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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Good-bye Marley

Today started off quite sad: we had to put down our little Marley. Over the past two weeks, we've watched Marley go from a feisty cockerel to an emaciated, depressed, and withdrawn little chick.

The third week in July, we noticed that Marley was limping on one leg. We did some online research and read about Marek's Disease, but after consulting with our vet, it seemed Marley just had an injury. Dr. Karin Kanton put a sling on Marley, and we kept him inside, treating him to red currants, raisins, cheese, and the occasional episode of Weeds with his Human Parents and Feline Siblings on the couch. At times, he'd seem to be getting better, but then other days, it looked worse. It's hard to read a chicken!

Unfortunately, a few days ago, we noticed his chicken sister, Janis, began limping as well. We called Dr. Karin, and she confirmed what we feared: we probably had a case of Marek's at our house after all. So, in hopes of getting the potential disease off the premises as quickly as possible, we cleaned out the coops and brooders and mowed the chicken run.

Right now, our biggest concern is that the disease has or will spread to all of our chickens, including the house favorites: Ani and Zappa. If you're a fan of chickens or animals in general, cross your fingers, send us good vibes, pray to your version of God, whatever ... we are not ready to lose more pets.

Today, our vet came to take Marley. He is going to be the sacrificial chicken to determine if we definitely do have a case of Marek's here.

With this experience, we've learned quite a bit:
1. The Polish chickens that seem to have the disease are the only chickens we've gotten from a breeder. I don't believe for one second that she intentionally gave us sick chicks, but this experience does point out that we need to research where we're getting our animals better.
2. Marek's Disease is a form of herpes and is contagious. It can easily wipe out a flock of chickens, though only if they've all had contact.
3. If you live in the Madison area, you should contact Dr. Karin Kanton for your chicken needs (or other pets). She does house calls, and she is amazingly compassionate (both for the pets and the humans involved). She's really helped us and is continuing to do so. 
3. Losing a chicken is like losing any other pet (if you view them that way). We're very sad.

Marley was a boisterous little chick. He started off as "Fiona" until we heard him crow a few times. Before he got sick, he was impossible to catch. I remember once I literally ran round and round the same tree for nearly ten minutes trying to get my hands around the little bugger.

He loved cheese and would proudly nab the first piece thrown into the run or into his brooder. He'd then loudly prance around with it in his mouth, taunting his hens. I guess he wasn't a very good sharer.

His hair was nappy, and he would shake and bob his messy hairdo. That made me laugh.

His hen sisters, Janis and Ella, miss him greatly. They're still peeping, wondering where he is. I hope those two make it, though it's not looking good for Janis. We have crossed fingers .

Friday, July 23, 2010

Handyman in the House

I had never thought of Andy as a handyman...and, he had never thought of himself that way either. That is, until recently. What started as a simple chicken run has turned into quite the project. Even the mail lady stopped by today to tell us how great our chicken run and coop look.

We got our first two chickens sporadically, so we were initially ill-equipped to house them. I didn't mind the lack-of-housing situation too much. In all honesty, I was having a hard time imagining putting my new pets outside permanently. When I read about chicken diapers and indoor chicken pets, the wheels in mind began to roll. Then, my friend Gaby told me that there are many countries in the world in which chickens are free to roam in and out as they please. In fact, she told me, many homes actually contain a sort of chicken room. (I'm actually still thinking about that ... we are planning to build on in a few years . . . !) 
Chicken diaper

Anyway, after looking over several different coop plans, Andy and I decided to use our tax refund to simply purchase a coop from My Pet Chicken. It was more expensive than we had planned, but we wanted something secure, large, and quaint, so we made the decision that this year's return would be used for our new pets. Also, at that time, Andy was still under the impression that he knew nothing about building anything. He thought he might be able to throw something together, but wasn't confident it would be secure enough. 

Well, the coop came, and it was as cute as I had imagined it would be.

The following weekend, Andy's dad and uncle came over to put hardware cloth around the entire perimeter of the coop.
This was a super important step, as it prevents predators from crawling  underneath the coop and scratching a hole out the bottom. Word to the wise though: paint your coop FIRST. I painted after the hardware cloth was on, and I couldn't get a good coat to cover the metaled areas.

After this was finished, I actually felt pretty confident that our feathered family members would be happier in the coop than inside their cage in our house, so we moved them out.
Ani and Zappa - first night out

Next, the run. We found out that the fence should be buried at least one foot under the ground (as around the coop) to prevent predators from digging and getting inside. Andy and his uncle began  digging post holes for wooden fence supports. After cementing the support posts in the ground, Andy began digging a trench into which he planned to put the fence. Our land is rocky. Very rocky. So rocky that the shovel wouldn't penetrate further than 4-6 inches deep. It took him hours to dig a trench from one post to the next.Seeing as how our chicken run measures 15x25 feet, and we had chicks waiting for their run to be finished, the task seemed daunting and impossible in Handyman Andy's eyes.

So, he came up with an excellent idea: Line the run with raised gardens, which extend two feet out from the fence, with hardware cloth lining the bottom. So, in essence, it would take a very, very determined critter with massive nails to dig a tunnel into our chicken run. The construction of the raised beds were finished quickly, and we began planting annuals and perennials inside the boxes.
Marley and crew hanging inside the fence. Notice the in-the-making raised gardens.

We planted a Concord grape vine inside the chicken run, too. This serves two purposes: 1) chickens love grapes (and so do we!), and 2) as the grape vine grows, it will provide shade for the chickens.

Ani and Zappa under the pea shrub tree
Also, planted inside the coop are a blackcurrant bush and a weeping pea shrub tree. Both will provide food for the chickens (and us, if they leave us any) and provide extra protection from the sun on hot days. Plus, the chickens love to try to fly and roost on the tree. They can't. And not to be insensitive, but this provides hours of entertainment.

One problem remained: birds of prey. So to enclose the run, Andy put two 10-foot 4x4s into the center of the run. He built a square crown to rest on top of the 4x4s, which would hold a net to keep hawks and owls out. The net is high enough for our little bantams to fly around, and it looks cool - kind of like a circus tent.

I added my own personal flare. I painted the coop magenta and carrot orange,with a few splashes of teal. I love color. A lot. In the winter, I think I might add some pink flamingos and a Hawaiian Santa, just for irony's sake.

The back of the coop

The front of the coop (still a bit under construction)

Since our flock has grown so unexpectedly and suddenly (which our chicken vet says is very, very common), we are planning to build onto this run in the fall. Lucky chickens!

I think Andy's found a new niche.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Visit from the Stork

On July 8th, at 6:07 A.M., the phone woke Andy and me up. The post office called to tell us our baby chicks had arrived. Groggy, we quickly scrambled downstairs to get a new brooder filled with litter and ready for our day-old-chicks.

When the chicks arrived, I couldn't wait to rip open the box and see my new friends. Our kitties were interested in the chirping cardboard box. 

The waterer has a red plastic bottom, which is recommended because red is the color most easily identified by chicks. We also have a red brooder light; in this case, red is calming for the peepers. Since these chicks were one-day-old when they arrived, the brooder temperature needed to be 95 degrees. With each passing week, the temperature should be 5 degrees lower. Since it has been so hot here, we have not had to have the light on very often.  

One chattered her beak all day long. We finally realized she had never figured out how to drink. I dipped her beak in the waterer several more times, and eventually she got it!

Now the chicks are 1.5 weeks old. We have been playing with them indoors.

Next week, we will start taking them outdoors for some fresh air. We'll also begin handing out treats like meal worms and raisins. There have been no signs of roosterdom so far; here's hoping these are all hens!  We ordered them from My Pet Chicken this time in order to have  more assurance that we'd obtain only ladies this time. We're keeping our fingers crossed!

Any suggestions for names?  We are continuing our theme of musician names.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Naysayers Beware: Beets = Nutritional Goodness

Earlier in the week, we pulled our garden's first beets. Yesterday, we planted another row of them. Today, we juiced a few for a recovery drink after our 60-minute run. Beets are good to us.

Beets are one of those roots that many claim not to like. I (or rather we) challenge those naysayers to try new ways, other than the classic pickled beet, in order to consume this super food. These crimson roots contain loads of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and C. They can be juiced, roasted, broiled, put into a cake, pickled, grilled, blended to be added to a vinaigrette, or shredded and eaten raw. And all methods equal pink, magenta, or crimson pee for nearly everyone. When it happens, don't be alarmed; it's only natural! :)

Our beverage today is a spin-off of the Willy Street Co-op's Juice Bar's Beetnik. We juiced carrots, oranges, and beets.
Beets from our garden, oranges from our fruit CSA, and carrots from our veggie CSA
 Ready to be juiced
All done...
My own version of the Beetnik! So sweet, so yummy, so nutritious!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cold-Brewed Coffee: Ethical Heaven

Who wants to drink hot coffee in humid, sticky weather? Maybe some, but not me. On steamy days, I crave a nice big glass of iced coffee. Rather than spend $2 to $3 daily to feed my addiction, we've started cold brewing our own. Pour the silky liquid of deliciousness in a glass of ice; add a splash of cream; and oh-my-goodness: sipping heaven on my front porch! Try it. :)

1. Coarsely grind coffee beans.
2. Use ratio of 1 cup coffee grounds: 4.5 cups water.
3. Combine and stir. 
4. Leave sit 12 hours or overnight at room temperature.

5. Strain using a colander lined with paper towel or a regular coffee filter.
Cold-brewed coffee has been called iced crack by some. Unless you want crazy jitters all day, be sure to fill your glass with ice to help dilute the coffee a bit. General rule of thumb is equal portions of cold-brewed coffee to water (ice in most cases).

Why choose cold-brewed coffee?
  • You get your caffeine fix in the summer without staining your clothes with sweat.
  • Cold-brewed coffee is less acidic than hot coffee, so it's easier on your stomach.
  • It keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge.
  • It freezes well too. Lots of people freeze leftovers into ice-cube trays for more coffee goodness added to their cold coffee drinks.
We typically use Kickapoo Coffee because we are fortunate enough to have that coffee offered as a CSA through Harmony Valley Farm. It's delicious, organic, and most importantly, fair trade. When and if we run out of our coffee for the week, our priority in purchasing is to buy fair trade. Why you might ask?

A few reasons include:
1. Smaller farmers are generally better stewards of the land.
2. Buying fair trade ensures that fair wages are being paid to people who harvest and grow your drink/food.
3. Fair trade requires sustainable agriculture methods, so generally, fair trade products are better for the environment.
Click here and here to learn more.  And look for these symbols when purchasing coffee!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tantalizing Tastes and Smells: The First Major Harvest

Our gardens are flourishing, and last night marked the first major food preservation event of the season.

The herb garden smells tantalizing and is growing beyond expectations . Our basil plants were ready for a good cleaning, and our summer savory was beautifully out-of-control.  Chamomile was definitely gorgeous, but also in need of a good harvesting as well. I harvested basil, spearmint, chamomile, and summer savory. My hands smelled like a Sicilian countryside (at least in my imagination).  On a non-food note, our butterfly weed is an eye-catcher. Butterflies are rapidly increasing in our yard!

Basil Plants
Butterfly Weed and Caterpillar

Our first three pints of pesto are in the freezer. The same basic recipe was used as last year, but this time we also added in some green carrot tops in conjunction with the basil and used walnuts in place of pine nuts. anyone?

Our dehydrator wasn't working due to the humidity, so we oven-dried (yes, in this heat and stickiness!) a pint of chamomile and 2/3 pint of spearmint. Today, we're drying several batches of summer savory.
Summer Savory waiting for the oven
Chamomile and Spearmint - dehydrated and waiting to be brewed

We also pulled our first beets. The greens were blanched and are now chilling in the freezer. We plan to make Beetniks with this crimson bundle of goodness after tomorrow's 60-minute run.

 Finally, a raspberry-walnut vinaigrette is in the fridge waiting to dress fresh salads!  Our raspberries are producing well, though picking is such a continuous process as all raspberries are not ready at the same time. Jam is hard to do with just a few quarts, but vinaigrette is perfect for such an amount. Not much measuring was done for this process; it was a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-chef's-pants dressing, but it turned out fabulous. So, adapt this to your liking.

Raspberry-Walnut Vinaigrette
about 3 cups of raspberries
about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of walnuts
about 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil
about 2-3 Tbs. of lemon juice
a couple teaspoons of Dijon mustard
about a teaspoon of honey (or other sweetener)
salt and pepper to taste
small clove of garlic

Put all ingredients except for the olive oil in the food processor. Process until well-blended. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until emulsified. Viola! It's done! Should keep in the fridge for quite some time. Always shake before using.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Newfound Chicken Knowledge

Becoming chicken people has been quite the adventure, and both of us have learned loads about backyard chicken-keeping. Because we were quite naive, much of our new knowledge probably is common sense to some folks, but to us two former city dwellers, nothing about chickens was common sense before having our own feathery peeps.

A few  morsels of new found knowledge include:
  • Chickens have sex. I honestly did not know that. I thought that somehow, some way, the roosters inserted something into the hatched egg that made a chick. Now that I know, I'm dreading the day that Zappa and Marley's hormones kick in. I'm worried about my little hen ladies. I'm finding the idea of our cute little peepers doin' the deed very disturbing. I hope I'm not home to witness the first few rounds. 
  • Chickens like cheese. With Carmen, the cat, being so obsessed with cheese that she can distinguish the word from "treat", and with the chickens' love for cheese, I wonder if any of our  CSA cheese share will be left for the humans. 
  • Chickens can start having eggs at a very young age. I've read that egg-laying can begin as early as 16 weeks old, though most start laying a bit later than that.
  • Chickens can fly quite well, at least our Bantams can. Zappa has flown halfway across our yard.
  • Chickens need to slowly be introduced to new flock members. Currently, we're teaching Zappa, our first rooster, that Andy is actually the alpha male in this yard. Zappa bullies and picks on all the newer chicks, hens and roosters alike.
  • If chickens eat onions or garlic, it will spoil their eggs.
  • Most chickens roost when they sleep.
  • Hawks really don't care if people are around. They see chickens, and they think lunch. A week ago, we had two land in our yard - we were not even 20 yards away.
  • Chickens, when played with regularly, are very affectionate. Today Zappa sat on my lap, soaking up compliments and chicken massage, for over thirty minutes.
Chickens make great pets! And hens lay eggs!! Everyone should have a backyard chicken!!

Here are some of our chicken moments:

Zappa and Ani coming out of the coop for the first time.
Ani is well...a chicken! She's scared of everything.

Ani and Zappa = natural pesticide.
Now, they are too big to let alone and free in the garden;
they also want to eat our plants. 
Marley (previously know as Fiona)
She is a he. Figuring that out was quite the drama!

Loud and boisterous Janis.
She's pretty sweet too.
Ella ~ she is, as Dave Matthews would say, a lovely lady.

Among our lessons this summer... it's hard to sex a chick, and therefore, we ended up with two roosters. We thought we'd keep them both, but later learned that the ratio for roosters:hens should be 1:5. We tried finding a sanctuary for little Marley, but in the end decided to build a smaller coop and run for Marley and his ladies. We also are expecting three (previously sexed) Easter Egger day-old chicks this week! Easter Eggers are cold-hardy hens with sweet dispositions. Plus, they are exceptional layers that lay colored eggs. Perfect for our nieces and friends' children at Easter time.

We are anxiously awaiting our new babies.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Garden Updates

Our gardens are looking beautiful, and we're ready for our first major harvest. Tomorrow, we'll be pulling our first round of beets, kale, and possibly garlic.

We've been able to harvest herbs and lots of Swiss Chard so far.

Our tomato plants are flowering and producing.
Our potato plants are beautiful. I love the flowers on top, especially the blue potato ones.
The raised gardens, which were planted much later, are doing well too.
Our beans and corn are getting along nicely.
The melon plants are giving me high hopes too! There is nothing like a fresh slice of cantaloupe or a glass of watermelon juice (and maybe vodka!).