Friday, November 29, 2013

Backyard Chickens Technology

A few months ago, we let our readers know about a TV commercial made by Mercedes-Benz that used a chicken to demonstrate the stabilization feature built into their automobiles. Now LG is getting in on the chicken stabilization act. 

Below is a spoof commercial that uses a chicken and (and probably similar technology) to create image stabilization in LG's new camera phone. Have a look below.

If you want to see the Mercedes Benz commercial, you can find it on our previous post about backyard chickens being used to sell cars.  Chicken Waterer Mercedes Benz

LG's Gallus Cam Puts Chicken Tech to Work

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiday Recipe -Yorkshire Pudding

If you're holiday dinner is prime rib or roast beef, don't forget to make the Yorkshire pudding. This classic egg dish from England is easy to make and absolutely delicious.

To American ears "pudding" sounds like a dessert, but Yorkshire pudding isn't sweet and it isn't for dessert. It's a light and airy pastry that's made with eggs, flour, milk and beef drippings and it gets served as a side dish along with the meat course. 

To Die For Yorkshire Pudding

When the batter mixture is placed into the pan, the hot beef fat in the drippings cause the batter to puff up. It's absolutely delicious and worth trying if you haven't done so before.

Yorkshire Pudding Recipe


  • 1 cup beaten eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Fat drippings from beef roast

  1. After you've cooked your roast beef for prime rib, collect the hot drippings and place into a bowl.
  2. Place one or two teaspoons of drippings into each compartment of a muffin tin.
  3. Now fill each compartment of the muffin tin with some batter. Don't fill these more than 1/3 or 1/2 full because the Yorkshire Pudding is going to puff up over the rim of the muffin tin.
  4. Place into an oven that's been pre-heated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Cook for 20-25 minutes. When done, the puddings will be puffed up and brown on the top.
  6. Enjoy.

Gift Guide For Chickens

During the holiday season it's pretty typical for magazines to run special gift guides to help shoppers find the perfect gifts for friends and family.  This year, we decided to put together a gift guide for those of you who want to buy gifts for your chickens. Here are five gift ideas for that special hen or rooster in your life

1) "Play Ball" Cabbage Tether Ball - The idea is to hang a cabbage from a rope in your coop or run using some cord and an eye bolt. The chickens get to "play" tether ball and eat the tasty cabbage. Making a cabbage tether ball is easy. Just buy a long eye bolt, nut, and large diameter washer at your local hardware store. (Buy a bolt with a length that is greater the the diameter of the typical head of cabbage.) Now, drill a hole through the center of the cabbage and push the eye bolt through the hole. Secure it to the cabbage using a washer and nut and then tie one end of cord to the eye bolt. Now suspend the tether ball above the ground in your coop or run. Hours of fun for chickens. Lots of fun to for you to watch them play. 

So Much For For So Little Money

2) Pumpkin Pie - This dessert is usually associated with Thanksgiving but we make pumpkin pies for Christmas as well so we have leftover pumpkins when Santa is putting gifts in the stockings. You might also have an un-carved pumpkin leftover from Halloween that you can re-gift to your flock, rather than throw into the compost bin, just place the pumpkin in your coop or run and let the girls have at it.  You can also give your chickens pumpkin seeds if you plan to use the rest of the pumpkin for your holiday meal. For this gift, you can substitute any squash you have on hand for pumpkin including Acorn, Butternut, or Delicata -- they all are appreciated. 

This Heirloom Boston Marrow Pumpkin Is Great for Pies and Chickens

3) BriteTap Poultry Waterer - Clean water is the gift that keeps giving year-round.  The BriteTap waterer is fully covered and chickens drink from special valves at the bottom. The water doesn't get contaminated by dirt and droppings so the water always stays clean and you don't have to rinse out a pan of poopy water. The BriteTap waterer is $29.95 plus shipping and handling from our web site: Chicken Waterer.

Clean Water Made Simple From BriteTap Poultry Waterer.

4) Sitting Pretty Perch - Chickens spend a lot of time roosting, so it makes sense that they have a nice comfortable perch. If your perch is too big or too small, a really nice gift idea is a replacement perch which is perfectly sized and comfortable. You can make these out of wooden dowels. Standard chicken breeds should be given a perch that's 1.5 inches in diameter while Bantams should be given a 1 inch diameter perch.

Mildred, does this perch feel better to you?

5) Treat Me Right - Try giving your chickens some foods they may not normally get during the year. Chickens love meal worms, pumpkin seeds, and cracked corn. All of these can be purchased from your local feed store.  You can also offer them cooked pasta, fruit, and leafy greens. If you give your chickens leftover people food, remember that you should not give them foods that have spoiled. If you wouldn't eat it, don't give it to your chickens.
Meal worms. Tasty but by whose standard?

6) Nest Box Luxury - Typically, straw is used as bedding in nest boxes. However, you can also use other materials that are softer to pamper your girls.  We like using wood shavings made from fir, aspen or pine. You can get this at pet stores but it is much less expensive to buy at a feed or equine supply store. Avoid cedar shavings as these are reputed to be harmful to chickens.

Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap Poultry Waterer. The BriteTap chicken waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out. 

Eggnog Make It Safely

During the holiday season, family and friends gather together to enjoy each others company.  Sharing food with others is particularly important and many dishes that we wouldn't normally serve during the year, or wouldn't serve with regularity, are made as way of sharing the holiday and expressing our love.

Eggs Benedict. My absolute favorite breakfast.

Eggs play an important part of holiday eating; custards, panna cotta, baked goods, and even special breakfasts such eggs Benedict and French toast. For many of us, the holidays would not be the same without the grand daddy egg dish of them all -- eggnog. 

Eggnog dates back to England during the middle ages and is made with whipped eggs, milk, cream, and spices and can be kicked up a notch by the addition of rum or brandy. 

Eggnog and all of the other egg dishes mentioned above rely on raw, or partially cooked eggs. This raises the question as to the safety of these dishes. No one wants to get food poisoning during the holidays, or anytime else for that matter!


Salmonella Risk

About 1 in 20,000 commercial eggs sold in the U.S. contains salmonella. If you make eggnog from commercial eggs, your risk of getting salmonella isn't really that great. 

If you are a backyard chicken keeper, the news is even better. Commercial eggs are much more likely to contain salmonella than eggs those from your backyard flock because commercial chickens are raised in large flocks and rates of salmonella infection are proportional to the size of the flock. That means that your probably not going to get salmonella if you eat partially cooked or raw eggs from your own chickens.

I'm Free Range. I'm Clean

Playing It Safe

All this notwithstanding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with with weakened immune systems should not eat raw eggs.  If you are planning to serve eggnog to your guests this year here are a list of strategies to reduce or eliminate the risks:

Three Ways to Make Eggs Safer

  • Spike the Eggnog  -- Yup, add brandy or rum to your eggnog and the alcohol contained in it will help reduce (and possibly eliminate) salomonella in the eggnog.  In 2008, Professor Vincent Fischetti of Rockefeller University performed an experiment where he added a heavy dose of salmonella bacteria to an eggnog recipe containing 20% booze. After 24 hours he tested the eggnog and found traces of salmonella. In other words, in his experiment, the booze didn't completely eliminate the bacteria, but the the amount of salmonella he added to the eggnog was 1,000 times greater than what would be typically found in a contaminated egg. So you can't be completely sure that adding rum or brandy will do the trick, but the risk is really going to be very, very small.
Egg safety provides a good excuse to tie one on.

  • Use Heat -- If you want to completely eliminate the risk, you need to heat the eggs to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This will completely kill any salmonella bacteria that might be present in the egg. Of course, at that temperature a normal egg will become an omelet, so you'll need to employ a trick to make eggnog without creating a drink with pieces of scrambled egg in it. The trick is to whisk the egg with milk prior to heating. Use 1/4 cup of milk for each egg used in the recipe. The addition of the milk will prevent the egg from hardening. 
  • Pasteurize 'Em - -Another strategy is to buy eggs from the store that have already been pasteurized.  A company called Safest Choice does just that. They look just like other eggs sold at the grocery store and come in cartons. Check out there web site for a list of stores that sell these eggs.


Here's a link to a great recipe for making your own eggnog courtesy of Food TV Network superstar Alton Brown.
Alton Brown Eggnog Recipe

Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap Poultry Waterer. The BriteTap chicken waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Are Hipsters & Foodies Abandoning Chickens

A few months ago, we published an newspaper article to our Facebook page that described how chickens are now showing up at animal shelters. 

One of many articles addressing abandonment of urban chickens

In the intervening number of weeks, we've seen this same topic covered in a variety of publications. The headline for these various articles tends to point the blame at "Hipsters" and "Foodies" who abandon their chickens once they stop laying eggs, or who discover the amount of work involved in their upkeep. The "Hipster" and "Foodie" headlines originate from a statement made by Mary Britton Clouse, who runs a chicken rescue operation. Here's the quote:

"It's the stupid foodies. We're just sick to death of it....People don't know what their doing."

Ms. Clouse rescues animals in the Minneapolis area and also maintains a web site that educates potential chicken owners. She points out some inconvenient truths about the poultry industry which everyone needs to consider. 

We're glad to see the media cover this issue, however, we think it's unfortunate that the focus of attention is on "hipsters" because its portrays the problem as one caused by a group of callous trendies. We believe the problem is more nuanced and wide-spread.

While we don't have any data on this, we believe that people bring their chickens to shelters because they mistakenly think they acting humanely. When a chickens' egg production begins to decline, the owner is faced with a dilemma; If they want to have a steady supply of eggs and have limited coop space, they need to either "cull" the flock, or find some other way to make room for new birds. Under such circumstances, owners may feel the most humane solution is to offer their chickens up for adoption without really understanding how difficult it will be to find homes for these birds. 
My future is in your hands.

If this is the case, then the problem is not isolated to a group of "foodies" or "hipsters," (read: selfish snobs). Rather, it is, and will continue to be, a more persistent and widespread problem. In our opinion, a solution will require better education of prospective owners.

Our strategy for maintaining a sustainable flock is to recognize and accommodate the decline in egg production and not to cull the flock. Initially, we built a larger coop and purchased fewer chickens. We then add new chickens to the flock every few years. The flock size grew over time but stabilized when some chickens died of natural causes. As a result, the size of our flock now stays about the same and we get enough eggs for our family's needs.  We feed and care for our birds for as long as they live and worry about whether they are laying much or not. This flock management strategy doesn't produce the cheapest eggs, but our goal isn't to produce the cheapest eggs.  This strategy may not work for all owners. The point is, that owners need to have a strategy; dropping them off at a shelter isn't the right approach.

Depending on your flock management strategy, this coop may be way too small.

To help educate folks on this subject, we are going to write a publish a checklist for perspective owners to help them make better personal decisions.

If you have thought on what should be on this checklist, please post a comment.

Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap Poultry Waterer. The BriteTap chicken waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

GMO's: Lies & Damned Lies

Lies & Damned Lies Or Maybe Just Half Truths

These days there's a fairly well publicized debate occurring in the scientific community and the media about the risks and benefits of genetically modified organisms or GMO's. A genetically modified organism is one that has been altered to produce characteristics that are desirable to human. For example, making a particular plant more resistant to disease or one that produces fruits that are larger and sweeter.  

Right now, we are taking an open minded approach to GMO's and weighing the evidence on both sides. That said, there does seem to be growing evidence that that today's GMO's may not be as safe as was initially claimed and that the use of GMO's may may have unintended consequences for the environment.  

One Claim for GMO's We Really Dislike

Supporters of modern GMO's make a variety of claims regarding their safety. One claim that we've seen over and over again is intended to neutralize criticism of modern GMO's by asserting that humans have been doing "genetic engineering" by other means for thousands of years and that modern GMO's are merely a continuation of these longstanding practices. Below is a fairly typical argument made by Dr. Christopher Baird who is on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell:

Organic-food purists may think of words like “unnatural”,  “unhealthy”, and “toxic” when confronted with genetically-modified food. But the fact is that all of our agricultural food has been genetically altered through thousands of years of selective breeding. It does not take a modern biotechnology lab to genetically optimize food for human consumption. All it takes is a farmer choosing the seeds from the juiciest apples, or the hen that lays the most eggs as the progenitor for the next generation.

Misleading At Best

We're calling-out this particular line of reasoning as misleading and unhelpful to the debate. The argument glosses over the fact that the scope and scale of the human intervention is vastly different today than it was in the past.

In the old days, farmers selected for traits that were naturally occurring variations. If a particular plant was found that exhibited a trait that was desirable it was used to pollinate the next generation of plants. The best of these was then used to pollinate the next generation etc. and over time the trait was made more prominent. 

For example, English Peas, or Sweet Peas, have their origins in the Eastern Mediterranean in the area that is modern day Syria. These early peas spread to Europe during the middle ages but did not become really popular until the 18th century when amateur plant breeder Thomas Edward Knight developed sweet tasting peas as a result of selective breeding for increased sugar in the pea seeds.

English Peas in The Pod. Source: Wikipedia

Again, this type of "genetic modification" involves selecting for a naturally occurring variation in the plant. By contrast, modern GMO's are often developed by introducing genes into plants from other species. For example, Bt-Corn is a variety of corn that is resistant to harmful insects. It was created by adding genes to corn from a bacteria that produces a toxin that is poisonous to certain insect species. If an insect eats Bt-Corn, it absorbs the toxin and dies; as a result, the corn becomes resistant to these insects.

This Corn Borer is One Insect That Is Killed by Bt-Corn. Photo: Wikipedia

While it's true that adding genes from other species doesn't necessarily make the new plant harmful to humans, it's deceitful to imply that today's genetic engineering is really just an extension of what we've done for thousands of years. Today's genetic engineering is a stepwise change in technology that fundamentally alters the game. Consider the following analogies:

  • The computer wasn't just an improvement on the calculator. It vastly increased the speed and accuracy of our ability to calculate. The computational power of computers made it possible to put a man on the moon, to create new medical devices that have extended our lives, led to the internet and the changes we see everyday in our ability to communicate with others. The computer changed everything.
  • The steam engine wasn't just an improvement on the horse, it fundamentally reduced the cost of of producing  and transporting goods, converted rural populations to urban ones, and led to dramatically improved living standards for everyone on the planet.
  • The atomic bomb wasn't just "an improvement" on the traditional mortar shell. It fundamentally changed the destructive power of warfare forever etc.

Likewise, our ability to modify the genes of living organisms isn't just an extension of what we've done in the past. We never had this much power to change the genetic composition of plants and animals. This makes the promise of genetically modified crops greater. It also makes the potential risks greater as well. Failing to acknowledge this isn't helpful.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Freezing Chicken Eggs For Winter

We're avid gardeners and put away tons of produce each year using a variety of methods including canning, drying and freezing. 

Up to this point, we really didn't know of a good way to preserve eggs for the lean times in winter when egg production declines. There are many ways people preserved eggs in the old days, but frankly these don't look too appealing to our eyes.

In China, duck and chicken eggs are preserved by burying them for several weeks in a mixture of clay, ash, salt and quicklime (calcium oxide). The resulting "Thousand Year Eggs" have grey/green yolks and amber whites.

We've tasted these eggs when we visited China several years ago and we can assure you that they taste much better than they look. Having said that, you can't make an omelette out of these and we think most Westerners would be put off by the look. Let's face it, it looks like something that should be on the TV show Fear Factor.

Chinese "Thousand Year Eggs"

Western traditional methods of preserving eggs in the shell include storing them in damp sawdust, covering with vaseline and storing in sand, and submerging them in waterglass (a mixture of water and sodium silicate). We've never tried any of these various methods, but Mother Earth New did a number of years ago and they came to the conclusion that you would be better off leaving the eggs unwashed and on the counter than using these various "preservation methods". 

Enter The Refrigerator/Freezer

Fortunately, we have a tool that our forbearers did not in the form of the freezer in our refrigerator. I recently tried removing eggs from their shells and freezing the eggs. We then tested them by making omelettes and they were very good. Not as good as omelettes from farm fresh eggs, but good enough that we wouldn't have a problem eating them on a regular basis. In baked goods, we doubt if anyone would be able to taste a difference.

How To Freeze Eggs

Freezing eggs couldn't be simpler. Buy some extra ice cube trays. I like the large silicone molds because they can hold up to two medium sized eggs in each section (see photo below). Now scramble the eggs and the whites together and pour into the ice cube trays. When frozen, remove from the trays, place in plastic freezer bags and place into the freezer.
Silicone Ice Cube Trays

When your ready to make eggs, remove a cube from the freezer bag and let thaw. Then make omelettes as you would normally. One thing I should mention is that eggs frozen this way take time to thaw. Remove from the freezer about an hour before you want to use them. 

Egg Frozen and Removed From Ice Cube Tray

Freezing Egg Whites

If you want to freeze just the egg whites, follow the same procedure mentioned above.

Freezing Egg Yolks

Egg yolks do change in consistency when frozen. If you add a bit of salt, this seems to improve the texture. Use 1/8 teaspoon of salt for every 1/4 cup of yolks (about 4 egg yolks). These will work fine in baked goods, sauces and if you make mayonnaise.