Monday, November 17, 2014

Still Frozen

Well, hello friends! Can you believe it's Monday again already- and that November is over halfway over? I really don't know where the time goes.

According to the weather report this morning, our deep freeze pattern should be breaking up tomorrow. Yay! I'm over this cold snap... the pond even iced over last night! The warm(er) weather here (the low for tomorrow is forecast at 34 degrees, so warm is a relative term) is definitely going to be welcome. My thoughts go out to the folks who aren't warming up yet.

The extended cold weather is a great excuse for staying inside and working on projects, however. I'm putting together a list of holiday crafts for upcoming posts, as I start planning out my own gift-giving agenda. Do you have any go-to items that you enjoy making for your friends, this time of year? I'd love to hear about them! Either drop me a note here or on Facebook and tell me what your favorite handmade gifts are, either to give or receive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Venison Stew

A friend gifted us with a lovely venison roast from a recent hunting trip- seriously, if you aren't a hunter, make sure you're at least friends with one. I happen to love venison; it is a stronger flavored meat than beef, but I don't think it's as "gamey" as some of the others out there. Alex, on the other hand, seems to pick up on that flavor and isn't as big a fan of it as I am. (Which is pretty much the only reason we haven't gone deer hunting yet...)

Anyway- back to the roast. Alex saw a recipe on Facebook that looked pretty good at first glance, but when I dug into it a little further- and by that I mean I actually read the recipe, and didn't just drool over the photo- it seemed like it needed some work, for my tastes. The one thing that really stuck out at me was the mention that tomato sauce or vinegar can be used to tame some of the gaminess of the meat, if you're so inclined. So, with that in mind, I grabbed my slow cooker and started thinking.

First, I trimmed off some bits of silver skin that were there, just because I have a "thing" about weird chewy bits of meat. Then, I seasoned the roast with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and the let that rest while I heated a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil was nice and hot, I placed the roast in the pan and seared the meat for a few minutes on each side, in order to get some really nice carmelization going.

While the meat was searing, I chopped up some veggies: onions, carrots, celery and potatoes. As I've mentioned before- I hardly ever measure when I'm making things like this, so... maybe a cup to 2 cups of each, except the celery, which was probably a little bit less by proportion. These were all cut into relatively similar-sized pieces, so that they'd all cook at the same rate.

For the stew base, I used a package of Lipton's (kosher) Onion Soup mix. I know that might sound weird, seeing as how I'm a huge proponent of making things yourself, but I'll tell you what- there are just some things I won't make without it. So, into the crock went the soup mix and the veggies, and the nicely seared roast went in on top of that. I de-glazed my searing pan with some hot water; once the little stuck bits were dissolved I put that liquid into the crock as well. Then, I topped it all off with some boiling water, just up to the level of the veggies. The last ingredient was a pint of plain tomato sauce, from the pantry. I gave the top a little stir, just to incorporate the tomato sauce, then on went the lid and away I went.

Some hours later, everything was finished cooking and the house smelled amazing. I fished out the roast and set it aside to carve up into bite sized chunks. Once that was out f, I added some corn starch in water (maybe 2T in a 1/4 cup of cold water) to thicken the sauce a little bit more. I also threw on a pot of egg noodles to boil, but you could use rice or another grain if you prefer. I finished cubing up the meat, and put that back into the pot while we waited on the noodles. once they were done, I dished everything up and we dug in.

The verdict? Alex was positively over the moon about it! The addition of the tomato sauce really surprised me; it added a nice depth of flavor to the stew and while the venison still tasted like venison (thank goodness!) he said it wasn't gamey at all. I couldn't have been happier with the way it turned out.

What's your favorite way to cook venison?

Monday, November 10, 2014

I Spoke Too Soon

Graphic courtesy of Click for source. 
It looks like the Fraser Valley up in Canada is building a cold weather system that's due to hit us early tomorrow. Generally, when one of these systems sets up in mid-winter, that means we'll have freezing (or below) temperatures for a solid three to five days- since this one is early in the season, we're just looking at freezing nights for the next few days. (Our days are forecast to be in the 40s. Not balmy, but I'll take it.)

Good thing I have my frost blankets and stuff prepped already. Once I finish in here, I'll be outside for a good part of the day- getting the plants all tucked in, turning off and draining outside water lines, putting those little styrofoam covers over spigots, that sort of thing. Oh, and I can't forget the firewood... I'll bring a couple wheelbarrow loads over so I can get the pile by the back door stacked up nice and high.

I'll also be putting down extra hay for the rabbits, and making sure my backup supply of water bottles are ready to go, so that in the mornings I can just swap out the frozen ones with fresh ones from inside. Really, that was one of the best "work smart, not hard" decisions made over the years. Anyone who has ever dealt with frozen waterers would likely agree. That's got to be one of the least pleasant tasks to attend to- I almost always end up getting soaked in the process of breaking ice, so I try to avoid it whenever possible. 

The chickens are in pretty good shape already, so thankfully I don't have much to do out there. I will need to keep an eye on Flo,however, since she still hasn't feathered back out completely. I'm sure she'll be fine, though- since she's the alpha, the other birds will keep her plenty warm at night when things are at their coldest. 

What about you? It looks like this cold front is going to hit most of the country- even places that aren't used to this kind of weather. So, I want to know: What tips and tricks do you have for taking care of things when it gets super frosty? Let's share what we know with our friends who don't usually experience this king of thing... head on over to FB and tell us what you do!

PS: A&T passed TEN THOUSAND pageviews over the weekend... another huge milestone! Thank you so much for being a part of my world!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Florence and The Molt

Poor Flo... she looks like this right now:

She looks awful. Her feathers are completely jacked up... well, the ones that are still there, anyway. I've been trying to get photos of her for a couple of days, but she seems to know how bad she looks and won't hold still if I come anywhere near her with a camera. I can't say I blame her, really... I wouldn't, either.

Molting varies from chicken to chicken, it seems. Some of my birds- the Americaunas, specifically, just lose a few feathers at a time, and simply look a little ragged for a couple of weeks. Last year, the Barred Rock lost almost all of her head and neck feathers at once, but that was pretty much it for her. Historically, Flo just loses her poofy nether feathers, and runs around with a bare bottom for a couple of weeks while things are growing back in. This year, however, she's jettisoned easily a quarter, if not a third, of her feathers altogether. She's got a strip missing down the back of her neck, as well as a matching one on the front. Her rump is mostly bare, her tail is long gone, and I've even found primary flight feathers scattered around. She looks moth-eaten, to be nice about it. (But not so bad that I'm knitting chicken sweaters, or anything.)

It's completely normal (however abnormal it may look) and is something that happens to chickens around this time of year. Personally, I think that seems like poor timing, but I'm sure there has to be some genetic or evolutionary reason for ditching all the outerwear just as colder weather rolls in. If I had to guess, I'd say it likely has something to do with ditching external parasites, or maybe just trading out the old feathers for newer ones, before the weather gets really bad. That's just my supposition, though... I haven't found any definitive answers, yet.

Along with molting, comes a cessation of egg laying. Flo hasn't laid an egg in at least two weeks, because her body is putting energy into making new feathers -fast- as opposed to making eggs. So, if you have a chicken that's molting, make sure you're getting extra protein to them, to make the process go as smooth as possible. Once her feathers are back in, she'll start laying again- but at a much reduced rate - maybe one or two eggs a week, now that the dark days are here. Since the egg-laying cycle is governed by hours of daylight, chickens naturally decrease production in the winter.

Commercial egg producers (and some home chicken keepers) use supplemental lighting in the coop to keep eggs coming through the winter. We don't do that here- I believe that if a system is designed with a built in rest period, there's probably a good reason for that and it should be honored. I stockpile eggs when everyone is laying daily, and if we need to ration them towards the end... well, so be it. I'm not running a sweatshop, after all. Besides, now that the girls aren't foraging as much, the eggs aren't as awesome as they are in the spring and summer months. (They're still great; much better than store bought, though!)

What's happening in your chicken run- are your feathered friends molting now, too?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Winter Care: Chicken Edition

Hell no, we won't go... out. (February 2014)
If the weather keeps going the way it is, this year will go on record- and by 'record' I mean our kitchen calendar- as having the latest frost since we moved here 9 years ago. Our 10-day forecast appears to be holding steady with highs in the 50's and lows in the 40's for the forseeable future. 

While I'm not complaining whatsoever, I do find it a little bit weird. After last year's mild-ish winter (minus that ridiculous freezing spell we had) I've had the feeling that we are in for a chilly/snowy one. The Farmer's Almanac disagrees with me, calling for a wetter and warmer winter... which, so far, is precisely what we're getting. 

Winter weather brings a whole new level to taking care of the animals, whether it's freezing cold out or just soggy- there's no one-size-fits-all solution in our maritime climate. Each weather system brings its own set of challenges: freezing weather means extra food, breaking ice and monitoring for warmth, and the dampness means wet animals, soggy bedding, and the increased potential for respiratory issues. 

While I personally dislike freezing cold temps (they aggravate my fibromyalgia) I think that for taking care of the animals it makes things a little bit easier. The way our weather patterns set up, freezing means dry: we'll have sunshine during the day and icy cold nights with almost no humidity whatsoever. This helps keeps the bedding in the chicken coop nice and dry, which makes for cleaner conditions all around. 

When we have extended periods of rain, however, things get messy really fast. The chickens don't want to sit outside when it's pouring, so more time inside the coop equals more manure to deal with. Good ventilation is essential here- not just for keeping things from getting super stinky, but chicken poop is high in ammonia- those fumes can make the birds sick, if the air isn't moving around enough. 
I find it's necessary to put down additional wood shavings pretty regularly, to help manage the increased manure load. This year, I'm also trying an enzyme product that is supposed to help break down the manure faster and keep the odor level down. (More on that later, once I've had some time and experience with it.)

Depending on how warm our temperatures stay, I also have to watch for mold and mildew in the coop, which can some on really fast with all that extra moisture in the air. From basic respiratory irritation like coughing and sneezing, all the way to life-threatening fungal infections like aspergillosis, chickens definitely need to be monitored for illness during the soggy months. Good hygiene in the coop can help minimize problems with respiratory issues. Clean and dry... it's easier said than done, but really, it's what has to happen. 

In tomorrow's post over at GRIT, I'm going to talk about some additional steps I like to take, in order to keep my flock happy and healthy over the winter. I hope you'll check it out! Until then- what challenges do you face with regards to weather and your animals, during the winter?