Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Taco Party

Is it a taco box or.....

or an upcycled nest box?

Do not disturb for the next 21 days!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Standing in Stink Stew Part 2

As it turns out the theory that the dirty coop litter would slow down storm water was actually pretty accurate. The problem was that the "Berm of Brilliance" was more like a 10' x 20' sponge right over the walkway. Storm water runoff was still a problem but a much slower problem - instead of fast water cutting channels through the barnyard and carrying silt out into the driveway, I had a thick toxic batter that just kept getting deeper every time it rained.

Just getting from one coop to the next was a major nightmare. Scraps of lumber became stepping stones until I was able to lay out sheets of cardboard.  That lasted all of maybe two days.  The cardboard sank.  The scraps of lumber sank. If I stepped off whatever slippery, precarious perch I was able to find, I up to my knees.  It was bad and only getting worse because it just kept raining.

Eventually I was able to get close enough to the "Berm of Brilliance" to place to throw down some straw and grass seed and to cover it up with pallets.  To keep things interesting Mother Nature threw some more rain and snow and even nights below freezing well into May. Instead of coop cleaning, I had to focus on just creating a way to *get* to the coops.

(I had a pile of shipping crate dregs with really long, menacing nails sticking out one side. I pounded them into the ground as stepping stones.  All things considered, they look pretty good!)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chicken Soup Magic

An ad I wrote last spring for our processed chicken..... at the time we were getting $6/lb on the regular birds and $9/lb on the dark birds.  -AR

Free-range heritage breed and dark flesh chickens locally grown and processed for your culinary creations. This will not be a typical grocery store eating experience! 

These are extra roosters from hatches last fall. We've been tinkering around with ways to increase carnosine (ie chicken soup magic) in meat birds. There's a relationship between darkness of flesh (melanin levels) and carnosine levels but the challenge is the birds with the highest (by far!) carnosine levels also happen to be in silkies. While we're waiting for the research to tease apart all the different aspects to fibromelanism, we're exercising a bit of homegrown selective breeding - on behalf of chicken soup lovers wherever they may be 

Dark flesh chickens have a slightly different flavor and have high levels of taurine and carnosine - ie "chicken soup magic".  Information about cooking heritage meat is below.

We hatched these birds and then fed and watered them daily for the last 5 months - trudging through wind and sleet snow, pouring rain and deep mud. They've slowly grown eating a diet of hand blended whole grains through the winter and wandering about eating tender grass and dandelion greens (and the occasional tasty worm) this spring. When the time was right the birds were taken to a small USDA inspected, family operated processing facility in Garnett, Kansas

I typically squeeze 3 meals of of each bird - baked chicken for meal 1, pulled chicken for casseroles for meal 2, and a rich soup made from thick chicken jelly for meal 3, plus several quarts of high quality broth for comfort food.  

Cooking traditionally raised chickens is different from cooking with industrially raised hybrid broilers. Recommendations from Heritage Chef Steve Pope

The US Ark of Taste is a catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. By promoting and eating Ark products we help ensure they remain in production and on our plates.

Slow Food KC


Friday, May 10, 2013

A Berm of Brilliance

Things were going beautifully one day in March when I decided it was the perfect day to clean out my biggest enclosure. To sufficiently accomplish this task, I had to remove a wall and the roof. (a humorous topic for another day) It took surprisingly little time to completely deconstruct the coop and scatter all its parts and pieces in the yard surrounding the foot deep layer cake of rich, juicy, fermenting compost. I brought out my favorite implement, the pitch fork, and began filling the wheelbarrow in earnest.

The wheelbarrow had about 200 lbs of wet soppy manure in it by the time I decided to call it full. It was then that I realized that between me and the compost pile was an assortment of now super mud encrusted lumber and boards haphazardly laid out like pick up sticks.   This was not good.

I told myself the official compost "structure" was really just a place to hold the fermenting goop so the dogs wouldn't rolling in it. It wasn't like I was actively turning it or trying to speed the decomposition process. Then it occurred to me that all sopping wet layers of straw, leaves, shredded paper, feed dregs, and "barn dirt" would compost just as well in a long berm as it would in the declared compost pile. Plus, the berm would slow down storm water run off and maybe catch some of the confetti and sludge before it hit the driveway.

As I pitchforked it out of the wheel barrow I flipped each piece so the hard crusted side was down and the  stinky juicy side was up.  It seemed like a good way to get the fumes to disperse. The problem was that to build up the berm I would have to stack the pieces. The ammonia would stay trapped between the layers and burn anything I tried to plant.

The Berm of Brilliance would have to wait.  I spread out the pieces intending to come back after the bedding was drier and more manageable.  And then, it began to rain....and it didn't stop for a week.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Standing in Stink Stew

Everything was already muddy from snow melt and when I added shredded paper, it would just dissolve like cotton candy. I used entire bags of paper until it didn't dissolve anymore. The coops began to fill inch by inch with pulpy mash. Eventually we started getting warm winds that started to dry things up. A hard crust of dried barn mud paper mash formed over the top of the now swollen and oozy layers of stinky muck.

The ducks seemed to think it was pretty terrific because they would dig their bills into it and jab up and down until they scored a tasty treat.  The other birds were light weight enough they didn't sink.  It was actually rather springy and sometimes I could even hear a slosh when I stepped.   It wasn't a horrific problem unless I stepped in an especially wet area hidden beneath the paper mache mud. Then, it was like walking along in crunchy snow and suddenly losing a leg down into a snow drift.

Except it wasn't snow and I had holes in my rubber boots.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Seriously Shredded Part 2

Out for a quick stroll
after being cooped up
during the blizzard

Last winter we had lots of snow followed by lots of rain. Some of the  breeding coops would turn into swamps. I would throw alternating  layers of straw and leaves on top of the mud so it wasn't miserable. I  got a few coops cleaned out mid-season but then in February we got  like 14 inches of snow in like 2 days. Over the course of the next  week, inside each open air coop, the snow slowly melted until finally the birds were walking around wet with nasty mud half-way up their legs.

My supply of leaves was paltry - given the exceptional drought, leaves  turned to dust instead of getting raked and bagged. Straw was not  sufficient alone and the coops were simply too big for wood chips be  particularly useful.

I was at wits end when I stumbled upon a large  and steady supply of shredded office paper. The birds could at least  come out of the houses and kick about the paper. The first layer of  paper worked like a charm and seemed to sort of meld together with the  barn dirt forming a nice paper mash not unlike homemade paper. I was  pleased and I continued to add layers alternating straw and shredded  paper.

I'd been using shredded paper for about two months when I realized I was no longer being as careful as I had been.  Little pieces would get stuck on my feet when I walked into the coops and I would track them all over the yard.  The chickens would scratch about and paper would end up in the yard.  Open a door on a windy day and paper would blow out into the yard. It was getting out of hand.

And then it began to rain.....