Thursday, January 22, 2009

Spring Chickens

After 5 days of springish weather, we have plunged back into the deep freeze. The temperature went from .6 yesterday to tonight's brusque and windy -26. A break in the weather in mid-winter is so welcome in this climate. You don't realize how leaden you feel until there's a warm sunny day of melting snow that awakens all the possibilities of spring. For five days I could smell the hint of thawing earth, and it summoned all kinds of ideas for spring.

Just in time, my Poultry Catalogue appeared. It followed hot on the heels of my seed catalogue, and like warm weather, is a welcome reminder that we are not doomed to eternal winter.

I've watched this catalogue change over the years. When I first received it, they offered a wide assortment of poultry, including ducks and geese. A few years ago they sent an edition that had all the ducks and geese and some of the fancier varieties of chickens and pheasants removed, due, they said, to the concern of avian flu.

I wonder how many other pandemics we will have to consider in our lives and how they will affect us. For the first few months after the "discovery" of avian flu (which I've heard is actually the previously named "Spanish flu" that swept through the early 1900's) we on farms were bombarded with information about keeping poultry "contamination free". Everything from not allowing guests on your farm that have worn footwear on other farms, to how to "suit up" in biohazard gear before entering your poultry establishment. The threat of avian-borne disaster seems to have diminished in the last few years in as much as the pamphleteering has stopped. If it is such a threat, though, I wonder why a vaccine hasn't been developed against it? We already vaccinate our chicks against Marek's disease, why not the spanish flu? Surely it would make more sense to inoculate chicks at the start than killing flocks of 60,000 mature birds.

Nevertheless, all this is just my way of saying that because of an alleged threat, one side effect has been the diminution of choice for the poultry grower.

I raise chickens for their eggs only. I do not buy and raise birds for meat. I have found that my favorite breed is the sex-sal-link (a hybrid layer, of Red Sussex and another hybrid, also known as ISA). They are nice little red hens that lay giant brown eggs. Two years ago I tried the Red Rock cross, which are black hens with lovely brown collars, and I liked those too. But this year I'm thinking I might try the Ameraucanas for their blue and green eggs, or perhaps some Buff Orpingtons or Brahmas. These are all "heritage breeds" and are more expensive to buy because of their relative rarity. So instead of about $1.50 per chick (for the ISA), these will cost about $5.00 per chick.

I keep a small flock, no more than 75 birds, and usually only about 40. But unlike a lot of farmers I keep them over the winter as long as they live, which can be up to six years. I don't kill them in the fall (like many farmers do) to save the cost of heating, instead I keep them in an insulated coop, complete with heat lamp and booster heater. I do this just to have fresh eggs all year. But the taste, and the healthiness of the eggs is worth it to me. I know they're fed only vegetables and grains (some chicken growers feed leftover beef parings from slaughterhouses to chickens, and some feed them dog or cat food, which often contain chicken or poultry by-products, far from a natural diet). Also, did you know that supermarket eggs can be up to one year old? They are preserved with nitrogen, which allows them to be stockpiled according to market demand. You can test the freshness of an egg by putting it in a glass of water -- if it floats it is not fresh, since the fresher the egg the less of an air pocket there is inside. As an egg sits, it absorbs air through tiny pores in the shell -- therefore the more stale the egg, the larger the air pocket, and the easier it will float in water.

That's probably enough about poultry for one post.

Here's the Magallanes sweater in her near-finished state. I have yet to block the collar and weave in the ends. I don't know what I think of her, she has a nice scoop neck,but the ribbed collar wasn't exactly what I had in mind. I was thinking something more cowly, but I knit to the last drop and had no more yarn. So she's left looking like one of Dracula's brides (from the Coppola version), which might be a bit dramatic. Oh well, we'll give her a try and see what kind of comments I get.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Much Ado about Nuthin'

Last night I knit a collar on the Magallanes sweater. It's a cross between an Elizabethan collar and a frilled lizard. I'm not sure I like it, right now I'm referring to it as the Elizabethan Lizard. Not flattering perhaps, unless you're a shakespearausaur... but unique. I'll post pictures so you can decide for me once I have it blocked.

Speaking of which, here is Herr Schpooky (aka Spooky) preparing to get down to some work blocking the sweater.

Notice the concentration, the focus. He's puttin' the "cat" in dedicated.

Get ready, here he comes....


We can expect results in about 12 hours.

Whoooo oo oo oo oo, oo oo oo oo oo uh ooo.
The Elizabethan Lizard is a quiet creature, known for its multicolored coat. It hibernates under towels, which it finds on flat plateau-like surfaces. It enjoys a damp mist before hibernation; once showered, it secrets itself between absorbent layers of terry cloth, where it sheds its rumpled appearance and emerges flattened and shapely. For more information on the Elizabethan Lizard, please contact the Canadian WildKnit Federation..... all you Canadians over a certain age will understand this reference. If I could only add a whistle.

And now in the cute category, here is Kylie and Teddy caught in flagrante sofa napping.

Kylie woke up first, and wondered what to do. She held that position very carefully until Ted woke up, she knows the old man needs his sleep.

Monday, January 12, 2009

January visitors

Here is the state of snow. We do not have much this year as you can see, and rather than getting more new snow, the weather has merely been creating winds which move the existing snow around. I have drifts of snow behind objects, some very inconveniently formed across walks and the top of the driveway, but the hilltops are almost bare.

This year we are lucky enough to have flocks of hoary redpolls visiting. We don't get them every year. They migrate from the extreme north. They are a type of finch that has a bright red patch on the top (poll) of the head, their underside is a golden cream, and their backs are stripey. They love niger seed, and as I noticed this year, the seeds from tansy. Alberta ruled that tansy is a noxious weed, agriculturally speaking, though it was a herb imported from Europe (not indigenous to north america) used medicinally. Modern agriculture can't find a use for it, so it encourages farmers to remove it. However, complete removal would likely interfere with the redpoll migration, so you see there are consequences attached to the ravenous belly of humanity.

I love rocks. I collect them from the pastures on my property. I collect them as both geological and anthropological samples. I have some interesting specimens -- in the anthropological category, I have two types, painted and formed. The last rock I found in November was of the "formed" category. It is red granite, about the size of my hand with fingers extended. It has a furrow carved around the top, and a groove or v gouged in one end. I found it on a bare hillside just northwest of the house. I have found many rocks here that were used by some neo-lithic people, tools, arrow heads, spear heads, and about a dozen rocks with paintings on them. I'll post pictures in a future post. Maybe this one is a hammerhead? Any ideas what it could be?

Just as I was preparing this post, there was an unbelieveable ruckus in the house -- my usually near-sighted mastiffs had spied from the comfort of the sofa this coyote sitting on the hill behind the house. I prefer to let him be, so I delayed their inevitable police action until he was a bit farther away. I don't like to discourage their visits too much because they are great rodent control, plus they have a hard enough life as it is. Anyway, the mastiffs don't chase them, they just run and bark until the intruder moves off.

On the knitting front, I've completed these two sweaters. One fringed cardigan, "cowgirl" style, and an almost finished scoop neck pullover. I made the last one without a pattern or calculations of any kind. It took me about a week to finish. I have yet to finish the neckline -- I'm thinking I will just knit I-cord around it. It looks even better on me than on the judy. It's knit of Araucanica Magallanes, purchased online from It's 100% wool, made in Chile, and has the consistency of a thick and thin handspun, and the dye quality of hand-dyed. It's fun to work with as there is so much variation. It's not itchy to wear, at least I haven't found it so.
Stay warm wherever you are!