IANS – Perishable Foods

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Breakfast eggs; no washing or refrigeration needed.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

All ‘perishable’ foods must be refrigerated. In a few cases, this is right on. In others, it’s a ‘not-so.’
If you are raising your own eggs from healthy hens, they can sit out on the counter for at least a week. A hen covers her eggs with a special protective coating (over and above the shell) at the time they are laid. It’s called the bloom or cuticle. If you’ve ever picked up a just-laid egg, you may have felt the slightly moist texture — that’s the coating. The coating is semi-permeable, as the egg needs to breathe, but it keeps bacteria from getting inside the shell. This is because birds lay only one egg every day or two. The hen waits until she has several in her clutch before she starts to incubate them, so nature developed this mechanism to keep the eggs in good shape. Now, you can’t use this method with store-bought eggs, as they have been washed and disinfected so that the cuticle no longer exists (which is one reason why store-bought eggs are more likely to carry salmonella).

Low tech real butter; 10 minutes in the hand-cranked churn.

Butter can be kept at room temperature for at least a week if it’s covered (and it’s a lot easier to spread). If it’s submerged in water, you can keep it for up to a month. Old-style butter-keepers have two pieces: a smallish bowl to put the butter in and a large bowl into which you put water. Fill the small bowl with butter and turn it upside down in the water.
Leafy greens with stalks — like chard, collards or kale — and herbs do just fine in a vase of water outside the fridge. If you’re going to keep them more than a couple of days (remember, they’re more nutritious when freshly harvested), first thing each morning, cut off the bottom ½ inch of the stalks and change the water.

Amish Paste tomatoes.

Some perishable foods – like tomatoes, avocados and melons – absolutely shouldn’t be refrigerated. Keep them at room temperature (but do try to use them within four days).
You can keep ketchup and mustard on the shelf pretty much indefinitely. Ditto honey, which will last for decades if not hundreds of years. Although I personally haven’t tried this one, I understand that people who sail the ocean (which I don’t, being susceptible to seasickness) have found you can keep commercial mayonnaise at room temperature almost indefinitely, as long as you are careful to only use a clean spoon or knife each time you take out mayonnaise.

Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” I remember the cigarette companies’ “research” that showed cigarettes didn’t cause lung cancer. I also remember that eventually it became very obvious that those companies falsified or suppressed research that made it quite clear tobacco in any form increased the risk of cancer and a bunch of other nasty diseases. When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum was the one who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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Clan Mating FAQs

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Raising your own chickens means you need to pay careful attention to certain things, like which hens you raise replacement chickens from, fostering broodiness in at least some of your hens, record keeping and other little details like that. If you’re new to chicken breeding, it’s apt to generate some questions. Here are some of the questions I had when I was first starting out, or that others have asked me.
Questions:
1. How do you know which eggs come from which hens? You can use trap boxes, in which the hen goes in to lay an egg and is trapped inside the box until you let her out. Or you can operate on the assumption that all of your hens are laying (and you can determine that by looking at their vents – where the egg comes out) and simply ensure you have a good selection of eggs. Eggs are different – larger, smaller, lighter, darker, with speckles, without speckles. Just make sure you have lots of different-looking eggs, and the odds are high you’ll have some from all of your hens. If you’re incubating, collect eggs for about a week and put them all in the incubator; you’re sure to have at least one egg from every hen in the flock, and in most cases, you’ll have at least two. If you’re using a broody hen, give her an assorted lot of eggs unless you specifically want only her eggs.
2. What if I want to make sure I get eggs from a particular hen? Lock her into a broody box or a separate pen (a large dog crate makes a good temporary pen – just make sure it’s in a predator-proof spot) and collect the eggs she lays. Then incubate them or put them under a broody hen if she’s not broody herself.
3. How can I encourage broodiness? Broody hens are a pearl beyond price when you’re trying to raise your own chickens. When it comes to broodiness, hens vary from couldn’t-care-less to going broody several times in one season. Some breeds are very strong in the broody department – Dorkings, silkies and most banties, for example. Others, like Leghorns, go broody only when there’s a blue moon in the middle of a howling snowstorm in Florida. Unless you’re trying to raise one of those breeds, you’re probably going to have to work at encouraging broodiness in your flock. The first thing you need to do is pay attention to who’s trying to set; that’s why I recommend you ring those hens with an “S.” If a hen is inclined to go broody, you can sometimes encourage her by putting false eggs, egg-shaped rocks or even golf balls in a nest. The broody hen will tend to lay there, as she thinks she’s building a clutch. Some people say that if you always collect the eggs, the hens won’t go broody. I don’t recommend you stop collecting eggs, however. In my experience, a broody hen will go broody even in an empty nest. Leaving the eggs sitting around means they’re likely to get broken, which sometimes encourages egg-eating. Some hens don’t go broody until they get older, say three or four years old. That is actually a good thing, as you want chicks from older hens, anyway. Although their egg production will diminish, broody hens will also continue to set as they get older. My last batch of chicks were raised by a hen that’s at least five years old – I don’t know if she even lays any more. It may be well worth your while to keep a few broody hens in each clan even if they are five or six years old. Their eggs will help keep the broody trait going in the clan, but it’s also no great loss if they go broody and stop laying eggs, since they aren’t high producers anyway.

4. None of my hens will go broody; what should I do? You have two choices: incubate the eggs with an incubator or bring in some hens that are known for broodiness. Some people keep a separate flock of a different breed just so they have hens that will set. Silkies, cochins and banties of any kind are generally known to be good setters. Keep them in a separate pen, collect all their eggs to eat, and when a hen gets broody, give her eggs from taken from ONE CLAN ONLY in your primary flock. Give another broody hen eggs from a second clan (and keep her and her chicks in a separate pen). You can also wait until your hen has finished raising the first clan’s babies and goes broody again to give her eggs from a second clan. In my experience, Buff Orpingtons, Australorps, Cornish, Speckled Sussex and Delawares will all set with fair reliability, but it really depends on the bird. I’ve had flocks in which half or more set and others in which only one in 12 will set.
5. I want to breed the broodiness trait into my hens, but none of them will set. How can I do that? If you’re raising a breed that has a banty version, you could get a few banties and mate them to your standard-sized rooster. Save some pullets from the banty/standard cross and make sure you follow the usual principles of clan management with these hens. It might take a few generations to get the broody trait back, but it’s quite doable. For the first few generations, you’ll want to select more for the broody trait than any other genetic characteristic. The advantage of that method is that you will still have chickens of all one breed instead of crossbreds. Another option is to get some hens of any kind that are known for broodiness. Allow them to produce crossbred chicks sired by your primary clan roosters. Then select a few of the crossbred hens in each clan that have good general qualities as well as broodiness. Keep crossing them on your purebred roosters and eventually, you will have chicks that are essentially purebred but also have the broody trait. By the time you get to the fifth generation, your “crossbreds” will be 31/32 pure and indistinguishable from the “purebreds.” It’s probably better not to choose hens that have unusual traits such as frizzled feathers or crests if you go this route, as it may be hard to breed those out. Ideally, pick a bird that is very similar to your primary flock of chickens. For example, my primary flock is Delawares. If I were trying to inject some broodiness into the line, I would probably go with White Dorkings – they’re very strongly broody and have a similar color pattern. However, Dorkings tend to grow slowly compared to Delawares, so I might lose some growth in my main flock. Again, you’ll want to make sure you select for broodiness even if the hen has other less desirable characteristics. If you want eggs year round, be careful that you don’t select for such strong broodiness that your hens only lay in the spring, and quit laying for the year once they hatch a clutch. By the way, if your hens won’t set, I recommend you add a few broodies of whatever birds you choose to each clan rather than keeping a separate broody flock; less risk of mixing up the chicks.

6. If my second-best A rooster is better than my best B rooster, why can’t I move him to the other clan instead of keeping the inferior rooster? One word – inbreeding. The only way you might (heavy on the might here) get away with that is if it’s very early in the clan system, you know exactly which rooster and which hen produced your perfect rooster, and you cull not only the parents but any of his related sisters and brothers. Unless you are really experienced, I would not recommend it. Heck, I’m really experienced, and I wouldn’t do it.
7. Why can’t I just have two clans, or one clan of hens with three rotating roosters? Again, inbreeding. You could get away with this for a while; maybe four or five years. The problem is that you will very quickly have closely related chickens, which increases the risk of genetic defects. You could also get away with it if you have another source of roosters that aren’t related to your hens. Every four or five years, you butcher your roosters and get new ones. This won’t work if you want a closed flock, and by bringing in outside roosters, you are constantly diluting the genes in each clan instead of breeding for uniform birds. But if you aren’t striving to breed a specific “type,” bringing in outside birds isn’t a problem.
8. Won’t the roosters fight if I put them all in one pen? Roosters in a group tend to fight for one or more of several reasons. First, there’s a natural pecking order in any group of living creatures (yes, people too). The birds will fight to establish dominance. As long as they have plenty of room, this kind of squabbling isn’t usually a problem. By plenty of room, I mean at least 10 square feet for each bird. So if you have three primary roosters and three backup roosters, you should have at least 60 square feet, not including the nighttime coop. Second, roosters will fight over females – if the females are out of sight, scent and sound, this kind of fighting doesn’t occur. The most problematic kind of fighting occurs when one or more roosters are overly aggressive – they’ll beat the others up just for the fun of it, like a playground bully. As far as I’m concerned, these roosters should go in the stewpot; I don’t care how perfect they are in terms of build, color or other qualities. Sooner or later, naturally aggressive roosters start attacking humans. That can be a major problem if you have small children around. The other time you’ll see fighting is when you introduce new adult or younger roosters into the pen. The birds are establishing a new pecking order. Again, if you have plenty of room and if you introduce the birds in a group rather than putting a single young rooster in with an older group, it should be OK. “Young” in this case means at least four or five months old. Keep a close eye on them, however. Alternatively (and probably ideally), you can have three rooster-only pens and put each age group in its own pen. A three-rooster pen should be 30 feet square excluding the coop.
9. So I think I need to do some outcrossing. How do I go about that? You can bring in roosters, hens or both. If you don’t have a lot of extra cash, I recommend bringing in the best outside roosters you can lay your hands on, as they will have the most immediate effect on your flocks. You should also (if possible) try to select roosters that have the same characteristics as the ones you’re trying to breed into your flocks. The rooster has the biggest impact on each generation because he fathers all the chicks in one batch. Breeding chickens – or any animal – is always a gamble, though. The downside is that you may bring in an outwardly excellent bird that has an invisible genetic flaw. A word of warning: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep a few of your best home-bred roosters for a couple of years and see what the new chicks look like and how they perform. If your new roosters turn out to be complete duds, you still have some good stock to use. If money is no object (although in my experience, money is always an object!) it’s safer to bring in a new group of hens because you’re hedging your genetic bet with multiple genetic sources instead of letting it all ride on one rooster. The least expensive way to do this is to buy the standard 25-chick order from a commercial hatchery. If you use the new hens to create an additional clan (in which case, get a new rooster as well), you can keep the rest of the clans fairly uniform. Or you could sprinkle a few new hens into each clan. Personally, I think the sprinkling method is the least risky, gives you the most benefit for your money and will do the most to improve overall genetic diversity.

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Clan Mating Year by Year

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Flock of Buff Cornish in the chicken tractor with Foghorn the Delaware rooster – a crossbreeding experiment that didn’t work out.

This is the second of three posts on clan mating in chickens. Here’s how it looks in year-by-year format:
Remember, chicks – male or female – always take the clan of the mother! This is for a three-clan rotation. Manage each clan according to these instructions.

1st year
1. Get your chicks and let them grow. You can get a single order of chicks from one source, like a commercial hatchery. Avoid this if you possibly can, as your chicks may all come from a single source and already be slightly inbred. If you go this route, I recommend you order at least 40 birds for straight run. If you’re getting sexed chicks, order at least 18 to 20 females and 10 males. Be prepared to cull ruthlessly if you get your birds from a single source, because your genetic diversity is more likely to be limited. Ideally, you should get your chicks from three different hatcheries or sources in different parts of the country, as this should give you the most diverse bloodlines. Hatcheries typically send a minimum order of 25 chicks per batch, plus a couple of extras, so they stay warm during shipping. If you order from different sources, you may have as many as 75.
2. If you have one flock of 25 to 40, select the best five cockerels and divide the remaining hens into three equal or roughly equal groups. The extra two cockerels are your back-up birds, just in case a predator comes calling. If you got your birds from multiple sources, select a minimum of six but preferably at least 10 pullets from each source. Select two roosters from each group so you have a back-up rooster for each clan.
3. Within each clan, band each bird with the clan initial and the number 1. This allows you to know the age of each bird, and marks them as a member of the A, B or C clan (chickens can get out!). If you start with chickens from a single source, it doesn’t matter what initials you band the roosters with, as they all have similar genetics. You can just choose a clan at random when you band the roosters. Put one rooster into the matching clan (A rooster/A clan, etc.) and keep the back-up roosters in a separate pen. If you’re going to raise chicks for breeding, remember that each rooster only gets one breeding go-round with the hens in each clan. You can leave a rooster in his clan of origin for a year or more as long as you butcher, sell or give away all the chicks you hatch. I don’t recommend this unless you’re really anal about identifying all offspring and getting them out of the flock; the chance of having him breed his daughters is too high,
4. Butcher all excess roosters. You can also butcher excess pullets, but your original clans should ideally have at least 10-12 pullets. More is better; you may lose a few to predators or disease.
5. If you got your chicks in the spring, the hens will be starting to lay in the fall and will hopefully start setting the next spring.

Incubator chicks.


2nd year
1. Last year’s hens should be setting in the spring. Give the hens that set an additional band – S for setting.
2. Butcher or sell the cockerels and excess pullets from this year’s hatch. Don’t save any for breeding; you want older birds as parents to raise chicks for your home flock.
3. If none of the hens set, raise as many birds in the incubator as you want to eat or sell. Alternatively, you could keep a few banties around just to set the eggs.

In my experience, the Australorps set better than the Barred Rocks.

3rd year
1. Your #1 hens are two years old this year. This is the first year you should try to raise replacement chicks; if longevity in your flock is really important, you can wait another year. The older hens won’t lay as well, but there’s something to be said for having birds survive to the third year from the standpoint of flock vigor.
2. You want your eggs for setting to come from two-year-old or older hens, and ideally at least half of the setting eggs to come from #1S hens – the hens that were setters last year.
3. You want at least 2 dozen eggs for setting; use the incubator or a banty hen as a back-up, especially if your hens aren’t setting reliably yet. Make sure each incubator or banty batch is from a single clan and return the birds to their clan.
4. Add S bands to any #1 hens that set this year.
5. Keep the six (10 or 12 is better) best pullets from this year’s hatch; band them with the clan initial and a #2.
6. After you raise your chicks for the year, move the A rooster into the B clan, the B rooster into the C clan and the C rooster into the A clan.
7. Select your best cockerel from this year’s hatch in each clan (three roosters altogether), band him the same as the hens and put him in the rooster-only separate pen. Butcher or sell the other cockerels and excess pullets.
8. If you still have the original three backup roosters, you can add a little wrinkle to the typical clan system. At the end of the year, move your backup rooster from the first year into the pen with your hens. You can do this because your backup rooster is no more closely related to your hens than the first rooster was. You now have multiple sources of unrelated genes in each clan: the original hens, the first rooster and the second rooster. You also have an older rooster to breed to the young hens you’ve hatched as well as the older hens. Remember, older birds are a better choice.
9. Butcher or sell your original rooster from each clan.

Be prepared for unexpected losses, like the bear that gets into the chicken tractor.

4th year
1. You may have too many hens for one rooster in each of the clans this year. Most large-breed roosters can handle at least a dozen hens, and I’ve had one rooster with as many as two dozen. If there are more than 24 hens, he probably won’t be able to keep them all bred. Although some breeders keep both their main rooster and their back-up rooster in the flock, it can lead to fighting, and it means you have to keep breeding records. One way to handle the too-many-hens problem is to divide your flock during the day so the rooster is unquestionably breeding the #1 hens. After a week or so, put only the #2 hens in with him during the day. The hens will still have fertilized eggs up to three or four weeks later, although hatchability is best in the first week or so after breeding.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from the #1S hens and the other half from the #2S hens. You want at least 2 dozen eggs from each group for setting; use the incubator as a back-up, especially if your hens aren’t setting reliably yet. If any of the #2 hens set, give them an S band.
3. Select the best six (10 or 12 is better) pullets and one rooster from the #1/#2 hatches and band them with the clan initial and a #3. Put the roster in the roosters-only pen. Butcher or sell the cockerels and excess pullets.
4. At the end of the year, move the A rooster into the C clan, the B rooster into the C clan and the C rooster into the A clan.

Excess chickens go in the freezer.

5th year
1. Use the same technique to divide your hens in each clan for breeding as in the 4th year so you can assure all the older hens get bred.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from the #1S hens and the other half from the #2S hens. Eat the #3 eggs from the youngest hens. If any of the #3 hens set, give them an S band.
3. Select the best six (10 or 12 is better) pullets and the best cockerel from the #1/#2 hatches and band them with the clan initial and a 5.
4. Put the selected cockerels in the roosters-only pen.
5. Butcher all the #1 hens; although they may have a few more years of laying left, their productivity is slowing down and your pen is getting crowded. Butcher the excess cockerels and pullets from this year’s hatch. If you don’t want to kill them, you could sell or give them away.
6. At the end of the year, butcher, sell or give away the breeding rooster in each clan. Put the oldest of the A roosters in the separate pen into the A clan, the oldest B rooster in the B clan and the oldest C rooster in the C clan.

Next year’s eggs and fried chicken.

6th year
1. Use the same technique to divide your hens in each clan for breeding as in the 4th year so you can assure all the older hens get bred.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from either the 2S or 3S hens; unless you want the whole flock to be broody (which means they’ll quit laying eggs while they raise babies) some of your eggs for hatching should come from non-broody hens. Eat the #4 eggs from the youngest hens.
3. If any of the #4 hens set, give them an S band.
4. Butcher all the #2 hens, excess pullets and cockerels from this year at the end of the year. Move your best rooster from each clan into the roosters-only pen.
5. At the end of the year, move the A rooster into the B clan, the B rooster into the C clan and the C rooster into the A clan.

First three all hatched within about two hours, now resting and drying off.

7th year
1. Use the same technique to divide your hens in each clan for breeding as in the 4th year so you can assure all the older hens get bred.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from either the 2S or 3S hens; unless you want the whole flock to be broody (which means they’ll quit laying eggs while they raise babies) some of your eggs for hatching should come from non-broody hens. Eat the #4 eggs from the youngest hens.
3. If any of the #4 hens set, give them an S band.
4. Butcher all the #3 hens at the end of the year.
5. At the end of the year, move the A rooster into the C clan, the B rooster into the A clan and the C rooster into the B clan.

Continue this pattern until you start to see signs of inbreeding in your flock – fewer eggs, even from young hens; hatching problems; crooked beaks or feet; susceptibility to disease, etc. It will probably take a while – 20 years or more. If you have enough room, it’s beneficial to have a fourth or even fifth clan, but three clans will take you a long way. Since this post is already long, I’ll tackle common questions about this system in the next post.

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