Chicken Woes: Part 2

•July 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

…or Chickens in an Alaskan Winter..

Update from my last blog: Our little depressed chicken lived out the rest of her days next to our heater eating triangular tuna fish sandwiches. We never did figure out what her ailment was..

As winter progressed and the temperatures dropped to -40F our chicken coop construction was put to the test. We built the coop from all reclaimed materials and managed an R20-30 value for the walls, ceiling and roof. The results are that it takes 500W in heat lamps  to keep the indoor temperature around 35F and additionally a 60W heating pad under the water dispenser to keep the water from freezing.  Even with all this rigged up the coop was covered in frozen poopsicles that didn’t thaw until spring and whenever a hen was brave enough to leave the warmth of the heat lamp and venture into the nesting boxes to lay an egg, the egg would freeze within the hour.

A frozen egg is still edible but frozen egg-insides crack the shell, so it needs to be consumed asap. Frozen egg snack anyone?

When the temperatures hovered above 0F the cooped-up (literally cooped up – get it?) chickens were straining to go outside to chomp around on snow and get some fresh air. Chickens have the unique ability to not feel cold – eventhough their limbs are turning blue and falling off. This means they are extremely prone to frostbite. Trust me, we found out the hard way…  Once I noticed little black and blue bits on their combs and wattles I turned to trusty google. The solution is simple: lube their non-feathered parts up with udder butter before sending them outside. So that’s what I did – every morning before going outside, I smeared a healthy dose of udder butter on their combs and wattles and frost bite returned to our coop no more!

And on really cold days (see picture below) – Fairbanks had a record low winter with temperatures down to -60F ….

All the ladies survived the winter.. minus 1 toe. In the hubbub of udder butter and heating pads little attention was paid to chicken toes. :-/


Chicken Woes: Part 1 (there may be many parts to this series…)

•July 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

I had started this blog post 7-8 months ago but never got around to publishing while a little outdated it is still a relevant and entertaining story from our life in the subarctic.

Chicken woes abound! Where to begin, before we even hit the 6 month mark of living with chickens we experienced almost every single chicken trauma there is to experience…here we were 3 chicken newbies thinking all we had to do was pick out 6 hens, build a coop, stick them inside and we all live happily ever after. Not so…

We lost one hen to a fox in our front yard while I was there watching over them! Alaskan foxes clearly have no respect, otherwise they would have at least waited until I wasn’t looking before snatching the hen.  Lost another one to a mysterious cause of death, thought the whole flock had mites at one point (which requires spraying down the entire coop with bleach), and two to the fact that they turned out to be the wrong gender.  You may recall that 2 of our hens morphed into roosters, which at first we did nothing about still living in the happily-ever-after bubble.  Once the roosters matured and attempted to share 4 hens between the two of them  it all went downhill.  Turns out rooster are horny little suckers mounting hens anywhere from 5-10 times a day (ours anyway, maybe there is something in the water up here…). Those poor 4 hens quickly got sick of all that commotion! With heavy heart we decided we’d need to part with our roosters as the hens became more and more unhappy. One of them even started showing signs of depression!

Never having been confronted with a depressed chicken before, we read all the chicken blogs and chicken advice columns we could find.  The websites recommended such a large variety of cures that it left us a little confused, completely baffled and with this hodge-podge of home remedies that will surely cure the chicken, if not of depression then of ever wanting to be taken care of by humans again. Here is the list:

1. Take chicken and stick its butt over a steaming pot of water for 30 minutes. Repeat as needed.

2. Take apple cider vinegar and lube it up (we didn’t catch what exactly needed the lubing).

3. Feed chicken cayenne pepper (this will definitely cure lethargy if nothing else).

4. Take chicken indoors and hold it as close to fire as possible (roast chicken?).

5. Make chicken a tuna salad sandwich, cut into triangles and feed it to chicken (no kidding, this was one remedy. Wonder if it works as well if we cut it into squares instead of triangles..).

6. Call vet and have X-rays taken and operations done (vets in Fairbanks probably would laugh at this option).

7. If nothing else works cull chicken because it stopped laying and is of no use to you anymore.

Taking some (NOT all) of this advice into consideration, we now have a little depressed chicken living with us inside a cat crate, drinking water laced with Dr. Bach homeopathic rescue remedy, eating oatmeal, rice and bananas and having 6 pairs of cat eyes watching its every move along with 4 human eyes that worriedly appear every 15 minutes and shove food under its nose. How could any chicken be depressed in this situation? Anxious, paranoid …maybe, but surely it’ll cure depression.

Betsy with Sophie watching over her (literally).

Oh the jobs in Alaska..

•July 3, 2012 • 2 Comments

The sad news is that I haven’t been able to secure funding to continue my PhD next year (yet, there is still hope I suppose)..

After a short period of devastation I realized that this also means that the whole world is open to me again, and I have the freedom to do whatever I like and be whatever I want to be!  Now if only I knew what that was..that would make my life easier. But looking through the job classifieds for Alaska has given me some ideas. Here are some of my options (I did not make these up, I swear):

1. Ship Captain

2. Adult Film Star (18-55)

3. Paranormal Investigator – unfortunately the link expired

4. Wood Cutter

5. Assistant Chimney Sweep

6. Tree Climber

7. Gold Mining Partner

8. Driller

or I could be 9. Female Talent for a Local Video Producer…uh-huh

I’m tempted to be a gold mining partner for sure, but the ad says I must come with my own equipment. Let’s see..I have a Jeep, a rake and a shovel, and some unused flower pots (to put all the gold in of course), wonder if that’ll do?

Boiling Water at -40F

•January 1, 2012 • 1 Comment

Happy New Year!! After living in Fairbanks for over a year now we finally decided to throw boiling water into the air at -40F – something that seems to be mandatory to do if you live in Northern Latitudes. Here are the results.. ;).

For an explanation of why water evaporates at such cold temperatures check out this posting.

And here is the bloopers reel…

Water Evaporation Bloopers

Fishhead Adventures

•October 5, 2011 • 2 Comments

Warning: This post contains gory images of fish corpses.

And here’s the first one –

There's a fish in my kitchen sink!

Everyone (except for vegetarians, vegans and myself) fishes in Fairbanks. And who can blame them, we do have the world famous Copper River Salmon in their natural element, aka the Copper River, up here, a mere 6 hour drive from Fairbanks.

Since I did not in fact have the gumption/heart/mindset to club the fish over the head myself, this following story is hearsay.  On a rainy Friday night 3 brave boys set out on a smelly, muddy, exhausting trip to Chitna to dipnet in the Copper River. First stop was to acquire fishing permits, for a mere $20, the limit for Salmon up here is 30 per household. Imagine 30 15lbs salmon…that’s a lot of fish. Needless to say most people have freezer trunks outside – which incidentally don’t even need to be plugged in for most of the year.

Back to Chitna, the boys spent one sleepless night, 12 hours of driving and 8 hours of sticking a giant net into the river in the hopes a salmon would jump straight into the net and then gutting and hiking the fish back to the car.  As the river is rather wild, you can’t drive straight up to it, so you have to park and then hike to the river and tie yourself off while dipnetting so you don’t fall into the river.

In any case, let’s speed forward to the part I was involved in… the boys returned with roughly 10 salmon between them and after a sleep and several hot showers the butchering could begin!

Can I just say that 10 fish, their blood, juices, fins, skin and flesh bits and other random things that sprayed from them equal a very messy kitchen! While the boys knifed, filet, skinned and vacuum sealed the girls fluttered about with their cameras shrieking at the all the appropriate places and tried their hand at lighting the BBQ to produce a decadent meal of freshly caught Alaskan salmon. The pictures below speak for themselves..

Last but not least there remained 10 fishheads, sad and lonely and without purpose. But alas, quick on my feet, I thought of a fabulous purpose for them: the star attraction in a legendary fishhead drop! From the second story window – with a countdown – splat to the porch.

Canning: You want me to do what?!

•August 4, 2011 • 2 Comments

The fine art of American-style canning has clearly been around for many years, yet somehow in the 15 years (yikes!) that I have now lived in the US this concept and knowledge thereof has completely eluded me.  Mind you it’s been 15 years on and off that I’ve lived here, so maybe that’s my excuse.

In the past, when someone would mention canning I would conjure up this picture in my mind of a regular tin can and someone at home with a welder, welding the tin can shut after stuffing food into it.  While at the time this seemed a bit extravagant to me – just to preserve some food – I would just scratch my head at these crazy Americans with the certain knowledge that surely I would never attempt such a thing myself…

Well, here I am in beautiful, sunny Fairbanks with 5 gallons of wild, freshly picked blueberries and cranberries doing the math that keeping these guys frozen would only work if we didn’t need to put anything else in our freezer – ever again (or at least until it is -20F outside, then we just keep the contents of our freezer voila).

The puzzling word “canning” has come up in conversation way more up here then it ever did while I was living the urban lifestyle in DC – it seems people can everything here in summer (while stuff is available and fresh); moose, salmon, cabbage, zucchini, berries, apples..essentially anything that will fit into a “can” will sooner or later end up in one.

So I finally asked the ever important question: Where do you guys get the welder from??

Once it was all explained to me, I first had a good laugh that lasted a full 5 minutes… First of all, why call it canning if in fact it is glass jars NOT cans (and confuse the heck out of people such as myself)? And then boiling jars with food in them seems a bit..I dunno…icky?  Then you have double boiled food on your hands which reminds me a bit of old people’s home fare … And not only that but all the special equipment for all of this costs upward from $50 (a bit steep for a student stipend).

Growing up I know that I witnessed (from a safe distance of course lest I be recruited to be domestic) my German grandmother and mom make jams and jellies and none of it ever involved cans (welded or otherwise), special pricey kitchen equipment, or boiling food in jars. The German and Swiss way to preserve food is to cook the food, stick it in jars, turn the jars upside down, let sit on its lid for a few days (this creates the seal), store in dark cellar and give to relatives as Easter gifts. Ta-da!

But alas, I live in America now, so I shall attempt to can blueberry jam (possibly followed by cranberry-ginger chutney, depending on how the blueberry guys turn out). I have successfully acquired a pressure cooker, though not at all sure at this point about pressure-cooking my blueberry jam jars (she says while suspiciously eyeing the pressure cooker sitting on her table) and special glass jar tong thingies. All I need now is a glass, nay a bottle, of wine “und los geht’s.” (German translation: and let’s begin).

For kicks and giggles here’s my recipe – thought you may want to read it for comedic value but also this potential catastrophe didn’t turn out half bad after all:

Gluten-free (duh), Sugar-free, Spiced Blueberry Jam

4ish cups of blueberries

1/3cup + another “schwupps” (German for a splash) Blue Agave Nectar

juice from 1 lemon

handful of cloves

powdered ginger (to taste)

3 tbsp low-sugar pectin


1. Boil your glass jars for cleanliness.

2. Stick blueberries, agave, lemon juice, cloves, ginger and a schwupps of butter in a pot. Awkwardly mash blueberries somehow for a while (I used a spatula).

3. Continue mashing blueberries while bringing the mixture to a boil, once it’s boiling slowly stir in the pectin. Continue boiling blueberry mixture while boiling your glass jars. Stop all the boiling when you suspect your jars to be quite clean.

4. Take jars out, place on a towel. Use special canning tongs for this if you have them. While jars are still hot, fill them up with the blueberry jam leaving 1/4 inch space on top.

5. When the jar water has stopped boiling but isn’t cold yet, stick lids in for a few seconds. This helps soften the plastic to create a better seal, or so I’ve been told. Put lids on jars, after wiping the edge of the jars – for cleanliness and sealing purposes. I am noticing that almost everything with canning either has to do with cleanliness or sealing stuff.

6. Stick closed jam jars back into boiling water, covered with 1-2 inches of water above the lid. Boil the whole thing for another 10 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Take out jars, place on counter and wait for popping noises to know that the jars have officially been sealed. Do not open jars again until you are ready to eat the whole thing, even if you forgot something inside (like to take off the blueberry stems or to pick out the stray spider you know was in your blueberry bucket).

7. Not entirely sure actually what this step is. I don’t think you need to store these guys in the fridge, but it might be a good idea to store them in a cellar or similar dark, spooky place. Oh at some point I was also supposed to remove air bubbles from the jars – but that didn’t happen, there was too much else going on at that time to fuss with air bubbles…

Time to do a happy-dance because no one seemed to have been harmed in the making…

PS: I didn’t end up using the pressure part of the pressure honestly scares me a bit, all that pressure. Instead I used it for what it is; a large pot and just used it open-lidded to boil water. Ha!


•July 28, 2011 • 4 Comments

Back in Fairbanks after 6 weeks of traveling around the lower 48 and a fabulous family vacation in Tuscany. I was also honored to be in one of my best friends’ wedding in a redwood forest in California. Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures at the wedding, but instead am posting pictures of Alaska in the summertime!  Though I missed the 23 hours of sunlight on solstice I’m excited to still have 1-1.5 months of summer left, this means; hiking, kayaking, berry picking, fishing (if we ever get our butts in gear), collecting wildflowers, chicken coop building, music festivals and state fairs. Hoorah! (Oh and of course focused work on my PhD research..)

Summit Lake with a view of a glacier (the white slide-type thing in the mountains)

Braided river along the Richardson Highway - supposedly there is a wild Bison herd that migrates along the river.

Wild Porcupine! These guys were all over our tent site. Needless to say, they are now my new favorite animal!

No caption needed. 😉

First round of wild Alaskan blueberries - about 45 min of picking got us this bounty. People collect 5 gallon buckets of berries during the summer here.

Beautiful clear mountain lake off the Denali Highway

Alaskan wildflowers - fireweed as tall as I am growing around our back steps.

The chickens have been growing over summer too - look at little Olive's fro!