Mother Nature’s Wrath

A few weeks ago a storm blew part of a tree down in the yard.  No big deal, you would think, but it landed on my chicken’s run.  18839197_10209908475528901_444556221561405161_n.jpg

We were able to trim all the smaller bits off, but the main part is still attached to the trunk.  The run was usable in the meantime, just still very dangerous.  I would have to duck walk across the length of it to open and close the pop door.  The birds had to live under it.  It was nerve wracking and causing a lot of anxiety all around.18836019_10209908474888885_742831737197446740_n.jpg

As you can see, it was not very safe at all.  We had constant raccoon incursions because there was no good way to secure the run at night.  We finally did manage to kill one and figure out where she was getting in, but there was no way around it: We had to rebuild.

My husband Travis is a carpenter, and a very good one at that.  Here is his beautiful and, most importantly, SECURE run:

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We took down an old barn a few years ago so have piles of this corrugated metal laying all over the place.  We lined the bottoms of the walls to discourage critters from digging their way in.  It is staked down to allow us to mow around it.

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It has a fully covered roof now, too, to help keep rain and snow out.  The litter gets soaked otherwise and becomes a vector for disease.  If anything, we want to prevent trench foot.

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The metal is double-height in the back to help keep predators out.  It wraps around the coop, as secure as we could make it.  We ran our chicken wire around the run, then secured the metal down over it to make it more difficult for predators to rip apart.  It should be hardware cloth all around it, because chicken wire is really only good at keeping chickens out of things, but this works for us for now.  In the spaces between the studs, the chicken wire is secured to the metal with strips of wood, and where the wire overlaps, we have “sewn” it together with metal wire.

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Nothing is getting in here.

The inside of the back has a small, hardware cloth vent to allow for the shape of the coop and for air circulation.  The door is an old screen door that we reinforced with hardware cloth and more metal.  Their food is also protected from becoming a wet lump.

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My birds are happy and safe, and I don’t have to crouch to take care of them.  We’re a happy bunch, thanks to my husband!

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Delicious Special Occasions

I do love to cook, but not every day.  Who does?  I get so bored deciding between meatloaf, baked chicken, and tacos.  What?!  Tacos?  Yes, even tacos can get boring.  When it comes to the day-to-day, I prefer to make a large batch of something that can serve as either lunch or dinner for a few days.  I do like making fussy stuff like potatoes au gratin for special occasions, though.  My recipe seems to take HOURS to prepare even before you get to make the roux and put it all in the oven.  My other favorite fiddly food to make is jalapeño poppers.

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About to get poppering.

I don’t really have a recipe for jalapeño poppers, I just kind of throw them together with whatever I have on hand.  I usually just use an 8 oz block of cream cheese and loosen it a little with some milk.  You can add grated cheese, like cheddar, but I don’t always.  Usually I’ll wander out to the garden and pick some fresh herbs if the season is right.  My choices include thyme, dill, basil and chives – I should really plant some parsley and sage – which I chop and grind together with some garlic, salt, and pepper before mixing with the cheese.  I cut each jalapeño in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and ribs, and stuff each with the cream cheese mix.  Each jalapeño half is then wrapped with a (half) slice of bacon, secured with a toothpick, and either broiled or grilled until the bacon is crispy.  I could just eat that for dinner, and I have many times.

My husband is a very savvy shopper and sometimes he brings home some really spectacular cuts of meat.  Once we figured out that we don’t need an actual smoker to smoke meats, it was a whole new world for us (thank you Cook’s Country).  I do cheat a little and cook things in the oven a bit since smoking can take all day and you really have to pay attention even if you do have a proper smoker.  If I’m making a large cut of meat like a pork butt or brisket, it almost always involves an overnight marinade or dry rub (longer if you have the time) and sometimes a good searing in my cast iron pan before going in the oven, low and slow, for hours before going on the grill set up to smoke.

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Smokin’!

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Other times he brings things home like lamb or steaks, though we mostly dine on chicken and ground beef.  We keep it simple and just grill the good cuts with some veggies I skewer and dress with olive oil and salt.  When it comes to vegetables in the summertime, we usually cook them this way.  I recently discovered that I like squash after years of not believing so because of my childhood tastes.  I never knew I liked asparagus until my twenties.  I blame that on eating canned asparagus as a child.  These days, I like to either grill or broil it with olive oil or wrapped in bacon.  Tastes change so I always try new things. Except fish.  I don’t do fish.

We live fopicklesr pickles.  We grow cucumbers and some jalapeños specifically for pickling.  I’ve made up my own recipe for cucumber pickles using lots of dill.  I always have dill in the garden – partly because I love it and partly because I couldn’t stop it from growing unless I really put forth some effort.  I planted it about five or six years ago and it keeps reseeding itself.  I always use lots of garlic, too, because that’s the way we like it.  My husband is an absolute devotee of pickles and I always make them really sour for him.  Pickle juice can help to restore your natural salts if you’ve been working or playing hard – just remember to have some water too.  Pickle juice also makes an excellent marinade for chicken, especially if you’re looking to make copycat nuggets from that fast food chain that uses cows to advertise for their chicken-based menu.

I’m not the best baker.  My bread is always dense and, as my friend says, angry.  She has the same problem.  I can, however, make cookies and sometimes, if the stars are aligned and the wind is blowing the right direction, cakes and cinnamon rolls.  I am perfectly capable of doing the simple math needed to double a recipe, but I lose track of myself and forget things.  I made a batch of flat, runny cookies once before I realized that I forgot to double the flour!

In the summer I even “cook” for the chickens.  Okay, I do it in winter too.  They’re my girls and they deserve nice things to eat to break up the montony of chicken feed.  In the heat of summer I will mix fruit, veggies, and mealworms with water and freeze the mix so they have something nice and cold to peck at.  In the winter I usually get some small pumpkins, cut them in half (leave the seeds in!) and fill the halves with a mix of cayenne pepper, garlic, olive oil, leftover vegetables, and an egg.  Throw that in the oven at 350F until the egg has set and let it cool a bit before serving in their run.  I know, an egg?  Yes, as long as it’s cooked, it is perfectly safe to feed the chickens eggs.  I’ve also fed them chicken, but we’ll keep that between us, okay?

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Frozen chicken treats made of tomatoes, apples, and mealworms in water.

The Epic Saga of Miss Digby Chicken Caesar

The story of how one plucky bird became part of my flock.

It’s January and we are firmly in the grip of winter.  You wouldn’t think that it’d be a good time to add livestock to your farm, but it works out just as well at this time of year as any other.  Better, in fact, because a lot of diseases that rear their ugly heads in summertime are less active in the winter and aren’t as much of a threat with the stress the animals endure during a move.  In January 2014 we added nine hens to our flock and I only lost one.  Of course I felt terrible at her loss, but it could have been worse.  I adopted four hens in a hot June one year and lost two almost immediately.

I cannot stress enough the importance of quarantine for new animals.  I’m not an expert with any animal, but my experience is all with chickens so that’s what I’ll be talking about here.  Can you imagine how terrible you’d feel if you added one chicken to your large flock and lost the whole flock because you skipped quarantine?  I’ve heard of it happening.  The keeper was dumbfounded and never thought such a thing could/would happen.  You never really know what sorts of diseases your flock is harboring and what incoming birds might have, so I always recommend keeping everyone separate for a week or more.  The more time, the better.  I kept Miss Digby Chicken Caesar in quarantine for three months and this is her story.

Miss Digby Chicken Caesar came to me under strange circumstances in 2013.  I got a call from a friend in northwestern Missouri about a stray chicken in his neighborhood.  Stray chicken?  Yep, you heard me.  They can be escape artists, or they can be dumped by people who thought they wanted chickens and then gave up, or they could easily be feral.  He was walking home one day when a neighbor asked him if that grey chicken in the tree was his.  It wasn’t, of course, and the neighbor told him she had been up that tree for two or three days.  He asked what I thought he should do and I said that, if he could catch her, I’d take her.

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The Lovely Miss Digby

Chickens are smart.  They are evasive and brave to the point of foolhardiness sometimes.  I told him to wait for dark and to not shine any sort of light on or near her if he could.  Throw a towel over her and wrap her up so she can’t hurt herself struggling and put her in a dog kennel or cardboard box.  Well, he had to have light and, as a result, a mighty battle was fought.  Not really, but he did have to chase her a lot and did I mention it was January and nighttime and very, very cold?  He did manage to wrangle her into the kennel they had for their dog and get her onto the porch.

A quick aside:  chickens are very hardy birds.  They CAN withstand colder temperatures than we humans are comfortable in.  They have a nicer down jacket built-in than we could ever imagine.  Keeping her on the porch, when she was already acclimatized to the cold, was perfectly safe.  Supplemental heating for your chicken coop is unnecessary and very dangerous, but we’ll talk about that some other time.

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Ready?
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FLOOF!

So, they had a chicken on their porch.  They noticed that she was missing the last bit of each of her middle toes due to an epic battle with a tiger (probably frostbite).  She is blue (grey) with dark eyes and is most likely an Easter Egger – she lays gorgeous blue eggs and has a mighty beard.  My friend met me in town and we made the hand off.  He also had the honor of naming her since he saved her and he chose Miss Digby Chicken Caesar after a sketch on a British comedy show.  Sir Digby Chicken Caesar is a drunken, psychotic tramp who thinks he’s a brilliant adventurer.  He thought, given the fight she gave him trying to capture her, it was an appropriate name.  So Miss Digby Chicken Caesar came home with me to become part of my flock.

First, I had to quarantine her.  We only had one, small chicken tractor at the time, so I didn’t have a hospital/quarantine area I could put her.  (I recommend you have one if you plan on keeping chickens.)  We kept her in the dog kennel in our spare bedroom in the house.  She didn’t seem too happy, but she had food and water and a roost for the nights, so she did okay.  I put a mirror nearby so she felt like there might be company, and aside from cleaning up the litter she kicked out of the kennel every day she was an excellent roommate.  She was so very, very quiet and didn’t lay any eggs.  I wasn’t concerned.  Stressed out chickens don’t lay, and she was pretty stressed.

Since I had to keep her in the house she wasn’t used to the cold anymore so it would have put her health in jeopardy to just chuck her out there.  Eventually the weather got warmer and we made a little coop for her near our other birds.  I would put Dr. Orpheus in with her every now and then to introduce them and quickly realized they were soul mates since, when I put him back in with the other girls, she would become quite distressed.  She would call for him loudly and constantly if he was out of eye shot.  So I eventually decided to put them all together.  My other two hens almost killed her, so I put her back in her little coop with the rooster to console her and worked on another plan to integrate her.

We went on vacation and asked a friend to look after our dogs and birds and unfortunately under his watch my mean Rhode Island Red Rosie, who was the main culprit in Miss Digby’s attempted murder, died mysteriously.  That made integrating her with my other hen, Stella, a lot easier.

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Miss Digby Enjoys a Dust Bath

So now she’s happily part of my large flock.  She’s kind of outside the pecking order and goes out of her way to keep to herself except where the rooster is concerned.  She won’t ever come within more than three feet of me even when I have her favorite treat: tomatoes.  I always make sure to toss one or two to her specifically and she knows it.  She never goes broody, but she and Dr. Orpheus made some pretty babies.  That is a story for another time.  She is a most beautiful addition to my flock and I’m grateful my friend took the time to save her from the wild.

Welcome to Fossil Ridge

Join us on our adventures out in the country!

545109_3457702561681_1334275842_n My name is Melissa and I live out in the country in northeast Kansas.  I have five acres, some chickens, some gardens, lots of rocks, two dogs, and a husband.

We decided to leave the college town we lived in and buy a house back when we got married in 2009.  After touring house after house in our price range, we found the one we eventually bought on the cover of a brochure at our realtor’s office.

The house sits on a long, narrow lot that is mostly full of trees.  Part of it is a five acre pond we share with our neighbors to the north.  We’re on top of a ridge created many, many years ago when Kansas was under an inland sea.  Our ridge was a coral reef, and there are so many fossils just sitting on top of the topsoil it’s amazing.  If you see my husband out squatting in the lawn, he’s looking for his favorites, crinoids, and not… well, you know.

Growing up in various large towns and cities my whole life, I was rather ignorant about wild plants and animals.  Now that I live here, I am itching to learn all I can.  I want to identify the edible plants that grow around my home and to know which ones to avoid.  I know mushrooms like the tasty and much desired morel must grow in there somewhere, but don’t really know where to look.  I also want to grow my own food and raise my own animals.  We’ve fought the rocks and clay to lay out vegetable gardens and beat back the grasses to add wildflowers.

We struggle and we triumph.  We invite you to follow our adventures.