Are Chickens Really Stupid?

Rosie (L) Honda (R) Swiifer (Back)

I never thought too much about chickens before I started into the hobby of raising a few hens in my backyard a couple of years ago.  In fact, if you had asked me to describe a chicken before that time, I would have said that they were dirty, noisy and down-right stupid.   But, could you blame me?  That was what I learned as a child.

As a kid, I heard about Henny- Penny who was a paranoid chicken with delusional thoughts that “the sky was falling”.  I also recall the not remotely funny joke about the chicken crossing the road and the lunch bag let down punch line that had  no punch at all. Even my sister’s “knock- knock” jokes got better laughs than that tired chestnut!

As I grew older, I learned the hard way that a game called “chicken” had to do with my brother throwing his scout knife at my spread bare feet with the goal of making me flinch and be labeled a “chicken” for the rest of the day by our street hockey gang of kids.   Later on, I heard sayings like “running around like a chicken with your head cut off”,  “scarce as hen’s teeth” and “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”.  Even Fonzie, on Happy Days taught me that pretty girls were called “chicks” and I discovered that my friend, Giancarlo,  had an overprotective mom that my Dad referred to as a “Mother Hen”.  The list can go on and on, but has ANYONE ever taken the time to REALLY examine the exceptional qualities of the poor old chicken???????

Now, those of us who have gotten to know a chicken or two understand that these birds are anything but stupid.  They live in a social hierarchy where everyone knows their place.  Order is generally  the norm of the day and those that decide to step out of line are generally consequenced.   Now…that’s not a bad thing ….is it?

Chickens also look out for the welfare of the entire flock.  No better example of this is when a rooster or dominant hen will vocally   alert the entire flock of  impending danger.  In the chicken world, it’s never “every man/woman for themselves”.  If that was the case,  than the chicken would just run for cover and forget about the rest.  Instead, a rooster will make the call of alarm to alert his ladies of the danger and then stand his ground to take-on or sacrifice himself to the impending danger for his flock.    Hey……..now that’s a novel idea….looking out for your fellow-man!

As for memory, they have incredible capacity, given that their brain is the size of a cashew nut.  They can come when called (provided that food is offered), they have the ability to distinguish between strangers and owners (they act pretty “chicken” if they don’t know you), they know when to return to the coop at night  and understand what bugs and greens are safe to eat. I’ve seen many a dog who couldn’t get a passing grade on some of these “brain teasers”. I recall many nights that our Lab dove into the garbage buffet, only to hurl it all back up  an hour later.(My apologies if you are reading this post at Breakfast!)

But, the greatest feat of all…………is that the chicken creates delicious eggs!  Have you ever stopped to think about this astounding feat?  I’m not aware of any other creature in the world that can produce a 2 oz. (or more) egg almost EVERY SINGE DAY.   It doesn’t matter if it’s 85 degrees in August or well below freezing in January, my hens continue to lay.  And, to make it even more impressive, these birds have managed to wrap this delicious offering in a strong calcium package which preserves this tasty treat for weeks!

From a nutritional perspective, the chicken egg contains  all essential amino acids for humans and an extensive list of vitamins and minerals as well! Because of this, nutrition scientists have given the egg the esteemed title as the best food in the entire world for complete proteins.   But what’s most impressive is that this egg equates to around 3% of a chicken’s body weight.  In other words, these “stupid” creatures manage to produce their ENTIRE body weight in eggs within 30 odd days and continue to do so for several years! Now…that’s truly incredible!

So, the next time that you tuck into those eggs for breakfast or crack a few in a bowl for baking or cooking, give thanks to the stupid chicken.  Maybe then, we’ll stop giving these incredible creatures the bum rap that they definitely don’t deserve and hold them in a higher regard.

4 days of work!

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Making An Elevated Stand For Your Beehive

011 - CopyThe jury still seems to be out on whether a hive stand is necessary for a beehive.  Being  new to the art of beekeeping, I DO know one thing…………  MY CHICKENS LOVE TO EAT BUGS!!!!!!!!    There’s not an insect that is safe in my backyard when my 3 hens are free ranging for protein.  The last thing that I want is for them to develop a “taste” for my bees so I decided to make elevated hive stands for my 2 hives.

The inspiration for my hive stands came from Beekeeping for Dummies but I made 2 changes to the plans.  First, I increased the height of the stand to 18″ because the original height would still make it easy for my hens to “pick off” those tasty treats.  Second, I created a design in the front of the stand because I’ll be looking at the hive every day and I want it to look nice.

So…..lets get started.  But first, lets talk about safety.  Make sure that you read and understand how to SAFELY operate your power equipment.  In  some of the pictures below, the safety guard has been removed so that you can get a better understanding of the photo.  NEVER operate your equipment without a guard in place!

Legs

I used 4×4 cedar for the legs.  It’s a bit more expensive than pine, but it will last a whole lot longer because it is more resistant to rot.  Start by cutting the legs down to 18″ in length. I used my miter saw with a stopper on the fence to ensure that every leg was exact.028 - Copy Next, cut a rabbet 5-1/2″ wide by 3/4″ deep along one end of each post. This rabbet will accommodate the sides of the stand. I found that the safest way to make this joint was to “nibble” the waste away by making many cross-cuts on the table saw with the miter gauge.  This way is going to take a lot longer, but it is way safer!  * Note: When using the table saw, never butt the lumber up to the rip fence when cross-cutting. Make sure to have an axillary fence or scrap of wood clamped to the fence for this operation.  This will definitely prevent the wood from binding between the blade and the fence preventing dangerous kick-back.030 - Copy

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036 - CopyFront/Back & Sides

Using  1″x6″ pine, rip and cross-cut these pieces to size.  The front and back are  3/4″ x 5 1/2″ x 24″.  The sides are  3/4″ x 5 1/2″ x 22 1/2″.  If you want to use my design on the front, you can make a template from the photo below.  A scroll saw is essential for these cuts.031 - Copy

Next, pre-drill the screw location holes with a counter-sink drill bit.  Each holes will be later filled with a wood plug and trimmed using a flush cutting Japanese saw.  If you don’t want to go to this trouble, than just screw your fastener in so that the head is flush with the surface of the wood.  If you choose to do the later, I recommend that you still pre-drill the screw locations in order to prevent splitting the ends of your pieces.For the front & back, measure 3/8″ from the end of the boards and intersect this line at 1″  from the top of the board, half way across the width and 1″ from  bottom of these boards.  These locations will anchor these pieces to the sides.  Next, pre-drill 2 holes on each side to anchor these pieces to the legs. 032 - Copy Now drill a few screw locations for the side pieces that will anchor to the side of the legs.

Top

The top of the stand is made up of 2 wider pieces ( 3/4″ x 5 1/2″ x 24″).  These 2 pieces will be attached to the front and back of the stand.  The 2 center pieces  (3/4″ x 2″ x 24″) should be spaced out evenly in the middle of the top.  All pieces should be ripped to width on the table saw  and cross-cut on the miter saw or table saw.  Once again, pre-drill screw locations 3/8″ from each end and along one edge of the front and back.  These locations will anchor the top to the sides.  Next, make a screw locations for the top to be anchored to the leg.032 - Copy (2)

Assembly

First start by gluing (exterior glue) and screwing the sides to the legs with 1 1/2″ deck screws.  Make sure that the sides fit into the rabbets.  Next, screw the front and back to the sides and legs.039 - Copy

Next, secure the top pieces to the stand.040 - Copy

Fill each counter-sink hole with a wooden plug, trim the excess with a flush cutting saw and sand.042 - Copy

Completely seal your hive stand with your favorite exterior paint!013 - Copy  If you’d like to see how I built my honeybee boxes, please CLICK HERE.  If you’d like to see how I made my ventilated gabled roof , please CLICK HERE.

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Chicken And Sausage Cacciatore

028Don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of Old Man Winter.  I’m tired of shoveling, snow blowing,  lacing up boots, wearing boots,  trying to exercise in temperatures that are way to cold and always wearing more than one layer of clothing.  I could go on and on and on, but what’s the point! Old Man Winter still has a tight grip on my vitamin D deprived body and it looks like he ain’t gonna let go for another 6 weeks.  So…..in times of adversity….there’s only one thing to do……..LET’S EAT!

I guess the best thing about Winter is comfort food and there’s no better comfort food for this City Boy than chicken & homemade sausage cacciatore.  Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. Traditionally, this was a “rustic” meal which included braised chicken or rabbit and the flavors of bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and wine.  Growing up, chicken cacciatore was always  one of my favorite meals to eat.  The aroma of homemade wine cooking in the sauce and the addition of rich egg noodles always made this dish unique.

I continued the “cacciatore” tradition when I began cooking and never deviated from the family recipe until I started making sausage a few years back.  Now…. no cacciatore in my house is complete without the addition of homemade sausage. If you’d like to learn how to make Italian sausage, CLICK HERE.

I hope that you will try this recipe.  I know it will be a hit.

Ingredients

6 pcs. of chicken(thighs or breast preferred with  skin removed

6 links of homemade sausage

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 large red bell pepper chopped

1 onion chopped

3 garlic cloves finely chopped

2 carrots cut into large pieces

1/2 cup red wine

2 24oz jars of pasatta (strained tomatoes)

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon basil

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)

Step 1

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the chicken until it begins to brown (about 5 min. per side).  Remove the chicken from the pot and set it aside. 001 Repeat this process for the sausage and set it aside as well.002

Step 2

Add the bell pepper, onion, carrots and garlic to the same pan and saute over medium heat until the onion is tender (about 5 minutes). Add basil, oregano, salt, pepper and red wine.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.003

Step 3

Add the pasatta to the pot and bring this to a simmer.  Once this is done, add the chicken and sausage to the pot and continue to gently simmer for at least 2 hours.  Slow and steady makes great sauce!004

Step 4

With about 20 minutes remaining until meal time, add the mushrooms.  Too early and they will all break down in the sauce.005

Step 5

As far as I’m concerned, broad egg noodles are a must with cacciatore.  Fresh is best, but packaged work fine as well.  Once done, lay the noodles on a large platter and add chicken and sausage.  Follow up with a generous coating of sauce and …..serve.    Bon appetit!009

Why I’m Glad I’m Not A Male Honey Bee

077 - CopyAs Valentine’s Day approaches and we focus on “love”, I am so happy I am not a male bee!  Mother Nature must have been doin’ some serious man hating on the day that she decided to create the male honey bee.  Some guy must have forgotten to put the toilet seat back down that day or left some clothes on the floor for the very last time cause the poor old male honey bee sure got a bum rap for the way his life was about to evolve.

Male honey bees are called Drones. I know that Mother Nature had nothing to do with naming them, but you’d think that the guy who made up the name could have given this a bit more thought.  To me, the word Drone conjures up images of “dim-witted” or “half-brained” .  How’s a guy suppose to get a good  start in life with that mill stone already wrapped around his neck?  It’s like naming your kid “Dork”.  Yah…that’s gonna bode well  in the school playground for Junior!

Second, Mother Nature has decided that the drone should take more time to develop than the “girl” bees in the colony.  Because of this, the Drone has become the best host for the Varroa mite who gets another 3 days to continue “sucking” on his blood.  Many a beekeeper has learned to collect these drone combs and put them in the freezer as a strategy  to help diminish Varroa mite populations in the hive.  So the poor male bee doesn’t even get to “become” a bee before he is thrown into the deep freeze!

If he is fortunate to escape the deep freeze, than the Drone hits “pay dirt” for a while and hangs out with his fellow drones not too far from the hive waiting…..and waiting………..for a virgin Queen to fly by.  It must be a good time for the drones.  Hanging out with your buddies, drinking a few honey cream ales,talkin’ about sports and telling tales about that large mouth bass that “got away”.But when they see The Queen….well…… it’s every “man” for himself as they desperately try to run her down and mate with her in mid-flight.  Now…that’s a feat that is way under appreciated.  But wait, the Queen won’t just mate with 1 drone, she’ll do this with up to around 15 of them all in the same flight!  Hey fellas, image if it was the drone who got the chance to mate with 15 virgin Queens all in a single flight.  Those poor guys would get an even more despicable rap with a whole bunch of off-colored language that linked up with “dirty dogs”, and “good for nothing nymphomaniacs”.  Yah…the drones are the decrepit ones!

But, getting back to the so-called  “lucky” drones…….if Mr. Drone successfully mates with The Queen, than his “man hood” is RIPPED RIGHT OFF as he completes his task and then Mr. Drone falls perilously to his demise.  HOLY FREAKIN’ #$*#!!!!!!!!!!!  Now, that’s no way to die…free-falling  to your demise from high up in the sky without your “winkie” as your best buddies laugh and point to the gaping void in your mid section!

And finally, if you managed to escape the “deep-freeze” and weren’t “lucky” enough to mate with The Queen, than you are banished from the hive in the autumn where you are left to freeze or starve to death!  Unfortunately for the Drone, he is seen as a freeloader in the hive at this time off the year and will only diminish the honey reserves that will get the colony through Winter.        Man oh Man……..Mother Nature is sure awful “tough” on the poor old drone.

So…there you have it.  If you don’t get frozen by your beekeeper, have your mid-section ripped off and fall perilously to your demise, than you will be evicted from your home in the Fall where you will either freeze or starve to death.  On this Valentines Day, I’ll give thanks that I am not a Drone.

“What’s that Beloved Wife…….the toilet seat?????????  No it was Dutiful Son who left it up again!”………  Hey…….Between you and me….he’s younger, stronger……..and has lots of time…………… to learn how to take one for the team!   BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBZZZZZZZZZZ.