Monday, February 21, 2011

So Far, So Good

Though I'm disappointed the person(s) responsible for such a devastating loss to the flock never took us up on our offer to help, I'm at least relieved to say that since we put the note up and padlocked everything that involved critters there have been no  more losses, and our egg production has quadrupled. Though it's not definitive proof that we were dealing with a predator of the H. sapiens variety rather than wildlife, it certainly could lend credence to the theory. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, we're on to bigger and brighter things. First up is doing what we can to follow through on making "Fort Chicken" as impenetrable as possible. And of course there's a lot of clearing up of brush from the winter's shenanigans to get working on. So we'll keep on keeping on, as they say. We won't be replacing the hens we lost this year, but will instead let nature take its course. If a hen decides she might like to take on the responsibility of raising a few babies herself, we'll let her go for it. The market will just have to wait another year for us, and that's just part of accepting that farm life is full of setbacks and unexpected losses. But we're not giving in, not by a long shot.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Strange Things are Afoot at the Cluck-n-Neigh

We've had a massive setback here on the farm, and I don't mind telling you it's downright discouraging. Last night I had a light bulb moment, and not of the pleasant kind. I had been wondering why our egg production seemed to be so poor. I had been blaming the wacky weather, but once it became less wacky I assumed production would go back to normal. There had been a few odd tickles at the back of my mind that seemed odd, but none taken alone were enough to raise suspicion. First it was an empty roost pole, but the hens had taken to roosting in a corner, piling up like a litter of puppies. There had been a few feathers here and there by the coop door, but I it looked like someone was molting more than anything else. Besides, I was doing my animal routine in the dark that week due to being in Memphis all day long.

Last evening around sunset, the picture became all too clear when I went looking for a few stubborn birds that for some reason hadn't come in from the yard. When I discovered an empty yard with all the girls safely roosted, it  hit me like a thump to the back of the head. Chickens were missing. I looked more closely. A LOT of chickens were missing.  By the end of the third head count, I realized all too late and with much disgust and anger what those tickles in my mind had been trying to tell me.

Someone has been catching, strangling stealing my chickens. Those feathers by the door were NOT molted, but the result of the heartless method one uses when they "wring" a chicken's neck by whirling it by the head like a bullroarer. Over  30 birds dead.

You may ask, "how on earth would she not notice for a week?" Simple. It happened while I was spending a lot of time in Memphis at Pema Karpo Meditation Center for the Monlam Chenmo (The Great Prayer Festival). I was leaving before dawn and coming home well after dark, doing animal routine by flashlight. So of course I wasn't noticing there were fewer black lumps in darkened corners. In other words, while I'm off the farm for some incredible teachings by Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche on a Tibetan text that has not even been translated into English yet (and might not be in my lifetime) and praying for world peace, some jackwagon has been killing my beloved chickens. For what? A quick meal? A mean prank? An insatiable psychotic need soon to graduate to Dexter-ical proportions? Frankly, all of these scenarios suck equally. Either someone in this neighborhood is so hungry they are reduced to foraging like a feral dog for food, or someone is so disturbed as to find it amusing to kill defenseless animals that do nothing but spend their birdie lives feeding the hungry. Double Yew Tee Eff. Add to that the realization that someone has obviously been watching our comings and goings to know when the best times would be to get up to no good and it's getting creepier by the minute.

But what really bakes the noodle is wondering how many times last week did I walk right by someone standing in the shadows, still and silent with a freshly strangled chicken in their grip?

Last year Memphis was given (and earned) the lovely distinction of being the Hunger Capital of the United States. One area in particular is also one of the worst food deserts in the nation. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a food desert is a community without access to any grocery stores. In other words, if you can't find it in the gas stations, you don't find it at all. Even if you had enough money to purchase fresh food, it is simply not available unless you have both grocery money and a car to get to the grocery stores in other communities. Things are turning around for the area though with the addition of the South Memphis Farmers Market. This humble beginning was even noted by The White House as a positive step in the right direction for a city long overdue. After our tremendous success and support from the community of Collierville, we were out of the red and into the black. Within one year, the generosity of a few made it possible for us more than double the size of our flock with the goal of making it to South Memphis, possibly making us the only provider of fresh compassionately produced eggs in the entire community.  I had high hopes that it would happen this upcoming season. But now? I can't afford to. I am right back at square one. I do not even know if I will have enough eggs left to take to the Collierville Farmers Market without having to cut families in need off. This is the exact opposite of the entire mission of Cluck-n-Neigh, and I will not do it. The actions of one (or a few) have now directly affected an entire community who could have gotten great benefit from the eggs those now-dead birds would have provided.

So for now, we are on hold until further notice. Most certainly we won't be going to the South Memphis Farmers Market this year, and if we lose any more birds we will not be at the Collierville Farmers Market either.  All we can do is hope that a few folks will help us out when and where they can so that we can make some serious upgrades to security out here. We can use help in any way you feel like giving it, be it financial, volunteer labor or ideas. Our paypal link is on the right hand side of the page for easy donations, and I've got a wish list going if you'd care to take a peek for other stuff that would help us get back on track/continue the journey. Until we upgrade to more security, I have posted a simple sign that reads:

We provide eggs to everyone, even if they cannot pay. Many families in need depend on these eggs. If you take or harm the chickens, many families go hungry.

If you need eggs, mark this page with an “X.” I will put eggs out for you in one of the feed cans, no questions asked. If you have no way to cook them, mark the page with a “B” and I will boil them for you.

Do not hurt my chickens. They've done you no harm.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Claire 2.0, Pt 2

Well I finally got around to my first recipe experiment for healthy baking. I had some old bananas that were overripe, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity for attempting a customization of the classic banana nut muffin. I started with the original that I found in my favorite cooking website, The original recipe can be found at this link.

In all honesty, I did not make this original recipe. I figure discretion to be the better part of valor when it comes to food. No sense in making the lesser of two choices health-wise, and tempting my inner caveman brain to say "Hey! This one's better! I can survive all winter on all these calories! Let's make more!"

So, I made a few changes for starters. Nothing too ambitious. I do not use electric mixers or anything, all is done by hand. Worked out fine. The new recipe is below:

Banana chocolate-chip muffins (makes 12 muffins)
1 1/2 mashed overripe bananas
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
6 Tablespoons cold milled flax
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease 12-cup muffin tin. In medium bowl, combine bananas, flax, egg and vanilla & mix well together. Using a serving fork makes for easy mixing.

In large bowl, combine flours, cocoa, baking powder & salt. Stir in the banana mix until just blended. Fold in chips & walnuts. Spoon batter into prepped muffin tin until each cup is 2/3 full.

Bake 15 - 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove muffins from tin and place onto metal rack for complete cooling.

So let's compare the nutritional information between the two recipes (drum roll please):

Per muffin (original/new recipe):
Calories: 318/164
Fat: 17.2/5.3
Carbs: 40.6/26
Fiber: 2.4 g/3.8
Protein 3.7g/4.3

Holy MOLY! Look at what just a small change in flour, or using flax instead of oil can do for a muffin recipe! Not to mention it was quite tasty. I don't know if I would have really noticed the difference between the original and the healthier alternative. Viva la spelt flour!