Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Chicken Pumpkin Challenge

 In the Paddock

Had some fun letting the girls make a jack-o-lanterns!  This is part of a Chicken Pumpkin Challenge that has been going around on Tik Tok.  You scrape off a bit of the pumpkin where you want the chickens to peck and then let them create their own jack-o-lantern.  Here is the pumpkin with a little bit of the face scraped off...
The girls in the east coop dived right in and started pecking away...they even made their own holes in the back of the pumpkin!

They got one eye done so I took the opportunity to pull the pumpkin out of the paddock and grab a quick pic...
The girls were anxiously waiting for me to give them their pumpkin back...they ended up eating the entire pumpkin in just a few hours!
Here is the pumpkin in the west coop...they took a couple of days to get their jack-o-lantern completed...
Jack-o-lantern in the west coop...
I put the jack-o-lantern back in and they did a little more work on it...

So...just a little Halloween fun on the farm!

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Stew hens!

 In the Coop and Kitchen

The time had come to retire several of Mark's first hens that he bought to start his egg business.  I always knew this day would come and was not looking forward to it.  We did our best to make lemonade out of lemons and held a butchering class for people in the community.  Five people came and learned how to humanely kill, scald, pluck, and eviscerate a chicken.  
Everyone that came to the class got to take 2 stew hens home.  Then, we still had a few left so I put two stew hens in a bag and let them "age" in the cold room for several days before putting into the freezer.  They are for sale now in our online store! 
Next was to figure out how to to cook these ladies.  I have made bone broth several times but never cooked a stew hen.  Since these chickens were almost 3 years old, you can't just roast, bake or fry them.  The meat would be too tough for that type of cooking.   You have to cook them over low heat with lots of liquid - to stew them.  As muscles get older, they develop lots of connective tissue so the long slow cooking time is needed to break that tissue down, which in turn flavors the broth.  I decided to try two different methods of cooking.  

Method 1 is the Instant Pot:  I put one stew hen in a instant pot, added carrots, celery, and onion,  4 quarts of water and a splash of apple cider vinegar then pressure cooked it for 90 minutes.  I basically followed the information in this post: How To Cook Stewing Hens In Pressure Cooker  I did not add the spices that were featured in this blog post.  I like to keep the chicken broth neutral and add spices when I use it in a recipe.

Method 2 is the Crock Pot:  For the crock pot method, I just put the stew hens in the crock pot like I do when I make chicken broth from bones.  I put them in the crock pot (I was able to get 2 stew hens in the crock pot) and added celery, carrots and onion.   Another important thing that I included in both methods was a tablespoon of vinegar.  This helps to get some of the minerals out of the bones. 
I turned the crock pot on low and let it go overnight.
I strained off the broth and then let the hens cool down so I could pull the meat off the bones.  I got almost 2 cups of meat from one hen.  One thing I noticed is that the dark meat was very dark and the fat was very yellow!  While stewing hen meat is a little chewier, not as plump and juicy as young chicken, it has SOOOO much more flavor.
I chopped up the meat and used it to make enchiladas and they were great!  Since I had done 3 stew hens, I even had some extra meat that I put into the freezer to use in maybe a taco soup later this winter.
Here is a pic of the chicken enchiladas!  
I wanted to include a couple more links to information about cooking stew hens that I found useful:
How to Cook a Stewing Hen - this blog has links to some recipes on how to use the meat

After pulling off all the meat, I put the bones back into the crock pot and added some chicken feet (yes, I saved a few feet...they are GREAT for making broth) and let it go again over night.  I ended up canning up about 15 quarts of broth!
I prefer to the crock pot method.  Most likely because I am used to making bone broth using this method.  The instant pot is clearly faster but I don't mind waiting and the house smells amazing!
This is a great way to honor these ladies for the years of service that they provided.  We appreciate their service to Mark's egg business!

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Nest box woes and wins! Got Straw bales! Yeah!

 In the Coop

When the new chicken coop was finally completed, we were so "eggcited" to put the fancy rollaway nest boxes into there.  We got them mounted up right away and they looked so nice!  One of these extra large nest boxes is good for 70 chickens and that is about what we had in the coop so this was perfect.
Unfortunately, there were some problems with the fancy rollaway nest boxes.  First, the girls really did not like using it.  It is hard to explain but I could just tell.  Then, I started noticing that there were fine, hairline cracks in the eggs.  I would say that at least a dozen eggs a day would have these cracks and you can't sell eggs with cracks!  I called the manufacturer and explained the issue.  He asked if the boxes were level.  I said that they were mounted in the chicken coop and that the coop was built on a concrete pad.  I was not quite sure what he was asking.  Then, he explained that the eggs were coming down into to the collection area too quickly and to make sure the nest box was level.  Henry and I added some wood to the bottom of the box to help level it out but this seemed to continue to be an issue...
THEN, the worst thing happened.  The girls figured out how to stand in the nest box area and put their heads down into the collection area and eat the eggs!  I wish I had taken a pic of this but it was too upsetting for a pic.  I would open up the egg collection area and there would be a bunch of eggshells with holes in them.  One day I counted 15 eaten eggs!  I tried to punish the hens that were eating the eggs.  There were about 3 that figured out the system.  I would put them into the quarantine cage but as soon as they were let back out, they went right back to it.  It was like a game for them.  Once a chicken learns this type of behavior, it is really hard to detour.  The whole idea of the rollaway nest boxes is that the eggs rollaway so that the chickens can't get to them!  

We decided to just purchase some regular old nest boxes and put them up around the coop.  This seems to work fine...
...AND even though the eggs are just sitting right there...out in the open...no one eats them!  It is somewhat bizarre to me but I am glad it works.
So, one reason I could not get around to writing some blogs this past summer is that I spent a lot of time working through the new forever flowers, feed and nest box issues...hoping we are on a good path at this point.  Also, there has been a serious shortage of small straw bales.  We got one load of straw bales last fall and I was confident that they would last until the summer.  Boy, I was way off.  The girls and ladies use a lot of straw!  This past week, I found a local farmer that had small straw bales and we got some!  Yeah!  This time we got 2 trailer loads!
Ollie, the cat, helped us unload the straw...you almost can't see him...he is "straw" colored...LOL...
...and put into the barn!
It has been a crazy summer season and now I am happy we have:

Straw in the barn for the winter!  
A great new feed dealer!  
And hens laying eggs in their nest boxes and not eating them!  

It's the simple things!

Have an eggcellent day!