The Chicken Wars

Fall is on its way and the days are still nice enough that MaeBelle and I can sit outside and enjoy the warm, sunny afternoons.  The chickens are enjoying these final days of summer as well, chasing bugs around the garden, eating sunflower seeds, and dusting in the squash bed.  It’s soothing to sit and watch them do their ‘chicken thing’ while listening to their soft clucking noises of contentment they make while they roam the garden.  So peaceful.

And then came the chicken wars.  The girls were dusting in the squash bed this afternoon.  It was not peaceful.  But it was pretty darn funny.  I’m not sayin’ I’m going to lay blame on anyone, but Miss Buffie is a bit of a pig in my personal opinion.  I’ll let you decide for yourself.  What I wouldn’t have given to have been a fly on the wall in the coop tonight as they came in to roost…I REALLY need to get a webcam in there, don’t I?

Lemon basil & lavender shortbread cookies

IMG_6055No video for this recipe, sorry!  I don’t actually have any lemon basil growing in my garden right now–my pesky chickens ate all of my baby basil plants earlier this spring.   So, I can’t make any of these delicious cookies until I can get my hands on some lemon basil.  And I don’t know of a source of lemon basil, so it might be a while before I can make these cookies again.  Which, if I think about it, is probably a good thing because when I first experimented with this recipe I ate the entire batch that afternoon (nearly 2 dozen cookies).  I’m not kidding.  Also I’m not particularly proud to admit that (or am I?).  I’m not into hot dogs, but if there were a shortbread-eating contest, though, I’d definitely be in the running to win.

I made a big batch of these cookies for my friend’s wedding earlier this summer (see my previous post) and somehow I managed not to eat a single cookie before I got to the actual wedding.  How on earth did I manage that?!  I suspect it had something to do with the gobs of cupcakes and icing I had consumed the day I was making literally hundreds of cupcakes and cookies.  Nothing like a little sugar overload to stave of a good shortbread craving…

For this recipe I prefer to use fresh lemon basil.  I use a mortar and pestle to grind the basil into a paste, and use a little bit of sugar as a grinding agent to help break down the basil.  Using fresh basil turns the sugar paste a brilliant green!  Unfortunately, the green color doesn’t hold–it gets diluted as more ingredients are added to the dough.  For the wedding, I only had dried lemon basil.  Honestly, I couldn’t tell a difference in the flavor–so if you happen across lemon basil, buy as much of it as you can and dry it!!  You can then make these cookies all winter long (assuming you have dried lavender flowers).  If you don’t have either of these, then your next best option is lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies, which may just be my second favorite flavor of shortbread.  You can substitute rosemary for the lavender and lemon zest for the lemon basil, but add about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in addition to the vanilla extract.

Let’s just say that you need to find a way to make these cookies.  Buy yourself a pack of lemon basil seeds and set a pot in your windowsill.  Grow some lemon basil and while you’re at it, get yourself a lavender plant, too.  Besides being beautiful, you can harvest some of the flowers (before they open) to use in cookies, breads, teas, whatever.  And then leave most of the flowers to open because the bees LOVE THEM.  They go completely nuts!  And we all know the bees can use all the help they can get.  So help feed the bees while beautifying your garden!  Win win!

Go make these cookies!  Find the recipe here.

How green my garden grows

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I can water my garden from the water hose all summer long, but my garden never looks so green and happy than after a nice rain.  Rain droplets must pick up micronutrients from the atmosphere as they plummet to the earth–I can think of no other reason why a good soaking rain makes my garden so much happier than a good soak from the hose.

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Miss Rhodie–she’s at least 7 years old but she still lays eggs!

The chickens are also loving the yard and the garden.  Surprisingly, they have left most of my veggies alone and so I have not bothered to cover most of my boxes with bird netting.  The other day I harvested some spinach and all of a sudden it was like they discovered the spinach for the first time.  One by one, chickens hopped up into the boxes and began nibbling on spinach leaves.  I didn’t mind–I have so much spinach in the garden I’m willing to share some with the girls if it makes them happy.

I’ve got a terrific idea for using up gobs of rhubarb (and old bread)–I’ve made 2 batches of rhubarb bread pudding this week and it is soooooo good!  I should post a video this weekend.  The only problem is I don’t actually have a recipe with exact amounts and such.  I just throw things in a bowl and it turns out delicious.  I know, that’s not fair if you want to try to make it for yourself.  So I’ll try to come up with some guidance before I make a video.

Summer field work has begun so things will be fairly quiet around this blog for a while.  I’ll post when I can but it will be sporadic at best.  I’m doing lots of stuff, I just don’t have time to write it down!  Be patient with me.  Maybe photos will have to do the bulk of the talking this summer.  So, maybe I’ll do just that to show you what I’ve been up to lately and why I haven’t been posting more videos and recipes!  The reason is both for work and play but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.  That’s when I know I’m doing something right.  Right?!  Click on a photo and the caption will pop up.  ‘Til next time…

 

Egg Salad!

The chickens haven’t slowed down the egg production, but I have managed to get rid of some eggs this week, opening up a shelf I haven’t seen in quite some time.

And then there were those Easter Eggs waiting to be re-purposed.  Nearly 2 dozen of them.  So of course I had to make egg salad this week.  I switch up the ingredients depending on what’s available in my fridge, my garden, or my CSA share.  There’s no real recipe that I follow, just whatever seems like a good idea at the time.  You can catch the experiment in action below:

An argument for keeping your own flock of backyard chickens

There is an abundance of information on the Interwebs on why raising your own chickens is such a wonderful adventure (and raising chickens really is an adventure).  For me, I chose to start raising chickens because I loved the idea of having my own fresh supply of eggs from the girls.  I didn’t realize the other benefits I would reap from my flock.

For example:

I love interacting with my chickens.  I talk to them, coo at them, cluck to them, and encourage them along, especially in the dark days of winter when they are complaining about the cold and snow.  “Soon, girls.  Soon it will be spring and the green grass will appear again an you can roam around the newly fenced yard!”

I laugh at my chickens.  I had no idea how funny chickens were until I had my own flock.  They are wonderfully social, and if allowed to range free, they will come check out every little thing you are doing, to the point of aggravation.  While living in the South, I grew peanuts.  While harvesting the peanuts, I pulled the plants from the ground and set them aside, with the peanuts still attached to the mother plant.  The chickens decided to ‘help’ me harvest the peanuts, so they began plucking the peanuts from the plants to eat (or partially eat, as was the case) and then they got right under me to dig in the freshly disturbed soil to look for bugs.  Have you ever tried to tell a chicken to ‘move it’ because she’s in your way?  The plea falls on deaf ears, I tell you.

I have fewer bugs in my yard because of my chickens.  When living in the South, we had all sorts of bugs–ticks, fleas (and subsequently, tapeworms that showed up in MaeBelle’s system every couple of months), grasshoppers, and the like.  Once we brought home chickens and let them have free range of our 5 acres, I no longer got ticks while walking around the yard and MaeBelle stopped getting tapeworms.  The chickens were eating tons of bugs!  I was flabbergasted at the impact 7 chickens had on the bug population of such a large area.

Currently I live on a quarter acre city lot.  With the footprint of the house, driveway, sidewalks, shed, and sidewalks, our free range space for chickens is much, MUCH less than what we had at our previous place.  But we still have 7 chickens and they have plenty of space to roam free and peck for their food.  Soon they will have even more space as we have fenced our front yard with all the garden boxes, and they will have the run of this space come Spring.  We don’t really need 7 chickens, we could get by with 3 chickens.  But with 7, we get around 3 1/2 dozen eggs per week, so I can sell some at the CSA, give some away, or make tons of ice cream and angel food cake in the summer.  Like I mentioned earlier, the main reason I wanted a flock of chickens is for the delicious, and nutritious, eggs.  There are studies that show the nutritional differences between commercially raised chicken eggs and those that come from free ranging backyard chickens.  One study showed that free range backyard chicken eggs had more vitamin A, more beta carotene, more vitamin E, more omega-3 fatty acids, less cholesterol, and less saturated fat.  I can tell visually that my girls lay more nutritious eggs, especially in the beta carotene department.  Just look at this photo below:IMG_3691

The egg in the front is a store bought egg.  During the last half of December, the girls stopped laying and we finally broke down and bought eggs from the grocery (thankfully we only had to buy 2 dozen before the girls began laying again).  These store bought eggs were the “free range, vegetarian fed” kind.  First of all, “free range” in a commercial egg producing setting does not mean the same thing as free range in my back yard.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up.  There are plenty of sources out there explaining what “free range” means and what commercial producers can get away with and still call the eggs “free range.”  Second, CHICKENS ARE NOT VEGETARIANS!  They are omnivores and believe me, they WILL eat just about anything.  I once witnessed 3 of my girls ripping a snake into 3 pieces and chowing it down (after fighting over it, of course) before I could stop them.  “Vegetarian fed” is simply another way of saying the chickens are being fed corn, soy, or some other cheap, nutrient deficient food source.  The result?  Pale yellow, nutrient poor eggs.

One of my girls laid the egg at the back of the skillet.  See how golden orange that egg is compared to the store bought egg?  There’s nutrients in that baby!  And this is the middle of winter, so my girls are not getting the green grass and bug-filled diet that they get during the growing season.  They do get kitchen scraps in the winter, courtesy of us AND some friends and neighbors who don’t have compost piles and hate to see their vegetable scraps end up in the landfill.  And I have bags of leaves, also courtesy of my kind neighbors, that I can dump in their run and let them scratch around in on those nice days when they actually want to come outside.  This gives them some exercise and they find little tidbits of bugs, grass, seeds, and other goodies that keep them busy and happy until the snow flies again and they coop themselves up, complaining loudly about how long winter is in Montana.

Also, check out this photo:IMG_3692

See how perky the golden yolk is at the back and how flat and limp the yolk in the front is by comparison?  The longer an egg sits, the more flaccid the yolk becomes.  The eggs sitting on the shelves at the grocery were laid weeks (and WEEKS!) before you bought them.  Sometimes I collect a (still warm!) egg and crack it into a hot skillet before it has a chance to go in the refrigerator!  It’s the best.

So what if you want to raise your own flock of chickens?  How many chickens should you have?  Where do you buy chickens?  Where should they live?  How much space do they need?  What if you have a dog?  What breed of chicken is best?

There are all great questions and there are many answers, and many variations and opinions on the answers to these questions out there.  For starters, I recommend talking to someone who raises chickens in a setting similar to where you live.  Live out of town on a large farm?  Talk to someone who lives out of town on some acreage who has chickens.  Sure, you can talk to someone who lives on a small city lot, but the issues and concerns you have will be different depending on where you live.  Fox predation is not an issue in town, but noisy squawking potentially bothering the neighbors is.  Then do some more research, either online or by checking out a book from the library on housing and space requirements.  Look at coop designs.  Read about the different breeds.  Do you want meat birds as well?  Do you want to raise your own chicks?  Can you have a rooster?  Do you WANT a rooster?IMG_6784

I’ll provide some information on the breeds I have in a future post and give some pros and cons of each breed.  In my experience I’ve found that chickens are pretty easy to raise as long as you provide them the basics:  food, a clean water source, protection from predators, space to roam, a place to lay eggs, and a place to roost.  IMG_7111

If you can’t raise your own chickens, or you don’t want to, then think about finding a source of locally raised eggs from a neighbor or farmer in your area.  Not only will you be supporting a local food producer and reducing food miles, you’ll be adding more nutritious eggs to your diet.  That’s a win-win for everyone.

My amazing little artichoke is flowering

Upon re-reading my title, I realized it might actually sound a little bit naughty…if you are the type that keeps your head in the gutter, that is (and apparently I am one of those people if I thought this in the first place.  Hmmm.).  Upon even further reflection though, I think the thought came to mind because years ago, when I was teaching biology, I was doing an internet search for an image of an artichoke to use in a lecture.  One would think that searching for “artichoke” is innocent enough, but I guess I was naive because I stumbled across an image of a very well-endowed woman wearing, well, not much of anything.  How exactly was that related to artichokes?  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  If you happen to know the answer, please let me know.

Anyhoo…moving on.

My artichoke–the plant…in my garden–the one that survived the -22 degrees F winter last year.  Oh, right…that one!  Yes, well, I let a few of the flowers bloom in the hopes that I can save the seed and propagate some Montana hardy globe artichokes.  Because starting the seed in January is sort of a pain and I would rather not dig up my plants every year to overwinter in the basement, only to have the aphids hatch out of the soil and suck them dry a few weeks before they were to be replanted (Harumph!).  You see, I would absolutely love to offer artichokes to our CSA members!  And I will make it happen.  Maybe next year, maybe not next year, but it will happen.

Have you ever seen an artichoke in flower?  They are BEAUTIFUL!

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And they are humongous.  And the bees love ’em.  This one actually has a bee on it (on the right side you can just barely see some its black & yellow fuzzy body tucked down in the purple petals).  Here’s a few more pictures:

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And these were the small heads I let bloom!  I harvested the big ones!

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We have at least a month, and possibly a lot longer, before the first freeze is expected, so these babies should have plenty of time left to set seed.  When the time comes to clean the seed from the flower head, I’ll post some photos and/or video because it is quite a process to clean them!  The first time I cleaned the seed, I was surprised at how involved it was.  Teaser: needle nose pliers were involved.  That’s all I’m gonna say.

This weekend Hubby is continuing work on the fence.  It’s been on the wish list for a few years now, and I’m so happy it’s finally coming to fruition.  The deer will have to find other peppers, cucumbers, beans, strawberries, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, rhubarb, sunflowers, kale (the list is pretty much endless) to eat because this buffet is closing its doors.  The chickens will have a much larger space to roam, so that will make them very happy.  It will make me very happy, too, because it means the Girls won’t have access to the backyard and the deck anymore–which means: I won’t be stepping in chicken poop anymore when I go out on my deck!

Ah, it is the simple things in life that bring me the greatest pleasure.

Weekend fun in the kitchen: mini blackberry lime cheesecakes

Wow, the weekend came and went so quickly!  I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this weekend cooking since it’s usually the only time during the busy week I can afford to devote a lot of time to cooking.  I made those blackberry lime cheesecakes again!  Y’know, the ones I made last weekend, on Earth Day with my solar oven.  I used my solar oven again, but the clouds had different plans for me this time.  Time also got away from me and it was just too late in the day to finish baking them so I had to finish baking them in the oven for 10 minutes.  Oh well, can’t win ’em all…

I made another video for this recipe (be sure to watch the bloopers at the end):

And if you want to print a copy of the recipe you can find it here: uf-blackberry lime cheesecakes.  Enjoy!

Earth Day Fun Day

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Happy Earth Day, everyone!  I hope you all did something fun on this Saturday, and something that was mindful of treading lightly on this beautiful blue globe on which we all live.  We had a most excellent day today and now I am tired, but in the best way.

It was a beautiful day in Helena today!  This morning the Hubs and I took our dog, MaeBelle, over to the Scratchgravel Hills, just northwest of town, for a little bike ride.  What better way to celebrate Earth Day that with a mountain bike ride?  I’m a beginning mountain biker, and this trail system is perfect for me: it has mostly old 2-track roads that aren’t too rocky and some single track to give me little challenges to practice my technique.  Right off the bat we take a little single track side trail that has a pretty steep component to it.  A couple of weeks ago I cleaned the section, even though I hadn’t been riding my bike much.  This week I’ve been riding my bike a lot to the gym and to work and to run errands–my legs felt strong and I felt good.  My fitness level is at a good place.  I was confident….but.  That’s right, that dreaded word: but.  Near the middle of the section I somehow lost my balance and slipped off my bike.  I think I hit a rock funny or something, I’m not exactly sure.  What I do know for sure is that I have yet to master is hopping back on my bike while on a steep uphill climb.  I tried, and tried, and tried some more but eventually I had to push my bike all the way to the top.  I took so long that Hubs and MaeBelle came back to look for me.  At one point my chain fell of the chain wheel so I had to fix that, too.  I was pissed at myself for not cleaning that section.  Dang it, I just did it a couple of weeks ago!!  I always get upset with myself if I don’t perform well, and today was no exception.  Hubs got on me for being so hard on myself (the irony) but he gets it–he’s just as hard on himself when something trips him up, too.

Despite my rocky start, we had a lovely ride, complete with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and early spring wildflowers in abundance.  The ground was splattered with hues of white and lavender (Phlox hoodii), and fuchsia (Douglasia montana).

At the end of our ride I told Hubs I was going to ride the first section again–and clean it this time.  My legs were a little tired, but I was determined to get up that hill!  And true to my word, I made it to the top in a clean ride.  MaeBelle was at first a little confused.  I could just see the wheels turning in her little head, “Wait. What are we doing? Why aren’t we going to the truck?”  But she was a trooper and followed me dutifully up the trail.  Hubs couldn’t let me ride it again by myself–he’s not competitive or anything… but he rides a single-speed bicycle, and therefore does not have any gears to shift while riding.  Riding those steeper sections are a lot harder for him than they are for me–but he cleaned his the second time as well.  He’s a monster on a mountain bike: strong legs and a stubborn determination.  Plus he’s been riding for almost 3 decades.

MaeBelle was happy to hop in the truck and drink a lot of water.  She’s going to be 12 years old in a few weeks, but she’s still going strong!  What a happy gal she was at the end of our ride:

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By the we got home it was lunch time.  I made egg salad sandwiches (including from the garden: green onions & chives & spinach!) and they tasted SO. GOOD.  Then I was craving something a little sweet.  For a few days I’ve had this idea rolling around in the back of my head–a way to use up some frozen blackberries and one of the limes that I grew over the winter (That’s right, I grow citrus.  In Montana.).  And so mini lime-blackberry cheesecakes were born.  Since today is Earth Day, and the sun was shining brightly, I decided to use my solar oven to bake my little cheesecakes. I love my solar oven and use it every chance I get.  During the week I will throw together a rice pilaf or something, put it in the solar oven, then go to work.  When I get home the dish is cooked to perfection.  Gotta love that!  All part of my sustainable, low impact living initiative, not to mention a way to be an absent cook and not burn down the house.

Oh, and those cheesecakes?  They are SO. GOOD.  Hubs and I had to pry ourselves away from them tonight.  It was hard not to eat them all.  I will have to post a recipe and a video showing how to make them, but not tonight.

While the cheesecakes baked, I worked in the garden.  MaeBelle loves it when I work outside.  She lazes around in the yard eating compost (and I yell at her to get out of the compost) and chewing on sticks or just watching people walk by.  I weeded and got rid of a bunch of last year’s dead flower stalks in my boulevard jungle of yarrow, blue flax, sunflowers, sagebrush, and rabbit brush.  A woman jogged by and said, “You have a beautiful garden!”  Ah, it nearly made me blush even though I hear that a lot from passersby.  It makes me happy that they take joy in my front yard garden.

Later this afternoon I noticed a woman dumping some food scraps over our fence into the orchard where the chickens were.  She had a toddler with her and they sat on the grass and watched the chickens for a few minutes.  She lives on the next block and though she’d asked Hubs last year if they could feed the chickens some of their kitchen scraps and watch the chickens, I’d never met her or talked to her.  I packaged a dozen eggs of varying colors: green, white, and several shades of brown, and walked outside to offer her some eggs in exchange for feeding our chickens some goodies.  She and her daughter were delighted to receive the eggs.  I was delighted to see this little girl take such pleasure in watching my Girls gobble up the strawberry hulls and apple peels, clucking and squeaking with happiness.  It gives me hope that maybe someday, when she grows up and has a house of her own, this little girl will want her own small flock of backyard chickens.

For dinner, I made a quasi quiche–meaning it was sort of like a quiche souffle or… something totally made up.  I tossed in bunch of veggies like mushrooms, onions, more green onions & spinach from the garden, along with some smoked cheese.  I separated some of the eggs and beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.  There were way more veggies than eggs, so there was spinach poking up out of the eggs.  I used some leftover rice pilaf as crust to hold the egg mixture and it turned out really tasty!  Hubs and I both had seconds.  It was a good food sort of day!  I haven’t cooked like that in a looooong time, and it felt good to be back in the kitchen.  Unfortunately, by dinner time the sun was too low in the sky and clouds were beginning to gather, so I had to use my indoor oven to bake the quiche-thing.  Oh well.  There will be more sunny days and plenty of recipes to try in the Solavore oven this spring and summer.

Have a happy, healthy week!

 

Mission Accomplished…though really it’s just the beginning

Now that my Urban Farmgal business is finally registered with the state of Montana (Yay! Small victories!)  it’s time to apply for a TIN from the IRS, open a bank account, and get my business plan finalized.

I’ve been working on my business plan all week and it’s taken several attempts and re-writes, but I think I’ve finally nailed down my mission statement:

To inspire a happy, healthy, & sustainable farmgal lifestyle in today’s busy world.

What do you think?  I have yet to actually run this by anyone outside of my own head, so this is as fresh as it gets.  I know it says ‘farmGAL’ which makes it sound like my target audience is women (and perhaps 90% of my audience WILL be women) but that’s not to say you couldn’t substitute ‘farmDUDE’ or ‘farmBOY’ and still make it work if you happen to be one of those guys running around with a Y chromosome.

Right?  Okay, I’ll sleep on it.

At some point I probably will run my business plan by someone who is smarter about business than me, but for now this is my working mission–to inspire those who visit my website to seek a little slower pace of life, one where you stop to enjoy the small pleasures in life that don’t involve an electronic device (which, ironically, you will get by reading my blogs posts on an electronic device).  BUT!  Read it then go away!  Go read a cookbook and try a new recipe for dinner.  Go outside and go for a sunset hike with your dog or a loved one.  Go take a picture of a beautiful thing, place, or event that brings you joy.  Go pick up those knitting needles that have been sitting in a basket in the corner for years and teach yourself a new stitch.  Go talk to your plants in the garden and then go talk to your chickens.  Don’t worry about what the neighbors think.

And it’s not just about slowing down the pace of life.  It’s about being conscious about your impact on the planet as well.  Think sustainably, then ACT sustainably.  Grow your own food.  Join the CSA.  Don’t go out and buy the newest-latest-greatest-most popular thing that’s in the Sunday  newspaper ads just because.  We humans have placed a pretty heavy hand on Mother Nature, and all those shiny, pretty, new things you see in the Sunday ads require tons and tons of resources to manufacture.  It’s mind-boggling if you think about how many pairs of shoes ONE store carries.  One store!  How many pairs of shoes have you seen in your local Wal-Mart?  There’s probably hundreds of pairs of shoes.  And there are thousands of Wal-Marts and other stores that sell shoes.  Do we need all of those shoes?

That’s the sort of thinking I do these days.   I think about all the shoes.  The purses.  The sofas.  The computers and cell phones.  Think about how much stuff there is to buy.  And not to be extremist about it, but how sustainable is it to keep buying all this stuff?  Do we really need it in our lives?  Does it make you happy?  What if you didn’t have it?  Would you miss it?  And what would happen if it all went away?  Think of it this way:  if tomorrow rolls around and there are no more Wal-Marts or Whole Foods grocery stores, how well off would you be?  How well off COULD you be?  Could you survive another day?  Probably.  What about another week?  A month?

Maybe my little blog can be an inspiration to someone thinking these same thoughts.  Someone who wants to simplify their life and moderate their footprint on the planet.  Someone who just wants to raise chickens in town.  Or someone who would love to grow basil on the balcony of their apartment building just because they love pesto.  All of these things fit into the urban farmgal lifestyle.  I hope to be a source of useful, inspirational information for you to do just that.

So I leave you with these thoughts to ponder as you focus on your farmgal zen while knitting a chicken sweater for your city chickens!

Caring for Urban Chickens in the Winter

It’s been really cold in Helena lately.  This week we had our second arctic blast of the season–this morning when I checked the thermometer on the back deck, it read -14.9 degrees F.  Brrrr!  When it hits 0 degrees F, we turn on a heat lamp for them.  Most domesticated chicken breeds are pretty cold hardy, and providing too much heat in the winter can supposedly induce molting.  But when it gets below 0 degrees we like to provide a little additional heat to prevent things like frostbite on the comb.  Our Rhode Island Red (Miss Rhodie) is our old gal–she must be 5 or 6 years old now and she no longer lays eggs–and she has lost a few claws from each foot over the years.  During the winters?  I’m not sure.  But it’s plausible.

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When I walk home from work, I can see the red glow of the lamp in the coop.  You can see the silhouettes of a couple of The Girls settling in on the perch for the evening.

I always feel a little bad for The Girls in the winter.  They don’t like the snow (I don’t know that any chickens do) and their run doesn’t get much sunlight in the depths of winter because it is located on the north side of the house.  They spend most of their time in the coop.  Although they don’t like it, they do come out to eat and drink.  We use a large  heated dog bowl in the winter so we don’t have to break ice off their water.  With the recent cold snap we’ve had, even the heated bowl has frost around the rim, but it doesn’t freeze so The Girls have access to water all the time.  Their food and water are located underneath the coop where they can stay out of the snow, but they have to jump from their ramp onto the snow in order to get under the coop.  It’s funny to watch them crouch, hover, and make that leap of faith trying to get under the coop without touching the snow.  Sometimes they jump on top of one another in their comical attempt to avoid the snow.  A couple of The Girls don’t mind the snow too bad, and they will come out to eat scratch and other goodies I bring out for them.  This morning, for example, I gave them some cooked lasagna noodles for a treat.  They love pasta of every kind.  They are spoiled, but they are worth it.

They are especially worth it this winter because they continued to lay eggs all through the month of December…at least some of them.  We got some new breeds this past spring, and they must be more day-neutral (to compare them to onions) than the other breeds we’ve had in the past because we’ve never had chickens lay continuously through the winter–a couple of The Girls took about 3 weeks off during the shortest, darkest days last year.  But this year?  We are swimming in eggs!  It’s been great!  This morning I collected 3 eggs before heading off to work.  When I got home from work there were 2 more eggs in the nest box, but it was so cold that they both froze and split open.  Bummer…

I’m not sure exactly which gals are the laying troopers, but I’m pretty sure the Buff Orpington, the Brahma, and the Silver-laced Wyandotte were involved.  My Ancona and Araucana began laying last week, which is earlier than normal for them.  We specifically don’t put a light in the coop in the winter to promote egg laying–I like to give them a bit of a break if they want to take it.  But some breeds lay year-round, and so I like to reward them with special treats like lasagna noodles.  Why not?

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The Girls have pretty cozy digs to get them through even the coldest Montana winters.