Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Are You.... Chicken?


My mother grew up on a farm, a cattle ranch actually, in Wyoming. I think that's where she learned it. It was there in the modest farmhouse surrounded by cows, vast sky and dancing, endless fields that she must have picked up the skill of how to make one of my most enduring comfort foods.

How does she do it?..... I still wonder. What magic ingredient or secret flick of the wrist kitchen trick does she do that consistently fries the perfect egg? I didn't really even know that a fried egg was a comfort food of mine until I left home, had a few heartbreaks and starting moving in the grown world. That's when we all find out what we are made of I guess. But, no matter what wild adventure I have come out of or what  rite of passage I have, um.... passed since then, there has been this exquisitely simple, deeply satisfying offering of perfect mother nurture gently pressed in front of me on a plate. And if it's not, I ask for it by name. Strange..... I'm not that much of a "comfort food" kind of girl. Yet, there it is. My little secret. Mom's tasty fried egg.

In all the many places I've lived over the last decade and a half,  I've typically grown a good selection of heirloom food crops, culinary herbs and other edibles in my yard. Even when I've only had a tiny patio at my disposal, I have packed it with yummy eats in clay pots or in patches of dirt along the borders. So one would think that by now I would have thought to include the cultivation of that magical orb, the humble egg, in my little garden world. But not so. What was I..... chicken?..... to raise.... well, CHICKEN? What has taken me so stinkin' long to actually bring daily fresh eggs and their fluffy friends along with them into my backyard?

A few years ago I chicken sat for one of my brothers in the Valley over a couple of months while he was away in India learning earth building techniques. It was fun to watch the energized flock of chickens run about in the yard and hunt for grubs and other treasures in the compost pile. They were well fed and beautiful birds. Something about keeping one's own chickens just seemed soo right. To be completely honest though, part of his chicken set up kind of freaked me out. His little flock of Rumpless Araucanas was mostly made up of roosters and they just never let that one poor hen rest. She was popular! It wasn't anything intentional on the part of my brother. He incubated a batch of fertile eggs and he got what he got. BOYS. ... and lots of them. So he was left with the unfortunate issue of what to do with these.... um.... undesirables. The whole raising chickens thing suddenly seemed like a bit of a mixed bag to me. They were entertaining and lovable on the one hand, and sex crazed  bouncers who would have to become tomorrows soup on the other hand. I figured that if and when I ever did get around to raising my own chickens that I would raise them for their ability to naturally fertilize the garden, for their wonderfully useful habit of eating bugs in the veggie plot and for their gorgeous eggs and feathers only. I still had to move a couple more times to a couple different homes before the idea of tending to a flock of my own really entered my mind again.

In this last year, we had done enough reading up on the subject to satisfy our minds that our birds would be well looked after and so it was just time to do it. The kids were excited about the prospect of pets that could feed you once you've fed them and we went about collecting various supplies. It really is surprising how little a chicken needs to get by. So we brought the birds home:

There is NOTHING so soft in all the world as a day old chick! Here we are in the spring.

Our little punk rock chick, "Blondie" got her name due to the green dye that the hatchery dabbed on her head to help differentiate her rare breed ( a Delaware ) from a similar looking bird. This is her, just two days old,  in her first few moments playing in the clover on her first day home.

The black bird under the red light is our Barred Plymouth Rock, named "Tweeds", checking out her temporary digs in the brooder on her first day at our place. And the eye lined beauty stretching her wings in the garden is our Ameraucana, "Cleopatra",  at just one week old.... they grow so fast ( she is the teeny day old chick pictured on the skateboard in the opening pic of this blog entry ).

"Tweeds" and "Scarlet" ( our Rhode Island Red ) curl up in my knit wool scarf on a cool day at just a few days old.

James built and I painted the chicken's coop and run out of mostly salvaged materials. This is the coop when it was under construction. I still marvel at how James just pieced it together without plans. He is amazing to me! Pre-made housing would have been a lot easier but we had a bunch of salvaged wood, wire, bolts and other stuff just begging for a second life. Re-using stuff is always an eco chic first resort around here.

Julian's very own chicken is a sweet natured Buff Orpington named "Peaches". One day, Julian remembered that there was a picture of her breed in a book on our shelves. He scouted it out, found the page and showed "Peaches"........ peaches! " Peaches ... it's you!", he chimed. Juju is convinced his chicken is famous!

Many days, Peaches can be found hanging out on Juju's shoulder or forearm..... kind of like a pirate's parrot. She has even taken a ride in Julian's car seat to pick up the kids after school! But here, they just soak up the sun best buddy style on the patio.

A young scarlet is the first of the flock to figure out that a dust bath in the sun is a very good thing.

Just two weeks old and hunting around under the tree swing on a late spring day for any tasty thing they can find.

Fast forward to today. Here is Scarlet and Cleopatra this afternoon hanging out under the nectarine tree.

Tweeds seeks out some fruit in the branches above only to discover that we already chowed down that particular harvest a couple of weeks ago.

Blondie finds a good vantage point as the sun starts to set against the foothills

Scarlet struts the stone wall looking for a treat to eat amongst the sunflowers and quinoa.

The girls pick up seeds and grain with total precision as they scratch and coo.

"Buttercup", our other Delaware, ventures into Julian's garden ( dubbed Jujubee Way ) in the quest for fat juicy bugs to munch on.

Our girls leap on and off the wall between garden beds as they express their chickeness. Free range is a beautiful thing!

The ladies follow their natural instincts to roost up high as they head back in to the coop for the night while the light shifts to darkness. And I get one last snuggle from the affectionate and curious Tweeds before saying goodnight.

"Nefertiti", our chicken of questionable breed ( we think she may be a Welsummer, but her white earlobes keep throwing us off. she was sold to us as an Ameraucana.....but...... um...... no.... don't think so.), gives the garden a final look before heading in. You can almost hear a happy chicken sigh as she clucks " to scratch, to graze to roll in the dirt........hey that was a great day!"

So seriously why didn't we do this sooner!?!?!!!

We love these wacky birds! They've quickly become a part of our life here. Up to this point they have just been fantastic and affordable pets ( a day old chick literally costs less than a latte!). We are expecting their first eggs in a couple more weeks and everyone is excited at the thought of the daily egg hunt. Local organic, free range lovingly raised eggs... here we come. Now if I could just get Mom to fly in to my kitchen to fry them every morning the experience would be complete!



1 comment:

  1. Be there soon. Hope the birds are producing eggs soon.