Guineas and such….

I feel bad that I have not been putting many pictures on lately, and you poor readers just get to stare at a bunch of words.  I promise…next post, more pictures, OK?

Now, let me tell you about guinea fowl.  Last year I purchased 4 guinea chicks (called ‘keets’) from the feed store.  My friend, Rachel, was quick to inform me how much she couldn’t stand guineas.  So I thought, how bad could they really be?  Well, I found out.

At first, guineas are fairly quiet birds as they are maturing.  However, as they age, they begin to make a sound which only increases in decibels incrementally until it is the same decibel level as, oh, 30 jet engines being turned on simultaneously.  At first, they do not make the noise much, but as they age and get used to their environment, they will sound their alarm at….pretty much everything.

For those of you new to guineas, let me tell you what they do not like.  Guineas do not like things with wheels, children, dogs, cats, strangers, buzzards overhead, moving leaves, and falling pine needles.  They do not like it when you walk quickly, are carrying something in your hands, clouds, fences, shrubs, and I am pretty sure they don’t like the air, either.  You will know they are displeased when they all collectively shriek like a horde of banshees:  “ACKAKAKAKAKAAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAACCCCCK”!!!!!!!!!!

We had visitors this weekend, and since they drove up in a car (thing with wheels), brought children, and were strangers, the guineas immediately voiced their unhappiness with an hour long tirade of intermittent screaming and shrieking.  They are so loud (and I only had 4), that my guest covered her ears and said, “What IS that?”, to which I replied, “Something that will be going in the freezer tomorrow.”  Which was actually true. 

For a few weeks the guineas (who are unproductive and do not contribute to anything around the farm), had been mercilessly chasing my chickens.  Now, the chickens produce, the guineas do not.  Rule #1 of the Farm is that everyone must serve a purpose.  You can see where I’m going with this.  So, one day, the guineas got after our beautiful Silkie rooster and pulled out some tail feathers.  Jason happened to be watching with me, and when I turned around to say something, he was already in the coop.  He screamed at the guineas, “You’re not going to chase MY DAMN SILKIE!” I tried not to laugh.  I really did.  But the image of this six foot tall, linebacker of a man defending a 2 pound chicken that looks like a stack of pompoms was just too much.  I’m really considering making a T-shirt with Jason’s face and a Silkie, with his quote right above the pictures.

He snatched up the offending guinea, looked right in his eyes, and I wasn’t quite sure the guinea was going to make it out of that one alive.  SO!  We set a date for the end of the guineas. 

Thus, this past Sunday was designated Butchering Day.  It actually went extremely well. I have never butchered a whole bird before, so it was a whole new thing to me.  First, you kill them and ‘bleed them out’, that is, you hang them upside down and let the blood drain out (we beheaded them, actually).  Then I ran them over to a stockpot which was preheated with 150 degree water.  You have to add a little bit of dish soap to the water to break the surface tension, so that the feathers get wet.  Then you swish around the bird for about 10 seconds, and I took a little piece of pipe and ran it against the feathers on the leg.  When the feathers just fall right off, you must immediately snatch the bird out of the hot water (or it will burn off the skin), and dunk it in a bucket of ice water to stop the cooking process.  Then you just pluck the bird, and the feathers literally slide out just like magic.  SO easy.  Then comes evisceration (gutting) and that was actually really not too messy and wasn’t gross at all to me.  Surprisingly all of the innards, with exception of the lungs, come out in one easy motion.  It sure was an interesting experience!  I watched a video of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms on YouTube to ‘see’ the whole process.  He can completely gut a chicken in 20 seconds!  So, now I have guinea in the freezer, and none in my yard.  From this day forward, this is how it shall always be. 

Oh, you’ll read articles which tell you how great guineas are at keeping away snakes and ticks.  The only thing my guineas managed to chase away was my sanity.  Give me a chicken or a duck any day of the week, thank you very much!

Flip Flops + Country = No no

Why is it that I stubbornly hold onto the idea that flip flops are acceptable footwear for the country?  Even after the fact that last year, I found thorns in my ff’s long enough to sew with, which had not only impaled my ff’s, but also my big toe.  Even after the fact that every time I go outside, either my kids, husband, or 100 lb. dog step on the back of them and I go hurdling through the air like a wayward stork.  Even after my toes have been permanently bruised and smashed to the point I can no longer wear boots.  Even after they make my feet look like a Neanderthal’s and I develop semi-permanent dirt stains and a callus that has to be sanded down with a belt sander.  What is the attraction?

You have to be delusional to think that flip flops are even remotely ok for any kind of task around here.  Even when I am giving hay to the animals, inevitably a piece of hay will get under my foot and jab me like a grass toothpick.  I just do not understand why I can’t grasp the reality of the situation.  Funny story…

A few years back, we had bought a house next door to us in town (see?  I don’t do well with close neighbors).  I was working on painting it one summer day (in my ff’s, of course.  Yeah, that’s safe footwear for a ladder). One of those famous Texas thunderstorms popped up out of nowhere.  I had to run back to my house to grab another brush.  The lightning and thunder were growing in intensity, so I was running (in my ff’s….stuuuuupid) and as I rounded the corner to the house, a huge crack of thunder erupted just overhead as my right foot simultaneously slid in the mud under my left leg, knocking my left foot off of the ground and I think it ended up somewhere near my left ear.  The next thing I remember, I was eating some monkey grass and dirt, still clutching my paintbrush in my right arm, which was now straightened behind my head.  I am pretty sure it was some kind of yoga pose for experts….or maybe just a nitwit.  Mind you, it is still raining (pouring) all over me, and I am now in the mud, getting wet, in a severe thunderstorm, eating grass. 

You would have thought I’d learned my lesson then.  I guess some people just never learn.

Cut that out!

If you have been reading my blog, you will know that this year is the first year I have started tomatoes from seed.  If you have never done it before, you cannot realize how much you get attached to a plant. 

When the seeds first broke the soil, I clapped my hands in excitement.  When they put out their first set of leaves, I gathered my family around to celebrate.  I somehow managed to keep them from being mutilated even though they are in a house with my husband, 2 kids, and 2 crazy dogs.  I babied them like I have never babied a plant before, making sure they only had organic fertilizer with rain water.  I talked to them and petted their leaves gently, and we talked about how many tomatoes they would give me in return for my diligent efforts (hey, what goes on in the greenhouse, STAYS in the greenhouse!). When the time came, on Easter, that they were to leave their pots forever, I think I had a tear in my eye as I lovingly patted them into their compost rich beds.

So, imagine my horror when the other day I was strolling through the garden, checking up on ‘everyone’, and one of my Snowberry tomato plants was….gone.  My mind was reeling and I felt nauseated.  I fell to my knees, sobbing, crying to God “Why, oh whyyyyyy????” (ok, not really) and there I saw the culprit.  A cutworm.  He was happily STILL MUNCHING on my precious, heirloom, spoiled Snowberry tomato plant.  He saw me coming and tried to duck back into the ground.  Nope, that just ain’t happening.  You do the crime, you’re gonna pay the time!  I ripped him out of the ground, calling him a very vulgar name which I will not repeat here (and, after all, I did feel a little bad about saying it… I mean, maybe cutworms DO know who their fathers are, after all?) and gave him an immediate conviction sans trial.  The punishment?  Death by chicken.  It was the worst possible thing I could think of.  While I would have loved to smear him into the grass, the thought of allowing a chicken to peck him to death, while throwing him several times in the air made me giddy. 

He in still in death row, sitting in a little glass bowl.  Execution will be today at high noon for those who wish to attend.  No funeral has been scheduled, however, in lieu of flowers/plants/casseroles, a donation may be made to the Tomatoes Cut Down In Their Prime fund.

Rethinking the Easter Bunny

Ok, so a few days ago, I was searching on Craigslist (dangerous for me!) and I came across an ad about “Easter Bunnies”.  So, anyway, the ad was one of the longest run-on sentences I have ever read, and essentially said this:  They had bought some rabbits for their child’s Easter pictures, snapped the pictures and now they were ‘done’ with the bunnies. 

Naturally, this bothered me on many levels.

Soooooo, you went out, bought two live animals, snapped some photos, and then after having them only about 24 hours, put them up for sale?  Sooooo, the bunnies were just living props for a photo op?  Wow. People never cease to amaze me.  So, I told Jason about it, and about how sorry I felt for the rabbits.  What if they were in a box thrown in the garage or something?  Did they even have food or water?  Jason came back to me a short time later and said, “You know, we really should get those rabbits.”

Coming from him, I know that was a difficult thing to say! After all, we already have a lot of animals.  But, being as we are interested in raising meat rabbits, and these are a breed of meat rabbit. Anyway, I called the number and sure enough, they still had the bunnies.  We head over there the next day.

Surprisingly, they are nice people.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised about that.  Surprisingly, the rabbits do have a small cage and pellets.  For a very low price, we brought home the bunnies.  They appear to be really healthy, but I’m still keeping a close eye on them.  Oh, and of course, one is a boy (a buck) and one’s a girl (a doe). And, they were together.  Well, we all know that only rabbits can breed like rabbits, right???

 My point here is that I just do not understand how people can give so little thought to an animal to consider it disposable.  I cringe to think of all the Easter bunnies, chicks, and ducks that get thrown into a box or even worse, turned loose into the wild.  After all, they are living, breathing beings, too.  Don’t they deserve a little more than being used for some holiday and then tossed away like a gum wrapper? Sigh. I’ll file this one under ‘Soap Box’.

I LOVE EGGS (and chickens, too)!

Get ready for a passionate post.  I LOVE EGGS!!!  One of my favorite farm subjects!  I have been collecting pictures for you for months now to show off farm eggs.  But first, let’s get a little political here.

I am going to first state that I am not an animal rights activist.  I AM, however, all for animal welfare.  There is a big difference, but I’ll let you do the research on that.  If you buy your eggs from a grocery store, I want you to know something very, very important.  Please first read this little article:  Factory Farming: Eggs, and then come back.  (Note that is an animal rights group, therefore, they do not support the slaughter of any animal, and are vegan.  While this is not my own position, we do agree that the current condition of so-called ‘factory farms’ are appalling)

Finished?  Now I want you to see the visuals:  Egg Farming Photos

How do those cheap grocery store eggs look now?  This is the reality of buying from a supermarket.  Don’t be fooled by the phrase ‘cage free’ eggs either. This just means that they aren’t in the battery cages, but crammed in a building.  You do not have to allow access to the outdoors to be labeled ‘cage free’.  The terms ‘farm fresh’ and ‘natural’ don’t mean anything at all.  The chickens in those photos can be labeled as such.  Most people have a vision in their minds of happy, plump chickens running around the farm (with a red barn, of course), eating bugs and grass and soaking up the sunshine.  The reality is that there are tens of thousands of birds literally crammed into 16″ or so cages (several to a cage) so tightly that they never have the chance to even spread their wings. 

And THIS is called progress?

I am passionate that I educate you about this.  As more people moved from the country to the city beginning in the 1950s, they stopped raising their own food.  So, companies came up with an answer: industrial farming.  “Farming” (I use that term VERY loosely here) animals and crops to meet the demands of the consumers.  But somewhere along the way, we got lost, ethically speaking.  I always think of these lyrics by Pink Floyd when I think about this :

“And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?  Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

I’m pretty sure Pink Floyd wasn’t singing about egg farming, but I hope you get the parallel here.  What are we willing to trade off for convenience?

Now, I will step down from the soap box, but I want to open your eyes to the truth.  Factory farming doesn’t stop at eggs either.  I hope you will research more about where our food REALLY comes from.  I hope this will inspire you to source out local food, or better yet, produce your own!  I’ll help you out.


Some of the first eggs I collected on the farm.  A mix of Cochin, Plymouth Rock, and Ameraucana eggs.  Ameraucanas lay tinted eggs in shades of blue or green.

Fun Egg Facts:

A hen does NOT need a rooster to lay an egg.

It takes a chicken approximately 24-26 hours to produce an egg, start to finish.

Yolk color depends on what the chicken is eating.  Chickens who are allowed free range and who are allowed to eat insects and plants will produce an egg with a much darker yolk (and better tasting, too!)

Fresh eggs can be stored in the refrigerator at least 3 weeks before you will notice a decline in quality.  The air cell in the egg will enlarge and eventually the egg will dry up on the inside.

When you hardboil an egg, don’t use a fresh (meaning real farm fresh, not supermarket fresh) egg.  Fresh eggs are extremely hard to peel!

An eggshell contains thousands of pores, mostly on the larger end.  This is to allow the exchange of carbon dioxide and moisture to occur for a baby chick.  (So the shell ‘breathes’….weird, huh?”)

There are approximately 280 million laying hens in the US, and we produce about 75 billion eggs a year.  The majority of these eggs are produced in ‘factory farms’.

A chicken egg takes 21 days to hatch. 

Fertile vs. Unfertile

How do you tell if an egg is fertile?  Well, do you have a ‘dot’ or a ‘donut’?  Huh?  In the above picture, look closely at the yolk.  In the center, you will see a very light ‘bullseye’ or ‘donut’.  This indicates that this egg is fertile.  An unfertile egg will only have a small white dot, not a ‘donut’.  A fertile egg tastes no different that an unfertile egg.  Development of the baby chick ONLY happens when the egg is kept very warm (about 99 degrees or so) and under the right conditions.  This is what a fresh, fertile egg looks like!  You aren’t going to open up an egg and find a chicken (unless you pulled an egg from a setting hen!).  It takes several days of incubation for blood vessels/tissues to develop.

Ew!!!  What’s that spot in my egg!!!  I thought these were fresh….

Let me address something here.  Fresh farm eggs vs. Industrial Farmed eggs.  When you get eggs fresh from the farm, there is a slight chance you will come across an egg with a ‘blood spot’, which is typically a small speck of blood/tissue inside the egg.  This typically happens in hens who have just begun to lay or older hens.  They are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface during the formation of the egg or sometimes by a similar occurence in the wall of the oviduct.  They are NOT the beginnings of a chicken (again, UNLESS the egg has been incubated for several days! But, if you collect eggs daily you will not have that problem.)

But why don’t I see these in grocery store eggs?

Simple.  Because industrial egg farmers use electronic ‘eyes’ to ‘see’ the spots in the eggs before they make it to a carton.  Small producers don’t have that kind of luxury, so you will sometimes find these spots.  There is no need to throw away the whole egg.  It is very easy to remove a spot with a bit of shell.  It does not affect the egg in any way. In fact, many years ago it was commonly recommended to first break an egg into a separate bowl before adding it to a recipe for this very reason.  So, in conclusion: Blood spots are a little gross looking, but do not affect the egg.

Difference between real farm fresh and industrially produced eggs

In the picture, I have set grocery store eggs on top, and my eggs on the bottom.  In the grocery store eggs you will clearly notice a paler yolk and fairly uniform appearance.  You will also see that my farm eggs are definitely different and there’s even a ‘double yolker’ in the group. (yes, chickens can produce twins!)

Factory farm eggs are produced almost exclusively by one breed: The White Leghorn chicken.  It is a small chicken that makes a big white egg.  They are very productive and very efficient as far as feed to production ratio.  My eggs come from several different breeds, which are becoming more endangered with time, due to the fact that factory farms only use one breed for white eggs and most people only eat factory farm eggs.  Another picture:

My egg on top, factory egg on bottom.  Yolk color is determined by yellow-orange plant pigments known as xanthophylls.  My hens are allowed to eat fresh weeds, thus the darker color. 

Is there a difference in taste in fresh farm eggs and factory eggs?

I can personally vouch for this.  YES, YES, a million times YES.  Now that I am spoiled to eating extremely fresh eggs, I can honestly tell the difference in the two.  Fresh farm eggs where chickens are allowed natural foods have a richness to them, almost like they are creamy when compared to factory eggs.  Quite honestly, factory eggs taste ‘eggy’ (if that makes sense) and almost have a plastic quality to them. 


 Difference in egg sizes: From L to R: African Goose egg, Turkey egg (double yolker, twice the normal size), Cayuga duck egg, White Leghorn egg, Bantam egg

What do other eggs taste like?

My favorite eggs actually aren’t even chicken eggs!  Actually, my favorite would have to go to the duck egg.  Before you cringe, let’s discuss.  An egg is an egg is an egg.  Chicken eggs are no cleaner than duck eggs and the other way ’round.  In fact, it surprises me that we mostly eat chicken eggs since ducks are extremely economical as far as feeding goes (they eats lots of juicy bugs and weeds, and little grain), and the eggs are so much richer.  You will hear people say that duck eggs are great for baking, but the truth is that they are great for anything you do with chicken eggs.  And talk about rich!  Duck eggs have a thinner white, but a much richer yolk.  One night Jason scrambled some eggs and I really thought he had added cheese to them, but no, they were just duck eggs.  That is how rich they taste.  The flavor is absolutely the same, no difference.  It is always possible for eggs to get ‘off’ flavors depending on what they eat, so ducks who eat out of a pond may produce stronger flavored eggs, but my ducks stay here at the house and eat what the chickens eat.  Goose and turkey eggs are also delicious.  I think that they are also richer than chicken eggs, in my own opinion.  An egg is an egg is an egg.  Repeat this 5 times.

 Julia Child’s recipe for baked eggs.  Set ramekins in a pan of boiling water.  Add a small amount of oil to the ramekin.  Crack a fresh egg into the ramekin, and season with your choice of spices (I use salt and fresh cracked black pepper and fresh chopped herbs).  Add a small amount of cheese to the top, such as provolone, Havarti, or Swiss.  When egg white begins to turn white, place pan, ramekins and all, in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes.  Do not overcook!  (I still manage to over/under cook them, but they’re great anyway).