Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Urban Chicken ordinance updates

Good news for the folks in Missoula, Montana (see my previous funny video post)! The New West reports:
Missoula City Council’s Public Safety and Health committee Wednesday morning approved the urban chicken ordinance, including an amendment to require annual $15 permits, sending the contentious proposal to the Council floor for a final vote Monday evening.
Interesting to note that one of the councilman tried to add an amendment requiring perspective urban chicken farmers to get permission from all their neighbors before getting their chickens in order to "keep good neighbors." His motion failed.

So, things look promising that urban chickens will soon be legal in Missoula!

Wish the news in Chicago were as rosy. The Council votes tonight on whether to ban chickens in city limits, and the AP is reporting that the prospects don't look good, as the critics with their claims that chickens are "noisy, draw rodents and spread disease" misinformation seem to be overwhelming the egg lovers. Keeping my fingers crossed, but not holding my breath. (Stay tuned!)
UPDATE: The AP reports that the Chicago City Council has held off on their vote and sent the chicken ban back to committee. Per the Sun Times: "The delay might have something to do with Mayor Daley, who sounds as if he's against the chicken ban. 'Let's be realistic. A lot of ethnic people do keep chickens. If you grew up in Chicago, you know that,' he said."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

it's a dirty job sexing chicks

Via the marvels of Malaysian TV, I was able to catch an episode of Dirty Jobs where Mike Rowe visited the McMurray Hatchery to learn how to sex chicks. I just can't get away from chickens, no matter how far I travel.

Interesting techniques they employee to sex the chicks: by checking the feathers at the tips of their wings or by the "squirt and invert" method (you'll have to watch to see what I mean).

Thanks to a little internet magic, I can share the Dirty Jobs episode with you right here and save you all the travel and jet lag of happening upon it yourself:

Back in 2005 when the episode first aired, McMurray Hatchery was churning out 80,000 chicks a week. I wonder what they're up to now?

Oh, and if the above embedded video doesn't work for you, try this link.

Monday, December 10, 2007

don't ask, don't tell: chooks in Duluth, Minn

The Duluth News Tribune has a nice story today of the underground urban chicken movement in Duluth, Minnesota, trying to get legitimate.

There’s a small group in the city — a handful to a dozen, depending on the rumors — who live in fear of having their secret revealed. They will discuss their secret only with other secret-keepers, the only ones who can be trusted, because they know what could happen if it becomes public.

According to the Duluth city charter, it's illegal to raise chickens in any Duluth residential zone. And that's what the chicken fans are trying to change.

There's a poll attached to the story asking "Should chickens be allowed within Duluth city limits?" and as of this writing, the vote is 122 for and 32 against. (Feel free to vote in it yourself!)

There's also a (as of now short) discussion forum for registered users to chime in with their views, and it seems as though the usual "no cock-a-doodle-doo near me!" and "they smell and their feed will attract rats!" dissenting views have been duly posted. For the most part, however, it seems the more rational pro-poultry heads are prevailing.

As I think to how much noise Sophia and ZsuZsu make (which isn't much, to be honest), I don't know how successful we'd be at hiding our chicken farming ways if it was illegal here in Redwood City. Maybe with enough fresh "hush eggs" we could keep our neighbors from ratting us out.

However, outside the occasional loud squawking, I don't really see how our birds are impacting those around us except in beneficial ways. The only folks who seem hesitant about chickens in a backyard are those few friends of mine who grew up on a farm where there were LOTS of chickens (and roosters) with the attendant smells and sounds and unpleasantness.

With just a handful of chooks, the sights and smells and sounds are easily maintained.

Seems to me the fears around urban chicken farming are more imagined than real.

Here's hoping the Duluth residents can push through the irrational resistance so as to own their chickens in the open.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

our third 50 pound bag of feed

Just recording the fact I bought our third fifty pound bag of feed this week. We'll likely need to break it open this weekend.

This means they're consuming about seven pounds of food per week (at 24 cents per pound in bulk) to generate a dozen eggs. That's $1.68 a dozen... still an unbeatable price for yard-fresh eggs!

Early nightfall = no see chooks

With the time change and nightfall coming before I make it home from work each day, I don't get any quality time with the chickens during the week anymore.

Used to be I'd come home from work, grab a drink and go relax in the backyard as the girls free-ranged around me.

Now that it's dark when I get home, I don't venture out in the backyard after work, so the only time I see them is on the weekends when I'm cleaning the coop.

I feel bad because it means Left Coast Mom is blessed with day-to-day duties on the egg collecting and compost heaping of poop, which was by no means my design last Spring when we got them. But that's where we're at.

The good news is: we're stil getting a full complement of a dozen eggs a week, and the girls show no sign of molting. In fact, they're looking more and more mature every time I see them now: wattles and crown are in full display, and they carry themselves around the yard like they own the place.

Unfortunately, I won't see the girls this weekend, as I'm off to Kuala Lumpur on a business trip tomorrow night to retun eight days later.

By my calculations, that'll be at least 14 eggs from now. Look forward to seeing them in the fridge when I return.

If I find anything chook-y in KL on my trip, rest assured I'll blog about it. See you when I return!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Urban Chickens to be legal in Durham, NC?

The Independent Weekly is at it again, this time reporting on the groundswell of support in Durham, NC to relax the codes so as to allow backyard flocks.

As of press time, more than 400 signatures have been collected to submit to the Durham City Council. Kavanah Ramsier, the petition organizer, is aiming for 1000 signatures to get the agenda item of backyard flocks put on the city planning commission's agenda.
Ramsier says the petition was an outgrowth of her work as coordinator for the Durham Inner-City Gardeners (DIG) program, which teaches leadership and life skills to Durham high schoolers through organic gardening. DIG is part of the South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces (SEEDS), a nonprofit community garden and educational organization. Although the petition drive is independent, Ramsier says the idea sprouted in the garden.

"So many people have come to our garden and mentioned that they used to have chickens, they'd like chickens or they have chickens despite the prohibition," Ramsier says.

It seems in Durham, as elsewhere, there's the stereotype that flocks smell bad and that's why they should be kept out of an urban setting. I agree with Ramsier's assertion that a small coop, if kept clean, doesn't smell bad at all. And, given how easy it is to clean an Eglu, there's no excuse NOT to have a tidy coop.

In fact, come to think of it, some of Argus's "backyard logs" have reeked more than our coop ever has. And there's a certain dog house around the corner that I swear has never been cleaned up after, given the odor that lingers day in and day out.

Here's hoping Ramsier's successful in Durham in conjunction with the effort in Chapel Hill.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fowl on the Amazing Race: no chicken, no check in!

We finally got around to watching episode four of the Amazing Race 12 last night (thanks to the power of the DVR) and I was pleasantly surprised to see chickens with a starring role in this episode of the Race.

For those of you not following along this season's race around the world, the teams are currently in Burkina Faso competing to win this leg of the race. One of their challenges was to accept a gift from Dakissaga, the tribal chief of the village they started from.

His gift? A live chicken (and a scrawny one at that). The string attached to the gift? The teams had to carry the chicken with them in a loose-mesh woven bag throughout the challenges all the way to the check in at the end of the leg of the race. No chicken? no check in! (clever phrasing!)

So, the chickens were with the teams throughout the race.

Yes, it was amusing to watch the teams try to catch the chickens in the pen to put them in their bags. Only a couple teams did the "grab with two hands holding the wings in" approach whereas others tried to catch the chickens as if the mesh bag were a net and the chicken were a butterfly. But that was as starring a role as the chickens would play.

No one lost their chicken during any of the challenges (at least not that the editors let us see). By the end of the race, however, I was feeling bad for the chooks all cramped up in the bags being treated as so much extra baggage. Made me want to give Sophia and ZsuZsu extra grapes out of sympathy.

So, glad to see even more exposure for chooks on the tube, but hope they're not used as game pieces anywhere else again (the goats seemed to have it even worse in their role supporting the race).

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

more Urban Chickens in the news

Found a great article in the Independent Weekly talking about urban chickens in the Chapel Hill, NC, area.

About half-way through the article was this interesting tidbit about the benefits of backyard eggs:

Recent research published by Mother Earth News, a magazine dedicated to self-reliant and healthy living, found that eggs from chickens allowed to forage naturally have, on average, seven times more beta carotene (which is what makes pastured egg yolks so orange), three times more vitamin E, two times more omega-3 fatty acids and two-thirds more vitamin A than their factory farm cousins. Pastured eggs also have one-third less cholesterol and one-quarter less saturated fat, on

So, in addition to tasting so good, they actually ARE good for you. hooray!

One nit to pick in the story, there's a picture of fresh eggs about 2/3rds the way down the page, and wow, does it look staged, dontcha agree?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Urban Chicken challenges in Missoula

Thanks to the folks at boingboing, I found this story about controversy in Missoula over urban chickens.

Be sure to follow the link to see the video... hilarious presentation of the pro-chicken side of the argument.

The urban chicken ordinance, which stalled in City Council after a tie vote late this summer, would allow Missoula city residents the provisional right to raise up to six hens (no roosters) within the city limits.

Opponents of the ordinance have repeatedly pointed to health, noise and regulatory concerns, while supporters emphasize the importance of sustainability, self-sufficiency, and locally-sourced food. Until the new City Council takes over in January, Don Nicholson, current chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee, will decide when to bring the ordinance to the floor for a new vote.

Thanks to the folks at boingboing for pointing this issue out. Can't wait to see all hell break loose here in Redwood City as the opponents assert is bound to happen since I'm one of "them chicken folk" and my neighbors are not.

I've really got to spiff up my video techniques!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Urban Chickens now on Facebook

The page is just a start, but now you can become a fan of Urban Chickens on Facebook!

Simply visit our Urban Chickens page and click the "become a fan" link.

Let's see just how many urban chicken farmers there are on Facebook.

Fingers crossed for the Woody Creek Chicks

Since the changes to our own chickens have slowed (as evidenced by the decreased posting here), I've been following with interest the posts over at the Woody Creek Chicks blog.

The chef/blogger over there has been raising her own three chickens in an Eglu, and she's gone a step further in trying to hatch her own chicks this Fall. The tricky part? She's at altitude in Aspen, Colorado.

Having lived in New Mexico for a decade at high altitude myself, I know the effects first hand. All the tales of blue babies (lack of oxygen at 7000 feet) at the hospital are unconfirmed but plausible, and I'd imagine the same condition applies to chicks, too.

The incubation was to last 21 days, but that day has come and gone and the worry has understandably set in. Kinda like waiting for the first egg from our own chickens, but without the mortal consequences.

I'm hoping her next post has good news today. In the meantime, hop over and post your well-wishes and take a look at how pretty her Barred Rocks are (even though they're stuck in a pink Eglu)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

chicken farmers everywhere!

Just got back from a business trip to New York City, and I was quite surprised to find out that two folks I've known for several years grew up in households that raised chickens.

These were friends I haven't seen in a year or so, and when they asked what I've been up to, I of course talked about Sophia and ZsuZsu and this Urban Chickens blog.

Our conversations immediately went back to their childhoods and their experiences growing up with chickens in the backyard and how delightful it is to eat fresh eggs all the time.

Is this a  phenomenon where the vast majority of us have chicken farming in our background but no context in which it can come up in regular conversation?

I'm almost tempted to start a Chicken Farmers group on FaceBook just to see how many chickens are in my social graph.

If and when I create the group (maybe over Thanksgiving?), I'll post the link here.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, November 5, 2007

fifty pounds of chicken feed... gone!

It seems like just yesterday I was worrying about how to properly feed our chooks.

Checking my receipts, I see I bought our first fifty-pound bag of Layena crumbles Labor Day weekend.

Here we are just two months later and we've dusted the first bag and I just spent $11.99 to buy another fifty pounds of chicken feed.

Quick mid-blog-post math shows we spent $12 on feed and another $3 for the nesting material (aspen shavings) and we're up to $15.00 for the first 100 eggs. That's 15 cents an egg or $1.80 a dozen.

Having our own hens producing in the backyard sure beats the heck out of paying $3.00+ a dozen for industry-produced organic brown eggs down the road at Whole Foods.

And besides, when was the last time you saw a produce stocker chasing grapes?

Monday, October 29, 2007

an update on our eggs (getting bigger!)

today's eggs and first eggs I've yet to do anything with the first eggs that Sophia and ZsuZsu laid around seven weeks ago (except keep them well refrigerated). So, whenever we put the newly harvested eggs in the egg carton, it's easy to see just how much bigger the eggs are getting from being their cute little selves like the ones that first dropped into the Eglu nest. Here's a picture comparing first eggs (on the right) with today's eggs (on the left). ZsuZsu's are in the top row, Sophia's are in the bottom row. While the first eggs were toy-like in size (maybe a USDA-rated "small" at best?) you can see the most recent eggs are worthy of being rated "large" in size, perfect for cooking with.

Since the egg shell has the same mass whether the egg is small or large, the shells have gotten thinner and therefore easier to crack open when cooking. While I can still easily crack open industry-produced eggs with one hand and not break the yolk while doing so, I can't quite claim the same success with our backyard eggs. Even thought the shell is thinner, the liner inside the shell is still pretty tough and prevents easy access to the insides. It must be the liner that becomes more brittle over time as the eggs sit on the shelf.

Since the egg liner is thick on our home-grown eggs, it makes for difficult openings, and it means I crack the egg multiple times before getting through the fractured shell and liner and at the insides. So, I've been picking more shell out of my mixing bowls when cooking with our backyard eggs than I can ever remember having to pick out of my cooking since I first learned to bake back in eighth grade. And, given how thick the albumen is in our backyard eggs, it takes some extra oomph to mix the yolk and whites sufficiently. But for all the difficulties, the taste and convenience is more than worth it.

Even though it's now a daily habit this harvesting of eggs, I still can't believe they come from our own backyard.

Oh, and I'd better blow out the "first eggs" soon before they go bad, huh?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

we've survived six months of chicken farming!

We did it! We made it through six months of urban chicken farming! The girls turned six months old last week, and Monday marks their sixth month with us in Redwood City.

Now, if I could just remember where the time went... it seems like only yesterday I started this blog by warning we had peeps incoming (Apr 26), then posting the news of our jumping into chicken farming with both feet by bringing two barred rock chicks home to live in a temporary brooder made out of a 10-gallon aquarium in our home. (Apr 30)

Within a week, our chicks were named (May 5) by our oldest daughter, and we've called them Sophia and ZsuZsu ever since. Then, we watched these little fluffballs grow bigger and bigger by the day (and tried to share it in our Flickr set as much as possible) and soon they'd outgrown the aquarium and we had to move them into a wire cage as we waited for our Eglu (May 26) to arrive.

new home for the chooksSix weeks into our chicken farming experience, the Eglu arrived (Jun 5) and the girls started sleeping outdoors and enjoying being the outside birds they've become. The folks over at Omlet, the maker of the Eglu, seemed to enjoy following our story, and we've had a nice link to this blog on their site ever since.

Thanks to the wisdom of the chicken farmer crowd, I've gotten great advice on issues ranging from "how do I tell if I've got a cockerel?" to "what to feed the chooks at time-of-lay" to "when's our first egg coming?"

three eggs in a bowlFinally, a little magic hit the hen house right about the time Nora at Spark interviewed us about chicken farming with our Eglu on the debut of the Spark radio show.We hadn't had eggs at the time of the interview, but the Saturday the episode aired, Sophia laid her first egg! Of course, this meant a follow up on the third episode of Spark, and added enough pressure on ZsuZsu that she finally had her first egg less than two weeks later. Since then, we've had double egg days more often than not, and we haven't gone a day without fresh eggs in the nest for over six weeks now.

So, what's it like at the six month mark? Still delightful to look out in the backyard and see the girls pacing their run first thing in the morning. Tranquil to come home after work, grab a drink and go out back to watch the girls free range in the backyard eating bugs and weeds. And scrumptious to have fresh eggs to eat every day of the week.

what's that in front of your face?What do I look forward to in the next six months? Seeing how the chickens do over the (mild) winter here in the Bay Area and whether they stop laying at all in the cooler months ahead. Using the chicken-dropping rich compost in our garden next Spring. Resisting the urge to add yet another chicken to the flock when I hear the peeps of chicks at the feed store.

Stay tuned to read along. It's been great having you here so far!

Monday, October 22, 2007

gathering an egg after dark

Last night, after sunset, as I was settling into my own dinner, I suddenly remembered we'd only gathered one egg from the nest during the day. That meant one egg was still in the nesting box and about to be slept on by both chickens and likely knocked out of the nest or worse.

I don't want to risk the girls' smashing their own egg and developing a taste for the yolk, so I grabbed the flashlight and quietly walked out to the Eglu.

As I approached the coop, I turned off the light and crept up to the nest-box door. I could hear the girls inside making coo-ing sounds which signaled to me they were either already asleep or close to it. Before turning the handle on the door, I reviewed my game plan: open the door, turn on the flashlight, the startled hens stand up, I grab the egg from under them and then shut the door tight.

Things didn't quite go according to plan. Turns out my chickens are a lot harder to startle than I thought they'd be.

I opened the door and turned the flashlight on, pointing it straight at the nesting box, to see two chickens, eyes wide open, frozen in place. Sophia had won the battle of "who gets to sleep in the nesting box tonight" so she was closest to the door, frozen in place. ZsuZsu was like a statue on the roosting bars close by. Not a peep of sound out of either of them, just the blinking of eyes trying to figure out how in the heck that bright light got inside the coop.

Perhaps a little coaching would help? My plea of "C'mon girls, move aside!" only persuaded them to settle into their roosting stances even more than before.

Time to use mechanical intervention. I pushed my hand underneath Sophia to feel around the (freshly changed) nest for the egg. Groping blindly, I just hoped there wouldn't be anything squishy at my fingertips. Let's see, chicken foot, chicken ankle, clump of aspen shavings, EGG!

I slipped the egg out from under Sophia and before she could even register a complaint, the nesting box door was back in place and the light was off again. As I walked back to the house (and dinner!), I could hear the girls rustling around a bit as they got resettled for the night. They clucked at each other as if to discuss whether that recent invasion had really happened or was just a dream.

And as I grabbed the door knob to open the back door of the house, it finally came to me: ZsuZsu's actually sleeping on the roosting bars and not in the nest! Small victories all around.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

raccoon in the neighborhood

I'd so preferred my (misguided) thinking that we were in a raccoon-free neighborhood given our position up on a hill. I now know better.

Left Coast Mom was out and about last night on a ladies night out and I figured she was gone until at least 10 or 11pm. Much to my surprise, she came running into the house and announced, breathlessly, "there's a raccoon up the street. I gotta put the chickens away!"

I understood, implicitly that by "putting away" she meant "close the Eglu door" so we had a brief should-we-shouldn't-we discussion before she dashed out the back door to go shut the girls in for the night.

Once she'd come back inside, I learned that LCM was driving up our street when she saw something lumbering along the sidewalk and first thought "what an enormous cat!" until the "cat" turned to look at her and she caught the black mask in her headlights. Then, maternal instincts kicking in, she dashed home to secure the girls in place.

So we've got a coon in the 'hood. Guess I'd better re-evaluate our open-door policy again, knowing the predator's nearby. I wonder if the Eglu run is strong enough to keep the coons out? I wonder how I test it without jeopardizing our girls' lives?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chicken Farming Then and Now

It's another cloudy morning here in the Bay Area, made a little brighter by thanks to yard-fresh eggs with my pancakes this morning.

The girls produced an even dozen eggs this week, and the eggs themselves are getting bigger with each week's passing. If I had to guess, I'd say they're laying eggs sized somewhere between "small" and "medium." This increase in size coincides with the growth of their wattles and combs. Not full grown, but definitely more pronounced than ever. I have to wait for the sun to come out today before taking pictures of Sophia and ZsuZsu, but I plan to post new pictures before midnight.

In the meantime, I discovered a cool online exhibit by The Food Museum called Chicken Farming Then and Now.

The TFM's online exhibit is the source of this picture of Joel M Foster (seen to the right), the founder of The Million Egg Farm, as Rancocas Poultry Farm was known. From the site, "Foster was a pioneer promoter of humane and environmentally responsible mass production of eggs and birds. Besides writing a how-to book on the subject (1910), he developed and marketed a line of products that included industrial incubators, sanitizers and feeders."

The TFM exhibit includes lots more chicken-industry photos from the beginning of the last century, and it's a good reminder of where things have come from, especially as I gaze across the yard at our futuristic-looking Eglu with our own urban chickens inside.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

video blog capturing chicks growing up

Found this video blog belonging to today, and it's great to see the video capture of their four chicks at one-week intervals (they're up to week four so far).

No commentary on the blog, just video observation of the chicks in action.

From the looks of it, I think are at least three barred rocks, but the spot pattern doesn't seem familiar to me.

Go ahead and take a gander at the videos and come back here to post what kind of chicken breed you think they are.

to roost or to nest? eggs still coming

Since arriving home from Berlin this weekend, I've been surprised to discover that getting eggs from the girls is no longer novel. There's a new egg (or two) in the nest each day, and we've got to dutifully harvest them each day so as to coax another.

Based on the dropping pattern inside the Eglu, I'd thought the girls had finally started using the roosting bars in the Eglu instead of huddling in the nest to sleep. I was wrong. On Tuesday night I got home from work/errands after sunset and had to harvest the eggs in the dark, and when I opened the nesting box access panel, I found both girls huddled together in the nest in a big pile of feathers.

I picked each of them up to place them on the roost (and gather the single egg that ZsuZsu had laid some time that day) but I don't think they roosted very long. Once the panel was back in place, I heard the tell-tale sounds of the girls scrambling to get the "prime spot" in the nest.

I'm not going to worry to much about their choice of places to sleep. At least until it starts to affect egg production. For now, I'm just loving the fresh eggs at breakfast!

Oh, and there were absolutely no live chicken sightings in Germany (lots of yummy chicken dishes, tho). Unless you want to count the critical role that chickens played in the movie Mr. Bean's Holiday seen on the plane ride back.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Houdini's Chickens

It's a little known fact* that, for relaxation between performances and travel, Harry Houdini kept a flock of chickens at his home in New York. These were not your ordinary chickens. Gifted with an intellect to rival that of a Jack Russell terrier, they carefully observed Mr Houdini's practice sessions which, fortunately, were held in the back yard. Through this careful observation, the chickens were able to learn and, eventually, master his tricks. Of course, in accordance with Mr Houdini's early practice, they kept his secrets, passing them only to succeeding generations.

It was believed that the last of "Houdini's Chickens," as they came to be called, had died out sometime in the 1940s. Today, however, it has been proved that this line of exceptional chickens still clucks it's way across the country. Well, the West Coast, anyway.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce ZsuZsu Houdini.

I glanced out the window today and noticed that one of the chickens appeared to be next to rather than in the run. It was hard to tell from that distance, so I kept peering at the Eglu, sure that the chickens could NOT be roaming the yard, sans supervision. Alas ZsuZsu was.

Running through the house and down the yard, I arrived just in time to see ZsuZsu industriously filling in the hole she had dug to make her escape. It was a small hole, one Sophia never would have fit through. But either ZsuZsu was taking no chances, or she was following instinct, protecting the secret of Houdini's Chickens by hiding the escape route.

Safely back in her nest, ZsuZsu is now punishing me in the only way she can (short of pooping on me again): she's withholding eggs.

* Possibly bc I just made it up ;)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Surprise! same breed, different eggs

Eggs from two different chickens Just before I left for the airport, I heard Sophia squawking in the coop, and when I went to investigate, sure enough she'd just laid an egg!

A going away present? (no, just nice timing)

After placing the egg in the carton, I snapped this picture (to the right) that illustrates just how different-looking the eggs are, even though they're all from the same age (23 weeks) and breed (Barred Plymouth Rock) chicken.

Sophia's eggs are the darker, thinner ones in the top row. ZsuZsu's are the lighter, rounder ones in the bottom row. The egg on the left-most slot in each row is actually the first egg each of them laid for us (I still haven't gotten around to blowing them, yet).

Mind you, these aren't all the eggs they've given us, as we've eaten all but what's in the picture.

We'll keep track of how the eggs change over time, whether it's getting bigger or changing shape and/or color. For now, I'm just amazed that it's so easy to tell which egg came from which chicken!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

flooded with eggs while I'm gone

Wow, who'd have thought I'd come home to find out our girls have been each laying an egg a day for the last four days? I'm so proud of Sophia and ZsuZsu!

I took a break from chicken farming to go away three days to climb Mt Whitney (writeup on my other blog coming soon, pictures posted on Flickr already).

Left Coast Mom hase been kind enough to keep tending the chickens and collecting eggs while I was gone, and she's going to do more of the same over the next week as I'm away on business to Berlin.

If I see any urban chickens in Berlin, you can bet I'll be blogging about them!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

our first double egg day!

Great news on the egg-laying front: we've had our first two-egg day!

Left Coast Mom called me at work to share the good news that she'd opened the Eglu to discover two eggs in the nesting box: one in the middle of the box, the other tucked up against the side of the box.

So, unless Sophia is the world's first double-barrel Barred Rock, it'd seem we've got ourselves two young hens (one of whom likes to crow).

I thought, given our girls are the same breed, that it'd be difficult to tell who was laying which egg, but now that we've gotten at least three eggs from each of them, it's easy to see that ZsuZsu's eggs are all a shade of brown that's lighter than Sophia's brown. I've tried taking pics to illustrate the difference, but the light's not right (yet).

Suffice it to say, I'm glad to finally know for sure we've got ourselves two hens.

Oh, and a belated congrats to the folks at Omlet for the Eglu's writeup in Wilsonart's The Statement newsletter for professional designers. Glad to see others are appreciating the Eglu as much as we are.

Given the interest I'm seeing in urban chickens, I'm contemplating starting up a Meetup here in the Bay Area for fellow chicken farmers just so we can meet face-to-face to swap tales from the coop.

Monday, September 24, 2007

chicken egg trivia

I've been biding my time waiting for ZsuZsu to "crow" again by learning more about the eggs our girls are producing now with some regularity.

Over on the American Egg Board web site, they have a great Egg Facts page which helped me to learn that our girls are producing real "free-range" eggs:
Free-Range Eggs
True free-range eggs are those produced by hens raised outdoors or that have daily access to the outdoors. Due to seasonal conditions, however, few hens are actually raised outdoors. Some egg farms are indoor floor operations and these are sometimes erroneously referred to as free-range operations. Due to higher production costs and lower volume per farm, free-range eggs are generally more expensive. The nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations.
There's also this great illustration showing the various parts of an egg and what each of them do:

Now, compare the illustration above with the real thing in the pan to the right (rotated 90 degrees), and you can see both the thick and thin albumens (whites) and the chalazae on both sides of the yolk.

What's most remarkable to me still is just how prominent the thick albumen is on these eggs. When making pancakes yesterday morning, I cracked open a couple Large Grade A eggs bought at the local Whole Foods, and there was no difference in consistency in the white... it was all the same thin albumen.

The last little bit of egg trivia helps explain why our girls' small eggs are so tough to crack:
As the hen ages, egg size increases. The same amount of shell material which covers a smaller egg must be "stretched" to cover a larger one, hence the shell is thinner.
Enough trivia for the night... now back to figuring out why ZsuZsu made that weird sound.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

odd sounds from the coop: can hens crow?

This morning started like any other... the sky had just started getting light when I woke up the first time. I could here the girls out in their coop making their usual morning clucking sounds as they stretched their legs while pacing their run. Content that all was okay with the world, I drifted back asleep again for what must have been a half hour or so before being woken up by what I can only describe as a distressed squawk from one of the girls.

"Ah HA!" I thought, "this must be the sound they make just after laying an egg." As I lay in bed thinking what I'd do with this fresh egg, there was another squawk, followed shortly by a third, sounding more distressed than the first.

I jumped out of bed and ran to the window to see what was going on. I could see one chicken in the run (ZsuZsu?), and I could make out the shape of another inside the Eglu (Sophia?), so why the alarm?

Then I saw ZsuZsu stand on tippy toe (or whatever the chicken equivalent is), extend her neck toward the sky and belt out a horrendous (kwaaaaaaaah!) as she extended her head out and back.

What the heck?

Then she did it again so I was sure I hadn't imagined the first one before settling down and starting to pace the run again. Sophia emerged from the Eglu and joined her pacing the perimeter and I decided it was time to go investigate.

There was nothing wrong inside or outside the Eglu or run, and no egg in the nesting box, so what had I just seen?

Could it be this wonderful run of eggs (three days with, three days without, then another eight days with) has been thanks to just one hen while I've had a rooster in the coop with her?

Has all my confidence we've got two hens been misplaced? And all this time I'd feared Sophia was the cockerel when instead she was indeed the pullet? Oh the horrors.

Now, what ZsuZsu did this morning sounded in no way like a prototypical cock-a-doodle-do, but maybe she's working her way to a multisyllabic crow, starting with the initial kaaa?

So maybe I've just seen my hen crow? While ZsuZsu and Sophia aren't the same body type, they're close enough that I think ZsuZsu's just a little lighter because Sophia's the dominant one and therefore eats more.

Digging around the web via Google led me to this spirited discussion from 2005 on iVillage GardenWeb debating do dominant hens crow? And it would seem they couldn't agree. I'm heartened by seeing so many folks attesting to their dominant hens crowing, but I'm discouraged by just as many others asserting that hens never crow, ever.

Any other backyard chicken farmers out there experienced your hens making a crowing type sound? Linda? Laura? Granny Annie? Brad?

In the meantime, I'll keep hoping for a double-egg day to further allay my fears there's a rooster in my hen house.

Friday, September 21, 2007

two egg-layers in production

I'm happy to confirm both chooks are now laying eggs! (whew, no roosters)

And we had Twinga over for breakfast this morning to share in our egg bounty. Two eggs each for the three of us: Twinga's were sunny-side up, mine were over-easy and Left Coast Mom's were scrambled (just like she likes them). I'm still amazed that these eggs are coming from our own chickens, and I wonder how long it'll be before the novelty wears off.

Thinking back over the anatomical changes that ZsuZsu's gone through in the last ten days, I realize I need to take some pictures to show just how mature the girls are looking now.

While they're producing perfectly shaped (but small) eggs, they're starting to look like full-grown hens.

And to think it was just five months ago that I could hold them each in the palm of my hand with room to spare.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

was it ZsuZsu's first egg?

Discovered yet another egg in the nest yesterday evening, and given the coloring/texture of the shell, it certainly seems like a "first egg" and not a continuation of the five-day streak that Sophia was on.

Research tells me it takes 26 hours for a chicken to create and lay an egg, so we can expect eggs six of every seven days. If this is the case, there's a strong argument that yesterday's egg was Sophia's. However, if we get yet another egg today, I'll have to think they're now both producing eggs and will chalk up yesterday's gift in the nest to having come from ZsuZsu.

But then again, how's one to tell which chicken laid which egg when you don't actually witness it?

Until we start getting multiple eggs a day, I'll just have to assume that ZsuZsu's put out her first and they're taking turns. Maybe all their early morning clucking will be them bickering about whose turn it is to lay that day?

In any case, I'm just so excited to now be collecting eggs every day. Yummy egg breakfast tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New to Urban Chickens? here's a recap

Great to see all the folks coming in from hearing our update on Spark.

I've pulled together this "highlight reel" to help orient you into how we've become urban chicken farmers here in Redwood City, California, USA:


Never heard of Spark? Go give a listen to the podcast of this new Tech & Trends radio programme on CBC Radio. We're at the 16:00 mark of this week's episode, and you can see the notes around our first Spark appearance from an earlier post.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ZsuZsu's about to lay an egg?

We've now had eggs five days running, and I'm so proud of our Sophia for doing so well at laying eggs so consistently (eight eggs in eleven days).

Don't think I haven't had my eye on ZsuZsu wondering why she's not yet laying eggs. I've not been worried in a "is she really a cockerel?" kind of way like I was with Sophia. I've just been concerned that ZsuZsu is so far behind the curve when compared to Sophia.

However, I think ZsuZsu's getting ready to make her egg-laying debut in the next couple days.

With each day's passing, I've been able to notice ZsuZsu's hips getting wider and her center of gravity getting closer to the ground (a lot like Sophia's).

And while I'm not an expert at seeing the signs, I noticed this evening when I went to let the girls out to free-range a bit that ZsuZsu was a lot more submissive than she's ever been before.

Case in point: when I was opening the gate to their run to let them out, Sophia couldn't get out quick enough whereas ZsuZsu flattened herself against the ground just inside the run and thrust her tail feathers out and up ("preparing for the roo" as some have called it). After assuming the position for about five seconds, she skee-daddled on out to chase after bugs with Sophia as usual.

When it came time to put them back in the run, Sophia happily scampered after the grapes I tossed inside to lure them in while ZsuZsu got close to me again and "assumed the positon" (I was standing by the run's gate ready to shut it once they were in).

Maybe we'll get two eggs tomorrow? Wouldn't that be wonderful!

Monday, September 17, 2007

seven eggs in ten days

Just a quick update to say Sophia's broken her egg-laying pattern by delivering her seventh egg today.

Before leaving for work, I'd wondered if she was going to stick to her three days on, three days off, three days on pattern by skipping the day.

To my delight, I picked an egg out of the nesting box after work as I was adding newly purchased Layena crumble to the food bowl.

ZsuZsu's still showing no sign of being ready to lay, although her hips are starting to spread farther apart. Maybe she'll start contributing to the egg basket in the next couple weeks?

Oh, and we've lined up our first breakfast guest to enjoy our yard-fresh eggs. D's due to come over Friday morning, just a week shy of her flying back to Germany for good.

Gotta figure out the best way to showcase the taste of the eggs. Perhaps we'll just go over-medium again for full effect.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

our chickens are finicky eaters?

First off, I'm happy to report that we've just gotten yet another egg from Sophia, for the third day in a row. This means that over the last nine days she's gone three days on, three days off, three days on again. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings (egg or no) so I can see if we're indeed in a pattern here.

On the other hand, she might not be laying anything tomorrow because she doesn't seem to have eaten much over the last 24 hours. Let me explain...

I'm experimenting with what kind of food I give the girls before jumping in and getting a 50 pound bag of one particular type. I tried the Layena crumble, and the girls seemed to like it quite a bit (they wolfed it down, mixed in with the scratch). This last week, I picked up some Layena pellets and topped off their feed bowls with the pellets yesterday afternoon.

Flash forward to this afternoon, and I noticed the girls were a bit more agitated than usual. Even after I collected the egg out of the nesting box, they were still pacing and clucking like something troubled them.

I went upstairs to put the egg in the fridge and brought a fist full of grapes down to the coop for the girls to eat and that's when I noticed that the food bowls looked like they hadn't been touched in the last day.

Seems my girls don't care for the pellets. At all.

Being the concerned chicken farmer I am, I then sat down and crumbled up the pellets so they'd be more appetizing to the girls (I hope, at least).

We'll see what the food level looks like tomorrow afternoon.

I'm just glad I don't have to crumble up 50 pounds of pellets!

Friday, September 14, 2007

and on the seventh day: another egg

This week started with Sophia firing on all cylinders: three eggs in three days.

Then a day of rest. (understandable)

And another. (puzzling, but acceptable)

And another. (are we at worrisome yet?)

Then, today, we get egg number four. Hooray!

Of course, the topic of off-line conversations have all been around, "well what do you think is wrong with her?" and "is this how they work?" and have greatly exposed my newbie status in this art of backyard chicken farming.

I just don't know how this all works, but that's what's driven me to blog here, so that others can follow along as I lurch through this thick unknowingness that is raising chickens in one's backyard.

And I'm so grateful to have so many kind folks who weigh in with comments that light the way, even if it's only a brief glimpse at the path ahead. Glad to have you here in the blogosphere with me.

Now, back to worrying about when the next egg will arrive!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

rethinking our open door policy

chooks in the eglu runI remember the first evening we had our Eglu... as the sun went down, I dutifully lured the chooks inside and closed the door so they'd be safe and sound until the morning.

Bright and early the next day, I went out to the backyard and opened the door again and our chooks came tumbling out and into the run anxious to get access again to their feed and water.

I repeated this for the next couple overnights (lure them in, close the door... open the door, chooks scramble out) until we went out of town for the weekend. Instead of enlisting a chicken-sitter, I simply loaded up the food and water bowls and left the girls to their own devices. Necessarily, this meant the door stayed open morning, noon, and night. Nothing untoward happened, and I actually liked the freedom to sleep in a bit in the morning and not worry my thirsty chickens were desperately clawing to break out of their coop to get much needed water out in the run.

So, since that first week, I haven't closed the door again. In fact, it's been three months since I closed the girls in the coop at night. Given the way the folks at Omlet designed the Eglu, I haven't felt the need to put the girls away, especially given how temperate the climate is here in the Bay Area. If the design of the run is such that it's difficult (dare I say impossible?) for a predator to dig under the wire to get at the birds, why close the door between the run and the coop?

Yes, I've seen the neighborhood cat pacing around the backyard trying to figure out how to get in, but that's been during the day when they girls wouldn't be locked in the coop anyway. No raccoons near here that I know of, but would they even be able to get in?

And since Sophia seems capable of laying eggs in the nesting box without the privacy of a closed door, that reason for closing them up seems to be moot.

Now, it's gotten me to wonder, why even bother to close the door of the Eglu until things get cold this winter and the girls need the warmth of the close confines?

I know others, who have housing arrangements that do not include an Eglu have to worry about battening down the hatches at night, but why should I shut them in?

Would love to hear others' thoughts on the matter, especially those with Eglus like me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

yummy yard-fresh eggs

fresh eggs frying This morning, I cooked up our first "yard fresh eggs" (doesn't sound as good as "farm fresh" but it's technically correct).

As you can see by the photo at right, I made them over-medium just to be able to watch them cook up on their stiff whites and to get that golden ooze of a fresh yolk.

The biggest surprise in cooking them? The egg shells are so hard! Over the years, I've learned (by rote) how to open an egg with one hand, using just the right amount of force to crack the shell so I can spill out the contents. I'm going to have to re-learn the skill with these fresh eggs now.

And I gotta tell ya, it's going to be hard to eat the store-bought eggs after this morning's exercise. Sure, I'll be able to put store-bought eggs in batters and such, but eating eggs in isolation? (omelets or scrambles or over-mediums?) It'll have to be yard fresh eggs for me, thanks.

If you click on the picture of the eggs in the pan, you'll get to the rest of my Flickr stream showing Sophia's first three eggs in a bowl, and the aforementioned golden yolk ooze. YUM!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sophia lays number two

We were out most of the day yesterday, and it wasn't until just before dinner I went down to check the girls' water and food levels. Being an optimist, I just had to look in the nesting box, hoping against hope.

Despite having set diminished expectations on when we'd see our second egg out of Sophia, I was pleasantly surprised to open the Eglu's nesting box door and see another egg perched in the bedding materials!

This second egg (picture to come) is a lot smoother than egg #1, but it's the same size as the first. An informal survey of everyone I've bragged to about our first egg says we should blow out the first egg and save it for posterity's sake as a reminder of the first day of production in our nascent chicken farming history (kinda like framing the first dollar bill taken in at a new store).

I'm thinking that's a good idea.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Hannah holding Sophia's first egg As if she were waiting for the second broadcast of Spark, Sophia laid her first egg today!

We noticed the clucking of the girls was a bit different today than usual, and when we went out to let them free range this afternoon, our peek into the nesting box was rewarded with our first egg. I'm so proud of Sophia!

You can see our oldest, Hannah, in the picture to the right holding the egg in her hands, trying her hardest not to shake it up to find out what's inside (her prior experiences to finding eggs in the yard have all been at Easter time, so she likely thinks any egg found in the yard was left by the Easter Bunny and contains something chocolate-y inside.

To give a better idea of how big this first egg is in comparison to others, here's a shot of Sophia's egg (on the left) next to a store-bought USDA Grade A large egg (on the right):

first egg comparison

And how do we know it's Sophia's egg? Well, we didn't see Sophia do it, but she's definitely the more mature of the two girls, as her wattles are starting to drop, and her "hips" seem to be a bit farther apart and the vent area (between tail and legs) is a bit fuller than ZsuZsu's.

Maybe this'll inspire ZsuZsu to develop a bit faster?

Hooray! we're now in eggs!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

hello Spark listeners!

Glad to have you all here on the Urban Chickens blog! As you can see in the post below, we're still egg-less, but hopeful the day's coming soon when we'll reach into the nest and get our first egg.

I had a lot of fun talking with Nora Young (the host of Spark) about what it's like raising chickens here in Redwood City, but radio being radio, there wasn't time for everything to be shared. If folks have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments here and I'll answer them as fast as I can.

Also, be sure to check out the blogs of the other chicken farmers I know in the blog roll list to the right (scroll down a little)... I've learned a lot from reading them, and we've all got our own perspective on what it's like to raise your own chickens.

Oh, and lastly, if you're interested in getting into this yourself, do give the folks at Omlet a look-see. They've got a great design in the Eglu that's made my own entry into the world of backyard chicken farming a piece of cake. Tell them Thomas and Spark sent you!

Never heard of Spark?

Well, prepare to be surprised! The girls and I were on the radio this morning as part of the debut episode of the new CBC radio program Spark - Tech, Trends and Fresh Ideas.

Spark is broadcast weekly CBC Radio One on Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. ET and again on
Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. ET and is available via podcast, too.

To hear this week's show that Sophia, ZsuZsu and I are on:
We're just part of the lineup, so if you've only got a little time to spare and want to hear me and the girls, here's where to fast forward your mp3 player:

(on the iTunes-hosted podcast) the segment we're in starts at 19:05 and my interview (with the chickens in the background) starts at 20:20 and goes to 24:38. The girls get their clear clucking credit at 26:09.

Back to the chicken farming!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Labor Day's come and gone... still no eggs

I was so hoping I'd stroll out to the Eglu this morning and peek inside to find our first egg (see all my posts regarding the timing of the first egg here). But it wasn't to be.

Unless the chickens have figured out a way top dig a hole in the dirt, drop the egg in and cover it up and pack it back down, we've got no eggs yet.

So, my initial prognostication of eggs on Labor Day didn't come true, but I still think September's the golden month. The folks at McMurray Hatchery say chicks start laying between 5 and 7 months of age, whereas the My Pet Chicken FAQs says it's 4-5 months.

A Manitoba (Canada) government web site has this nice little PDF on Egg Size and Your Small Flock of Laying Hens with this little tidbit in it:
Lighting programs influence egg size by accelerating or delaying the age at which hens start to lay eggs. The younger a hen is when she starts egg production, the smaller her eggs will be during her first year of life. The start of egg production can be delayed by providing 10 hours or less of light each day to 19 weeks of age. Decreasing the daily hours of light at any time after 10 weeks of age will also delay the start of egg production.
We haven't done any artificial lighting with our girls, but considering the fact we've been in midsummer light for a couple months now, I don't think the light's affecting their time of lay.

I just have to be more patient with them and be happy with an egg of any size when it first comes (given the size of Sophia's vent and the width of her "hips," I think she'll be the first to lay).

Friday, August 31, 2007

on clipping chicken wings

Given how high and how far the girls can fly across the back yard, I think we're about due to clip their wings.

Having butchered my share of chicken carcasses bought at the store (the cold, featherless kind), I'd been under the impression clipping the wings was actually a rather gruesome task: taking out the wing at the last joint.

Imagine my relief when I found out "clipping wings" is simply shorthand for "cutting short the long feathers at the end of the wing"... about as painful as cutting one's hair.


Researching a bit further, I see that I really only have to clip the feathers on one of their wings, and that throws them off balance enough that they can't get any height or distance before dropping to the ground again on the clipped side of their body.

So, the outstanding question for me and my girls is:
  • do I clip the wing on the same side for both chooks? visions of them vainly attempting to fly, going side by side around the same futile circle, or
  • do I clip the wing on the opposite side of each chook? visions of them crashing into each other mid-flight, or veering out in opposite directions only to come together again in a puff of feathers
I'll have to meditate on this one a bit...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

the chickens escaped the yard!

We live in a part of the country that gets hot during the day and cool at night, so we sleep with our windows open to take advantage of this natural A/C. A side benefit:I wake up each morning to the sound of birds chirping and dogs barking and chickens clucking.

I woke up this morning to the sound of a couple of unhappy chickens in the backyard. They weren't making an agitated "get me the heck out of here" sound, but they were clearly voicing their displeasure at being cooped up for some reason.

Before anyone else in the house could wake up, I stole downstairs and outside to let the girls do a bit of free-ranging in the backyard before I went to work. They were more than happy to get out and showed their joy by stretching their legs with a lap around the backyard before settling into the seek-and-eat formation of side-by-side examination of every square foot of organic material for greens and bugs. We've got tall fences on all sides, so I'm not concerned about their flying into any neighbor's yards (tho I should clip their wings soon). The only way they could conceivably get out of the yard would be to go down a long narrow side yard to the cast iron gate and squeeze under it. In three months of free-rangings, they've never even attempted to start down that yard, let alone make it to the gate.

So I thought nothing of leaving the girls out back and going inside to shower, eat, etc, putting them in the coop on my way to work.

Imagine my surprise when Left Coast Mom returned from walking our daughter to Kindergarten to find the chickens in our front yard. Yep, they made the long walk up to the gate and scooted right under it to start poking around the driveway. Luckily, they seemed too dazed by the fact there's a whole 'nother WORLD out front to try and escape further. With a couple swoops of the arm, Left Coast Mom herded them back under the gate and into the back yard. I used some fresh lettuce leaves to coax them into the Eglu run and they've been cooped up all day (that I know of).

Now, I'll have to craft a movable fence to keep them from repeating their escape next time they free range. I hate to think I'll have to supervise them closely from here on out.

I'll have to watch Chicken Run again to see what's next up in their plans for the great escape.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

the girls and their stage fright

I'm hoping this isn't a sign of performance anxiety to come, but the girls exhibited what can only be described as stage fright yesterday when asked to continue their incessant clucking so someone could record the sound.

Early yesterday morning, I'd been on a phone interview about what it's like to raise chickens in my backyard (details to come) and I was sitting next to the run so as to capture the ambient noise of the girls clucking in the background. The girls were SO noisy, I actually had to move a little ways away from the run so I could hear the questions being asked of me. When the Q&A was over, I agreed to hold the phone by the run so they could tape just the sound of their clucking.

Wouldn't you know it, the moment I stopped talking and held the phone out, the girls effectively shut up. I tried waving the phone around to elicit a response, and the girls just stared at me, blinking, wondering what kind of spell I was trying to cast on them. I looked away hoping they'd cluck to get my attention.

No luck.

After waiting about 30 seconds, I put the phone back up to my ear to apologize for the lack of sound and the chorus of clucks once again rang out loud. ::sigh::

Now you know why I haven't told the girls we're hoping to get some eggs out of them starting in a couple weeks. I don't want them to feel any pressure whatsoever, because I'm sure they'll find a way to put it off as long as possible if there's any expectations lingering out there for delivery.

(Shhhhh... I still hope we'll have our first egg by Labor Day)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

the nesting habit is deeply ingrained

I went out to check on the girls tonight and found that they had once again pushed aside the chicken wire that Thomas used to block the nesting box. ZsuZsu was actually trapped behind it, peeping away as if she were still a wee little chick. After I offered her a few grapes, she was able to squeeze around the wire and hop out into the run.

After popping off the side of the Eglu, I reached in to move the wire back into the nesting box. This did not go over well with the girls, who protested loudly, as if to berate me for ruining all of their hard work. I scooted them out the door and tried again.

The wire was nicely seated in the nesting box until ZsuZsu came back in. I watched through the opened side of the Eglu as she wiggled and squirmed her way into the box, half nestled under the wire. They are definitely not fans of the roost.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

perils of free-ranging the chooks

I know I haven't posted in awhile (ok, only once), but ZsuZsu gave me quite a scare last night, so I thought I'd share.

I had just picked a zucchini and was readying it for the grill when ZsuZsu, ever curious, hopped up on the shelf at the front of the grill to see what I was doing. And to look for scraps, no doubt. At that point the grill had been on for at least 10 minutes and was at about 500 degrees.

So I freaked and tried to shoo her off.

She returned the freak-out and fluttered onto the handle of the grill cover.

I don't know if it was shock at the heat, or if she was just being stubborn, but she refused to get down. I actually had to push her pretty hard to get her to move--all the while yelling, "Oh my god! Get off of there! Get off!"

I can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking.

ZsuZsu seemed fine once she finally hopped down--just before Sophia joined her on the handle--but she wouldn't let me look at her feet. Go figure. I can only hope that my repeated assurances that she's just not that type of chicken, combined with some memory of the heat, will convince her to stay away from the grill next time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

breaking the nesting habit is hard

I went out to the coop this morning to find the girls had physically pushed aside the chicken wire cylinder that had been blocking the nesting box. Evidently, some time between sunset last night and dawn this morning, the lure of the nesting box became to great to ignore and the new contraption was brutally pushed aside to make way.

And to top things off, the girls pooped in the bottom of the nesting box to make sure I knew it was their own doing.

Will have to reinforce it in place tonight. I think I can use the vent holes at the top of the Eglu to anchor the cylinder in place.

I'm not giving up yet!

Monday, August 20, 2007

eating local: a fo(odometer) video

Saw this three-minute video today and thought I'd share it here. They don't have any statistics regarding the food-miles cost of eggs, but I'm betting eggs are a rather expensive item to consume in terms of energy used to produce an egg on one's table.

Happy to know we'll be eating our own home-grown huevos in short order!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

keeping chooks out of the nesting box

finished project thru the run bars As I've posted before, my chickens like to sleep in the nesting box that's built into our Eglu.

Since they're not laying eggs yet, I've never put any nesting material in there (pine shavings... all the better to compost with) to encourage them to spend time in the box. It seems they've just developed an affinity for sleeping off the roosting bars.

Having read you can put a golf ball in the nesting box to discourage time in the box, I tried to crowding the girls out by putting one of Argus's (our Great Dane) big chew balls in the box. It's about the size of a bowling ball, made of some indestructible polymer and has a nice big handle on it. It takes up maybe half the nesting box, and whenever I've peeked in to see if the girls are roosting on the bars instead of huddling in the box, I see they've wedged themselves into the remaining space next to the chew ball, bound and determined to enjoy that durn box.

cylindrical blocker with roosting bars in place Now that we're thisclose to time of lay, I've decided to break the girls of the nesting box habit by completely blocking access to it by way of a cylinder made of chicken wire (as seen on the right).

My first attempt hadn't been so much a cylinder as just a little basketball-sized sphere of chicken wire. When I saw how much room there was between the top of the wire and the inside of the Eglu ceiling, I had visions of the girls cramming themselves up in that space just to stay off the roosting bars. So, I ran the cylinder up to the ceiling in hopes they'll finally get accustomed to spending the night on the roosting bars and using the nesting box for, well, nesting long enough to lay an egg.

I wonder do other first-time chicken farmers go through this same "nope-not-gonna-roost" phase? or have I been blessed simply because my girls refused to practice perching in their brooder box?

Regardless, I'll be leaving the cylinder in the nesting box for at least ten days (arbitrary, I know, but seems like it's long enough for the girls to break a bad habit and start a good one.

Maybe if enough first-timers have this same roosting problem, the nice folks at Eglu could create a custom-fit module that blocks the box? In the mean time, I'm happy to share the instructions with anyone who'd like to create their own chicken wire cylinder.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

properly feeding our chickens

As we approach the arrival of our first eggs, I'm starting to do research about changing the feed of our girls to best support their egg laying efforts.

At our local feed store, there are five bins of chicken food. All are available in 50 pound bags, but until we get into the egg-laying stage, I won't be buying in bulk:
  1. starter (don't need it anymore)
  2. chick scratch (what we're giving them now)
  3. hen scratch (for post-egg-laying years?)
  4. Layena(R) mash (for egg-laying hens, and suggested as a good iguana food, too!)
  5. Layena(R) crumble (crumbled quasi-pelletized versions of the mash)
In my quest for more detail on what to get (mash or crumble), I discovered a Geocities-hosted page from the (no defunct) Chicken Encyclopedia's page on Feeding.

Advice is given on what to feed the chicks weeks 0-4 and post week 18 but nothing in the middle. However, I found this section on scratch (what we're feeding the girls now):

Keep in mind once you start feeding them scratch or cracked corn you also need to add a supply of grit for digestion. As you have guessed chickens do not have teeth, without getting to technical, the grit is stored in the chickens gizzard and as the food they eat passes through the gizzard it is ground up.

A good way to check out the gizzard is after you have given you new chickens grit pick one of them up the next day and feel the base of her neck, you should feel a lumpy pocket that is the gizzard.
Uh oh. The girls have been on scratch for a good 8 weeks now (or more) and I've yet to give them any scratch. They've continued to grow quick as a, um, chicken, so I think they're getting the nutrients they need. They must be picking up all the grit they need in their free ranging the yard (I hope!). I'll be getting grit for them asap, though.

Another interesting thing I noticed on that same Feeding page was the following caution (in an annoying blink style font held over from 1995):
The things chickens should NEVER get:

Large amounts of salt, raw potato peels, chocolate

and the biggest NO NO of all do not ever feed beans of any kind to a chicken (they can't expel the gas and it will get ugly so please do not try it)

Oh, I'll be switching the girls to a laying feed once the first egg comes out. Still haven't decided which brand yet (will keep you posted)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

yellow legs and roosting issues

The Left Coast Mom pointed out tonight that our girls' legs are getting quite yellow. From past readings (although I can't find these readings at the moment), yellow legs can indicate they're getting close to laying their first eggs. Could it be our first eggs are coming sooner than Labor Day? It still feels rather early, but you never know.

The concern this brings to mind most forcefully is that I now have to deal with their roosting habit sooner than later. Both girls just love to bed down in the nesting box of our Eglu instead of on the perching bars.

I've tried placing a soccer ball in the nesting box to crowd them out (they didn't seem to care that there was a tennis ball in there), to no avail. They simply wedge themselves in the remaining space around the soccer ball, as if the perching bars are made of molten lava instead of pine.

I feel like this is partly due to my not teaching them to perch while they were still indoors in the cage. Ugh.

Any suggestions from those who've dealt with this behavior before would be greatly appreciated: how do I get the girls to perch on the bars instead of squat in the box?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

reading Weinberger to Sophia

Sophia helping me read After work tonight, I went out to the back yard to let the girls free range a bit and do some reading.

After a chapter's worth of reading David Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous (very highly recommended, btw), Sophia decided I'd spent enough alone time and hopped up on the arm of the chair so she could peer at the words with me.

After looking between my face and the open book a few times, she decided she'd had enough and hopped off to go look for more juicy bugs in the yard with ZsuZsu.

Miscellaneous, indeed.

Monday, August 6, 2007

my how the chicks have grown

I think the girls have put on a couple pounds in the last ten days I've been away. I can definitely see evidence of growth both in their girth as well as in the size of their combs. Still waiting for their wattles to form in earnest, however, as they're still just hints of a fold of skin where human "cheeks" would be (are there such things as chicken cheeks?). Hard to believe they'll be laying eggs in a month's time.

From the feel of it, the girls also seem to have grown a bit more short-tempered at being cooped up in the run all day. When I reach for the door in the run to let them out today, Sophia gave me a nice peck on the finger. Not enough to break the skin, but enough to smart a bit. Perhaps it was the fistful of grapes I had? Nah... she's just letting me know I was gone too long.

So, on my trip up to Oregon, I saw evidence of chickens in most of the small towns (pop < 1,500) I rode through, but the only time I really saw chickens was one morning after waking up from camping in Cherry Creek/"Ham" Bunch County Park outside Coquille. Well before dawn (talking 5:30a, here) the roosters in the backyard next to the park started to crow, waking me up from a deep sleep. After another couple hours of their crowing, the owner sauntered out into the yard and over to the chicken run.

He opened the door and quicker than you could say "look at all those chickens!" there were a good dozen chickens sprinting in as many different directions out into the yard. From what I could see, the backyard flock consisted of equal parts bantam and regular chickens... and while I'm not expert, I know I saw some Plymouth Rocks, some Rhode Island Reds and a couple Australorps. As I was busy watching the chickens sprint to their piece of the yard, the owner was busy collecting eggs inside the coop, and when we finally started walking back to the house, I swear he had ten or so beautiful eggs in his hands. He was too far away for me to call out and get his attention, and in any case, I felt a little awkward at being so overjoyed to watch someone collect eggs from his backyard. Shortly after the egg collection was carried into the house, I'd packed my motorcycle and was gone for the day's ride.

Can't wait until my own mornings are filled with fresh eggs.

While I'm waiting, though, I was pleased to find this little video gem (courtesy BoingBoing) showing Petaluma Poultry girls making a huge omelet back in 1932.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

mid-summer blogging break

My posts will be infrequent over the next couple weeks, as I'm out on a week-long motorcycle ride through northern California, Oregon and Washington. Then we'll be off as a family to Tahoe for a short spell.

In the meantime, check out the blogs of some of the other chicken farmers I follow:
Look forward to updating you on the girls' progress when I return week of August 6. I'll also share any good chicken stories I witness on the road.

Monday, July 23, 2007

far-sighted chickens and new eating patterns

I've noticed recently that the girls can recognize me from over 50 feet away.

As soon as I walk out the back door of the house, the girls rush to the front of the run and quickly pace back and forth waiting for me to come let them out to free-range in our backyard. Not saying they're sitting there waiting for me to emerge from the house, but I don't think I'll ever be able to sneak out to the back porch without getting their hopes up that it's free-range time.

I knew they were able to spy tender morsels (bugs or mushrooms or other goodies) in the grass that I easily missed, but this far-sightedness surprised me. I thought there was a trade-off to be made: you can be near- or far-sighted, not both. Take your pick!

Poking around the web a bit leads me to this article on Prairie Chickens as told by a hunter, and all he says seems to support the notion that chickens have particularly good eye sight. Huh. Go figure.

Moving on to eating matters: the girls are starting to gobble up their food as if there's no tomorrow. We went through the last seven pounds of chick scratch in just three weeks, and I know very little of it was due to sloppy eating habits. Yes, we've now got a bunch of other birds (sparrows, thrushes and the like) who've decided they like hanging around the outside of the chicken run to eat what the girls slop out of the enclosure, but they don't slop too much.

If I had a better understanding of just how voracious they'd become before starting to lay, I could get bulk food. But as it is, I'm just buying it by the pound out of a bulk bin instead of getting a big pre-filled bag.

I got twelve pounds of chick scratch this past Saturday, and I'm hoping that gets us really close to Time of Lay. By my calculations, we should have our first eggs shortly after Labor Day (hooray!).

I'm just hoping they learn to stay out of the nesting area and stick to the roosts before we get to the laying season. (that's another post entirely)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chickens and dogs in the same yard?

2 of 3: Argus and the girlsGot a shot of Argus (our 140 pound Great Dane) and the girls in close proximity this evening. Click on the picture at right to see the before and after of this shot.

I'm surprised at how remarkably well our pets get along together. I guess Argus's early years tolerating three cats in the same house with him have made him a lot more tolerant of animals a fraction of his size.

The girls themselves show no fear of Argus. In fact, if he wasn't so quick to move out of the way, I'm sure they'd do a lot more walking between his legs to get past him.

While I haven't witnessed any boundary setting (via a peck on the nose) between them, I suspect one of those unsupervised visits in the backyard when I wasn't around involved a pecking order being set. And poor Argus, sans beak, wound up on the bottom rung.

Now, if I could just get a picture of the girls perched on his back, that'd be a winner!

Friday, July 13, 2007

feathers flying in the DC burbs

Given we used to live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, I still have as the default home page on our desktop PC (seldom used as I do 95% of all my work on a MacBook Pro).

Imagine my surprise when I see an article about urban chickens, Feathers Are Flying, just below the fold on the Post web site tonight.

Turns out, chickens in the Prince William County burbs (in Virginia, south and east of DC proper) are being seen as a symptom of the neighborhood's deteriorating thanks to "hispanic immigrants coming in":
Many newcomers are from rural areas in Mexico and Central America, where chickens roam without fear of zoning inspectors. County officials and residents say they are sensitive to this fact and do not want to disparage others' cultures and customs. "I'm Hispanic; I understand," said [Virginia] Paris, a native of Uruguay. "We're open-minded. But this is an urban environment."

That's exactly what urban chickens are about... bringing what used to be a common practice (keeping your own backyard flock) back to the future. A lot of folks have their preconceptions about chickens (dirty, messy, smelly, ick) thanks to passing by the agri-business chicken plants where thousands of birds are raised in less-than-ideal conditions.

Even I blanched at the thought of getting chickens of our own when I went inside the brooder at a local feed store and the stench of hundreds of week-old chicks' feces hit me unexpectedly. But our girls don't smell or raise a ruckus or do anything to upset those around us (neighbors: please tell me if I'm wrong).

What really got to me was this paragraph about two-thirds through the article:
Officials say health concerns about the birds outweigh possible disruptions to a community's peace and quiet. "You could conceivably keep a pet chicken in sanitary conditions, but more often than not, people aren't scrupulous," said county environmental health manager John Meehan. "A lot of what they eat is not digested, so it can become food for other animals. If you're feeding chickens corn, that would be a very ready source for rats."
Why single out chickens like this? When I lived in Virginia, I don't recall as much concern being expressed about how folks were tending their cats or dogs or rabbits. We had a hard enough time keeping the mice out of the dog food in a brand new housing development (no chickens to be found). Perhaps Mr. Meehan has recently seen Ratatouille and is still suffering the images of all those messy rats making a fine meal in the kitchen.

Glad I live in a city that has a sensible approach to urban chickens: limit of four, only hens. Feeling sorry for the folks in Prince William who're trying to keep a pet chicken in sanitary conditions. Evidently there's a lot of skepticism it could ever be done (I invite them to pay us a visit any time).

Are there a lot of illegal chicken owners out there in blogland? How do you keep from getting caught?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

video of the grape chase

Following up on this morning's post about our chickens' grape race, I shot some footage of the girls in action on my Treo. Pardon the quality of video, but you get the gist:

feeding the chickens & for love of a grape

This past Sunday, I ran out of chick scratch filling up the girls' food container, and that made for 20 pounds of feed they've gone through since we acquired them two months ago. Ten pounds a month at $0.50 a pound makes raising chickens a very affordable hobby. And when they start laying eggs, I think we'll actually be saving money each month (the cost of feed drops as they get older, too).

What's been really fun to notice, though is that our two barred rock chickens are HUGE fans of grapes. Green seedless table grapes, to be exact.

When I'm in the mood to be amused, I'll take a half dozen or so grapes out back and let the girls out of their coop to scratch around the backyard.

After they've spent a few minutes with their typical I'll-follow-you-no-you-follow-me routine looking for bugs in the lawn, I'll make a clicking noise and hold up a grape between index finger and thumb in a modified "OK" sign.

No matter where they are in the yard, 5 feet away or 25 feet away, they literally fly to me to get the prize: first dibs on a juicy green grape to taunt the other chook with.

Then, the winner (generally it's Sophia) will run around the yard with the grape clamped firmly in her beak, looking like some freakish green clown nose, and ZsuZsu in hot pursuit trying to snatch it away.

I'll let the battle rage for a bit before tossing another grape in their direction, and then the contest becomes "who can eat their grape fastest so as to get a new one?"

They deploy different styles trying to get the grape small enough to swallow in one big gulp. Sophia's technique is along the lines of clamp down and shake it to pieces while ZsuZsu pecks bite-sized morsels from the grape until what's left is small enough to swallow.

In all, they usually eviscerate a grape in less than 15 seconds each and then we repeat the whole ritual over again: the OK sign, the chase, the second grape and the swallowing race.

Who knew chickens could be so much fun?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

worried we've got ourselves a cockerel

We left the chooks alone again overnight as the family spent another night up in Sonoma County at Safari West. My folks were in town, and we gave them the whole safari experience (overnight stay in a safari tent and early morning tour) as a 40th anniversary present.

We had a great time up in Sonoma, including stops at some wineries, and wouldn't you know it, I kept seeing chickens in unexpected places. I'm getting the feeling my finding chickens everywhere closely parallels the phenomenon of buying a car and all the sudden noticing the same make and model everywhere you drive. In my case, however, I'm paying a lot closer attention to what adult birds look like and mentally sizing up the maturity gap that Sophia and ZsuZsu must cover before they become "adults."

So on our trip to Sonoma, I saw a handful of roosters, and each rooster sighting made my stomach sink a little further thinking our Sophia is actually a cockerel, not a pullet as I'd thought.

Upon arriving home from our trip, I went out to their crate and let them out so they could again decimate the backyard bug population and watched and listened carefully to Sophia as she led ZsuZsu on their bug-finding zigzag across the yard.

While ZsuZsu emits a stead cheep-cheep as she pecks around, our Sophia sounds a lot more cluck-cluck-ish. Not quite the archetypal cluck of a full-grown chicken, but nowhere near to sounding like the cheep of a young bird. Come to think of it, I haven't heard a cheep out of Sophia in a long while now.

And this morning, as I was drinking my coffee on the deck overlooking the yard, I could've sworn I heard a first attempt at a loud squawk out of Sophia. No, not close to being the cock-a-doodle-doo crowing I'd heard from the roosters in Sonoma, but enough to make my stomach sink again.

Methinks it's time to actually put some energy into planning what to do if Sophia turns out to be a Sean. No roosters in Redwood City, yet no single hens, either.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

raising poultry's in our genes

My folks are visiting from where they live just outside DC. It's their first chance to spend extended time with the chooks, and they seem to have moved beyond the bemused stage to show actual interest in how we're getting along as urban chicken farmers. If only we had some fresh eggs to seal the deal, I think they might even get a couple of their own back home (riiiiiight!).

As Dad and I were watching the chickens chase bugs in the backyard yesterday afternoon, he casually mentioned, "you know, poultry's in your genes..." Um, beg pardon?

Turns out my great grandfather Turquette used to raise turkeys in downtown Dallas just a few generations ago.

So, that means the poultry-raising jumped three generations to get to me. Here I thought poultry-farming was easy, but it turns out the skill's inherited.

I wonder what other talents I got from the Turquette side of the family?

UPDATE: Now Mom's chimed in to say her cousin, Joy, raised chickens in Dallas, and Mom remembers the regular visits to see the flock in their yard. But Joy's family raised them for meat, not for eggs. (We won't tell Sophia and ZsuZsu this little family story).


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