Archive for the ‘Chickens’ Category

Thoughts on chicken breeds from 1884

February 2nd, 2017 by Susan Odom

So I spent some time tonight reading about chicken breeds or varieties in a lovely,thorough and lengthy at 1234 pages, book from 1884 called, “The People’s Farm and Stock Cyclopedia” by Waldo F. Brown. The chapter on chickens certainly warrants a second, third and more readings, but I did glean a few things this evening.

I have a mixed flock, which perhaps I am tiring a bit of because I am observing and beginning to real understand the differences in the chicken breeds. I’ve been keeping chickens now for about six years and at last I am honing in on what I want from my flock.  Last summer I had some chicks hatch out her for the first time. The father is a Buff Cochin and the mother is a Light Brahma. This book suggests crossing Light Brahma hens with Partridge Cochin cocks (I do appreciate that they use the real word for an intact male chicken, rooster is a Victorian euphemism) to obtain a large fowl for meat purposes. So that peaked my interest. Of course my cross was with a Buff Cochin and not a Partridge Cochin. As an aside I do have a Partridge Cochin hen.

But the author goes on to say that it is only the first cross that is desirable to produce a large fowl. It states that if one allows “..the half-breed fowls to breed together the stock will rapidly degenerate.” It goes on with this good advice, “Caponize the cockerels and fatten the pullets for hte fall and winter markets, when they will bring a good price.” I don’t know how to caponize and I do not understand that entire process.

I wondered if my mixed chicken breeds would produce strong young. This book says no. This may help me decide what to do with those birds who I call my ‘Brochins’. My funny way of mixing Brahma and Cochin.

It also states that the Buff Cochin is a favorite among the chicken fanciers. But they are not popular among farmers because they are poor layers. Well I do keep a few birds just because they are fancy. But as the years go by, I become more and more a farmer. My selection of chicken breeds is starting to reflect that.

He notes that all the other Cochin varieties are good layers, except for the Buff. Now I wonder how different the Buff Cochin is in 2017 compared to the 1884 Buff Cochin. Breeds evolve and change.

He states the Buff is a docile bird, which I can confirm in my barnyard observations. And this lovely quote, gives me something to think about as I close this post; again regarding the Buff Cochin, “They are very quiet and docile, and as sitters and mothers can not be excelled by any thing that wears chicken feathers.” I value quite highly chicken breeds that can successfully reproduce on their own.

Illustrations of chicken breeds from 1884

Illustrations of heritage breed chickens from an 1884 farming manual.

 

Farm manual from 1885 title page, includes chicken breeds and much more

Title page of the 1884 farm manual, “The People’s Farm and Stock Cyclopedia”

 

Preserving Eggs with lard and beeswax – success, failure and promise

November 22nd, 2013 by Susan Odom

On April 4, 2013 we, Maggie and I, coated four dozen of our hen’s fresh eggs in lard and stored them in a crock of oats. On May 16, 2013 we coated 3 dozen eggs in beeswax and stored them in another crock of oats. I wrote this blog post when we stored the eggs. This was done to preserve them from spring to winter. Fresh eggs are plentiful in the spring and on shortage in the winter.

Well it is winter time, so we opened up the egg crocks to see what we had! We had mixed results. Some of the eggs coated in bees wax had spoiled and I was afraid they tainted the whole crock. But the eggs coated in lard were good. I was a little disappointed, but not dismayed.

After some reflection on the results I think I understand why the waxed eggs went bad. I often took guests down cellar to show them the salt cured meats, the stored eggs and other intriguing food surprises that are to be found in our cellar.

Eggs coated in bees wax stored big end down in a crock filled with oats. A common way to preserve eggs

Eggs coated in bees wax stored big end down in a crock filled with oats. A common way to preserve eggs

I would open up the waxed egg crock, dig through the oats and pull out an egg to show. I even did some experimental techniques with the wax application; that involved wrapping the egg in tissue paper before dipping it in the wax. But I never opened the larded egg crock. I think my digging around in the waxed crock disturbed the eggs and exposed them to more temperature variation. And I think I found that my experimental waxing methods did not work. The larded eggs were just dipped in melted lard and cooled, no tissue paper.

As a test we fried one of the larded eggs. It did not taste very good, but I did not expect it too. Eggs are stored for baking purposes and not fresh eating. But we wanted to try it and we can report no ill effects.

Next we tried baking a cake. Maggie picked out a new recipe for Cocoanut Loaf Cake (365 Cakes and Cookies, published in 1904), which is like a pound cake with only eggs to leaven it, no baking powder or the like. We were very excited while it was baking and the results were amazing!!! The cake was delicious and the eggs had done just what they should do in the cake, raise it a bit, make it rich and lend a beautiful yellow color. The cake was baked yesterday (Nov 21, 2013) and we both ate some and can report we are in good health.

Cocoanut loaf cake made with eggs preserved with lard. Eggs put in storage on 4/4/13 and cake was baked on 11/21/13

Cocoanut loaf cake made with eggs preserved with lard. Eggs put in storage on 4/4/13 and cake was baked on 11/21/13. Eggs more than 7 months in storage!

Now we have eggs to use for holiday baking!!! Good thing too because my chickens have not laid an egg since November 4!

Next year we will do the experiment again, another crock of larded eggs and another crock of waxed eggs. I will stick to the plain method of coating the eggs with the wax. I think both methods, waxed and larded, hold a lot of promise. Most important I will keep my hands out of the egg crocks during the storage period! Perhaps I should make a demo crock with fake eggs that I can share with guests!

Now of course this is not USDA approved so I can’t tell you to try it at home. But It does seem to hold some promise for me and Hillside Homestead!

So bring on the holidays; I’ve got eggs!

The Story of Winnie, the Broody Hen, Part 1

June 2nd, 2013 by Susan Odom

What is a broody Hen?

Good question. A broody is a hen who wants to hatch eggs and be a mother. Not all hens ‘go broody’. I noticed Winnie exhibiting the tell-tale behavior. When she continued to sit in her nest box all day, long after all the other chickens had gone out foraging for feed and just doing what chickens do during the day, eating, taking dust baths, exploring, egg laying, etc. So I turned to my new favorite chicken book, “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock” by Harvey Ussery for some suggestions on how to manage a broody hen.

Harvey told me I should build her a separate broody box where she can be quietly left to the business at hand without any interference from the other chickens. So I did. The next instruction I followed was to select ten to fourteen of the finest eggs from the flock and at night time put those eggs underneath her. And viola, my broody hen was sitting on her first clutch of eggs! I was so proud! Winnie is a blue laced red Wyandotte; that is a large breed, so she can handle a big clutch.

Now of course those eggs have to be fertilized. I have one rooster, Clark, with my flock of twelve hens so I thought I was covered for egg fertilization. Harvey mentioned in his book that rooster sperm is viable in the hen for two weeks but in the end I determined that Clark has some fertility issues. At the same time that I set Winnie on her clutch of fourteen eggs I also gave three dozen of my fertilized eggs to a friend who planned to use an incubator to hatch them.  I did not know at the time that I was creating a control to the egg hatching experiment.

Winnie the Broody Hen in her box

Winnie the Broody Hen in her box

So Winnie sits for weeks and weeks and weeks
It is usually about three weeks for the eggs to hatch. Rarely is there 100% hatching. So I was prepared for some mishaps along the way. Around ten days I candled the eggs to try to determine if anything was growing inside them. Having never done that before I was not quite sure what to do and what I was supposed to be looking for. I will know better next time. Around eleven days I found the first broken egg and a stink. I cleaned up that mess. This happened many times. Good old Winnie, she would let me take her out of the box, take out the eggs and change the straw and clean up. I did all that with swiftly so they eggs would not cool off.

The big day came and went…..
After three weeks she only had about four eggs left; ten of them had broken and been very foul. I let her sit for a few more days with a hope for success. No luck. On day 24 she only had one egg left underneath her, but she still sat and sat and continued to be very broody. I contacted my friend with the incubator and discovered that she had very little hatching success. In her controlled environment of an incubator she had 3 of 36 eggs hatch. This is why I think Clark the Rooster has very low fertility. Two separate environments yielded very very poor results; more on Clark later, because all is not lost.

Clark the rooster and Winnie the Broody Hen, before she went broody. At Hillside Homestead in Suttons Bay, Michigan.

Clark the rooster and Winnie the Broody Hen, before she went broody. At Hillside Homestead in Suttons Bay, Michigan.

Could she still be a mother Hen?
I had some good friends staying and working with me during this bitter end of the hatching period. We discussed it and decided to order some chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery and that we would try to graft the chicks on to Winnie, i.e. lets hope Winnie takes these new chicks under her wing and adopts them! So the timing of all this was tricky because I had to be gone to pick up pigs for the farm. I did not want to leave the farm with baby chicks around (farms keep a tight hold on their occupants and their time.) So I had to keep Winnie sitting in her box, to do that she needed more eggs to sit upon: she needed decoy eggs. I cleaned up her box again and sacrificed four more eggs to place underneath her to help encourage her to be broody. By the way there was one egg left from the original clutch. I took it out and carried it far afield for disposal. I set it down on the ground and tapped it lightly with a shovel and it had a mini-explosion, rotten to the core.

Waiting for the next big day…
Fifteen new chicks are due to arrive in the mail on Monday June 3. I plan to graft them on to Winnie as instructed by Harvey in his fabulous book! He recommends keeping them quiet and warm in their box during the day and then when night comes put them under the broody hen and remove the decoy eggs. I hope this works. If it does work Winnie will rear those 15 chicks, keep them warm and protected, help them learn to eat food and drink water. Perhaps the most important job she will do is to socialize them into the flock. Oh goodness I am excited about this. So you will have to stay tuned for Part 2!

Why Clark is great
Clark is a great rooster. I am disappointed that he appears to be infertile. But he is a great protector. He watches out over all the flock and protects them. This spring I have had several hawk attacks and Clark is very good at alerting the hens to the danger. He makes these incredible, low, guttural sounds that indicate danger and the hens quickly take cover when they hear it. He treats the hens well and protects them. So at the current time I have no plans to cull Clark from the flock.

In the past I have had multiple roosters and that was problematic. In the new batch of chicks there could be a few roosters, Clark’s replacement might be in that batch. Only time will tell. I admit I have gotten a bit attached to Clark, he is so handsome, has a likeable personality, he is not aggressive with my guests and he takes care of the hens. It is disappointing we will not have any Clark off-spring.

Other fun details if you still want to read more

  • Most hens don’t go broody because that characteristic has been breed out of modern chickens. When a hen goes broody she stops laying eggs, because she is going to get one big clutch put together and just sit on them and hatch them. For those with large egg laying concerns/factories, this is a problem. They see it in the short term as a great reduction in productivity. It is a bit unusual today to get a broody hen. That is why I really want Winnie to be successful and raise some of her own off-spring. She has the broody gene and it should be carried on at a small operation like I have! Maybe next year she will be able to hatch some of our home grown eggs.
  •  I ordered fifteen new chicks. Nine of them are Light Brahma hens. Six of them are Dark Brahmas as a straight run. When one orders chickens you can order hens for a premium price, roosters for the cheapest price and a straight run as a middling price. When you order a straight run the birds are not sexed so you are not sure what you are going to get. Dark Brahmas are more expensive than Light Brahmas so I took that economical route with them. For example right now Dark Brahma hens are $5.29 each, Dark Brahma roosters are $3.17 each and Dark Brahmas as a straight run are $3.99 each. Brahmas are older breed of bird. They were quite popular from about 1870 to 1920. They are the quintessential dual purpose bird; they are good for meat and eggs, but not great for either. They take 6-9 months to come to maturity and to lay eggs. But it was a very common breed 100 to 150 years ago. They are very hard for the cold snowy winters that we have here on the Leelanau Peninsula. They can be productive for a longer period than modern chicken layers.
  • Broody hens need our help to hatch eggs. Because humans domesticated chickens so long ago and changed their behavior to suit our needs; the hens need our help to reproduce. Normally a hen lays an egg ever day or every two days. She could not put together a clutch quick enough. So we can help her out in that effort. Harvey had a great section in his book about working with Broody hens and helping you understand their behavior and how you can help them succeed. I love that book!

To keep eggs… using beeswax and oats…without refrigeration…at Hillside Homestead

May 18th, 2013 by Susan Odom

Its egg season for sure! As they days get longer and longer egg production goes up and up. Here is my egg production for the last several months

  • February=47 eggs, from about 15 laying hens
  • March=160 eggs
  • April=236 from about 11 hens. 2 hens were killed by the hawks and one hen has gone broody. Broody means she wants to be a mama, so she is sitting on a clutch of 11 eggs. She does not lay new eggs while sitting on a clutch and that is ok. Because she is dong a good job of trying to increase the flock size. Sunday evening May 19 is the first chance for the eggs to hatch.
  • May=130 eggs by may 18

I’m getting more eggs than I need right now. But I remember how I ran out of eggs in December and January and February. So I’m ‘putting up’ eggs for the lean times. by following these instructions from “The New Buckeye Cook Book” published in 1904

Instructions on how to keep/preserve eggs to winter time. From "The New Buckeye Cook Book" published in 1904

Instructions on how to keep/preserve eggs to winter time. From “The New Buckeye Cook Book” published in 1904

To do this I dip the eggs in bees wax and then store them in layers of oats. The oats act as a medium for storage. They keep the eggs safe from breaking and bumping into each other. I put up 28 eggs this way so far. And about a month ago I put about 4 dozen eggs using lard instead of beeswax. I do prefer the beeswax method. I plan to do more waxed eggs for the next 4-6 weeks.

Take a peek at the waxed eggs below. The wax closes up the pores on the shell and helps them last longer.

These eggs have been dipped in beeswax to help preserve them to leaner times.

These eggs have been dipped in beeswax to help preserve them to leaner times of winter

After the eggs have completely cooled and hardened they are packed into crocks of oats  Put a layer of oats on the bottom then add the eggs. The eggs should go in big end down. Repeat till the crock is full and then cover with a heavy cloth and string. Keep the crock down in the cellar. 

Eggs coated in bees wax stored big end down in a crock filled with oats. A common way to preserve eggs

Eggs coated in bees wax stored big end down in a crock filled with oats. A common way to preserve eggs

These eggs will be great for cakes and cookies and the such. They don’t suit too well for scrambled for fried. I first learned this method when I worked at Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village, which is part of The Henry Ford. And it works!

Maybe this winter we will have enough eggs to eat pound cake all winter!

Basket of Eggs

The fruits of their labor, eggs for eating and baking!

Nice chunk of chicken fat.

April 13th, 2013 by Susan Odom

Last Sunday a pair of hawks was stalking my chickens and alas they killed one. But a friend was here and he saw it as it was happening and he was able to retrieve the chicken for me. The hawks took the head and broke the crop, but all the meat was still there.

Another friend plucked and cleaned the bird as I was busy making a dinner for 10. Today I’m stewing that bird. I hope to make Miss Parloa’s creamed chicken and a nice pot of chicken stock.

But the surprise was the fat inside the body cavity near the vent. This chunk of fat is about a cup in volume! Nice and yellow not white like store bought chicken. And this hen was almost 2 years old.

Chicken fat from the body cavity of a 2 year old Light Brahma hen

Chicken fat from the body cavity of a 2 year old Light Brahma hen

I’m pondering this fat and I’m going to render it in the eastern Europe/Jewish tradition of making schmaltz. I’ve never don this before! So to the internet I went and found the typical methods which includes onions. Sounds great. I will report back. Already smells great in here with the bird on the stove.

Light Brahma Hen at Hillside Homestead, busy laying eggs!

Light Brahma Hen at Hillside Homestead, busy laying eggs!

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