Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Easter Egg Hunt

It is a bit early to be celebrating Easter, but Brant is a kid at heart and he loves Easter Egg hunts. I didn't think he would find any eggs as I had already collected six earlier in the afternoon. Brant wanted to check things out so I told him to have at it.

And guess what he found? An egg! And there was not just one, it turns out, but two!

This is Polly's egg because it is white and only one bird in my flock lays white eggs.

Here is a Plymouth Rock checking out the hen house in the middle of the afternoon.

Photo Op

Dave's profound statement when he viewed the photos that Paula took of Brant and me during their recent visit to the chicken pen: "It is okay to pick chicken up with your fingers."

Here is Brant holding an Ameraucana.

Here is a Production Red prancing up the hill to join us.

This is what she saw - our fearless cat, Mr. Darcy.

Paula and Brant know how to ingratiate themselves with the chickens. They bring leftovers and the great thing about my ladies is that they seldom turn their beaks up at anything that is offered to them. This Ameraucana is enjoying leftover pumpkin bread pudding. As Paula points out in her food blog (http://www.dishingthedivine.com/2009/11/08/its-for-the-birds/), this was not one of her favorite recipes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Extra Extra Extra Large

Check out this humongous egg! It is so huge that the extra large chicken carton I put it in will not close properly. I told Paula that this egg counts for two.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Never Enough Fence

After the 3.5 inches of rain we got last Tuesday, I noticed tons of new plants growing on the hill. Dave and I felt sure that the chickens had eaten every seed and we were quite concerned that the winter rains would cause a mud slide. Dave actually called several local government agencies to find out if we were eligible for free grass seed.

Since there is life in 'them thar hills', we decided that it would be prudent for us to fence off the area to allow the vegetation to grow. Of course, this means more fencing. We had most of materials on hand so Dave tackled the project Saturday afternoon. He needs to borrow a come-a-long and rope to stretch the fence tight so he will finish the job this Thursday when he has a break from work. The chickens will not be pleased but the new trees we planted last week and the baby weeds and grass will get a break from their pecking. Eventually we will let the chickens roam this area again but we will manage the amount of 'grazing' they do.

The following photo may look familiar as I included many of Dave setting up the original fence in earlier blog entries.

The tree above the word hill in the photo below is our new lemon tree. We plan to cover the hill with other fruit trees this fall. So far we have a pomegranate, a lemon, a fig, and a white peach tree. The hill is composed of shale so we are not sure how well these plants will grow. I guess time will tell!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Long Will These Eggs Stay Fresh?

"How long are these eggs good for?" is one of the most frequent questions I am asked when I offer eggs to friends. In this post I will attempt to answer that question while also explaining why some hard boiled eggs are easier to peel than others. My source of information is the Chicken Keeping Secrets newsletter at chickenkeepingsecrets.com.

When an egg is formed, the yolk and whites are enclosed within a thin membrane. A second membrane lies just inside the egg’s shell. In a fresh egg, the two membranes lie against each other. In an older egg, evaporation has had a chance to occur within the egg because of the porous egg shell resulting in more space between the two membranes. When you boil a fresh egg, the two membranes lie so closely together that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to peel the egg. Use for old eggs for making boiled eggs.

You can use a “float test” to give you an idea how fresh your eggs are. The older the eggs, the larger the air pockets between the two membranes. The more air the eggs contain, the more they will float.

Fill a bowl with cool water. Gently place your eggs in the bowl.

(1) If the eggs lie flat on the bottom of the bowl, they are very fresh. These are the best eggs for eating alone.
(2) If the eggs stay in contact with the bottom of the bowl but one end starts to rise, these eggs are still fresh, just not quite as fresh as the one that lies flat.

(3) If the eggs stand on end but still stay in contact with the bottom of the bowl, they are still perfectly safe to eat but they are better used for baking or cooking. These are the eggs to use for boiling, since the air pocket between the two membranes is large enough to prevent sticking when peeling the shell away from the egg.
(4) If the eggs do not stay in contact with the bottom of the bowl, throw them away as they are not good for eating.

In the following photo, the brown egg is one day old. The white egg is a Safeway 'special' with a "sell by" date of October 30. As you can see, the white egg is already beginning to tilt upwards.

The reason store bought eggs usually peel so easily is because they are not very fresh. You may not realize this, but eggs can be more than 45 days old before you buy them. I do not know how long the “farm” has to package their eggs for sale once it has been laid. But at the time of packaging, the “sell by” date is 45 days later! In short, most of the eggs that you scramble for breakfast are likely 2 months old!

If your are lucky enough to get really fresh eggs, enjoy them as they are very special.

First Rain of the Season

Our rainy season begins in late October and continues through April or May. Yesterday we got our first serious rain and I was curious to see how the chickens would react to it as they have never seen rain. As I expected, the ladies were not very happy. Like us, they do not like to get wet. As the torrential rains hammered their playground, they stayed underneath the hen house, the only dry area available to them. I checked on them several times and they were extremely delighted to see me. I felt sorry for them so I made them macaroni and cheese. Needless to say, they polished off this comfort food in no time at all. I added flax meal to the cheese mixture to boost the nutritional quality of their eggs.

The rain finally abated around 4:30 PM. The chickens cautiously made their way around the yard and scratched at the damp soil. I was glad that they had some play time before retiring for the night at 6:45 PM. Withthe days get shorter, the birds head back to the hen house earlier and earlier in the evenings.

Here you can see the tail feathers of an Ameraucana being fluffed by the wind.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I brought Polly into the house this afternoon to show her where and how I live. As a lark, Dave wanted to get a photo of me showing her the chicken rack we use for store bought chickens. Polly is such a lively, adorable gal. I would never consider serving her for dinner.


Ms. Polly, the White Leghorn ring leader of the flock, was vexing me by sneaking through and over the fence in order to feast on the tasty treats in my compost pile. Concerned that one day she might venture even further or that some stray dog might find her, I decided that it was time to give her a haircut.

On Friday morning I Googled 'clipping chicken wings' and read the first article dealing with this subject. The process seemed pretty straightforward. I grabbed my super sharp kitchen shears and went outside to the compost pile. Polly is used to letting me pick her up and she was very calm as I snipped her flying wings. You can barely tell that her wings have been clipped. Later that morning I did the same to a Production Red who also likes to fly over the fence. It has been four days and neither bird has flown over the fence. Problem solved.

One of the Ameraucanas may be next as she seems to be overly interested in my neighbor's perfectly manicured green lawn.

Monday, September 14, 2009

They have it so good!

I wonder if my chickens truly appreciate what a wonderful life they lead. I feed them high quality foods and I keep the hen house so clean that it looks as new as the day Dave set it up.

I am in Tucson, Arizona, visiting my sister Kathy who lives on an eight acre "ranch". Kathy raises llamas, goats, sheep, geese, Angora rabbits, cats, AND ten chickens. Now that I know something about chickens, I was interested to check out her set up. I was not impressed at all and this is no fault of my sister. She lives in the desert where you have to deal with bobcats, hawks, and rattlesnakes. She cannot allow her ladies to wander wherever they please. Instead, she has to keep them locked up with complete overhead covering. Kathy lives in the county so she can raise roosters as well. Last week her husband made dinner out of their two roosters because they were pecking the heck out of her hens.

I thought having a rooster would be fun, but now I am not so sure. Roosters can be so brutal when they mount the hen. Here are some photos of 'battered hens.'

And here is a photo of the chicken coop. The cages on the left are for the Angora rabbits. The rabbits are living in the mother-in-law's quarters as they were showing signs of being overheated.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I celebrate Thanksgiving every evening when I put our chickens to bed. I thank them for all the wonderful eggs they have given me and I tell them how pleased I am with them.

Our ten chickens are now laying between 5 and 8 eggs a day. The Ameraucanas started laying two days ago when they turned six months old. I recognize their eggs because they are green in color. Even one of the two Bobbsey Twins is laying eggs. The twins are a month younger than the rest of the chickens. They are finally acting more like they are part of the flock.

Paula has been selling the eggs to her friends at church and in her book club group. These eggs are extra special because I feed the chickens organic chicken feed and supplement their diet daily with ground flax meal. For a while I was also feeding them 'dumpster' produce but I cut that out when I realized this was creating havoc with their reproductive system. A few chickens started laying rubbery eggs and in some cases they laid eggs with no egg shell at all. The birds were also suffering from diarrhea. So, despite the fact that chickens can and do eat pretty much everything, not every food is good for them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Our Chickens are Grown Up

Dave has been experimenting with various features on his camera. Here are some recent photos he took of our ladies.

Below is a White Leghorn and a Maran enjoying corn on the cob that Paula and Brant grew in their garden this summer.

Here is a Production Red. This breed is a very good egg layer. Her eggs are light brown and larger than the eggs laid by the other chickens.

One of our Ameraucanas and our Australorp are sitting on the gate. I had to put up a large piece of cardboard to break them of this habit because they would often jump down on the wrong side of the fence. Some evenings I just didn't have the energy to round them up. They like to make me chase after them.

A larger photo of the Ameraucana sitting on the gate. In the following photo Liz is holding this bird when it was only a few weeks old. What a difference a few months make! We named one of the Ameraucanas after Liz because they looked so much alike. Now the Ameraucana has cheeks that puff out like a chipmunk's. I am not sure Liz would feel flattered to be compared to the chicken now.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

DIY Tune-Up Project

Dave -

Do you prefer doing a process or a project? The difference is that a "process" doesn't have an end, while a "project" has a definite start and finish. Cleaning the house is a process; yes, you may think that the house is clean, but the fact is, within minutes of having everything spic and span, someone (usually me) is already creating a mess. Our jobs are also processes. While it may be Friday, you are not finished with work, but simply taking a two day respite before returning to the salt mine. Processes - only death will end them.

A project, on the other hand, has a definite start and finish. Today I will be writing about a tune-up "project". Rather than take the old BMW K100 RT motorcycle in for a tune-up, I decided that this would be a good DIY project. The service manual clearly states that anyone with a couple of simple tools and the willingness to follow directions can tune-up a bike. Shoot! I have some tools and I have always been good at following directions. As I read the chapter on tune-ups, I jotted down things I would need: oil, spark plugs, coolant...I am feeling comfortable at this point...brake fluid, transmission oil, gear grease, fork oil...okay, I have to admit I am getting a bit out of my comfort range. By the time I finished reading the chapter, I had added gaskets, sealers, special crush washers, O-rings, a couple of special tools, and three types of filters to my list. Now I am very much over my head.

Motorcycles are high performing, powerful machines and the oil and coolant that you use in your car will not work in a bike. I spent several hours surfing the web, learning about different kinds of oil and coolant, trying to differentiate between one company's marketing hype and another one's legitimate claim. Then, armed with a list of exactly the right oil and coolant that I would need, I headed to the store. The store didn't carry exactly what I was looking for so I headed to Store #2. Store #2 carried the same stuff as the Store #1. I realized at this point that unless I planned to special order these items, I was going to have to be satisfied with what was on the shelves. I continued on to Store #3 and Store #4 before I had everything on my list. When I got home, I was pretty much sick of this project and decided to spend the remainder of my day doing something else.

Day #2: When I ventured into the garage the next morning, the bike sat there surrounded by bottles of oil, coolant, gear grease, and a sundry of other life-giving fluids and two bags of parts and pieces that I had picked up the day before. Here is a bit of information that I found interesting: modern motorcycles have all the same pieces and parts and systems that your car has.
Whoever designed this motorcyle crammed all this stuff in a very small package. Working on a motorbike is much like solving a Rubic's Cube - getting the pieces to line up is never as simple as it looks. In the case of the bike, changing something as simple as the air filter requires you to remove something call the “air box”. To remove the air box, you have to remove the gas tank from the bike. Stop! You can’t remove the gas tank until you remove the seat AND the left hand side upper and lower faring. So to change something as simple as the air filter, I had to virtually disassemble the bike. I am NOT making this up! To replace the coolant, the right hand side faring must be removed. The coup de grĂ¢ce was the requirement to take off the oil pan to remove the oil filter. The day ended with the bike torn apart, but with the oil and coolant successfully changed.

Day #3: Today I spent the day figuring out where all the little (and big) pieces of the faring, brackets, and fasteners were supposed to go. The manual was not overly helpful inasmuch as it simply stated something to the effect that reassembly is just a reversal of the disassembly process. Two things to remember in digesting this bit of information is that I took all of the crap apart yesterday and had not the foggiest idea of how I got to the point that I was at now. I started putting pieces together until I ran out of both pieces and fasteners. Actually, I did end up with a big piece of foam that certainly fits somewhere, but I will have to visit the local BMW dealer and ask a mechanic where it is supposed to go.

With the bike back together, I was ready to tackle the tasks that could be completed without reducing the bike to a million little pieces. Replacing the spark plugs, transmission fluid, the rear end oil, brake fluid, and suspension fork oil turned out to be fairly straightforward. I was making excellent progress and then Mike called to ask if I would like to help him tune-up his bike. It was like Dante’s three levels of hell…forever another level when you thought things couldn’t get worse.

Epilogue: The bike is back together and running better than ever. Mike (with very little help from me) changed the oil and coolant in his bike.
My tune-up project is finished. I must say that at times during the last couple of days I thought that my "project" was going to morph into a "process".
Looking back, I think the project worked out pretty good. I enjoyed working on the bike and working alongside Mike. I did not have a hot rod to tinker with while growing up, so I guess the motorcycle is my hot rod.

Special thanks goes to my neighbor, Richard. He is a knowledgeable mechanic who has a ton of really cool tools – many of which I had to borrow over the course of the last couple of days. Without his help and his willingness to loan his tools, the bike would still be in a hundred pieces scattered about the garage.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Another Chicken Farmer

Dave -

Do you remember our friend Joe? Flip back several "blog days" to when we initially got involved in honeybees. It turns out that Joe is quite a character. In late May he picked up four day-old chicks and was looking forward to raising them for eggs and maybe chicken soup.

Shirley and I find it so refreshing to see our octogenarian friend taking on such a long-term project as chickens typically produce eggs for six years and can live several years after that. Joe is more involved in life than many people half his age - what fun!

Shirley and I dropped by to visit with Joe and his wife, Alice, to hear his chicken stories and to check out his chicken coop. Joe and Alice live in your typical residential neighborhood and they have accumulated the usual stuff that staying in one place for decades brings with it. It was interesting to see how Joe made use of this junk to build his chicken coop. He fashioned a couple of bolts and door fasteners from scraps of wood. (Shirley and I, lacking this talent, opted to pick up a couple of metal fasteners at the hardware store.) The pictures tell more of the story.

Here is his feeding box. Joe has it stabilized so the birds cannot tip it over.

Here are his home made latches.

Joe set up his chicken coop at the end of his shed. He replaced the roof with a skylight so his "ladies" would not have to spend their time in the dark.

Joe's chickens are thriving in their new home. We all agreed that two of Joe's four chickens are roosters. The birds are still a couple of months from crowing - the sure sign that the "ladies" are really not ladies at all - but the narrow feathers and long tail make it pretty obvious that the two are not ladies.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dumpster Diving Treats

I went to the produce store this morning and after buying some veggies for our meals this week, I went around back to the dumpster to see if there was anything good in there for my birds. About a month or so ago, I had asked one of the store people if I could take some of their leftover produce to feed to my chickens. He said sure but the dumpster would be open to the public only on Saturday when the local enforcement code people were not likely to be snooping around. To my dismay, there was nothing in the dumpster and a guy was moving crates of fresh produce with a forklift so I could barely reach the dumpster even if there had been anything in it.

As I pedaled home, I figured my dear chickens would have to make do with scraps that I could scrounge up from my own veggie patch.

Later in the day, I decided to give the dumpster another try. It was 103 degrees outside, but my chickens were worth the sacrifice. So I loaded my panniers down with plastic bags and returned to the produce store. The photo says it all.

As you can see, my fridge is pretty full now. Those bags are stuffed with romaine lettuce leaves, cherries, two whole heads of iceberg lettuce, 2 whole heads of cauliflower, several stalks of celery, tomatoes, spinach, beets, eggplant . . . If you come to my house, be careful what you grab from my fridge. If it looks like a tossed salad, you may want to pass on this as it is likely chicken food!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Update on Our Chickens

Back to the subject of chickens.

Since my last entry, we had to find a home for another
chicken; the Rhode Island Red was also a rooster. We gave him to an acquaintance who lives on four acres in Martinez. Needless to say I cried over losing him too, although I hear that he is adjusting to his new yard and family.

Our ten remaining chickens are definitely females. We are collecting three eggs a day - one from a Maran (a small, dark chocolate egg), one from a Production Red (a little larger, tan colored egg), and just yesterday our White Leghorn popped out her first white egg! In another month we should be collecting six to seven eggs a day. Since these first eggs are so small, Dave needs three of them for a decent scrambled egg.

Without Elvis in charge, the chickens no longer move about as a cohesive group. I guess it takes a rooster to keep them in line. I often wonder if they think I am the rooster. They do not seem to head to the hen house in the evening until I go outside to remind them that it is time to go to bed. Bedtime is now 8:30 PM. Without Elvis, the birds find their spot in the chicken coop and quietly go to sleep. Several birds crowd into the three nesting boxes.

Dave took several photos the other evening. As you can see, our
birds are getting bigger and look like chickens. This is a Maran.

This is an Ameraucana. She will lay a greenish blue egg.

Here is Polly enjoying corn on the cob before calling it a day. Every Saturday morning I pedal to the produce store and fill several bags with 'old' produce to feed my birds. They really like pecking at the fresh kernels of corn.

And here is me securing the coop for the night.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bike Restoration - The Final Chapter


Dave -

Finished! After assessing what we had on our hands (other than grease), the project morphed from a "restoration" project to a "paint, clean, and lube" project. Old parts are difficult to find and current design is certainly superior to the components found on bicycles 45 years ago. Overall, the project has been enjoyable. My next project will probably be another bike from the past, but probably from the '80s, not the '60s. I would like to find a chromoly steel frame (as opposed to aluminum or carbon fiber) and build the ultimate touring bike. Ah...something to dream about.

For a couple of other pictures of the finished project check out:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bike Restoration - Part II

Dave -
The bike restoration project sped along full speed until it abruptly hit a wall. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the wheels did not match. I'm not talking about some subtle differences, I'm talking about blatant differences - one has an alloy or satin finish and the other wheel has a heavy chrome finish. Of course no self-respecting bike mechanic would allow this, so I have been scouring the Internet for inexpensive used bike wheels. I think that I may have found someone that has what I am looking for. Of course I thought this to be the case last week and upon inspection the wheels were no better than what I have.

I had the rear derailleur to clean and lubricate so I took on this job last week. As the picture shows, my work bench is the top of the trash container. While some would feel that this is no way to tackle a project, I have to say that it works well for a procrastinator like myself. The trash container goes to the curb on Thursday night so this forces me to finish what I am working on before then. It is my motivator since I would be at a lost if I had to disturb the reassembly order.

Speaking of reassembly, I have fooled around with bike parts over the years but I have never encountered the complexity that seems to define British engineering. Those of you that own British cars can certainly attest to the nightmare-infused package of parts that the British refer to as 'engineering'. Case in point, most derailleurs have about 15 parts; this derailleur has 27 parts - not counting the 15 ball bearings in each of the pulleys. I reassembled the derailleur and ended up with two extra parts. I re-reassembled it two more times until I finally ran out of parts - I figured that at this point I was done.

To date the bike has been stripped, primed and painted. No, it isn't perfect. I justify the $87 spent on sandpaper, cleaning fluid, primer, paint, and buffer pads as an "investment" in a project that Mike and I are enjoying. The alternative would have been to take it to a paint shop and just write a check for $155; what fun is that? (Of course, I am told that the professionally painted frame would have been really, really nice.)

Once I have some wheels, it should be just another four or five hours and the bike will be ready to be enjoyed on streets, bike paths, bike lanes, and an occasional sidewalk.

Egg-citing News!

My chickens are 19 1/2 weeks old. On July 4th, I noticed one of the Marans sitting in the nesting box, tossing strands of straw at her back. I thought for sure she was going to lay an egg but she didn't. None of our girls had laid any eggs but I figured this would change shortly as most chickens start laying around 20 weeks.

When I checked on the chickens yesterday afternoon, this is what I found in the middle nesting box:

Our very first egg! Based on its color, this belongs to one of the Production Reds as Marans produce very dark chocolate brown colored eggs.

Dave fried the first egg for his dinner and to our surprise, this one had a double yolk! What a fortuitous sign. FYI, the cholesterol in free range eggs is good for you so having a double yolk does not mean you are increasing your cholesterol intake.

Check out our new rooster plate!

Below is a photo Dave took of Amelia, Bedelia, and Fredericka sitting on the gate. We often find them here in the evening. So far they have shown no desire to jump to 'freedom.'