A Simple Trick for Introducing New Chicks to the Coop

Whether it’s adding a new breed, increasing the flock numbers, or simply because a hen hatched out new babies, at some point most chicken owners have to add new chicks to their coop. It can be very frustrating and can in some cases result in either the need for  segregation or dead baby chicks. It’s not that chickens are evil, but their mental processes just don’t go much further than “peck”. And if what they pecked responds, well, then, the game is on.

Having a few very broody Silkie hens, we’ve dealt with this issue a lot. About every 9-10 weeks, we have new chicks running around the coop, trying to find their place in the pecking order. (In case you were wondering, a chick’s place in the pecking order is really, really low.)


Certain hens are great about protecting their little ones from the rest of the flock, but others are pretty dismal at it. I attribute it to faulty pheromone receptors…or something. At any rate, I needed to find a way to protect the chicks without hovering over the coop 24 hours a day.

After some Googling, I noticed that some people were using “chick houses”, little huts that only the chicks could enter in the event of bullying. It sounded like a good idea, but I couldn’t find any pictures or descriptions of these miraculous contraptions. I knew I needed something with a small enough opening to allow a chick inside, but not a full sized bird. It had to resist being flipped over. And most importantly, it had to involve few to no tools as I have the carpentry skills of Homer Simpson.
I’m not exaggerating.

So I pondered the matter as I went about my normal day. Then, as I went to throw another load of clothes in the wash, I found the answer staring me right in the face.

A laundry basket. The kind you’d pick up just about anywhere.

Forgive the state it's in. My chickens are terrible housekeepers.

The only alteration I made to it was to cut one small piece out to allow the growing chickens to have continued access to the shelter. Other than that, just flip it upside down and set it in the coop. It works like a dream. For the first few weeks, the chicks are small enough to get into it from any direction. And even while inside, the rest of the flock is able to see them. When the birds can see each, they become familiar with each other with risk of the chicks being brutalized. I find this speeds up the acceptance of the new additions. As the chicks grow, there is still the larger hole for them to enter through. But as the bullying usually calms down by then, it is more of a precaution than a necessity.

Many experts will tell you to put the chicks in the coop at night when the flock is sleeping. I would certainly take this approach if your birds stay in the coop round the clock. However, if you let them free range range during the day, I find putting the new chicks in after the flock has been fed and let out to be easier. It also allows me to keep an eye on the situation without staying awake all night.

It’s nothing fancy or particularly ingenius. But with chicken season upon us, I just thought someone may be able to use the tip. Let me know if it works for you!



I love rhubarb. I love its texture, its tartness, the brightness it lends to a strawberry rhubarb pie. In fact, skip the strawberries and let’s just have a rhubarb pie. And rhubarb muffins. Rhubarb crème brûlée. Rhubarb compote on ice cream and inside crêpes. Rhubarb dipped in sugar and munched on like celery. If there’s rhubarb in it, I want it. All of it. Because one can never have too much rhubarb.

Of course, like all good children of Yorkshire parents, my love of rhubarb began at home, in our garden. Despite raising her family in Canada away from her native land, my green-thumbed mother grew huge rhubarb plants. I remember the leaves of those things being wider than I could stretch my arms. I can still taste my first raw, unsweetened piece of rhubarb. I’m sure my mother enjoyed the scrunched up expression on my face. ‘How on earth could this be in my favorite muffins?’ I would ponder as my sisters and I would giggle at our hats made from the gargantuan leaves. Rhubarb is one of my culinary happy places.

Though native to Siberia, rhubarb is a part of my edible heritage. Wakefield, England, my mother’s hometown, is part of the Rhubarb Triangle which produces 90% of the world’s forced rhubarb. A technique developed in the 1800s, rhubarb is planted there in fields and allowed to grow for two years. Then, after exposure to frost, it is moved indoors to sheds where it grows in total darkness from November to January. Throughout February, the crimson stalks are harvested only by candlelight as to prevent the hault of growth. By March, the root stock in completely exhausted and composted. But this technique creates a more tender harvest which is both shipped worldwide and showcased at the local Rhubarb Festival.

As this culinary wonder thrives in cool, wet environments, growing rhubarb in Texas presents quite a challenge. In my first attempt, I lovingly plopped some crowns from Home Depot into a partially shady spot and figured that would be enough. After all, my mother’s plants seemed to grow like a weed without any care at all. (I obviously spent more time playing with the leaves than paying attention to what she was doing.) The crowns sent up shoots and I starting listing all the delectable things I would make with it. A few weeks later, a hot Texas spring cooked my little plant. To death. Oh, you mean I have to water it? Such a novice.

Well, I’m still a novice, but my rhubarb growing efforts are slowly improving. The new crowns I planted last year are happily growing again in the greenhouse.


By stashing them under my porch last summer, I managed to keep them alive throughout the oppressive heat of the Texas summer. Like asparagus, you don’t start harvesting rhubarb until the plant is in its second year to allow root establishment. My mother has told me stories of her grandfather growing it under an overturned bucket which I suppose would work much like the forcing sheds. One of the established crowns will be getting such treatment so I can compare the results.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I also planted some Glaskin Perpetual Rhubarb seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Thirty-five baby rhubarb starts are now happily getting their true leaves in the greenhouse as I write this.


My intention is to plant them throughout the wooded areas on our property to evaluate under which conditions they will best thrive. I look forward to all the science and nostalgia involved in growing them.

For anyone who has never tried rhubarb, you simply must. Though the beautiful stalks are sour on their own, sweetened they are incomparable. Be warned, however, that the leaves are high in oxalic acid (read: poisonous) so leave them for hat or umbrella making. Rhubarb stalks can often be found in the spring among the vegetables in the produce section. While stalks do not necessarily have to be red to be delicious, they do need to be firm. If you live in a cooler climate, you may even be able to find it growing wild. If that is the case, know that I am very, very jealous.

If you happen to be a rhubarb growing expert, especially in hot climates, I desperately need any wisdom you can throw in my direction! Or you know, just a fresh baked rhubarb pie…

The Rice Recipe to End All Rice Recipes

It’s really that good.

Okay, yes, I’m probably overselling it just a tad. But it is good. And I do think my husband would have it going directly into his veins…if, you know, that wouldn’t completely defeat the purpose of having great tasting food. The point is it’s a fast, easy, and rather delicious rice dish that pairs well with meats and vegetables of all sorts.

It started with a copycat recipe of a Texas Roadhouse side dish. If I had any idea where I got that recipe, I’d give them credit here. But as the recipe I have was printed nearly a decade ago on what is now a rather stained piece of paper with no web address, I’m at a loss. Wherever you are, nameless blogger, thank you.

Now, the original recipe…or first plagiarism, depending on how you look at it…calls for soy sauce. I’ve made this recipe a hundred times that way and it’s great. But this past time, I was out of soy sauce. I did however have Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.


If you have no idea what that is, it’s basically the health food version of soy sauce. It’s even made with soybeans. (It also happens to be gluten-free if you’re into that kind of thing.) I bought it because I found myself in a quasi-health food store looking for soy sauce, and there was not a bottle to be seen. I could have gone to another store, but having all five of the kids with me… Bragg’s Liquid Aminos will do just fine, thanks. And what a happy accident it was.

Now, I am not the type of person who will insist that you put bean puree in your cookies for health reasons and tell you that it tastes just as good, if not better. I believe such alterations in the name of ‘superfoods’ and whatever gobbledy-goop the health food fad followers are throwing around these days are culinary abominations. I have admittedly bought into those shenanigans before, but never again. I will eat my beans, and then I will eat my buttery, sugary cookies because bean cookies in fact does not taste better. They taste like someone put beans in my cookies.

Okay, end of rant. So I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos instead of soy sauce and it took the recipe from great to marvelous. I guess Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (are you getting as tired of reading that name as I am of typing it?) is less salty than soy sauce, but still adds all the flavor. Salt is fantastic, but too much is still too much. Even my husband, who has been known to eat some food with his salt, agrees the substitution made a drastic improvement.

So, the recipe. Here we go. What should we call it? How about…

Twice Copycatted Seasoned Rice

2 cups white rice (You can use brown if you really, really want to, but you’ll have to adjust the stock and cooking time.)
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce, if you don’t have it and don’t want to track it down)
1 large white onion, diced
1 cup fresh chopped parsley
4 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 freshly ground pepper

Add the rice and butter to a medium pot. Cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until the rice starts to very lightly brown. Dump everything else into the pot. Increase heat to bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer until rice is cooked.

So easy. So flavorful. So good.

Farm Dog

“Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack…QUACK, QUACK, QUACK!”

There’s something about waking to the sounds of a hysterical duck that just says, “Today’s going to be that kind of day.”

Our remaining two ducks live on the pond not far from the house. Often, they waddle their way down to the house to (unproductively) beg for grain or to sift through the mud puddles caused by laundry day for bugs. A few days ago, I found them hanging out in the chicken coop for which they received a stern talking to and were promptly chased home. So while the ducks don’t live around our house, per se, it is not uncommon to see them around here. It is, however, unusual to hear them outside making a ridiculous racket before the sun has fully risen.

“Something’s not right,” I sat straight up in bed, apparently channeling the nurse from the children’s book Madeline. Running to the window, I looked out to see exactly what I had suspected. Our dog had the male duck by the neck and was ferociously “playing” with it. Thank God our female Pekin is the loudest duck on the face of the earth because her buddy was mere moments away from chew-toy death.

Fortunately, our German Shepherd puppy does respond quickly to commands, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to trade her in for a llama. Especially when, later that day, she went after the ducks again…and then the chickens. About a week later, the same chew-toy duck went to chew-toy heaven. Now, I didn’t see our dog actually kill the duck, but I did find her tearing its poor little body up. The evidence is certainly not in her favor.

What a nice deer skull you have there...

Despite how much I insist upon it after getting virtually no sleep due to her incessant barking, I don’t hate our dog or dogs in general. I just hate having a dog…anywhere on our property. I know that makes me the odd one out in virtually any crowd. I live on a continent full of dog adoring folk, and I respect that. I’m just not one of them. Dogs are fascinating, but so are lions. I still don’t see the logic in keeping one. 

As a child, we didn’t have a dog. We had cats, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, one evil mouse, but no dogs. To my understanding, dogs were like Astro from The Jetsons (which was arguably the best cartoon from my childhood). Well, as it turns out, Astro may have been a poor representation of what dogs are actually like. My dog has yet to carefully bring me the newspaper. She does, however, bring me beer cans that someone oh-so-sweetly tossed along our road or rotting carcasses that you smell long before you see.

See that dead possum there? Worst. Smell. Ever.

I just don’t get it. As an almost homesteader, it seems required to keep a dog, but for what? I can’t stand the feeling of dog fur, thus I do not find petting a dog, or any animal, therapeutic. I prefer the company of humans to animals, which I would argue is biologically correct. Our dog is a nightmare with the other animals because, well, she’s a dog and she’s genetically programmed to eat small goats, chicken, and ducks. She does bark at raccoons, cats, deer, and armadillos, but she also barks with the same ferocity at floating seeds in the air. And she wards off friends, but is apparently old pals with the creepy guy who decided to shoot intravenous drugs right on the other side of our fence. (Yah, that actually happened.) So she’s hardly a reliable alarm system.

Oh, you know what our dog is excellent at? Licking chicken droppings off the porch. Of course, with that in mind, I have a hard time not hyperventilating when her mouth gets within five feet of my children.

I know she’s still a puppy, but our last dog was no better. But as farms just don’t seem to be complete without a dog, I’m sure I must be missing something. It just doesn’t stand to reason that all the dog owners in America are wrong and I just happen to be the one person who sees the madness in encouraging the wolf’s close relative to sleep on my porch. Surely there is a dog out there that is actually an invaluable asset to their farm? Does anyone have any advice?

Expanding the Flock

We need more chickens. Of course, I always think we “need” more chickens. But this time we actually do need more chickens. And not just any chickens – meat chickens.

One of our goals for this year is to catch or raise as much of our meat as possible. So far, we haven’t done well. With moving both the house and the business, we’ve been busy. Very, very busy. But chick season is just around the corner.

Generally, when people buy meat chickens, they buy Cornish Rocks. They’re a cross between Dark Cornish chickens and Plymouth Rocks, a carefully selected hybridization. Over time, breeders have developed a bird that grows rapidly with a particular focus on breast meat. That seems like a good thing until you look deeper and discover that due to their rapid growth they’re also prone to fluid accumulation in body cavities and/or leg weakness. They can grow so quickly that their legs can’t keep up and before long they are literally unable to move. Hmm…this just doesn’t sound very delicious, nor particularly ethical.

So I’ve been looking for an alternative. Prompted by a more in depth post I read on the subject, I began looking through the dual purpose breeds, the chickens that are recommended for both meat and eggs. I wanted a large bird worth the effort of butchering. Last year, we butchered six roosters that were sent with our small order of Silkies essentially as heating packs. We needed to get rid of them because, umm…six extra roosters? No bueno. Imagine crowing literally every 20 seconds…starting at 4 AM. Not to mention the additional cost in feeding the constant noisemakers. They were Production Reds, I believe, and it was a LOT of work for not a lot of meat. (Mental note to self: build a chicken plucker.)

After examining the potential weight of the locally available breeds, I have settled on Buff Orpingtons.


These fine feathered things get to be about 10 lbs for males, 8lbs for females. Only a little behind the weight of Cornish Rocks, they are nearly double the size of some of the other dual purpose chickens. Buff Orpingtons grow at a slower rate than the Cornish Rocks, but that is absolutely fine for me. As I don’t have a freezer, suddenly having to store, say, thirty butchered chickens would be a big problem for me. Our meat chickens can just wander around, pecking and scratching, until we…have need of one. Our meat is going to be really fresh.

Another point that makes these chickens the ideal breed for us is that they not only great egg layers, but they are also the most broody of the standard breeds. Theoretically, these birds could be regularly reproducing, eliminating the need to buy more chickens every year. That sounds both economical and sustainable to me.

So, Buff Orpingtons. I’m excited. If it doesn’t work out the way I expect, that’s okay. I’m always happy to try out a new chicken breed. We can always use more layers. Plus, as far as meat goes, we are, after all, getting pigs next week…(insert squeal of excitement here)

Birthday Brutality

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. This little girl was something of an odd duck. She was the type of girl who secretly enjoyed sick days simply because it alotted her hours to spend silently pouring over the dictionary. The incessant grumbles and groans from her rock tumbler occasionally drove her family to madness, resulting in its banishment to the garage. She enjoyed playing dolls with her little sister, but mainly because it allowed her to construct furniture and houses from an extensive number of carpet samples that had mysteriously been brought into their home. More often than not, she could be found hiding under a table playing paper dolls, or in the garden forcing the snapdragons to have lengthy conversations. She was odd, yes, but as she was also blissfully oblivious to the fact, it didn’t matter.

One year, on her birthday, she had a special request. Her heart was set on a pinata. Her very sweet mother agreed and allowed her to pick one out at the store. Perusing the selection, she soon settled on her favorite – a yellow and green non-specific dinosaur…or an anatomically incorrect alligator. The important part was that it had sharp (crepe paper) teeth and she was sure it was smiling at her.

Upon arriving home, her mother, trying to give her something to look forward to, casually mentioned that they would have to get some candy to put inside the pinata. The girl couldn’t imagine how this could possibly get better. First the perfect pinata and now they were going to get candy inside? But wait, how would they get the candy out? she inquired. Her mother looked confused and explained that of course it would be done by breaking the pinata. Aghast, the girl exclaimed that she didn’t want to break her pinata. When her mother asked her what exactly she did want to do with it, she simply replied with wide, desperate eyes, “Keep it.”

And keep it she did. For more than five years, that pseudo-dinosaur shaped pinata sat on her shelf. And, every now and then, she would pause momentarily to smile back at it.

Enough time passed that the girl outgrew the pinata and had decided to give it away (still unbroken) upon moving to a new house. In fact, so much time had passed that she was now a mother herself. She had her own little girl whose birthday was just days away. It had been so many years since she had given even the slightest thought to her almost-alligator friend. But when her oldest daughter gleefully asked for a pinata while shopping for party decorations, the memories flooded back.

“You really want a pinata for your birthday?” she asked her sweet, almost 5-year-old.
“Yes!” squealed the little mop of bouncing, golden locks.
“Now, you know pinatas get broken…” she cautioned her tender-hearted daughter, certain that her little girl would be equally as appalled by the thought as she once was.
“Yes!! We’ll smash it and get all of the candy!!”
“Oh.” She remained stunned for a moment, then smiled and replied, “Okay.”

Her daughter picked the classic colorful donkey pinata, and soon they were off to find the candy.


When, a few days later, it was finally time for the sacrifical beating of the poor four legged beast, she was still concerned that her pink, flowery little princess would have a change of heart. After checking several times with her birthday girl before giving the okay, she let the dainty two year old take the first swings. Tap, tap, tap.


Barely a crease in the paper. Phew, her daughter still looked happy about the ordeal.

“Okay, honey. Your turn!”

Her daughter took the stick and let out a low maniacal laugh. Thwack! Thwack, thwack!! She was surprised by the force from such tiny arms, but still no noteable damage.


Her older sons were now desperate for a turn. As they were boys and thus genetically accustomed to smashing things, she felt they may inflict unspeakable violence upon the pinata, potentially breaking her daughter’s heart to tiny pieces. So they were given a turn provided that they were blindfolded. Each of the boys, despite their disadvantage, got in a good hit. But the donkey made of cardboard and paper proved itself a force to be reckoned with.

As all of the eligible children had now been given a swing at the pinata, she was certain her daughter would now opt for a more humane removal of the donkey’s internal treats. After all, the poor thing’s only crime was containing sweet deliciousness. Instead, the situation took an astonishing turn. Her sweet, kitten-voiced daughter (who would admittedly hurt flies…many, many flies) assessed the current damage to the pinata, then methodically began beating it with directness and accuracy of a mob goon. Between the blows, she would hear, now in a lower, raspier voice, things like, “We’ve got to butcher this donkey,” or, “There’s still meat in there.”


At this point, she began to wonder if by  a “princess birthday party” her daughter had meant less Snow White and Cinderella and more Xena, Princess Warrior. Somehow, The Lord of the Flies was unfolding in her very living room. Her daughter continued the calculated butchering while the other three hooligans giggled uncontrollably and occasionally longed to be part of the massacre.

Caleb loves that she's dropping down to her knees here.

Even after the “meat” had been removed, her daughter gave the brutalized paper animal a few more carefully placed hits, just for good measure, then breathlessly authorized the tail removal, beheading and quartering of the carcass to be carried out by her elder brothers.

Umm...Maya, you got all the candy out. Maya? M-m-m-maya?!?

When the orders had been carried out, all four of the ruffians sat down to feast on their victory.

She was baffled. How could all of these crazed yahoos be her children? At five years old, she would have been an emotional wreck from witnessing such unnecessary human-on-pinata brutality. As she recounted the gory details of the event to her husband, a smirked spread across his face until he could no longer contain the delighted laughter within. Oh, that’s right. The kids take after their Daddy.

Meanwhile, In the Greenhouse…


Hello, pak choy. And argula, radishes, lettuce, and broccoli. And fire ants?!? Ack. I guess if you create summer, you can’t pick and choose which parts of summer you get.
If you don’t have fire ants where you live, count your blessings. If you do have them, you know what I’m talking about. They are horrendous. I can tell which season we’re in simply by counting how many bites I have around my ankles. (None right now, so we’re currently in winter.)
There’s a reason fire ants are taking over North America. They’re nearly impossible to kill. I have tried everything get rid of the little…pests. Cornmeal, diatomaceous earth, hot water, drowning, orange oil, cinnamon, fire ant specific insecticide…You know what’s, hands down, the most effective? Gasoline. But as gratifying as that may be, it’s not exactly going to pass for an organic gardening practice.

The only, only limited success I’ve had with fire ant removal is taking the infested plant away from the others and watering it like a madwoman. It doesn’t kill them, but it does encourage them to relocate. So far, that seems to be working well enough in the radish starts. But fire ants are relentless and we have a few months before our last chance of frost. In other words, the battle is won, but the war rages on!

If you happen to have any fire ant tips, I’d love to hear them!