Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Chickens?

You have never seen happiness, until you have seen a chicken taking a dirt bath. They make low clucking noises as they flop to and fro with their eyes rolled up into their heads. (Have you ever scratched a cat [or dog I guess] behind the ears in the "good" spot? That's the look.) Even when we go outside and drop a favored treat on the ground- the hens won't even see it if they are all hopped up on dirt...

It really is not difficult to make a chicken happy- they just need to roll in dirt, and scratch. That's pretty much it. This brings me to a more uncomfortable subject... although we have pet chickens that are the coolest, funniest animals ever, -we are not vegetarians. In fact, we do eat chicken. This horrifies our cute little artist/vegan neighbors- but the fact of the matter is that I have a very hard time staying healthy and active (not to mention growing my wrist bone back) without some protein.

Now I'm not going to shock and traumatize anyone with what really goes on in the commercial chicken industry- but I will tell you that there are no animal cruelty laws for chickens (there are for every other commercial animals). And I will say that the reality of life for a commercially raised chicken, is ugly. Really ugly. We intentionally ignore where our food comes from because it is traumatic,, and I think that is a bit irresponsible. Just because chickens are food animals, do they really deserve to live painful, joy-free existences just because American farming is dedicated to keeping KFC & McDonalds in business?

Of course, because I grew up with chickens and know what friendly goofy animals they are, I have been buying free range organic eggs/meat since I started shopping for myself, (it started with a concern for hormone and antibiotic injections, but then I learned a little more).

Lorraine agreed to this policy immediately, even though financially, it was not always the easiest choice. Of course, now that we have chickens ourselves, Lorraine has taken it a step further, and has figured out where to buy chicken that is not only free range organic, but a breed that is able to walk on its own, and is allowed to graze (and roll in the dirt). Check it out:

It's is a local farm- and they sell their pastured eggs/meat at nearly every farmers market in Seattle, as well as at many grocery stores. I just don't think that it is foolish or sentimental to appreciate where your food comes from. Not to mention the well known fact that well-treated grazing animals taste WAY better than the alternative. Americans in particular it seems, are simply far too skilled at ignoring unpleasant truths in favor of convenience and comfort...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Getting eggy

As we had hoped when we embarked on our chicken adventure, we are now swimming in eggs. Pinky brown eggs, orangey brown eggs, green eggs, bluish many eggs.

The different colors and shapes make it easy for us to know who's been laying, and we are keeping a tally. Flo is our most reliable. She was the first to lay and she rarely misses a day, except for when she lays a double-yolker. The girls always skip the day after laying a double-yolker, and I don't blame them. Those eggs are huge, and it can't be a comfortable process getting one of those out the hatch.

Flo's eggs are the lighter, orangey brown ones and they're small and skinny. Phyllis's are a bit darker, pinkish, and very plump (no surprise there). Millie's range from sage green to bluish green. Perhaps it depends her diet of the day? And surprisingly, her eggs are as large as Phyllis's despite the fact that she is really a rather slender hen.

They're all delicious. I love how deep orange the yolks are, and when you crack them, they are very three-dimensional because they are so fresh. All of the grass, bugs, seeds, and other free-range items the girls eat give the eggs a very rich texture and flavor. I like eating them just straight-up fried, but they even lend a nice fluffiness and yellow hue to Sarah's baked goods.

We've been giving them out to the neighbors, and the grandmas on both sides seemed very appreciative. Grumpy Grandma's son was around today and he told me that Chinese people are very fond of fresh eggs and attribute healthful properties to them. Makes sense to me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chicken booty

I apologize for the delay since the last update. Our chicken ladies have really matured over the past couple of months and we owe their fans some photos.

To start, our little Phyllis has become quite the impressive chicken. Even the two elderly Chinese women who live on both sides of us have managed to pull together some English to comment, “BIIIIG chicken,” while pointing at Phyllis and motioning that she is very fat.

Indeed, Phyllis has junk in her trunk. Baby got back. A coworker recommended renaming her JLo.

Her front is also quite plump and attractive.

The other hens are looking healthy and mature as well, though not as large as Phyllis. Millie is kind of tall and lanky, but she has developed terrific cheek feathers (“muffs”) and a little bit of beard.

Flo is very pretty, especially in bright sunlight, but didn’t quite develop as much golden lacing as we thought she would. She is, however, our most reliable egg layer. I’ll provide a more detailed egg update once I remember to take some photos of them.

The chickens’ latest adventures involve two new additions to the yard: a wild bird feeder we’ve been filling and a giant hawk that likes to perch on the chicken coop and drool as she watches the ladies. It is entirely possible that the arrival of the second is directly related to the first, so we may decide that we have to remove the bird feeder.

On the fun side, now when we open up the coop, the hens practically push us down to get out and run to the ground under the bird feeder, where they scramble to find lots of seeds the wild birds have dropped. I’ll try to get pictures of this sometime.

On the not-so-fun side, the hawk, who we believe to be a Cooper’s Hawk, has come around a few times and is very big and very scary. Fortunately, the chickens actually seem to have some instincts, and when they see her, they freak out, try to run for cover, and holler loudly. This alerts us (we only let the chickens run around the yard when we’re home) and we run out of the house and chase her off. I doubt we’ll ever get pictures of her because whenever she comes around, we’re too busy trying to keep her from killing the girls.

This a photo I found of what she looks like. Yikes!