Joys of backyard chickens

No food goes to waste

Not long ago I was sitting on my grandma's sofa, flipping through the pages of Women's Day magazine. I stumbled upon an article about zero waste recipes that use up every part of an ingredient, and I was impressed at the progressive, forward-thinking attitude conveyed in this mainstream magazine. Food waste is a major issue in the United States. As much as 40 percent of the food purchased by American households is wasted, with an annual cost of over $200 billion.

But as I read through the recipes for roasted cauliflower leaves and stems and broiled carrots with carrot top pesto, I had to chuckle. The recipes sounded delicious, but if the flow of vegetable scraps from my kitchen suddenly dried up, I'd have some very unhappy hens on my hands. We've had chickens for years, and one of my greatest delights is taking them their daily delivery of treats. With chickens in our backyard almost nothing goes to waste. Cauliflower leaves are a favored delicacy amongst my girls, along with leafy greens and almost any kind of fruit. Grapes past their prime are greedily gobbled up whole and a glob of the leftover oatmeal inevitably creates a small riot in the corner of the run. I recently made a loaf of bread that was very sad indeed, sunken in the middle and solid like a brick. My failure in the kitchen quickly turned into a chicken party, and the abysmal loaf was quickly devoured. Indeed, as soon as the flock catches sight of me with a bucket they quickly waddle over to the fence, jockeying for the best position.

Like us, chickens are omnivores and there's very little they can't eat. The list of foods that shouldn't be fed to your flock looks much the same as that for most pets and livestock: avocado, citrus, green potato peels, dry beans, chocolate and candy, junk food and moldy food (though the last three arguably apply to humans as well). Truthfully, the odd potato peel and leftover avocado do make their way into the chicken bucket, but the girls are apparently sensible enough to not eat what they shouldn't. If they have plenty of good quality pellet food available, they generally won't eat anything that's toxic to them. Even leftover eggs, shells and scraps of meat are included with their treats. The result is that much of the food that would normally go to waste in my kitchen is transformed into delicious, nutrient-rich, carbon-neutral eggs.

It was my greatest joy as a child to be surrounded by animals. Our lovely neighbors gave me full access to their barn and allowed me to treat their gentle old horse as my own. I spent many hours in that barn currying his coat and talking through the challenges of childhood. Nick the horse was a good listener. My neighbors also had a beautiful flock of chickens, and I would wander over there most evenings with a bowl of vegetable scraps my mom had saved. I'd sit and watch them slurp up parsley stems like spaghetti noodles and squabble over grains of rice until the mosquitos started biting. Before heading home I'd feed the horse another apple from the big bag that always sat on the counter.

It wasn't until my clever husband converted the back corner of our garage into a chicken coop and we brought home a chirpy box of fluffy chicks that I remembered just how satisfying and peaceful it felt to once again do the work of raising livestock. Chickens are a low-impact way to have that experience. The initial investment is relatively low, and you don't need huge amounts of space to keep a flock. As a general ruleW, three chickens will produce an adequate supply of eggs for two people. It's completely legal to keep chickens in the city of Springfield, however you can't sell meat or eggs because its not an agriculturally zoned area.

It's important to note that raising your own chickens for eggs and even meat is not usually a money-saving venture. There's a reason that good quality eggs from the farmers market cost six dollars a dozen. However, an egg laid only hours before it hits the pan, from a chicken that is happy and extremely well fed, is one of gastronomy's greatest delicacies.

Kniefli

We eat a lot of eggs in my house, but we still occasionally end up with a surplus. This quick, eggy dumpling is one of my kids' favorites. Made from just four ingredients, they make a great 'fast food' dinner when topped with jarred marinara sauce or simply butter and cheese. I also love to include them when padding out a lean stew or soup.

2 cups all-purpose, whole wheat, or gluten-free flour

3 large eggs

½ cup hot water or broth

1 tsp salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. While the water heats, mix all the above ingredients in a bowl to form a loose dough. You may need to add a little more water. When the water is boiling, tilt the bowl of dough at a slight angle over the water and with a spatula or knife cut off the dough in large shreds as it spills over the side of the bowl. Periodically dip the knife or spatula into the boiling water to clean off any dough that clings to it. The knefli should be done approximately 2 minutes after they have risen to the surface of the water. Drain and serve with the sauce of your choice.

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