Chicken soup made of soles

 

Chicken Lady

Dear Chicken Lady, Well, I’ve been hearing about how chicken soup is good for souls, stuffy noses, aches and pains, and with winter coming I’m going to need something that can help. If you ask me, it’s the chickens’ fault what with all the lugging feed sacks and wheelbarrows of manure, bales of straw and buckets of feed; it’s about enough to make me wonder why on earth I have all these chickens. So if chicken soup will help I need to know because if not, I might be dropping my chickens off at your house. Sincerely, All My Aches Are Real Pains

Dear Real Pain,  Chickens are the solution. Getting outside is way better than sitting in the house and once you are surrounded by your admiring birds, you’ll forget all those aches, not worry about the blowing snows or runny noses.

Of course, it sounds like you want more help than adoration of your livestock provides, so you should try some viscosupplementation to enhance your range of motion and quality of life. The best way to do this without a trip to the Doc is a big pot of homemade chicken broth combined with a medley of vegetables. We have all seen the late night ads on TV offering shark cartilage as a cure all for joint pains but you can go one better with your own homegrown chicken soup for the ailing souls.

To render your soup, you need the carcass of the bird, bones, cartilage and all, as the collagen (gelatin) and minerals that make chicken soup so restorative of your good humor come from these parts of the bird. Amino acids for healthy connective tissue, wound healing, better digestions and a strengthened immune system also come from this often discarded part of the chicken. Use the leftovers from your roasted chicken, add a splash of vinegar for acid to encourage those bones to give up all their good nutritive qualities, strain the broth and add carrots, celery and onions or any other veggies you like for a feel-good meal. Add your favorite herbs; bay leaf, dill, oregano, basil, etc. plus some good German spaetzle 

  and you won’t even need chocolate for dessert (but by all means indulge if you wish).

Of course, the drug companies have researched the benefits of a good chicken broth, and have come up with a high tech method (caution; involves needles) that you may prefer to use. Hyaluronan is a substance originally discovered in cows’ eyes but it also is found in the connective tissue, eyes, umbilical cord and joint fluid of humans and mammals. Starting in the 1970’s, vets used it for eye surgery and inflamed knees of racehorses and by the 1980’s it began to be used for people having cataract surgery. Extra cows’ eyes are not found in copious numbers so scientists turned to the rooster comb. As rooster combs are not in great demand for any other use they are an economical way to produce Hyaluronan. In Sweden, Pfizer scientists bred roosters specifically for large combs until they got to the point where they couldn’t hold their heads up. According to a company spokesman, a happy rooster produces a higher quality product so the breeding for increased comb size was stopped. Pfizer, as well as another company Genzyme, are producing this chicken collagen product for treatment of joint pain from arthritis, surgery, back and neck pain as well as pain following injuries. Like most drugs, there are still debates as to how effective this treatment is but its uses are expanding to include beautifying the human face by plumping up your facial wrinkles.

Still think you’d rather make your own soup? One of the best sources of collagen comes from the chicken sole. Stop in Chinatown and pick up a bag of chicken feet which many people feel make the best broth ever as they are especially high in cartilage. For a while, most of the American chicken feet production went to China where they are a delicacy, but due to trade disagreements, the Chinese applied a tariff to American chicken feet and turned to Brazil for their supply. In 2009 chicken parts sold to China exceeded $647 million but dropped to $135 million in 2010. That’s a lot of chicken feet remaining here for you to make soup from. Collagen from feet and legs of our chicken friends is being tested for use as an ACE inhibitor to lower blood pressure so stock up on them now before demand rises again.

Personally, I have seen where chicken put their feet and it’s not an appetizing thought. I’ll stick to broth made from the rest of the bird. Sincerely, Chicken Lady

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Running around in circles — it works for birds

Geese flocking in snow, with duck

Laughter relieves stress and so each night when I went out to close up the birds for protection from the nightly predators I had plenty of stress relief at the duck pen where all the young ducks were. Usually we keep some geese in with the ducks to help with the protection racket so they all mill around and eventually go where they are supposed to. These young ducks were surplus that were eventually going to the butcher and because we had a shortage of nighttime pens, we left them out. Their response to our presence was to go around and around in a big circle, quacking away. I had expected that they would scatter to all corners, similar to chickens when they are startled, so that a predator would be so confused figuring out who to get that they would miss getting any of them. We never did lose any of those circling ducks, and surmised that the owls and raccoons prowling around must be so busy laughing at the ducks thinking they were safe because they were going around in circles that they forgot to eat them.

The ducks were right and I was wrong when it comes to avoiding predators. This is the season where we see the huge flocks of starlings in the evenings as they get ready to roost, turning as if they were one, thousands of birds at a time at speeds reaching 40 miles per hour and more in a densely packed group. Our ducks move much slower than the starlings but they still swirl and change directions faster than we can keep track of. Scientists have had theories over the years as to why birds display this flocking behavior and how they can possibly communicate so swiftly, faster than the eye can see. The Romans thought the gods gave clues about things in the future through the birds’ flight. Scientists in the early 1900’s talked about “natural telepathy” or a “group soul.” Finding food, finding mates, but most of all protection are thought to be the main reasons.

Lots of animals travel in herds or flocks and predators generally pick off the weak ones that fall behind. A carnivore attacking a large group of prey would mean that the predator would have more chance of being injured. A swirling mass of ducks would disrupt any careful stalking of one’s dinner and likely lead to a good chance of being trampled in the mud while trying to subdue the next meal. When we try to catch just one bird, we have to separate them out of the masses a few at a time until we have a more manageable number to work with.

Thanks to computer simulations and high speed photography, those huge flocks of animals, from a battery of barracudas, a dazzle of zebras, a mob of meerkats, a brace of ducks to a murmation of starlings are becoming easier to understand. A starling apparently can pay attention to the 6 or 7 starlings around it with the distance in front and back more important that distance to the side. That prevents them from being distracted by birds farther away. A few birds spot a predator, initiate a turn and the turn spreads through the entire flock. Sight is definitely one means of communication; possibly sound or the feel of the air flow from the other birds are other signals. This flocking behavior takes practice and the slow learners will be the ones to come up missing at the end of the day. Sure enough if we separate six or seven ducks out from the flock we can pick out which we want with greater accuracy.

We humans also display flocking behavior according to some researchers. “In many ways, human beings behave like flocks of birds or schools of fish,” says Nicholas Christakis, co-author of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

Thanks to the Internet we have a new flock to hang out with, and research tells us this is a good thing. Chatting online is better than parking in front of the TV, for being part of a larger group helps memory, recovery from strokes and overall health. It decreases depression if you are communicating with people you know (although if you are using the Internet to meet new people it increases depression and feelings of isolation). Studies of flocking behavior have been applied to the stock market, to fashion, to politics. Next time you feel like you are going in circles don’t feel so bad, for there may be some actual benefit to it. Enjoy your time on Facebook guilt-free for while it is not quite as good as chocolate and a good book, it has its benefits.
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Spiders, socks and scrapbooks – winter on the chicken farm

Locust Lane winter geese and the odd duck

Dear Chicken Lady,  I’m getting all the bird pens ready for winter so the snow stays out and the birds stay in. I’m afraid I’ll be so bored this winter with nothing much to do. What will I do? Sincerely,  Dreading winter

Dear Dreadful, Gosh darn it, you’ll be begging for boredom by the New Year. The joys of winter will be many. We won’t scare you with the perils of snow; just know it means extra work. The spiders will not have learned that they can cease decorating in the barn so the cobwebs will annoy your husband who will want them cleaned up (and even though you tell him to have fun, you will be the one to get the new filters for the shop vac). You can repair hoses that cracked last summer, kick and repair wagon tires after untangling the long pieces of twine that wound up around the axle, and fight the mice for control of feed containers.

Indoors, you can check belts and hoses on your washing machine. It is an essential piece of winter equipment, as you will be slipping on ice, landing in mud, soaking every pair of gloves and mittens you own. If you could also figure out how to wash the dogs in the machine you could probably make a fortune. Why wash the dogs in the winter? Study up on the miracle of the canine sensory organs, because they will continue to find rotten eggs and rotten anything within roaming distance and share their joy with you.

Locust Lane winter dog

You can darn your lovely striped socks, and enlarge your rubber-band ball for use in the summer mouse season. All the raccoon pelts you saved can now be turned into coonskin caps and muffs (a must have on the fashion scene this year). Keep up your scrapbook of great moments in the bird pens, clip coupons to save every penny for treats for your birds – the list is endless! I make lists of things to do in the coming season. This year, I will make a list of places to keep lists so I can find them. They really are more useful that way. If you get bored in the winter, you need to reexamine your commitment to the life of poultry enthusiast because you are just too doggone out of the loop. Sincerely,  Chicken Lady

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Other birds at Locust Lane: Turkey Vultures and Owls

Turkey Vulture, Locust Lane 2011

Our R&R time this week has been spent watching birds other than our resident poultry. Our dogs hate crows so when they chased them out of the pasture next door I figured their job was done and they would return. Not so, for they kept barking and running back in the woods necessitating an in-depth investigation.

Overhead a kettle of turkey vultures was circling, and the smell of decay was in the air. Not too far off the road, a deer carcass was swelling in the sunshine with clouds of flies buzzing around it. This meant the dogs were banished to the house while I tried to see how close I could get to the vultures.

Turkey vultures flying, Locust Lane, 2011

They are incredibly ugly birds unless they are in flight where they soar for hours on the thermals holding their wings in a distinctive shallow V shape. Along the Lake Michigan beach they will play for hours, never seeming to need to stop for food. Next door they soared, at least 14 in their group, while one or two went to work on the deer. I got close enough to see several on the fence with more in nearby trees and several in the air.

A single vulture can eat an estimated 111 pounds of carrion a year, a job the Indians revered the bird for. The Cherokee called them the Peace Eagle as they kill nothing but do a necessary clean up job. Their digestive system can reportedly kill even anthrax bacteria, performing an important job of cleaning pathogens up out of our environment helping to prevent the spread of disease. They urinate on their legs, to help them cool off and again to kill bacteria they may have picked up standing around on the carcasses they eat. Their heads are bald, possibly to help prevent carrying disease around in feathers. Given a choice, the turkey vulture or buzzard prefers meat from herbivores avoiding the carcasses of other meat eaters such as dogs. If there is a shortage of meat they will eat pumpkins, grass, leaves, rotten fruit and seeds but given the human tendency to drive in big cars that kill a variety of smaller creatures, there is usually plenty for them to eat.

They are a peaceful non-aggressive bird but if you manage to get close to them you will most likely regret it as they protect themselves by vomiting, which given their meal of rotten meat will not smell any better than the carcass it came from. They enjoy a bath and sunbathing, spreading their wings wide as they face the sun. Come fall, birds tagged in Wisconsin were tracked to South America as they migrate by the thousands south through Central America forming a “river of raptors”, a magnificent spectacle.

Exhausted from stalking the much-maligned vulture, I welcomed the chance to stretch out in bed, windows open thanks to the cool night air. We can hear the ducks and geese all night, talking along with an occasional rooster crow but when they start yelling you know something is wrong. It could be an opossum or a raccoon wandering through that tend to leave the geese alone and ducks also, if there are geese in with them.

Or it could be an owl, most likely the barred owl searching for dinner. We have had them kill a turkey but ducks are usually the largest bird they take. It seemed like all night I heard the owls, eight loud hoots at a time right outside our window with another calling not far away. There are only two kinds of owls who hoot, the barred and the great horned owl. Most common is the barred owl and that was who we found in the live trap in the morning.

Owls are good right? They eat voles and mice, lots of rabbits, weasels, large bugs, pigeons and other animals we would rather not share our gardens and poultry with. But this owl had enjoyed duck dinner, the flock having seven ducks fewer by the time we figured out who was the culprit. Turkey vultures may seem gross and ugly yet they are protected by law from hunting. Not so for the owl who is far more common that you would suspect, some estimates being there is one every mile.

Some cultures hold the owl to be a symbol of wisdom. Owls and their eggs are used in medicines, to cure alcoholism, to improve your eyesight or to make your hair grow. The Barred Owl, also know as the Hoot Owl, Eight Hooter, Rain Owl, Wood Owl and Striped Owl could foretell death or the approach of a witch or even tell you how to plan your travel depending on its hoots. This particular owl, not wise enough to stay away from our bird pens, was moved to a new home because its hoots predicted death for ducks.

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Hissy fits Geese

Geese lecturing a duck, Locust Lane, 2011

Dear Chicken Lady, I like all the stories you tell about geese but I’m kinda scared to get them for our barnyard. They always seem mean and hiss at me.  Sincerely, Scared of their hissy fits

     Dear Hissy Fit, Of course they hiss. I’ll bet you’ve had coworkers who hiss, a spouse who hisses at times — and I guarantee if you have kids, you and they have done plenty of hissing at each other. It’s all about who is top in the pecking order and is a finely tuned dance of power. There are times you know not to hiss back to your spouse or fellow employees but there are also times when you spread your wings, stretch your neck and hiss louder than anyone else and it seems to work. If you haven’t ever tried it you should. It is a very satisfying feeling. You just have to test your boundaries, and that’s all the geese are doing.

There are very few times when they will actually attack — when they are defending a nest or have become mean from being teased too much by dogs or kids. If they’re not attacking, just hiss back. You are bigger and louder, and while you don’t have much to intimidate with in the way of wings, beak or even a long neck, you size means you win. We don’t have any problems with our geese. They do their job of eating grass, we do our job of providing water and supplemental food and all is well.  Sincerely, Chicken Lady

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Chicken talk

Conversations, hen and chicks, Locust Lane, 2011

Dear Chicken Lady,   My baby birds are growing up. They are getting really ugly and some of the chicks are starting to make some terrible sounds sorta like they are trying to crow. Please tell me they’ll get better because I don’t think I can live with a chicken that sounds or looks like that. Sincerely, Need My Ear Plugs

Dear Plugs, We are all familiar with the story of the ugly duckling that grows up to be a beautiful swan, but not much has been written about the sad appearance of a growing young chicken. Their soft down has been replaced by patchy feathers, their little round bodies that unfolded out of the egg have gotten big and awkward atop those long bony legs, and the sounds they make –  oh my goodness.

A chicken can make over 200 distinct sounds in its quest to communicate. The young cockerel learning to crow is one of the most ridiculous of those sounds that Mother Nature has come up with. A mature rooster’s resonant call to the world rolls out of that larynx and reverberates throughout his empire for any excuse whatsoever. He may be calling his hens, warning other birds away from his harem, greeting the morning, afternoon, evening or night, or just proclaiming his presence to all. The young cockerel produces a few short hoarse croaking sounds rather than the eloquent call of the rooster and practices constantly. As those hollow stemmed appendages protruding from the chick’s skin begin to resemble the fine feathers we know and love, becoming a soft elegant coat, and the proportions change from adolescent gawkiness to a mature well proportioned bird, so will those hoarse sounds turn into liquid notes of command.

Researchers have discovered what any of us chicken farmers could have told them if they bothered to ask. They concluded that another one of the 200 sounds, the “tck, tck, tck” call a mother hen or rooster uses to announce the presence of food represents just that, and is not merely a reflexive trigger to call others to the hunt for food. Chris and Linda Evans of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia found that different alarm calls the chickens make can let the other birds know where an intruder is coming from.

Guys, raise a few chickens and you will soon realize their wondrous abilities and be inspired to get more – many more – and we will help. We have a few to place in new homes for anyone ready to delve into this new and rewarding world of the chicken. Yes, they are not quite at their mature beauty, still rather ugly –  but that changes rapidly. Expand your world and raise chickens

Mother hen and babies, Locust Lane, 2011

.  Sincerely, Chicken Lady

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Discouraged? Is it literature or chickens?

 

Rooster surveying his domain at Locust Lane.

E. B. White said, “I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.”

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