Friday, June 21, 2013

Layers of time

I am sitting at the desk in the living room of a cottage by the sea. A cottage which I first came to as an infant, with my parents, as they came to visit my mother's parents, who had purchased it just the year before I was born.

My maternal grandfather went to this particular beach on the Outer Banks when he was a young man, visiting his relatives in Elizabeth City. He came here before there was a bridge, when a ferry deposited people on the Sound side of the island. When this house, one of the original 13 in Nags Head, came up for sale, he snapped it up, to no small consternation among the locals, no doubt, as he was a "Yankee." But he made it their, and our own, and I am incredibly blessed to have been able to share this house with my extended family over the years.

I figure, since I am now 55, I have been here roughly 50 or so times in my life, give or take. There were some summers I missed a trip here, for one reason or another. But as I sat on the front porch the other night, about to have my picture taken with my daughters, it struck me with great force that time falls in layers, and I could feel them settle on me as I sat.

I can remember when there was only one stoplight on the island. No MacDonalds, no "French Fry Alley" as we call it, no big grocery stores, just the little mom and pop store down the road where Mr. Harris ground his own beef, twice! When the dunes across the road weren't covered with timeshares, and you could walk all the way across to the sound and dig clams to bring home to eat. Can't do that now, oh no.

As I walked upstairs this morning, I thought about how many times my feet had trod those wooden stairs, how many times I had looked out the windows at the sea, how unchanging it all is, despite all the change that has gone on around it. When I drive down here, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the development I see, and it makes me feel a little sick inside. But when I make it to the house, and put my feet up on the railing as I sit in one of the wooden rockers on the front porch, all that slips away, and I am back where I need to be.

This place, more than any other, has the sense of "home" for me. It has lasted longer than any other place I have lived, and in the later years of her life, I spent more time with my mother here than any other place. I feel her presence around me everywhere; in the shells I pick up on the beach, in the simple task of hanging laundry on the line (Mom was famous for her Herculean devotion to doing laundry here), in the country store she loved to visit when she was here. She's all around me here, and I hope, one day when I pass, my spirit will, in a small way, linger here as well. For this place, more than any other, is truly Home.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Orange Chickens? Not Really...

I’d like to address a topic that has been tossed around a lot elsewhere, and that’s the concept of “orange” Buckeyes. Now, some folks use this term with great derision, and the fact that they do so is really just demonstrating a lack of understanding of the breed on their part, and of the mechanics of poultry feathering and color in general.

Some lines of Buckeyes have a tendency, especially in the female lines, to fade if they are exposed to sunlight, especially after the first molt. In my experience I have found that one line I used to work with when I first started with the breed is particularly susceptible to this problem. Of course, if you keep your birds cooped up inside all the time, you won’t have this issue. But I let my birds range outside, and as such I have found that some of my older females do tend to bleach out in the sun after a while.

This is not peculiar to just Buckeyes, it happens in many breeds of poultry, and is one of those things that if one is going to let one’s birds range, one accepts. I choose to allow my Buckeyes to live as natural a life as I can, because that’s just how I am. 

Now, there are certain lines of Buckeyes which fade less than others, Urch birds in particular I am finding hold their color better than other lines. Which is part of why I added Urch birds into my breeding pens several years ago, and have been slowly culling out the last traces of the older line that I am seeing (getting rid of those hens who faded the most, and who had the terrible black body speckling I was seeing in that line.)

But for some folks to make a huge big deal about “orange birds” is really rather silly, and to also claim that dark feather color comes from an abundance of slate bar is incorrect. I've said it before, I'll say it again: I’ve had light birds with more than adequate slate bar, and dark birds who were totally lacking it. So that’s a red herring, and utter nonsense when anyone makes that claim. 

And above all folks, I’ll also reiterate, make sure you’ve got your type down first before worrying overmuch about color. Make sure you have read the current Standard of Perfection for Buckeyes (not some old version from 1918 or something), which can be found here: and get your birds correct with type: proper stance; correct wing carriage; rather long, broad, sloping backs; tight combs, etc. Then you can worry about color. 

And if you show your birds, you can always keep them inside if you’re worried about them fading in the sunlight. It’s just that easy. And the next time you hear someone making a hue and cry about “orange birds, orange birds”, you’ll know they’re just blowing smoke, and don’t really know what they’re talking about.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Please put those eggs in the fridge

This post is in response to a host of stuff I've been seeing lately about how folks are keeping eggs they've been buying from local farmers on their counters, thinking that because the eggs come from "pastured" hens that it's ok to keep them unrefrigerated.

Um, no.

Yes, when a hen lays an egg, she deposits this lovely mucoidal membrane on the egg called the "bloom", which does indeed prevent a host of bacteria and other nasties from entering into the egg under normal circumstances. Yes, that means the egg from a local farmer will, generally, stay fresher than an egg which has been washed, as your supermarket egg has been, assuming the local farmer hasn't washed the egg (some have, you'd better ask, because some states require even the small local farmers to wash their eggs before they sell them.)

But just because the bloom is still on the egg doesn't mean you should keep it on your countertop for weeks folks. The bloom is not made of plastic. It is not airtight. It is not going to keep that egg fresh forever. Let's think about this.

The hen laid that egg, in theory, because she wanted to raise a chick. If the egg were coated in an airtight membrane, the embryo inside the egg would never be able to develop, because it wouldn't be able to breathe. And embryos need to breathe in order to grow. It's part of what they do. See the chart below. It's how we chicken farmers can determine the age of an embryo, by how much air has entered an egg!

So folks, please. Put the damned eggs in the fridge, would you? You're making the old chicken farmers like me, with your neo-hippie back to the land eggs on the countertop nonsense, a little crazy. You really will be glad you did.