Weight Training for Chicken Farmers

Note: This is especially effective when the humidity is above 80 percent.

Daily:

Carry 24 pounds of water from the garden pump to the chicken coops.  Do 1-3 sets, depending on which chicken coops need to be refreshed.  The heavy layers must be refreshed daily, but the bantams and the old girls need every-other-day refills.

Carry feed bucket, about 5 pounds, to chicken coops.  Do 2-3 sets. The old girls get treats more often so they need fewer feeder refills.

In warm weather only, wrestle bull snakes from nesting boxes.  Weight depends on size of snake, but the full-grown snakes are surprisingly heavy. And any snake is in constant motion once you have her in the loop of your snake catcher.

Question: Does the elation you get from snagging the snake in your loop count as cardio?  Walking the wriggling snake down the drive and dropping her over the fence is certainly a good workout.

For lighter activity, carry eggs from the nesting boxes into the house.  What do 6-12 eggs weigh?

About a third of mine are bantam eggs, say 1.5 ounces each.  About a third are jumbo, or 2.5 ounces each.  Lets just say my daily take averages about 2 ounces each, 12-24 ounces plus the basket.  That’s 1- to 1 1/2 pounds.  Hey, every pound counts!

Monthly:

Unload 6 50-lb. bags from the back of the Subaru.

Lift 6 50-lb. bags onto the lip of the metal feed barrel and empty into barrel.

Seasonally:

Unload 6-8 square bales of hay into the hay shed.  This is only an unload if you buy your hay from Sean down the road.  He helps you load it into the pickup.  Otherwise, this is a two-set job.

Haul wheelbarrow loads of dirty hay to the compost pile.  The cleaning portion of this job is definitely a cardio workout.

To balance out the hard work of keeping a flock, make sure to spend some time sitting on the porch, enjoying the show, and listening to the rooster’s song.

 

What’s in Your Pantry?

When I first started thinking of the unthinkable–food shortages because of climate change, political turmoil, or natural disaster–I bought a few bags of wheat.  Man does not live by bread alone, but bread would certainly help with survival.  Wouldn’t it?

Then, I started getting a little older…and a little achier in the joints.  I not only did my gardening homework, I read widely about the relationship between diet and health.  I gave my buckets of good organic Oklahoma wheat berries to another person with a long-term pantry.

Now, instead of wheat and sugar, I had rice, quinoa, beans, oats, corn and honey.  These were backups for my real plan, of course.  I was building the humus in my acidic clay-bed garden and raising chickens for meat and eggs.  And I continued to do research.

My diet isn’t the result of fad but of desperation. My mother lived for sixteen years with dementia.  My dad, a minister, cared for her.  He also worked at the church’s food pantry.  The diet of his poor…and the food he brought home to mother…were laden with wheat, sugars, dubious fats, and a long list of unpronounceables.

In his eighties, he was diagnosed with dementia. He was healthy, active, and sharp. Then, he wasn’t.  What role did the catch-as-catch-can diet play in his and mother’s conditions?

Certainly genetics plays a role, but our lifestyle can often override our genes.  We all have health risks.  My mother and her mother were crippled by deteriorating joints, and this is why I gave up wheat and sugar.

I asked my dad once, “Don’t your joints ever hurt?”

“Nope,” he said.

Well, mine did.

You can do wonders with achy joints these days. Now I am determined to do what I can to stave off the broken brain.  Once again, I’m rethinking my pantry.

I’m convinced more than ever that the garden and the chickens are the real key to security.  Here are your necessary vitamins and minerals, your proteins, carbs, and fats.  Here are the foods necessary for survival and for more than that, good health, tantalizing tastes, and good times with friends and family around the table.

More research is required.  I have decisions to make about what goes and what stays in my emergency stores.  Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure soil building, gardening techniques, seed saving skills, and animal husbandry are the real long-term pantry.

Grits and Happiness

It’s Sunday, you know, one of the seven days a week I reserve for experimentation. Today it’s about food and gardens.

First, grits. My man loves grits sweetened with a little bit of maple syrup. Yeah, South meets North at the table. Well, I like cheese, and I’m going to try to come up with a cheese grits recipe.

Two recipes I found online had this in common:

4 cups liquid

1 cup grits

4 Tblsp. unsalted butter

salt and pepper

sharp cheddar

The main difference between the two was the type of liquid used. One recipe used chicken broth, adding a couple tablespoons of heavy cream at the end. The other used whole milk and water. That’s where I’m leaning.

I will stir in fat and cheese at the end, as both recipes do, but I aim to add a tablespoon or two of powdered cheddar and some good Penzey’s seasoning, either Fox Point or Sunny Paris. Because the mix will already be pretty salty, I’m leaning toward the unsalted Sunny Paris…and a little garlic.

If it doesn’t work, I’ll feed it to Dale and go on.  Maybe try again using broth.  Keep you posted.

Eggsperimenting

Corny? Yeah, but what else do you call it when you have questions about eggs that must be answered.

It’s a fact that chickens lay better at some times than they do at others. Light makes a difference. My girls lay well during the coldest time of the year because they have 24 hours a day of red heat-lamp light. I get eggs during the long days of summer if it doesn’t get too hot and if the bull snakes don’t get to the eggs first.

When times are good, I have a surplus of eggs. Can I preserve some for when I don’t have enough?

Today, I slightly beat two large eggs and poured them into one of those single-serve sauce containers. I slightly beat three bantam eggs and poured them into another container. The amounts are roughly the same. Either will be just right for one pumpkin pie or for any recipe calling for two eggs.

What will be their consistency when they thaw?

Will they cook in the same way as eggs that weren’t frozen?

Also today I put three hardboiled eggs into a freezer container. In about a week, I’ll take out one of them, thaw it for a day, and eat it. If it takes longer to thaw, I’ll know that after I peel and cut the first one.

Can we dehydrate hardboiled egg slices?

That’s an eggsperiment for another day.

Peas and Carrot Soup

When the temps are in the teens and the chickens are secure, it is time to experiment in the kitchen. We had a roasted chicken this week so I have a nice broth with which to start.  One should never let a roasted chicken carcass go to waste.

How many ways can one make chicken soup?

I start with dried garden peas. I bring water to a boil and add salt and peas. I boil the peas for two minutes, cover the pan, then turn off the heat. The peas rehydrate for 30 minutes.

They are not as soft as canned peas. My man is a texture person. He likes pudding and overcooked veggies. I could eat them, and so could he in an emergency, but he wouldn’t like them. Does salt affect the texture? Perhaps the peas should be boiled like dried beans.

So, change of plans. I get a can of sweet peas out of the pantry, but I’ll go ahead with the other dried veggies—carrots, onions, and celery. I’m a seat-of-the-pants cook, but for you guys, I’m measuring. Here’s the recipe.

About 1/3 of a 16-oz package of lasagna corte (dried corn noodles)
6 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons dried diced carrots
1 tablespoon dried diced onions
1 teaspoon dried diced celery
1 15-oz can of sweet peas, drained
leftover chicken, if you have any
seasoning to taste

Add pasta to boiling, salted water. Boil briskly ten minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Drain.

Combine broth and dried veggies. Bring to a boil. When they have boiled five minutes, stir in cooked pasta and remaining ingredients. Return to boil, cover and turn heat to a simmer for 15 minutes.

The verdict? This is comforting, hearty, and easy. It’s definitely another recipe to add to the chicken soup file.

Cold Front

Six days until Thanksgiving, and we’ve had one light freeze on the banks of the creek here in north central Oklahoma. It’s the new normal. Don’t you hate that cliché, new normal?

It’s 83 degrees here, and the wasps are coming in. Looking for warmth or for a place to die? I don’t know, but something tells me the weather is about to change. For those who have been paying attention, this is not the same thing as “the climate is about to change.” I mean, it’s 83 degrees. Fahrenheit.

The climate has already changed, and is changing still. But today, I’m looking at my little square of earth in what used to be Zone 6 and is now more like Zone 7, and I’m doing what farmers and gardeners have been doing for centuries: I’m getting ready for what’s coming in. Planters with moist dirt are emptied and cleaned. Garden hoses have been put away, and I’m closing up windows and doors on the coops. The chickens will need extra hay, too.

Inside, my cats want to snuggle. In fact, one of them is helping write this piece. The dogs will bless the couch and chair all night long. Hunters are out, so the dogs are sticking close in the late afternoon, too.

My security? Good Lands’ End flannel sheets! It pays to be prepared.

You Call This a Writing Break?

It’s Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month, and being the rebel that I am, I’m working on a nonfiction book about farming. I’ve been writing all morning when I look out the window to see the water fount in my front chicken coop lying at an angle on the ground.

It was inevitable. I have several of these heated water founts, and only one with its original handle. After a season or less of hanging on a metal S-hook, the plastic handles give way.

My Nanowrimo writing goal is 2000 words a day, and I’m halfway there, but chickens must have clean water at all times. This won’t wait. I hit the Save icon, and go outside to fix what’s broken.

First, I wash out the base and the barrel. I don’t want to work with dirty equipment, and the water fount has to be washed every time it is filled.

A piece of the handle is stuck in the hole. I tap it out. Then I go in search of a piece of baling wire. I recycle the wire from my square bales of hay, and I try to keep a clean wind of wire inside my barn.

I keep a length of plastic water hose there, too. And a tool bucket. I grab my wire nippers, my favorite needle-nosed pliers, and a pair of utility scissors. I’m ready.

I slide the plastic water hose over the wire before I fit the wire into the holes that once held the plastic handle. The water hose is necessary. The wire alone cuts your hand when you’re carrying three gallons of water.

After I’ve secured the wire, I refill the fount. But first I have to devise a stand to hold the once-flat barrel. The new handle doesn’t lay flat, but two blocks, a couple of inches apart to accommodate the handle, does the trick.

It has been less than half an hour since I saw the broken fount. I return the repaired water fount to its hook, and before I walk away, two of my hens are drinking.

Not all fixes are so simple. I was ready for this one because it had happened before. I had all my tools and parts where I could find them. Like a Scout, this farm girl was prepared, but she knows the next job might not be so simple. Or expected.