Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Benefits of Cucumbers for Chickens

I've recently discovered that my chickens absolutely go crazy for cucumbers!  Over the past couple of weeks, I had some over-ripe cucumbers that were not so palatable for human consumption.  I opted to slice them in half lengthwise and feed them to the flock.  This was a quick and easy way to feed them cucumbers, and they pecked the heck out of them, right down to the skin.  They especially seem to like the seeds, but gobbled up the gelatinous and fleshy parts of the cukes as well.

Or of course, you could be eccentric and make them a parsley and cucumber seed salad.  Remember this? 

No?  Remember when I questioned my sanity over creating Chicken Salads?  I've since embraced it entirely. 

Knowing that chickens tend to only eat what they need, and crave (and of course, like the taste of), I was curious as to what was so healthy and special about cucumbers in regards to chicken health.  A google search yielded no results, so I simply googled,  "Health benefits of cucumbers," and found THIS site that listed 10 benefits of cucumbers for people.  

Among the listed benefits were the usual B vitamins, and cancer fighting antioxidants, as well as digestion improving, and hydrating qualities.  If cucumbers relay these health benefits to people, wouldn't chickens benefit from them as well?  

What really interested me though, was mention that cucumbers contain silica, which is known to promote joint health by strengthening connective tissues.  For some reason, this inspired me to search for  the effects of silica on chickens, and egg production.  I didn't find much information, but a couple of tidbits led me to believe that these chickens know what they are doing when they mow down on cucumbers.

THIS source had some good info on the importance of silica on collagen formation, and calcium absorption.  Hmmmm.... what are egg shells mostly comprised of?  That's right, Calcium!  Here's a quote from that article:

"Within bone, silica is the essential component making up the collagen matrix upon which calcium is deposited.  This relationship is so fundamental that it is truly impossible to form bone without both calcium and silica.  In fact, researchers are exploring the possibility that supplementation of silica, rather than calcium may be what is needed for maintaining strong bones."

Another article that I found suggested that Silica is actually a more vital and effective supplement than mineral calcium in the formation of strong bones.  Could it be that the silica in cucumbers contributes to strong eggshells?  Here's a quote that suggests that it does:

"Chickens totally deprived of calcium and silica, produced soft-shelled eggs.  When "mica" was added to their diets, the hens' ability to lay calcium rich, hard-shelled eggs was restored.  Mica contains no calcium; but, it does contain potassium and silica, both of which can be biologically transmutated into calcium."


What do you think?  I think I'll keep feeding cucumber to my fortunate flock.  If nothing else, they love it as a treat- but I'm thinking they just have an innate idea of what they need to consume to be healthy!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Flowers in the coop

My Nasturtiums 

I love nasturtiums very much.  They are SO easy to grow, they're edible, kids love 'em, and they make great companion plants.  A lovely addition to a garden of any size, to add some color and interest.  Mine started blooming early in the season, and were one of the last crops to remain prolific in my garden.  I took this photo just a few days before the frost killed them last week.

Being aware of their pest deterring powers, and edible flower powers (which can entrance even the most unruly children when they realize they can actually pick and eat a flower), I was curious about what they could do for my chickens, and if chickens would even eat them.  

I was so excited to read that Nasturtiums are a healthy supplement for chickens, which can act as a natural laying stimulant (we HAVE been getting more eggs from the new girls), antiseptic, antibiotic, insecticide, and wormer.  SCORE!  

Placing fresh herbs in the coop, and nesting boxes can potentially result in a cleaner, more fragrant, and healthier coop.  It makes sense to me- if the chickens are rubbing up against those essential oils in the herbs, they will not only release their scent, but their healing and antiseptic properties as well.  Not only that, but the chickens will eat what they wish, and reap the benefits of herbs that are laying stimulants, natural wormers, and good for their health in a plethora of ways.  Being a believer in the healing power of herbs, I'm sold that they are good for chickens, too!  

Knowing that the frost would kill the flowers soon, the girls and I gathered as many blooms as we could, and tossed them into the coop.  It was a romantic concept, and the girls were delighted to do it.

 It sort of felt like a symbolic ritual, as I fantasized about all the herbs I would be growing in future seasons, and integrating into my chicken keeping.  Plus, the flowers just looked pretty.  And I'm pretty sure the chickens ate most of them, which may explain the recent egg increase.  I'm a believer!  

So what kind of herbs and flowers do YOU incorporate into your coop, or chicken feed?  I'm looking forward to delving deeper into the possibilities of becoming a chicken herbalist (I'm pretty sure I just made that term up).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Happy Accidents

My Surprise Harvest

The Potato.

My intent was not to grow any this year, in my tiny little garden.  Even with the intensive gardening methods I employed in order to grow more crops in a small space, I still had little faith that planting a potato would yield results.  Now that I think about it, I realize that I could have planted in containers, or reserved a "square" of my garden for potato purposes, but at the time of planting, I was overwhelmed.  "Potatoes will be for next year," I thought, "when I expand my garden and have more experience."

We'll get back to the potato.  First I want to make a bit of a confession.  You see, I wasn't planning on sharing my gardening blunder on this blog, as it might just discredit me as a gardener.  However, after having a heartfelt conversation with my lovely sister, Ceriese, I came to the realization that telling my story may just prevent others from making the same mistake.  So being the selfless person that I am, I will risk my reputation for the greater good.

It was a bright, cheery fall afternoon as I was pulling out the old squash plants, thanking them for being so fruitful and fantasizing about butternut squashes and what I would do to them in the kitchen... I digress... I was clearing out the old, dead squash plants.  Later on in the season, they had developed a mild case of powdery mildew (which I stomped out by spraying neem oil), so I wanted to be sure to get them out of the ground, so as not to harbor any diseases over the winter.  

As I cleared away the last of the crunchy leaves and stems, I saw something that confused me greatly.  It was red and tuber-like.  WHY was something red and tuber-like poking halfway out of the soil where the squashes lived?  I reluctantly placed my hand on this strange abomination, still in denial that it could possibly be what it looked like- a red potato.  It was, in fact a red potato.  HOW did it get there?  How on Earth does one plant potatoes without realizing it?  

I dug deep, in the soil, and harvested about 5 more.  Then, I dug deep into my brain, to figure out what the heck was going on.  I finally broke out of my flabbergasted state, and recalled a simple potted plant, that Nick, my other half, had brought home one day from the hardware store where he works.  When one sees a plant in a hanging basket, one does not automatically think, "Potato."  What I did think was, "hmm, I wonder what this mystery plant is...  I think I'll just plant it in the garden near these marigolds and see what kind of flowers it has... I better be quick, because the baby will be waking up soon."  So I proceeded to stick the plant haphazardly into the soil- without noticing the roots, of course.  Because WHO looks at the roots when they are transplanting?  Okay, a lot of gardeners do.  But in my defense, I was in a hurry.

As the spring turned into summer, I kept an eye on the mystery plant, which was planted in one of the front squares of the garden.  It produced flowers, eventually, but they were unimpressive.  The plant looked like this:

Cute, but not showy enough to earn this mystery plant protection from the ever-creeping butternut squash plants that I was nurturing.  I love butternut squash, so I allowed it to take over, and the mystery plant seemingly disappeared from the garden, and my mind.

So that, my friends, is how one accidentally plants potatoes.  

I'd like to think of myself as an avid gardener, with a green thumb.  But you see, I'm clearly lacking in the experience department.  And we all know that real life experience is what truly makes you good at something.  Sure, I may have studied horticulture for a few years in college, but they didn't teach us how to plant potatoes.  I can assure you, that I will never again fail to recognize a potato in any form.  Those leaves, flowers, and tubers are now firmly implanted in my brain.  

One quote comes to mind when I recall my biggest gardening mishap this year.  In the words of the late artist, Bob Ross, "We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents."  

Wise words to remember.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Week Two Yoga Challenge

Three legged dog  and Child's pose

Since my first week of challenging myself to practice one yoga pose, downward facing dog, was such a success for me, I've decided to add two more asanas to my daily practice.  My intention is not to dive into yoga too fast, but to add these two poses that will naturally integrate into downward dog, which I've grown comfortable with.  The plan is to start in child's pose, enter into downward facing dog, and evolve into three legged dog, ending in child's pose once again.  

Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana

Three Legged Dog pose


Child's Pose

Update 1 week later:  

I must confess that I have not delved into this week's yoga challenge as wholeheartedly as the first.  I fully intended to add in some more thorough explanations for these two poses, and to practice them religiously every day.  But alas, life has been busy, and I missed several days of yoga practice.  It's just a bump in the road, and I must now backtrack as I come to the realization that the fact that life feels so busy is all the more reason to take at least 5 minutes a day to practice yoga, as well as breathing and relaxation (it's a package deal, really).  

For this reason I will continue along this week with downward dog, three legged dog, and child's pose, so that I can truly learn and explore these asanas.  Even though I have the next pose planned out in my mind, part of this experience is to learn to slow down, and not get ahead of myself, which leads to me getting overwhelmed, and stopping progress.  This is a learning experience that I want to be devoted too, and hope that it can someday help others as well!  Namaste!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Resurrected Rooster

Something happened yesterday that had me all shook up.  I'm still shaken by the event.  It was totally bizarre.  Almost traumatic.  My big white rooster had a near-death experience.

After a busy Saturday of dragging the kids around to gymnastics, a play date with friends, and grocery shopping, we were all ready to come home and chill out.  My six year old daughter, Annabelle, did what she normally does when she gets out of the car, and went to find Miss Red Hen, her favorite chicken.  After bringing in the groceries and my other two kids, I went to check on Annabelle.  As I walked by the chicken coop, I saw something terrifying.

In case you don't remember, this is our coop.  There is a small space between the coop, and the garage.
See that small space, there to the right?  That's where I saw it.  Chicken feet.  Attached to a big, white, chicken body lying on it's back.  It was Chicken Food, my big white rooster, wedged tightly in there.  I couldn't see his head.  Just a lifeless body.  How the heck did he get there?  Was he hiding from a predator when he succumbed to his fate?

That's what I assumed.  In shock, I herded my chicken-loving daughter inside as I didn't want her to see our beloved rooster like that.  I told her the sad news.  She was Devastated.  With a capitol D.  I said, "Sweetie, these things happen when you have chickens.  Sometimes there are predators.  He was protecting the hens.  He was noble and brave." Poor Annabelle.

I called up the hubby at work and told him the sad news.  He asked me, "are you sure he isn't just stuck?"   Of course I was sure!  I know a dead chicken when I see it, I thought.

I decided to suck it up and remove the body.  Making sure the kids were settled with a movie to get their minds off the tragedy, I went outside, plastic bag in hand (because I am too squeamish to touch dead chicken feet with my bare hands).

My heart sank as I saw him there, my noble white rooster.  Lifeless.  My heart raced, as I went in to grab his feet and pull his dead body out of there.  I touched his feet and OMG they moved!  Was he still alive?  He was actually breathing!   I wondered, is he half-dead?  Is he suffering?  Either way, I had to pull the poor fellow out.  Taking a deep breath, I grabbed hold of his feet and pulled.

He sprung to life!!!

Aside from being frazzled, with frizzled feathers, He was perfectly fine!  I ran in to tell the kids, and we rejoiced, and watched him as he walked off to find his hens.

What I have learned from this experience, is that I need to get a thicker skin if I plan on being a real farmer chick.  And chickens are good at playing dead.  And I don't think I'll be raising meat chickens in the future because chicken death was waaay too sad for my little chicken whisperer, Annabelle.  And I really like having a big white rooster around.

What was YOUR first chicken death experience?  What kinds of predators have you had run-ins with? And how the heck did my rooster get stuck there???

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chicken Keeper? Or..... Crazy Chicken Lady?

Chicken Salad

You see, my fellow chicken keepers (and crazy chicken people), I've started to do something that I fear might be crossing the line into crazychickenladydom.  I've started to create "chicken salads" for my spoiled flock.  Not only do I want to give them healthy treats, I'm actually feeling downright inspired in the kitchen.  

Recently, as I was preparing my harvested parsley to be hung and dried, I got tired of bundling them and decided to cut the rest up to give to my chickens as a treat.  Then, I thought I might as well add those cucumber seeds that I had just cut out of my 10 month old son's cucumber sticks.  It looked and smelled delightful, so I took a picture.  I was proud.  The chickens appreciated the love that I had poured into making that special salad.  Or maybe they just liked the food.

Today, I confess, I cut up the rest of our slightly withered grapes to give to them, and once again felt a burst of inspiration.  I decided to garnish those grapes with nutritious omega-3 boosting sprouted flaxseed powder!  Naturally, I took another photo before bringing them outside.

Miss Red Hen, who is a bit of a loner lately, greeted me excitedly.  She was a little upset that I dumped them out onto the ground.  I think she wanted to eat out of that pink bowl.  Slightly skeptical since she's never tried grapes or flaxseed before, she pecked at a cucumber seed, and ran to tell the others like a good little messenger chicken.

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Or just crazy about chicken health and happiness?  If I add a tab to my blog that says, "Chicken Recipes," I may just need an intervention.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The New Girls

As I mentioned in my second post on this elusive new blog of mine, we recently said goodbye to our two cochin roosters, and acquired 4 black sex-link hens.  These girls are a couple of years old, and were given to us by a local farmer who likes to rotate his flock when their egg laying days begin to decline.  These gals are no spring chickens, but they were free, and this guy needed some more hens around.  Handsome young rooster, he is.

Here are the 4 ladies, one of whom seems to be molting.

As you can see, they have integrated nicely into the flock.

And here we have the "new" chicken coop.  If it seems to resemble an outhouse, well, that's because that's what it was originally built to become.  Don't worry, the guy we got it from assured us that it was never utilized for that purpose.  It's still quite rustic- we just painted it white, and added a roost for now. The chickens seem happy.  Since it was new territory for both the 4 new chickens, and our 3 original chickens, we were able to just put them all in there together at night, and no fights broke out.  They've been friends ever since.

Chicken I-Spy, anyone?  Terrible camouflage job, right?

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Weekly Yoga Challenge

Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Ahdo Mukha Svanasana

In an effort to get back to my love of yoga, which I first began to explore in my early twenties by taking some yoga classes,  I've decided to challenge myself (and hopefully others out there) to practice yoga one pose at a time, one week at a time.  Maybe this way I'll actually do it.  I tend to get overwhelmed, and expect myself to be able to do to many things at once, and master things too quickly.  Nothing gets accomplished that way, I find.  Since having three babies, and some chronic issues with lower back and knee pain, I've seriously neglected my physical health as far as exercise goes.  I feel like yoga is the best place to start for me, as it serves a duel purpose of physical and emotional/spiritual health.  So here we go!  This is a pose that I see my 10 month old son practice naturally all the time, as he learns to go from crawling to standing.  He is my inspiration for choosing this pose to begin with.

This pose begins by coming onto your hands and knees onto your yoga mat, or in my case, floor or blanket.  You want your hands to be shoulder width apart, slightly forward of your shoulders.  Knees should be hip width apart.  Tuck your toes under, and as you inhale, slowly lift your knees off the floor, and gently straighten your legs, taking care to keep knees slightly bent and heels slightly lifted at first.  You don't want to get overzealous and pull a muscle right off the bat ( errr not that I've ever done that)!  You also want to protect your lower back by tucking in your tailbone (use those core muscles).  Your head should be in a neutral position between your arms, and neck muscles should feel relaxed.  

Downward dog is one of those yoga poses that everyone is familiar with, yet it's one that I wanted to revisit due to it's whole body energizing, leg stretching, arm/leg strengthening, digestion improving properties.   THIS source claims that it has therapeutic properties for sciatica, sinusitis, headaches, and even osteoporosis and menopause.  So simple, yet so complex!  That is yoga, isn't it?  

As I practice this pose throughout the week, I'll be sure to update my observations and discoveries for this one asana.  As always, I'd LOVE your feedback and suggestions as we work to integrate yoga into our lives.  Namaste!

Update day #1:  

I have to remind myself not to round out my upper back, and "shrug" my shoulders up towards my ears.  Push those shoulders down and back.  Also, engaging the quadriceps seems to provide an overall better stretch for the legs.  I'm really feeling the stretch in my legs, and my upper arm and back muscles working!

Day #5:  

This pose originally felt awkward and somewhat uncomfortable when I started at the beginning of the week.  Now, however, my muscles actually seem to crave it!  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fall Harvest

We're having gorgeous weather here in Maine.  It's been unseasonably warm.  The temps are starting to drop, but many plants are still very happy here in my little garden patch.

                                                      This swiss chard, for example.

And the beets.  This one seems to be saying, "Harvest me, already!"

What's that I see???  Is there an actual cabbage head forming after being eaten by some kind of bug or worm all summer??  This red cabbage has a will to live.  The nasturtiums surrounding it were planted later in the summer, and the cabbage only began thriving after it established.  Coincidence?  Or accidental companion planting?  Either way, I think I'll pair them up again next year.  They're buddies.

And here we have some happy little misplaced parsley, which has seized the opportunity to grow now that the summer squash has been spent.

And the star of the fall harvest is..... Butternut squash!  My personal fave. 

What's your favorite cool weather crop?  Anyone planting a fall garden, or still harvesting the goods of your summer garden?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

From Chicks to Hens (and mostly roosters)

Awww, look at these babies.  I never got any pics of them when they were really tiny and fluffy, but here's when I moved them into their little coop.  From left to right is Zee, a cochin (and now a known rooster), Sparkles, another cochin or cochin mix (named by my 4 yr old, and, unfortunately a rooster), Haterina, a barred rock pullet, Miss Red hen, a red star pullet, and "Chicken Food," who was given the ironic name by my 6 yr old daughter.  It's ironic, because he is definitely a rooster, and the biggest of the bunch-a white Rock.  He'd make a good meal, that's what I'm getting at.  But alas, my bleeding heart is going to keep him as our one and only roo because he is BFFs with Miss Red Hen.

Free ranging with the kiddos!  I never realized that chickens make awesome pets until I got these guys and gals.

 My oldest daughter with her beloved Miss Red Hen, the most tolerant chicken ever.

Roosters, Sparkles and Zee.  We'll be saying farewell to them later today, and hello to 4 laying black sex-link hens!

Holy Cow, I just started a farm blog!

Welcome to my microfarming blog!  I have no idea what I'm doing... with this blog, or with my 1/4 acre microfarm... but I'm determined to figure it out!  My passion for farming, and getting back to nature is BIG.  Not just for my own well-being and happiness, but for my children, and their children, and on and on.... This country needs more small farmers.  The food industry is gross- GMO's, pesticides, factory farmed animals pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones- don't even get me started.  That's a topic for another day.

I envision a farm in my future, but I'm starting small.  My 3 kids keep me extremely busy, and enjoy helping me with our small, yet productive, garden patch, our flock of chickens (who haven't yet started laying and mostly turned out to be roosters), and our new and exciting compost habit.

I'm excited to share and learn as I go, and hopefully learn from like-minded people-  all the farmers, and homesteaders, and wannabefarmers like me.  My happiness as a person, and a mom, lies in getting back to my roots, and love of nature.  Speaking of roots, I wonder if there was enough of a frost last night to sweeten up those carrots of mine that are still in the ground...