shopped around for insurance, filed the LLC paperwork, got a Tax ID number—and ordered a whole lot more egg cartons!

Since the day the pullets arrived, Roy has worked feverishly to get all the systems in place—watering and feeding, cleaning the coops, haying the nest boxes, collecting the eggs, washing the eggs, packaging the eggs, marketing the eggs, delivering the eggs. He is Mr. Egg Man. (I have been conveniently “on deadline,” though I am told that when the next 200 chickens arrive this spring, my duties will be, ahem, changing.)

Mr. Egg Man and I are celebrating today, celebrating the end of our first real week in business. All our paperwork is complete. Nearly all of the pullets are laying, and Roy collected more than 1300 eggs this week. We have new customers—a restaurant, a grocery store, and a market; the farm stand cooler is stocked every day. Best of all, not a single one of those 1300 eggs is left in the fridge. All sold. Today, there will be 18 dozen more to pack up. And 18 dozen more tomorrow. Whew. Well, you can’t have a farm business without a farm product. Which is why I am off to transplant lettuce seedlings in the hoop house. This is the coolest part about the dream—coloring in the lines you’ve sketched for yourselves.

 

 

 

Waiting for Sandy: Hurricane Prep, Farm-Style

I’ve lived my whole life within a few miles (sometimes a few feet) of major coastlines, so hurricane prep is something I’m accustomed to. However, the possible combination of frequent 70-mile per hour gusts, 60 live animals, and a recently constructed parachute-like structure called a hoop house is a new one for me. And I noticed yesterday that Roy was being particularly meticulous about nailing and weighting and tying things down. Hmmm. The last time we had hurricane warnings, he seemed fairly nonplussed. This one, not so much.

So it is safe to say we have a healthy degree of concerned anticipation (I wouldn’t call it anxiety) about what Hurricane Sandy might bring our way. Frankly, I’m more worried about my parents in Delaware and my friends in Connecticut, where the storm will bring much more rain and flooding. But we do have a responsibility to protect live critters. We’ve done our best to secure the hoop house, and even if the greenhouse film rips and writhes in the wind, leaving us with a mess, we can replace it and fix it, no problem. The hope is that no other supposedly immovable objects start acting like projectiles around the yard, with the potential to hurt us or the animals.

Moving Cocoa Bunny into the barn was the first and most obvious precaution. (We’ve done this with previous storms.) Her cage is easy to lift, and she will be happy and snug through the two days of high winds. (My lifelong friend Liz Pardoe Gray is here visiting and snapped the pic of Susie and Roy.) Also obvious this time was clearing the farm stand completely and turning it over before the wind has a chance to do that (like it did in last fall’s Nor’ Easter). We had to wait until later in the afternoon to do this, though, because we had the farm stand open to sell eggs today. We put out 7 1/2 dozen—everything we collected yesterday and today, thinking we wouldn’t put out any tomorrow or Tuesday—and they all sold. Not surprising, really—Vineyarders may be hunkering down, but they’re still going to eat well!

For the seven older chickens, we’ll let them go into their coop tonight, supply them with extra water and feed, and not let them out into their yard in the morning. They have spacious digs, so they will be fine hanging out inside the coop. This afternoon we corralled the bigger flock of 48 into the small permanent pen adjacent to their coop—much less area for them to roam around in, but also much less chance of breaking tree limbs crashing down on them. (Some of them needed more convincing than others to leave their new grazing area, so Roy helped them along.) We will probably let them go back out into that limited area in the morning, though we’ve put an extra waterer in the coop in case that turns out to be a bad idea. They’d probably rather wander in and out of the rain and wind instead of being “cooped up” together all day. We’ll also need to get in the coop to collect eggs and that can be difficult with all of them in there. But we’ll have to see what we think in the morning.

Most importantly, Roy has filled a big trash can with water for the chickens in case the power goes out and we can’t use the well. Chickens drink a lot of water, and going even a day without is not an option.

There wasn’t much I could do in the vegetable garden. Nature will take its course out there and I am fine with that. I harvested some lettuce and arugula and green beans for our dinner tonight (first bay scallops of the season), and picked the prettiest zinnias, as I know those plants are going to get nailed. But otherwise, I mostly just picked up any tools or random stakes I could find and tucked them in the shed. I moved pumpkins and potted plants under the covered front entry, and I stacked random outdoor furniture in the outside shower.

With everything as secure as we could manage, Roy and I moved inside to enjoy the kind of Sunday afternoon only possible when a good friend is visiting and a hurricane is threatening (even the ferry boats to and from the Island have been canceled so we are essentially  marooned!). Being forced to slow down for a few hours is actually a gift for us; so no matter what Sandy brings, we are glad for the interlude.

 

Rosie the Ringleader and the Houdini Hens

We had a lovely visit from Brooklyn-based food and lifestyle photographer Alexandra Grablewski this week. She took pictures of us and just about everything on the farm but she was particularly fascinated with the chickens. It’s hard not to be—they are totally entertaining. Especially when they get out of their yard and go on walk-abouts.

I usually know when one or more has escaped the chicken yard, because I hear Farmer whining. He gets terribly upset if I don’t go out and immediately pick them up and return them to the pen. But often this happens during the day when I’m working—plus I know it’s probably just Rosie. Rosie (pictured here) is the independent type and seems to like using her wings to fly over a tall fence every morning. Occasionally two, three, or four follow her, and I can generally round those gals up without help. Roy claims I am the worst chicken rounder-upper out there, and it may be true.

But a couple times in the past week there’s been a mass exodus, so we’ve both had to do our rounding-up best. Look, it’s not like they don’t have a huge yard and fresh grass to feed on. They shouldn’t feel the need to travel—it’s just that, well, chickens like to cross the road, or the yard, or anything. In both of those cases, the culprit has been an unlatched or partially latched door they’ve managed to push open. (Of course we have no idea who would leave the gate unlatched!) And herding 48 laying hens is nothing short of comical.

Usually if you get close to them they’ll squat and let you pick them up. But a few are flighty and will just fuss and squawk and ruffle their feathers and generally be obstinate about the whole returning home thing. These are the ones who wind up underneath the tractor, in a thicket of brambles and branches, or over in the perennial flowers. Rosie will be hanging out with them, you can just count on it.

Eventually, with a chicken (or two) under each arm, we get them all back in. And then there’s the whole going-to-bed problem. Forty-three of the chickens go inside the coop just like chickens are supposed to do when the sun goes down. But five of them have decided that the best roosting spot is on top of the water trough out in the yard. So they have to be picked up and stuck inside the coop one by one. (Roy does this every night.) And if you do it too soon, they’ll just start coming back out as you’re getting the last one in.

Perhaps there’s a reason man started eating chickens so many years ago. Might be easier than keeping laying hens. The eggs are pretty darn tasty though.

P.S. Alexandra’s photos of the farm and chickens are for a future project, so we won’t be able to share any of them for awhile–but promise it will happen when the time comes!

Why Did The Chicken Fly the Coop? To Get to the Peas & Carrots, Of Course

I’ve been running inside a lot this week to grab my camera. It’s been one photo moment after another on the farm. On Sunday, we let the babies out of their coop into a temporary outdoor pen—their first foray onto grassy turf. This was hysterical to watch. It took quite a few minutes for the first chicken to advance out onto the plank. Three or four followed, and then the first one changed her mind and turned around and headed back inside. It went on like this for a while—a few would venture out and then turn around. You could just imagine the conversations going on.  (Personally, I had the Cockney voices of the talking vultures in Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book in my head.) “You go. No you go. No way—YOU go. Nuh-huh, I’m staying here.”

Libby waited patiently in the pen for them to come out, approach her, and eventually start hopping on her lap. She is very calm around animals and they trust her. I couldn’t get enough pictures of the interaction between them all.

In the garden we are harvesting the most amazing peas and carrots, so I’m taking lots of pictures of these, too—while they last. I am so happy that I’ve finally figured out how to grow both of these veggies well. I just hope I can repeat the same success next year. (Or even this year with another round of carrots—which should have gone in the ground weeks ago!).

This morning I had fresh peas and carrots and strawberries for breakfast while I washed all the veggies. I smiled, thinking about peas and carrots, because they mean something special to Roy and me, and today is our anniversary. (The anniversary of our first date, that is, three years ago.) For some reason, when we were first dating, the movie Forrest Gump kept coming on TV. If you remember, Forrest says early on in the movie, “From that day on we was always together. Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.” Roy picked this up (in Forrest’s voice, of course) and started saying it to me a lot. Who knew what we’d be doing three years later! Peas + Carrots + 60 babies (baby chickens) + one amazing little girl=love.

(And not to forget Farmer, who enjoyed Libby’s cart ride with one of the chickens.)

Moving Day—The Baby Chicks Get a Big-Girl Coop

Once he got started, it only took Roy two Sunday afternoons to get the new chicken coop built. Just in time, too, as the girls (all 49 of them!) are getting big. Plus, as I wrote about last week, there is so much to do around here that lingering for too long on any one thing just isn’t an option. So after choosing the perfect site for the new coop, Roy built the foundation and nailed the floor Sunday before last, then set to work on the walls and roof this weekend, using salvaged doors, windows, and boards.

I got a kick out of watching the whole thing come together (see photos below) into what looks like a pretty iconic chicken coop to me. (It has a built-in storage area for food and tools, too, which will be particularly handy.) The girls have an excellent spot, under some shade trees and with a killer view of the fields behind us. They’re still a little young to be out grazing, but next up is a big covered pen for them. In the mean time, they seem very happy with their new spacious indoor digs.

We used a plastic harvest basket to carry them, six or eight at a time, from the brooder in the barn to their new home.  All went smoothly, if a bit squawk-ily.

Even Bambi, who we successfully returned to the flock a couple weeks ago, seems happy, hopping up to greet us at the door from time to time when we go down to visit or refill the food and water. Farmer is anxious to see her, too, as he and she got to be pals. Fortunately, we can still identify her by her right foot, which is missing the middle toenail. Sorry for the graphic details, but this is how these things go! When we brought her inside on day two, she had an injured middle toe, which turned black and looked like it might be something fatal (with chickens, it’s all about the feet), but it miraculously healed itself, as you can see in the photo of Bambi on Libby’s shoulder taken a few weeks ago. (Or could see, if the photo were bigger!)

Below is a photo run-down of the coop-raising. Now, we have only three months to wait (and a lot of chicken food to feed) before our 49 new ladies are laying eggs. I can’t wait to see how that is going to work—me collecting four dozen eggs every day is not going to help the attention deficit disorder I already have around this place!

You’ve Got Mail! 50 Baby Chicks in a Cardboard Box

Overnight, we’ve gone from 11 live animals to 61 here at the farmette.  The baby chicks arrived at the West Tisbury post office about 9 am yesterday, and I am so very happy to report that they are all still alive this morning!

Roy took the call from the post office and drove over to collect the amazingly small (ventilated) cardboard box that they come in. (They need to be snuggled together to keep warm, and the newborn chicks live for a couple of days just on the remains of the yolk sac they’ve ingested.) I was waiting outside with the camera when he came, and it didn’t take long for me to hear the lovely Cheep! Cheep! chorus coming from the truck.

We took them out of the box one by one, and dipped their beaks in water so they’d get a little bit of hydration going and they’d know what the water source was. Then we put them into their toasty brooder box (more like a small room) that Roy built in the back of the barn/shop. It’s made of plywood, has a bit of insulation, and is topped with 3 old casement windows. A swinging door lets us move the food and water in and out, and a heat lamp with an infrared bulb keeps the brooder and the chicks warm.

Actually, there are supposed to be two heat lamps, but our second bulb burned out and a replacement is a couple days away. This was the cause of much discussion yesterday, and we did some rearranging to make sure the chicks wouldn’t smother each other last night trying to stay warm.

I, of course, am usually the worrywart in the family, but since these chicks are really Roy’s babies, I slept perfectly fine last night. I noticed, however, that Roy got up at 5:30 and came back to report that the babies were all doing fine. He is a sucker for little things. Me—I can’t wait until Libby gets here this weekend as I know she’s going to be enchanted. And Farmer, well, he’s not allowed in the barn/shop so he hasn’t met his 50 baby sisters. All in good time!