Friday, May 21, 2010

3 Month Old Chicks

The chicks are growing up. They are now bigger than the Hamburgs but don't have the confidence to stand up to the older hens yet. The flocks are mixing nicely though and I took down my dysfunctional fence since all it did was slice me up every time I opened or closed it. The chicks just flew over it and the Hamburgs went under it so we're all happier now with the coop open.

Blueberry, our surprise rooster, has discovered his maleness and acts like he sees himself as a lion ruling his pride. The Hamburg rooster experience taught me that I can't let him think he rules the flock, however. How do I let him know that the flock is MINE and not his? Mostly I just block his path when he tries to boss the girls around in front of me. He'll try to make them go here or there and I don't allow it. I also don't let him mate in front of me because that is the flock leader's right and that position is not occupied by Blueberry. So far he's behaving himself and I hope he'll continue to be a nice rooster because I'd really like to keep him. My husband was not happy at all when one of our 'pullets' started crowing so I will try and help Blueberry to know his place so that he can get along with everyone. He would help his case greatly though if he would take Teddy Roosevelt's advice and "SPEAK SOFTLY" (and if his claws could manage it wouldn't bother me if he wanted to "carry a big stick" as well.)

And for your viewing pleasure a picture of a very pretty white Ameraucana pullet and some year old Hamburgs below...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Simple Gluten-Free Eating

I eat gluten free because Lyme Disease left me with a gluten intolerance. My doctor explained the connection to me but since I'm hazy on some of the details I won't write it down here in the interest of not spreading (potentially) false information. What I do know is that when I eat foods with gluten in them I get tired to the point of dysfunction and all my joints ache terribly. It's no fun and so I just avoid foods containing wheat and other "bad" ingredients. There are many people affected by Lyme Disease who are the same way.

One struggle I face is that I'm by no means a "foodie". I can cook but I don't enjoy it to the point that it's a hobby- it's a means to sustenance and that's it. It seems like many of the gluten free resources are by people who have a real emotional connection to their food and that's just not me. At the same time I'm not willing to eat junk food and certainly not willing to feed it to my daughter and so we end up eating very simple meals. Generally simple food is better anyway and so it works out. On a typical day we'll have gluten free oatmeal with fruit/yogurt in the morning, a meat and vegetables for lunch or dinner with fruit and cheese as snacks most of the time (as organic as possible.) I'm sharing a garden with a friend and we're working on getting it growing now. When the garden is producing gluten free eating is a no brainer; so that's my advice to non-foodie gluten-free-ers: eat simply and grow a garden.

Sometimes treats are nice though... One thing I did used to enjoy was baking and while it is a little more complicated now it's not impossible. Here's a brownie recipe that I absolutely adore. I'm willing to guarantee (though I don't know what to offer if someone disagrees) that these are the best brownies you'll ever eat.

Chocolate Brownies from “Gluten Free Cooking” by Ruby M. Brown

5 oz dark chocolate
2/3 c butter
2 medium eggs
6 oz fine white sugar
3 ½ oz gluten free all purpose flour
3 ½ walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350
Prepare 8 inch square cake pan by spraying with cooking spray. Line with baking paper.
Place chocolate and butter into a small heatproof bowl. Stir over hot water, until melted.
Place eggs and sugar into a med sized bowl. Beat until slightly thickened. Stir in melted chocolate mixture.
Stir in flour and walnuts
Pour mixture into prepared pan
Place into a moderate oven and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until set in center
When cooked, remove from oven and leave to cool in the pan for 5-10 mins
Carefully remove from pan and turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When cold cut into squares.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I mentioned before that Silver Spangled Hamburgs are known as difficult chickens. I have come to admire the breed and after a year together we get along really well but if someone were to ask me if I'd get them again my answer would be "No." The main reason? This:
That's a chicken up near the top. There's a misconception that chickens can not fly; most get old and lazy and lose the desire to, but some are really good at it. Here's the close up for proof:
I started off with 25 Hamburgs- 6 died because of the shipping time which left me with 19. I gave away 7 roosters and another one died which leaves me with 11. Out of that I only have 5 left. Why? Hamburgs are rare and haven't been nearly domesticated as other breeds which means their instincts are mostly intact.

There are some positives to this:
1) As chickens go they're very smart. You won't catch them drowning in rain or anything like that.

2) They prefer to find food for themselves which is GREAT if you have them for tick eating purposes as I do. I spend very little money feeding them because they do so well for themselves out in the woods.

3) I've never lost one in the daytime because they know how to get out of the way of predators. Sometimes I'll notice every single chicken frozen in place like a still photograph and many times I won't even be able to tell what they're hiding from, but it's very effective. Even with their splashy black and white coloring it's easy to overlook them in that frozen state.

4) A good relationship with them actually means something because they are not known as people lovers. I carefully hand raised mine and did everything I could to make them friendly and still there's NO touching them. However they come running as soon as they hear me and follow me all over the yard and that really makes me happy.

Some negatives to their independent natures:

1) THEY LIKE TO SLEEP OUTSIDE which is why they keep dying. I mentioned before that I was very careful to do everything I could when raising them to make them know that they're supposed to stay in the coop but they will sleep outside much of the time. Even the laziest predator can have a tasty chicken dinner because in the night they will not move. Very easy targets.

2) They do not like surprises, do not like to be disturbed especially while laying, and they do not like strangers in their coop. If any of these three things happen they will take their egg laying out into the forest and I won't get an egg for two weeks easy. Very frustrating since their eggs are so delicious and that's one reason we have them!

3) They do NOT like to be shut in or have their freedom reduced in any way. I have 5 hens in a 170 sq ft chicken coop which should be plenty of room but still if I shut them in for a week or two to try and "reset" their definition of home (not a tree branch) or make them lay inside again they will peck at each other horribly. My less dominant hens all have scraggly awful looking necks because of the pecking. Eventually I feel so sorry for them I have to let them all out so they'll stop!

This is a little list to sort of sum up the Hamburg Chicken in my experience. They are gorgeous birds, VERY prolific egg layers (if conditions are perfect and they decide to actually lay in a place I can find!) fantastic bug eaters, and I appreciate the fact that they think for themselves. However, because of their tree sleeping habit and the fact that they keep getting eaten as a result I have different breed chicks coming up now and will not be getting any more Hamburgs- so I hope my five stick around for a long time!

Here are some pictures of my pretty Silver Spangled Hamburgs...

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Beginning

In March 2009, after I had gotten Lyme Disease which was most unenjoyable, my husband and I decided to get some chickens. I remember how the chickens my family had when I was a kid would race after roaches and fight amongst themselves for the privilege of eating them. There were plenty to go around, that being South East Texas where we grow BIG BUGS- and lots of them. They also stole my brothers' and sisters' Christmas candy and whatever else they could reach so I knew they'd be voracious eaters. My husband and I both knew the taste of fresh eggs and that was another major factor in our decision to get chickens. Mmmmmm...

After spending many hours in books and online researching chicken breeds I chose Silver Spangled Hamburgs for their reputation as tireless foragers. They are a rare breed- gorgeous, lively, bug-hungry... but difficult. They are not recommended as a breed for chicken novices but always having been one to leap before looking I scoffed and placed my order. I ordered 25 day old chicks from a hatchery and the postal workers were as anxious for me to pick them up as I was to get them. I could hear them trumpeting their arrival even over the phone... from across the building. The first week was rough; I lost 6 due to the longer than usual shipping time but the strong ones made it through and grew shockingly fast.

As I go I'll tell our chicken story and probably write about other things as well, eating gluten free, life as an Irish musician, etc. Eventually I'll be caught up and will tell about the chicken flock as it is now, with 12 new chicks (Australorps and Ameraucanas) coming up to be the second line in "The Tick Patrol."