Sunday, March 25, 2007

Chicken Update: Nesting Boxes

Despite rain and illness, I was able to construct serviceable nesting boxes and attach them to the chicken house. I had originally planned to have it so the eggs would roll down into the little bit that sticks out at the bottom but then later decided that that was too much like factory farming and would preclude providing a nice comfy nest for the girls.

The girls now seem to use the nests consistently for laying. We've been getting an average of about 3 eggs a day for about two weeks now. However, due to illness, I only had my second meal of home-raised eggs on Thursday, because I'd been sick for a week. The day I got sick I had eaten my first meal of home-raised eggs. I don't think the two were connected but since the sickness involved not really wanting to eat I didn't push it.

Dada gets very excited by finding eggs in the nesting box.

The box still needs to be painted but it hasn't stopped raining long enough for the wood to dry out enough for me to paint it. I built it out of scrap plywood left over from the house construction as well as a bit of scrap from Mike around the corner who has a cabinetry shop.

IMG0002Here is one of the Rhode Island Reds enjoying the privacy of the nest. We've lined it with newspaper, ball moss from our neighbor's tree, and fresh cedar shavings (even though all the authorities say never to use cedar with chickens, they seem to be happy with it and they all survived from chickhood living on cedar, so I think it's an old wives' tale).

Dada With Cute Pigtails

Not really news but this was the first time that she'd worn this type of extra fancy hair band, and it's an excuse to make an overdue blog post.

We've been variously under the weather to one degree or another most of march, Dada included, although we seem to be pretty much on the mend.

We're enjoying the warmer weather and later evenings to spend more time outside and eating more of our meals on the porch.

Dada has grown 1.5 inches since her birthday at the end of December, making her about 37.5 inches or almost a meter.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Eliot's BBQ Secrets

We've been holding BBQ's for a number of years now and Eliot has established a reputation for smoking a pretty good brisket. Since my technique is neither particularly sophisticated nor secret, I thought it would be useful to capture it here for posterity.

I start with a large (10+ pounds) full brisket, the kind with the big fatty bit at one end, rather than the smaller ones you typically find in supermarkets, where the fatty bit has been trimmed off. I get mine from Costco and they seem to be pretty good quality, although you could probably find better ones at a specialty meat market.

I do dry rub smoking, that is, I don't use any marinade before smoking or a mop during smoking. This is the BBQ style exemplified by Kreutz Market in Lockhart, Texas.

My rub formula is as follows (amounts are approximate--I never actually measure when I'm doing this):

- 2 cups black pepper, ground

- 1 cup (or so) kosher salt, ground

- 1/2 cup whole cumin seed, toasted then ground

- 1 tablespoon chile powder

- Garlic salt

You could also add some sugar, which I can't remember if I've ever done.

Rinse off the brisket and pat it dry, then rub on the rub and wrap the brisket in foil or plastic wrap or whatever. Refrigerate overnight.

For smoking, I use a standard side-box smoker. I insist on pure hardwood charcoal--never briquets. Lately I've been using pecan as the smoking wood, largely because the one good tree on our new property was a pecan tree that the builder accidently cut down--I saved the wood and have been using it for smoking ever since. I think pecan produces a slightly less harsh taste than mesquite. I've also used hickory in the past to good effect.

You want to allow at least one hour per pound--I found that for a 13-pound brisket 13-14 hours was really necessary, which can mean getting up quite early if you want to serve by 6:00 p.m.

You need to keep the smoker temperature between 225 and 300 degrees, ideally right at 250. Colder and it won't cook, hotter and it cooks too fast. I use a meat thermometer and cook to temperature, about 155 in the thickest spot.

During smoking, the main challenge is keeping the fire going--I find I have to add coals and/or smoke wood about 20 minutes or so. I have a relatively small smoker so it's hard to build up a big pile of coals, but a larger smoker would be easier to tend.

Visit From Sophia

Over the week of President's Day, Dada's cousin Sophia and her mommies Catherine and Jennifer, along with GranJudy (Nei Nei) came to visit. Tante Lanita (Dada's great aunt and GranJudy's younger sister) came a day later.

The girls had a wonderful time, spending as much time as they could on the playscape, swinging and climbing in the play house and generally running around. Dada continued to ask about Sophia constantly after they went back home. The constant level of cuteness was difficult to take at times.

We all had a great time--Catherine and Eliot enjoyed getting to play video games together like in the old days (we even had Super Mario 64 installed on the Wii--back in the day before Eliot had video game consoles at home, he would visit Catherine and play Super Mario into the wee hours of the morning).

We got to visit Judy's cousin Harriet and Harriet's mother Frances, who both live here in Austin, along with Harriet's brother (and of course also Judy's cousin) Jimmy Carl and his wife Pat, who were visiting from New York. It was nice to meet these not-so-distant relatives and make connections.

Judy is deep into researching the Hyatt family history and capturing it on We spent a lot of time scanning in old photos and newspaper clippings and adding details to the Hyatt tree on It was very interesting--I had not really appreciated the Hyatt history in the panhandle or even that I have a famous distant relative (adventurer Richard Halliburton).

On that Wednesday we hosted a BBQ at the house that was a lot of fun--the weather was perfect, clear and about 78 degrees, pretty amazing for mid February. I cooked a big brisket as something of a dress rehearsal for our Spring BBQ planned for a couple of weeks later. I discovered that 12 hours is not quite enough cooking time for a 13 pound brisket (for the Spring BBQ I got up a 4:00 a.m. and had a much better result with a cooking time closer to 14 hours).

Harriet, her husband Bob, Jimmy Carl, Pat, and Frances came to the BBQ which was really nice. Peggy came up from Houston as well, making it something of a Gotcha Day re-union (albeit a few days late). Everyone had a good time, although Judy and Lanita had somewhat exhausted themselves getting the house clean [note to prospective house guests: if you want to clean our house, you are welcome any time and may stay as long as you like].

Catherine, Jenn, and Sophia left for Dallas on that Thursday to spend another night with cousin Dianna before returning home.

Judy stayed on for a few more days so she could spend a bit more time with Frances and Harriet. This turned out to be fortuitous because Julie and Eliot got pretty sick over the weekend and it was good for Judy to be able to look after Dada a bit.

All-in-all a fun visit. It was just this sort of visit from family that we wanted to have more guest room. The only real problem was for guests staying in the music room--Stanley's crowing is a bit loud, but it's not too bad (or at least you can get used to it). We're told that roosters crow less as they mature. Let's hope that's the case.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Our First Egg

Julie just came into the house holding the first egg to be laid by our chickens. As you can see it's not a very big egg, which is to be expected from chickens that are still technically pullets. We assume that it was laid by one of the Rhode Island Reds, which are known to be early layers. This is very exciting and makes it even more urgent that I actually build some nesting boxes, which project has been delayed by bad weather, bad health, family visits, and other so on.

The picture was taken using my birthday present from Juile, which is a little flexible tripod that you can grip onto things like fence posts and chair rails or use on uneven surfaces.