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).


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