Friday, June 25, 2010

Night Skies & Fireflies

The above scene, Catching Fireflies by Tim Ladwig, captures two of the things I love most about living in the country this time of year. Night skies & fireflies...

Our backyard rests against a 30+ acre field and just across the street is another large field. Each year the crop rotates from corn to soybeans; this year, we get to watch the corn grow. Fireflies dance through the fields, attracting one another with their flashy glow. I remember as a child running, mason jar in hand, trying to catch just one so I could see that mysterious glow up close!

The glow of the fireflies wouldn't be nearly as spectacular if it weren't for the backdrop of the stars scattered across that clear, dark-blue night sky. I've lived in the city. The city lights can be a vision too, but I haven't found a cityscape that compares to the country sky. Being able to lay in the grass and view God's lights really puts things into perspective for me.

Take some time to rest your head on the grass and enjoy the breath-taking country view at night. If you're a city dweller and the city lights are blocking your view, take a ride out to my neck of the woods...We've got plenty of grass to share.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Let's Get Fresh

With consumers becoming more aware and concerned with the freshness and production methods of their foods, Farmers' Markets are growing in popularity. Many cities and towns now host weekly Farmer's Markets which benefit producers, consumers, the environment, and the local economy!

  • Producers are able to sell direct to consumers on a regular basis, eliminating the middle-man and increasing profits. Talking directly with the consumer helps them understand the needs and desires of the community.
  • Consumers are able to buy fresh, sometimes organically grown, food which aids in providing a healthier diet and better nutrition for themselves and their families. The ability to speak directly with the producers allows the consumer easy access to information about how their fruits, vegetables, honey, and meat are grown and produced.
  • Environmental benefits include the reduction of food miles, vehicle pollution, fossil fuel use, and packaging.
  • Economically, Farmers' Markets can help bring new life to cities and towns. They encourage consumers to buy locally and can help draw consumers to local retailers near the market.
Local Harvest has a stellar search tool to help YOU find a Farmers' Market near you. Just click Farmers' Markets in the What are you looking for? box, enter your Zip, click Search, and you are on your way to finding the most fresh grub in town.

Going to the local Farmers' Market is a great way to get your weekend started. Rather than laying around in your PJs and bunny slippers until half the day has gone to pot, why not gather the munchkins, jump in the family grocery getter, and hightail it to your local Farmers' Market for some FRESH fun?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Becky's Breakfast Pie!

Here's a recipe that's sure to be a Sunday morning hit! I get requests in our house for it all the time. I'll be sure to add a picture the next time I make one...

1-Pillsbury Pie Crust (Make your own if you'd like. Me? Not a chance.)
6-Farm Fresh Eggs
1-Small to Medium Onion (chopped & sweated)
1 c.-Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 c.-Sour Cream
3 Tbsp.-Flour
6- Slices of Ham or Bacon Chopped
(Fry the ham a bit or crisp the bacon)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Top with Shredded Parmesan Cheese & a Touch of Dried Sweet Basil

Spray pie pan with cooking spray. Bring pie crust to room temperature and lay in pie pan. Crimp the rim, brush with egg wash and put in the refrigerator.

In a medium mixing bowl: beat eggs, sour cream, salt, pepper, & flour together. Stir in shredded cheddar, bacon or ham, and onions (cool the onions first or they'll start to cook the egg). Poor mixture into prepared pie pan. Lightly top with parmesan cheese and sprinkle with sweet basil. Bake @ 400 degrees for approximately 30-35 minutes.

Serve with a side of fresh fruit and enjoy!

*Make a delicious vegetarian pie by adding fresh chopped spinach and/or mushrooms instead of the meat. The possibilities are endless...get creative and have fun!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Strawberry Heaven

Yesterday was the perfect day for picking fresh strawberries! The sky was overcast and it wasn't so hot that we'd all feel like a bucket of fried KFC by the end of our trip. The rows between the berries aren't large enough to accommodate strollers or wagons, so we figured it was best to leave Oliver, 10 months, with Grandma. Mary, our 15 1/2 year-old daughter, stayed home too. She didn't think picking strawberries was thrilling enough to rip herself from the comfort of her cozy bed.

We arrived at Jelli's Market in Helenville mid-day. On the way in, guests are greeted by a parking attendant dressed like a strawberry (very cute; however, I'm sure this tween boy was mortified if/when his friends came through)! The crowd was small which made the trip even more pleasant.
Before getting in the picking line, Connor wanted to stop and say "Hi" to the chickens. They were so attentive and interested in what he had to say!
And.....We stopped for a quick picture at the Jelli's photo spot. I thought about asking strawberry boy to take a picture with Travis in it too, but I didn't want to pull him away from his traffic directing duties.
Then we headed on over to the starting line where this pretty young lady showed us the way to strawberry heaven.
We made our way down the long row with flats in hand to our starting point which was marked with a little yellow flag.
Connor and Travis took one side and I took the other. I loved the popping sound the berries made when pulling them from their stems. It was as if they were held on by a tiny suction cup! At first, Connor was helping pick the strawberries...

Until he realized how much fun it was to eat them! I offered to pay for an extra pound at the end, but the attendant said, "Aw, that's okay, we encourage eating." Well, had I known that...

Before leaving we made sure to swing by the curious calves to say "Moo." Connor enjoyed his conversation with them too. Strawberry picking was an annual tradition in Travis' family and I'm happy to say, it will now be a tradition that continues on in ours. If you've never gone, you must...period.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

There's One More Baby Chick in Heaven...

This morning was a sad morning. One of our Silkies passed away. She wasn't doing well yesterday and I tried everything I could to get her to eat & drink. I even gave her water with a syringe. She had green poop which is a sign that a chick hasn't been eating. I was hopeful last night because she ate a bit and drank some water. She seemed to be doing better, but she didn't make it through the night. We'll probably never know exactly what happened. All the other chicks are peppy and doing well.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Truck & Tractor Pulls...Say what?!?

I've always considered myself to be a bit of a country girl, but I must admit I didn't have a clue what a truck & tractor pull was until I met my totally country boy husband, Travis. Just the slightest reference to a truck & tractor pull sends bolts of electric excitement all across his face. I believe it's the one thing in life that could trump taking a trip down passion lane with me. There's just something that the roar of those loud engines and the smell of burning fuel does to a country boy.

Now, I even find myself getting excited about upcoming pull events. The whole scene ignites the country boy or girl in you. The smell of cheap beer & scrumptous brats, body odor, burning fuel & smoke...the applause for a pull well done, a boisterous "Git R' Done", or the simultaneous, sympathetic "Oooooohhhhhs" coming from the crowd when some poor guy blows up his engine from working it a bit too hard.

Since the thundering noise is almost loud enough to wake the dead, you may want to grab yourself a pair of ear plugs or muffs. These Peltor earmuffs are great for the little fans.

The Watertown Lion's are hosting their 11th Annual Truck & Tractor Pull on Saturday, June 19th at Badgerland Park. Another favorite of ours are the pulls at the Jefferson Country Fair. We've also been to the Budweiser Dairyland Super National Tractor Pulls in Tomah, WI; this was one of my favorites because they had so many different classes to see and watch!

Come on...Channel your inner country boy or girl, grab your kiddos, and boot scootin boogie on out to some of the pulls this summer!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Brooder Basics

Your baby chicks will need a warm, safe place to stay for the first 5-8 weeks of their lives (until they have their feathers). After they have their feathers they can be moved to their permanent residence.

The brooder should be/have:

  • Warm/Draft-free: The temperature should be 90-100 degrees for the first week or so and can be reduced by 5 degrees each week thereafter until the chicks have their feathers or the temperature reaches room temperature. A thermometer can be helpful; however, you can tell what the chicks need by their behavior. If they are all huddled together under the light, they aren't warm enough. If they are farthest from the heat lamp, it may be too hot.

  • Large enough for the chicks to move around and to lay down to sleep. It also needs to be large enough for a feeder and waterer. Our brooder (pictured above) is 16 sq/ft. We allowed for almost 1 sq/ft per chick. The sides should be a minimum of 12" high if you don't plan to have a cover on your brooder.

  • The bottom should have a layer of clean pine shavings or something similar. Do not use cedar shavings as they have been known to cause respiratory infections in chickens that can lead to death.

  • If the brooder is in a place that is pet accessible (dogs, cats, etc...), be sure to make a cover to protect the chicks from these predators.

  • Water: Chicks drink alot of water. It is important to have fresh, clean water for them at all times. Use waterers designed for chicks. Using dishes that you have around the house may put the chicks at risk of drowning. Add 1/4 Tbs. molasses to 1 quart of water for the 1st 24-hours to help pep them up from their trip; then, switch to regular water.

  • Food: It is important to keep their food full and clean as well. If you are using a non-medicated feed, cleanliness is even more vital. There are also feeders designed for chickens that will help keep the feed clean and in one place.

  • Roost: When the chicks are about a month old, a low roost (about 4" off the floor) can be added for them to perch/sleep on. A small tree limb or wooden dowelling works great! Do not place the roost directly under the heat lamp.

Travis built our brooder in about 2 hours. He used wood leftover from other projects that we scavenged from my parents house. It didn't cost us a penny!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mmmmm....Fresh Strawberries

It's strawberry season and Wisconsin has plenty of places to go to pick your own. Forget the imports from other states; there's nothing like the strawberries that are grown right here in Wisconsin's rich agricultural soils! Check out the Wisconsin Berry Growers Association, Where to Pick Guide, to find a farm near you! A couple of my favorite places are Zastrow's Strawberries and Basse's Taste of Country Farm Market. Tell the kids to get there picking fingers ready and head out for some strawberry picking (and eating) fun! Don't forget the sunscreen.

You may also want to check out the Cedarburg Strawberry Festival, Saturday, June 26th and Sunday, June 27th.

Where to Buy Your Little Fuzzballs?

There are some online sources, such as My Pet Chicken, or you can find local hatcheries, like Sunnyside Hatchery, in Beaver Dam, WI. You'll need to do some research to find out where to order the particular breeds you want.

No matter where you order them, they will most likely arrive via the United States Postal Service. Some mailmen will deliver them straight to your door, others will require that you pick the little fuzzballs up at the Post Office when they arrive. I always get a kick out of the carrier's face when we get deliveries at work... he's always very relieved to be bringing in that box of 100 or so chirping chickens from his hot, steamy mail truck!

I ordered most of our chickens from My Pet Chicken; they will be arriving at the end of June-all 15 of them! The only chicks I got elsewhere are my five little Silkies. They weren't available until the end of August from My Pet Chicken. I wanted them sooner, so I found a private local breeder in Mequon.

FYI...Baby chicks don't need food or water for the first 72 hours of life outside the shell because they are still ingesting their yolk sacs which provides them all the nourishment they need. Once you get them home, you need to provide them with warmth, food, water, and a safe place to stay immediately.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pickin' Your Chickens!

After making the decision to put together our own little hen house, I had to figure out how to make that happen. I've never been around chickens, so to say I knew even a little would be giving me more credit than I deserved.

Travis' grandparents actually had an egg business for many years. They delivered their farm fresh eggs to restaurants and grocery stores throughout Oconomowoc, Watertown and beyond. Their 4-story barn housed up to 7,000 White Leghorns (pronounced "leggern" by seasoned pros). Leghorns produce the traditional white eggs you see in the grocery store. I was able to briefly pick the 91 year-old brain of sweet Grandma Rose and I've been trying to channel Grandpa's knowledge from beyond. Aside from that, I began Googling for answers.

I had so many questions...
  • How many chickens should I get?
  • What kind of chickens should I get?
  • How many different breeds will happily cohabitate?
  • Are there nice chickens? Mean chickens?
  • Which chickens can tolerate the cold?
  • How many eggs does one chicken produce each day/week/year?
  • What color eggs did I want from my happy hens?

I Googled and Googled and Googled...until, finally, I clicked upon a site called My Pet Chicken and all the confusion and questions slowly started to flutter away. They have the coolest, totally FREE, totally unique Which Chicken Breed Selector Tool on their home page! You answer a few questions, click Find My Chicken and...voila...a list of chickens that fit your criteria appears before your totally relieved eyes. At first I thought finding the right chickens would be easy until I realized there are about a gazillion different breeds of chickens each offering something different. Each chicken description page includes all of the basic info you need to know about each breed. The only kind of chicken I was unable to find was the kind that lay golden eggs-total and complete bummer, I know. The good news... I am happy to say that I found chickens that met all of my needs. I will be sharing my choices in later posts.

So, brush up on your research skills and go out and get yourself some "cock-a-doodle-doos" as my son, Connor, calls them!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

No More Factory Farm Eggs for Us!

A couple of weeks ago I watched an undercover video showing the abuse of dairy cows at an Ohio dairy farm filmed by Mercy For Animals (MFA).

Warning: if you have a heart, the images seen in this video are very disturbing.

After watching the above video, I decided to torture myself further by looking on Youtube for other undercover video by MFA. I found the following video which gives an inside look at Ohio Fresh Eggs; I was in tears by the end of the video.

These videos sealed my fate as a backyard chicken farmer. I wanted to know that my family wasn't contributing to the abuse of chickens by purchasing eggs from a factory farm EVER again. So, here we are, starting our own little hen house from the ground up. I'm hoping by posting our experiences, more people might be empowered to do the same for themselves and for the chickens.

Not only are we going to help the chickens by raising hens to produce our own eggs, we plan to purchase as many food products from local producers as we possibly can. For example, last month, we purchased 1/4 of beef from a local farmer. We know how the steer was treated and what he was fed while being raised. My mother-in-law raises meat chickens almost every year; we plan to participate in that process so we can pack several in our freezer each year. Working in the agricultural industry has its benefits as well. We are able to network with local producers to find what we're looking for. We also have plans for a garden in the future. I have to keep reminding myself...One step at a time. I think I may drive Travis bananas if I try to push too much at once, so for now, we're doing the chickens at home and finding local producers for the rest!

Since our pullets won't be egg producing hens for about 6 months, we have made a commitment to buy our eggs from local producers until our little ladies are pumping out their own rainbow of eggs for us.

Sit back and enjoy the ride. It should prove to be interesting, educational and, hopefully, inspiring!