Molting, Matrimony, and Makin’ Bacon

Don’t judge me for my post titles.  I never claimed to be clever.

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Rory, mid-molt

Well, folks, it’s finally happened: my chickens have started molting.  It has come later than I expected.  My chickens were born early in the year – the beginning of February, as opposed to mid-Spring – and I had read that molts come in the first Fall.  If anything, I expected mine to be early – late summer, maybe.  Well, we are solidly halfway through Fall and I had seen nothing until this past weekend.  Rory is our front-runner.  I tried my damndest to get good pics of her, but heck if she didn’t avoid me the entire time.  This is one of my best.  All of her formerly glossy, black plumage has turned dull and gray and the feathers on her head an neck and chest have started to fall out.  Hopefully you can see that in this picture.  It’s pretty pathetic, really.  Her previously full, fluffy head and neck have been reduced to scrawny, patchy shadows of their former selves.  Also, I have learned that new feathers grow in the pointy parts first – the feathery parts come later.  So, her skinny neck and other bald spots are now covered with bare, black needle-y things.  It’s not pretty.

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She looks like she has a tiny head and a huge body.  Sad.

Anywho… I promise she’s not an ugly chicken!  She’s just going through an awkward stage!  But, there is hope… on her butt, which had previously been stripped bare by overly-amorous roosters, new feathers are coming in… and they are lovely and dark and black and shiny.  Soon, she shall be more beautiful than ever!

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new, black feathers on Rory's bottom

Can you even tell from the pic?  It’s been… how do I put it?  GRAY AND RAINY here.  The light has not exactly been ideal for picture-taking.  Not that I’m complaining.  C’est la vie.

For your educational and viewing pleasure… please compare her to Lorelei, who has not yet started molting nor has she faded to gray.  She is black, shiny, and fluffy still:

Miss Lorelei

Blanche is also looking a little rough… her longest tail-feathers have come out and her darkest gold feathers are falling out randomly over her body, leaving her a mottled white-and-buff color.

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Blanche, starting to molt

Blanche, pre-molt

Blanche, pre-molt

Compare this to two weeks ago:

or to Sophia, who has not started to molt:

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Sophia, fully-feathered.

Today, I also noticed that Lady B’s comb has gone light pink (which means she’s not laying) and I was worried that she was sick (she sneezed a couple of times…still scares me) but then I noticed that she’s losing the tiny feathers on the top of her head.  She is starting to molt, too, and chickens don’t usually lay during molt.  When her molting is more advanced, I’ll take pics for you.

Had I not read so much about chickens before getting them, their bedraggled appearances and reduced laying would probably worry me greatly.  I’m glad I was expecting this :)

Oh Rats.

Update on the rat situation:  I have caught none and their tunnel into the chicken run gets larger and more refined by the day.  This afternoon, my bait/trap station arrived.  Tomorrow it will be loaded with a peanut-butter-laden snap trap and placed in the chicken run.  I look forward to some snapped, trapped rats.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wedding Pics, this Time on this Blog!

A VERY quick synopsis of the wedding weekend…. quick mostly because it’s past my bedtime, but I want to put them in here or my post title no longer makes sense and I can’t think of another post title.  Sad, huh?

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Two days before the wedding, we had a small rehearsal dinner at Atwood Ranch in Glen Ellen, CA.  It was awesome and SO ME.  Julie Atwood, owner of the ranch, also was my superhuman wedding planner.  I owe her my life.  No seriously.

Anyway, the rundown: ranch, barn, pumpkins, vineyard, pumpkins, grapes, pumpkins, food, drinks, pumpkins, food, and also a few pumpkins and some food.

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The boys practiced their bit:

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Then the girls solemnly rehearsed their parts:

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My aunt tried to bribe the horses for another ride with champagne.

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They didn’t buy it.

Skipping lots (I don’t want to overload your computers with pics to download), then we dined in the barn by candlelight.

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OK, so I was going to do pics of the whole wedding here, but I think I’ll do a second installment tomorrow in another post.  I’m sleepy.

Briefly, Bacon

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Did you know that making bacon at home is super easy?  And did you know that homemade bacon is way, WAY better than anything you can get at any store, anywhere, no matter how much you spend?

Neither did I.

At least I didn’t until about a year ago when I finally tried it for myself.  A few months before that, I acquired for myself a lovely book entitled, “Meat,” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  Because I’m sleepy, I won’t go into detail here.  Suffice to say, at some point as I was reading through it, I came to the bit on bacon, and it struck me as astoundingly simple-sounding.  And because I’m a do-it-yourself kind of girl, plus everyone (even vegetarians… c’mon, admit it) knows that bacon is simply the tastiest substance on earth… I just had to try it.

And – SHABAM!  I was a convert.

I will sum it up for you here, but please do some of your own research as well.  This is not a complete tutorial… it is only meant to peak your interest :)

Homemade Bacon, adapted from MEAT by H. Fearnley-Whittingstall

1 whole, fresh pork belly

(I get mine from the heritage pork people at the farmers’ market.  check your butcher, farmers’ market, etc.  You won’t find this at the grocery store, but if you look, you will find it somewhere, I assure you.  I will also briefly mention that I do my best to buy only pastured meats that are humanely raised without hormones, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, or any other harmful chemicals.  I urge you to do the same.  I could talk about it forever.  But I won’t here.)

dry cure:

2lb coarse salt (I use Kosher)

a few bay leaves, crumbled

1 cup brown sugar

3 Tbs freshly and coarsely ground black pepper

other spices, Hugh susggests 20 juniper berries, lightly crushed.  I don’t like juniper (gin.  yuck.), so I’ve used other things.  I have really liked lavender, allspice, cinnamon… experiment as you will.  You won’t hate your result no matter what.

Slice the belly into thirds.

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Mix up your dry cure.

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OK, now rub handfuls of the cure into the slabs of belly, completely coating them.

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Then, stack them in non-corrosive containers (I like glass 9×13 pans), cover, and put in the fridge.

That is more or less it.  Check them at least once a day.  They will start to give of moisture and the meat will firm up.  Periodically (like every day or two… this is not critical), pour off the liquid that has accumulated, rub in some more cure, if your bellies are stacked, move a new piece to the bottom of the stack, and stick them back in the fridge.  According to Hugh, the bellies will be perfect for breakfast slices after 5 days.  I find that after 5 days, the bacon is too salty.  And I LOVE SALT.  I love salt like no one you’ve ever met in your life.  Trust me, if I say it’s too salty, it’s too salty.  Anyway, I still do a 5 day cure because the saltier the meat, the longer it keeps.  And when you slice it, you just drop the slices in a bowl of water before cooking them for a minute or two and the extra salt goes out and you’re left with perfect bacon.

Moving on…

At the end of your curing time… could be 3 days, 5 days, 10 days… remember the longer it cures, the saltier it will be and the longer it will keep.  It’s up to you.  Anyway… when you’re done curing, remove the meat from the fridge and rinse off the cure in the sink.

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You will notice that at this point, the meat is firm and solid and holds its shape, rather than floppy and soft like when it was fresh.  This is what you want… moisture replaced by salt.  Anyway, rinse it, and then… because we’re Americans (no offense to anyone on the off-chance that I have non-American readers as well… I love you all!) and we like our bacon smoked… you smoke it.

This is by far the trickiest part and the information that is available on the topic is confusing and vague to say the least.  I will not give you a meat-smoking lesson here today.  I will say simply that you should smoke it for a number of hours… again, the longer you smoke it, the smokier it will be and the longer it will keep.  The smoke is a preservative as well as the salt.  Anyway, smoke it at the lowest temperature you can muster.  75 to 100 degrees F is supposed to be ideal.  It is tough to get smoke that low, though.  I have gone up to 125… maybe 150 and it’s been fine.  It’s not the end of the world.  How to achieve this sort of thing is best left to the experts.  It took me a long time to put together my ghetto rig, but it works.  For wood, I like apple the best.  I have tried mesquite and hickory as well.  It’s up to you.  Experiment.

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getting the smoker going

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adding the bacon

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checking the temp with the garbage can layer added

the garbage can is to add distance between the fire and the meat to allow the smoke to cool.  Feel free to ask me questions about it if you really want to know.  Also, feel free to laugh at me.  I stand by my creation.  This is actually the fancy one, made with an actual smoker, a gift from my sister-in-law from last Christmas.  You should have seen what I was using before!

Anyway… cold-smoke it however long and with whatever wood you want.  Then you’re done.  Voila!  Bacon.  That simple.  You can skip the smoke part, too, if you want, and it’s even simpler.  But not as good.  Your choice.

I keep mine in the freezer because it’s easier to slice when it’s hard.  Also, it keeps longer.  But, it will keep for months just in the fridge or even hanging in a cool cellar, according to Hugh.  He also says you can scrape mold off it if any appears and the bacon is still good.  I haven’t tested this myself, so please don’t take my word for it.

OK, readers.  Now go out and do it!  Make some bacon!  Go on!  Get!  You can do it!  YAY BACON!!

note: My recipe calls for a dry cure.  If you do research, you will see some people do dry cures, and some do wet cures, aka brines.  I tried both last year.  I did half-and-half and the dry cure won for me, hands down.  Easier, cleaner, faster, and better.  That is my own experience.  Please try both for yourselves, if you are so inclined.

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11 thoughts on “Molting, Matrimony, and Makin’ Bacon

  1. Yep – you need a cat. My roomies cat goes out at night to hunt and sleeps by day.

    The only rodents I see are dead ones she leaves laying around.

    LOVE your smoker. You inspire me to try my own bacon.

    Baby chick update – doing great. My Momma hen is doing a wonderful job with her four little ones. I come home from work and run out to the coop to check on them and they all have bulging crops. Not sure what she’s showing them to eat but they seem happy. The other seven hens don’t bother Mom or the chicks at all. They all eat and scratch together. Those babies are so sweet when they are peeking out from under Mom when they go under to warm up. One of the leghorns likes to jump up on her back and then slide down.

  2. If you are so inclined to give your new sister-in-law’s (or is it sister’s-in-law?) husband a Christmas gift, pack a little of that bacon in your carry-on when you come out in December. That would be pretty awesome. Mmmm praline bacon.

  3. yaaaaay! smoker!! i’m so glad you like it, but also glad you’re keepin’ it ghetto. you know that’s how i roll…so i fully expect the same from my new sister. : )

    mmmmmm…..bacon….

  4. ps – why is it always me raising my glass at the least appropriate times….like in the middle of the rehearsal?

    it’s a shock i didn’t have my glass with me during the actual ceremony, i suppose…

    yay wedding!

  5. Pingback: Um, It’s Raining. Wanna See Some Wedding Pictures? « Lisa Has Chickens

  6. careful for the galvanized crud that comes off with the smoking process… . Even at 150 degrees it starts to off gas. it is a no no when welding, since the fumes can kill you.

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