It’s chick season! Or is it?

Every year we debate the costs and benefits of purchasing new chickens. This year we have a new idea. But first, a little backstory…

Two years ago we started with a mixed flock of twelve, then lost three birds to predation, and so purchased three more birds last spring. We lost eight birds at various points through the past year (hawks and owls, we think) and one more last weekend. So now we have two hens. We are tired of losing chickens. They are the ultimate prey birds. Even our hardy girls, Vera and Bossy, are at risk. It’s in their nature. They vanish during the twilight hour, just before it’s time to lock them up in the coop for the night. We even moved the girls to the back porch in January, but to no avail. Edna vanished the same day we shot this compost video.

The last three girls: Edna, Vera, and Bossy were/are Jersey Giants. We think their intelligence (if you can call it that) helped them survive. Sadly, they are not impervious to hungry foxes, hawks, owls, or other predators. Interestingly, the Jersey Giant is the largest breed of chicken. Their size probably contributed to their survival more than anything else. We were sad to discover there are no larger chicken breeds in existence. However, there are turkeys.

For the past few days, we have researched turkey keeping in North America. This is what we’ve learned.

  • Turkey’s are native species in North America and they can tolerate the weather swings of our region.
  • They lay larger eggs less frequently and those eggs pack a more nutritive punch per gram by volume. (Yay B vitamins!)
  • Adult turkeys are not victims of predation near as often as chickens.
  • Numbers of wild turkey populations are in decline, but that same species, Meleagris gallopavo, is also domesticated and we can buy numerous varieties of the species for our little homestead.
  • The most popular commercial birds (Broad Breasted White and Bronze Turkeys) are no longer able to reproduce on their own so we’re not interested in them.
  • Hens do not gobble, only toms, and only when it’s mating season (or when they feel threatened).

These are all good reasons for us to switch to backyard turkeys, but there are some drawbacks.

  • The eggs have four times the cholesterol of chicken eggs. Yikes.
  • They need a stable at night; a coop is too small.
  • Waterers and feeders need to be elevated so the birds don’t knock them over or poop in them.
  • Everything needs to be bigger.
  • Turkey chicks and poults die at a higher rate than chicken chicks and pullets.

For cooking needs, three turkey eggs are roughly equivalent to five chicken eggs by volume, no shells. To keep us in chicken eggs we needed at least three chickens which works out to about 18 eggs during good sunshine and nice weather weeks, as few as a dozen during cloudy or cold weeks, and seven eggs per week through the winter. To keep us in turkey eggs we’ll need four turkeys which should produce 10 or 11 eggs during good weeks, 7 (maybe 8?) during less pleasant weeks, and 4 (rarely five) through the winter.

If we ate other dairy, poultry, or meat products we would not be able to justify the extra cholesterol. We don’t, so turkey cholesterol is an acceptable trade-off (for now). If we were reliant on these eggs for all of our protein needs and B vitamins we would need many more birds. Luckily, we aren’t, so we don’t!

Our newest plan to produce organic, homegrown, bird eggs requires a lot of prep work on our end. First, we need to dismantle the current chicken run, then rebuild the stall that the 2013 tornado destroyed. It needs to be a turkey stable with sturdy, low, roosts. We’re going to try the deep bedding method outlined by this Swedish guy (Simeon, he’s great) who has many, many videos about poultry keeping and homesteading:

After contacting some local suppliers of turkey poults we learned they do not start selling them, typically, until mid-summer, so they will be ready for slaughter in November. We might buy from farms that sell butchered Thanksgiving birds, if they are willing to sell live ones at a much cheaper price, and if we can find Auburn Heritage birds.

The AH birds are a hearty, pretty brown, calm, large bird. Adult hens weigh ~20 pounds and adult toms weigh ~36 pounds. The hens start laying at seven months old, and the species can reproduce on their own if the need should arise next spring. Wild hens with a 100% pasture diet produce 2 eggs a week, but the domestic bird with a 50/50 feed/pasture diet can lay 3 eggs a week.

If we can get all the prep work taken care of by mid-summer then this plan is go-for-launch. Either way – we’ll keep you posted.



Book Review “What Should We Be Worried About?”

John Brockman of Edge magazine edited a bright orange book of worries in 2013, aptly titled, What Should We Be Worried About? I read the book for a few reasons, one being, a reality check.

A person’s scope of influence includes all the situations or people, where one person can meaningfully change. We each have areas of influence. Most people can only influence friends and family. Some people; doctors, journalists, and politicians, to name a few, have larger platforms from which to speak and therefore larger areas of influence. My scope of influence is relatively small.

I can influence family and friends, and maybe some cyber friends too, but my area of worry is much larger. I worry about local, national, and international headlines. I worry about the weather. I worry about the future of the natural world. Reading Brockman’s collection of essays reminded me that my worries are misplaced. My area of influence is very small. I need to keep it real: My fretting and solutions are only applicable to a small group of people.

What a relief.

Link to Purchase.

A second reason to pick up this book is to see which intellectuals successfully predicted worrisome trends. There were more than a few. Some experts wrote about the rise of AI, some wrote about the rise of ignorance, and others wrote about the decline of curiosity.  These worries have played out in interesting ways over the past five years, in all aspects of public life. We see more people dependent on their phones for trivialities, and less people in search of useful information. We see some very undereducated individuals in positions of great power. Since the publishing of the book, we’ve seen dire warnings about the power of AI from some of science’s most respected minds. Although, and equally important, some of the worries so eloquently laid out in this book have not come to pass.

What a relief.

Another reason to read this book is to help lay some of its worries to rest. The book included essays about the intentional dumbing down of scientific ideas to appeal to the masses, about the enormous amounts of energy and imagination expended to entertain, and about the lack of imagination going into problem-solving.  By reading this book, by talking to those in your sphere of influence about science, and imagination, you can help lay some of these worrisome aspects of our fast-culture to rest. Even those of us with a seemingly tiny scope of influence can better the world.

What a relief.

Who knew a book about worries could be so soothing.

A Minimalist Pleasure Garden.

Pleasure Gardens are traditionally public parks. Being rural(ish) we have a few acres of yard that we keep covered in grass. Not a cultivated perfect grass, but a very natural clover and dandelion kind of lawn. We are careful not to use fertilizers or herbicides in the hopes of slowly converting the yard into a permaculture dream-come-true. But that takes more funds and back-breaking labor than we have to spare. So, I’ll settle for a low-maintenance DIY pleasure garden.

First on the to-do list is pick plants. Although we maintain an edible garden, that is not what a pleasure garden is for. This garden is for enjoying nature, albeit a slightly tamed version. Here are some of the easy-care plants we currently have:

  • Sedum for height.
  • Morning Glories for climbing.
  • Hyacinths and Irises for the rocky places.
  • Lillies for marshy places.
  • Wild Violets as groundcover in protected areas.

We hope to add:

  • Hostas in the shady spots.
  • Aeoniums for geometric interest (most varieties look like fleshy roses).
  • Butterfly Bush for, well, butterflies.
  • Nasturtium for pretty and for eating (they taste like black pepper).

What we’d like to add but find impractical:

  • Roses
  • Hibiscus varieties
  • Geraniums
  • Dahlias

The vibrant beauties of the no-can-do list are too tropical in both sun and water requirements for our growing zone. The humble plant additions above should succeed in our zone and require little overall care; thus fulfilling the requirements of a minimalist pleasure garden. As this plan develops we’ll post updates and hopefully one day, pictures!

Reading is a Simple Heresy

Just this week I read a new article about the collective loss of an important skill. We have, as a society, lost the ability to read. This is not new news. Neil Gaiman spoke about the importance of reading and libraries in 2013. In 2010 Karen Hovde spoke of the importance of reading,  of libraries, and the folly of relying on digital editions of everything. During the same year, Nicholas Carr wrote The Shallows, later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Each of these writers has raised an alarm that no one can hear. Our inability to read well, and read deeply, does not mean we have lost the ability to make sense of the words in this blog post, or in numerous articles like the ones linked above, but instead, that we have collectively rewired out neuropathways. We are hooked on fast and easy information. Reading has become a simple heresy.

It is not just the children teething on tablets and smartphones, nor is it only the young adults who brokered teenage relationships in AOL chatrooms, but the neurological changes are evident in the cynical GenXers and  BabyBoomers who are reprogramming the worlds most adaptable processing hardware – the human brain. What has changed in the discussions surrounding the ability to read like we did a century ago, is how we talk about it.

The articles and books from 2010 to 2013 speak of the travesty of intellectual loss. The 2018 article, by Canadian writer and journalist Michael Harris, discusses how we are reverting to a more natural state of distraction and that change is inevitable. It is comforting to read that the dumbing down of society is inevitable because our brains are easily distracted, however, we have managed to overcome our wiring and find a deeper ability to imagine, to understand, and to empathize through reading. Should we let that ability diminish in favor of fast and easy entertainment?

Paired with the loss of cursive as a school subject in all but a handful of United States schools, numerous historical documents are no longer accessible to graduating classes of high school seniors. Firstly, they were written in the long-thought format of pre-digital minds, and secondly, they were written in the long-hand of a pre-print society.  If our children’s children continue on the path of fast and easy information, then the less than 8,000 words of the Constitution and Amendments will be as incomprehensible as the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs were before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.

The plasticity of our personal supercomputers allows us to rebuild, or in some cases start building the pathways required for deep, independent, imaginative thought. We just have to exercise our minds and we can do that by reading books. Pick up, and work through every page of an actual factual, ink on paper, book. It may be slow, it may be difficult, but the future is worth it.

Veganish (Eggs, Honey, and Oysters)

Yup, we’ve been doing the vegan thing for not quite a year. Like much else in life, diet is a personal decision – so no hate. Veganism is the latest in our list of eating quirks. I’m GF, my son is allergic to tree nuts, my husband and daughter cannot tolerate milk products but – funny thing – it’s not the lactose that bothers them. We don’t know what it is. Being vegan(ish) makes life easier in some ways, and harder in others. I think we’ll stick with our version of veganism (not rigidly) for the foreseeable future.

We eat eggs, honey, and oysters and call ourselves vegan instead of vegetarian because we’re really picky about the source of these animal foods. No, we will not join you for breakfast at the diner and order eggs. My daughter and I don’t eat any animal products, except the eggs our chicken’s lay, honey from the bees who live down the road… and oddly, oysters. Although tbh, we’re still kind of on the fence about the oysters.

My husband and son, on the other hand, are not above the occasional indulgence in sardines, herring, or pepper jack cheese. They indulge in one of these treats every three months or so – and seem to enjoy the indulgence as a bonding activity more than they enjoy the sustenance these foods provide. We girls do not judge, but enjoy the dark chocolate chips that accompany these food-focused outings. The boys also accept food-gifts from family when offered – these food-gifts include chicken or turkey in a thousand different combinations, while us girls opt for vegan friendly snacks.

Our daughter is sensitive to the plight of animals in the livestock industry and has been since she was a little girl. I think she was five when she decided she wanted to become a lacto-ovo-vegetarian. By the time she was ten she quit dairy altogether and would only eat the eggs that her hens produced, citing,

My chickens are happy, healthy, free-range babies. I take care of them, I love them, and they lay the eggs. It would be wasteful to let them rot.

She’s rubbing off on us. Turns out veganism is contagious.

People ask, “…but what about protein?” So I’ll try to explain what we do to make sure we’re healthy. We eat a lot of beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds. We eat Mexican dishes, Cajun dishes, Cowboy dishes, lentil soups and stews, chickpea salads,  soups,  stews, and hummus on all the other veggies. For iron, we devour the burritos,  meat-free jambalaya, beans and cornbread, incorporate seeds and nuts and these legumes into soups, stews, and salads. Vitamin C helps us absorb the iron so we have lots of pineapples, oranges, o.j., lemon juice as a seasoning, broccoli, and brussels sprouts too. We also love spinach and tolerate kale (kale chia chips are pretty yummy).

Getting enough fats is the hardest part of maintaining our healthy vegan diet. Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, fat was the enemy. It’s been difficult for me to see fat as a friend and ‘good’ food. In addition to the miracle of coconut oil, and olive oil, we recently added farmed oysters back to our food list. The omega’s that eggs and oysters provide help our brains function. Avocados are mainstays, and Country Crock (of all things) is important too. Concerned for cholesterol, we only use the Churn style,  which contains no mono- or di-glycerides. We conclude glycerides make the other styles of Country Crock more spreadable. The Churn style is thicker but nowhere near as thick as real butter and so, is easier to spread than what we used to use!

Reasons going vegan is easy? It limits your options… in a good way.

  • Grocery Lists – You can eliminate perhaps 80% of all grocery store products from your planning.
  • Meal planning – Once you identify which cuisine your family likes, 1/2 of the meals they offer go out the window because they contain meat or animal products.
  • No more calorie counting – When your diet is plant-based you can pretty much eat all day and not worry about eating too many calories.
  • Hydration – it’s easier to stay hydrated when the water it takes to digest a parcel of food is (mostly) included in the food. Most veggies are waterful, so most of our meals are also waterful!

Reasons going vegan is difficult? It limits your options… in a bad way.

  • Grocery Lists – You have to read the ingredient lists on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, and google the unknown ingredients. Or – always stick to the same (boring) items and never try anything new. Or – decide that you are doing enough by avoiding what you can, and accept that life and the grocery store are full of unknown unknowns. 🙂
  • Meal Planning – Beginning vegans are really limited by their knowledge (and love of cheese). It takes time to develop a vegan meal plan that you’ll be happy with, let alone everyone in your house.
  • Not enough fat – When eating a plant-based diet you have to make sure you get enough fat. If you don’t, you’ll have a spike in cravings. I craved chili cheese tater tots and milkshakes. Without the cheese, and with vegan chili, the dish tasted flat. It was the cheese I wanted, the fat. An almond vanilla smoothie was slightly more satisfying, but the slushy consistency was just not the same as a milkshake, and there was not quite as much fat! Just remember Healthy Fats are your Friends!
  • Salt – A lot of processed foods marketed as a vegan (or low-fat, or vegetarian, or gluten-free) option, are higher in salt than their traditional counterparts. Just check those levels when you’re reading the ingredients and keep your numbers reasonable.

Our list of pros outnumber our list of cons (to say nothing of the broader implications of an ecologically low-impact diet) so we’re sticking with this vegan(ish) thing. Every day is easier than the one before and after a year we can feel the effects of this diet choice; We’re healthier, happier, and a little bit leaner all around.

Minimalist Garden

This year we are planting a  low intensity, high yield, minimalist garden. Last year we made an elaborate, detailed, plan for the garden with a wide variety of plants and cycling plant/harvest schedules. We planned in the bullet journal and posted it on Instagram. It was a great plan, like others made by mice and men…This year we’re following a less intensive regime.

Our soil makes vegetables spicy, and that’s great – unless the vegetables are typically sweet. Zucchini, tomatoes, spring onions and okra are tasty in spicy dishes so we’ll plant those to provide fresh ingredients for our spicy Italian, Mexican, and Cajun favorites. We’ll amend 1/5 of the garden soil with a focus on increasing the acid levels and then try spinach again. If the spinach is still bitter we can switch to plan B; make banana spinach smoothies. 🙂

We’re working within the same space, a 16ft x 4ft garden. We divide the garden into five even plots, each measures 48″x 38.4″. Using the square foot method we know we can plant the following amounts of each vegetable:

  • Zucchini – 8 with cages
  • Tomato – 12 with cages
  • Spring onions – 208
  • Okra – 12
  • Spinach – 108

Here is a drawing for you visual learners:

For the first time, we get to incorporate our own compost into the soil, with manure, and topsoil to replace what washed away in last year’s rain. The chicken ladies made their contribution to the soil last fall, too. This -no frills- plan should yield more reward with less work. We’ll see how it goes.

Growing Along

So we’ve got the garden started!  The hens were in the garden house for about a month and they chewed through all the roots, weeding and feeding as they went. Let me just say working chickens are entirely underrated. After they moved out we let the ground rest (and the chicken poop wash) in two days of rain. Two days after that, the ground was ready for planting and biodynamics indicated it was a good day to plant leaf foods.

We transplanted organic green onions that we bought about three months ago from the grocery store. Green onions are a grass so we kept them in a water/dirt slurry in the bottom half of an Aquafina bottle, mowing them when needed. Green onions are a great addition to most anything we eat so it worked out great. We sprouted the kale and spinach from seed and transplanted on the same day. It took about half an hour for all the work and we made a timelapse video. Timelapse makes everything look easy.

Since then, we’ve planted peas, cucumbers, celery and radish. We also started the peas and cucumbers early and from seed. The celery was an organic vegetable from the grocery store (like the green onions) that we kept in coffee cups and water until the leaves resumed growing. The radishes are just seeds yet and we sowed them directly. Hopefully they’ll pop up soon! We also sowed some more kale and spinach seeds indoors. Although the freeze date has officially passed (yay!) we have may hail dates ahead, and it’s a good idea to keep back-up seedlings so the garden can bounce back after a severe storm.

Also I’d like to share a recent failure. No mother hens have adopted the three chicks. We tried and tried with the hens but each one preferred the freedom of the flock to adoption. Oh well, so it goes. Good news is, the babies are nearing big enough to join the flock! Once they are as big as the smallest two hens then in they go. We’ll be back up to ten hens and an intact rooster. Aiming for that perfect dozen means keep buying more. Maybe Alphonse can help us out in that department. Time will tell! Until next week then, indulge in a little simple heresy.