Eggs

This past year has taught me a lot about eggs. First of all, I’ve learned that you don’t need a farm to have hens and fresh eggs. Even if I live in a tiny place, I’m going have hens. I’m not really even a bird person, but I’m becoming a hen person.

My 10 hens are now about a year old, which means they are no longer “pullets,” and they lay about 6-12 eggs a day. Hens in their good laying years (some say age 1-2, others say their prime up to 3, although many can lay into their teens) can lay 280-300+ a year (half a dozen a week, usually one every day or so). When all my new layers are producing, we’ll be getting 12 dozen a week in season (which is spring: summer heat lowers production and winter lack of daylight and cold lowers production). Enough for the extended family to get all the eggs they need.

I was reading in the Salatin book about how he sells his eggs to chefs by showing them how different his eggs are than factory-farmed eggs. The chefs get really excited and always switch, even though they cost more than bulk factory eggs. He shows them how you can put the egg in a bowl and pick up the egg yolk and the white tries to come with it. The yolks do not break easily and are easy to separate. If you break his egg into almost-boiling water it will poach all together and be easily taken out with a slotted spoon at once instead of falling into many pieces. The eggs sits up high in the pan (see my breakfast, above).

They are also higher in protein, with higher vitamin/mineral content (seen in the bright orange yolk) and you can taste the difference–they are very rich. They make way better cakes and pastries. Salatin has made a killing in the chef market in his area of VA.

So this week when making my breakfast I tried the same tests on my eggs and was really excited to see the same results. Salatin pasture-raises his eggs, which means they are on a large pen that is moved over fresh (chemical-free) grass on a daily basis, but they are still safe from predators (racoons, opossums, eagles/hawks, rats) and kept out of nasty things they shouldn’t eat. We do a combination of free range and coop time, but David just finished the moveable pasturing box so we can start with Salatin’s method and keep them on grass all the time. It really saves on feed costs.
Even if a person doesn’t have room to move the chickens around, they can save $ on feed by giving them all the table scraps, dry bread and (non-sprayed) grass clippings. All chickens need feed in addition, and you can use scratch grains or layer feed from the store. We use a combination. They need 3-5 sq feet of space per hen, so you can have 3 hens in a 3×4 big dog house, and maybe a little fenced yard of the same size they can go into (covered with chicken wire to keep them safe). It can be just 2 feet high.

Free-range or pastured chicken eggs are NOT vegetarian eggs. Chickens on their God-given diet will eat grass, weeds, weed seeds and LOTS of worms and bugs. They will happily eat most kitchen scraps, including meat, although at our house we don’t feed them chicken, because that’s just weird. They love milk, and families with a goat/sheep/cow often feed extra milk to the chickens. Also if your milk goes bad they will gobble sour milk up. If they acquire a taste for raw eggs they will start breaking their eggs to eat them, so we never feed them raw eggs, although theoretically you can feed them cooked eggs and it is all unrelated in their (tiny) minds. If you’re grossed out by eating eggs made by chickens that eat bugs (at first I was a little weirded by that) just learn a little about what concentration-camp raised commercial factories feed their chickens and you will start craving bug-fed chicken eggs.

Raising chicks takes about 30 minutes a day. At 4 weeks it takes about 15 minutes a day. A regular laying flock of juveniles or adults takes about 7-10 minutes a day. All these minutes are fun, even in snow, at least for me. Once a year you clean the coop, and that takes a few hours. They don’t stink unless they are not managed well, in fact it doesn’t even smell much inside our coop itself. We use a deep litter system where you just keep adding carbon matter (dried leaves, wood shavings, dried grass clippings, etc.) and stirring up the litter every week or so. It slowly works up until it is 18 inches or more of litter in winter, which helps keep them warm. The droppings compost with the litter, so in spring, you open up the coop, compost everything (if needed, sometimes it comes out fully composted) and put it on the garden. Having animals makes organic gardening so much more affordable.

The kids love going out to get the eggs every day, and are learning responsibility by feeding and watering them. The result is more nutritious, more humane, more connected to the land, so not super stinky to the neighbors like factory farms, family friendly, environmentally friendly, chemical free and very, very local. Even in towns with strict animal codes a few hens can be kept as pets, and yes, hens lay eggs even without roosters just like we ovulate even if there are no men around. Keeping hens to have your own eggs seems like a big deal, but I have been surprised by how NOT a big deal it is. It is way easier than having a dog, and about the same as having a cat if you have a box to scoop.

I’m not trying to preach or guilt people for buying factory eggs. I’m going to have to buy some for Easter because I don’t want to waste my good eggs on boiling and don’t yet have enough hens to spare eggs. Although mechanistic, industrial egg production is horrific and even more so the more you learn about it, it is hard to pull away from it. But I’m trying to get there and move into clean, humane food that focuses on stewardship.

What I am saying is, get a hen or two if you can. It is so great in so many ways, not the least of which is breakfast.

Not much to report

I haven’t posted since there has been little news, but now I’m realizing that people are starting to assume the worst since I was having troubles and then stopped blogging.  So, be it known that I’m just walking the slow path to recovery.  I have only 2 Lortabs left and think I’m not going to ask for a refill and just stick with OTC stuff.  David says that the cut seems to be slowly coming together at the bottom and he can fit less gauze in there.  I feel like an old person (atrophy is not just something you get by bowling well, but also by lying in bed for 5 weeks).  I get tired easily.  Pain is just a dull ache most of the time except when David changes the stuffing, then it’s a good 30 minutes of feeling like someone just poured Clorox in an open wound (mainly because that is exactly what happens at stuffing-changing time).  It’s all good times, though.  David is the greatest.

 

He’s been having all sorts of successes and wins at the Federal Defender and they just love him down there and keep lamenting openly that they can’t find the budget to put him somewhere in a paid position.  Despite my Utah prejudices, my kids are in great schools/care, we have lots of family support, we love the place we’re renting, I love having four seasons, and moving is a pain.  And my job is here.  Sophie is becoming great friends with a girl her age that just moved in behind us, Elaine and Kim are wonderful to us.  So, my prayers have now changed for someone at the UT FD to die, be fired or quit, or alternately, that the government will take some of the money it’s printing and giving away wantonly to give more to the UT FD—won’t you PLEASE join me in my prayer?  He absolutely LOVES that job.

 

Can I just say that Ben is turning out wonderfully at this point?  I’ve been so impressed with him lately.  He takes good care of me when we’re home alone together, always bringing me snacks and drinks and pills –always on a plate covered in a napkin.  He is sweet and happy and loves being hugged (when not in public).  All his grades went up this last semester, so he has tons of As and two Bs and his teacher says his organization is great.  He loves going snowboarding with his dad, which they did this last week.  He reads like crazy, spends a lot of time working and playing outside and his screen time (TV/computer) is down to almost nil, yet he hardly ever asks for it.  He is really learning to work hard, does chores willingly and well and especially loves outdoor work.  He’s bagging leaves like a madman (it’s an endless job on this lot and he gets paid $.50 a bag).  David took him to clean the church on Saturday and the deacons’ advisor was there and was wondering if Ben was about to join his quorum.  He was shocked that he was only 9.5 (Ben really does look like he’s 12).  The advisor said he works harder than the deacons.  I know that doesn’t mean much, but I was proud still.

 

Sophie is seven, which my development book tells me (as does her behavior) is an emotionally turbulent time.  She also is making some great progress in character and academics, although it is interrupted by amazingly entitled, spoiled tantrums.  Noah is sweet as ever, although also with the tantrums (and the crazy wall coloring and potty accidents at dang four and a half!)—still, such a cutie.  Lucy—also the tantrums, but hilarious, funny when she talks and so coy and smart.  Her favorite joke is to tell me she’s poopy, bring me a diaper and the wipes, and as soon as I take off the diaper (unsoiled), she yells, “NO POOPY!  HAHAHAHAHAHA!!”  I can’t believe she’ll be three in June.  She’s started potty training.  I’m in that uncomfortable position where my day care person tells me that potty training will now start and explains how I can support the process as an ancillary contributor.  Sigh.  Don’t get me started.  I’m grateful she’s with Kari—she does a great job, but I’m really, really struggling with all this going back to work stuff right now (even though my kids are in daycare still anyway because I’m not up to caring for them).

 

The most exciting thing of the day was that our chicks came in the mail this morning.  We got 25 jumbo rocks (fryer/roasters), 24 layers and 5 roosters (because you are supposed to have no more than 8 hens per rooster and I want to have my pick).  Since I do very little besides sit around (except when every so often I jump up and do a bunch of things or go somewhere because “it’s time to be better” and then collapse in exhaustion and pain for the next 25 hours), today was an active day of making sure no more layers died (2 layers died in transit—we were supposed to have 26).  They are all two days old. 

 

The fryers are slightly bigger and very easy to teach how to eat, as that is their primary purpose in life.  They are all lemony yellow.  If we harvest at 8 weeks, they will be 3-5 lb fryers, but we will harvest at 12, when they will be 5-8 lb roasters.  David has gotten very good at that.  I don’t think I told you when he finally killed the fryers that I let live 11 months that one half of a breast weighed 1.25 pounds!  They were huge.  I didn’t even bother to clean them out, he skinned them, I cut off the thigh/drumsticks and bagged them for the freezer to crock-pot later, then just cut the breast meat off the bones just as you would if it were cooked and bagged that, so there were no guts involved. 

 

Anyway, the fryers are cute, but the layers are the cutest, all different colors and patterns—yellow, gold/buff, red, black, grey, striped and spotted variations on all these colors.  They are gorgeous.  I’ll try to take pictures before they grow.

 

I just finished this book, “You Can Farm” by Joel Salatin, the increasingly-famous sustainable agriculture farmer in Virginia.  It really changed my outlook on lots of things.  It is designed for people who harbor secret desires to farm but don’t really know why, how, or if they should.  He does things completely different from the standard USDA/county extension advice, and unlike most farmers who follow that advice, makes great money, has no debt, provides clean food and is an amazing steward of the land and the animals.  I learned from this book that I don’t really want to farm food for other people outside of my own circle of family and friends, but that I do want to follow his practices for what I do on my own small scale. 

 

I loved his old-school, curmudgeony advice. He feels strongly that a person should lease or rent before buying land and that success on rented land should pay for the land you do eventually buy—not debt.  He feels that until you have positive cash flow in your family, nothing should be bought that doesn’t contribute to your ability to get positive cash flow.  He rails against television and time wasters and complainers.  He talks about all the “I’ll be happy when . . . “ or “I can accomplish this or that when . . . “ syndrome, and basically says, if you can’t be happy where you are, you won’t ever be happy, and if you can’t make money off a one-acre farm, you won’t be able to make money off a 100 acre farm. 

 

I didn’t adopt his views hook, line and sinker, but I came away more convinced than ever to avoid concentration-camp, factory-farmed meat and eggs (there’s more manure in that food than you care to know about, and the hidden costs to health, land and humanity belie the fact that it is not, in fact, “cheaper”).

 

But more importantly, I came away more dedicated to be happy where I am, to enjoy renting this land, to make home and hearth a top priority, enjoy mothering more and to quit complaining and make something of myself.  I highly recommend the book whether a person is interested in farming or not.  I needed a father-like figure to slap me upside the head and tell me what my great-grandmother would if she were alive to do it.

 

So, as I said, not much to report.

Lortab

My new best friend. The doctor reopened the incision today, so I went from less than an inch open to over 4 inches open. Dave needs to clean and pack it 2-3 times a day and it should heal from the inside out over about three weeks. The Novocain didn’t work as well as one would hope during the procedure. It hurt quite a bit. It was really freaky feeling myself get cut open. Even David had to turn away in the middle of it, even though he had watched my c-section with rapt attention. When David turned around the doctor said, “Would you do me a favor and sit down? I’ve had to pick up too many men off this floor.”

The other night David was waxing unusually thoughtful about life and set aside his usual, stoic take on life (i.e., “Life is lame so just suck it up, shut up and deal with it.” This is not him speaking to me personally, but to himself—oh, and everyone else.) He said something like, “You know, sometimes people have to have to swab out their wife’s wounds. Sometimes people need to have their insides surgically removed. Sometimes work is overwhelming, sometimes there’s not enough of it. And then there are the good things—like Noah’s fat cheeks. Life isn’t so much about the big swings of good times and bad times, but it’s made up almost entirely out of the in-between times.”

He seemed to be saying that just living and having all these in-between experiences had value. We spend life holding our breath for the “good” times—yet those moments make up such a small portion of our lives. Life just is. We can boohoo about it or get excited about it, but it rolls on nonetheless.

It may sound like I’m mixing a little Buddhism into my Mormonism but you can’t argue with it: It is what is. Maybe that sounds like David’s “suck it up” philosophy, but to me it’s more just an “observe, learn and try to give thanks and trust in Jesus” philosophy.

Lost Tooth

Sophie has lost a tooth or two already, but here is that picture-perfect first-grader tooth loss that officially marks her progression into dental adulthood. Also, here is Noah’s natural reaction to the statement, “Hey, Noah, I’m going to take your picture!”

I went to the doctor

at St. Marks yesterday at 9:30 and left at 4.  I met with my doctor, had a CT scan, had a blood test, and met with another surgeon, who apparently will be working with my doctor now, since it has expanded from the gynecology realm into a surgeon issue.  He gave David a very gruesome job to do 3x a day (I’ll spare you the details), said to stay on the antibiotic horse pills, and on Monday he will look one more time and decide whether things are improving to his satisfaction.  If not, he will open up the entire incision again (9”) , clear it out, and let it stay open while it closes from the inside out.  This sounds like a horror film, but apparently is the normal way to handle infections of this kind.

 

I still have all the flu symptoms and have been commanded to completely rest so the infection doesn’t advance.  With infections like this, they explained that the brain just draws in and takes all resources for the healing project, which is why I feel too tired to do things like eat or even watch TV.  I feel slightly more coherent this morning, but instead of taking that as a sign that I need to work for 6 hours so I don’t run out of PTO (as I am tempted to do),  I’m going to go to bed.  After my appointment Monday morning, I will update again.  Thanks for your support and nice words, they mean a lot.

 

The antibiotics

aren’t working. Feel like warmed over death, as mom used to say. Lump bigger. Doctor running more tests at hospital tomorrow. PTO at work running out. It’s been four weeks today since the surgery. I’m remembering the words of the blessing David gave me right before I had the surgery, that I would be able to “endure” what would happen. Odd at the time, but not so much now, looking back. Thanks for your nice words, just giving an update.

Removing grumpy self from blogosphere,
Valerie

Complications II

So I was doing a little better and starting to get up and around, just tired. I was taking massive doses of Vitamin C because they said it would speed healing, and that appears to be true, the incision opening has been healing from the inside out nicely. So when I started feeling flu-like symptoms on Thursday I thought there is no way I could be getting sick with all this Vit. C. But it just got worse, with headaches and backaches and then whole body aches and chills and sweats and then this lump on my stomach above the incision started growing quickly and by last night was big and hard and red and hot to the touch. So apparently I had an infection and had to go back to the hospital. My mom is a chemist/microbiologist at Lakeview Hospital here in Bountiful and she was concerned because infections, especially around your guts (vs. a hand or leg, etc.) can spread very quickly and get scary, so she made me go to the ER. I’m glad I did, because they told me it was a good thing I came in. I had to get some crazy nuclear-bomb style IV antibiotics and they had to cut me open a little bit (1/2″ cut, 3″ deep) to let whatever was in there drain out. They filled it with packing and now I have yet a new hole in my body that needs to close up before I can return to normal ife. Gross, I know. My mom took me home to her house at 2 a.m. after we left the hospital so I could have some undisturbed sleep (something that doesn’t exist at my house), and I slept until 11 when David finished teaching Sunday School and came and got me. We’ve made arrangements to have everyone shuffled around for the next couple of days, because before all this happened David had committed to go to WA state for a quick business trip, so he left this afternoon and is returning Monday night. He feels guilty, but we couldn’t have anticipated this.

Anyway, I am assuming this eventually will end and I’ll feel/be better, but until then, it’s back a few steps.

I did order chicks (they come in two weeks) and got all my seeds in the mail. David tilled the gardens Friday and my mom planted peas yesterday (my mom is so great.) The neighbors who moved in just behind us are going to work with us on our animals and garden, which is a huge help since I can’t do anything but place orders with people right now. A sad thing, because we got all commercial chickens last year (these new ones are heritage breeds) I’m having problems with my fryers that I didn’t kill. I kept 4 fryer hens alive to see if they’d lay, and although they eat too much, they lay gorgeous, huge brown eggs. Well, I’d neglected to think about how fryers are bred to be killed before 12 weeks. Like the huge-breasted thanksgiving turkeys, who literally can’t stand up if they are allowed to live after a certain time and are completely unable to mate and be bred naturally–these commercial meat animals can’t live healthy past a young age because of our greedy selection of unhealthy animal strains for maximum meat. So our tremendously fat, waddling fryers are getting red, raw stomachs from their dragging on the ground. I knew it wasn’t cost-effective to keep them, but loved how funny they look when they run and the gorgeous brown eggs, but now it just seems mean–they aren’t designed to live this long (they are 10-11 mos old). A healthy, normal chicken breed can live 12-15 years. although generally laying hen flocks are replenished each year with new chicks and older hens are taken out of commission after their prime laying years (age 3-4). Anyway, that’s just sad. So, David’s going to have to take them out next week with the help of neighbor Dan, who, although we are novices ourselves, wants to work along side us to learn what we’ve been doing.

All that farmy stuff cheers me up, as I am generally anti-social, depressed and under-estrogened these days, the first two probably being due to the last one.

Anyway, consider yourself updated. Back to bed for me.

Did I give you my Moby Wrap?

I loaned it to someone or gave it to someone who probably is done using it and now Doris needs it. Who was it? Was it you? Have you seen someone using a blue Moby Wrap in the last year who knows me? I use the word “my” loosely, because it’s really Lisa’s (AKA Anonymous in the comments 🙂 Just putting it out there–my willingness to give away my stuff and my forgetfulness are an unhelpful combination. Congrats to Doris who finally named her two-week-old baby! Love you!