Smoking a Chicken (or 2)

On our farm we raise both chickens for meat, and chickens for eggs. This means we often have to deal with roosters from the egg laying breeds and they are definitely not in the same  class as the meat birds. As a result, I most often simply keep them whole and use them for chicken stew and such.

Today I decided to try smoking a couple with different rubs to see how they turned out – here are the results.

I filled the water pan on the smoker, loaded up apple wood chips and warmed it up to about 200. While it was warming up, I rinsed the birds and coated them liberally with dry rub. I then stuck them in the smoker at 200 for 6 hrs, which was probably a bit too long, but they are so moist and juicy it all worked out great. I think the water pan is what kept this viable and helped avoid dry meat (which no one likes.)

One of the challenges with these birds is that they are generally tough and do not have a great deal of meat. The smoker made a nice difference, cooking them low and slow and breaking the meat down to a much more tender consistency. I will likely brine next time to see how that affects them, and maybe try opening them up but that is for another day. For now, it is dinner time!

Smoking Eggs

Today I had the smoker running and decided to make some apple wood smoked eggs. They turned out well and I do love the flavor of the apple wood in the background.

I got the smoker warmed up to around 200, then added the eggs. I had a pan of water in the smoker to keep the shells from drying out too much and set the temp for 225. I let the eggs cook for about 2 hours and then opened up the smoker to cool. I would have pulled the eggs at this point, but I had my grandson in my arm, so I did not want to mess with the smoker!

Worth noting here, there are a lot of ways to smoke eggs, and many people hard boil first, or even peel them. This gives you different outcomes and require a bit more work in some cases. I simply put the eggs in raw, and let the hot smoking cook them.

The finished flavor is like a regular boiled egg, with a smoky note that is not over powering.  These pair well with a little Gentleman Jack if you are so inclined…

Preparing for poultry shows

As a member of 4-H, my daughter is heading into fair season with great excitement to show her poultry at the local 4-H Fairs. I am also excited for her but the reality as the parent is a little more daunting. There are several things that need accomplished in order for your child to show at the fair. We at least have the basics covered, she is a 4-H member and we own chickens. woo hoo. Ok, the next part is that you need to register for the fairs in advance, have bloodwork drawn on your birds and receive the results in enough time to take those results with you as you go to the fair with your birds. The 4-H member will be judged on Showmanship and then the birds are judged on how they stand up to the Standard of Perfection.

For Pennsylvania, along with many other states, 2015 was a year when poultry shows simply did not happen. Due to the Avian Influenza, the fairs did not have poultry at the fairs so that makes this year even more fun to see the birds all return. We registered for the Northampton County 4-H Round-Up Fair. The Poultry Club leader coordinated bloodwork for all of the families to make the process simpler but also to keep track of it all. For folks with a dozen chickens, the task wasn’t big, simply do a blood draw on each bird. However on our farm, we have over 100 birds, between Bourbon Red turkeys, chickens and our 2 lone ducks. So the day came, the poultry techs arrived, put on their white suits, protective foot coverings and got to work. There was a cost for them to come out of $20, then there was the lab fees which were about that also.

Sherry and Sarah It was a hot, sweaty, sometimes bloody and often poopy job. I caught birds from various pens for a random sampling. Not all birds wanted to cooperate and Adrienne held them afterwards to soothe them, sometimes hold a paper towel to the draw area to wipe excess blood off. We didn’t want to send fresh blood into pens so some birds needed held longer than others. The Bourbon Reds definitely took longer to heal than the chickens and we did 12 of them.

Afterwards, my little 4-H member helped to clean up, sort through her birds and make final decisions about which birds would go to fair. The ones she chose were an Easter Egger (Ameraucauna crossed with a Wheaten Marans) and then her Buff Orpington hens that she received for her 9th birthday. The normal day to day routine continued up until 2 days prior to fair.

That’s when it gets hilarious. You gather your chickens in order to bathe them! Adrienne  and I got chickens for fair up to the house and used the bathtub to wash them. Outside a pen was set up in the sun for the birds to dry off and preen.

We transported the birds to fair the following day using small dog crates in the back of our pick up truck. Signing in was easy but we needed a few things also:20160806_132011

  • Pine shavings for bedding
  • Containers for food and water for each pen
  • Vaseline to shine their combs and feet
  • Baby wipes to clean up messes
  • Kitty litter scoop to take care of droppings in each pen
  • Q-tips to clean out dirt from various places
  • Fresh water was suggested to us also

I was so impressed with how Adrienne held up under pressure. This photo to the right was taken immediately following the second time she has ever shown a goat! We learned from the poultry judge that Adrienne’s Buff Orpingtons were too small in stature. They simply did not compare to the other birds in their class. Class is where each breed originally derives from. So for the Buff Orpington, they are in the English class. Another 4-H member had beautiful, large Australorps in that class as well so it was pretty easy to see why her Buffs were considered too juvenile. Lesson learned, bulk up the hens! ha!

After the show ended and we could take our birds home, we quarantined them in a pen away from the rest of ours. I did a a DE dust bath to each bird, added probiotics to their water and lots of fresh water and feed. All that travel, public commotion and  being in a confined area with other birds puts them at risk of getting sick. Just doing a little precaution is what was suggested to us and I am thankful for that.

In case you’re interested in knowing more about The American Poultry Association’s list for the Standards of Perfection for Poultry, here is a link.

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Dust bathing and fires

project-dustbath-buffDespite the dramatic headline, this has nothing to do with dust bathing causing fires. The relationship is all in the re-use. We heat our home with wood and collect the fireplace ash to use in the barn for making dust baths for the birds. The enjoy the ash and combined with a little sand, it is a great way for them to clean themselves and keep the biting pests at bay.

Here you can see Gladys, one of our Buffs enjoying one of the pans we set out for them. There is a line waiting for the bath! It is funny to see chickens line up to take turns, and they seem to do it on a regular basis for baths and nesting boxes, though never for food. When it is dinner time, it is all hands (wings?) on deck at the same time.

Chicken Nesting Box with access door

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building the frame and attaching it to the wall
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Filling in a little nesting material
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Whoo hoo – an action shot with the Orpingtons
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Easy access from the barn hall way

In our large common indoor pen, we built an access panel to accommodate access to future nesting boxes and we finally got around to building the nesting boxes this winter.

For those of you who saw our post about the turkey nesting boxes and noted the 2×4 roost, this one is considerably smaller. That is due to the fact that chicken hens way a lot less and also have smaller feet, allowing the more size appropriate roost.

The external access is great, and would make egg collecting chores easier, except we added other nesting boxes in the main pen for breed isolation during the spring egg season. Once we mix the hens again, this will be more helpful!

 

Jersey Giants

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, also recognized as ALBC, has placed the Jersey Giant on a “Watch List” of Heritage Chicken Breeds. The group seeks to follow the population of particular chickens to ensure that they do not disappear from our American backyards. The Jersey Giant dates back to the mid-to-late 1800’s from breeders in New Jersey wanting to replace the turkey as the big poultry for the dinner table.
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John and Thomas Black of Burlington, NJ created this large, single comb breed and the APA ( American Poultry Association) acknowledged the breed in 1922 (Hobby Farms, Guide to Chicken Breeds). Through observation we have learned that the hens are quiet, lay a medium brown-mauve- colored egg generously. They prefer to roost on top of the nest boxes or hop from there to our roosting bar. Rarely have I seen them fly.
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The roosters are mildly behaved compared to the Ameraucana and Easter Eggers. I would definitely refer to our chosen JG rooster as docile. Their smaller single comb makes them both heat and cold tolerant. They are black with a green sheen to their full feathers. When going through molt, you can see that their insulating feathers are brown. If you pick the them up you will be surprised at how heavy they are compared to other egg laying breeds. The JG can naturally reproduce and so if you are looking for a dual purpose bird that will lay you beautiful eggs and fill a stew pot, I think this is the bird for you.

Too many roosters

When buying many breeds of chickens as day-old chicks, you often do so as a straight run. This means you get what you get. However you can pay additional money to have the chicks sexed, gender determined. We bought straight runs back in February of three breeds and they were shipped during the coldest week that we had. Despite a hot pack, the casualties were high. In the end we lost half the order and received a refund for them. Not what we wanted, but it was then that we decided to find backyard breeders locally to avoid this heartache.

  
In the end, we had:

Buff Orpingtons-2 roosters & 2 hens

Silver Laced Wyandotte- 2 roosters & 1 hen

Welsummer- 1 hen

Those numbers simply do not work. We purchased some chicks from local breeders, but again, as a straight run. This time we got:

Welsummer-1 rooster & 1 hen

Easter Egger- 4 roosters & 1 hen

Splash Maran-3 roosters & 2 hens

What in the world was going on for our luck? Let’s not forget that when we got the Splash Marans, the breeder gave us 2 freebies which ended up being, you guessed it, roosters! Those two were of course chosen by our children as their pet prior to knowing they in fact would grow to be crowing, humping, fluff balls of energy. Hooray for us!

  
We planned to keep a rooster of each variety in order to be able to breed them. This meant a few went to freezer camp (stew pot) as this was just their luck of the draw. Eventually a few went to live outdoors among our goats, turkeys, pigs, alpacas and llama. The scene is straight out of Charlotte’s Web and we enjoy the roosters. Thankfully their behavior is good and we attribute this to having no hens  to compete over.

  1. Right now we have spare roosters living in our chicken tractor. Normally that space is reserved for our Cornish Cross meat chickens, but they have all been sent to freezer camp.
  2. Before winter comes, we need to decide the fate of these colorful alarm clocks.

  
The above photo is Flower, the Lavender Ameraucana.

Chicken (and Turkey) Ladders

20150227_112545One of the first things we made when we got birds, was a little entertainment for them. They like to roost, even as babies. Jessica looked on line and we were both surprised at the costs for these little accessories. I whipped up a few models in my shop to see how they worked and the birds really seemed to go for them.

These were very effective when they were little and we scaled the idea up as the birds grew, from just a couple of inches off the ground, to about 18 inches and now we have birds roosting in the rafters of our barn!

I tried a few ideas as you can see here, from blocking on a 45, to ladder cutting like a stringer for stairs. They all worked well, but the ladder approach seems best for the small applications.

20150227_112604Lessons learned:

  1. Leave plenty of room for each bird to roost on a level without interfering with the one below it.
  2. Ensure there is sufficient off set to avoid raining poop
  3. A poop tray under the roost is a great addition for clean up.
  4. Ensure the ladder is balanced with a ground extension to prevent tipping, unless it is otherwise fastened down.

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