Almost Thanksgiving

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The weather has turned suddenly cold and the blustery winds are blowing the remaining leaves off the trees here on Cedar Street. Even though we knew it was coming, it somehow seems a little early to be staring at the inevitable winter! Last night, we made our first hot buttered rum and toasted the coming holiday week; as far as we are concerned, the holiday season is upon us!

Up until a few days ago, we were still getting ripe tomatoes off a few of our heirloom tomato plants. Our recent bout of frosts, however, have caused the plants to fade for good. The chickens don’t mind as they are happy to eat the leaves, green tomatoes, and whatever they can rummage off the dying plants. Speaking of chickens, our girls are on the upside of molting, but with the days being so short, we are getting approximately 1-2 eggs a day only. They spend their days foraging around the garden, dust bathing in dry areas and soaking up what limited sun they can find.

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Buffy, our New Hampshire Red, was one of the first to molt in early fall. She is almost back to full fluff, but is still on egg-laying hiatus for the season.

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The most talkative of our current flock, Jo Jo, a Rhode Island Red had a very light molt and is looking as fine as ever.

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Laverne is one of our youngest gals. She was one of the two hens we kept from the 8 chicks we hatched in the incubator last spring. She is an Ameraucana who lays light blue eggs.

As we prepare to host Thanksgiving here at our house this week, we are thrilled that a few of the offerings will come from right here at Raggedy Hen–we have a nice crop of Brussels sprouts still in the garden and we’ll be roasting a bunch for the big dinner. We also have still plenty of greens to make a nice fresh salad! Additionally, squash, potatoes, onions, and garlic are all waiting in the garage larder to be worked into the hearty traditional menu.

However you commemorate the end of the harvest and the coming of the winter, we wish you all the best from all us raggedy hens!

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Autumn Again

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Fig preserves, freshly canned, and cooling on the counter.

Growing our own food keeps us well-tuned to the seasons. This past summer has been a bit of a blur as painful realities of life demanded our full attention. The garden got a little raggedy, Hilda managed to hatch three chicks without much attention or fanfare from us, and before we knew it, it was time to plant the the fall and winter veggies!

We currently get 4-7 eggs a day from 10 laying hens, but it seems the eggs are starting to taper as the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures cool. We are expecting some serious molting to start any day. We have started to evaluate our little flock and think about any changes we might want to make as we head into the Fall. We’ve learned that keeping the flock healthy and thriving sometimes means making tough decisions about who stays and who does not.

We like to use the fall to make repairs, changes, and additions to our garden beds and this year we’ve been replacing some of the wood edging frames around the beds and tidying up the layout. Now that most of the summer garden has been harvested and we’ve planted the winter veggies in one big bed that is fenced off from intruders, the chickens are allowed to free range again. They are great helpers in tilling up the beds, weeding away any weeds, and fertilizing the beds for next year. So, as the leaves start to fall, we rake them into the beds and let the chickens break them up and work them into the dirt. It’s a great system!

Some of our last harvesting tasks involve the fruit trees. There are still apples on the apple trees, and we are just starting to harvest the ripe figs to make the delicious fig preserves we use as a marinade for pork and hams throughout the year. The persimmons are just starting to turn a pale orange, and while the leaves are starting to fall from the persimmon tree, the fruits won’t be ready until the weather gets a bit colder. Meanwhile, everything else has been harvested, canned, dried, or frozen!

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Hilda hatched 3 chicks in late August (she was setting on 4 fertile eggs) and proved to be a fantastic mama hen!

Heat Wave!

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We make sure there is plenty of water for all the critters as the temperatures soar–including the honeybees!

 

It is unmistakably summer and the toast temperatures are a bit more than we’re used to this time of year.  We normally get a brief hot stretch in August, but we are into the third week with temperatures in the eighties and nineties with the promise of possibly hitting 100 later this week. That’s a lot of sunshine for us Pacific Northwesterners!

For us, it means extra attention to the critters and the garden. While there are those plants (like tomatoes, squash and beans) that love the hot stretches of heat, there are others (like lettuces, broccoli and chard) that don’t take too keenly to the hot, hot days. We pay especially close attention to the chickens, and take some precautions and steps to make sure they stay as comfortable as possible and survive those 85+ days!

Chickens adjust easier to the frosty colds of winters than they do to very warm weather. With all those feathers, there are some breeds (the wirier, Mediterranean ones) that manage warmer weather better than others (the big, fluffy, heritage English and American ones.) Chickens with larger combs and wattles are better able to cool themselves down because that is the purpose of the comb, to circulate cooled blood away from and back into the body.

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Dust bathing in the cool ground is another hot-weather coping skill.

 

Here’s some other ways we keep the chickens as cool as possible:

  • Lots of fresh water: we have 3 big water founts for 9 chickens in the run (the two nuggets have their own) and on hot days, we’ll empty and refill these with cold water a couple times a day.
  • Spraying the henhouses and coop: When the temps are in the high 80’s and 90’s, we spray the roofs and sides of the henhouses with cold water during the hottest part of the day and give the coop ground a light spritzing. Even though the run is shaded by fruit trees, this helps to bring the ambient temperature in the run down.
  • Plenty of shade: Our coop/run is located in a shady corner of the yard–there is lots of shade and protection from the afternoon sun.
  • Cool treats: Instead of giving the chickens scratch grains this time of year as a treat, they only get a little of this in the morning. The rest of the day, we give them plenty of greens, melon rinds, frozen berries, and other cooling treats.
  • We also arrange the water and feed stations to the chickens don’t have to travel far to get what they need. When the temperatures are very warm, chickens move as little as possible and we try to arrange their space to accommodate this.
  • Straw mulch=cool ground: We keep fresh straw mulch over the run as this helps to keep the ground underneath cool. When the chickens dig their little holes for dustbathing, they actually get to roll around in cooler dirt.

Of course, we still keep a close eye on the birds to make sure they are not overheating and, alas, laying does tend to go down when the temperatures get really warm and stay warm. Many of the heritage breeds don’t lay quite as well when the temperatures get up over 85 or so and we just have to adjust. As long as the hens stay healthy, active, and happy, we figure we can tolerate a little dip in egg laying!

Pumpkin Raisin Spice Cookies

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Necessity really is the Mother of Invention. Faced with a goodly amount of recently cooked and mashed fresh pumpkin, and craving something warm and sweet, we created this perfect November cookie recipe. These cookies are moist with a nice amount of spice and the addition of sweet raisins and organic whole oats  They would be amazing with dried cranberries or with a handful of chopped nuts.  This is one of those easily-customize-able recipes of which we are so fond!

Pumpkin Raisin Spice Cookies

1 stick softened butter

1 cup brown sugar (could be 1/2 cup brown and 1/2 cup white, if you’d like)

1 egg

1 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin

2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons Raggedy Hen Farm Baking Spice Blend (or 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ginger)

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease cookie/baking sheet. Cream the butter and add the sugar.  Beat until light and well incorporated.  Stir in the egg and the pumpkin.  Mix together the flour, oats, baking soda, salt and spices and add this to the pumpkin mixture.  Beat well and then stir in raisins and nuts.  Drop by spoonfuls onto baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned.  Remove and cool on racks.

This makes about 3 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Pre-Season Purge…on the Homefront

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Everything possible has been frozen, canned, dried, and preserved from the garden.  We’ve added compost to all the beds and, as the leaves fall, we are raking them up and adding them to either the garden beds, the chicken run or the compost piles.  The time has come to turn our attentions to the INSIDE as the house has been a bit neglected during the “growing” months!

We have already rearranged the furniture into our cozy wintry configurations, but it is time to give the kitchen a good going-over.  The canning equipment and food dehydrator can be stored in the garage.  We might actually be able to sit and eat at our dining table once again after we clean off the soap molds and colanders. As most of you know, our house is not very big and we try to take advantage of every bit of space to make it as comfortable and useful as possible.  In other words, our counters, shelves and tables are not just for looks!

From now until Christmas, we will be baking, cooking and entertaining so our kitchen has to go from preserving mode to holiday mode and THAT is going to take a good day’s worth of purging and cleaning!