Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Evolution of Chicken Ownership

Really, I don't quite know how this all started but somehow, some way, some one suggested to us that it would be neat to own chickens. This was about two years ago, at the beginning of our new-found and clear dedication to living more sustainably, so we jumped in with both feet. We found four Leghorns on Craigslist, a breed known for their superior laying but also their ornery behavior, and Garrett went to town building a coop for our new additions. I'll be perfectly honest here: we never named the chickens because we always had it in the back of our minds that if they didn't lay eggs for some reason then they might wind up as dinner themselves. That may sound cruel, but honestly we were trying to adopt a true farm mentality and have viewed our chickens as livestock, not pets, from the start. It took a couple months because they really are a picky and sensitive breed, but eventually we got eggs from our hens and were overjoyed to collect our 3 or 4 eggs per day.

Soon, however, we wanted more. There is something about this level of self-reliance which is terribly addictive to us, and we were excited to add to the flock. So the following spring we added 6 more chicks, bought "straight run," (in other words we don't know if they are hens or roosters yet) and raised them. It went well and we bought another set, as day-olds. We were also able to successfully raise this batch, although I will admit that I was very happy so see them head out to the coop to begin fending for themselves because in the very early days the chicks spent their lives in a Tupperware bin in my living room, which, toward the end of their infancy, didn't make my house smell very nice. In the interim we had a couple eaten by a fox, and wound up giving our Leghorns to a neighbor because they just couldn't seem to mingle with the new hens (and would bully them). We also discovered that one chick from the newest batch was a rooster, so Garrett bought an egg incubator and when the rooster comes of age we'll try our luck at egg incubation.

I love having chickens for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is watching my children interact with, and learn from, them. When one chicken died recently our next chicken dinner was somewhat suspicious to our son, who was absolutely sure that we were eating the deceased Americana. (We weren't, but only because neither my husband nor I have yet worked up the courage to pluck and skin a chicken personally.) It's fascinating in a natural and real way to consider the balance of their diet, the amount of time they can run around our yard versus being cooped up because we still live in a neighborhood, and their emotional well-being. (Oh yes- unhappy chickens don't lay eggs well!)

For the time being, we have 12 happy chickens and get enough eggs each week to give some away to the neighbors who put up with our rooster crowing in the early morning hours. Our son is charged with collecting the eggs from the nesting boxes, and our oldest daughter likes to sort them according to color. We eat them as a family and say our thanks for such an amazing opportunity.

My Growing Interest in Canning

I made applesauce this year from the freshly picked apples that we gathered over the weekend from a local orchard. This is something that I do every year, and isn't terribly remarkable in, and of, itself. I don't have a recipe for applesauce which I follow, but rather each year just make what moves me and add the ingredients that seem right at the time. Until this year, I've never had a complaint. Then again, this year's complaint came from a two-year-old who complains about everything, so I'm not taking it to heart. :)

The difference was that this year, rather than eating nothing but apples for two weeks straight as we usually do (think applesauce, apple pie, apple crumble, pork chops with baked apples, etc.), I decided to can the sauce so that we could enjoy it all year. I have recently become very interested- and very devoted to- the idea of canning, so I already knew how to do it and just had to find the time.

I fully admit that it's the "finding the time" part which is the most challenging. I always seem to have more "will" than "way," but I enlisted the help of the kids for a while last week and together, with one adding the sugar and another adding the cinnamon and nutmeg, we made a pretty good product. Because canning involves so much boiling water and hot glass I don't let the kids help me with that part, but they actually enjoyed themselves tremendously watching as I boiled jars and lids, set them out, added the sauce and the placed the jars into the large canning rack in the canner. They were so interested, in fact, that I began to have ideas about future homeschool lessons involving food preservation!

We have been eating our applesauce quickly, so I'm sure that it won't last all winter, but my hope is that sometime this winter, when the memories of fresh produce from the farm or orchard feel despairingly distant, we'll be able to open a can of our applesauce and enjoy not only the product, but also remember the time we spent together making it.

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