Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chickens: Dirty Eggs

It has been a very wet summer, and the chickens have not been able to dust-bathe, the poor things. They are dirty and ragged-looking. Their snow white feathers are thin, grey, and bedraggled. No matter how often we clean the run and coop, and no matter how much straw and grass we give them, we just can't keep them dry. As a result, with nowhere clean and dry to lay, their eggs are dirty, too.

I love dirty eggs! Little Miss Farmer has the job of feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs daily. Most days she brings them in, washes them right away, and leaves them to dry next to the kitchen sink. Some days, however, she leaves them in the bowl, still dirty, until the next morning. Sometimes, on those mornings, I can't help but grab the two least dirty eggs, dust them off, and have a treat of the freshest fried eggs ever. Unless you have tasted an egg that was laid yesterday (or today!), you probably wouldn't understand. I have a feeling that some of you do.

Some of Yesterday's Eggs

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chickens: Lazarus

Starting off with any animal project is going to be a chance for learning. It is one of my favorite things about raising animals or growing plants or learning a new food preservation technique. The correct amount and timing of food and water needs to be determined. Heat and cold must be accounted for. And all animals must somehow be contained so as not to be a nuisance, or destructive. We struggle with that last one from time to time.

One of our first sets of young chickens would rush the door to the brooder (a dog crate, reinforced with chicken and rat wire, perched on a wooden stand) when Young Master Farmer came to feed and water the little darlings. Alternately, perhaps he failed to close the door properly. One way or another, a young chicken had escaped, and we were worried for its safety. Mr. Farmer and I had to go out, so we left Young Master Farmer in charge of locating the loose chicken and returning it to the safety of the brooder while we were away. When we returned, we heard how the chicken had been killed by some animal, was removed from the back shed where it had tried to hide, and deposited in the trash. It was a somber dinner, and we were sad.

After dinner, Mr. Farmer went to look in on the chickens and replenish their water. When he approached the cage, he was surprised to see a chicken on the ground eating spilled feed! He counted the chickens in the cage, since he had secured the door himself the last time, and they were all accounted for ... the loose chicken had returned to life! He came into the house and told us all the story of Lazarus: The Chicken That Had Risen From the Dead.

Naturally it did not take long before Young Master Farmer confessed to his little white lie. Young chickens are very fast, and even when he had cornered it in the shed, he still could not catch it. He had grown tired of the chase, so he thought up the story of the dead chicken, figuring it would be the natural end for a ground bird so close to the edge of the woods. Lazarus blew the story when he came out and started hanging out under the brooder. Kids!

I don't remember which chicken was "Lazarus",
but this Bantam hen sure is pretty, right?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cooking: Homemade Mayo

We are a mayonnaise family. When I was a kid, I couldn't put my finger on what it was about my aunt's macaroni salad that made it so much better than my mother's until I found that she made it with mayo- not, well, you know.

I always knew mayo was made with eggs and oil, and we have had chickens for years now. I have been avoiding making my own, however, because I kept reading horror stories about stiff arms for days and mayo that wouldn't set or would separate within minutes of coming out of the fridge. In short, I was chicken. Then one magic day I found that you can make mayonnaise in the blender! It is super easy! Even with full-price (not on sale, no coupons) vegetable oil, making your own mayo is about a third of the price of buying it. I will soon start buying my oil by the case for even bigger savings.

Look how easy:

In a blender, thoroughly blend:
1 egg
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
dash hot paprika
1/4 c oil

With blender still running, remove cover and add:

1/2 c oil

Once that is completely combined add:

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Let it blend and then:

1/2 c oil

That's it! I find the easiest way to get it out of the blender is to take off the blades, put the bottom into a wide-mouthed jar, and push the mayo into the jar with a rubber spatula. Now that wasn't so bad, was it?

NOTES: Yes, you can double the recipe, if you have a good strong blender. It will almost fill a standard mayonnaise jar if you do. You may need to use your spatula to help keep the blades running effectively, however. If you have a modern, $29.95 model blender (like one of mine is), you should probably stick to the small batches.

You can substitute vinegar for the lemon juice. I tried this and Mr. Farmer preferred the lemon.
You can use any red pepper of your choice for the paprika. Cayenne, Old Bay, etc. all work great.

Make your own gourmet mayo! Add a teaspoon of garlic powder, dried dill, or horseradish at the beginning of the recipe.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chickens: Pedro

As a rule, we do not name animals unless they live in the house with us. Pets get names, livestock does not. Our 19 chickens do not have names. Our 3 breeder pigs do, since they will be with us for quite a while, but they are an exception. We refer to most of the pigs by color (white, black & white, brown, rainbow), heritage (Mamas' "Tiffany Jr." , or Wilma's "Tiffany Jr." to differentiate between a couple piglets that look like their father), or purpose ("breeders" vs. "feeders"). Sure, we used to joke around, referring to our first three pigs as New Year's Eve, Super Bowl, and Fourth of July (followed shortly by Freezer and Dave's Pig, etc.), but naming animals is really only a recent change since our pig-partner's girlfriend came on the scene.

When we got our first set of day-old chicks, the children immediately wanted to name them. We tried to explain that some might not live, and that they were not pets, but they insisted. The two names that I remember from that first batch were Dirty Butt (there seems to be one of those in every batch of chickens) and Pedro.

The chicks were kept under cover to protect them from the elements and given a nice lamp to warm themselves under, but sadly, Pedro did not survive. The children were not to be deterred, however, so when we purchased our next set of chicks, they named another one Pedro.  Alas, poor Pedro did not survive. By the third set of starter chicks the children had learned their lesson, and they named none of the chicks that time.

It is common for day-old chicks not to survive. After all, they could have come with illness or injury already. They could be pecked to death by their cage-mates. They could be too stupid to stay under the light, or eat, or drink. So, when Mr. Farmer came in the house one chilly morning and announced that a young chick had died, the children, of course, asked, "Which one?" to which he replied, "Pedro, of course!"

All dead chickens are now called Pedro.

I'm Pretty Sure that One of These is Pedro...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thrift: Best Coupon Haul So Far

You know how weight loss ads usually have small print at the bottom that read, "Results Not Typical- Your Results May Vary"? Those Extreme Couponing shows should have the same disclaimer. Getting the great deals like they show on TV takes a lot more time and work than they would like you to believe. Many steps in the process are left out. When they say, "So-And-So's six hour shopping trip netted her $625 worth of groceries for $18," you hear "$625" and "$18" but did you hear "six hour shopping trip?" I bet you missed that one, didn't you? I'm going to give you the details of my best coupon stock-up deal to date, the good and the bad.

The Deal:

  • ShopRite had a special "Advantage" deal where the register printed out a $5 coupon and a free reusable shopping bag coupon for your next order for each 6 qualifying items you purchase.

The Steal:
  • Many of the qualifying items were less than $1 each with the regular sale price or coupons. With the right combinations of items, you could end up getting a lot of things for free, nearly free, or tax only.
  • That $5 coupon printed out as soon as the 6th item scanned, not at the end of the transaction, so it could be used on the same transaction!

The Catch:

  • Many of the items had limits on the number you can purchase at the special price. That means that in order to stock up and make use of the deal multiple times, you need to make multiple trips or multiple orders (something they gloss over on TV). This takes time to do, and it can be embarrassing. 

The Plan:

  • Qualifying toilet paper was 4/$3 (must buy 4). Qualifying tissues were $0.99.  A set of 4 rolls and 2 boxes would be $4.98 and the 6 items would return a $5 coupon and a free shopping bag.
  • Qualifying pasta was 8/$10 (must buy 8). I had coupons for those which doubled to $1 off each box, making the price 8/$2, and yielding a $5 coupon and a free shopping bag. CHA-CHING!$!$!
  • To keep within the limits, the TP/tissue combo could only be done twice per transaction. To be able to use the two $5 coupons on the same transaction, the total had to exceed $10 in merchandise (not tax), so I added a packet of Kool-Aid to get the total up.
  • Lost yet? OK, here's the fun part...

The Haul:

Actually, This Isn't All of It
  • 40 Rolls of Toilet Paper
  • 20 boxes of Tissues
  • 20 boxes of Pasta
  • 11 Re-Usable Shopping Bags
  • 4 packets of Kool-Aid
  • 2 packs of Paper Napkins (regular price, non-qualifying... I just needed them)
  • Retail Price (including sales, but not coupons): $75+
  • TOTAL COST: $5.92

How My Results Varied:

  • At some point during the scanning of my coupons, the coupon bin did not register one of the free shopping bag coupons. Having been distracted, I thought perhaps I had not placed it in the box, so I inserted another identical coupon in its place. In the end, only 9 coupons for shopping bags counted instead of 11. Loss: $1.98.
  • This deal took 6 orders to complete. I spent about an hour and a half in the store between the 2 visits.
  • I was so tired after this trip that I did NOT visit another store that had something else I needed on sale. I missed out on that deal because of it.
  • The next day I went to a different store for items for dinner as well as a few things we had run out of. I spent $35 on 9 items.

So there you have it: Coupons in The Real World. Of course this is one example, and there are people who spend all their time doing this. It really did feel good to spend a nickel on each item, and to have the peace of mind to know that I won't have to buy them again for a while. It is work, however, and does not work every time without fail. I guess I won't be buying tissues or toilet paper for a while - unless they are on sale and I can stack that sale with a coupon! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Life Is Good: Cucumber Salad

It is the simple things in life that make me happy. A sunny day after a week of rain is a joy. A rainy afternoon after a heat wave is bliss. A salad made from cucumbers, tomatoes, and chives from my garden (with salt as the only dressing) is a summer treat beyond any other.

That’s right: the late summer harvest is upon us. It is cucumber and tomato time. Rhubarb pie dreams and died-herb fantasies will soon become reality. I’ve traded fresh eggs for a pile of fresh eggplant from a friend who lives farther down the mountain. The green peppers are small and thin-fleshed, but they are plentiful beyond our expectations. So far it doesn’t look like I will have enough cucumbers come ready at once to put up pickles this year, but there are more than enough for salads, snacks and sandwiches all August long!

I can't look at that picture without starting to sing the opening theme to "Veggie Tales." I hope your gardens are bringing you as much joy as mine are!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pigs: Assisting with Castrations

The Farmer is many things. He is Father to his children and Husband to his wife. He is Steward to his land. He is Master to his dog. To his animals, he is chef, housemaid, and protector. Sometimes, however, he is also the veterinarian. This time, I had the honor of assisting him with castrating the piglets.

Castrating piglets is hard work! Mr. Farmer had to keep his hands clean for the operation, so Young Master Farmer and I had to handle the piglets. He would snatch up a piglet, hand it over the fence to me where Mr. Farmer had set up a station in the vestibule. Then, while I pinned down the baby on my lap and held its mouth shut so it couldn't cry too loud, YMF would run interference between the very concerned adult pigs and the gate. You would be surprised how strong a 2 week old piglet is! It took all my strength to hang on to those wiggly suckers while Mr. Farmer made the incisions, removed the testicles, and sprayed a silver liquid bandage on their bottoms! Three times I handed the completed pigs back to Young Master Farmer, and they were returned to the family without incident (except that Surprise got a little bit of liquid bandage on her nose out of curiosity). I had to take a break to catch my breath between operations!

The two to the left were just castrated.
See the silver liquid bandage?
The brown one on the right is Surprise, a female.

Finding the last male piglet was a challenge. Wilma's litter had been castrated the previous week with our pig-partner in the position I was filling. That left just Mama's four male babies that needed the operation. We checked bottoms to find the one last piglet that remained intact, and Young Master Farmer guessed wrong several times! When we finally found him, he was the least wiggly and quietest of the bunch. I was so relieved when it was over.... and I was so dirty!!

I'm Covered in Mud, Poo, Pee, and Liquid Bandage.
See Why Mr. Farmer Couldn't Touch Piglets?