It’s Time to Freeze Your Eggs

Day 7 of 365

I have to start today’s post with a Ruby update. She deserves top billing today. This morning, when she took a break from her eggs, I started the clock for her. I always give her one hour and then have to go chase her down and bring her back to her eggs. But not today! This morning, after her hour break was up, I went out to see where she was. I was feeling quite tired from last night’s big night of cello. I have learned over the last few years of being a cello mom that another perk of being an empath is that I feel exhausted after my kiddo performs. I did not think I had the legs to chase a tiny, speedy chicken again this morning.

I am happy to report she was waiting for me at the door of the coop. When I opened the door, she went right to the garage. I played it cool and watched from afar. Sure enough, within a minute or so, she went to her eggs! I was so thankful she didn’t have to be reminded this morning. I brought her some treats. She rewarded me with a good peck on the hand.

Another task for the day was freezing eggs. It’s May, and our hens always lay really well in May and June. By the end of June, half of the flock is trying to go broody, and the egg laying drops off. We have a few customers who love our eggs, but I am hesitant to take on too many more, as I have found, that later in the summer, things slow down. And, of course, in fall, there is the molt. And, of course, after that comes winter. And since we do not add light in our coop, egg production really slows down. But right now, we are overrun with eggs!

Since hard times are always coming in fall and winter, a few years ago, I started the habit of freezing eggs in May and June. Then, this coming Thanksgiving, when I need like two dozen eggs to make Thanksgiving pies and rolls and the like and only have two eggs in coop, all I have to do is bring out the frozen eggs.

One year, I had to take the walk of shame at the grocery store and buy eggs. It had been years since I had eaten grocery store eggs, but our hens really slowed down one winter when we had no new hens laying to help us through the slow times. We ended up making scrambled eggs one morning out of those store-bought eggs, and I could not believe the difference! The eggs were terrible to me, and, I am not kidding, I just about cried eating them. “They taste like depression,” I said. I couldn’t finish eating them. For real, you can taste the difference between happy eggs and sad eggs–at least I think I can.

After that, I started freezing eggs.

It’s a very simple process. I have tried a few different methods I read about on the internet, but this one worked best for me. If you are overrun with eggs and do not plan to add light to your coop in the winter, now is the perfect time to freeze your eggs. They will be great for baking, quiche, and even scrambled eggs come December.

Supplies

muffin pan
whisk
small bowl
cooking spray
eggs
metal straw (optional)
gallon freezer bags for storage

Directions

  1. Spray your muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Crack an egg and scramble it in a small bowl. It’s best to scrambled it. I tried a batch without scrambling, and the yolk was just too hard and wouldn’t thaw properly after freezing.
  3. Pour each single egg into each individual muffin round.
  4. After you fill up each round, put your muffin pan into the freezer. Leave for a good half day. I always forget mine and leave them for a full day anyway.
  5. Remove your muffin pan and let it sit at room temperature for just about five minutes. This will allow the outside of the frozen egg to soften a bit and will make it easier to get the eggs out of the little round.
  6. Using a butter knife, pop out the frozen egg and place it in your freezer bag.
  7. After you have a dozen eggs in your gallon bag, seal it most of the way. Get out as much of the air as possible and then seal the bag. As an option, I use a metal straw and suck out any extra air, but you have to be careful not to suck up a piece of egg. This happened to me last time, and it was not pleasant.

Using Frozen Eggs

This has been the tricky part for me. Come winter, when you have to use your frozen eggs, you have to plan a bit. The eggs should be thawed in the refrigerator, but I can never plan ahead this well. Ron figured out how to use a low defrost setting on our microwave to thaw our eggs, but it’s tricky. I failed several times and accidentally cooked some eggs. I think thawing in the refrigerator is the best method.

I was told that you should use the frozen eggs within a year, and I can see this is ideal. However, we saved so many in 2020 that we were still eating them a year and half and up to two years later. They were still good! I could tell no difference between the year old and nearly two year old eggs.

I hope this can be helpful to any new chicken keepers who may read this. In your first year of keeping chickens, they will lay through the winter. In the second year, they will molt and will slow down quite a bit or even stop laying altogether in the winter. Freezing eggs now will keep you from having to eat sad eggs later.

Everybody Loves Cello

Day 6 of 365

Today was a big day off of our little farm. That’s why I am so late to write. My cello mom work started early this morning and didn’t end until long after dark.

photo credit: Janderson Tulio, Unsplash

Our son is a cellist, and he’s a pretty serious cellist. Today, my husband drove us to Augusta, and we listened to one of the most beautiful orchestra concerts I think I have ever heard. There was the drive, the rehearsal, the making of food to eat in the car, the drive home. It’s a long day at the end of a long season of 10 weeks of driving, eating in the car, sitting in the car during three-hour rehearsals.

But, truly, it’s worth it and then some. If you have never heard The Sicilienne, the third movement of Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande, give it a listen here. It’s magnificent! And I just heard it played live by an orchestra—and my kiddo played in the orchestra. I have no words for the joy this brought me.

Thinking of the cello reminds me to tell you a story about the Eastern Phoebes who have made a nest on our deck. It was just a treat watching them build that nest over the last few weeks. Those birds worked so hard. Thankfully, I learned Eastern Phoebes tolerate people very well. How fortunate am I? I mean, I won’t get too close. I promised the female Phoebe I would be respectful of her space (I have a whole other story to tell about that later), but I am still in for some joy this summer. I read they might raise two broods! I am so glad these fantastic birds chose our deck. 

Last night, when my son was practicing his cello, it started to rain, and I had to step outside onto the deck to bring in some aloe plants I had potted during the day. When I stepped outside, I could hear my son’s cello so loudly and clearly from outside the window, and then I realized the Eastern Phoebe nest was right above the window to our son’s music room. 

For a moment, I worried about the nest being so close to that loud cello music, but then it occurred to me that the Phoebes would have surely been aware of the loud cello music while building their nest. Our son plays cello six days a week for about two hours each day. Maybe, just maybe, Eastern Phoebes like cello music, too. 

“At least that A string,” Ron said when I told him what I noticed. “Yeah, at least that A string,” I thought.  

We have a duck who injured her leg on the ice one winter several years ago. She had to live in the house for nearly eight weeks while she recovered. During that time, we discovered she loved the cello. When our son would start to practice, she would come from wherever she was in the house and park herself right under the cello. She would stay there for the whole cello practice! It was amazing!

I did some research and learned that birds process music in the same part of their brains as we do. How cool is that?   

***

Oh, and I have a quick Ruby update. She’s still on the eggs and took no break today. I gave her some leftover homemade waffles as a treat. She ate them out of my hand very aggressively and then gave me a good hard peck on the hand for good measure. Oh, Ruby! 

I will candle her eggs on Wednesday.

A Scream in the Woods

Day 5 of 365

I have a story to tell today! But, before I can tell it, I think I have to give a little context.

In 2019, we had our first hawk attack on our chickens. I was in the house and heard a loud scream from the chicken area, but I didn’t run out there right away. We had 8 young chickens, who were about 9 weeks old, and they had just been out with the “grown ups” for a few days. I watched them closely for the first couple of days to make sure they weren’t picked on too much. They weren’t. We have a pretty peaceful flock. But a couple of them just screamed and screamed at the slightest peck on the head. They had some melodramatic leanings for sure. One was a little rooster, and he was as cute as can be–and such a mama’s baby. When his mama said he had to be grown up at 9 weeks, he took it hard.

Given this situation, I took my time getting out to the chicken area when I heard that scream. When I opened the front door and saw the reason for the scream–a hawk on the back of one of my original Rhode Island Reds, Lucy II, I was devastated. I ran upon the hawk, but I was too late. It was truly one of the most devastating experiences because I could have saved her. I felt like the worst chicken mama in the world, and truly, that day, I was.

I vowed that would never happen again.

And it hasn’t. I am now extremely in tune with every sound, every call, every bit of talking. At the slightest potential sound of distress, I drop everything I am doing and go check. Without fail. Every single time. For nearly 4 years. I’m going to be honest, I don’t know if it’s good for my nerves, but it is what it is.

I have become so adept at figuring out bird calls, I feel part bird. This has been helpful in keeping my chickens safe, but we live in the Maine woods, and in the spring and summer, this means I also hear, with far too much detail, the calls of the birds in our woods. It’s mostly wonderful, but being awoken at 4:00 in the morning because a wild bird is upset about something does get old. And the worst is when I hear a baby distress call. The very worst is when I hear a baby distress call that goes on and on and on and on. I know something must have happened.

That happened last night. I was cooking a very late dinner because Ron was working in the garden until dark and I had some final grades due for a class. As I was cooking, it was starting to get dark outside, and I heard the distress call. I kept hearing it and hearing it and hearing it. It’s heartbreaking.

When Ron came in, I told him about it. And then told him about it some more. I knew there was nothing to be done. I could tell it was in a tree very near our house, but I had no idea what tree, and what would I do anyway? Climb a tree?

Ron got up and shut the windows. “There,” he said. “No more outside noise.”

We finished dinner, and then I got the duck’s peas ready for bedtime. I opened the back door and stepped out to greet the ducks and was also ready to listen carefully to see if I still heard the baby bird distress call.

What I heard instead was a scream that sounded just like a human screaming in terror, and it was coming from right above my head.

I just froze in panic. For a few seconds, my brain had no idea what I had heard. I had this instinct to drop the peas and run, but I also had the instinct to run to my ducks to protect them. I couldn’t move a muscle. And then, about 30 seconds later, I heard “who cooks for you?”

photo credit: Richard Lee, Unsplash

Oh my gosh! That’s a barred owl, I thought to myself, and I could breathe again. Of course, then I realized I had better get the ducks into the house, as that owl was right above us. I watched far too much of a video one time about what an owl does to a duck head. Thankfully, the ducks didn’t play their games too much last night and went into the duck house fairly quickly. As I circled the duck house for a few short rounds of the duck game, I realized I also didn’t hear the baby bird in distress anymore…

It could be a coincidence, but the sounds were definitely from the same area. And, as sad as I am for that baby bird, I know an owl has to eat, and it’s better this way than that poor baby starving to death.

Nature.

When I came inside to tell Ron about it, he didn’t seem to understand the weight of my fear of that first scream. He probably would have known it was an owl immediately. I did not. I hear a lot of owls, but I had never heard that particular scream that close to me before. I’ll bet it was less than 15 feet from me.

My adrenaline must have gotten up so much from the scream that I ended up with a terrible headache, and, of course, felt silly for being so scared. I guess, for about 30 seconds, I thought Stephen King was right and there were terrible things in the Maine woods.

Thankfully, it was just a barred owl, but if you have never heard the scream, you must listen to it here. I found it by Googling “barred owl scream.” And when I searched for it, one result come up “owl that screams like a human.” Here it is below. Listen at 0:07.

If you think it’s terrifying too, please leave a comment because I think Ron thinks I am ridiculous for being so frightened.

***

And I have to give a quick Ruby update. She took a break from her eggs today and didn’t want to go back again. She flew over into the main chicken area and was just having a party with everyone else. I had to run her down in the chicken run after an hour of her party, which made her stress–and everyone stress. I honestly can’t believe I caught her again. She’s so fast! But she ran under a shrub and thought she was hidden from me, so I scooped her up. When I took her back to the eggs to see if she was going to get back on them (I was starting to think I was maybe going to have to give her eggs to Kate, who has also gone broody now), she went straight to them, wiggled her little self on them, and then screamed at me for getting too close when I checked her water. That chicken.

She’s on Day 4 of 21. Sigh.

The Loyalty of a Farm Dog

Day 4 of 365

Yesterday, a hawk flew over the duck area, and I could see it from the dining room window. I was up and alert, as was Boudica, our Great Pyrenees. In a matter of seconds, Boudica and I went from looking out the window to action. Without thinking, I went to open the back door and said to Boudica, “You take the ducks. I’ll take the chickens.”

She was on it. She raced to the duck yard, and as I raced to the chicken yard, I realized how fortunate I am to have a farm dog like Boudica. She is my partner and my friend, and she takes care of me in a way that I have never experienced before. Usually, we take care of our animals, and they will give back to us in so many important ways. But with Boudica, it’s different.

Great Pyrenees are remarkable dogs, but they are also difficult. They make wonderful farm dogs, but they must be trained not to chase the smaller animals, like chickens and ducks. And, when I say “trained,” it’s a certain kind of trained. You really can’t make a Great Pyrenees do anything they don’t want to do. They are bred to be independent thinkers, decision makers on their own. I mean, maybe you can make them, but you would not want to do that to their spirit. You just teach with kindness. You express what you need in a way they can understand, and out of love for you, they comply.

They also bark–a lot. If a squirrel sneezes or a car door opens a half mile away, it is likely worth a bark.

I am speaking in generalizations, of course. I have worked with just two Great Pyrenees in my life, but I read several books before taking on this breed of dog. They are not for the faint of heart. Our Pyrenees, Gus, who passed away last fall and who was likely one of the great loves of my life, could be so difficult. I remember going out to the deck to tell him to stop barking like a maniac when the tiny neighbor dog walked by on a leash. When I commanded him to stop, I was, of course, ignored. It was only when I reasoned with him and asked him very kindly to “please, please, please tone it down” that he would relent. I am in some Facebook groups for Great Pyrenees “owners,” and I see a lot of rehoming posts because these dogs are just more than a lot of people can anticipate.

And I put “owners” in quotation marks because you do not “own” a Great Pyrenees. They will be your partner in life and work and will show you a loyalty the likes of which I cannot put into words if you are loyal to them, too. And therein lies their magnificence, I think.

Boudica cares for me in a way that I have never experienced with an animal. The care is real. Her help is real. I love having this kind of a relationship with an animal, and I wanted to share a few recent examples, besides our partnership in hawk detection.

A few weeks ago, Boudica woke me up in the middle of the night. I was right in the middle of a nightmare, and Boudica nudged me awake with her nose. I assumed she needed to go outside, though this was very unusual for her. She just doesn’t have to go out in the middle of the night anymore. I thought this must be an emergency! So I got up and headed downstairs to the door. But when I got there, there was no Boudica. I went to find her and found she had simply gone back to her bed. I was confused.

It was then that I remembered my son telling me Boudica had, on several occasions, woke him up when he was having a nightmare. I felt so loved that she did this for me.

In another recent incident, I went out for a walk but left Boudica behind that day because I wanted to go for a very long walk. Boudica can make it on short walks, but Great Pyrenees are more “sit and guard” dogs than long walkers. I told her I was sorry but that I would be back soon and left her in the yard. As I made my way past our house to my neighbor’s house, I saw their dog was outside. Their dog is a beautiful lab, and I adore her. But, doing her job well, she barked at me as I walked by her house.

Then I heard this ferocious, almost hysterical bark from Boudica. She was at a dead run toward the edge of our fenced yard in my direction. It was like her worst fears had been realized. There I was, her helpless human, out in the world with another dog surely about to attack me, and she was not with me! She was beside herself!

Of course, I turned around and went home to confirm with Boudica that I was, indeed, all in one piece. I saved my long walk for later.

These are just some of the little stories of protection she provides. She deeply understands that it is her job to protect the chickens and the ducks, and she does so with focus and determination. I am knocking on wood as I type these words, but we just do not see the kinds of predator attacks others who live in the Maine woods often see because, well, we have a farm dog named Boudica.

I love her to the moon and back, and it’s really cool that she loves me just the same.

***

And just a little update on Ruby and her clutch of eggs. She didn’t budge from her eggs today, though I encouraged her to take a break. I did deliver some bread scraps to her, which she promptly gobbled up–at first with the ferocity of the tiny dinosaur she is, and then with a little more gentleness, which makes me hopeful. She’s on day 3 of 21. Then, her real adventure begins.

It’s Weirdly Hot for May in Maine

Day 3 of 365

Ruby is off her nest of eggs right now, and she has just 12 minutes before it makes an hour. I’ve read broody hens can be off their eggs for longer, but an hour is a safe window of time for a break. So, in the middle of writing this, I will have to go check on Ruby. She didn’t take a break at all yesterday, so I know she needs one. Still, I’m hoping she will get back to work soon.

It’s been really hot this week, very hot for May in Maine. Ron has been planting everything early but has been most worried about getting the broccoli and cauliflower going because it will bake in the heat and not produce. It needs our usual cooler temperatures. He did well, he got the plants into the ground, but getting hot this early is a concern. Hopefully, the plants will survive this heat wave.

The heat is hard on our animals too. We have several very old chickens. One is a meat bird, Mary Jane. If she makes it to the first of June, she will be five years old! This is something of a miracle, but she’s very large and very old, and I worry very much about losing her to the heat. Thankfully, our birds have a lot of shade from the many trees on our property, and I take great pains to make sure everyone has access to fresh water and cool treats throughout the summer. Still, a couple of years ago, we lost an older hen to the heat. I try to keep a watchful eye.

Yesterday, my son and I went for a walk on our road, and when we got home, I noticed the chickens looked so hot and dry. Earlier than usual, I went to the shed and got their extra waterer. I gave it a good scrub and put it out for everyone near the dust bath hang out. It was a hit. As soon as I sat it down, several chickens circled the waterer. They still had access to their main waterer, of course, but new is better. They always think this. When I am feeding scraps, I have some hens who will constantly move on to what I am dropping last, even if they are giving up a very good position with very good scraps I dropped earlier. Apparently, these hens do not understand the old saying, “a bird in the hand.” In so many ways, humans are the same.

While I was scrubbing the waterer, I noticed the ducks, who have their own area separate from our chickens. That’s another story in and of itself. We tried to keep our chickens and ducks together, as some farmers do, but it was a hard “no” for us. This meant Ron had to build an entirely new duck area complete with duck house and 1/2 acre fenced area. He’s kind of a miracle, though he doesn’t think so. Anyway, the ducks were watching me closely with the water hose, and one duck in particular, a duck we rehabilitated after she was over-mated at another farm, was making eye contact. Her name is Anna Maria.

I looked at her. She looked at the kiddie pool. I didn’t feel like scrubbing and cleaning their pool, as I needed to go make dinner, and we try to just do the pool clean just once per week to be frugal with water. They have access to large bowls with fresh water every morning, but the pool is pretty big. It hadn’t been a week yet since it’s last clean and fill, but when I looked at her again, she looked at the pool. I got the message.

“Alright, Anna Maria, hang on.”

I scrubbed and filled the pool with the sparkling water made extra beautiful by the fact that the kiddie pool is light blue. The ducks gathered and watched in anticipation. When the pool was filled Antonio, our only male duck, was the first one in. “Come on in, girls, the water’s fine,” he said with the bob of his head. The ladies seemed skeptical.

But after a few minutes, they couldn’t resist, and the girls piled in as well. But not Anna Maria. She waited. I went about my other work, as I knew she would get her turn. Indeed, she did. I came back by a few minutes later, and Anna Maria was in the pool with one other female. They were both ducking down and raising up, letting the cool water run over their heads, and my heart was so happy for Anna Maria. I will have to write more about her soon, but she has been though a lot in her life. Every single time I see her being joyful, I feel like I have done some good in the world.

I feel like I flail around the world most of the time–wanting to do some good, usually feeling helpless. I cannot affect much change in the world. I cannot convince world governments that we need to take action now on climate change, that Maine is too hot in May. I cannot even figure out how to help my children prepare for an ever-changing, more difficult world than I grew up in. I try but feel like a failure at every turn.

But I made Anna Maria’s life better.

And, yesterday, in the sparking water, as the sun shone on her between the trees, I saw a joyful duck, and there, before my eyes, was some good I have done in my life.

***

While writing this, I had to take a break and check on Ruby. Her hour was up, but she was still off her nest. Much to her dismay, I had to capture her, which is no easy task. Chickens are fast! But when I took her back to her eggs, she went to them immediately. She sat her little self down, adjusted her body to spread over the 8 eggs in her nest, and looked content. I guess she just needed to be reminded. She’s on day 2 of 21. On day 7, I’ll candle the eggs!

Ruby Loves Eggs, Too

Day 2 of 365

Last night, I put eight hatching eggs under our first broody hen of the season. Her name is Ruby.

One day per week, we drive an hour and a half to Augusta for our son’s orchestra rehearsals. It just so happened that the breeder I contacted about getting some Salmon Faverolle hatching eggs is based outside of Augusta. So, last evening, right before rehearsals, I met the breeder in a grocery store parking lot and got this carton of eggs full of potential for adding a fantastic breed of chicken to our flock. I have been interested in this breed for some time, and I am excited to get these hatching eggs from a reputable breeder, Why Not Farms.

But the best story in all of this is about Ruby. Ruby looks almost like a red version of a Salmon Faverolle, but she is simply a barnyard mix. She is part Easter Egger, part Welsummer, and part Rhode Island Red, and somehow she is just magnificent to look at. She’s so unique–inside and out.

Ruby is a talker. She’s one of the most vocal chickens I have ever met, and as near as I can tell, she likes to complain. She’s low in the pecking order, and I’m pretty sure she complains about the injustice of this. I think she might also complain about wanting treats. She wants to be treated fairly, and Juliet, my most favorite misfit chicken gets treats every day when she flies over the fence from the chicken yard. Ruby, observing this, started doing the same and then complaining loudly until she got treats too. After all, fair is fair.

The most interesting thing about Ruby is that I just happened to be out in the coop this February when Ruby laid her first egg ever! Hatched last summer, without artificial light in the coop, Ruby was later to start laying eggs, so I was so excited when I went out to the coop one day this winter and found her in the nest box for the first time. She was standing up, so I knew an egg was coming soon. I watched and waited, and sure enough, a beautiful pale olive green egg landed in the nest box under her.

And what happened next was like nothing I have ever seen: Ruby turned around to observe what had just plopped out of her and had a look on her face of love. She stared a bit at her egg, like it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. And, truly, it was beautiful. The color of her eggs is beautiful.

Eggs are magnificent to me. Part complete nutrition and part work of art, I think eggs are gorgeous. I am not alone in this love for eggs. Chicken people spend a good deal of time taking pictures of eggs and sharing them on Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest. The eggs are posed in baskets, on tables, and if you have a variety of colors, well, then that’s something extra special. Books have been written on eggs. I own two of them. Somehow, Ruby was the first chicken I have ever met who seemed to get how magnificent eggs are. Most of my hens lay an egg and move on.

The way Ruby looked at those eggs was so interesting to me. I came inside and told Ron, “I am betting right now Ruby goes broody this summer.” I posted this prediction on social media. Sure enough, a few weeks ago, Ruby was the first of the flock to go broody.

Of course, once she went broody as I had predicted, I started to question how exactly I knew this was going to happen. I think it’s just from being observant. I can’t tell you for sure if chickens have facial expressions or if I am reading them in a different way, but chickens do express emotions in a way that seems fairly clear to me. Most people I talk to do not seem to grasp this, but it’s true. I see contentment, frustration, concern, hopefulness, and thanks to Ruby, I saw what adoration looks like in a chicken. Temple Grandin, the scientist and animal behaviorist famous for her efforts in changing the way livestock animals are treated, said that animals have emotions just like human animals. It’s just that these emotions are simpler. This makes perfect sense to me.

This morning, Ruby is still on her eggs. When I put the eight hatching eggs under her last night, she attacked me pretty solidly. This morning, I am bruised, but I don’t mind at all. When I finished putting the eggs under her, I watched her wiggle her little self onto that big clutch of eggs with contentment. Hopefully, her love of eggs will mean she’s a good mother. Hopefully, she will love what comes out of the eggs, too.

We have 21 days until we find out.

A New Year, a New Adventure, and a New Kind of Blog

Today is Day 1 of a 365-day project I start with this Farmer-ish blog. I want to try something different. I am going to be honest. I struggle with social media, and struggling with social media is not an asset when you are trying to run and market a new journal. Nevertheless, I struggle greatly.  

It’s hard to fully define the struggle, though I have thought deeply about this for years. Part of my struggle is that I am just so curious. I can’t help but read and click and explore. I study human behaviors in groups and forums. Far too much of it is heartbreaking. And this leads me to the second part of my struggle—I am an empath. One time, I read a post about rescued duck who had been used as a soccer ball by a family in a park. I mean, who does that to an animal? I had trouble sleeping that night and thought obsessively about that poor duck for days. Recently, I started reading about animal rescues in the Ukraine. I have spent more time than I can say crying on my keyboard. Yet I struggle to look away. The magical portal with all the information and all the stories in all the world lures me.

Even before I started Farmer-ish, I was working as a freelance writer and struggling with social media. I wanted something different but didn’t know what that “something different” might look like. I have recently researched other options. I have read all of the blog posts about what works on social media. You have to be authentic (people like that). You’re supposed to do it every day (this doesn’t work when you’re hiding from Facebook). I have read and read and read. Some people give up on the whole thing, this exhausting system of constantly “building your brand.” Some people try newsletters. Some try different kinds of social media. Some have had success. 

After searching my soul, I have a plan. 

For the next year, starting today, May 10, 2022 (the day after my 47th birthday), I am going to write, every single day, something farmer-ish for the Farmer-ish blog. My main goal will be to tell the animal stories of my life. I want the world (or perhaps just the handful of people who will read this blog) to know these animals and see what I see and experience. I used to doubt myself and my connection to animals, but the older I get and the more research I read, the more I believe my experiences are real—and worthy of sharing. 

So join me, if you will. 

I am going to tell you stories about my quirky chicken, Juliet, who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the flock and trades eggs for treats. I am going to tell you stories about a rooster named Rooster, who is reserved and thoughtful and seems to have an unusual capacity for language. I am going to tell you about our ducks and how, every night before bed, I bring them peas in a white bowl and then we play a game. I am going to tell you stories about the Eastern Phoebes who have built a nest on our back deck. 

In the middle of my animal stories, I will also share details of our famer-ish life. I’ll share seasonal recipes and tips on growing, cooking, and storing your own food. I’ll share stories about what my husband is doing in the garden. I’ll share about the things I make—from jam to quilts to bread to candles.

Sometimes, I’ll write a whole essay. Sometimes, I may only be able to share a quote from a book I have read or am reading. It won’t be polished. There will surely be typos. 

But I am putting this goal into writing and hope to keep it. For the next year, I am going to write something here every single day. 

In the end, maybe I’ll have a book. Maybe I’ll just have some writing worthy of reflection. Maybe I’ll find a way to establish a presence on social media (because blogs are a kind of social media after all) that feels honest and good for me—and maybe this process will keep my curious self away from the Facebook posts that keep me awake at night. And, maybe, you will sometimes feel compelled to comment.

If you are reading this, thank you for going on this journey with me—on Day 1 of 365. 

Buttery Soft Valentine’s Day Cookies with Pomegranate Icing

I love Valentine’s Day. I think it’s the color in the middle of a long, white winter. I also love soft sugar cookies, and though I can never decorate said cookies as I would wish to, I have found a way to create a simple decoration that is pretty and yummy at the same time.

I hope you enjoy this recipe for my buttery soft sugar cookies with pomegranate icing. They are pretty in pink for sure!

Supplies:

  • 2 baking sheets
  • parchment paper
  • mixing bowls
  • hand mixer (or a sturdy whisk and a lot of strength)
  • pastry brush
  • heart-shaped cookie cutter

Ingredients:

Cookies

  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature or slightly melty from the microwave, if you are like me and can’t seem to plan ahead on the butter)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Icing

  • 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • pomegranate juice (any dark juice will work and will make different colors)

Directions:

Cookies

Mix dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl. In a larger mixing bowl, mix with your hand mixer the butter and sugar. Make it fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Make that fluffy too. Add the dry ingredients and mix everything together thoroughly with your hand mixer. The dough should be a little soft, too soft to work with at this point.

Cover your bowl of dough with a clean dish towel and set aside in a cool area for about half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

When the dough has stiffened a little, cut it in half, and one a time, roll it out on a floured surface to about 1/3 of inch thick. You want these to be pretty thick cookies. Use your cookie cutter and cut out your hearts. Place on your baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Each time you cut out some cookies, pick up the scraps, pat it back together, and go again with rolling and cutting.

Using a larger cookie cutter, I get 12 to 13 large hearts in total. If you have a smaller cutter, you will get more, of course. Use very bit of your dough. I promise it’s too good to waste. I always fill up two cookie sheets.

Place in the oven and bake for 8 to 11 minutes, depending on the size of your cookie. For the larger cookies, I aim for about 11 minutes. You want to get the cookies out right as they are done–before they start to get browned on the edges.

Icing

While the cookies cool, mix your powdered sugar and just enough pomegranate juice to create a mixture that is fairly thick but thin enough to paint with using your pastry brush. It should be the texture of honey.

Paint your cookies with your pink icing. I like to try to leave an edge, but I also like to paint some all the way over the edge. The variety makes me happy, so do what makes you happy.

Let the cookies sit for about an hour,. The icing will harden. Then, it’s time to enjoy. These go well with a glass of cold milk as well as a cup of warm tea.

Making Light: How to Make Your Own Beeswax Jar Candles

“You know why I like making candles?” I ask my husband and son.

They both seem to understand this is a rhetorical question and do not respond but turn their attention to me for the answer.

“Because I feel like I’m magic. I’m making light,” I say.

It’s true. I want to be magic. I know several magical people, and, while I adore their magic, I sometimes feel jealous that I have no magic of my own. But when I make candles, I feel a little bit like I have some magical powers. Making candles is an enjoyable process that leads to a beautiful gift for yourself or others.

For me, it all started with the jars. I have found that I have hoarding tendencies for a few things–tote bags, pens and pencils, yarn, and mason jars. I also hate waste, so when I found myself unable to part with the small mason jars my favorite organic pizza sauce for homemade pizza came in, I knew I must find a use for these fantastic jars. I started collecting these jars years ago. I am now able to make my own pizza sauce, but I still buy this sauce because, well, I love these jars. It makes no sense to most people, I know, but if you love jars, it will make perfect sense to you.

After much research, I found recipes for making beeswax candles in jars and figured I would have to try this. After trying several recipes, the one that works best for me is this one from Wellness Mama. I have adapted the instructions to my own words and processes after trying this process more than a few times.

If you want to feel a little magical and to bring some light to your home, read on. These candles are so much better than any candle I have ever purchased, and they last FOREVER.

It’s also fantastic to have organic beeswax candles around the house. I make these fragrance free, and my son says they still smell like “honey smoke.” Beeswax candles are also clean burning and soot free. I read they also help neutralize pollutants in the air around them, but I have not researched this to confirm. I do know they are clean, beautiful, and bring a lovely, warm light to our home any time of year. I especially love them in the winter.

You will need to purchase some supplies to make these candles, but they make great gifts too. And once you have your supplies, you can make candles forever and give good use to all of those beautiful jars that appear in your life that just aren’t the right size for canning.

Supplies

Directions

  • 1 pound beeswax pellets or blocks (I buy local when I can but found these pellets as a back up!)
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut oil
  • medium or #4 natural cotton candle wick
  • small to medium glass jars, clean and dry (I use 14 ounce up-cycled pizza sauce jars)
  • metal pitcher (the wax will make this pitcher your permanent candle pitcher)
  • pot large enough to fit your metal pitcher in
  • bamboo skewers, chopsticks, or some kind of wooden stick for wrapping and holding the wicks
  • tape

Add the beeswax and coconut oil to your metal pitcher. Place your pitcher in the pot and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pitcher. Don’t worry if the water doesn’t reach the level of the top of the wax in the pitcher. The wax will still melt just fine. Melt your wax on medium heat.

Using a wooden spoon you don’t mind losing to the candle cause or one of your sticks, stir the wax and coconut oil mixture as it melts.

While the wax mix melts, prepare the wicks. Cut them a bit longer than your jar, so that you have enough to wrap it around the stick that will hold it in place.

When the mixture is completely melted, pour about 1/2 of an inch of beeswax into the bottom of your jar or jars. The number of jars will depend on the jar size and how much wax you make. One of my 14 ounce jars will hold nearly a pound of the wax.

Before the little bit of wax starts to harden in the jar, use one of the sticks to mush the bottom of a wick down into the small amount of wax. You may need to hold it steady with the stick to make sure it stays put. Let the wax harden a bit and then wrap the top end of your wick around one of the sticks. You want the wick to be straight. I always have to hold mine in place with tape.

When you have the wick centered, fill the remainder of the jar with the hot wax. Fill to just below the lip of the jar.

At this point, you may be finished and can just wait for your wax to harden and trim the wick to about 1/2 inch, but I have found that wax at the top will often reveal cracks after it settles and hardens. To make my candles a little more professional looking, I will wait for this to happen and then reheat the wax in my pitcher and fill in the cracks in my candle. This kind of “tops things off” and gives you a smooth finish for the top of your candle.

Burning Instructions

One of the most fantastic things about this candle is how long it will last. Beeswax is wonderfully efficient because of course it is. I have had one of my candles for three years now, and it has a good 30 hours on it. It’s still going!

The trick to keep a jar candle from tunneling is to give it a good, long burn on the first burn to ensure a good even melting. Ideally, you want to let your candle burn for 4 hours on the first burn. When I do this, I have very few issues with tunneling.

If you do not have 4 hours for the first burn, I learned you can wrap foil around the top to ensure even heat around the top of the jar. This really does work and helps to ensure an even burn.

Support Farmer-ish

If you do not have time to make your own or want to test one before you invest in the materials, you can purchase one at our Farmer-ish Etsy shop. All profits go to our writers and artists.


How to Last-Minute Prepare Your Flock for Extreme Cold Weather

by Crystal Sands

We have been keeping chickens in Maine for 8 years, and over those years, I have learned a lot about keeping our flock safe and warm through some fairly extreme cold. Some of what I learned, I learned through research; some, I learned through experiences. One of the key things I have learned is that there is the “ideal” situation for keeping chickens and then there is the situations many of us find ourselves in.

It is so true (and I have written about this very thing) that chickens generally do not need a heat source of any kind in the winter, even when the temps drop in an extreme way. But a good winter situation means you have a sturdy, dry coop with good ventilation, no drafts, and good, dry bedding. What do you do when this is not the winter situation you find yourself in?

I have given chicken talks for the Common Ground fair and written about chicken keeping for years. I have interviewed several big names in chicken care, and one of my biggest worries is when people offer “blanket” advice without knowing the ins and outs of particular situations.

Take our situation, for example. We had always done well with preparing our coop for the winter. We kept 15 to 20 birds for the longest time and went along at a good pace. We had no issues of frost bite in the winter. But, two years ago, we increased the size of our flock to 31 birds. When winter hit, we found we were struggling to get the vents opened to the proper amount, and our coop was getting damp from the increase in birds. After all, all that chicken breathing makes moisture. We were trying to adjust, but one night, the temps dropped to -7 degrees Fahrenheit, and our rooster got frostbite. We had an oil-based heater that we had used one winter when the temps were hanging out around -18 degrees for a couple of weeks, but since everyone told us you don’t need a heater, that year, we never brought out the heater. The night of -7 degrees meant frostbite for our rooster.

Thankfully, the frostbite was minor, but I learned a couple of valuable lessons: First, I needed to do better to prepare my coop for winter, and second, I needed to stop listening to “blanket” advice and make my own decisions based on the situations I am in, however not-ideal they may be.

As I write this post, we are looking at a significant temperature drop here in Maine tonight, so I wanted to offer some tips to help you prepare your chickens for a cold night–if you find yourself in one of those less-than-ideal situations.

Assess the Dampness Right Before the Temps Drop

Go out to your coop right now. Is it damp? Does the bedding feel damp? We use straw, and contrary to one of the many myths circulating the internet, no, it does not lead to crop or mite problems. When our straw is dry, I know things are okay in terms of the moisture in the coop. Because moisture leads to bigger issues with frostbite (essentially, the moisture sticks to any surfaces, including your chickens and leads to the cold feeling colder and doing more damage), you want to make sure your coop is good and dry tonight. Last year, when we had the frost bite, we had been struggling with the humidity, and the straw was a bit damp feeling. I should have pulled every bit of that damp straw out of our coop for that sudden drop and made sure, though we were struggling with ventilation, that, at the very least, we were starting the evening in a dry place. If your coop feels damp, get the wet bedding out of there today and put in fresh. Do not hesitate on this!

You should adjust your vents. The trick to a well-ventilated coop is that there should be no drafts, but up high, there should be vents you can open and adjust. If you have been struggling with dampness, open those vents a little more. It may feel counter-intuitive, like you are letting in more cold, but ventilation up high helps release the moisture from all of that chicken breathing.

Assess Your Flock

If you have healthy, cold-hardy birds, you are in good shape as the temperatures drop. If you have any Silkies, please understand these are not cold-hardy birds. We do not keep Silkies here in Maine, but I spoke to someone who lost some Silkies in a cold snap here in Maine. They do not have the same kind of feathers as other breeds and can struggle in the cold. If you have a less-than-ideal situation in your coop and can bring your Silkies into the garage or somewhere milder (you do not want too warm, as then they will get used to the warmth), I would. There’s just a big difference between a Rhode Island Red and a Silkie when it comes to handling the cold.

If you have just one or two birds, I would be hesitant to leave them alone in a coop in sub-zero temps. The snuggling helps everyone handle the cold. Plus, more chicken breath equals more heat in the coop. If you have one or two chickens, as I know some people do, I would make a plan B.

Should you add heat?

If the only heat source you have is a heat lamp, no matter the situation, I just say no. I know I said I don’t like “blanket” advice, but I have seen far too many coop and barn fires from heat lamps. In my opinion, they are simply not worth the risk. Plus, there are other heat sources. If you have just a couple of birds, a Sweeter Heater, which does not get hot to the touch, works great. If you do not have one, ask around. We have one we let a friend borrow, and chicken people are generally really good about helping other chicken people.

We have an oil-based ceramic heater that does not get hot to the touch that we have used. My husband also built a cage to go around the ceramic heater, just in case. This oil heater doesn’t make a huge difference in coop temperatures, but it helps. Our flock is a closed flock due to a respiratory issue several years ago. We have some old birds that are not as tough as they used to be. I wish, last year, I would have gone ahead and put the heater out that night our rooster got a bit of frostbite.

Of course, in an ideal situation, I would never use heat. And, honestly, we have managed to fix our moisture problem in our coop with better ventilation. We may not break out the heater tonight for the -8 degrees, but if we find ourselves at -18 degrees again, I’m probably busting it out. Our flock has a health issue that makes for a special situation. My sweet Lucy is 8 years old and has survived a serious respiratory issue. She needs a little help.

Can Treats Help?

I used to feed our flock corn before bed on cold nights, but I recently learned this may be doing more harm than good. This article, What a Corn-Idea by Dr. Curran Gehring, explains why corn may actually be making things worse. This information is explained in some pretty clear scientific terms, and it’s new to me. However, it’s compelling enough that it is given me some hesitation about giving corn to the chickens tonight. In fact, I think I’m going to pass on it tonight and share it as a treat when it’s not so drastically cold. This article definitely goes against the chicken lore we read on the internet and in the forums, so I understand this may be controversial.

Ultimately, however, I think doing whatever you can to make sure your flock has a super clean, dry coop tonight is the best thing you can do. So if your bedding is damp, head out there before or after dinner and spiffy up the coop. And if you have a little Silkie, I would bring them into the garage.

I hope this information is helpful, and I hope tonight goes smoothly for everyone!