Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chicken Coop: In Construction

The beginnings of a chicken coop gone crazy...

We initially were going to go "small & mobile", however the coop is getting to be quite the accessory here at our household. Cowboy is going to build the run separately and then bolt it to the coop so that take down is easier when it comes time to move. As the thing is getting framed, I'm a touch concerned at how many people this "chicken tractor" is going to take to move it around the yard for our chickens to free-range. Whenever I quietly mumble with concern "this is getting to be big isn't it?", Cowboy reminds me "You did come home with seven chickens babe. Seven....not three or four. Seven."

Right.... (insert teensy "oops!" here)

Well, I'm quite excited over the whole thing and can't wait to paint it regardless!

 Cowboy was laden with pride (he loves his truck) to be able to toss all our plywood and 2x4s into the bed and pop up the gate. Nothing hanging out! Sure beats lugging our utility trailer around for these kinds of purchases.

 Back wall where the nesting boxes will be located, hardware cloth will be on the bottom part for an under-coop mini run. 

 Cowboy hard at work. Hmmm I think we might need to invest in some saw horses.

We found this pretty window at Habitat for Humanity! This will go above the nesting boxes for some natural light and warmth in the winter. 

While Cowboy was cutting wood and nailing boards, I mowed the lawn which had gone through a serious growth spurt with all the rain recently dropped on us. After I cut most of the back, I brought the chickens out to play in their mobile run. They are getting used to the outdoors and instantly start pecking, hopping/flying around, and hanging out on their perch once inside the run. 

 Mildred (though both of us keep forgetting her name. We may need to rename her), Penny, Buffy, Martha, Agnes

 Martha, Buffy, Penny, and Lucy in the background

 I can't believe how big they are growing and how puffy they are getting with all their new adult feathers. They still have downy heads which creates the look of "bed-head" some days. I just want to spit on my fingers and slick down their fly-aways!

Last week I purchased a small little bag of chicken treats to which Cowboy wrinkled an eye at me over..."their not pets, they don't need treats like the dog". Uh huh, sure their not honey. I refrained from reminding him that he was the one who A) insisted on being able to name two of them, B) has a "chicken folder" on his laptop of continuously growing kick-ass ideas for chicken coops and C) comes home slightly giddy from work telling me about the people he's talked to about our chickens.

These bag of treats were dried meal worms and looked absolutely disgusting. Ick. The bag said in bold letters "A Feeding Frenzy!"

I took three deep I-can-do-this breaths, reached my hand in the bag, scooped out a small handful of those prickly worms, and sprinkled them over the tiled bathroom floor. The girls were lazily exploring around my legs, pecking at freckles they insisted needed to come off, and searching in the corners of the bathroom floor for delicious morsels (their indoor free-range time outside of the brooder box). They instantly came to attention, scurried left to right, and started pecking furiously! 

It was pure calamity. Mildred came hobbling over to me with a little blood droplet on one of her nails. Somebody had pecked at it and broke the tip of it off down to the quick. Poor girl! I held her with a tissue against her toenail to stop the bleeding. It wasn't bleeding too bad but I felt sorry for her. She wanted to get back in the fight for more worms. Next time, I figured we needed more space for these treats and probably sprinkled in grass to make the hunt a little more challenging and safe. It was hilarious to watch their instincts take over and to see what appeared to be them having a ton of fun over the whole thing. Meal worms...who knew?

Cowboy decided this meal worm fiasco was their training for being professional bug killers. We have a horrible time in the summer/fall with earwigs (don't even get me started with the "coffee-mug lid incident". I still cannot take a drink out of my mug without first checking to see if anything is curled up in the lid) and boxelder bugs. We're hoping we can move the run around the house during this time and the chickens can eat their hearts out!

At this point the sun was starting to fade, they were all lined up on the perch with their feathers puffed up. They looked like little old ladies with their heads tucked down in huge coats too big for their bodies. I figured it was just starting to cool down too much for them to be comfortable so back inside to their box and up to the cozy warmth of the bathroom tub they went. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mexican Stuffed Bell Peppers

I made stuffed peppers today (Mexican style). I love stuffed peppers and always forget how amazingly simple they are to make until after I've sat down to eat them. This is my throw-together recipe:

The Ant's Mexican Stuffed Peppers

1 lb ground turkey (I recently found Jennie-O's sells Taco Seasoned ground turkey and boy is it good!), browned
15 oz can of corn, drained
15 oz can of pintos, drained & rinsed (or any type of bean you wish)
brown rice, quinoa, or similar grains, cooked ***short-cut: I am in love with Seeds of Change Organic Quinoa & Whole Grain Brown Rice! It's in a small ready-to-cook bag that you tear open the top, nuke for 90 seconds, and presto delicious healthy grains. I use this in almost all my burritos/tacos/etc. Super tasty, nutritious, and it has garlic in it:) yum. For this recipe I use the entire bag, heated up.
8-ish bell peppers, you pick green, red, yellow, or mixed!
Shredded Mexican or JalapeƱo Pepper Jack Cheese

As the turkey is finishing browning, add in corn, beans, and rice. Mix well and season as needed with salt and pepper. Cut off the tops of the peppers and stuff mix inside. Place in a glass casserole dish or baking tray and let bake until stuffing is bubbly and outsides of peppers start to pucker and brown. Pull peppers out, turn on broiler, and sprinkle a generous amount of cheese on top of each pepper. Broil on high until cheese is bubbly. Serve alone or with salsa, cream cheese, or (my personal favorite) Sting 'N' Linger Chile Verde Salsa.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Meet the Girls

The girls are all named and getting so big so quick, well except the Silkies. They don't seem to have grown much at all! I love hearing them peep, chirp, and trill in the bathroom. You can really tell when they are content and when they are all wired up just by the different tones in chirps. The Silkies tend to give off a purr when they are happy, Martha (the Americauna) makes little cooing noises, and the others peep really soft.

 Tallula (back) and Lucy

Tallula (the Barred Plymouth Rock) is our adventure seeker and courageous one. She is always first to fly up and perch on the edge of the brooder bin as soon as I take the lid off. She is our "Professional Percher". She has the funniest looks, cocking her head back and forth. She is by far the most curious and calm of the bunch. She will sit on her haunches up on my shoulder and just look around, happy to be high in the air. She is extremely independent and sometimes I can almost imagine her rolling her eyes at the strutting and goings-on of Buffy and Mildred. I have to admit, Tallula is probably my favorite though they are all pretty darn cool. 

Lucy (Black Australorp) is our pro bug eater. If something moves, she is the first to sneak up and get it. I put a moth in the cage for them. She grabbed it and ran, dodging and weaving between the girls who were chasing after her to get the tasty morsel from her beak. She is also calm natured and quiet. Her personality is still emerging and for right now is pretty reserved. She isn't a big talker but just walks around taking it all in. 

Mildred, Buffy, Martha

Mildred (Light Brahma) and Buffy (Buff Orpington) are our two "head" females. They are the biggest girls of the bunch and seem to posture a lot at each other as if they are sizing each other up in competition to be the head honcho. Time will tell who will be the flock leader, but I have a feeling Buffy will win out.  I hoping she won't turn out a "he"...

Mildred is dominant but not too bossy. She is still trying to master flying and will occasionally step all over the other chickens or push them out of the way. Her personality is also still emerging. Mildred was the name of my Great Grandmother who was an extremely strong female. I thought the name pretty appropriate.

Buffy is borderline bossy. She doesn't mind me picking her up or petting her. Once she is in my hands she settles on her haunches and chills out, but when she is with the pack she attempts to display her dominance. She will launch herself at the other chickens (mostly Martha and Mildred) and do a chest-bump in the air with her wings flapping out. Sometimes even doing a little "chicken hop dance" in front of them. It is funny to watch. She has lost a lot of her downy fluff and is starting to look like an adult chicken with a lot of thick feathers. 

Martha (Americauna or Easter Egger) is mild mannered, most likely third in command, and very curious. While I am cleaning out their food or water dish she will sit back, cock her head, and just watch me intently. I think she is trying to size everything up. She's a little bit of a follower to Mildred and Buffy. She also likes to perch and is second to fly up out of the bin. Her green feet are neat to look at. I wanted to name her Hilda Mae but Cowboy wanted to name her Martha so I relented...

Yesterday, Cowboy built an outdoor run for them so they can be slowly introduced to the outside to peck and scratch in limited doses. They are still young and learning to adjust their body temperature to the outdoors. The Silkies still need about 80 degree temps since they are a week younger than the other girls, who can stand down to 75 degrees. It was about 80 degrees outside today, so we put the run in the sun, provided water and some shade, and introduced the girls to the outdoors for their first time! 

They didn't quite know what to do and, at first, flopped on their sides and almost appeared to play dead. It frightened me a little bit but if you poked at them they jumped up and started walking around. We watched them closely to make sure they adapted and weren't too chilled or shocked. I climbed into the cage with them and they flocked to me like I was the Mamma Hen. The Silkies panted a bunch until I showed them where the water was and put them in the shade for a rest. To get them going, Cowboy sprinkled some food crumbles in the grass and soon they all were pecking and scratching around the dirt, catching bugs, eating dandelions, and perching. It was awesome to watch!

Their frightened chitter chatter gradually turned into their soft peeping and cooing of contentment. 

 Cowboy did an awesome job on building the run. Since we won't put them in the run unless we are home, a screened bottom wasn't necessary. We have some serious predators here in Colorado, so the top needed to be screened for hawks and big birds. We might add another higher perch, a small piece of tarp for shade, and some wheels to one side since it's pretty heavy. He also put hooks on the top for the food and water containers for mobility. This way we can move them around the yard and allow them to free-range in safety.

 Mildred and Hilda Mae...I mean Martha 

 The girls Left to Right: Martha, Lucy, Penny (Partridge Silkie), Buffy, Mildred, Agnes, Tallula


Agnes is our Blue Silkie. She is bold and talkative. Both her and Penny chat in a soft trilling tone constantly, even when they sleep. It's a very pleasant and soothing sound. Penny is probably the lowest on the totem pole right now. She doesn't get pecked at, but she tends to always be a little underfoot. She isn't as bold as Agnes, who will push her way to food and water, as well as try to burrow herself under the other girls' breasts as they sleep. Agnes is small but mighty. 

 Tallula- the professional percher


 Penny almost disappears in the tall grass

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Welcome Home Girls, Welcome Home.

Warning: Incredibly Adorable Pictures Ahead (and quite a few of them)

Went down to the Urban Homesteader's Chicken Swap today in Denver and started to browse when OMG SILKIES!!!

I had searched high and low on every website for a Silkie and every place, and I mean every place, was sold out. I was bummed as I had seen a Silkie just a few months ago for the first time and deemed it HAD to be part of my flock. They are just too dang adorable and fluffy plus they are notoriously known for their calm demeanor and parenting skills! The lady selling them had no idea what sex they were so I was taking my luck with the potential of a rooster. She said if it was any consolation, their male Silky was a very timid crower. 

I went to throw down $2 for one and found myself slipping over four bucks to the lady, tucking 2 one-week old baby chicks in the bottom of my shirt, and skirting off to my car before anyone stopped me. 

They nuzzled into my belly and softly peep peeped all the way home. 

I crept into where Cowboy was laying sleeping, meaning to just kiss him and let him know I was home when all of a sudden a teeny solitary peep squeaked out of my shirt. 

"Did you just peep?" He asked me.
"Uh. Yeah." 
"Oh my...you got chicks didn't you?"
I couldn't stop beaming and giggling foolishly. I was so excited!

I put together my little brooder box and watched the two little girls (hopefully) explore their new abode. They scratched and peeped, drank a little water, and slept. They even found and snatched up a little bug in the box. The little Blue Silky I think has a case of narcolepsy. She kept just falling over in deep slumber while eating her chick starter crumbles. The Blue Partridge Silky would step all over her face and she didn't wake up. Then she would suddenly wake and start pecking at the food as if to say, "Oh yeah, I was just eating!" It was hilarious to watch. They would stretch out their legs and spread their baby angel wings then suddenly lose their balance and topple over. The Blue Partridge actually chased her tail until she caught it and fell over! 

Here's the babies:

Blue Silky

 I'm just going to take a little nap here in this guy's shirt

Blue Partridge Silky

After settling the Silkies in, I telephoned Wildfire Farms who had advertised 2 week old chicks for sale in all the right breeds that I had been looking for! I hopped in the car with a box lined with pine shavings in hopes of coming home with a few more girls to complete the family.

An hour later and lot of questions answered I had five girls heading home.

From top to bottom: 
Buff Orpington, Black Australorp, Light Brahma, Americauna (Easter Egger), and Barred Rock

The Light Brahma was the loudest of the bunch but they all settled down with the motion of the car and a little Norah Jones piping through the stereo. Soon enough they were all asleep.

All of these breeds are moderately good layers and considered a heavy breed (around 7.5lbs per bird). The Silkies are a bantam breed meaning small. Their eggs are much smaller than the other chickens but they make up for it in personality. 

I very slowly introduced the two sets of girls since there was a week age gap and that could mean a lot of nasty pecking and stepping on the little babies. Surprisingly they mingled extremely well (for now at least) and the Buff Orpington seemed to take them under her wing.

Buff Orpington

Barred Rock

Light Brahma

Black Australorp

Americauna (Easter Egger)
 When I get grown I'm going to lay green, pink, and blue eggs!

 I can't seem to leave the bathroom where I have put their brooder box for the next several weeks until they get big enough to be outside. They are way too entertaining and cute.

Now to name them!! Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Turkey Sausage Ragu with Penne

Wow, this recipe was super yummy, very easy to put together, and healthy to boot! Derived from Clean Eating Magazine with just a few changes.

Turkey Sausage Ragu

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
20 oz ground Italian Turkey Sausage (I love Jennie-O brand)
1/4-1/2 tsp chile flakes
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4-1 Cup red wine (rock bottom cheap and delicious, I used Lambrusco's red wine)
28 oz canned tomatoes in juice (any variety, but I used Cento or Bella Terra's tomato strips in sauce)
1 Tbs. fresh oregano leaves
6 oz baby spinach (recipe calls for Kale but I like spinach. So there.)
1 Tbs. Balsamic vinegar
Barilla Multi-Grain penne (or any other pasta) cooked al-dente
Parmesan Reggiano, grated

Instructions: Add olive oil to pot, toss with onion and thyme. Cover and cook over medium heat until softened and beginning to color, stirring often to prevent scorching. Uncover, add turkey and chile flakes. Cook until done, adding garlic towards the end. Deglaze with wine (and drink a glass for yourself as I did), add tomatoes and oregano leaves. Simmer uncovered until thickened (30min-2hrs until desired consistency) season to taste. Stir in spinach, increase heat slightly and cook until wilted.

Add balsamic vinegar then toss with pasta. Serve sprinkled with cheese.

**Note: I was really hesitant to add the Balsamic vinegar at the end. The sauce was perfectly delicious as is and I was wrinkling my nose at the vinegar. ADD IT! It is amazing and adds a perfect finish to the sauce. Doesn't make it tangy or vinegar-y at all, just make sure it's quality vinegar.

Cowboy mmm'd all the way through dinner. Wish I had served it with some toasted garlic bread but I was trying to keep it healthy.