Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Egg Colors

Oh my, a green egg! Must be moldy right? Nope.

Chickens lay so many different colors of egg, from white to chocolate brown, from pale pink to green, to turquoise blue. They lay them with spots too. Sorry, no strips to speak of.

I get asked a lot at the farmer’s market why there is such variation between the heritage breeds and their hybrids. It is because of the evolution of genetics. God created the adaptability of species to survive with genetics. The chickens that lay white eggs are considered Mediterranean breeds because they would lay their eggs in the white sand. If a bird genetically laid brown eggs, hers would be more likely to be eaten and her genes would not carry on to the next generation. After hundreds, now thousands, of years of this happening, rarely is there a brown gene amongst these breeds.

Same goes for the brown egg laying breeds. Many of them laid in the prairies or in the soil and dead leaves. If a chicken laid white eggs, her eggs would probably be discovered and her genes would not be passed on.

That still leaves GREEN eggs though doesn’t it. Well, those are easily explained by where these birds evolved too. The green eggs originate in the rain forests of South America. The female chickens are a verigation of browns, to easily blend in with her surrounding. But in the rain forest there isn't a lot of dead leaves and such that aren't already decomposing, they have to use living materials for nesting. They have a lot of moss and green vegetation to mask their nests. The gene is dominant over white egg genes but is completely separate from brown genes, so there are a lot of brown gene chickens from the rain forests too.

Many backyard chicken raisers have noticed that some breeds are more motherly than other. Going broody and stop laying eggs so they can nest. This is a characteristic that stems from the adaptation to environment as well. The white sands of the Mediterranean get hot, so if a hen sat on the eggs, she might overheat them causing them to die. The hens from this region of the world are not maternal at all. They aren’t very fearful of their eggs being eaten so they don’t feel the urge to stay too close to the nest either. They don’t go broody easily, a great characteristic for commercial egg companies because they will get an egg almost every day. The record for a white leghorn laying is over 300 eggs laid in a year. Since it takes over 24 hours to complete an egg, that’s a lot of eggs. They are great for backyard raisers too, I have a few. When you are limited by the number of hens you can keep, having several eggs a week from each hen is critical.

Hens that go broody adapted to be protective of their young for survival reasons too. For the breeds that come from areas of the world with a lot of predators, they instinctively want to sit on their eggs almost all day, they are very protective to keep them by their side for months so they can protect and teach them to be protective too. And this is obviously a genetic tradition, nature not nurture, because we have so many hatcheries raising our chicks and very few have a hen to guide them, yet a Buff Orpington will almost always be the best broody hen and a white leghorn couldn’t care less that you took her eggs, she was probably already off eating in the other corner of the pasture anyway.

Off to count my eggs before the chickens lay,


Monday, July 12, 2010

Jam/Jelly Tips

It’s Jam/Jelly making season around here. We’re kicking off with strawberries in the Northwest but the blue-, rasp- and blackberries, peaches, and so many other fruits are not far behind. Here are some quick my tips for making SEEDLESS strawberry jelly. That’s right, I make seedless strawberry jelly. I’ve made jelly this “secret” way for 4 years now and can’t believe everyone isn’t doing it this way. You can use these tips for more than just strawberries, but people don’t believe me that I make strawberry jelly without seeds. I’m here to share that it can be done!

1)You have to pick the best berries to get the best jelly/jam. I went to a local u-pick to get my strawberries. When selecting strawberries you need to find the best ripe berries you can. These are perfect berries that are fully ripened on the vine. Once you pick a berry it will not ripen, green is green. Also, you don’t want blemishes. Go in the early morning or at least try to get them when it isn’t about 75 F outside, the heat will wilt them and they won’t last as long, even in the fridge. You only have about 24 hours to make your jelly from the time you pick them, unless you’re going to freeze them and come back to the juice or berries at a later date.

2)Wash your berries only once you’re ready to consume them or start your jelly process. Washing them makes them spoil sooner. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use yucky berries, whether it’s been nibbled by a bug or starting to mold/rot. The quality and longevity of your final product is dependent on the quality of berry you select to use. Remove the tops but you don’t have to remove the white core, it won’t affect your jelly because of the next step...

3)Bring out your Jack LaLanne Juicer! Yes a juicer. I guess any brand might do but I’ve found ZERO seeds and I get almost a dry product out the back side with my “Jackie.” I get more juice this way than with cheesecloth or grandma’s method of using nylons. And I don’t stain my hands. Juice those suckers up good, but you can add some crushed berries to the mix if you want some seeds. Tom, my husband, likes to have some chunkiness to his jam, or it isn’t a good PBJ, so I do a 50/50 juice to mushed berries to make him happy too.

4)Now you need to follow the directions your box of Pectin gives you for making strawberry jam. Strawberries need more pectin than blackberries or raspberries so don’t try to substitute either recipe for strawberry. If you like your jelly really firm you may even want to add a ¼ of another pectin box.

5)You have to do jelly in small batches or you’d have to cook it for a long time and then your pectin would break down causing a runny jelly. So do it one batch at a time.

One of the big reasons I remove all of the seeds is that there are few people with diverticulitis or other colon/intestinal issues that get to enjoy blackberry, raspberry, or strawberry jam. Several people in my family have to be careful about this. This is a great gift for those people in your lives. Just slap on a decorative label (you can get templates from Microsoft Office or make your own with Publisher or another computer program. You can also theme several jellies together with a fabric topper. Make sure to label them as seedless because people may just assume they can’t have your wonderful gift. Also label ingredients used if you think there are dietary restrictions of some of your recipients.

If you’re looking for recipes, tips, or places to pick fruit in your area, veggies too, visit www.pickyourown.org. If you’re looking to pick up a Jackie of your own, I’d try www.ebay.com first as many people fall in love with the idea of juicing and fall out of love with it just as fast. They are easy to clean, efficient, very quiet for a juicer (don’t do it while the baby’s sleeping, a little common sense is required), and they are pretty safe. The infomercial actually took it into the classroom to have some kindergarteners make their own juice. (This is not an ad for the Jackie or for the Pick Your Own website, but I do love them and depend on them for accuracy and getting the job done right the first time.)

Till next time folks,


My Little Sister’s Farm

Friday, July 9, 2010

Missing Turkeys!!!

Yesterday we lost 2 turkeys. I don’t mean they died, I mean I LOST THEM. I count them at least once a day because of my minor OCD-ness. 1, 2, 3…36, 37, 38, 38, 38??? Oh no! Where are they?! Over here? No. Behind the waterer? No. In the feeder? No. No. No. No. No. No. NO. Oh mamma mia, mamma mia! ( Yes, I sounded like a Queen song.) Anyway, they weren’t in their brooder, under a pallet of feed, in with the chicken pullets, nowhere!

Then I saw something wrong…my ever-brooding Buff Orpington whose about 5 years old and probably hasn’t laid an egg in as many months was NOT in her nestbox. She sits all day, only getting up to eat and drink and to let others lay eggs for her to nest on. She was waddling around in the coop, more of a strut really. I came out of the brooder, walked into the coop and low and behold, 2 little turkey heads popped out from behind the waddling mamma.

I couldn’t believe it! They did escape the brooder but they found another one.

It saddened me to have to take her new found babies away, but there is a glimmer of hope for her yet. I have decided that I want to let her raise a clutch of chicks this summer. Once all of the pullets are into the layer coop I am going to put her onto the other side of the coop away from the layers to nest on a clutch of about 12 eggs. I think she’d really appreciate the chance to raise her own and we can always use a few more egg layers for our customers.

So I guess the title isn’t true, maybe I’ll change it to “Found Turkeys!” or better still, “Found Mamma,” because that’s what those bitty turkeys did.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Meat Processing Demonstration

I promised more information to come regarding the processing class and here it is.

When: Saturday, November 13, 2010. Rain or shine.

Where: Our barn south of Forest Grove, Oregon

What’s Gonna Happen: I will be demonstrating how I butcher various species of poultry including 2 types of chickens – Cornish cross fryer and a heritage breed chicken.

This will be a hands-off demonstration, guests will not be participating in the processing of the animals. But as well as a demonstration on our ethical butchering practices, we hope some small backyard raisers will come to learn how you can butcher your own chickens on the small scale. We won't be using fanciful equipment, we don't own any (yet - someday I hope) and you probably don't either. You will want to dress in clothes that can get stained/dirty and dress for the weather. It is a barn and it is November. The barn is covered so if it’s raining we’ll be fine.

By processing a heritage chicken and a Cornish fryer, you will be able to see the difference selective breeding has done for the meat chicken industry. We will be cutting up a fryer, showing you how to take apart a whole bird to become boneless skinless pieces. We hope this demonstration will provide answers to questions you have as well as show you first hand that we process our animals with the same respect we raise them with. We believe there is an ethical standard to be upheld when raising animals for meat and will do so when processing them too. There will be lots of time to answer all of your questions regarding the meat industry, our process and techniques, as well as see where our pastured turkeys are in their progress prior to their own processing the following week.

For this class we will not have the professional equipment we rent for the turkey processing, this means we will be scalding and plucking the feathers by hand, just as you would if you raised a few chickens yourself. We also may not have the bleed cones so the involuntary muscle release may be too visual for some. You are welcome to watch every stage, or just those you are comfortable with.

The demonstration will be from 1pm until all the animals are processed.There will also be a door prize – how about the meat we process? Someone’s going home with that cut up fryer!!!

Email mylittlesistersfarm @ yahoo.com or message us on Facebook to reserve your spot today!

Hope to see you there!