Sunday, February 28, 2010

Last Day of February

Avery is napping and Noah is playing quietly with legos, so what better time to sit and write a bit (much more tempting than scrubbing my stove top which is in pieces and soaking in Dr. Bronners, baking soda and borax). Today is the last day of February. The sun is shining on me and all throughout the house. I just checked for eggs and noticed that for the first time since October, the sun is shining on the doe pen. Xanadu and Rose were both standing in the sun nibbling on spruce boughs. 

In other news, I have a dying chicken in the hallway. I noticed her this morning all crouched and sunken in to herself. She wouldn't drink water and barely opened up her eyes. I know enough by now that she probably isn't going to make it. But she is one of our three Welsummer hens, and you know how much I love those hens and their beautiful eggs. I told Dustin I was bringing her in and he reminded me of my last attempt to bring a chicken in, (she convulsed and made quite a noisy, stinky, messy and disturbing departure). I pointed out that I did remember and had learned a lesson, this time I had put the sick bird in a disposable cardboard box with hay, instead of a large storage tupperware that would have to be cleaned out afterwards. I was hoping that I could get some water and herbs into her and she might make it. I added a drop of echinacea root tincture, a drop of grapefruit seed extract, a crushed clove of garlic and a large pinch of ground herbs (fennel, wormwood, garlic and black walnut) along with a little molasses to her water). Dipped her beak and she wouldn't drink ( I probably wouldn't either). So then I pried her mouth open and got part of a dropper full down her throat. I'll try again in another hour and continue over the course of the day. 

We have had two injured chickens this winter but they were perky. So for days I carried them to the waterer and they would drink, then I'd put them in a low box out of the way with a handful of food. They both are up and moving around now. Whenever I've seen a hen this unresponsive, they've always died, and fast too, probably by the end of the day. I hadn't noticed any suspicious behavior yesterday morning, and D had done night chores and not noticed anything. 

Noah and I started our first tray of seeds for the spring. I know it isn't time yet, for us Alaskans anyway. I do this every winter to hold me over, I start a few lettuce greens and herbs with the intention of transplanting them into a few pots and placing them in a window. This way I'll have little snippets of chives, basil, parsley, cilantro and greens here and there throughout the spring. It will be time to start tomatoes and peppers in a couple weeks. I did start some slow growing and germinating herbs (lavender, oregano and chamomile). If they get too big I'll transplant them before they make it to the garden. 

I have seeds on order from Peaceful Valley and thanks to a comment from another blogger, Fedco. I had never heard of Fedco before, but after checking them out, I am very excited about their prices and ethics. All I have yet to order are a few odds and ends, mostly onion, leek and shallot sets. I managed to stay away from most impractical temptations like melons, specialty peppers and most late season varieties. I allowed myself to go a little crazy on beet, turnip and rutabaga varieties, because they do so well here.When I told Dustin I bought several types of turnip and rutabaga seeds, he said as long as I wasn't feeding them to him... we are not big fans so it may seem silly to be growing them. One of the blogs I regularly read has been posting on feeding root vegetables to livestock, a practice that use to be common, but has since been replaced with high amounts of grain. I thought that I'd experiment a bit with adding a small amount of root vegetables to the goats and chickens diet and go from there. I already have quite a collection of early tomato, squash, pea, bean, kale, broccoli and green seeds. But I did find some new, or I should say old perennial greens that I had never heard of before that I had to check out. I also bought edible edamame for the first time, as we love it as a snack and I thought I'd make some space for it. I was excited to find an Alfalfa hardy down to zone one! As far as I know, no one grows Alfalfa up here because it doesn't survive the winters, so we'll be trying this hardy variety. 

My grainmill is somewhere in transit, on it's way here. I've used up all my old stale wheat, rye and spelt flours in anticipation...

I'm working on our second Azure Standard order, which contains more fun groceries than our first mostly bulk grain order. I'm ordering some beans and legumes for sprouting and grinding along with some specialty sea salts, and sugars (rapadura and maple), and lots of odds and ends I either can't find locally, or are cheaper in price and higher in quality.

I've been thinking of what defines spring here in interior Alaska. We don't tend to pay much attention to the official first day of spring, first day of summer etc. Spring is not green shoots of grass, mud, and especially not daffodils blooming (at least outdoors). Once we have mud and grass, well that's practically summer or the week before summer. Spring is the sun rising higher in the sky and shining with an intensity that warms my skin and lights the room, revealing the layer of dust that has been hiding in the dim rooms all winter. Spring is setting up plant racks, hanging lights and planting seeds indoors, the first touch and smells of soil - indoors. Spring is weather warm enough we can get out and play in the snow. Late spring brings goat babies and chicks. By then the seed starting rack is overflowing onto the floor and nearby level surfaces. By then we are too busy to debate, is it still spring or do locals sporting shorts and buying starts in a frenzy constitute the beginning of an arctic summer?

We've got about six weeks until kidding season begins and ducklings arrive. I'm looking forward to a few more cold weeks where I am more than happy to be around a wood-stove, baking bread, making soup and doing all those indoor projects (scrubbing and dusting) that won't get done till the slow days of next winter, or is it spring? 

Now I'm off to feed a hungry awake Avery, scrub my stove, make a smoothie for Noah and I, bake banana bread, force some liquid down my sick chicken and prep a whole thawed chicken for dinner. All the while enjoying the sun streaming into my dusty but well lit house, ah. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chicken Feed Pictures

I just downloaded pictures from mixing feed this weekend, so here they are, mostly self explanatory.
 Sun on coop and my shadow

 Grain storage/ green house. Works very well, although in this photo it is rather disorganized

 Tubs for mixing and ingredients.


 A beautiful finished product and some rather content chickens. They pick the whole grains out.

Chicken Feed

A year ago we started mixing our own chicken feed using mostly whole grains. We have fed the same mix to our layers, starters (I ground it up for the new chicks), meat birds and ducks. I thought that I would continue to research this topic and after observing our birds, make slow changes to their feed recipe. The birds have been thriving so I hadn't ever revisited the feed recipe or done any further research, until now.

Recently I started trying to figure out exactly how much our chicken feed recipe was costing, the post is here. You can see my original chicken feed recipe and the sources I used to come up with it here. I've been wanting to get a better idea of the nutritional content of the different ingredients and how they work together. Conclusions that I have come to are that our current recipe is too expensive, too high in corn and not diverse enough.

Here is the recipe that I have been using for the most part of this last year, if you check out the original recipe I began with, you'll notice it has changed a bit. This totals to about 80-85 Ib and lasts us about two weeks. I often make a double batch, one batch per tub side by side. If I don't have to move bags of feed, the process of dumping, mixing and moving the feed into lidded garbage cans takes less than a half hour. I usually mix it on a weekend so I can crack a beer and mix in peace (without assistance from the kids who would double the time) which makes for an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
  1. 30 Ib cracked corn
  2. 20Ib whole wheat berries, white or red, winter or spring, or a mix
  3. 10 Ib whole barley (local)
  4. 10Ib whole oats (local I think)
  5. 4-5 Ib alaskan salmon meal
  6. 3 -4 Ib flax seed
  7. 2-3 Ib kelp meal
  8. 1 Ib salt
  9. 1/4 - 1/2 Ib herbal vitamin supplement
Changes I made this week are that I added 5 Ib sunflower seeds and 5 Ib split peas.

Other things we feed the chickens regularly:
  1. kitchen scraps: veggie, bread, dairy and meat scraps that are not spoiled
  2. kombucha tea ( provides beneficial yeasts and acids, immune boosting, detoxifying)
  3. kefired raw goat milk (when in season, most the year, not now- beneficial yeast and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship - takes the place of dried yeast and probiotics)
  4. grit and oyster shell  provided at all times
  5. wormer and anti parasitic herbal formulas as needed
  6. Brome and occasionally alfalfa hay
  7. As of this past week I've started sprouting various grains and legumes and have been feeding the chickens several cups of sprouts a day. I hope to continue this practice at least through the winter until the chickens can get out and forage.
I still don't know as much as I'd like to about the ingredients we are using, so my current investigation is far from over. Here is a link to Lionsgrip, a site that offers chicken feed recipes and nutritional information. This particular entry is titled Is your feed to corny? The following are a few things I've learned about chicken feed lately:

A high protein diet is important. From chick starter to broiler grower protein levels range from seventeen to twenty two percent. Most processed chicken feeds have a large amount of ground soy meal to the feed, in addition to fish meal. I have declined to use soy in our chicken feed for a number of reasons, partly because eighty five percent of soy in our country is from genetically engineered sources, in addition to containing large amounts of pesticides. There are a number of other health concerns associated with soy products which you can easily look up if you are so inclined.

In the Lionsgrip nutrition article I just linked to, I read about the importance of B vitamins in the chicken's diet. Too much or too little of any of the various B vitamins can lead to deficiency related health problems. The source suggested that most feeds use synthetic B vitamins which are quickly depleted and not as helpful as those directly from legume and grain seeds.The following is a list of the ingredients we are using and what little I know about them:
  • Corn: provides energy and fat. Feed more in the winter, less in summer. Often makes up a large percentage of processed chicken feed. Downside is that a large percentage of corn comes from genetically engineered sources. It often contains high levels of pesticides which build up in animal fat and are transferred to the consumer. 9% protein. Low levels of B vitamins and most vitamins and minerals.
  • Wheat Berries: There are spring and winter wheat berries, hard and soft. Depending on the variety protein content varies from 11 to 15 percent. Supplies moderate amounts of other vitamins and minerals
  • Oats and Barley: oats are 14 percent protein, barley 12 percent. One of my original sources said never to have Barley or Oats make up more than fifteen percent of the chicken feed, whether alone or combined. I feed more than this fifteen percent, but I do check myself when it comes to these ingredients despite wanting to use more of them as they are inexpensive and local, nine dollars for a fifty pound bag. I feed them whole. 
  • Fish Meal: May be one of the healthiest and most natural protein sources with the exception of living bugs or worms. 60 % protein. Increases Omega 3 fatty acids in the eggs.
  • Kelp Meal: dried seaweed, great source of vitamins and minerals
  • Flax Seed: Boosts omega three fatty acids in eggs. High in B vitamins and minerals
  • Black Oil Sunflower Seeds: high in fat, minerals and B vitamins
A couple ingredients I've been looking at adding to our recipe are whole or split green peas. They are high in protein and cost about seven dollars plus shipping for a twenty five pound bag. I'm also looking at lentils which are also very high in protein. I guess before the soybean revolution farmers fed their livestock a much more varied diet of legumes. Now it is rare to see legumes of any kind in feed recipes except soy beans and alfalfa. 

I noticed that our local feed store is finally carrying organic chicken feeds ranging from twenty two to twenty seven dollars a fifty pound bag. Most of my feed ingredients are not organic, although I wish I had access to more organic whole grains at reasonable prices. Mixing chicken feed is not rocket science. I do see why people are intimidated by coming up with their own recipes. After reading about B vitamins I started worrying about whether I was giving the birds too little or too much of something. Chickens are resilient, as are our own bodies. I eat too many sweets and dairy, too many red meats and not enough fish or organ meats. I don't pull out a nutrition chart for every meal. Everything is a balance. I am trying to feed my chickens a healthy whole grain diet (natural and local when possible). 

Despite not being formulated by scientists,  I think there is a good chance that my chicken feed is healthier than the processed organic feed sold in crumbles and pellets, primarily because I am using whole grain. Organic or not, processed animal feed is generally not quality ingredients to begin with, and then what nutrition is in the grains to begin with is lost once ground, pressed and sprinkled with synthetic vitamins and minerals before being put in a bag for months. As I make changes in the chickens diet I'll be calculating costs and keeping an eye on the birds health. For now I am feeling pretty good about my chicken's diet, and beings that we eat their eggs and will at some time eat them, I'd say that is a good thing.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Naked bottom baby

Noah is watching Sesame Street and eating a blueberry muffin. Avery had just pushed a chair up to the sink, climbed up on it and was looking for something to get into on the counter. When I told her I saw her, she squealed with her success and climbed down and came hurrying over for some attention. Now she is trying to get her spinning top to work. I love watching her play and explore her world. She is quite entertaining. I'm often torn, because if she is playing happily I should be taking advantage of the moment to make some food or sneak dishes out of the dishwasher before she notices and wants to help, but really, nothing is more important than taking time to savor my children.

When Avery was born, Noah was two and a half years old. For quite some time, taking care of my son had come with ease. I remembered how much work a newborn was and thought I was prepared for her. What I wasn't prepared for was how having a baby affected my son, and our relationship. Avery is almost one and a half and the kids are starting to play pretty well together. I finally feel like I'm getting back on top of things. I can't say how much more challenging raising two children is than I anticipated. Infinitely more.

I've been having lots of moments lately that I wish I could capture. We have a video camera and I need to start using it. I often think I will remember all the silly or crazy things that the kids do, but I can hardly even separate one image from the mess of cute or silly things that the kids have said or done this week. Noah at almost four has been asking in all sincerity, who we think he should marry. We've been having lots of matter of fact conversations about marriage and husbands and wives etc.

Avery spends most of her time around the house without pants or a diaper on. She uses her potty several times a day, with encouragement and sometimes on her own. She says "poo" for poop or pee...or if she has a wet diaper that she wants off, or if she just wants to run around with a bare bottom.  How many accidents Avery has are related to whether I'm paying attention or not. Often we can get on a schedule and I'll remind her every half hour or so to use her potty and if she has to go she will, unless she is cranky and needing  a nap or something and if that is the case then it isn't an appropriate time for her to be diaperless. The most elaborate misses (accidents) usually come when I'm cooking dinner, frying something, or taking something out of the oven (something is going to burn if I leave for a minute) and then I look over and Avery is pointing and telling me "poo, poo, poo". Immediate intervention is essential and goes something like this:
  1.  First, stop child and inspect for poo smears. Make sure there is no poo on her legs or feet getting tracked anywhere. Pick up child and carry to sink if necessary.
  2. Step two is getting her to her potty, because more poop or pee often follows. 
  3. While she sits on her potty I run to the sink for a warm rag or two or three while looking around to assess damage. Is there a pile , a trail? Were there toys or clothes in the way?
  4. Once Avery is off the potty and cleaned up, I try to clean up the mess without her help and then return to dinner or whats left of it, turn off the timer that has been going off.
  5. Finally, a diaper at this point is always nice so a repeated incident does not follow. 

You might think I'm crazy for letting my toddler go diaper-less. I think it is crazy that I know three, four and five year old kids still wearing diapers. Kids that when they have to go pee ask for a diaper and refuse to go on the potty even though they are perfectly capable.  In our society we train our babies from a very early age to pee in their diaper.We train them so well that it takes a lot of retraining when we are ready for them to use a potty.

There are many places in the world where diapers are not the norm. There are numerous societies where it is normal and expected that toddlers and even babies communicate their need with their parents.  Parents read their child. They anticipate and expect when their child needs to eliminate; this is called Elimination Communication.  We have practiced this method part time with both of children. They have used the potty with help before they could sit and on their own as soon as they were able to sit on something without assistance. We use cloth diapers at night, when we leave the house and when we have company. 

The best thing about diaperless kids is that they are familiar and comfortable with their bodies and understand what is going on much earlier than full time diapered kids. Avery knows where poop and pee comes from. When she feels the need to pee or poop she anticipates what comes next (she looks down and is starting to make a beeline to her potty). She is not ashamed, embarassed or frightened by her bodily functions. This is success. Besides my days would be much less lively were it not for this naked bottom baby.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Drip drip

I just got in from a round of night time chores. As I slipped my boots on I paused contemplating my light weight capri lounge pants that I was wearing. Usually I just put on my farm coveralls over whatever I'm wearing unless it is really cold and then I put on a wool base layer followed by sweats/sweatshirt or light sweater and then coveralls and a down coat. I thought about what I needed to do; toss bucks hay, toss does hay, gather eggs, close chickens in and close ducks in, fifteen minutes, no problem. I headed out. Sure enough, it was warm enough that I could hear the roof dripping onto the ground below and if that wasn't enough, the thermometer read almost forty degrees above zero! Is it really mid February or did we wake up to find ourselves in the wet slushy mess we call April?

With the exception of dripping water following me on my trek up the hill, the night was still and dark with a picturesque sliver of a moon. The goats are all in fine temperament after this long lasting warm spell. The chickens aren't easy to get in even late at night, they want to take advantage of the warm night, some would stay outside for the night if I'd let them. 

In the morning I am eager to get outside, wake up with the fresh air and get some things done. By late night, I am much more reluctant to leave the warmth of the house into the dark night. Yet once I am dressed and walking, observing the sky, the moon, can I see the stars in the sky or goat eyes looking down at me through the trees? Chana runs ahead, letting me know if she hears or senses anything in the woods. My senses are acute and aware, always looking, noting the tall silver birch trees against the dark night. Tonight there was no crunch of my feet on the snow, no snow outlining the trees against the night, and my headlamp did not catch the glitter of cold ice crystals. When it warms, the snow is dull, the trail slick and the trees naked. 

As I've been doing chores I've been thinking a lot of why we feed what we feed to our livestock and more importantly; why I feed what I feed. It is complicated. We follow current practices thinking the modern day veterinarians and experienced farmers know best.  We try to follow their lead only to learn that maybe they have alterior motives, maybe they don't have the animals best interest at heart. I've been doing some research on feed ingredients, mostly grains. Today I realized I've been feeding too much corn to the chickens. I've been feeding corn because it is at the top of the list when you start looking at chicken feed recipes. Yes it provides energy and fat, but very little nutrition. When compared to other grains, seeds and legumes it is practically at the bottom of the list for vitamins, minerals and protein content. It occurred to me that corn has been a main feed ingredient because it has been cheap. Well, at seventeen dollars a bag, it isn't cheap anymore.

I'm done for the night, but coming soon I'll be sharing what I've been feeding our chickens and why, and what changes I'm planning on making, and of course, why.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pantry shelves

I woke up in the middle of the night to the loud roar and crash of the roof sliding onto the driveway. The roof on our back porch is dripping and looks like it is going to be sliding today. I am enjoying going outside without hat and gloves. The goats are outside playing and eating breakfast as soon as it is light. Dustin has been out of town this week and he couldn't have left at a better time. I still have plenty of chopped and stacked wood inside and on the porch. The weather has made morning chores with the kids much easier. If it was ten below or colder, I'd be waiting until Avery takes her midday nap before heading out to fill waters and feeders. 

I still have six gallons of frozen chicken stock in an outdoor fridge, I'm going to see if I can fit the cumbersome gallon jars in the top of our chest freezer, but if I can't I'm thinking of canning it.  I try not to can the chicken stock as I don't want to loose all those nutrients. I do enjoy the convenience of just opening a jar on the shelf, rather than planning ahead and thawing the stock before I need it. 

This time of year our freezers and pantry shelves start revealing either what we are hoarding (frozen blueberries, blueberry jam, berry syrup) or what we aren't good at using up, (pesto, kale, not enough sweetener jam, lacto fermented turnips, sun dried tomatoes). I don't know what it is about sun dried tomatoes, pesto and basil concentrate (frozen basil and olive oil). They are ingredients that I enjoy eating, I feel prepared having them around, but I rarely use them. The turnips and seedy not sweet raspberry jam need to go to the chickens. I need to get more creative with frozen kale. I often add it to bean and bacon soups, and that's about it. I see lots of pasta with kale, pesto and sun dried tomatoes in our future as I have a couple gallon jars of sun dried tomatoes.

I roasted up the last winter squash the other day. We made fried bean squash fritters and squash pudding. I bought garlic for the first time since mid summer. I have one bag of our golden beets left in the fridge that need to get eaten up. Other than that, any of of our own produce is canned, dry or frozen. This time of year I am taking advantage of imported bananas, oranges, apples, scallions and cilantro. Some things I feel silly about, like I have a couple gallons of sourkraut to eat up, but I bought a fresh head of napa cabbage at the store yesterday, even sillier; I have bags of frozen broccoli, but I buy fresh broccoli. I do need to get better about making casseroles and soups with our dried and frozen goods.

I am so close to ordering a grain mill. I have been reading comment reviews on the nutri mill, vita mill and wonder mill. I am leaning towards the nutri mill because I can turn it off and back on while it is still full. It can be filled up and closed before turning on, as opposed to pouring in grain while it is running. It can grind super fine flour and course grits. It can grind corn, beans, non oily seeds and most grains. Sounds like they are all rather loud (as a vacuum) and supposedly it is slower than some of the other mills. If anyone has a grain mill that they just love, let me know. As much as I love the idea a non electric cast iron wheel mill, it is just not for me at this time in my life. I've used up all of our wheat, spelt and rye flour and am down to just white flour, as I've been ordering whole wheat, rye and spelt berries. Now we just need a mill.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Warm weather and odds and ends

Our heat wave continues here in the interior. The days have been in the twenties and thirties. Because of the unseasonably warm weather we have had to move all of our frozen goods into our back up freezer (and plug it in). Usually we get away with leaving frozen food outside our door for most the winter. We leave the freezers unplugged until it starts warming up, usually March-ish. 

As comfortable as the warm weather is, it is also dangerous. The roads are slippery and the snow on the roof is sliding. The animals are climatizing. The pussy willows are budding - proof below. When the temperatures return to normal, it is gonna feel cold. We still have a couple more months of winter here. This freak warm spell is just a tease. 

In other news, we received our first Azure Standard bulk order yesterday. It felt like Christmas with the kids helping unpack all the goods. Some of the stuff we can get locally but for the most part it seems even with shipping, it is still cheaper to order rather than buy at the store. The shipping was about thirty five cents a pound. We bought fifty pound bags of wheat berries for eighteen dollars a bag and with the shipping we added seventeen dollars, making each bag cost thirty six dollars, saving us twenty dollars a bag compared to what we've been paying here in town - and they are organic. The bulk of our order consisted of organic bulk whole grains, beans and dried peas. Now I just need to order a grain mill so I can use the grains. We did get a few odds and ends including some wonderful dried cherries and dates. With the next order we are going to buy some frozen goods and bulk produce. Today when we stop by the store I'll be checking prices more than usual so that I can come home and compare them to those of Azure Standard. I am excited about being able to get organic produce and ingredients for less money than the non organic equivalent here in town. I'll certainly continue buying as much meat and produce as I can from local farmers, but this time of year there is not much available in the way of local produce.

We just set up our seed starting rack in the hallway. Until I need all the shelves I'll be keeping my dehydrator and sprouter on the rack for easy use. I was given this sprouter years ago and have never used it. I was thinking of what I could do for the chickens to improve on their diet. I've been sprouting in jars and trays for them but never seem to have a constant supply. I think this beast of a sprouter will help. In the next few days I'll be digging out some trays for starting the first seeds of the season.


I took the goats out for a walk yesterday. They've been expecting me to get them out since the weather has been nice. We walked up, around and down the driveway. The does were quite spunky, running and bumping into each other, halting now and then to reach and nibble on dried fireweed leaves that dangled above the snow. I picked rosehips that hung limp on dormant branches and fed them to the does by the handful. A few of the girls caught on and started searching them out on their own. Everyone is enjoying the break from the cold. We are trying to make the most of it as we know it won't last.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Heat wave threatens outdoor freezer

Before I begin, on my morning blog reading rounds I came across a great post by Bruce on his Meat blog, (click here to read), that I think everyone who buys meat at the store and cares about where their meat comes from should read. We think that when we pay the extra money for organic and pasture raised meat that our dollars are ensuring a safer product and we can eat that steak without remorse knowing that the cow lead a happy pasture life, well that ain't so. The best way to know how your animal, meat was raised is to buy from small local farms.

We are having a heat wave in Fairbanks. My thermometer is reading a few degrees above twenty, but it feels much warmer. It is so warm out that I'm a little worried about all of our frozen goods stored outside. Our chest freezer was working going in to winter, but when it was really cold  the cord split and needs repaired. We have a smaller back up chest freezer that is not in use at the moment so I think we are planning on moving it to a protected area where it can be plugged in, then transfering the frozen goods, thereby freeing up the current freezer for repairs. We also have a refrigerator that doubles as a freezer in the winter. I plugged it in last night, but that will really only save the freezer department items if it gets too warm. Luckily, with everything well frozen, the temperatures should remain safe within the insulated box.

 Our chest freezer contains most of our meat; local beef, local pork and our own chickens. This fridge is full of chicken stock, soups and some frozen berries and milk. Whenever I make soup, I make enough to freeze at least a few quarts if not more. In the winter I just set them outside the door and then eventually move them to the fridge. I have about sixteen quarts of frozen raw goat milk stored up for two month dry spell coming up. Currently, I'm milking when I see a full udder on Rose, a few times a week. Her nine month old doeling has full access to her. Rose should be drying her off by now. I should be drying Rose off by now, but I can't without confining either Rose or her daughter to a stall full time for a couple weeks. In the future we shouldn't have this problem, when we built the structure this fall we planned to cut out a door in the back stall that has access to a large pen next to the existing doe pen. This will make it much more convenient when it is time to dry off a doe.


Our big plans for the day include getting the kids outside to play, cleaning out the chicken coop,( which is going to be lots back breaking, stinky fun) and watching a friend's kid, which our kids will love. I trimmed all the does feet this week, which is something I can't do most the winter because it is too cold. Now I need to work on the buck's feet, a chore I usually procrastinate. For those of you here in interior Alaska, happy warm weather. For those of you on the east coast, sorry you are getting our weather and snow...cheers everyone.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Welcome Sun

Here in Fairbanks Alaska our sun is just now getting high enough in the sky that those of us living on west facing hills are finally soaking up a few direct rays. We don't ever remember the last day we see it, sometime in November. We sure do take note when it does reach us in early February. I've seen the sun hitting our trees for a week now, just yesterday I saw it shining on the chicken coop and top driveway. I got the kids dressed and we rushed up to stand in it and take a couple pictures. I took one picture of Avery on my back  and here she is, sun and all.
 Here are the ladies, basking in the sun.

 And there she is, the sun, just barely clearing the tree line. Chana, our family dog is walking along our narrow trail that leads from the chicken coop up to the garden and buck pen.

 Here is one of our few flat areas, our future duck pen and where we are planting a few fruit trees this spring.

Can you spot Noah?
 Noah had run up the driveway on his own as Avery and I were headed down to the house. After he ran back down he stood here at the top of this trail going on for a while about everything he saw and heard: "Mom, did you hear something roar?" "Yes son, a plane just flew over." "No, that wasn't it."

 He continued on for a few minutes about seeing lynx, bear and moose tracks. To which I act awed and amazed by his bravery.

It was about twenty degrees outside and warm enough that Noah didn't think he needed socks, a shirt or mittens on. I think by now he is getting pretty chilly and ready to head in. I can hardly take my eyes off the sun hitting the Birch trees.

In other news, I've been spending my free time looking for the right incubator, placing seed orders and still trying to finish up my duck order. It would have been finished by now if they had excepted online orders, but since I filled out a paper form, I've been revising it before it makes it to the sealed envelope. Actually I told a friend I was ordering, and she told another friend so now it has gotten more complicated. My order of twenty ducklings has increased to about fifty or so. The hatchery I am ordering from doesn't  raise Pekin ducks and I want to order some meat ducks that are strictly for meat, but I only want about ten. With shipping it doesn't factor out. I might just order another ten Saxony ducks, but I'm guessing they'll take a lot longer to reach the nine, ten pound mark. Decisions. Last night I dreamed I was planting tomatoes. I've been falling asleep thinking of ducks and goat babies, coming in another two months.

With the return of the sun, I always feel re-inspired and energized. Once the sun returns I start considering our still rather cold weather much more Spring-like. We've made it through the darkest shortest days. We are gaining almost seven minutes of sunlight back a day. Our days only get longer, brighter and warmer from here on out, well until mid March we could still see thirty below zero or colder, but it just isn't as daunting when it is sunny out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not Mites; Lice

The good news is that our chickens don't have Northern Fowl Mites after all. The bad news is they have lice. Thankyou to AZ for pointing this out to me. I guess I should have continued my research before jumping on the mite bandwagon. Not sure which pest is more difficult to eradicate, they both seem, well: pesty. 

Using what I had on hand already, I put some diatamaceous earth in their nesting boxes. I put some oregon grape root and licorice powder in their dust bath area, but they began eating it rather than bathing in it. Unfortunately I grew several herbs this summer that were recommended for treating lice and mites. But I failed to harvest them. I started the seeds indoors, transplanted them and watched as the mullein, yarrow and feverfew flowered. By then I had forgotten why I'd grown them and failed to harvest them. Feverfew is the source of pyrethrin and mullein is a natural source for rotenone. I'd feel more comfortable using my own fresh or dried flower mixtures rather than something out of a bottle. I'll be using what I have around the place already, but if all else fails I'll be making a trip to the feed store next week. Keep ya posted.

Northern Fowl Mites

I was inspecting my Brahma hen to see if she was laying yet, and she in not, but what I did see were creepy crawly orange transparent little mites all over near her vent area. Initially I was horrified and could barely bring myself to look at another hen. Turning over a few more hens led to more unfortunate discoveries. My most heavily feathered birds are more infected whereas most the healthy sexlinks and Welsummers have just a few if any that I could see. 

First I got online to diagnose the problem. Bad news, is that I'm pretty sure they are the Northern Fowl Mite. Here is what I know:
  1. They are blood suckers
  2. Found primarily near vent, under wings, back of head
  3. They can bite humans, cause dermatitis, and possibly pester dogs etc.
  4. Pigeons and other wild birds may be infected, but most likely transfer is from other chickens.
  5. Once you have them, it is difficult to get rid of them completely.
  6. Most sources call for heavy regime of alternate pesticide use on all birds and in coop.
  7. Sick, old and injured birds are most suceptable
  8. They reside in nesting boxes and can live off host for a while, they like wood 
  9. They are more prevalent in winter, probably because the birds are cooped up, not getting out as much to dust bathe.
  10. They can affect egg production, meat bird growth and overall health if allowed to thrive
As far as pesticide use goes, I would wonder about how they would affect the chickens, build up in the walls of the coop, work their way into their eggs and meat (our food source). I called my chicken expert friend and she was like "welcome to the world of raising chickens". She said she has dealt with them for as long as she's raised chickens. Usually her birds have low numbers of mites, she said if she sees a lot she treats them with diatomacious earth or occasionally Ivermectin wormer for cows. She has used a couple other products including pesticides for immediate results when she thought a chicken was going to die from the infestation.

My first action was to take one of my wormer formulas that I feed the goats and mix it into the chicken feed. The herbs are garlic, wormwood, black walnut and something I'm forgetting. I have another wormer powder with different herbs that I am going to alternate with. My next step is to put some diatamacious earth in their dirt bath area. For my couple birds that are most affected I might sprinkle the powder near their vent area or make an herbal paste to smear around the area. I just started reading one of my more thorough herbal pet books, "Herbs for Pets", and I haven't gotten very far but I think I'll get some more ideas from her. This weekend I am going to clean the coop out completely, let it dry and spray it with some sort of herbal solution. Ingredients that initially come to mind are vinegar, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic and dr Bronners soap, maybe some neem oil. We are going to big up some bags of cedar chips use those instead of hay in their nesting boxes and on the ground. 

I have this dreadful feeling that I'll be battling these pests forever. On the other hand I'm guessing I'll need to change my perspective on parasites so that I am not emotionally tormented by them. I broke my number one rule, brought in adult birds into my flock without any sort of inspection or quarantine. I trusted my source but should not have. Lesson learned. I'll keep you posted on the progress. If you have experience with chicken mites and have had success with alternative remedies, please share. As much as I am disgusted by these parasites, they are a fact of life. Chickens self treat with dust baths. So far, the most infected birds still look great, a far as bright combs and healthy plumage. I can't help but wonder if this was really inevitable...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Chicken: Many Meals

Here are five quart jars and a half gallon jar of one batch of chicken stock made from one seven pound chicken. This is not like chicken stock from the store. This chicken stock gels and thickens as it cools. Sometimes I have to use a spatula to scoop it out. I roasted one of our Cornish Cross Chickens last week. After picking all the meat off of the carcass, I started a batch of chicken stock with some extra feet that I pulled out of the freezer along with some carrots, onion peels, celery, pepper, bay leaf, apple cider vinegar, thyme sprigs and salt. The stock takes a couple days I bring it to a boil, simmer on low, let it cool over night and then reheat it the next day back to a boil, let it cool and then strain. I try to get as much of the nutrients out of the bones and feet and all.

With the chicken meat I made a big pot of a cuban chicken and rice dish which we've been eating all week in various forms, mostly rolled up with beans, tortillas and salsa. Then I made about six cups of chicken salad with homemade mayo, celery and onion. Finally I still had several cups of meat leftover, so I made a large pot of chicken vegetable soup, which I plan to add noodles to as we eat it. This one chicken has fed us at least one meal every day for a week. In addition, I have a few quarts of chicken soup and several quarts of chicken stock in the freezer.

This chicken was a Cornish Cross souped up hybrid. They grow so fast, it is not right. When we first started looking at meat breeds we hesitated to raise these unnatural birds. At the end of the summer we would see them stand up , take a few steps, sit down and rest, and then stand up and take a few more steps. Kinda sad, and I know how this sounds but it does make easier to kill. Last year we fed them our own whole grain feed which slowed down their fast growth drastically, but added significantly to their cost. This year we are going to feed them commercial grower feed, and raise them for a much shorter period. We might even stagger harvest days and kill the biggest ten at the end of July, and then the remaining twenty a month later. That way the birds aren't overly crowded in their final days, and we have chicken earlier in the summer.  This past week as we've slowly worked our way through this one chicken, I have but one thought;
I love Cornish Cross Chickens.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Poultry plans for 2010

I just realized that more importantly than focusing on seed orders, is getting our chicks ordered. It is fabulous that folks all over the country are raising backyard flocks. The hatcheries, however, seem to be having a hard time keeping up with the surge in demand. Last year our local feed store was buying chicks from Privett Hatchery. They order a large number of chicks for laying and meat, goslings and ducklings, heritage and broad breasted turkeys. That being said, if you want something specific at a certain time, make sure you pick up their delivery sheet of what birds are coming in when, because they go fast. In the past the chicks are available at noon the day after arrival.  Be there on time or early, as there will probably be a line of desperate chick mongers :)

We usually buy breeds locally that we just want a few of,  like sexlinked layers or heritage turkeys. When we want a larger number of birds at a certain time (thirty cornish cross) or when we think we want to raise a specific breed that is rare or we want quality genetics, we have ordered from hatcheries directly. In the last two years we have ordered Heritage Standard Cornish, Dark Brahmas, Welsummers and Ameraucanas with the intention of keeping a rooster and breeding our own. The Standard Cornish were just insanely slow growing and the Welsummer roosters we had were all too aggressive. The Brahmas are a large breed, very gentle, mellow and cold hardy, but not the best layers. We are hoping to hatch some Brahma chicks this spring, as well as some Ameraucana chicks. I am expecting our broody Cochin or the Brahma hen to go broody at some point this spring. Hopefully I'll have some eggs to stick under them.

Last spring we borrowed a monster of an incubator and set well over a hundred eggs and only ended up with about a dozen chicks. The thermostat on the front of the incubator was off and it took us forever to get the thing dialed in. This year we've been planning on buying our own small incubator but the ones I am interested in are pretty expensive. If I get two broody hens, that might just be a start for us, as we are not expanding our chicken flock this year, probably just replacing some of the older layers.

For the exciting news...we have decided to raise more ducks and some Turkeys this year. Our outdoor area is large, but the indoor housing probably won't keep more than ten to a dozen ducks comfortably by mid winter. We love how hardy the ducks are. Our sole hen lays an egg almost daily. We are going to redesign their watering system so that it is not so messy. My only other complaint, is that the eggs are usually soiled and require cleanup. The Khaki Campbells only get to about four and a half pounds. I've been researching other duck breeds. I want a decent layer, and a drake that gets close to the ten pound range.

I recently discovered Holderread Waterfowl Farm out of Corvalis Oregon. They have some beautiful birds and their prices are comparable with the larger hatcheries, who I think wouldn't provide as quality of birds. So I printed out their order form today. I'm planning on ordering ten or twelve Saxony ducks. I love the gals buff coloring. While we are ordering birds, I figured we'd get a couple more Khakis and a few runner ducks as well. 

Below is a picture of our Senior Buck in his old pen which is now the duck area. If you click on the picture you can probably see that there is small pen within a larger fenced area. Raising ducks here should work out well, as the runoff from the hills pools in the flat area, of which we have very few (flat spots).  My horse lived here for a while, then goats. We planted cover crops here for the last two years and let the chickens range here. We are planning on planting some fruit trees here and digging a mini pond for the ducks. Perfect. 

We are going to order thirty Cornish Cross again and possibly ten Jumbo Pekin Ducks from McMurrays. If anyone wants to order ducks from McMurrays and wants to share shipping costs let me know. The ducks will ship separate from the Cornish and I don't think we want more than ten or so. I was going to order some heritage turkeys from McMurrays, but we need to order fifteen, and we only want four to six. So we may be purchasing those locally. We are thinking a couple Broad Breasted Whites and a few Bourbon Reds, Blue Slate or Naragansettes; something heritage, something pretty, a bird that could reproduce on its own should we keep them around for the winter. We will also get a half a dozen or so Red or Black Sexlinked Layers from the feed store. Here is a picture of our Bourbon Reds from two summers ago in their movable hoop house.

We would like to be hatching most of our own chicks and not supporting the large hatcheries but for now, we are taking the easy route with the meat birds and hybrid layers; more bang for our buck. Our first priority is to meet all of our poultry meat needs. We haven't bought any poultry since mid summer, but we've only got around eight roasters left in the freezer. Raising ten plus meat ducks and a handful of turkeys will help our chickens last in addition to providing diversity in our diet. Ideally we'll not only freeze whole birds, but pieces as well, in addition to canning chicken for the first time, making duck confit, grinding turkey and chicken meat for sausage and having fresh Turkey for Thanksgiving. Heres looking forward to chicks, ducklings and baby turkeys, (turklings). How are your poultry goals changing this year? Downsizing? Upsizing? What are your favorite breeds? Happy Poultry Planning Everyone!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Re-enchanted with Whole Wheat


It has been several years since I first read about the dangers of consuming large amounts of white flour products, (Bread, crackers, cookies etc.) I went through a faze of trying one hundred percent wheat bread, pretzel, muffin and cookie recipes. And much to my dismay, the end product was never as tasty as the recipe author boasted. Tired of wasting effort and money making food we could hardly eat, I turned back to baking with a majority of white flour, maybe a scoop of wheat flour thrown in for good measure. I figured at least home baked goods without the additives and preservatives was better than nothing. I had grown dis-enchanted with wheat flour. 

One factor continued to lurk in the back of my mind; I was not using fresh ground flour. Who knows how long the bags of flour sat on the store shelf before I purchased them. Not to mention how long they sat around my house before I finally used up a bag. I started looking at grain grinders a few years ago but could never decide on a model. I didn't want to buy a mill and then have it sit unused taking up precious kitchen space. I've been overwhelmed with all the projects we've already committed to and grain grinding has been on the back shelf.

 In my former life I worked in professional kitchens with various duties. I worked as a pastry chef, but I also made bread dough, baked bread and cooked various items. So you'd think that I wouldn't give up on mastering the art of whole grain bread baking. I've been rather content to buy sprouted grain breads at the store and bake artisan white breads at home. Well times are a changing and I have been re- inspired, in part by some blogs I've been reading. In part by the cost of the five dollar loaves of bread we've been buying. 

We already keep large quantities of wheat berries and other whole grains around for making chicken feed with. Occasionally I cook with them, but mostly they just sit in jars on the shelf. I recently read that wheat flour looses seventy percent of it's nutrients in the first twenty four hours! And in case you didn't know, white flour has practically all the good stuff taken out, and the fact that it is enriched, doesn't mean much. So what is a person to do? Well I am going to start grinding our own flour and storing it in the freezer. I've been shopping around comparing mills, and I'm leaning towards the Vita Mill. 

In other exciting and related news after I'd posted my last entry on chicken feed costs a lady wrote to let me know there was an Azure Standard coop in my neighborhood. We've already placed our first order and are expecting it in the next week. We mostly ordered organic whole grains and a few other dried goods. Here is one cost comparison: We've been paying fifty-six dollars for fifty pound bags of Whole Red Winter Wheat Berries. We found fifty pound bags of Organic Soft White Wheat Berries and Organic Hard Red Winter Wheat Berries, both for eighteen fifty a fifty pound bag. The shipping is averaging forty cents a pound, so calculating the shipping in makes a bag of wheat berries thirty eight dollars and forty cents. A savings of seventeen dollars and sixty cents. Huge!

An extra bonus is that last spring I ground our whole grain chicken food using a coffee grinder, for the baby chicks. As you can imagine, it was messy and time consuming. By the time chicks start arriving and hatching we should have a new grinder and hopefully be enjoying the rewards ourselves as well

 We have been growing, harvesting and preserving in one way or another our own, wild or at least local veggies, herbs, berries, apples, milk, cheese and meat. The next step towards leading healthier and more satisfying lives in grinding our own flour to make bread, crackers, cookies, muffins, you name it. Growing some of our own grains may just be next. As you can tell I am re-enchanted with Whole Wheat.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The good and the bad

 Growing conditions here in interior Alaska are unique. We have a short growing season, long daylight hours and extremely cold winters. Our "official" growing season is just ninety days. Of course that varies with elevation and the use of season extenders. The recommended planting date is June first. First frost can be expected as early as mid- August, but early August is not unheard of.  Early finishers are essential to a productive garden, especially when it comes to heat loving plants such as corn, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant and melons. In general these crops need an early indoor jump start, raised beds, row covers or greenhouse covering, plastic mulch, fertile soil and heavy fertilizing to produce anything.

I grow about thirty tomato plants each year, mostly in my greenhouse (unheated hoop house) or in raised and covered beds. Early Bush Girl, Early Wonder and Early Cascade are my workforce. Then I grow one or two of a few heirloom or specialty varieties that I can't resist such as Sungold, Black Krim and Green Zebra. I don't plant any tomatoes that take longer than eighty days to reach maturity from time of transplant, and most of them are under seventy days. When you begin seedlings indoor in March and then nurture them until August and in return in you get one mature tomato, well that is a real bummer. A couple tomato plants that have not produced much for me are Paul Robeson, Pink Accordian, Black Pear and Orange Russian. I've gotten just a couple fabulous ripe tomatoes from these plants, just enough to wish I could grow them elsewhere.The green tomatoes off these plants don't even ripen well indoors.

Our long days help make up for the short season. There are days when the vegetables look noticeably larger than the day before. There are some plants that prefer full sun, but because of our long daylight hours, they do better here even in the shade, than you'd think. The main drawback to the long daylight hours is that some vegetables are prone to bolting, such as spinach and cilantro. Succession planting is the key to having fresh spinach and cilantro all summer. 

Interior Alaska ranges in zones from 1 to 3, maybe even 4 in a few hilltop micro climates.Our cold winters are tough on perennials. Our selection of perennial flowers, fruit bushes and trees is extremely limited. When choosing perennials I would recommend sticking with zone 1- 3 perennials. Furthermore, buy perennials locally. Head out to the local apple orchard (only one that I know of) and buy a tree from the guy who has been growing apples here for over twenty years. I plan on buying raspberry canes this summer from the u pick raspberry farm, rather than ordering or purchasing canes from the supermarket. That being said, we are still ever so tempted by the zone four Nanking Cherry shrub or zone four Peach tree that we saw in a catalog. There are certainly extra efforts you can take to make your fruit trees happier, such as digging extra big holes and filling them with lots of goodies. However, when we have a colder winter than usual, not even a super thick layer of mulch is going to save the tender non-native perennial.

My next biggest lament is that our winters are too cold to store even the hardiest vegetables in the ground, nor do the most insulated cold frames suffice come December. Let me know if you've had success, but I don't think you could insulate the outdoor ground well enough to dig carrots or beets in December. I've harvested hardy greens under row covers or in cold frames into November and then sowed greens in late March. I'm sure there is room for improvement, but I'm pretty sure it is a fact that unless you have a heated greenhouse, growing outdoors from December to February is unrealistic if not impossible. 

Cold winters discourage most fall seeding, depending on the type of seed and weather conditions. As far as fall sown cover crops go, my understanding is that the seed has a better survival rate if it does not germinate until spring. If you put down seed right before the ground freezes and it doesn't warm up again, and the snow falls, providing insulation, you may get lucky. The only crop we've planted in the fall with success has been garlic. We plant the hardiest hard neck garlic we can find and have been fortunate so far with it overwintering. We mulch heavily and have the added benefit of living in a protected micro climate. 

The good news: We don't have many pests or diseases to worry about. So when a seed catalog says that a plant is disease resistant, I couldn't care less.
There are a lot of crops that thrive here and they include cool weather greens, brassicas and root crops. Alaska is known for our fabulous carrots, other root vegetables such as beets, radishes, rutabagas, turnips and potatoes all thrive here without much pests other than root maggots. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and greens all thrive here. 

I succumb to the temptation of planting numerous varieties while lacking the organizational skills to successfully keep track of labels over the course of a summer. Last year I grew several types of Broccoli and was happy with all of them but wasn't sure what was what. The exception to this was that I was given numerous broccoli plants that I planted in addition to the ones I'd started and none of these plants ever produced broccoli, total bummer. Won't make that mistake again. I harvested over a hundred pounds of carrots this fall. The carrot that has done the best for me over the last few years in Early Sugarsnax. It gets over a foot long, but remains very crisp, sweet and tender. I also grew a row of mixed colorfull carrots with less success, but it was partially a location issue. Here is a pile of onions and a sampling of the colorful carrots I was thinning this August.

We wait as late as possible for the final root vegetable harvest. Sometimes when our ground freezes and it starts to snow, that is the end of it and the ground won't be diggable till spring. A couple years now I've scared myself by waiting to long. One year I had to plant garlic in the bed of potatoes that Dustin had broken up that day getting taters out. The rest of the garden was frozen solid. We pull carrots in a thinning manner all summer, and wait and wait until one day we panic and run around crazy digging and bagging root vegetables in a frenzy. Here are some of the sugarsnax carrots.

When ordering or purchasing seeds for northern climate gardening look for key words such as early, vigorous, heavy producer, good for northern climates, short season variety. The first thing I look at after the picture of course, is how many days the plant takes to produce. You can't go wrong getting the earliest day variety you can find. Then you can always plant a little of something you can't resist.  A lot of crops that would be direct seeded in other areas get started indoors here. So if you are in Alaska pick up the Alaska Gardening Guide, or most greenhouses have seed starting guidelines for your area.

There are not too many areas in the world where you just drop seeds, water and reap enormous harvests. Every climate has it's challenges, too warm or cold, too many pests and who has perfect soil from the get go? As much as I moan about not being able to grow persimmons and peaches, we have the best blueberries (do I dare say in the world) and cranberries growing wild on our property. So I'll take the good with the bad, and better than making do, I'll appreciate what we do have.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lovely brown eggs and non recipes

We got fourteen eggs the other day. I guess the girls are noticing the extra light as well. I think we've seen our slowest egg days of the year. On Winter Solstice we got down to about three hours of sunlight. The following day we gained fifteen seconds back, followed by thirty seconds the next day. Now we are gaining over six minutes of daylight each day. The downside of being on a west facing sloped hill is that our sun is so low on the horizon that our property doesn't see the sun in December or January. The sun seems to make it over the tree line in the early days of February. Yesterday it was shining through the thick spruce forest. The chicken coop is higher on the hill and therefor, they usually get to bask in the sun a week before is shines into the house. Our dark days are almost over, and sunny winter days of eye blinding sun on snow are on the horizon. Here are some more egg pictures. I just can't take enough pictures of eggs, I only wish I were a better photographer and had a better camera to do them justice.
 For those of you have been reading along for a while, you know that these lovely dark brown eggs are out of our Welsummer hens. Here are a couple other posts about our Welsummers: and
We have three Welsummer hens and they each have a slightly different egg. Two are still laying pullet eggs; one is laying darker narrower eggs without any spots and the other rounder lighter spotted eggs. Then one is laying larger eggs, a couple have been huge, not long but very round and wide, look like they hurt.

Now the Ameraucanas just need to start laying more so we have more blue eggs.

We eat a lot of eggs. I make devilled eggs and egg salad every other weekly or so. I made some yesterday and here is the picture. The jar has homemade mayonnaise. Noah will eat hard boiled eggs. They both eat devilled eggs and the salad. Both make a nice afternoon snack to hold everyone over till dinner. In the winter we eat fried eggs a couple times a week. Lately I've also been making omelettes, just real quick ones with a little bit of goat milk, scallions and a bit of cheese.

I found a great recipe for egg muffins in one of my favorite breakfast cook books, Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe. The muffin cups start out with melted butter, add bread crumbs to the bottoms. Then whisk eggs with goat cheese, salt, pepper and scallions, pour into cups. Bake for about twelve minutes and top with a little parmesan or other cheese. They are kid friendly as far as easy to hold, soft and tasty. And they reheat pretty good, I might try freezing a couple and see how they survive. I saw another egg recipe that I'm going to try soon that involves muffin cups. But you don't whisk the eggs. Rather, you line the cups with a slice of ham or (fill in the blank) then put something tasty in the bottom, salsa or sauteed veggies, then crack a couple eggs into each cup and top with a little cheese or bread crumbs, then bake to your liking. Sounds like my kind of recipe, or non-recipe rather. Versatile and quick.