Chickens

…In the Kitchen

We used to raise meat chickens. Tough enterprise, very time intensive, predation can be severe if not guarded against, and harsh weather on either side of the gauge can be killing. We finally had to throw in the towel and went and found farmers who did chicken exclusively. Trying to do beef, pork and chicken was too much.

After a couple of false starts, we found Jill and her boys at Jolly Farms near Alvin. It’s been a downhill glide since then. They figured out how to raise Big Fat Hens year round with no loss of quality. Fat, tender, juicy every time. Not every member takes chicken. Big mistake in my opinion.

Here’s why: whether you cook it in the slow cooker, rotisserie or oven, you get nearly 4 pounds of delicious, juicy chicken. For Honi and I, that means three meals and a meaty carcass to make soup stock for another 2 or 3 meals.

Try the Jolly chicken if you haven’t. You’ll never look back.

Chicken? Not.

The creature that does not do well in this water logged atmosphere is the chicken. So I’m sure our chicken-takers are wondering if they will ever see chicken in their coolers again. The best answer we can give is this: yes, but who knows when? Our chicken farmer tells us he had 100 nearly ready when this last flurry of rain started. He lost them all. A combination of rain and predation did them in. A chicken tends to just hunker down when the weather gets this bad — almost a state of paralysis. When that happens, they either die of pneumonia or become easy pickings for the coyotes, coons and possums. It’s too bad because this would be their peak grasshopper and clover season. As Gus said in Lonesome Dove, “Life is short, shorter for some than others.” That describes the chicken’s fate this year.

The Big Fat Hen Got Winter-Skinny

Most of you followed our survey and conclusion regarding the problems our chicken farm has had in getting the broilers to a desirable state. For those who may have missed it, this harsh winter has knocked the chickens for a loop. We made the now obvious mistake of processing them at the smaller, under-developed sizes. The result was poor chicken product. We won’t do that again - our apologies. But the fix is found below in our chicken soup instructions. We tried it last weekend and all is well when you use these smaller chickens for soup. Medicine for the body and the soul, for sure!

We are letting them rest and grow at whatever pace they require to get back to their desired 3 to 3.5 pound size before offering them again. That certainly will not be in this March delivery and may have to skip April as well. Look for their return in May at the latest and thank you for your understanding.

Eating with the Seasons

Extreme heat or cold will significantly retard the growth of a free range chicken. The batch that goes into this month’s cooler are of the “extreme cold” weather variety, so expect less weight on your chicken this month. But this brings 2 pieces of good news. Smaller birds tend to have a more intense flavor. Secondly, while your grandmother spoke of eating “fryers”, the average person today has no idea what a “fryer” is or assumes that is something you get at Popeye’s. Wrong. A fryer always was and always will be a chicken weighing less than 3 pounds, most often falling in the 2.5 pound category. So, enjoy your fryer while you eat not only with the season but as your ancestors did. We don’t charge extra for that little extra.

The good, the sad and the bug-ly.

We saw life start and we saw it end, as we always do on the farm. Farming always reminds me of the movie Lonesome Dove when the character played by Robert Duvall gives the short eulogy for the boy killed by water moccasins in the Nueces River, “Life is short, shorter for some than others...”  Life was shorter for many of our young fig trees as one freeze after another hit them this winter. Of those that did survive, we shall see - they may be too damaged to be productive adults. “Fig Lane” will be slower to come along than we had hoped. Ditto our orange and lemon trees - completely wiped out. That’s life, shorter for some than others.

There is offsetting good news. Peach and apple trees like the cold and it shows. There were so many peaches set that we pruned 2 of every 3 from the trees. We saw more flowers on the apple trees than we have ever seen, but we don’t know how many apples will result yet. Apples are slower than peaches. And our one giant Celeste fig tree has set figs earlier than ever witnessed. For all of the above, refer back to “Mother Nature’s vengeance” in the opening paragraph. She giveth more than she taketh away.

The last bit of death we witnessed was to our prized hens. There is really nothing that completes a farm yard like hens. So active, enthusiastic and entertaining - and then you get eggs! We thought we had enough predator deterrents that we had finally out-smarted them. But it only takes time before they figure around the best-laid plans...they hit us and in 3 days wiped out our small flock. No more eggs for a while.

The last bit of news on the bug-ly side of things is the coming of the lady bug in very noticeable numbers. As we pruned limbs and buds from the peach orchard, we saw them in numbers we have not seen before. Keep in mind that the farm did not have a single lady bug inhabitant 20 years ago when we started this rehab project. How does that happen? Where do they come from? Nature is a daily miracle waiting to happen. It is humbling and only encourages us to be good stewards of this gift.