Egg Coddler

I bought this kitchen item at a flea market, and had hopes of making beautiful daisy-like coddled eggs. A coddled egg is simply an egg that is cracked into a mold and set over simmering water. Rather like a hard-cooked egg (or soft-boiled) without the shell.  (Coddled eggs differ than poached, in that the poached are submerged in water.)

But I need help! This coddler was made in England by the Nutbrown Company. Perhaps one of my HenCam viewers in Great Britain is familiar with it? Am I missing a part? Is the hole in the handle there for a purpose – perhaps to suspend the coddler in the water? And how the heck do you grease it so that the egg slips out? I’ve used lots of butter, but it still sticks.

However, even without knowing exactly what I’m doing — isn’t it pretty?

egg coddler

Where to Buy Chickens

Many HenCam viewers are backyard chicken keepers – or hope to be. Flocks of three to five hens, which are enough to provide eggs and entertainment, but not so many that the girls take up too much space or time, seems just about right.

But where to get the hens? The large hatcheries sell chicks in lots of 25. And even if you order all girls, they put in little roos “for warmth” or as a “bonus.” There aren’t a lot of places to dispose of unwanted roosters, and not many suburbanites are willing to kill and eat them, especially after the roosters have been named and part of the family for a month or so. Chicks are fun, and a large hatchery order is, too, but there are other options for where to go to get a flock started.

The place to go to buy a hen or two is a poultry show. Many gorgeous breeds will be on display. You can talk to a breeder to find out what’s right for you. There’s usually a sale area. Go early. Individual pullets sell quickly. Or, you can arrange with a breeder to buy a hen from his or her flock, or wait for their next hatching. “The Fancy” (as show poultry people call themselves), is a small and friendly world. If you’ve got your heart set on a breed, someone will know someone and you’ll get the chicken of your desires.

You also might fall in love with a bird that you never thought you’d go home with. I haven’t been able to get my mind off of a certain goose – the Sanbastopol, which looks like it’s dressed in a wedding gown.

To find a poultry show near you, go to this Web site. And while you are there, join the Society for the Preservation for Poultry Antiquities. They do great work.

Chicken Things

I like to think that I have good taste. I’ve been told I do – my house and my garden have been featured on tours. I have some gorgeous jewelry. And yet…. those chickens give me the excuse to purchase (and yes, display and use) some very tacky things.

Now I know that most of you out there have those silly salt and pepper shakers shaped like hens and roosters, or the kitchen note pad with the nesting hen design, or the area rug with the farm scene. That’s not what I’m talking about.

This is what I’m talking about:

chicken purse

Whereas some women covet amazingly expensive designer handbags, this is the one that got my heart racing. Perfect, isn’t it?

(BTW, if you can’t tell from the photo, it is made out of rubber!)

Lawn Care

I have a beautiful backyard. There’s the water feature, perennial flower bed, strawberry patch, herb garden, vegetable garden, shrubs, trees, and of course, the chicken coops and lovely chickens. What I don’t have is a nice lawn. Mostly, it’s crabgrass.

I won’t use herbicides because of the koi, dogs, chickens and kids, dragonflies and toads. I know that I need better soil, and I’ve already spent a lot of money on more loam and lime, punching those holes in the ground, over-seeding and organic fertilizers. I’ve tried the corn gluten treatment, which is supposed to inhibit crabgrass germination, but the dogs eat it, so I couldn’t do the required seasonal treatments.

The lawn is too large to weed by hand, but I do that anyway. I get a perverse pleasure from digging up crabgrass. The other day, I pulled some up and there were a half dozen grubs in the soil underneath. Yuck. So I started pulling up big chunks of turf. More grubs. I couldn’t stop and cleared whole areas of grass. Now there were patches of dirt — and grubs.

Obviously, I couldn’t take care of this grub infestation alone. I called in the clean-up crew – my chickens. Yesterday, I let Edwina, Ginger, Snowball and Twinkydink into the yard. I kept the dogs inside the house and kept an eye out for the hawks. The girls were ecstatic and clucked off happily into the leaves and the flower bed. Which is not where I wanted them. I wanted them to be eating grubs. Working.

I picked up Ginger and Edwina and put them next to me where I was pulling up crabgrass. Chickens are easy to train because they are so very food motivated. I made a kissy noise when I found a grub. I tossed it to them. In less than a minute the girls were scratching around me and running over when I called them to get the grubs. This was far easier for them than hunting for their bugs! They were delighted.

When done for the day, I was a bit concerned that it would be hard to get the girls back in their pen, after all, there was a whole wide yard of yummy things outside. But chickens are easy. I got a cup of corn, rattled it and called to them. The grubs were forgotten. That’s the nice thing about chickens – their optimism – there’s always something better around the corner.

I’m afraid that my battle against the lawn grubs is never-ending. But at least I have good company while out there.

Grass-fed Beef

Farmers who are raising animals on pasture face numerous challenges, not the least of which is how to distinguish their product in the marketplace. The USDA is working on standardizing terms for “grass-fed” and “pastured” for poultry and beef. Unfortunately, it appears that the big players have already co-opted those terms, making them useless for the farmers who are committed to raising their animals on grass, outside, from birth to death (or, as it is euphemistically called, “harvest.”) Much of the “grass-fed” beef (and bison) comes from animals that were on pasture for only a few months, and then finished with grain.

It’s not easy and it’s not cheap to raise a steer on grass, and only grass. You have to have a lot of land. You have to be able to rotate pasture. You have to have enough rainfall, but not too much. You can’t be under several feet of snow for months. And then you have to be able to slaughter and package and ship it.

Last week, I got to taste true grass-fed beef, raised by Burgundy Pasture Beef, owned by the Taggart family, who ranch in Texas. I tasted their steak in a blind taste test; the other product was corn-fed beef. Neither was tough (as grass-fed is often accused of), but the grass-fed had wonderful flavor – beefy but not gamey. The corn-fed beef was boring.

The Taggarts have worked hard to get a consistent product. Raising beef like this isn’t simply a matter of letting animals stay outdoors. The Taggarts pay close attention to the quality of grass in their fields; they don’t overgraze. They use a cattle breed that produces the sort of beef they want. Their animals are slaughtered much later than grain-fed beef, so that the meat gets a layer of fat and marbling. They also cut and age the meat themselves in a state-of-the art facility. The taste I had was exceptionally good.

Although they don’t have the economies of scale and the quick turnover that the feedlot producers have, Wendy Taggart pointed out that they are also not at the mercy of rising grain and fuel costs. In the long run, they, and their customers, should do just fine.