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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