Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pickled Pink

Pickled Beets and Cherry Bounce.
My pantry of home-canned goods is decidedly in the pink. A week or so ago I used tart cherries to make jar after jar of cherry preserves (it's one of our favorites) and "Cherry Bounce". Today I put up 10 pints of pickled beets.

My great grandmother used to make pickled beets and they never fail to make me think of summer meals, family gatherings, and, well, eggs. She always used to slip a peeled boiled egg in. It would turn a pretty shade of pinkish purple, and sliced up it looked nice on salads (and tasted great, too).

I'll include her recipe for beets below. I modified it just a bit to fit the number of beets I had, but you can adjust as needed simply by making more or less syrup according to the number of beets you have. Here are the quantities I used:

Great Grandma's Pickled Beets
makes 10 pints
9 lbs. medium to small beets, rinsed clean
5 c. cider vinegar
5 c. sugar
5 c. water
4 tsp. pickling spices
3 tsp. pickling salt

Cut leaves off beets, leaving about an inch of the stems and the root intact. Cover with water, bring to a boil. I let them boil for about 25 minutes. You can check them at about 15-20 minutes and see if they're tender, and go longer if needed. Drain, then soak in cold water until beets are cool enough to handle. Slip peels from beets, and cut off stem end and root. You can leave beets whole, or slice them, depending on your preference.

Mix up the syrup by combining the remaining ingredients in a large pot, and bring it to a boil. I like to add my sliced beets and let them boil in the syrup for a few minutes to heat them through. Fill hot, sterilized jars with beets, add syrup leaving 1/2 inch headspace, add lids, adjust bands, and process in hot water bath 30 minutes (adjust for altitude if needed).

Oh--and in case you're wondering what Cherry Bounce is....  Here's a link to a recipe, though it's slightly different than the one I used, it's a very nice blog from Boulder. Pretty much the same idea, just a variation on the theme.

Cherry Bounce
About 6 cups of fresh tart cherries (best if left unpitted, but will still work if they are already pitted. The pits are said to lend a little bit of an almond flavor.)
3 c. sugar or sucanat
a bottle of vodka (or bourbon or rum, or....).
3 1-quart jars with lids and rings
Place 2 c. cherries in each jar. Add one cup sugar to each jar. Fill each jar the rest of the way with the libation of your choice. (Optional: Add a little almond extract to each jar for a slight almond flavor if your cherries are pitted). Top with lid and rings, tighten well. Shake jars. I shook each jar a few times each day until all the sugar had completely dissolved. Then place in a cool, dark place to age for about three months. We'll plan to keep these jars for Christmas, to open a little taste of summer in the depth of winter. And I've been told you can make a very nice sauce for ice cream out of those tipsy, well-preserved cherries. I'll let you know how that turns out....

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Fair Lady

Today was the first day of judging, so we left the house about 7:15, and made sure we were there in time to clean cages out, top off food and water, and tidy up chickens before judging began at 9. L rubbed some vaseline into Pearl's comb to moisturize it and make it shiny, cleaned up her beak, put olive oil on her legs and feet, rubbed her down with a silk cloth, and fussed over her. Pearl, as usual, took all of this in stride. L swept the aisle and tidied up, then, with Pearl polished, and L's friend's hens ready, we headed out to grab a celebratory breakfast at Panera Bread and waited to see what the judge would think.

We arrived back to see how everyone placed. I think we all held our breath as we headed to Pearl's cage. And there it was:

Pearl placed 1st in Feather Legged Bantams - Old Hens.

That was pretty darn exciting. We milled around, checking out the other chickens we knew, looking for the hens and cockerels that we liked. Pearl was hot (it's in the 90s today) so L stopped periodically to mist her and to try to keep her cool.

Tomorrow morning L has showmanship, and then the awards presentation in the evening, before checking birds out by 9 pm.

I took a picture of a Sebright that I thought was beautiful, along with some fantail doves:

Each day the kids gather eggs from the hens that are there, and write the breed on the egg, then display it so that visitors can see the many colors and sizes of eggs from the wide range of breeds. The pigeon egg was the size of a large marble. The blue egg is from an Ameraucana. I was surprised that some duck eggs were the same size as chicken eggs:

So, one more day... then it will be time to start thinking about next year....

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Clover Comes Home

L with a subdued Clover at fair.
On Friday night, we headed to the fairgrounds with Pearl and Clover for the vet check. Both had been off the antibiotics for two days, with no symptoms.

At the vet check, they talked to L about her birds and explained what they were doing (looking for evidence of mites, lice, and disease), then exclaimed over them ("They're so pretty! I love her color. Oh! This is my favorite little hen so far!") and made a fuss about them, which made L smile. They were checked twice, and both vets thought they looked very healthy.

We got them settled in their cages, and everything seemed fine. Shavings, food, and water, all freshly added. Clover's nearest neighbor was a golden laced cochin bantam pullet. Pearl was next to a fluffy black silkie pullet. All seemed in good order, and we left them for the evening.

We were back early in the morning to check food and water. Pearl was bright-eyed and happy. Clover looked miserable, her eyes closed, her little self hunched up. We added electrolytes to her water, carried her around, visited Pearl. But she simply seemed unhappy. She's normally very vocal and busy, and this withdrawn, dozing little hen was not like her.

I asked one of the poultry superintendents what I should do. She regarded Clover, and said that sometimes, old hens just didn't handle the stress well. Another poultry superintendent came by. They worked at having Clover drink, dipping her beak into the water until she finally started drinking on her own, but she refused her food. Then they had us move Pearl in with her for comfort.

They felt she was just confused and stressed and dehydrated, not sick. We walked around the fair and came back, then spent the rest of the afternoon checking on them both. One of Pearl's neighbors -- a big white meat bird -- reached through the cage and pecked at Pearl's comb, making it bleed. L changed bedding, refilled water and feed cups, swept the aisles, and offered to help wherever she could.

But by evening, it was clear that Clover was just a very unhappy hen. I withdrew her from the fair, and carried her out to the car, put her in the box next to me in the front seat, and headed home. By the time I pulled her out of the box and carried her to the backyard, her eyes were looking brighter, her head higher.

I put her down on the path by the coop and her old friend Oreo came running to meet us. The two Australorps hurried over, and Thelma noticed a piece of shavings on top of Clover's head. She reached over and picked it off, then regarded Clover as if to say, "Well sugar, where have you been?" Clover basked in the welcome, sighed and clucked, then hopped into the coop.

She and I were both glad she was home.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Poultry Grossology

Luna has a stuffed nose.
Chickens are not for sissies. What I mean is, if you're squeamish, don't get chickens. In fact, you may not even want to read this little missive of poultry grossology.

This morning, I noticed that Luna has a plugged nose. It looks as if she crammed her nostril into the dust from her shavings and tried to pack as much in as she could. It now resembles cement.

This reminds me of the time 3-year-old L put a sparkly bead up her nose, and the first word that came out of my mouth was an astounded Why? (to which she answered, "I don't know, Mom. Every bone in my body told me not to").

Then, as now, the next question was, What to do?

In this case, though, I headed over to, the best source for answers I've found, and pondered what to enter in their search engine. Plugged nostril? Shavings in nostril? Stuffed nose? I started with "plugged nostril" and a whole slew of hits appeared on my screen. Glad to know I'm not alone.

And what do you know? There is a name for this condition. Luna has a "plugged nare." Well, that sounds official. So how do we unplug her nare?

Here's the gross part. We get to soften it a little for a few days with some peroxide, then use the pointy end of a dental pick to pry that stinky, foul booger out. At which point her nostril (nare?) will appear huge. But she will be able to breathe through it again.

Yes, we have to pick our chicken's nose. And if you suspect you have an egg-bound hen, you have to explore her vent for a stuck egg. Want to know if a hen is laying? Get out your lipstick (preferably one you don't wish to use again) and use it to color-code her vent, so that it streaks the egg with lipstick. Oh, and they sometimes get a foot condition called bumblefoot that is really gross...

But I'll spare you more details. I have to go look for some peroxide and a dental pick.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cleaning House

Oreo roosts under the lilac while I clean house.
Today, with the hens seeming to do better, I took a break from a project I'm working on, and went out and cleaned the coop and run. This always makes the hens anxious, and they skitter around like the sky is falling.

The way that K built the coop, it's easy to scrape out all the shavings. The linoleum on the floor makes cleaning a simple mater of sweeping out the area, mopping it, and letting it dry, and it felt like I was cleaning out a sickroom and putting new sheets on the bed. I cleaned all the surfaces, put new dusting powder down, and brought clean sweet-smelling pine shavings in.

Violet checked in occasionally like a supervisor.

Outside, I could hear thunder rolling, and the skies were darkening. I closed the coop door and moved to the run where Luna is now a solitary pullet. I'm trying to add a little bulk to her light frame, so she's got a bowl full of homemade yogurt, and some scrambled eggs in addition to her regular ration. I move everything out, rake all of the litter, straw, and debris out of the run, fill water and feed containers, and pile up fresh shavings under the hutch for her. Until she's out of quarantine, we've got her in a bunny hutch at night, but she seems to prefer sheltering under the hutch during the day.

I visit her a bit and see no signs of respiratory issues, and keep my fingers crossed. She was on Tylan for five days, but that's the longest that we're supposed to keep her on it, so today is her first day without meds.

With Thelma on the mend, I fold up the dog crate that I had been using as an extra isolation cage, clean out the bowls that I used, and put everything in a box that I'll disinfect and put away. I glance over and see Luna happily nesting under the hutch. The other hens have settled into the clean coop or are roosting under the lilac bush,  and the first sprinkles of rain are coming down. In Colorado, it may rain for 2 seconds (most likely) or 2 hours (not very often) so I head inside. It feels so good to have the henhouse in order and all of the food, water, and supplements restocked in clean containers.

The rain cleanses the dust from the air, and rinses away the residue of worry that's been nagging me all week. We may not be over the illness, and there will always be something to worry about with hens. But for right now, everyone is tucked in, dry, and well tended.