On the Best Chicken Stories from 2016

It seems 2016 was a big year for chickens. From chicken shaming to chicken sweaters, chickens have been in our hearts and on our minds in 2016. People all over the country are getting chickens for their farms, their backyards, and their homes. Chickens are the pets that poop breakfast, and we love them.

cute-chickens

We learned a lot of important chicken lessons in 2016. We learned from the CDC that we are not supposed to kiss our chickens. We learned about adorable chicken sweaters and then learned they weren’t a good idea. We learned a little bit more about just how intelligent these amazing little creatures are and that eggs are actually quite good for you.

As 2016 comes to an end, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the sweetest and most important chicken stories of the year.

1. We love our chickens a little too much and need to quit kissing them.

Because homestead, backyard, and even house chickens have become so popular, we learned this year from the CDC that salmonella cases are on the rise. This story from NPR summarizes the findings and tells us that we do need to stop kissing our chickens.

When I first read about the CDC report, I thought “I love my chickens, but I’ve never kissed them.” But, after thinking on it a bit, I remembered kissing a baby chick or two. I felt compelled to write a response in “On Kissing Chickens” and have given up my baby-chicken-kissing ways.

2. Chickens like to travel, too.

Without a doubt, the sweetest chicken story to come out of 2016 is the one about Monique, the seafaring chicken, who has travelled the world. In this story from the BBC, we learned about Monique and her travels with her owner, Guirec, from France. Monique provides breakfast and friendship, and in return, she gets to see the world. The video that accompanies this story is just the best, so if you haven’t seen it, check it out. Monique’s story has to be the feel-good chicken story of the year!

3. Chicken sweaters are adorable—but not such a great idea.

I don’t know how many times I was tagged in a Facebook post with pictures of chicken sweaters, and I have to admit that I wished I knew how to knit some little sweaters for my chicky girls. But it turns out that chicken sweaters are not so good for the chickens. Chickens don’t need sweaters. They do have feathers. And, apparently, putting your chickens in sweaters can do more harm than good.

So, even though those chickens in sweaters are cute beyond all reason, it’s best to resist. Chickens need to be able to preen themselves, and here’s a great post from Housewife Plus explaining both the trend and the reasons to resist.

As is often the case, Nature knows best.

4. Chicken shaming is a thing.

As chickens become more a part of our lives, we are learning just how much fun they are, and not to be outdone by dog and cat shaming, chicken shaming became a thing in 2016 as well. If you’re a chicken lover, chances are you’ve seen the chicken-shaming posts. There’s even an entire Facebook group devoted to chicken shaming. But it’s not so easy to get your chickens to pose for a shaming photo shoot, and I learned that the hard way in my own post on chicken shaming.

5. Chickens are wicked smart and full of personality.

Anyone who has kept chickens has known this one for a long time, but chicken intelligence got some great press this year. New research keeps adding to what we know about just how smart these chickens are. This piece from Modern Farmer, “The Inner Lives of Chickens” is a perfect example. It’s good for the world to know just how intelligent and interesting these birds are.

6. Eggs are really good for you.

And, while we really don’t need more reasons to keep chickens, new research was published this year emphasizing that eggs really are good for us. It used to be that we thought eggs were bad for us because of the cholesterol, but it turns out that eggs weren’t so bad after all. In fact, there’s a lot of nutrition packed into an egg. This piece from Time sheds some light on the egg debate. Fresh Eggs Daily also provides an excellent overview of the egg in this post.

One important thing to remember is that free range chicken eggs are much more nutritious than eggs from chickens in cages or even cage-free chickens. Chickens need space and to live like normal chickens for their eggs to be healthy, and I hope we continue to learn more about this in 2017.

If you’re a chicken lover like me, I’m sure you enjoyed all the press our little chicken friends have received this year, and we’ve certainly learned some valuable lessons. No kissing. No sweaters. And, if you plan to travel the world on a boat, a chicken can be a great shipmate.

Happy New Year, chicken friends!

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On New Year Superstitions and Black Eyed Peas

I think many can agree that 2016 was a doozy. It was a tough one for our family in many ways, and we are not the only ones. I’ve even seen songs written about how crappy 2016 was. But we made it and are looking forward to a happy and healthy 2017!

I’m not one for superstitions, well, sometimes I am. I do like cultural traditions, and I knock on wood a lot. So I’m sharing a little bit of my superstitious southern background in this week’s blog post. If you want to have good luck in 2017, you just need to eat your black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

I’ve been eating black eyed peas on New Year’s most years since I was a little girl. When I was 16, we didn’t have black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, and later that year, in August, I overslept on the first day of school. Coincidence? I think not.

I knew it must have been because I missed my peas, and when you’re 16, waking up late on the first day of school is completely traumatic.

My husband is from Montana and had never heard of this lucky tradition, so when I first explained it to him, I’m pretty sure he thought I was crazy. And, I’m sure, if you’re reading this and are not from the south, you might think I’m crazy as well, but hear me out.

In addition to making your New Year’s resolutions, why not add a little of this lucky and highly nutritious bean to your menu? It’s worth a shot, right?

I did a little research, and it turns out that the black-eyed pea tradition goes back even further than I thought. Apparently, there is some disagreement about how this tradition began in the south. Some say the tradition started after the Civil War when there was nothing left to eat anyway. Black eyed peas were considered more for animals, and when times were tough, well, black eyed peas really were lucky.

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In the south, we eat our black eyed peas with ham and cornbread on the side. It’s both humble and lovely. Photo credit: Jeffrey W., Wikimedia Commons.

But it turns out myths and traditions related to black eyed peas go back much further. The Egyptians considered the black eyed pea to be a humble food, and it was important to eat the peas in order to show humility before the gods. Apparently, the peas were also connected to fertility and good luck, and some Jewish communities picked up the tradition and still eat black eyed peas for good fortune.

So it’s not just a southern thing, and it turns out that black eyed peas are way less humble than people originally thought. They are amazingly good for you.

This humble little pea is rich in vitamin A, which is good for your eyes and skin; it is high in fiber and aids in digestion; and it can, apparently, help lower blood pressure. That’s pretty good for a pea that people thought was unfit for human consumption.

Now, here in Maine, black eyed peas are not so easy to grow—at least my husband and I found this. I love black eyed peas. I think they might be my favorite bean, so I wanted to grow some in our garden. We tried, and we got some delicious peas, just not too many. They really do need hotter weather to grow, but I intend to try a few again and would love to hear from anyone out there who has been able to grow these peas in a colder climate. I want to know your secrets!

In the meantime, I’ve purchased my black eyed peas from the grocery store and am ready for some good luck in 2017. After all, it doesn’t hurt to try, and after 2016, I’m willing to try anything. I’m just about ready to eat a whole pot of black eyed peas to make 2017 better!

Maybe, if we all gave it shot, it would work.

Of course, as someone who has lived in several distinct parts of the country with some distinct cultural traditions, I’m always a fan of blending cultural traditions. What are some New Year’s traditions from your part of the world you can share with this southern girl? If it will bring me some luck, I’m willing to give it a try. Let’s all try every lucky tradition we can think of.

Happy New Year!

On Christmas Traditions and Cinnamon Rolls

While I really do try to eat healthy most of the time, I’m one of those people willing to just dig into the comfort food during the holidays.  Throughout centuries and cultures, we use food to bind us together, to feel connected, and to show people we love them. I feel that food traditions during the holidays are among the most important, and I’m willing to go for an extra walk in order to eat a few extra calories. roll-and-candles

With this in mind, I was after the perfect cinnamon roll recipe for years. My husband has these wonderful memories of his mom’s cooking when he was growing up. Specifically, he remembers how lovely and warm and wonderful it was when his mom made homemade cinnamon rolls for him and his siblings on Christmas mornings.

Since I love food, especially comfort food, I was determined to make cinnamon rolls for my husband and sons on Christmas morning. This was my plan. I wanted to carry on the tradition. Every year I tried. And every year I failed.

My husband’s mom was a great cook and was even a cook at the local school where my husband grew up in Montana, but, unfortunately, she passed away long before I even met my husband. This means no recipes for me, and while that may seem like a petty thing, “no recipes,” I’m a firm believer in food connections to memories and family, so even though the greatest tragedy is that my husband lost his mother, it’s no small tragedy that our family has none of her recipes to carry on with her traditions.

After first hearing the story about my husband’s warm memory of Christmas morning and cinnamon rolls, I set out to find a recipe and create a similar holiday memory for our family.

I started with a recipe that took like all day on Christmas Eve. It looked great, but, when you work with yeast, you usually are going to be working with it all day. But, oh my goodness, it was pretty awful. It was Christmas morning “this is pretty good because it has sugar on it” good but that’s about it.

Fail.

I tried again the next year, and I found a cinnamon roll recipe that looked good but didn’t take all day. Those were some hard cinnamon rolls and not comforting at all.

Fail.

But, last year, my husband found a quick dough recipe for dinner rolls, and I loved it. It allowed me to make yeast rolls in about 30 minutes. A miracle, right? And, then, one day we had the thought that maybe that dough could work with cinnamon rolls.

So I just invented a filling and icing plan and gave it a go. The results were quite comforting–and delicious.

This cinnamon roll recipe is now a part of our Christmas morning tradition, and I hope you enjoy them. You can make them in just a little over 30 minutes and maybe add a sweet breakfast treat to your holiday tradition.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Dough Recipe (adapted from Kitchenmeetsgirl.com)

Ingredients

1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon very, very warm water

2 Tablespoons active dry yeast

1/4 cup local honey

1/3 cup melted butter or olive oil (I used olive oil but use extra virgin olive oil)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

3 1/2 cups of white, unbleached flour

Filling

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

(mix together and add after dough is rolled out)

Icing

1 and 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 Tablespoons milk

(mix together; icing should be thick)

Directions

In a bowl, mix the warm water, yeast, honey, and butter or oil. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Make sure the water is very warm!

After 15 minutes, the mixture should be fluffy and bubbly. Add your egg, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix. Then, 1/2 cup at a time, add the rest of the flour. Roll it into a ball and let it rest for 10 minutes.

dough-ball

When the dough is ready, roll it out into a large rectangle. It should be thin for rolls and soft. Spread the filling evenly across the rectangle.

Carefully roll the dough from the long side of the rectangle. Go slowly and try to keep it even. When you have the dough into a giant roll, cut it into pieces about 1 inch to 1 and 1/4 inch wide. I usually have to leave off the ends and end up with 12 to 14 rolls.

cinnamon-roll-process

Bake the rolls in a glass baking dish, 9 X 13, at 385 for 10 minutes. Rotate and bake for 3 to 5 more minutes depending upon your own. The rolls will be golden brown in the top when ready.

Let the rolls cool slightly before adding the icing. In addition to being yummy, these rolls are pretty as well, and I struggle with pretty, so that’s saying something.

I serve the sweet rolls with our farm fresh scrambled eggs and some fruit on the side.

cinnamon-roll

I hope you enjoy these, and I hope our Christmas family tradition can warm your heart and tummy as well.

What are some of your holiday food traditions?

On Preparing Your Backyard Chickens for the Winter

It’s that time of year. The snow finally arrived here in Maine, and our chicky girls are laying fewer eggs. There’s still some molting going on, and the days are getting shorter and shorter. I saw a post on a chicken Facebook site (yes, we have those) that read “Let the freeloading begin.”

I had to giggle. Thinking about our girls as little freeloaders. I mean, they are certainly spoiled and very demanding. I can’t even walk out the front door without them running up and whining for a treat. But they do give us a delicious breakfast every morning, and with all the research about how beneficial eggs are to our diets, I think it’s okay if we have to support our girls a little as they molt and adjust to light changes. They can be little freeloaders if they need to be.

But shorter days and fewer eggs is a good reminder that we have to get our flock ready for the cooler weather, and after making it through our first fall and winter with our girls last year, I think I have some helpful tips from the lessons we learned based on both experience and lots of research online and in books.

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It took a little time, but our little Rhode Island Reds finally got brave enough to visit the snow!

1. Handling molting

If your girls are molting, they will lay fewer eggs, so try not to panic if you see egg production drop down suddenly right now. While they molt, it’s a good idea to give them some extra treats for their health. Sunflower seeds are a nice treat and can help their little bodies as they go through the molt. Of course, if yours are like mine and still molting a little even though the snow has arrived, make sure your girls have a warm place to go. I noticed our little girl who molted really hard hangs out in nest box quite a bit. Thankfully, the feathers are finally coming!

2. Thinking about light

You can supplement with light as the days get very short. This will keep your egg production from completely plummeting because chickens do need light to produce eggs. However, I read that you have to be careful with light supplements with young birds. It can lead to laying problems, apparently, if you supplement light when they are too young.

Most of our girls are in their second year now, so my husband just started supplementing with a light that is on a timer in the coop. He has it set to give the girls an extra hour and a half of light each day. The egg production right now is still not nearly what it was this summer with those long, lovely days, but we at least have enough for breakfast every day and a little sharing.

3. Keeping clean, fresh water

When it starts to get really cold, water will freeze, so you really, really have to stay on top of the water thing. Some people get heaters for the water. That is a great idea. We have an insulated coop, plus the girls put out a lot of heat, so we haven’t had to use a water heater. However, a water heater would work best if you don’t have enough warmth in your coop. And you have to make sure the water is fresh and clean every single day. Even during the winter, clean water really is the most important ingredient to chicken health.

4. Preventing chicken boredom

Be aware of chicken boredom in the winter months because it’s a real thing and will cause your girls to be mean to each other. Your chickens could get hurt. Our girls go from free ranging everywhere to only having their coop, a run, and some paths my husband shovels. We also have a few girls who do not want to go out when it’s snowy at all. So we have to find ways to get them some space and some things to do.

One thing you can do is just make sure they get as much space as possible in the snow. They really do need to get outside to play, even when it’s cold.My husband was great about shoveling our girls’ run, and we read this year about saving the leaves from your trees this fall in bags and spreading them in the snow for your chickens to walk on and peck around in. This is actually the best tip I can share. It’s genius. It gives a great use for your leaves and will really help your chicky girls. Our girls have loved this so far, and it’s the only we’ve been able to coax some of them out of the coop since they are a little worried about this first snow.

But you can also give your chickens different kinds of treats to keep them busy. Check out my infographic here for more information.

Just make sure they are healthy treats, and, of course, always keep a balanced diet in mind. But, last winter, we would share fruit and vegetable scraps, and the variety was good. Working on the fruits and veggies also kept the girls busy.

5. Protecting their combs

And, when you let your girls outside to play in the winter, you should keep an eye on their combs. If you have chickens with large combs, it’s a good idea to put some petroleum jelly on them to help keep them safe in the winter cold.

6. Preparing for the deep freeze

Finally, if you haven’t done this already, it’s a good time to start thinking about how to winterize your coop. Just as we work on winterizing our homes here in Maine, it’s important to think about the temperatures for our chickens during the long winter months and what you will do during those long cold nights.

First, it’s important to keep in mind that chickens, depending upon how many you have, do put out some heat all on their own, so you may not have much winterizing to do, depending on how many chickens you have.

You may not need to insulate your coop, but, if you do, make sure your coop has proper ventilation. This is really key. You may think that keeping out the cold is the most important thing, but you also have to keep ventilation in mind. Chickens can get serious respiratory illnesses, and no one wants that.

According to my research, chickens can be okay and temps down to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit (and maybe a little lower, depending upon breed), so I recommend just keeping a thermometer in your coop to allow you to keep an eye on things.

Our coop is insulated, so we only had to heat our coop a couple of times last winter, though some people will argue you don’t have to heat at all. In fact, unless you are really careful, it may be best not to heat. My husband built a cage to go around a small oil heater, so it didn’t put out much heat and was safe for our girls. It just kept temps above 0 degrees during the worst nights of February.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list but should help you starting thinking about adjusting to the cooler temps. If you have other tips or advice, please share in the comments section. It would be great to hear your tips as well!

And, remember, stay warm, my chicken friends!

On Chicken Treats in Winter

Winter is upon us, and I don’t know about your chickens, but most of our chickens are hesitant to leave the coop. “Snow. I’m not touching that stuff,” they seem to say.

But we have a few brave souls who will venture out, and, if our girls are anything like they were last year, eventually, most everyone will get cabin fever and have to venture out.

The winter months feel tough, and I worry about both boredom and health issues. The good news is that you can supplement a balanced chicken diet with some healthy and entertaining treats to help your backyard flock during our long Maine winters.

I created this winter treat infographic to share some treat ideas. But these are just a few ideas for healthy treats. What are your go-to healthy treats to keep your flock happy and healthy in the winter?

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/18936278-winter-treats-for-chickens

On Something You Want and Something You Need: Keeping Christmas Special on a Budget

I always feel a sort of push and pull at Christmas time. For years, I’ve been trying to learn to live more frugally, and, in the last year, as we’ve worked to simplify and work less, sometimes, I do feel like things are a little too austere around here.

I should provide context. Austere for me is certainly not austere for most. Although we grow as much of our own food as we can, we buy organic food at the grocery store for what we can’t grow, and, as a family, we eat very well. We also have a comfortable house and a reliable vehicle.

But I’m pretty sure 90% of my socks have holes, and since we gave the family car to our oldest son, sometimes, I really miss having a car. But that’s about as austere as it gets around here, so I shouldn’t complain. I hope I’m not.

Still, since it’s Christmas time and it feels like it has been a really tough year, I’m having really strong urges toward “retail therapy,” but I’m trying to keep my head.

I have a long history of struggling with materialism, mostly in relation to my boys. I think mom guilt played a role. For example, when my youngest was a toddler, I had a particularly demanding job. I worked about 70 hours per week and had to travel quite a bit. I missed my family so much, but I think it was hardest being away from my little one. So, every time I traveled, I would shop for him way too much and shower him with gifts when I came home.

My husband expressed concern about this, but the problem with this mode of operation really hit me in the face when I arrived home after some travel for work and my husband and little one met me at the airport. The first thing my toddler said to me was, “What did you bring me?”

Yep. I knew I had been making a big mistake at that point, and, really, that was one of the moments that caused me to start rethinking things, to figure out how I could exchange money for time. To get more time would mean less money, but it felt like a necessary move.

But Christmas is still a struggle in materialism for me.

To help, my husband and I read about a plan to keep Christmas simple and still make it special. I read a blog post last year about a family who kept a plan to give each person four gifts and four gifts only—something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read.

I loved this idea and thought that we should try it this year, especially since we would have to be more budget minded than we usually are. But I loved the way this plan kept Christmas special.

So, this year, we’re doing it! I made a little grid for each member of our family, and my husband and I have been figuring out a gift for each category. The most fun has been the “something to share” category, and I’m excited to see how this works out. We’ve been looking at games, fancy chocolates, and other fun presents for this category, and I’m excited for all of us to share a present with one another.

christmas-present
Photo credit: Ben White, Unsplash

This seems like a good plan for our family. I do believe in keeping Christmas special, even though I totally understand that it has turned into a terribly commercial holiday. But life can be a grind. It feels good to take a break from it and celebrate. I mean, that’s what holidays are for, right? Humans have been doing this a long time. We need a holiday break from the grind, and I believe holidays are necessary to overall happiness—however we choose to celebrate.

But I don’t want to charge things on the credit cards either. I believe we have a plan for balance, and I’m excited to see how this goes this year. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, what are your plans to keep the holidays special without breaking the bank?