Category Archives: Backyard Chickens

Baby Birds No Longer

Today is the 17th and my Baby Bird is 17 months old. She has been a toddler for quite some time. Running, coloring, eating PB&J and saying “no!” (All at the same time.) I suppose it is past due that she get a promotion. From this point on she will now be called “Little Bird.”

She is not our only baby bird growing up. With the passing of Steve, “Bebe,” the chick in our banner and Facebook profile picture, who we watched hatch from an egg, is now our senior hen. She is a proficient layer, laying a large, light brown egg daily.

Bebe, all grown up

Although we don’t have any roosters, we were lucky to watch Bebe and her sibling hatch and grow. A few years ago my husband noticed that one of our hens, Butters, a sweet and social Buff Orpington, was broody. “Broody” hens sit on the eggs all day trying to hatch them. In the wild this is obviously a necessary characteristic in order for the eggs to survive. However, most laying hens have the trait of broodiness bred out of them as it can disincline them to lay more eggs. For the purposes of egg production they simply need to lay the egg and move on.

When picking up our organic, soy-free, Modesto Milling poultry feed and scratch from White Mountains Ranch, Papa Bird chatted with the owner about how to get Butters to stop being so broody. She surprised us by suggesting that we let her! She graciously gave us four fertilized eggs to take home and let her sit on. Butters was a wonderful foster mom. She sat and sat and sat and sat…

And finally, one day in the spring, we had babies!! Two of the eggs hatched. Give me the meanest, grouchiest person, put newborn chicks in front of them and I guarantee they will just melt. There is nothing cuter.

Token and Bebe

One chick was strong and healthy. Since the baby bird had black feathers, well black fuzz, Papa Bird kept the South Park references going and named the chick “Token.” The little one we called “Bebe.” Unfortunately, little Bebe was born with a club foot. Her foot curled in and didn’t open up properly. She couldn’t put weight on it or walk properly. I imagine that back in the old days, on a large farm, such a deformed chicken wouldn’t get the chance to survive. Then again, in modern, large scale egg production the chickens live in cages and aren’t really allowed to walk around. So who knows what they do.

Papa Bird did a little research and decided to try to splint her foot. I was so proud of him and his All Creatures Great and Small skills. As I played nurse and lent extra hands, he experimented with various splints for Bebe. First he tried a little piece of cardboard and some medical tape. Unfortunately, Butters kept pecking at the white cardboard. We were worried she would hurt the poor baby’s foot. Eventually we found that what worked best was just a bandaid or two. Fortunately, after about a week her foot worked well, if a little smaller at first. Now you can’t even tell!

Bebe's BandAid Foot

Token, on the other hand, had a different problem. You see, he ended up being a “he” which is illegal in the City of San Diego! We took him to White Mountains Ranch later that year so he could enjoy the spoils of country life.

Click on any photo in the gallery to enlarge.

 

Dedicated to the Memory of our Hen Steve

This week our oldest surviving hen passed away, we believe of old age. Her name was Steve.

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Steve was an Easter Egger Chicken and laid large, light blue eggs. She was a survivor and an escape artist. Steve was our only chicken to survive the Coyote Massacre of 2011 that decimated our flock and claimed the life of my 12-year-old kitty. Previously, she had been given to us by our neighbors in 2010 and they had no idea how old she was. They had also lost every single chicken to coyotes, except her, and were giving up. They called her “damn chicken”, but we renamed her after a good friend who requested the honor.

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Out of our first flock, and the second flock after the Coyote Massacre, Steve was the hen most likely to break out of the enclosure and into the vegetable garden. Once, after we thought that she had stopped laying for a couple of weeks, my husband stumbled upon a hidden catch of eggs that she was laying in secret.

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Rest in peace Steve. We will miss you!

How To Boil the Perfect Fresh Egg

On our little backyard homestead, summer brings not only a bounty of vegetables and herbs, but also a plethora of eggs. Chickens respond to the longer days and increased light and are at their peak of production. This is one reason why commercial egg producers will keep lights on the hens, day and night. We live in San Diego and have never felt the need to add artificial light, but if you live more to the north, it might be something to consider for a few hours a day during the winter months.

This year I have been having fun swapping or trading extra eggs with other local urban homesteaders. In exchange for eggs and some dairy products, we have received homemade jams, fresh salad, kombucha, lemons and lemon curd, AVOCADOS (our absolute fav), home-baked bread, homemade granola, fresh bay leaves, chicken broth and more.

But one of my favorite ways to enjoy extra eggs is to hard boil a batch. Hardboiled egg yolk has also been a staple in baby’s diet, especially during months 6-10. Plenty of people use the following technique, but it was my grandmother who showed me how.

Boiling the Perfect Egg

Step 1: If using fresh eggs, wash them.

Step 2: Place the eggs in a medium-sized pot. Try to have enough eggs so that they are somewhat cozy, without too much room, and only in one layer.

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Step 3: Cover the eggs in cold water.

Step 4: Put the pot on high heat and bring to a boil.

Step 5: As soon as the water boils, take it off the heat, cover with a lid and set a timer for 12 minutes.

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Step 6: Have a bowl ready with cold water and ice. As soon as 12 minutes are up, pour out the hot water, rinse once with cold tap water and then transfer to the ice bath. If you leave them in the pot to cool, the water will quickly heat up again from the residual heat in the pot and continue cooking the eggs.

Ways to Enjoy the Eggs:

For baby the yummiest combo is half a hardboiled yolk, mashed avocado and breastmilk. My baby is “so over” purées at 11 months but will make an exception for this silky, creamy concoction. No special equipment needed other than a fork for mashing, making this a great combo to take on the road.

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Hardboiled eggs make a great quick snack. Just like the raw energy bites, I love having instant food on hand. Oftentimes, when I am making baby something with the yolk, I just pop the white of the egg in my mouth. :)

My go-to summer lunch includes a green salad topped with sliced hardboiled eggs, an artisan balsamic vinegar and olive oil and fresh veggies. You can use any dressing you like, but try a really good balsamic and oil. There is something magical about the way the bits of yolk mix with the vinegar. Perhaps it is emulsifying a little in the mouth?

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This salad has spring mix, avocado, hardboiled egg, tomatoes from my garden, snap peas from my mom’s garden, an espresso balsamic, blood orange olive oil and a little truffled goat cheese. The oil and vinegar are from a local shop.

Notes:

Occasionally fresh eggs will be hard to peel. One tip is to reserve the oldest eggs in your fridge for boiling. Papa Bird shares that thin shells can be a symptom of a calcium deficiency in the chickens. A simple remedy is to feed the hens shells that you have rinsed and crushed up. Since he has been doing that our eggs peel easily now.

Egg yolk can be constipating for babies. At one point we had to cut back from eggs daily to every other day.

And finally: Papa Bird’s tip on how to tell if an egg is raw or hardboiled. Try to spin it like a top… if it spins, it’s cooked. If it wobbles and can’t get a decent spin, it is raw.

Never Go Hungry Frittata: Backyard Chickens Save the Day

It has been a little over two years since our family grew to include an average of five chickens. Having hens means there is always something to make for dinner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought there was nothing to eat in the house and was able to pull something delicious together thanks to our eggs. Backyard chickens really do save the day–or at least dinner.

Occasionally I will have dough for a single pie crust (either homemade or store bought) in the freezer and will make a quiche, but I most often make a frittata or tortilla española. Both of those are simply different names (Italian and Spanish, respectively) for the same thing, which is essentially a crust-less quiche. Without the crust it is a little healthier and definitely faster, easier and potentially more affordable (especially if you buy the crust or crust dough.) We also do a lot of scrambles, but a frittata or tortilla just seem a little more “dinner.”

Between baby and work I don’t always make it to the grocery store before the fridge starts looking empty. This week was no exception so I picked a few veggies and herbs from the garden and collected a few more eggs. Zucchini goes particularly well with eggs. :)

 I also found a few potatoes and snap peas in the fridge. I don’t have a picture of the frittata fully completed since a little Baby bird started getting cranky, but here it is nearly done:

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Never-Go-Hungry Frittata Recipe

This is more of a template than a recipe. Feel free to improvise with the ingredients and make it your own!

Step 1: Pre-cook hard vegetables like potatoes or broccoli (boil, roast, etc.) Please also clean out your fridge of any already cooked leftovers. Oven roasted veggies are awesome, as is any leftover meat. This is a great use of a little meat that would be less than a full serving if eaten alone. (My husband finds it more substantial when I use potatoes.)

Step 2: Sauté aromatics, like onion, in a healthy amount of olive oil or coconut oil (it will also be keeping the egg from sticking) on medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Add other veggies and cook until soft. (Options are endless, but try zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, bell pepper, kale and other greens…)

Step 3: Beat eggs with a fork vigorously until light and fluffy. Use at least 2-3 eggs per serving. You want to have enough eggs to cover all the filling that is in the pan. If you need to use more eggs than you will eat that night, do it. Leftover frittata is great. If you run out of eggs and need a little more volume, add in a little milk. Season with salt, pepper and spices and then pour into the pan. Turn the heat down to low.

Step 4: Finish by adding fresh herbs, tomatoes and cheese. (All I had was my truffled goat cheese. Cooking it essentially wasted the truffle salt. Adding any kind of heat takes away the flavor of truffles which is why they should be used only as a finisher. But, hey, I needed the cheese!)

Step 5: There are at least three options for cooking it all the way through:

  1. Cover the pan with a lid and cook on super low heat until the top appears set.
  2. If you have an oven proof pan (i.e. the handle is entirely metal and not covered in rubber) you can transfer it to the oven and broil a few minutes to cook the top.
  3. If you are daring, try the Spanish method. Once the bottom half of the tortilla is cooked, take a large plate and flip the entire tortilla onto the plate and then slide it into the pan so that the other side is now down. Finish cooking until the center is done. (This is heavy and awkward for me personally, so I use one of the first two methods.)

Serve cut into wedges. Goes great with a green salad.

Notes:

If your zucchini grow a little too big, like ours often do, I recommend peeling them and cutting out the seeds at the core. The rest of the flesh will still be good.

Want to know a trick for fluffy eggs I learned in Spain? When I was an exchange student I watched the señora I lived with make tortillas like this: she tipped a bowl so that all the yolks drifted to one side. Then she beat the side with the whites with a fork vigorously until they were completely broken up. Next she incorporated one yolk at a time. Essentially, she beat the whites alone without going to the trouble of officially separating the eggs. I’ve done the same ever since.

Tips for cooking for baby:

Pediatricians recommend avoiding egg whites until baby is one year old. We have given her plenty of egg yolk since around 7 months but we still do not feed her whole eggs. I often reserve the filling just before pouring the eggs in. Potatoes, zucchini and other sauteed veggies make great homemade baby food! In our case this week I wasn’t fast enough. She was getting super tired and the only thing done was the boiled potatoes.  Lucky for her she likes baby mashed potatoes….

And here it is:

Baby’s First Mashed Potatoes Recipe

Scrub organic potatoes until clean.  Potatoes are a priority to buy (or grow) organic, even if you don’t normally do, since they are sponges for pesticides. Roughly chop and boil in water until they are fork tender. Drain and let cool. Pull off the skin. Mash them in a baby food mill, with a potato ricer, or with a fork. Add a good helping of breast milk until they are smooth and creamy.

Cauliflower is also yummy mashed, either alone or mixed with potatoes.