Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We've Moved!

We've decided to move our blog to the server space where our website is located. I have honestly enjoyed using Blogger as my blogging tool, but there are a few advantages to moving the Back to Basic Living Blog up to our server.

Although the look of the new blog is different, the content remains the same and I'll continue to post to it regularly. In fact, all the posts on this blog have been migrated over to our new blog. And you are no longer required to login to post a comment! Much more convenient.

You can still sign up to receive new blog posts automatically to your email on the new blog. In fact, if you are currently signed up subscribed to receive emails when I post, I've taken the liberty of adding you to the new blog email subscription service. You'll need to respond to the email you receive to confirm. (Be sure to check your Spam folder if you don't see the email in your inbox). If you do not confirm, you will not receive automatic emails from my blog. Look for an email from "confirmations@emailenfuego.net" with the subject line "Activate your Email Subscription to: Back to Basic Living", open it, and then click the link provided to activate your service. That's all there is to it!

If you have not signed up for automatic emails when the blog is updated, you can do that right now by clicking here and then entering your email address in the subscription box on the right hand side of the screen.

Please update your bookmarks and stop by. I think you'll like what you see!

Bee Free,

Monday, September 15, 2008

Egg On My Face

I've always heard that placing a golf ball, or some type of fake egg, in a nest box will encourage chickens to lay their eggs in the nest boxes, rather than on the floor or other places. I was reminded of that this weekend when I read a post on a chicken forum from someone who was having trouble getting her chickens to lay eggs in their nest boxes. I remembered that I had some fake plastic eggs that came with an egg basket I inherited from someone a little while ago. I got to thinking that my hens are just about at the laying age, so I grabbed the plastic eggs and set one in each nest box last night. And then I completely forgot all about them.

This morning I opened the chicken door to let the chickens out and, as I do each morning, I opened the "human" door to walk inside the coop and make sure there was plenty of food and water. I looked over at the hen boxes and almost screamed for joy. Eggs! Perfectly beautiful eggs! My heart was beating uncontrollably. I thought I would cry. I kept thinking "They are so white, so perfectly formed, so clean, so large, and there is one in each box! One in each box? Wait a minute.... those..... are...... plastic." I was looking at the plastic eggs I had placed in those boxes just the night before.

I'm sure I turned every shade of red. But it does give me hope. If my chickens are half as stupid as I am, they may just really believe those are real eggs in those nest boxes and lay theirs right beside them.

Lordy, I sure hope they fall for it. If they don't, you'll never know. I promise.

Bee Free,

Monday, September 08, 2008

Chicken Hawk - What the........

Well, wouldn't you know, the very day I posted bragging about how well it's been going as our chickens free range, we had an experience that made my hiney tingle.

As I mentioned yesterday, for the past week we've been allowing the chickens outside of their chicken run each evening for an hour or two before bedtime so that they could free range a little. As the week went on, I began to feel very comfortable with the whole situation and had begun to let them free range pretty much unsupervised. By "unsupervised", I mean that we did not pull up lawn chairs and sit with them while they were outside. Instead, I watched them from the window of the house.

Yesterday evening was particularly lovely, with cool temperatures and relatively no humidity. When I let the chickens out, we decided to pull up some lawn chairs and sit with them to enjoy the nice weather. The chickens had been outside for about two hours and I was just beginning to think it was about time for them to start heading into the coop when suddenly they began squawking and screaming and running about. I will mention that they did this once before earlier in the week when they spotted a deer peering at them at the fence. So initially, I thought they had once again seen a deer and I glanced over at the fence line. At the same time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a chicken hawk swooping down towards a couple of chickens that were pinned against the outside of the fence in their panic. These chickens, and the chicken hawk, were within 10 feet of us. I immediately jumped up and ran full speed toward the chicken hawk, clapping my hands and screaming like a wild woman. I apparently startled the hawk so bad it changed course at the last second before reaching the chickens and flew rapidly in the opposite direction toward the wood line. Bernie did have a pistol with him, but he could not risk shooting while the hawk was so close to the chickens. But as the hawk retreated, Bernie fired a few shots into the ground near the woods to make sure he scared it off for good - at least for the evening. He did not fire at the hawk because he was not sure what else would be in the path past the hawk and it would have been difficult to insure a direct hit using a pistol on a hawk flying erratically, especially given the conditions. His goal was to make enough noise to scare off the chicken hawk and discourage him from perching in a nearby tree to re-access his tactics. Bernie was successful as that hawk flew straight up and over the trees and the last we saw him, he was flapping his wings wildly in an attempt to get the heck out of there.

Needless to say, we were all quite shaken by the event. A few of the chickens had made it back inside the chicken run, but most were scattered throughout the woods. Duke was every kind of upset and he was clucking loudly and fiercely. I finally calmed him down and got him to come out of the woods and into the chicken run. It took quite a bit of coaxing, but Bernie and I finally managed to get everyone safely into the chicken run. The chickens seemed to recover quickly, but I can not say the same for myself.

I am simply amazed that the chicken hawk attempted to get one of our chickens while we were sitting right there and within a few feet of his intended prey. I was so upset that I loudly declared the chickens would never be allowed out of the chicken run again. But even as I said it, I knew it wasn't very fair to remove all freedom from my chickens based solely on my fears.

It's my understanding that as the chickens get bigger and the roosters become mature enough to be more protective, the threat of chicken hawks is not as great. I'm going to discuss this with my cousin who has had chickens for many years and has a great deal of knowledge on the subject. But for those of you that have had chickens for a while, what has been your experience with chicken hawks? Are they less of a worry as the chickens get older?

Chicken hawks are awesome creatures, but I can't have them picking off my chickens. We haven't even gotten the first egg from them yet! Besides, I've grown a little found of those little buggers.

Bee Free,

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Chicken Mushrooms - Yum!

Since we've moved onto the homestead, Bernie and I have spent a little time roaming around in the woods looking for wild mushrooms. Specifically morels and chicken mushrooms. We didn't have much luck finding either - until yesterday. And we weren't even searching for them. I went out to the coop to let the chickens into the run and a bright orange blob from the trunk of a dead oak caught my eye. Chicken mushrooms! Take a look:


I took this close up so you could see them, but the truth is the chicken mushrooms are all over that dead tree. I bet I gathered about 10 pounds worth. Then I cleaned them up, cut off the tougher pieces, cooked up about a pound of them, and froze the rest. For those of you that are foragers, I'll include how I cooked the chicken mushrooms.

First I should note that I made this using what I had on hand and what we like. The mushrooms tend to take on the taste of whatever they are cooked in, so you can add or subtract to match your taste. I used herbs from my garden and am just guessing at the amount, but if you grow and use your own herbs, you'll know how much to use. The texture is similar to chicken:

1 pound chicken mushrooms - cleaned and cut into medallion size pieces
3 fresh tomatoes - diced
1 clove garlic - minced
1/2 medium onion - diced
6 - 8 fresh basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh marjoram
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese - added at the end

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil. Add remaining ingredients except cheese , stir well and bring to a boil. Cut down the heat and let it simmer on low heat for about 30 - 45 minutes, or until the liquid reaches a thick consistency. Put the whole thing in a baking dish and cover with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 10 minutes on 375 or until the cheese begins to bubble a little. Enjoy!

If you've never eaten chicken mushrooms and are interested in foraging for them, please be sure to do a little research on them. Although not many mushrooms resemble a chicken mushroom, it's always wise to be certain you know what you are looking for. If you have allergies to any type of mushrooms, you should definitely consider this before eating chicken mushrooms. It may be wise to try a very small amount the first time you eat them, just to be sure.

My father gave us an old wood stove and Bernie and I spent this morning cleaning it up with the angle grinder with a wire brush on it. Then we painted it black with some stove paint. It looks almost new! Our furnace is electric and it costs us a mint to keep this house heated in the winter. We have a fire place we use faithfully in the evenings, but we won't leave it burning when we go to bed or are not around to tend it, so we let the furnace kick in. After last winter and all the ridiculously high electric bills we paid, we've decided to heat exclusively with wood. We should have the wood stove installed shortly. It's on the list - and being as it's already September, it's moved up on the list considerably.

Last week we let the chickens free range for a couple of hours before bedtime each evening when the chicken hawks are less likely to come around. Monday through Thursday we sat outside with them. The did a pretty good job of getting into the coop by themselves when it started getting dark, so Friday and Saturday evening I let them in the yard by themselves. I opened all the windows so we could hear them, but that was silly because I ended up spending almost the entire time standing at the window so I could watch them and make sure they were OK. With the exception of a Black Spanish that insists on getting in trees to roost, everyone did very well. And I can assure you the bug population in our yard has decreased already. The chickens just love flying, pecking, scratching, and playing without the confines of the chicken run. I really love watching them. I wish I could let them free range all day, but it really is too dangerous around here for that. We have every chicken-loving-predator on the planet around here. I worry enough just letting them out for two hours in the evening.

My meal worm population is booming - which is a good thing because those chickens can put a serious hurtin' on meal worms.

Things are going well on the homestead. Bernie is busy taking care of things around here. I'm busy making sure Bernie knows what to take care of around here. The cats are busy watching the chickens out the window and sleeping in any chair I plan to sit in. And the chickens are busy not laying eggs and eating us out of house and home. Whew. Makes me tired just writing that.

Bee Free,

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bobby Lee's Debut

After following Bobby Lee around the chicken yard with a video recorder for the past several days, I've finally decided he's not going to cooperate and crow for the camera. So this morning, when I went to open the coop, I took the recorder with me and I managed to catch the sound of Bobby Lee crowing. What you'll see is the coop and the run as I walk toward it, and what you'll hear is Duke crowing, followed by Bobby Lee crowing, ending with a duet:

How cute is that??? Waking up to those sounds each morning starts each day with a smile for us. It almost seems that Bobby Lee tries to emulate Duke's crow. I'm not so sure that's a good idea, but I am really proud of his efforts. Bobby Lee is a Phoenix, by the way.

You may be able to hear the roosters from the top of the ridge in the background. There are two that live up there and it seems that they call back and forth with Duke, especially in the mornings. I'm certain they spend a lot of time laughing at the noises coming from our homestead, but I hope they keep in mind that both Duke and Bobby Lee are not quite four months old yet. I am a little defensive about my boys.

Now that we've got both roosters crowing, I'm ready for the girls to kick it up a notch and start laying those eggs. They seem to have different thoughts on that subject though.

Bee Free,