Welcome to the Farm!!

Welcome to the Farm!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Retiring a Flock of Chickens


Every couple of years, I retire my chickens. This is one of those years. For those of you who view your chickens as pets and plan on keeping them until they’ve lived a full life, this post is not for you. I raise chickens for their eggs and see them as livestock (food). They have names like Baked, Broiled, Fried, and Fricasseed, and sometimes they have to live up to their names.

Because our little farm is, well, little, I occasionally have to retire a flock of laying hens who are eating more than they’re laying. I simply don’t have the space to keep unproductive hens. That might sound a bit cold, but remember, I see my chickens as livestock. First and foremost, their job is to feed my family. Also, I sell excess eggs to my neighbors and friends, which pays for my flock’s upkeep. This might not sound all warm and fuzzy, but it’s just not practical for me to keep hens that aren’t producing. However, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about retiring a flock.

As a responsible animal owner, I’m not going to burden an animal shelter with my retired hens, and I’m certainly not going to release them haphazardly into a nearby park to fend for themselves. I’ll either find new homes for my retired hens, or they’ll be processed and turned into dog food. So far, all of the hens that I’ve retired over the years have found good homes, mostly at large farms in neighboring counties. You’d be surprised how many people will jump at the opportunity to adopt free adult hens, even ones who are no longer in full production.

By the way, butchering retired hens is always an option. Just keep in mind that the older the hen, the tougher the meat, which is probably where the phrase “tough old bird” originated. Simmering in a stock pot all day is probably the best cooking method for making the tough meat more palatable, and even then, it might be a little stringy. However, my dear dog who lives to protect all of our livestock would never turn her nose up at a bowl of chicken stew. Yes, I view this whole process as a “circle of life” moment.



After about a year of laying, a hen’s egg production decreases by about 20%. A good production hen like a Leghorn or a Golden Comet will lay about 250 eggs in that first year. However, by the second year, production could decrease by 50 eggs! Each year production will continue to decrease. When you factor in your space, the food-to-egg ratio, and the number of people you are trying to feed on a daily basis, that 20% decrease becomes significant. That’s the moment you have to decide why you’re raising chickens. Are they pets or are the livestock?

If you live on a piece of property with some acreage, you may never have to make that decision, but if you live in the city with nothing more than an urban backyard for your farm, you will have to make a choice. Do you keep low producing hens, or do you cull the flock and start fresh? That’s not always an easy decision to make. It took me a long time to finally come around to finding a home for my first flock when their egg production dropped so low that I had to buy eggs from the store. That was the moment I chose the role of farmer over pet owner.



Since that first flock, I’ve learned a lot about raising chickens and egg production. My first flock was entirely Rhode Island Reds. Reds are beautiful birds, but they eat a lot compared to the number of eggs they lay. They can also be a bit temperamental. Because my primary focus is egg production, I now raise only Golden Comets and Black Sex links. I like their calm personalities, and they are wonderful egg layers. Five of my eight hens are almost three years old, and I’m just now seeing a drop in production. The retired birds should have no problem finding a home with someone who doesn’t need as may eggs in a week as we do.



In anticipation of retiring part of my flock, I have 10 baby chicks in a “brooder” on my dining room table. Obviously, we are increasing our flock. We’ll be retiring 5 hens in about six months when the new chicks are of laying age. The plan is to be able to retire six hens every two to three years. Yes, if you did the math, the flock will be 13 birds. We did that on purpose. No, I don’t like the number 13, but I’m realistic. We always lose one bird. When that happens, we’ll have an even 12, which will be our maximum number of chickens our space can handle…and the maximum amount of eggs that our refrigerator and bellies can handle! As for the law, the latest ordinance for our city doesn’t cap the number of hens allowed. We just have to keep them contained, not raise roosters, and keep our neighbors happy. I think we can comply with all of that, especially when I take a dozen eggs and a jar of jam over to the neighbors occasionally.



Thanks for stopping by! By the way, did you notice that egg production decreases after the first year but I tend to keep my birds for three years? I don’t know if it’s the birds themselves or our mild weather, but we don’t see a significant change in production until around the third year of production when it drops dramatically. I think it has a lot to do with our lack of seasons. We have the warm and dry season and the hot and wet season and not many differences between the two! Well, I better get some breakfast together for my family. Eggs and toast it is!

Grace and peace be yours in abundance,

Betty

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Homemade Bread Crumbs



Bread crumbs are a common staple in the kitchen. Not only are bread crumbs great as a coating for fried pork chops or chicken, but they also help meatballs and meatloaves keep their shape, and they give a pan of baked mac and cheese an extra layer of texture and taste. However, I have a problem with paying three dollars or more for a canister of bread crumbs that someone else chose what kind of bread to use and how to season. Unfortunately, unless you have a bread crumb factory in your back yard, you’re stuck buying someone else’s idea of properly prepared crumbs.

Well, maybe not.

A couple of years ago, I was reading a book set in an Amish community. The woman in the story placed some leftover bits of day-old bread in a “crumb jar.” When the jar was full enough, the leftover pieces would be dried and crushed into bread crumbs. Yes, this was one of those moments that the obvious completely eluded me.

Why wasn’t I doing this? How hard could it be to make bread crumbs?

Let’s face it, commercial bread crumbs are probably made from the leftovers or mistakes from the bakery down the street. I have plenty of leftovers and mistakes of my own that I can use, thank you very much.

Plus, if I make my own, I could choose my own blend of seasonings or choose no seasoning at all. Can you tell that I’m not a fan of letting manufacturers tell me what I should like or want?

Anyway, over the years, I’ve probably found a half a dozen ways to make dried bread crumbs and have tried them all, and they are all easy. Different methods require different equipment and different amounts of time, but the results were always the same: dried bread crumbs that were seasoned perfectly for me and my family and were shelf stable. I’ve stored my bread crumbs in an airtight container on the shelf for months without any problems.

Collecting the Bread

Since I don’t live in an Amish community and have a perfectly good freezer at my disposal, I collect my bread scraps in the freezer instead of a jar until I’m ready to use them.

If you would like to purchase an entire loaf of bread or bake some bread special just for crumbs you go right ahead. I’ll stick to collecting the ends and oopses in my freezer.

By the way, when I talk about mistakes or oopses, I mean those loaves of bread that didn’t turn out quite right. Every once in a while, my hubby or I will bake a loaf that just doesn’t rise correctly, or we'll test a new recipe that ends up a bit too dense for our tastes. The bread might not be suitable for a sandwich, but it’ll still make some good bread crumbs.

When I’ve collected about the equivalent of a loaf of store-bought sandwich bread, it’s time to make some bread crumbs.

I generally pull the bread out of the freezer the night before crumb day. Bread thaws quickly, but if I spread it out the night before, not only is it completely thawed by the next morning, but it’s also starting to dry nicely.

Be sure to slice any whole loaves or partial loaves of unsliced bread. If you think of it, slice it before it goes into the freezer. If not, slice it after it thaws.

Drying

In order to be shelf stable, your bread crumbs have to be dried completely. Any moisture left in the bread will promote mold. Here is one area that you’ll run into a lot of variations! Just do what works for you.



Air drying: Leave the bread slices whole and spread out in a single layer on cookie sheets, turning when one side it dry. If you spread it out the night before to thaw, you should be halfway done, but plan on finishing the next day. If you live in a humid climate like I do, be careful with air drying. During time of high humidity, your bread may begin to mold before it dries! I only use this method in the winter when the humidity is down.

Yes, leftover hot dog buns make great bread crumbs!

Dehydrator: Spread the bread slices in a single layer in a food dehydrator. Rearrange the slices and turn them over after two to three hours to ensure even drying.

Oven: Spread your bread slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in your oven on the middle rack. Dry at the lowest setting your oven will allow. Be sure to turn the slices over after an hour or two. Check again in an hour or so to be sure the slices are completely dry. Of all of the options, this one uses the most electricity.

Drying after crumbling: You can dry the crumbs instead of the bread, if you prefer. You simple skip to the crumbling step and then come back to the drying step, spreading crumbs in your pan instead of slices. If you use this method with a dehydrator, you will need to use a fruit leather tray to contain the crumbs. Also, you’ll need either a food processor or a blender to turn soft bread into crumbs. Honestly, it’s easier to dry the bread first.

Drying the bread does take some time, but it’s mostly unattended time. Your slices are not going to “over dry” on the counter or in the dehydrator if you get busy with something else. However, if you do use the oven, I’d keep a closer eye on the bread. You just want to dry it, not bake it!

The dried bread will be hard and crispy and should break with a snap. If it's still pliable, dry it a little more before crumbling. 

Crumbling and Seasoning

Again, there are several ways to crumble your dried bread into crumbs. Work with what you have!

First, decide if you want to season your crumbs. I usually season mine with about a tablespoon of dried basil, a teaspoon of garlic powder, and a teaspoon of onion powder. Notice that I didn’t use garlic salt or onion salt. If you add salt to your bread crumbs, you’ll have to adjust your recipes for the extra salt. It’s better just to leave it out!

Some good herbs and spices for bread crumbs include:
Basil
Oregano
Parsley
Sage
Italian Seasoning
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Thyme
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Use about 1 tablespoon of dried herbs per loaf of bread, and 1 teaspoon of the spices per loaf of bread. If you’re not sure which ones are herbs and which ones are spices, look at the color. If it’s green and leafy, it’s an herb.

Next, break the bread into smaller pieces and choose a crumbing method. If the bread it properly dried, it should break crisply like a cracker. If it is not completely dry, let it dry some more. Any moisture left in the bread will cause your crumbs to spoil on the shelf.

Crumbling Methods

Food Processor: A food processor is by far the fastest method of turning your dried bread into fine crumbs. Place the dried bread pieces into the processor and pulse a few times to get things started, and then put it on its lowest setting for about one minute to pulverize the pieces. While the processor is running, carefully add your seasoning. Most food processors have a chute that you can use safely while the processor is running. You can also add your seasoning with the bread before starting.

By the way, unless you have an industrial sized processor, you will probably only fit about half of the bread in at a time; therefore, only add have of the seasoning at a time. Process until your bread crumbs are the desired consistency. I like my crumbs a little coarse.



Blender: A blender will also work very well for pulverizing the dried bread. After filling the blender with dried bread pieces, pulse a few times before turning the blender on high speed. Add your seasoning and blend until the bread crumbs are the desired consistency.

Grater: Yes, I have taken dried bread slices and run them across the fine side of a grater. Yes, this is time consuming, but it also works just fine if it’s the only tool you have. Just pop a movie in the DVD player, sit back, and enjoy the entertainment while you grate your dried bread pieces. Place the finished crumbs in a large bowl and toss in your seasonings. Mix well.

Zipper Seal Bag and Rolling Pin: Don’t laugh, but this is very effective in a pinch! Place a few dried bread pieces at a time in a large zipper seal bag. Seal the bag and whack it with a rolling pin. Just keep hitting it until the crumbs are the desired consistency. Pour the crumbs into a bowl and repeat until you’ve used up all of the bread. Toss in your seasonings and mix well. This happens to be my favorite method for chopping nuts, but it works for bread crumbs, too.



Storing

Store in an airtight container on your shelf. I don’t know exactly how long dried bread crumbs will last on the shelf, but I do know that I have left them there for months without a problem.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope these directions will encourage you to make your own bread crumbs.  Making your own bread crumbs is just one more way you can save more and waste less! Now, it’s time for me to use a few of these crumbs and get a meatloaf in the oven!

Grace and peace be yours in abundance,

Betty

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Homemade Honey Vanilla Lip Balm



Over the last couple of weeks, we spent quite a bit of time at the Florida State Fair. Wow, was it cold! Ok, it wasn’t bone-chilling, trudging through ice and snow kind of cold, but it was definitely cold for Florida. So, along with a few blue ribbons and one Best in Show, I came home with some seriously chapped lips…and of course, I couldn’t find a single tube of lip balm in the house.

I’m pretty sure every tube I bought last year either went through the washer at least once or was diverted to the possession of persons in this house that share my DNA or fell mysteriously into the hands of a co-worker. In any case, my lips were dry and chapped, and I needed relief.

Did I mention that I only like one brand of lip balm, and it’s only available at one store in this entire area and that store has limited hours? Being picky does have its disadvantages.

I guess it’s time to make my own. How hard can it be? I already make soap, lotion bars, vapor rub, and antiseptic ointment. I’m pretty sure I have everything I need on hand already.

Do you have any idea how many recipes are out there for lip balm? Flavored, colored, glittered, swirled, you name it! Personally, I like simple. So, I looked over at least thirty different recipes and scaled them all down to something very simple. And I think I like it. I’ll probably tweak it a bit, but for now, I like it.



Honey Lip Balm

4 tablespoons beeswax pastilles, grated beeswax, or candelilla wax
2 tablespoons sweet almond oil, coconut oil, or olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
7 drops essential oil such as lemon or vanilla
2 drops of Vitamin E oil

Combine beeswax and almond oil in a small glass bowl. Melt the wax by either heating the mixture in a microwave for about 2 minutes on high or by placing the bowl over a small pan of boiling water.

Add honey, essential oil, and vitamin E oil, stirring constantly. Pour mixture into small jars or tins or into empty lip balm tubes. Cool completely.



Please note, honey does not mix well with the wax and oil and may settle at the bottom of your jar. Try to stir the mixture often while cooling. A chopstick or skewer works great for stirring. Evidently, I didn’t stir this one very well.



By the way, this recipe filled four 1-ounce jars that I picked up at a local shop that sells a large assortment of herbs and essential oils. You can reuse old lip balm tins or tubes or small mint tins. Make sure you clean them well and dip them in boiling water for a couple of minutes to sterilize.

Also, pouring into small jars or tubes can be challenging! An eye dropper, pipette, or syringe (without the needle, of course) will do the trick. Where did I get a syringe? Um, from the bin of goat supplies, of course. We keep a ready supply of syringes to measure and administer dewormer. They cost about 20-cents each at the local feed store.

The beeswax and oils also came from the local herb shop. However, they are readily available on the internet at places like Brambleberry and Mountain Rose herbs.

Thanks for stopping by! I really like my new lip balm! Ok, my lips really like it and are feeling a lot of relief. However, I’ll be tweaking the recipe a bit. It’s a great consistency for a tube, but it’s a little hard for a jar or tin. I think I need to change the ratio of beeswax to oil. I’ll keep you posted.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance,

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