Monday, October 27, 2014

Hens in the family










Raising chickens has been a happy adventure. Though there have been bumps - in particular, discovering that one of our hens was actually a rooster - this has mostly been a really pleasant experience. I can only speak to my own little flock of two hens, of course, but they're easy to care for and fun to have around, and they provide food for us. Maybe we would have a different relationship with them if the flock were larger, or if we didn't interact with them so much. People have told me that the chickens they've known were mean, that they bit and chased kids and wouldn't allow themselves to be picked up. This hasn't been our experience. Maybe we're just lucky, but I suspect that our hands-on approach with them has helped. We held them from their first day with us. I think it made them gentler and more sociable with people. That's my theory anyway.

I tend to think of the hens as pets, though of course that isn't precisely accurate. They're more than pets; they give us food, they help control pests and they help us compost. They could be food themselves, and we've made sure that our children understand this. We observe them carefully, looking for behavioral patterns and monitoring physical growth and changes. But we also treat them as animal friends, and we have come to learn the features, and quirks, of their individual personalities. Betty, the Barred Plymouth Rock (black/white speckled) chicken, is sweeter and more interactive. Penny, the Rhode Island Red, is more shy and less likely to follow a person around the yard. But she's also noisier. It's hard to tell which is the dominant hen, though I think Betty is the likelier candidate. She seems bolder and is usually the first to investigate something new, with Penny following her. But then again, Penny usually leads the chorus of cackles and chirps, and even crows a bit, so it might be a basically equal relationship.

We're trying to savor these last few weeks before winter sets in, when we might see changes in their egg production due to diminished daylight. We plan to try a light inside the coop to see if that helps keep them laying, but we're prepared for a slowdown. In the meantime, we're enjoying their eggs as often as possible, while they're still producing an egg each most days. I've found myself enjoying eggs much more since we started eating theirs. I wasn't really an egg person before but their eggs taste better to me. I mostly eat them hard-boiled or poached, but the rest of the family eats them any which way. We usually have no fewer than a dozen eggs on hand so I always have plenty for baking. Last week, on a rainy afternoon, the small Bears and I made a loaf of pumpkin bread. I'm still working on the egg content in baking recipes; our eggs are somewhere between "medium" and "large," on the official designation scale. Sometimes I use an extra white or yolk, depending on the recipe; this loaf was a bit dry and I'd use another yolk next time, maybe. But it was very good; I enjoyed a slice with my afternoon cup of tea and thought about how nice it is to have those pretty little hens and - for now - fresh, pure eggs whenever I need them.

Pumpkin Bread (from my trusty old Betty Crocker's Cookbook)

You'll need:
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of loaf pan, 9x5x3 inches.

Mix pumpkin, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour batter into pan.

Bake 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on wire rack.

Loosen sides of loaf from pan, remove from pan and place top side up on wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing.

41 comments:

  1. I remember you getting them as little chicks, and just look at them now. I think if I had hens they'd be pets too, I get attached to whatever animals we have.

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  2. Nothing as funny as hens :-)
    I have 12 of them (so always a lot of eggs to give away to friends and family), and although there is a difference between the hens and my dog, or the donkeys, they still are pets... I can pick them up as well, pet them, they just love attention !
    As for the eggs in winter - they produce a bit less eggs, but I never had a full stop in production, even without a light in their henhouse ! I think if you just keep on feeding them enough leftovers, they continue laying eggs...

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  3. I'm so glad you did a post on your hens, I've often wanted to ask if you would, it's lovely to hear how you get on with rearing them. It's something I'd like to do one day, although I really don't think it will be for a while. In the meantime I'm learning little bits of information here and there. We often get eggs from the farm gate, at various different places, and they're so much nicer than supermarket eggs. The ones we had a lunchtime today had deep orange yolks and were delicious. The pumpkin bread sounds lovely, I'm a big fan of both vanilla and cinnamon. Let's hope Betty and Penny keep up the good work through the winter. CJ xx

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  4. I will have to try this recipe as that loaf looks amazing friend! There is nothing better to me than having a garden filled with plants and in your case chickens that supplies your family with food! Just too awesome! I would love to have chickens as fresh eggs are just the best and the composting aspect is fantastic for the garden! Hope you are well Jennifer! Happy fall to you all! Nicole xoxo

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  5. If we had hens, I think I'd cuddle them too! :o)

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  6. Hens are something I always think I'd like.... but I can kill house plants so hens stand no chance.
    And, baking wise, why not do what the WI do? They use the number of eggs recommended in a recipe for cake, for example, and measure their weight to use that as the yard stick for how much flour, sugar etc to put in. It saves the worry over large or small eggs and is supposed to give a perfect result everytime. It only works if you like measuring by weight rather than cups.....

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  7. They are beautiful. Love that they're so friendly too. :)

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  8. Your hens are so sweet looking. I would LOVE to have chickens but we're gone so much and the lady who watches our house doesn't want to care for chickens. So sad. I do buy eggs straight from a farm near us when they have extras. They do taste much, much better than store bought eggs.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  9. A good friend of ours has chickens and gave us some eggs. I made a familiar recipe, which also was a little dry due to egg size, but still good. My friends adds a couple dollops of applesauce.

    I know the chickens can also be food, but can you really imagine eating something that you've given a name to?

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  10. Awe it's lovely that you are able to interact with them, I'm quite sure that's why they are so friendly and without a doubt why they are happy to provide you with so many eggs. :)
    V x

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  11. Great to see the hens ~ I do remember when you briefly had the hen turned rooster.
    So glad they have brought you and the family so much usefulness and enjoyment .
    We have , as you know quite a few chickens and I enjoy them all . Love the way just about the whole flock follows me around the farm and putters around nearby while I do my chores. You are so right each one has it's own personality and some breeds are noted for being more docile than others.
    We have them for pleasure , insect control ( our biggest Roo even catches mice !), composting and eggs just as you do, only on a larger scale .

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  12. Love your hens! What a great way to teach your children about nature, how our food is grown, how farm animals are such an important part of our lives and building your little Eco system in your backyard. Your banana bread looks delish. I will have to make it as I just got a bunch of ripe bananas on special at the grocery store! Have a great week!

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  13. I have four hens and we have already had a bit of a slowdown in production. Sadly! lol

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  14. Hens are great we had 2 for many years, one was Chooka and the other was Henny and very friendly
    and lots of good eggs ☺☺ Love seeing yours and hearing about them xo

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  15. We had chickens when I was young. I remember there was a favorite that would sit on my Dad's should while he was walking, and would let us hold her. Good memories!

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  16. Your hens are beautiful and I am fairly certain your hands on approach is what helps them be so gentle with you. Our chickens raised in large flocks were much wilder! Baaaawak!!! :)

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  17. Your chickens are wonderful and pretty and I'm sure they are tame because you handled them so much. You're lucky that yours are still laying.. ours have been on strike for quite a while now. Dayle put a light in their coop which working last year to keep them laying, but it hasn't gotten them going again. I would love to bake a loaf of that bread! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  18. That bread looks so very yummy!!!! I am also a huge chicken fan!!! I love watching them going about their business in the backyard!!! Have a fab week!!!
    Love
    AMarie
    xxx

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  19. In was only talking to a neighbour the other day about how I miss not having my hens around - they make the garden a friendlier place - alas it is too foxy round here to keep them safely any more.

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  20. lovely to see you hens wandering round your garden, it's too foxy here to let them roam, and consequently they're a bit shy of us.

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  21. Dear Jennifer, I like the black and white hen! Groetjes from Holland,
    Hetty

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  22. It is a dream of mine that one day we would have chickens, what a treat to see them wandering around in the garden.

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  23. They're lovely looking hens and the pumpkin bread sounds and looks delicious. When I had my chickens, I had a similar 'problem' when it came to baking as my girls produced eggs that were much larger than store-bought ones (one of my hens used to produce eggs that weighed between 70 and 78g each!). I followed my grandmother's advice (she was a very good cook) and when making something like a Victoria sponge, would weigh the eggs and then measure the same weight in butter, sugar and flour.

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  24. I love your chicken posts, Jennifer. They are gorgeous hens, very photogenic! It is wonderful to see how the children enjoy them and their individual personalities, and it brings back memories of my childhood when we always had hens in the back yard. We never had store bought eggs until I was a teenager. Thank you for the recipe for pumpkin bread which looks very healthy and delicious, and of course is perfect for the season.

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  25. I do so enjoy your chicken posts Jennifer! It seems that they have been a wonderfully positive addition to your family's lives.
    Marianne x

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  26. I have enjoyed watching your chickens grow from wee little bundles of feathers to full grown, egg laying birds. If you find yourself with spare eggs you could try making a pavlova. :-)

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  27. We have 7 hens and a rooster, including 2 each of the types you have. I love keeping them and getting their lovely eggs. We have tried having lights on to keep the egg production going but it hasn't worked for us. They stop laying for a while no matter what. But that makes it all the more special when they start laying again.

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  28. I really enjoy reading your hen keeping posts! My cousin got his hens a few month before you, he's very hands on with them and they too are very friendly, so I think you must be right! x

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  29. I bet it feels great, eating your own chicken's eggs. When I think how excited I was to get some from the school chickens! They do taste better, I agree. I love the look of that pumpkin loaf, the perfect autumn recipe. x

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  30. I cannot wait to own my own hens but need to move first! To have the wonderful option of gathering fresh eggs as a reward each morning must be amazing. I will try your recipe as we have a few kids coming round at Halloween to scoop out pumpkins so there will be lots of pumpkin recipes that evening! Have a wonderful week xx

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  31. They are so pretty! Your pumpkin bread looks great. Even with store bought eggs I often adjust the number of eggs in recipes. A lot of recipes have too few eggs making baked goods dry. I am a huge pumpkin bread fan, I love it :)

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  32. A work colleague of my husband keeps hens and every now and again we buy their eggs.
    I like using them for baking--you can really tell the difference, they're creamier and the cakes always turn out really nice..You're so lucky to have two wonderful egg laying hens.
    I now want to have my own chickens too. x

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  33. My neighbours kept chickens when I was little, and I loved collecting the eggs! If I had the space and patience I would love to keep hens too. We seem to eat an extraordinary amount of eggs in our household! x

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  34. Oh this is a dream to have hens in the family!
    Lovely pictures and it´s always a pleasure to take a look at your blog...
    Warmly,
    Titti

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  35. I love hearing about you're hens, wow that pumkin bread looks good.
    Clare xx

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  36. Pretty hens Jennifer and I think hens fascinating to watch - I love the way ours seem to chatter to each other. There's nothing like collecting eggs from your own hens, they always look and taste so much better than eggs you buy in the shops. Your pumpkin bread looks delicious. Enjoy the rest of your week.
    Jane xx

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  37. Pumpkin bread looks and sounds lovely! We will have lots of pumpkin after carving tomorrow, I must give this a go. I suspect it should cook the chopped pumpkin first though ?

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  38. Fantastic egg yield - I bet they're absolutely delicious too. xx

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  39. I love your hens Jennifer and have enjoyed watching them grow up. Free range eggs from your own hens must taste delicious much nicer than shop bought. Thank you for the recipe it looks yummy . :)

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  40. I love that the experience has been a positive one for you and the bears. Your chickens are really beautiful, what a great learning experience it is.
    Happy Halloween,
    Meredith

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  41. It seems I'm always trying to catch up with some of my favorite Bloggy friends these days, so I apologize for the lateness of comments. I was thinking about your hens & the "rooster-oops" just yesterday. We were invited to our backyard neighbors home for a garden tour. He owns an "Agriscaping" business, & certainly practices what he teaches. His entire backyard is filled with edible landscaping and creative eco-systems. He has a coop of delightful little hens (probably about 8), rabbits, fish and quail. He uses gray water for all of the irrigation and all of the waste products in his compost bin. It was quite fascinating to see how he has created lots of planting zones by positioning trees to form shade & even dug out a big hole under the trampoline for a subterranean growing area. I'm not sure why, but I just kept thinking that you and your family would have found that all so interesting. Our son and his family would also like seeing that. Any, Justin has really cute hens like you do!

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