Archive for February, 2010 or out?

February 25, 2010

As chickens themselves phase in and out of fashion, so does the egg. Many hold on to the notion of eggs as unhealthy. We just checked the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source to see what they had to say about eggs. “A solid body of research shows that for most people, cholesterol in food has a much smaller effect on blood levels of total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol than does the mix of fats in the diet. Recent research has shown that moderate egg consumption—up to one a day—does not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals and can be part of a healthy diet.” Now to find out more about carotenoids, which are undoubtably higher in eggs of chickens eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and grasses, like ours do. Carotenoids can be antioxidants, and we all like the sound of the word ‘anti-oxidant’.


The ‘It Bird’

February 22, 2010

-Title of an article by Susan Orlean in the September 26, 2009 New Yorker. She cites Martha Stewart as having been the possible inspiration for the latest wave of chicken love sweeping the nation. Martha included photos of her rare-breed chickens in her first book,’Entertaining’ and based the colors in her first line of paints on their egg shell colors. Orlean reminds us that before the 1930’s eggs were only availabe seasonally. We have just experienced this normal reduction or even cessation of laying, when day length decreases…I was told to expect it but somehow didn’t believe that light could make such a difference if good food in adequate supply remained constant. Now, in February, as they begin to lay more, we can start to think of more egg-rich dishes. The supermarket supply of eggs being constant year-round, we have forgotten the seasonal nature of a hen. We could have added artificial light, but took the advice of an experienced organic egg farmer and gave the girls a rest.

Broody girl

February 22, 2010

One little hen has gone broody. All she wants to do is sit, preferably on eggs. She is lighter than a feather, having stopped eating much, as a hen sitting on eggs would have to do to keep them warm and protected. We remove all the eggs from the colony house several times a day, so she is mostly sitting alone in an empty nest box. In the evening we take her out, set her on the roosts with the other hens, and she scolds, expresses displeasure and dissatisfaction and quickly hops down and re-seats herself in the nest box. It would be interesting to know what has inspired this stubborn will in her. Weather? Season? Roosters? We are told that the only cure for this condition is to change her location completely, so she will begin to eat normally (and will resume laying eggs!)

More E B White

February 18, 2010

He writes that he can “squeeze everything (he) knows about chickens into a single paragraph”, including the advice to “Tie your shoelaces in a double knot in the morning when you get dressed, since hens are under the impression that shoelaces are worms”
My advice would be to always wear a hat when tending chickens. More than once a friendly hen has taken a notion to fly up and land on my head and appears to have every intention of staying there for a good long time. Perhaps it is one of the three hens who like to roost on the top shelf of what might have been nest boxes until we found out that hens prefer to lay eggs in low down places. At night every other hen, well, except one, (more in the next post on this,) is on the roosts, cuddled up against her neighbor, but three big hens want to hang out on the top shelf. way up high. Since we gave up expecting anyone to lay in those boxes I don’t try to move them. Hens like to lay their eggs in a box where someone else has laid an egg, so four boxes would probably be sufficient for the 95 hens, and we might find 1-10 eggs per box.

Two egg cake

February 16, 2010

I’m in love with a cake and have made this one twice in the last three days, inspired by a boy with a birthday who loves cake. Pulled the oldest cookbook off the shelf, although the cover may look older because of the use it’s had. “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” by Fannie Merritt Farmer was first published in 1896, but this is the sixth edition, from 1937, edited by Wilma Lord Perkins. Chapter 45 is “Loaf and Layer Cakes.” Instructions are given for different approaches to Sponge Cakes, Butter Cakes, and mixing cakes with an electric beater. The Two-Egg Cake comes after Lightning Cake and Prize Cake, and it begins with a neat trick that produces a substance of a different texture than I’ve ever encountered…you cream the butter with half the sugar, OK, but add the rest of the sugar to the well-beaten afore-mentioned 2 eggs. Then the sugary egg mixture goes into the sugary butter mixture, and oh, is that a light and lovely way to start a cake! 1.75 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder are sifted together and then added to the buttery sweet eggy stuff alternately with 1/2 cup milk. As soon as it’s mixed thoroughly, and this is not one of the recipes recommended for the electric beater, you add 1/2 tsp vanilla, put in buttered cake pans and bake 20 minutes at 375. I’d like to try the currant cake version, with 1 cup currants mixed with 1 tablespoon flour.

Chickens in fashion

February 16, 2010

I’m reading a collection of essays by E.B. White, and went straight for his “The Hen (An Appreciation)”, written in 1944. He writes,”Chickens do not always enjoy an honorable position among city -bred people, although the egg, I notice, goes on and on. Right now the hen is in favor. The war has deified her, and she is the darling of the home front, feted at the conference tables, praised in every smoking car, her girlish ways and curious habits the topic of many an excited husbandryman to whom yesterday she was a stranger without honor or allure.” Yes, I’ve noticed that it’s the same now…there are a few people who want to talk ‘hen’, some just for the fun of it, but everybody appreciates the superior egg, which is no laughing matter.

What do grass fed chickens eat in February?

February 4, 2010

These hens get pretty good rations, but they still look at us questioningly, asking where the green grass and bugs are. We are soaking chopped alfalfa cubes, tossing them field corn ears from the Ithaca Sound Maze, cutting open acorn squash, $5/box apples, $2/head giant cabbages, sunflower seeds, trays of sprouted oat grass, hay. all this in addition to offering the organic laying mash from Lakeview Organic. Their black feathers absorb the sun when it comes out, and they hold up one foot and then the other. Jasper noticed that they look pretty fluffy, and the eggs under hens in the laying boxes come out warm to the touch. Egg production has increased since the recent full moon…the brightest full moon of the year

Egg Food

February 4, 2010

We are not as reliant or creative with eggs as our grandparents were. But the egg is such a perfect balance of protein and nutrient-enriched fats. I found a well worn cookbook on the shelves here at Steep Hollow Farm, “The new Butterick Cook Book”, revised and enlarged by Flora Rose, co-head of the school of Home Economics of Cornell University, published in 1924 and inscribed to my grandmother by the author and Martha Van Rensselaer in 1925. The preface by MVR begins,”Cooking has always seemed to me one of the most alluring meeting-places of science and art.” The index begins the book, and fifteen pages are allotted to Egg Dishes. The first recipe in that chapter is Egg Toast: 6 slices toast, 6 eggs, butter or butter substitute, salt and pepper. Moisten the edges of the toast with hot water and spread it with butter or butter substitute. Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs. Poach the yolks in salted water until soft cooked, and place one on each slice of toast, being careful not to break it. Beat the whites until very stiff, spread in circles around the yolks, season with salt and pepper, and brown in the oven. Serve hot.


February 4, 2010

We began this project with the intention of feeding organic poultry feed and have not wavered, although the cost is about twice that of regular pountry feed. We used chick starter from Lakeview Organic Grain Mill in Penn Yan, NY, and it was lovely fragrant stuff, so sweet smelling that I wanted to run my fingers through it, and lift it to smell the perfume. Then we bought organic laying pellets from Agway. There was nothing beautiful about them but there was some satisfaction in communicating our demand for organic to the traditional supplier. After solving a few logistical hurdles we again bought locally produced organic Chicken Layer Mash from Lakeview, and I opened the first bag with great anticipation of that sweet aroma and was surprised to find the aroma of, well, the beach! A quick look at the tag told me why. After the organic corn, organic roasted soybeans, organic oats, comes CRABMEAL, aragonite, Fertrell Poultry Balancer which includes SEAWEED meal). A whole host of other aspergillus and lactobacillus compounds round out the ingredients.