Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pullet Eggs and the Rooster

We have eleven chickens.  Within that mix are three hens, seven pullets, and one rooster named Al Capone.  For those unfamiliar with chicken terminology, the word pullet is generally used to indicate a female chicken less than a year old.  Most chickens, depending on the breed, begin laying eggs somewhere between sixteen and twenty-four weeks of age.  

Some of our pullets looking very curious for the camera

Pullet eggs usually start out small and gradually gain in size during the following weeks.  I love collecting pullet eggs.  While I'm used to the size, shape, and color of the eggs laid by my hens, the pullet eggs often offer up surprises.  As the pullet continues to lay, the eggs may change shape or even alter the shade of their color.  These eggs will eventually reach normal size and even out in their appearance as the chicken grows larger and its reproductive cycle becomes more consistent.  In the meantime, I think it's fun to see what's out there each day.  We are still waiting on four of our pullets to begin laying, and I can't wait to see what the eggs look like when they do.  One note on baking with pullet eggs...I generally use two pullet eggs for every large egg called for in a recipe.  

 (Above) Smaller pullet egg on left, egg from older hen on right 


(Above) Pullet egg on right, normal sized egg on left
Our hens and pullets all lay brown eggs, but they are in varying shades of brown.  It's interesting to note that we can often tell whose egg we are eating by its shape and color before it's cracked open.  One of our hens lays eggs that are long and pointy like a torpedo while another lays small round eggs.  

A mixture of eggs in various sizes
Since we're on the subject of chickens, our rooster is coming into his own.  He is getting more confident in his mating abilities and enjoys exercising those abilities primarily in the morning and evening.  I am keeping a close eye on him and his behaviors with the girls as I want to make sure he is not hurting them.  As of right now, he is being a gentleman.  He alerts when there is danger or perceived danger (like the lawn mower), he makes sure the girls get their share of the food, and he generally keeps order in the flock. While our chickens have always gotten along well without a rooster, I have noticed that there is less pecking and puffing of the feathers with this latest batch.  They get along and don't try to assert their dominance over one another since he is there and in charge.  If we begin seeing any signs of abuse, we will of course remove him from the flock and allow him to forage out on his own, but since we have so many predators around here (I saw a coyote in the backyard under the grape arbor just the other day), we'll allow him to remain in his current position as king of the flock until then.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Week in Review

The summer is drawing to a close for me.  In just four short days I will return to work, and the chores around here will have to be taken care of at night and on weekends.  In the meantime, I'm trying to accomplish as much as possible.  While I haven't canned as much as I usually do due to the craziness of moving, there are still things that we aren't willing to go without all year.  Those are the projects I've focused on over the past few weeks. 

We have put up a variety of canned goods.  Some of them can be seen in the photo below.  I'm still trying to find a good place for my canned goods until we can do some renovating, and I hesitate to even share this photo with you now.  They are being stored on some old shelves in the laundry room (a curtain hides them) as well as in a cabinet in the kitchen until we have a better solution. Included in the picture are jars of (top row from left to right) pressure canned green beans, grape jam, peach jam, and the best canned tomato salsa ever (from Simply Recipes).  The bottom row (from left to right) includes garlic and herb pasta sauce, chile garlic dill pickles, pickled corn/poblano/pinto salsa (from Better Homes and Gardens- I'll post about it once we open it and try it out), crushed tomatoes, and apple wine jelly made using the recipe for muscadine wine jelly but (obviously) using homemade apple wine instead.     

We recently realized that one of the grape vines that the previous owner had intended on cutting down has come back out and is loaded with Concord grapes.  We had to dodge privet bushes and the like to get to them, but we did it and ended up with about ten pounds of ripe grapes.  There are still more on the vine, and we will harvest them when they ripen.  They are absolutely delicious, sweet, a little tart and super juicy.  I used four pounds to make this Concord grape jam which is so much easier (and I think better) than jelly, and my in-laws took home two gallon size bags.   We ended up with eight half-pints of jam which will last us until next fall.  The chickens loved the leftover grape skins.  It's so satisfying making jam with your own fruit.  I usually have to buy grapes from an orchard we visit in the mountains, but not anymore.  

Our project for the weekend is to pick ripe grapes from the muscadine and scuppernong vines.  Those vines are growing together on the same arbor, and unfortunately into a nearby tree (a pruning project for later in the year).  We will pick the ripe ones and figure out what to do with them and leave the rest to ripen over the next few weeks.  I was thinking of making grape pie filling although I'm still not settled on it.  If anyone has any ideas for what to do with them, I'm all ears.  

Over the weekend we will also pick some of the pears off the tree by the chicken coop.  The chickens have been enjoying the ones that fall (which we break open for them).  Not all are ripe, but there are some that are ready, and the squirrels around here don't mind getting to them before us if we dilly dally.  I was walking around the orchard the other day and a freshly half-eaten pear almost hit me on the head when it was dropped from the tree by a squirrel.  They are cute, but they are pesky.  They also break open the walnuts and pecans.  We really hope they save some for us!  I'll be doing some kind of canning project with the pears once we pick them.  I'm considering either pear sauce or canned pear quarters in red hot syrup.  I'll keep you posted on what I decide.  For now, we're enjoying just eating them out of hand.  They are crisp and juicy.  All of the fruit trees and vines on our property have been neglected for years, but now that we own them, we hope to remedy that.  With a good pruning later in the year, we hope all of our trees and vines will be better producers (and be healthier) going into next year.  

I cleaned out the deep freezer and organized it.  It is so frustrating when you don't know how much of something you have and have to dig around to find it.  If I ever buy another freezer, I will go with an upright one rather than a chest freezer to make finding things easier.  In the meantime, I used this handy printable I found online to take inventory of the contents of the deep freezer.  It will allow me to easily cross things out when I use them so I can keep track of what we have.  

So, that's what's been happening around here.  My plan for today (since it's not raining) is to mow and check in on the bees.  There's always something to do around here, and I'm loving it!