Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Love Your Chickens and Buy My Eggs

This is my column for Sunday's (Greensboro) News and Record. It's about A.J., my favorite little chicken farmer. I've mentioned him in my blog before.

Did you know that chickens have ear lobes and their color indicates the color the hen’s eggs will be? I didn’t until I was educated by A.J. Jorsey, an 11-year old chicken farmer from the Reidsville area. I first met A.J. at the Rockingham County Farmers’ Market where I was drawn to his cartons of eggs of assorted colors, shapes, and sizes. They struck me as eggs with character, their colors ranging from pure white to all shades of tan and brown to light green. They run very large to very small. Just looking over the cartons to choose a dozen was like picking out old-fashioned candy from a glass case. Quick to please a customer, A.J. will trade out eggs from one carton to the next. And he’s a natural born marketer. When he pulled out the photo album of 8x10 glossies of him and his chickens Sam, Elvis, Oreo, Ashes, Elmer, Silver, Phyllis, Daffy, etc., I was hooked. From then on, no other eggs would do for our breakfasts. But honestly, with their deep golden yokes and just- laid freshness, they taste better than any eggs I’ve ever eaten.

A.J.’s Farm is 10 acres, a half-mile down a country lane off of a narrow dirt road. His chickens share the land with horses and ducks. There are too many of them to count these days but A.J. reckons he has around 80 or so. They are turned out of the barn each morning in a long, noisy chicken parade to free range all day. In the evening when A.J. finishes his homework, he makes a bee-line for the barn. He feeds them their organic food, waters them, collects eggs, and “gets them ready for beddy-bye.”

“You have to pet and carry around and love your chickens. They lay more eggs if you love them,” he said. While he was away on vacation this summer, his chickens only laid about 10% of the eggs they normally lay. All of A.J.’s chickens with distinctive looks have names. He started with a baker’s dozen of 13 bought from Tractor Supply last spring. In July, his friend Maeren Honacher, also 11, of Madison, went in with A.J. to incubate some eggs given to her by a friend of her mother’s. The two didn’t know what kinds of chickens they were incubating but nearly all hatched. A.J. and Maeren split the chicks, taking 8 each. From there, A.J.’s flock grew. “We’ve made some cool crosses,” he said.

A.J. will sell his eggs at the Chinqua Penn Farmers’ Market until it closes and then go to the Greensboro Farmers’ Market. He usually sells between 15 and 18 dozen eggs per week at $3.00 per dozen but he’ll sell you 2 dozen for $5.00 if you bring back your egg cartons. Ever the businessman, A.J. laments the high cost of egg cartons. “$30 for 100 cartons,” he said. “That’s why I give discounts.”

Although his parents do help out occasionally with the 100 pounds of feed his poultry eat each week, A.J. usually pays for it from his sales. He does all the labor, except turning the chickens out on school mornings. On Thursdays and Fridays, he carefully washes his eggs, puts them into cartons, and labels them, getting them ready to sell at the market on Saturdays. He pays for his own booth and has to sell 3-1/2 dozen just to break even. But he still manages to save some money for things he wants. “The Beatles Rock Band [game for Playstation] cost me 2 weeks of eggs,” he said.

A.J.’s advice to chicken farmers: “Love your chickens.” His advice to everyone else: “Buy my eggs.” Sometimes, wisdom comes before age.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Winter Coming...What are we going to eat?

I haven't blogged in 2 weeks but I'm still keeping on with my healthy eating and exercise. Tim and I went to the Rockingham County Farmers' Market this morning. Lately, that's a weekly activity for us. Today we bought some October beans, a new bean for us. I also got a butternut squash with the intention of making soup. I've got to get on Epicurious for a recipe. We bought heirloom cherry tomatoes, green beans, yellow squash, egg plant, and cucumbers. We're still getting okra and tomatoes from Tim's garden and we have potatoes and sweet potatoes left from last week.

I'm a little concerned about what we're going to do when the market closes. We've gotten business cards or phone numbers for the vendors selling meat and eggs. Tim has canned tomatoes and frozen some butter beans from our garden. I guess I'll have to buy frozen veggies from the grocery store during the winter months. I think frozen would be more earth friendly, or at the very least tastier and cheaper, than fresh vegetables shipped for thousands of miles.

Today we bought a dozen eggs from A.J. I asked him and his parents if I can do a newspaper column on him and his chickens so I'm looking forward to visiting their farm. On our farm, our duck coop is finished and it is top notch, very sturdy and well built. The ducks are still in a brooder box on our screen porch. They are actually in their 3rd box. The first cardboard box started coming apart near the waterer and they started eating it. We tried a Rubbermaid container for a few days and it just wasn't big enough. Monday I got 2 more cardboard boxes and put them together to make a new box. The ducks are huge now. I think they're about 3 times the size they were when we first got them and I can tell they're darker colored and started to get some feathers.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lucky Duck

My favorite snack this summer has been a chunked up tomato with a sprinkle of salt. Good thing, because we our tomato basket overfloweth. Tim has canned them a couple of times and this week made a huge pot of spaghetti sauce with home-grown tomatoes, peppers, and shitake mushrooms. Yum-alicious!

The big news for the week is the ducks came in yesterday. The post office called early in the morning and Tim picked them up. They shipped them in a little box, maybe 15” x 15” x 6 or 8” tall with air holes everywhere. They came with instructions, including dipping their bills into their water as they were released into the box so they could find it easily. They ran around, figured out how to eat and drink water, and did a lot of intermittent sleeping. When they sleep, they completely collapse and their heads loll sideways so their box looks like a duck battlefield littered with fuzzy yellow corpses.

I barely stood it through the day at work yesterday, beside myself wanting to get home and see them. And they are adorable (when they’re awake)! In our particular variety of duck, the males have dark bills until they are a few days old. By our count, we have 3 males. We got lucky on the perfect ratio of males to females (1:2 or 3) inspiring the new name for our farm: Lucky Duck Farm. I’ve always wanted to name our place and could never think of one that grabbed me. Lucky Duck grabs me. It’s snappy, descriptive, and I feel lucky to live there. Now, I get to design a logo.

We did have a bit of misfortune, losing one of the females last evening. The rest of the flock seems healthy today so I think she was just a weakling. In fact, Tim did a head count and McMurray Hatchery sent us an extra duck because we still have 10. They must expect some loss. Seems like I read in message boards and maybe even on their site about them throwing in extra chickens with orders. They must do the same with ducks. I have no illusions about naming the ducklings and treating them as pets. Although the ratio of males to females insures that we won’t eat any of the initial flock, there are just so many of them that they look like a swirl of pastel yellow with tiny webbed feet and black eyes. I can’t focus on one, much less name them and figure out who is who.

So that was the week in my little corner of Rockingham County. I plan on getting to the Farmers’ Market early tomorrow to get some more of A.J.’s eggs and veggies other than tomatoes, squash, peppers, and okra (which Tim is harvesting daily from his garden). The weather is blissful and I have a long weekend ahead of me. I’m one lucky duck!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Ultimate Test of Willpower (so far)

I passed up dessert tonight at Bistro Sofia. Yeah, I'm pretty proud of myself.