16 August 2016

Chickens 2.0

It started out a beautiful, sunny morning. Warm for late-winter, to be sure, but not warm enough to work up a sweat wielding a chainsaw. I swear it was all brought on by that egg I ate for breakfast. As I try to restrict my intake of eggs to two a week. A result of being born into a family with histories of heart disease on both sides of the hereditary divide, and a presumed genetic predisposition to high cholesterol levels. So an egg breakfast is always a special one to begin with.

I start with melting a modest bit of butter -- I know, I should probably use something else, but I am deeply suspicious of margarine, it being just a couple of processing steps short of being plastic, and eggs fried in olive oil,... well, they just don't taste right. Into the hot butter go a couple of Jalapeno Chiles, thickly sliced. There's a critical bit of timing here, and the heat of the butter has to be just right, otherwise you're liable to overdo the chiles and they acquire a nasty, bitter, burned flavour. The moment you start coughing -- possibly sneezing, too-- from the capsaicin fumes wafting from the pan (it should be a heavy, cast-iron pan, for preference) it's time to flip the chile slices over and crack your egg directly onto the chiles, which should be clustered together so that the molten butter is drawn close between them. One the egg-white has solidified at the bottom, though not all the way through, clap a lid over the pan, sealing the aromas in, and infusing the steam with those potent fumes. The timing of this step takes a little practise, and depends to some degree, I suppose, on how you like your fried eggs done. Me, I like them cooked through, but still tender and soft. All gods curse the days when I am distracted from the complications of this task at just the wrong time and end up with the yolk all rubbery and pale and tasting like eggy library paste. For me the yolk should definitely be completely runny, but there should be no trace of ungelled white, the whole infused with the divine pungency of the chiles. Other varieties than Jalapeno are also okay if the season is wrong or you prefer some other strain of peppers. Serranos work well if you're looking for something a little hotter. Sweet peppers are not to be entertained, for what would be the point of this twice weekly treat without the heat?

Which brings me, somewhat meanderingly, back to my point...

Despite us having purchased good quality, free-range, organic eggs, I find them to be pale, lacklustre and lacking in flavour when compared with my memories of eggs from our own hens. The texture of the yolk is all thin and runny, too, nothing like the thick, almost syrupy consistency and strong, almost meaty flavour of pasture-fed homegrown.

Time, I think, and, if I'm slightly honest, well past time, to get our own flock again.

This time, though, they'll be housed far from the road so the neighbourhood dogs can't get to them. Besides, the old chicken-run's fences are way past their use-by date. Trees have grown up through the wire mesh in places, complicating a the potential repair job beyond contemplation, and the entire run has become infested with woody weeds. The fences there always were a hopeless cause, because the one end of the run contains a very large and old Oak Tree. During Acorn Season, the local bushpig family, lacking all respect for wire fences, simply lift the mesh with their strong snouts and tusks to gain access to the delicious acornage. And once the fences were broken, all the other local predators would come for their favoured provender -- our chooks. It was a battle I was never going to win. So the chicken run has to move.

Too, the old chicken house was never very satisfactory, the original design having been based upon book-learning and then heavily modified as we rapidly learned what all was wrong with that. Another story for another day, though. Suffice to observe that it was difficult to clean -- so cleaning got delayed and generally neglected -- resulting in problems with mites, dust and smells. We really need a new chook-house, too. All-in-all a start-from-scratch-again sort of a deal.

When we did have happy and healthy chickens, I had always wanted to reduce the amount of feed we bought in for them. Pasture-fed as close to 100% is my aim, though I realise that we will probably need to supplement the food a little in the slow-growth times of the year.

Having considered a number of options, I have picked a spot, not too far from the house, yet not too near, reasonably flat, though quite overgrown with rank grass and weeds. My plan is to build a bomb-proof (or, more precisely, Ratel-proof) enclosure perhaps 5x5m in extent. (I'll go into the design details another time -- this missive has run on far too long already!) and today's job was to start clearing the designated spot, starting with some trees and branches that intrude and generally make it difficult to see the ground well enough for the detailed marking out and planning that's needed before we know just how much fencing material to acquire, so out came the (recently serviced) chainsaw (so running beautifully smoothly and reliably) and I went to work... on an egg.

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