Why I love raising chickens

IMG_9900

Our love affair with chickens started a few years ago, when my husband surprised me with a box of baby chicks. Those little ones all turned out to be males, but no matter – the chicken bug was already there. Ever since, we’ve had a chicken coop wherever we lived.

So what makes chickens such a popular choice for almost everyone? They are kept by big and small farmers, country dwellers and urban homesteaders alike. Here is why I personally like my chickens so much:

1. Eggs – need I say more? Fresh homegrown eggs are about the best source of high-quality animal protein out there. They are full of essential nutrients and their taste is far superior to the bland egg factory product. In winter, when our hens went off laying and we had to buy eggs from the grocery store, we were actually shocked at the contrast in taste after getting used to our superior home-grown eggs.

2. Pest and weed control – chickens love to eat all sorts of insects, bugs, worms and weeds in their young green stage. All this goes into the eggs and makes them healthier and better-tasting – and helps with yard maintenance. Of course, chickens will also go for many garden plants, so you have two choices: either keep a fence around your vegetable patch, or learn which plants you can grow without competing with your chickens. Generally we find that herbs (such as mint, sage, rosemary), certain vegetables (onions, garlic, potatoes) and fruit trees are safe with chickens.

3. Entertainment – just sit back and watch your chickens for endless hours of fun. Observe how they interact with each other and with you. I can entertained a 1-year-old for up to half an hour by making a rooster jump and snatch tricks out of the air. Keeping chickens is one of the best fun and educational experiences we’ve ever done.

4. Easy maintenance – once you get into the routine of chicken-keeping, it’s incredibly easy. Basically what chickens need is access to food, water and a sturdy sheltered coop that provides protection from the rain and wind and can be locked at night against predators. Depending on the climate in your area and the breed of your chickens, you might have to provide a source of heat during the winter. We usually don’t need to do this as we keep sturdy breeds and temperatures here don’t often fall below freezing.

You can greatly reduce the cost of chicken feed by giving your chickens your kitchen leftovers (old bread, rice, pasta, cores and peels, etc) and by allowing them to free-range and find their own food.

The business of bread

Carmen writes, in the context of making sourdough bread:

I was wondering, if you would have the time to write a post about the differences between different types of flour. You have hinted before that some are more nutritious than others, and I tried to do a google search, but there were too many unknown terms, and I didn’t have the time to properly digest the information.

The grains most commonly used in the Western world are wheat as a strongly dominating first, rye, and barley. In recent years spelt, an ancient grain of the wheat family is making a comeback as well, and spelt flour and bread are available in many stores.

All of the aforementioned grains contain gluten, though in slightly different forms. A word about gluten: this famous protein is what gives bread its shape, elasticity and lift. The higher the gluten content, the better the bread will come out. You can make bread from gluten-free grains such as corn, teff, quinoa or buckwheat, but it won’t be bread in the form of the high, shapely, crusty loaf most of us crave.how_to_make_sourdough_08213_16x9

Image source: BBC

People with Celiac disease should avoid gluten entirely, in all shapes and quantities. People with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, however, often find that they tolerate certain grains better than others, in particular spelt better than the commercial varieties of wheat, especially if the bread is made through long-rise fermentation process (as in sourdough).

Mankind has cultivated wheat for thousands of years, but the wheat that had been consumed throughout most of human history is not the same wheat in use today. In the 1960’s, commercial farmers switched to growing a new, modern hybrid of dwarf wheat. It provides easier processing and higher yields, but is also less nutritious (containing, in particular, less of certain minerals than traditional wheat) and, some studies claim, more allergenic. Evidence is a bit murky here, and it’s unclear how much the rise in sensitivity to wheat is due to the new genetic makeup, and how much to modern processing methods.

While I was studying for my degree in nutrition, we were told that people should consume whole grains because the bran contain nutrients and fiber that are cast away in the process of making white flour. No one talked about the different varieties of wheat, however, nor of how grain fermentation partially breaks down the gluten and makes the nutrients in whole grains more easily absorbed. In particular, fermentation activates the enzyme phytase, which breaks down the phytic acid binding minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the hull of the grain.

It might not be scientifically proved, but many people who can’t tolerate commercial wheat bread respond a lot better to long-fermented breads made from traditional grains. Of course, this only goes for people who do not have Celiac disease – if you do, avoid any gluten-containing products altogether. 

The type of bread I generally recommend is made from whole rye, barley or spelt (or a combination of these), using a long-rise fermentation process. You can obtain such bread in many artisan bakeries or make it in your own kitchen. The results might not be as reliable as when using baker’s yeast, but the nutritional and culinary benefits are well worth it.

I think spelt flour is the best option for people with conservative taste, because of its resemblance to wheat. Personally I love rye bread, but some people (my family, for instance) find it too dark, dense and dominant-tasting.

If you are new to baking with whole grains, it should be noted that bread from whole grain flour will always rise slightly less well, and be a little more dense, than bread made from white flour. The reason for this is, again, the gluten content. Because whole grain flour includes the bran and germ – parts of the grain which do not contain gluten – the amount of gluten in whole grain flour, per cup, is lower than in white flour. This is sometimes off-putting for people who are used to commercial spongy white bread, but I think it’s a matter of habit and mindset: just because the food industry has gotten us used to soft, sweet bread, it doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be.

Once you get the taste for real bread, there’s no looking back. Personally, one of my favorite light meals – as breakfast, lunch or dinner – is a slice of artisan sourdough bread with some farm cheese and a ripe tomato. Yum!

Getting into gardening

A combination of several factors has prevented us from doing any serious gardening until now. There’s the fact that in our eight years of marriage, my husband and I moved four times (and gardening does go better with permanent residence in one place); then there was always something, such as being pregnant, or having a new baby, or keeping garden-destructive livestock such as chickens and goats, or it being the Sabbatical year (which, for Jews living in Israel, means you can’t plant in soil – only in containers).

Of course some of it, let’s face it, was just plain lack of motivation. More determined people would have invested in sturdy fences and large containers they can take with them when they move. However, in the past months we really felt ready and willing to finally start gardening seriously and diligently, and there was only one thing that stopped us.

To put it simply, our neighbors had goats. Now, we have kept goats in the past, and we know these animals are clever, nimble and extremely difficult to contain. However, we also believe it is the responsibility of the owner to prevent his livestock from becoming a nuisance to his neighbors. So we talked, we explained, and we pleaded… and all we got in return were some pretty lame excuses. To top it all off, at night I would hear our neighbor sneak off and let his goats out. He wanted the benefit of pasture for his animals without the responsibility of controlling them.

Luckily for us, we weren’t the only people annoyed by having their fruit trees repeatedly eaten down to the ground. After several neighbors lobbied together, the goat owner gave in and the offending goats were sold. I felt as though I could dance.

So we recently started a small garden, which we plan to expand in time, once we get a little more practice. We’re hopeful and really happy to watch our plants grow without being eaten. Here you can see a climbing tomato plant, a patch of mint that is really thriving, some flowers and some lemon balm.

 

Welcome!

Thank you for visiting Domestic Felicity at its new location! I’m very excited about my blog’s new home, and look forward to sharing many interesting, useful and practical posts here in the future. I hope you will follow me and leave a comment – I love hearing from you.

In addition, to celebrate moving to my new WordPress blog, I’m now holding a 50% discount on the e-books at my Payhip store; the discount will be valid until July 15-th. Coupon code to enter at check-out is N4XP3NKEMN. 

Modern technology and sustainability

“I don’t think the past was that simple, especially after researching the pre-industrial era. Rural life may seem idyllic to us, but the reality was often harsh and cruel. Children died from disease and ill hygiene. People worked and got by with so little, sometimes going for days without food to eat. 

Self-sufficient they may have been, but their life was pure drudgery, toiling from dawn to dusk without education or recreation. I don’t think the farmhands who ploughed and sickled by hand, enduring blisters,and the women who spent hours lighting fires and scrubbing clothes by hand really appreciated the simplicity of their way of life, haha. People died earlier too!”

Far be it from me to deplore modern technology. On the contrary, I am very thankful for all we have at our disposal today, modern medicine not the least of it. There’s no way I’d willingly give up my washing machine, which helps us do our laundry with so little effort; my nifty little grinder, which allows me to prepare freshly ground oatmeal with such ease and efficiency; the ability to control our room temperature with one press of a button; the Internet, which allows me to obtain a wealth of information and connect with like-minded people from all over the world; my cell phone, the ability to travel with relative ease, our refrigerator or any of the countless things we take for granted these days.

Being free of the drudgery of drawing water from a well or scrubbing clothes by hand frees me up to spend more time with my children, relax, and work on meaningful projects.

When it comes to people who desire simple living and the connection with earth and nature, I believe technology is actually what makes modern one-family homesteads possible. Things like solar panels, milking machines, incubators and modern agricultural techniques, for example, enable people to go off the grid and start their own small-scale farms.

Furthermore, even when building small-scale, off-grind cabins, people normally use electricity-powered tools such as saws, drills, etc.

In our neighborhood, we have a farm which is run by a very industrious family. They make delicious cheeses, yogurt, and a variety of other products. They use milking machines, a computerized irrigation system and, of course, extensive refrigerators for all their fresh produce. They work hard, that’s for sure, but if they didn’t have modern technology there’s absolutely no way they would have been able to accomplish all that work on their own, without employing a few workers (which I know they cannot afford). If you read historical novels set on farms, it will strike you how many people it took to do all the work manually, in order to accomplish anything on a serious scale. Most of these people were unpaid or very poorly paid and uneducated. These days, nobody would want to live like that, and that’s perfectly understandable.

It’s all great while technology is used as an aid at home; but when the coin flips, and technology controls you – when people are addicted to always having the latest gadget, to over-processed foods, to internet shopping, to online social networks; when people begin to spend a larger and larger portion of their life in front of the screen, that’s where I believe we do have a problem. It does take a particular balance to eat the apple, so to speak, and spit out the seeds. And this is precisely what I’m aiming for when I talk about simplifying.

The carefree childhood

I’m not sure whether I ever mentioned this, but one of my favorite authors is Gerald Durrell, the renowned zoologist. He traveled all around the world and wrote many books about all the places, people and animals he encountered, but what I love the most from his works are the books about his childhood on Corfu.

In the Corfu books, he describes a truly carefree childhood. He was sporadically educated at home by a number of private tutors, but overall had all the space and time he wanted to explore, invent, and give free reign to the primary and overwhelming interest of his entire life – animals. In his books, he reports more than once that he never really had much interest in anything else.

He was fortunate enough, however, to have what many children these days lack – a true zeal for something, a burning desire to learn, know, and do everything connected with his favorite pursuit. His thirst for knowledge prompted him to read all about animals; a fortunate idea to start a nature journal, planted by a wise friend, encouraged him to develop his writing skills; the practical care of his specimens involved measuring, counting, building cages etc, which taught him probably all the math he ever needed. In the context of the animal kingdom, he learned history and geography, and his roams around the island of Corfu usually involved meeting an entire host of interesting characters, which were later vividly portrayed in his autobiographic books.

Such an education would have been considered skewed and incomplete, not to mention shockingly undersupervised by many of today’s experts, but it was far better than most children can hope for today. A strong passion for something, if this something involves exploring the world and meeting people, and being introduced into life, is education in itself. It is far better than professionally planned, age-appropriate, well-balanced, well-rounded, but insipid and boring lessons received in a school setting and automatically disposed of by a caged brain. Gerald Durrell had the desire and freedom to learn, access to resources of learning, and the rest was done almost automatically. Life educated him.

And, something which is perhaps a little trivial but nevertheless important, he never forgot to return home for tea. His books are full of descriptions of family meals, of breakfast, lunch, and dinner eaten together, of family outings and family parties, of life lived together, even though each individual child was given the freedom to be, and do, and develop according to his unique personality. I’ve always loved the descriptions of Durrell’s mother in his books – she is portrayed as someone stern enough to keep a family together, but indulgent enough to give her (sometimes slightly eccentric) children room to grow, and easygoing enough to adjust to the flow of life with all its bends and twists.

This combination of flexible, non-compartmentalized education and good, stable home life produced an intelligent, talented, energetic, sparky individual with an enormous zeal for learning, good works, and life in general. Not all of us can be as talented. Not all of us can do things of such magnitude; but many children can likewise blossom, in a warm home setting, with freedom to be who G-d made them, and encouragement to do what they are good at.

I was a child when I read those books for the first time, and could relate to the author very well. I remember thinking with envy, I wish I could live like that. For various reasons, I did not, but I think the seed was planted then. I reached adulthood perceiving it as an axiom that schools, at best, contribute nothing to the education of those who already love to learn, read every book they can lay their hands on, and would like to try everything and know everything.

Answering their questions

I have a theory which perhaps may sound a little far-fetched: by simply taking the time and effort to try and provide insightful answers to the questions our children ask us, we are helping them complete a large part of their education.

By doing so, we are achieving several things:

1. The children find that they can ask questions about anything in the world, which is in itself a fuel for further learning.

2. They also learn that they are important, that their questions aren’t brushed aside, but discussed with interest – and a 4-year-old can ask very interesting questions.

 3. Everything becomes an educational opportunity, because little children will ask about many things we take for granted, from Who made the stars to how is it that vinegar can dissolve an egg’s shell.

Of course, as this kind of free learning emerges spontaneously, it needs a good deal of unscheduled leisurely time to just hang around, watch and observe, and ask questions. Naturally, sometimes we are busy, and none of us can be available always, all the time… but when we are never available, when we are so overwhelmingly busy that we do things on autopilot even when we are there, it leaves a void in many things – our children’s educational opportunities among them.

Around here, the school bus leaves around 7:30 and comes back around 16:00. I have spoken to many stay-at-home mothers who, as of themselves, would love to have their children at home for more hours in a day, and genuinely wonder why a 6-year-old needs an 8-hour school day. Preschoolers in government-funded institutions now have an obligatory extension of their time at preschool until 14:00; such reforms are accepted with relief by the majority of working parents, but the minority of mothers who would like to take their children home early aren’t allowed to do so, unless under special circumstances (of course, things may be different in private kindergartens, but not everyone can afford them).

In Israel, it’s really pretty much black and white. Either you send your child to preschool/school, or you don’t  – and homeschooling is a very controversial choice here. Once the child is enrolled in school, most of their waking hours belong to it – extending to hours spent at home, because there’s also homework to be done. And the lengthening of the school day is painted as an “educational reform” which is in the children’s very best interests – disregarding things such as attention span and effectiveness of learning, which by necessity are reduced with the longer school hours. Thus, instead of a concentrated and effective school time, we get a longer time in which learning is diluted, causing boredom and frustration.