Happy Halloween


I’m not into horror movies, ghouls or scary things, but I do love Halloween. I can’t get enough of pumpkins (the head in this photos is a ghost pumpkin – it’s naturally white), piles of orange leaves, acorns plunking the roof of my car, and little children in adorable outfits. My 12 year-old son is at the tail end of being able to dress up and go trick-or-treating. He always comes up with his own ideas, and they’re always…um…interesting. This year’s costume requires several bags of Wonder Bread. (A product, that in itself, is quite scary!) I’m not exactly sure what he’s going to do with the bread, but I do believe that a bag of it will be on his head.

Happy Halloween!

Odds and Ends

I thought you might want a catch-up and follow-up on the animals here at Little Pond Farm.

Although Eggers is better (she’s eating, drinking and hustles outside when there are treats) she still doesn’t seem vigorous to me. Partly, it’s because she’s on the very bottom of the pecking order, and so spends her days avoiding everyone. But, I don’t think that’s it entirely. Bantam White Leghorns are active, cheerful-looking birds. Eggers doesn’t seem to have that joie de vivre. Some chickens sulk when they molt. Yes, that’s anthropomorphic, but accurate. If your chicken is grumpy, you know it. Eggers is in a mood. I just don’t know if it’s health-related or not. I continue to keep a close eye on her.

Candy is six years old, and although some bunnies live much longer, she’s getting to the end of a normal rabbit life span. She’s now almost deaf, and so doesn’t have alert bunny behavior. She’s also quite confident and safe in her surroundings, so she doesn’t startle easily. Yesterday she was sprawled out in the sun – flat out on her side – legs stuck out. Honestly, she looked dead. But I could see her nose twitching and if I got close enough, I bet I could have heard her snore. Chickens were scratching nearby, but even chickens know not to wake a sleeping bunny, especially one that is on the top of the pecking order. Eventually, Candy roused herself, shook and hopped up. She looked quite refreshed after her nap.

By the way, we’ve removed the shade tarp that hung over her hutch in the summer. Now she can sunbathe in the doorway. We’ve also tacked black plastic to the sides of the the hutch, so her home is winterized.

After a false start of trying to integrate the punk rock girls into the big barn, they are doing fine in with the HenCam flock. They’ve even discovered that they are in the middle of the pecking order, not the bottom. Joy! No one has pecked their heads for a week. However, they’ve turned the roosting routine topsy-turvy. They now sleep where Marge and Petunia used to perch. The leghorns, instead of being on the second rung, now crowd into a nesting box.  The social order is settling out, but it’s not done yet.

I’ve got a long list of names for the new girls but am having the hardest time deciding. Yes, they do look like Phyllis Diller, and I remember thinking her very funny when I was young, but, honestly, that woman got way too scary after all of her cosmetic surgery. I like the name Lady Ga Ga, but my teenager said he’d be mortified if I named a hen that. He doesn’t mind Siouxie. Go figure. I promise to have them named by the end of the week.

The goat boys have done such a good job eating the brambles and golden rod that I spent yet another $150 on more electric fencing so that they could get to the further reaches of the meadow. Meanwhile, I bought ridiculously expensive pasture seed (timothy and alfalfa) to plant where the boys cleared. They’d rather eat weeds, so I don’t know why I bothered.

We’re having a particularly beautiful autumn. I hope you’re enjoying it from wherever you are.

The Nice Girls and the Bullies

This is not a post about junior high school. Though it could be.

It’s the nature of being a chicken that you have to fit yourself into the pecking order. It’s all about who gets to the treats first, who gets the choice roosting spot, and who gets the best pile of dirt to dust-bathe in. There’s understood body language that ranges from mildly threatening head-darts to more aggressive chest bumps. Hens on the bottom will scurry about, and give the top-ranked hens room. Once in awhile, a chicken reasserts her place with a dramatic gesture. On the whole, though, life in a flock should be peaceful. I’ve heard from some that you need a rooster to keep all in line, but I’ve not experienced that. A flock of all hens does fine.

I have two groups of chickens – the ones you see on HenCam and the others in the Big Barn. There’s plenty of space in the barn and I wanted to add the new girls to that flock. However, you’d never know it by watching the daily interactions, but, there are bullies in there.  The bullies are old and creaky, so I thought it’d be safe to add the Polish Crested. It wasn’t. The bullies didn’t strut and intimidate to tell the new girls to mind their place. No, they attacked, pinned them down and pecked their heads. If I hadn’t removed the Polish, they’d be dead.

So, I put the Polish in the neutral space of the goat paddock and let the HenCam chickens in. Yesterday, I put the new hens in the HenCam yard. I sat with them and watched. There was curiosity. There was caution. The Polish immediately recognized that they were bigger than the bantam white hens and asserted their right to get the food first. The little hens darted away. There was no aggression, just communication.

So, why are the girls in the Big Barn bullies? Partly, it has to do with breed. In my experience the barred rocks and the wyandottes are aggressive, especially to hens of other breeds. It’s like they’ve lost the ability to back off. They don’t know when enough is enough and they’ve gotten the message across. Over the years breeders have created beautiful and productive birds, but they don’t often select for temperament. Interestingly, now that the factory farms are being forced to do without cages, the commercial producers are creating a line of docile chickens.

The flock that the Polish hens came from was not a bunch of bullies. They pecked simply because it was too crowded, and those silly coifs on the Polish heads were irresistible. Polish Crested are not exactly known for their chicken sense. They couldn’t get out of the way at their old place, and in the Big Barn, they didn’t know how to handle the attacks of aggressive hens. (I have managed to integrate other chickens in with the bullies. The Golden Comets moved in a couple of months ago –  but the Comets are savvy chickens.)

However, all is fine now. The Polish Crested are doing fine in with the nice HenCam hens. It doesn’t hurt that the Polish have outrageous duct tape headgear. The nice girls are astounded by the fashion plates among them. It gave the new girls instant status.

Chocolate Souffle Cake

What to bring to a casual dessert and wine gathering of chicken-keeping neighbors? A cake that requires 9 eggs (well, I used 8 because the Golden Comets are laying jumbos.) I made Chanterelle’s Chocolate Souffle Cake from Luscious Chocolate Desserts by Lori Longbottom. There are only 4 ingredients: bittersweet chocolate, unsalted butter, eggs, and sugar. Quality of ingredients matters.  I like baking with Trader Joe’s 72% Bittersweet Belgian Chocolate. Whenever good butter (that is, organic, or the European-style) is on sale, I buy pounds and freeze. Yes, the flavor of butter comes through. Don’t scrimp!

The other thing that matters when doing a “simple” dessert like this is technique. When a recipe says to beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale, you can’t just take a whisk and combine. Those egg yolks need to go from almost orange in color to a pale lemon. The mixture should double in size. When a recipe asks you to beat the egg whites until a soft peak forms, you have to stop at that moment when the egg whites fall off the whisk like the tippy-top of a soft serve ice cream cone. Too early and the souffle won’t be airy. Too late and the egg whites stiffen and collapse. I learned the difference by purposely ruining whipped egg whites. I wanted to see what happened if I pushed them too far. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

The chocolate and butter gets melted, whisked and then cooled. But, not cooled to where it solidifies or separates. It should pour in a glistening stream. But, too hot and the folded in egg yolks curdle. With experience you’ll develop an eye for when it is right.

Even the baking requires care. If you don’t know what “puffed and jiggly means” you might take the cake out too soon and it will ooze and taste raw, or if baked too long it will be dry and grainy. I ended up leaving my cake in the oven ten minutes longer than the recipe suggested. It was perfect.

Describing all of this would take pages in a cookbook – it’s not usually done. Julia Child did, and that’s why people look at her recipes with both fear and awe. I try to do it in my books, but in a reasonable and edited way.

Don’t be intimidated! If you have hens, you have good eggs, and so you should bake! Find recipes that use ingredients you love. This cake, made with four wonderful ingredients – chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar – requires technique, but even if things go wrong, the end result will still be delicious. It might be better suited for an ice cream parfait, but it’ll still be good. It’s really hard to ruin good chocolate.

And never forget that inspired decoration can hide all sorts of faults. My cake cracked, but who noticed with those adorable hens stenciled on the top?