Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Chicks

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begginer guide to getting chicksWinter is the time of year, when a person’s mind begins to wander.  Sure, there are the usual distractions: chocolate, seed catalogs, French press coffee, gardening tools, and the newest mold-ripened cheese at the local deli.  But for some people, their minds can only find rest once they place their chick order.

Whether you are a seasoned chicken keeper or a first timer, backyard chickens is a trend that is sweeping the country.  People from all walks of life, income levels, and even those living in an urban setting are keeping chickens.  Chicken workshops are filling up.  Urban dwellers are checking municipal codes.  And hatcheries as well as local feed and ranch supply stores are poised to sell chicks.

Now for the first-time chicken keeper, the idea of ordering chicks can be daunting.  How many chicks?  Which breeds are best?  Is there a minimum number to order?  Does it matter if they lay white eggs or brown eggs?  Must I order roosters as well as hens?

To put your mind at ease, here is a simple guide that will take you through the process.

1) If you live in an urban setting, find out if you can legally keep chickens on your property.  To do this, you can look up your local community’s municipal code.   To pare down the process so you are not reading page after page of code, do a search on ‘Animals’ and/or ‘Urban Agriculture’.  This will vary based upon the wording used by your local government.

2) Verify within the municipal code the maximum number of chickens allowed.  (Almost all communities will set a limit as well as a ban on roosters… allowing only hens.)  From that number, determine approximately how many eggs in a week that you use.  Most breeds of chickens will lay anywhere from 3 -5 eggs per week on average.  Now if your code allows 8 hens and there are just 2 of you in your household, can you realistically handle 24 – 40 eggs per week?  If not, do you have friends, family, or neighbors that you can share with?  (Most people will readily accept fresh eggs.)  Or would you be better off by keeping fewer chickens?

3) Determine if you want chickens that are good egg layers or are a combination of meat and eggs.  (Some areas will allow homeowners to slaughter their poultry.)  Any reputable hatchery or local farm and ranch store will be able to provide a list of breeds for eggs as well as eggs and meat.   A great example of an egg laying breed is the Leghorn.

4) More and more stores no longer require a minimum chick order.   They will take your name, number and the type of breed(s) that you want.  This make it easy if you are in the market for just 3 or 4 chickens.   Hatcheries are also following suit, though if you place a large order (typically 25 or more) the price per chick is less.  Call the store or hatchery first to find out if they require a minimum order.

5)  Eggs taste the same regardless if they are brown, white, green, or pale pink.  Keep in mind that the only difference is the shell color.

6) You are not required to order male chicks (cockerels).  And it gets even better.  Males are not needed for your chickens to lay eggs!

7) Have food, water, and a warm place ready for the chicks.  Whether you pick your chicks up at the store or they are sent via mail, be ready to care for them the minute they arrive at your home.  You can purchase a commercially made brooder which is designed to maintain a constant temperature.  (Though you can make your own with a small pen/cage with the floor covered in straw and a heat lamp above.)  Be sure to provide fresh water as well as chick feed.  (There is a difference between chick starter and layer mash.)

Getting chicks can be a painless process.  Remember to check your local municipal code.  Determine how many chickens you need.  Get breeds that fit your needs.  And remember, roosters are not required!  Once your chicks arrive, be ready to care for them with proper feed and environment.  Getting chicks really is easy.

Homemade English Muffins: Easier than you Think

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Let’s face it.  We have all had mornings where getting out of the door on time can be a challenge.  On those sorts of mornings, a homemade breakfast seems out of the question.  Instead, we settle on something from the freezer or perhaps the drive-through.  Sure… that stuff may be served hot, but how good does it actually taste?

batter after 30 minute rise

batter after 30 minute rise

English muffins are a classic breakfast food.  They can be toasted and slathered with butter and jam or even cream cheese.  These muffins pair well with just about anything.  But if you have time to linger over the table, serve them as the foundation for Eggs Benedict… a personal weekend favorite.

Instead of reaching for a bag of muffins, try making them at home.  Fresh English muffins are easier to make than you think.  Their flavor is certainly unlike anything you ever took out of a grocery package.

scooping batter with ice cream scoop

scooping batter with ice cream scoop

The recipe listed is modified from the one printed in my 1938 edition of the Modern Home Cook Book by Grace E. Denison.   (Cooking instructions were not detailed enough  in the original recipe.)

English Breakfast Muffins

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 C. milk
  • 1/2 C. lukewarm water
  • 1 pkg. of yeast
  • 3 C. flour
  • 1 tsp. salt

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl.   In a small container, bloom the yeast in warm water.  Add the butter to the yeast/water mixture.  After 5 minutes, pour the yeast/water/butter mixture into the flour.  Also pour in the milk.  Stir to combine.  The resulting dough will be quick sticky.  Allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes.

muffin rings with domed lid

muffin rings with domed lid

Heat a griddle on the stove (or you can use an electric skillet).  If using cast iron, go with a low stove top setting to prevent burning.  Grease the griddle with a little butter.  Next, use muffin rings or tuna cans with both the top and bottom removed.  Grease the inside of the rings (or cans) with butter then place on the griddle.  Fill approximately halfway up the sides of the rings.  (An ice cream scoop works well.)   Place a domed lid over the top of the rings (this will help steam the top of the muffin).  Cook the muffins for approximately 5 minutes (can lift one up with a spatula to check for a golden brown color).  Turn the rings over using the spatula or a pair of tongs.  NOTE: the batter should have risen to the top of the rings while cooking.  Cook for another 5 minutes or until golden brown.

cooked to perfection

cooked to perfection

Remove the muffins from the griddle and repeat the process until the batter is gone.  This recipe makes approximately 9 English muffins when using  3 7/8″ rings (just happens to be the size I have on hand so these are large English muffins).

For the classic experience, use a fork to split open the muffin.  If you prefer a cleaner look, simply use a knife instead.

These muffins toast up nicely.  The flavor and the texture will remind you why homemade is better and just may convert you into making your own English muffins.  They really are easier to make than you think!

Grow Your Blog 2014

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backyard chickens

backyard chickens

This post is for the Grow Your Blog 2014.  It is an international event!  This post is to welcome new visitors  and share a little about me and our urban homestead.  Please check out our archives and if you like what you see,  please sign up to follow the blog.  You can also follow us on Facebook.

Welcome to Urban Overalls!  I grew up a farm girl in rural Iowa where we raised livestock, grain crops, and tended  HUGE gardens where my family raised all of our produce. We ate fresh foods and what wasn’t eaten fresh, was canned to enjoy during the winter.  Breads and rolls were made weekly, hand-crafted pies could be in the oven just 30 minutes after picking fruit, eggs came from our chickens, milk and cream came from our cow, and meals were enjoyed the most when shared with family and friends.

Now I live in an urban setting with my husband, affectionately known as Mr. Overalls, on a 1/3 of an acre.  We are just blocks from the local hospital, yet wake to the sounds of our chickens clucking and bees buzzing. The skills I learned growing up, serve me well on our urban homestead.  We gather eggs from our backyard chickens, honey from our bees, and fresh vegetables and fruit from our gardens.  We compost dirty straw from the chickens as well as our vegetative scraps from the gardens and kitchen.  That in turn makes a wonder, organic soil amendment.  Meals are made from scratch, using whole ingredients instead of processed foods.  During the peak of harvest, we set aside time to preserve extra for the long winter months.

cabécou disc

cabécou disc

To add to our self-sufficiency, we have added some new skills by making: cheese and other dairy delights, bar and laundry soap, household cleaning supplies,  as well as mead and wines.  We share seeds with friends, barter for things we don’t make or grow, and completely support the local food movement by shopping at farmers’ markets and area CSAs.

There are so many terms.  Some call it backyard farming, urban homesteading, or just self-sufficiency, but whatever you call it, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

fresh ingredients

fresh ingredients

So pull up a laptop or tablet and get ready to read more of our adventures and how-tos.  Our chickens are entertaining, our food is fresh, and we will help you gain the skills and confidence to engage in your own homestead adventure or simply try out a new recipe.

I am a horticulturist as well as trained master composter.  When it comes to preserving the harvest, I have over 40 years of canning experience.  We support urban agriculture and are available to teach classes and workshops.