Sunday, March 30, 2008

Deconstructing Dinner: urban chickens on the radio

The syndicated radio show Deconstructing Dinner has recently broadcast a great (first) show about Backyard Chickens as part of their Farming in the City series.

In this DD show, the producers have featured four segments recorded by Bucky Bacaw and his Backyard Chicken Broadcast on RadioBoise in Boise, Idaho. The segments are targeted at the newbie urban chicken farmer and do a great job covering all the basic necessities for going from empty backyard to urban chicken haven in a very straight-forward and accessible way. He even covers some basic chicken health issues to take into consideration if you're going to make the plunge.

I really enjoyed listening to Bucky's segments. Moreover, I was amused to see that Bucky recently won an Eglu coop -- like ours -- at the Good Food Now! conference in NYC last December. He'll be talking about the Eglu in episode six. I still can't tell exactly what episode we're on, but as soon as I can get the info, I'll link to it here.

If any Urban Chickens readers have any questions or stories to share with Bucky, please drop him an email at bucky|at|

It'll be great to see more and more folks reached across all kinds of media (blogs, radio, tv, paper) so we get more chickens in backyards across North America!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

In Portland? Get thee to Chicken Fest!

If you're in the Portland area (or can get yourself there in short order), you still have a chance to attend this weekend's Chicken Fest (Mar 28-30) at Livingscape Nursery. (Big Map).

In addition to having 20 different breeds of chickens on display and readily available "eggsperts," it looks like they've got a great lineup of workshops about selecting the right chickens, building a coop and overall chicken health.

Poking around the Livingscape web site makes me wish there'd been chicken folks like these here in the Bay Area when I got started last year.

So, if you're thinking about getting chickens and can get to Portland, this is the place to do your due diligence whether it's at Chicken Fest or any other time this year.

BONUS material: there's great short video on ediblePORTLAND about The People's Eggs: Community Egg Co-op. In it, you can really see how photogenic these Barred Rock chickens (like our Sophia and ZsuZsu) are :-)

Thanks, Bad Wolf, for the tip on both of these!

Friday, March 28, 2008

interview with Mad City Chickens filmmakers

Tarazod Films is going to debut Mad City Chickens at the 2008 Wisconsin Film Festival at 9:00pm on Thursday, April 3 (advance tix sold out, rush admission at the door, tho).

The Madison (Wisconsin) Daily Page has a great interview with MCC filmmakers Tashai Lovington and Robert Lughai wherein we find out they both had backyard chickens at various points in their lives, why they added a giant chicken character to the documentary, and the hardest part to cut out of their 40 hours of raw footage to get it down to the finished product at 81 minutes.

Can't wait to see it when it swings out West. If anyone sees the premiere next week, please share a link to your review!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mad City Chickens documentary complete

Glad to see the folks over at Mad City Chickens have finally finished their documentary about the backyard chicken movement. They've got a new trailer up which I present to you here:

I'm trying to figure out when they'll be screening the movie here in the Bay Area and will let you know as soon as I find out. Would be great to meet up with fellow Bay Area urban chicken folks and see it together.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

update: Ann Arbor and urban chickens

One of the reasons I love blogging about urban chickens is the great folks I get to meet in the comments, and yesterday's post, inspired by a news story in the Ann Arbor News made for a great introduction to Peter Thomason. Peter points out what I'd read in the AAN was only part of the story (am I surprised? not really).

And, instead of letting the jewel of a resource he shared be hidden in the comments, I think it's worthy to bring it out here in the sunshine for all to enjoy.
Take a look at to see what's really happening in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area with urban chic. Judy M actually left quite a bit out of her report. My other blog has a response to her article.
So, I naturally followed the links and am truly impressed with how Peter's been able to leverage the existing Michigan Right to Farm Act to keep his urban chickens on his "micro eco-farm." Here's how he's worked the system:
The Michigan Right to Farm Act of 1981 is little known among city dwellers because it doesn’t impact us much. That is, unless you happen to live on the outskirts of a town that has been developed through the acquisition of nearby farms. Where farms are still operational and close enough to subdivisions to be smelled or heard, those agricultural activities are protected, and rightly so because we need them, as long as they follow GAAMPS – an acronym for Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices. We need local farms, especially small family owned farms, for a whole variety of reasons which cannot just be described in economic terms.

Using the law to support having chickens in our backyard did not occur to me until I was being interviewed by Michigan Radio several months later and the interviewer suggested I look into the case of a suburban Michigan woman who had successfully used it in defense of her flock of goats. It is a surprisingly strong law, and, to my knowledge, all attempts to modify it have fallen flat. Two recent Michigan Court of Appeals rulings - one involved a riding stable and the other a nursery - have upheld it to the extent that it trumps even local zoning requirements and ordinances. The catch for backyard chicken keepers – or urban micro farmers like us - is that the law appears to be designed to protect those engaged in agricultural activities for commercial purposes. We don’t have a problem with that because, as produce growers – we sell to a local food cooperative – we fit the IRS and the USDA description of farmers. We file a Schedule F with our Federal 1040 and we also follow GAAMPS. I can imagine that the protections would be extended to subsistence farmers as well.
Be sure to read Peter's rebuttal to Judy's article on his other blog. I'm happy to add his farm in the Urban Chicken blog roll to the right.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ann Arbor, MI, considering urban chickens law

The City Council of Ann Arbor, Michigan (pop ~113,000) is considering relaxing the ban on urban chickens in city limits, per the Ann Arbor News. (See Ann Arbor on a map).

Per the article, before the Council considers the proposal, they want to know among other things about any potential environmental impact related to animal waste.

Now, in my experience of owning both a Great Dane and two chickens, I'm always amused when I see naive arguments concerning the amount of waste generated by chickens. Our dog excretes more poop in a single bowel movement (he goes twice a day) than the girls do in a week.

In any case, the details of the proposed ordinance (thanks, Judy McGovern for summarizing them so well in the AAN article):
  • Would-be hen owners would need a permit and would be subject to noise laws.
  • Permits would be granted only to residents of single- or two-family homes.
  • Birds would have to provided with a covered enclosure and fenced or in that enclosure at all times.
  • Chicken coops would have to be 10 feet from any property line and no closer than 40 feet from any residential structure on an adjacent property. (Neighbors could agree to a waiver.)
  • Coops and feed would have to be secured to prevent problems with mice or other pests.
I especially like the neighbors' ability to waive the distance-from-adjacency requirement.

I'm not such a fan of the "enclosed at all times" provision, as that effectively negates their ability to earn their keep eating bugs and weeds.

Here's hoping Ann Arbor joins the ranks of the urban-chicken-friendly cities.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Raising Healthy Urban Chickens

It's great to see archival content coming online from Mother Earth News. Recently, they've republished a couple great articles originally written by Randy Kidd back in 1981 as part of his "commandments" lists on caring for barnyard critters.

While his target audience seems to be those caring for more than just a small flock of backyard hens, the advice still hits close to home for anyone thinking of raising a few urban chickens.

The original stories are posted as "Ten Commandments for Raising Healthy Chickens" (part 1 and part 2), but if you want to skim the list, I've reproduced it below (his commandments are bolded) with my notes in plaintext on how I see the commandments applying to urban chickens:
  1. Recognize your market - while Kidd's referring to raising chickens for meat or for eggs (or both), the urban chicken farmer needs to decide if you're raising chickens for eggs or for show. The most prolific layers aren't necessarily the prettiest birds and vice versa (I'm partial in thinking our own Plymouth Barred Rocks are both beautiful and bountiful).
  2. Build a good chickenhouse - In our case, buying a pre-fab, easy-to-clean Eglu from Omlet was a no-muss, no-fuss, no-brainer on this. Of course, our neighbor up the street just built a beautiful wood coop for her six new silkies that has me a bit green with envy, but our Eglu's still both aesthetic and utilitarian and handles our two chooks just fine.
  3. Know what normal looks and feels like - as a newbie, this is hard to triangulate as chicks and pullets seem to do odd things at odd times, but intuitively you'll know if your chickens are doing ok. And a Google search on proper chicken behavior is just a click away.
  4. Buy only the best (addendum: and from the best) - Spend some time getting to know the store you'll buy your chicks from (no spur-of-the-moment purchases!) and ask where they order their chicks from. Reputable hatcheries will proudly talk of their craft, and reputable dealers will happily answer questions about their chicks. Remember: if you're buying chicks from them, you'll likely be buying food and accessories, too, so it's in their interest to create a good relationship with you. When it comes to buying the chicks, spend time observing the little ones to get the best of the bunch.
  5. Be aware of the chickens' cycles - We've yet to reach the end of our first cycle with Sophia and ZsuZsu, but I'm prepared for the girls to molt, stop laying, then regrow and lay again (at a lower output). Kidd's talking about how to smooth out the cycle with multiple batches of age-staggered chickens. Not as useful to us urban chicken farmers, but don't fret when the molting hits.
  6. Coddle the youngsters - The chicks are entirely dependent upon you to make their eat, poop, drink, poop, sleep, poop cycle as comfy as possible for the first several weeks of their lives. Make a good brooder in your home and mother the heck out of them. You'll be rewarded with an amazing transformation of fluffy chicks to awkward pullets to egg-laying hens in a short amount of time, and they'll always remember you're the one that made their first weeks divine and reward you with lots of weed- and insect-eating afternoons.
  7. Feed your critters well - This is really easy these days by buying the right pre-packaged mix at the local feed-n-fuel. And letting your girls free-range in your yard means they'll naturally scratch and peck and get the balanced diet they crave to produce delicious eggs for you. Always remember, tho: garbage in, garbage out. What you feed your birds is actually what you'll feed yourself as you consume the eggs. Nothing like a real check-and-balance on your own eating habits to make sure the chickens eat right, no?
  8. Keep accurate and meaningful records - Kidd would never have recommended this, but, better yet: keep a blog! I've been touched to see how many other folks have sent a note of thanks for helping them make the leap into urban chicken farming. My only regret: not tracking egg production beyond the "about a dozen a week" level of detail. I think this'll be especially important as the girls start to slow down in a couple years and we need to decide how to supplement their productivity with new chickens.
  9. Cull the worst - More applicable to larger flocks raised for meat and eggs, but also important to stress for urban chickens: if your birds get ill or injured, remove them immediately. The media's got folks already spooked about avian flu, so while the chances of your flock getting H5N1 here in the States is microscopically small, don't feed into anyone's fears by keeping a sick chicken around.
  10. Help your chickens prevent their own diseases - just another way of saying be a good caretaker of your chooks! Keep their coop clean, their food bowl full, their water flowing pure and room to run around. A happy chicken will be a productive chicken and you'll be flooded with eggs. As I've posted before, it only takes a few minutes a day to properly tend your tiny flock, so do it!
Thanks again to the Mother Earth News folks for publishing Kidd's Commandments from way back when.

Do other contemporary urban chicken farmers have anything to add to the list to help apply it better to our situation and these times?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Giving your chickens a bath

Was over on the Woody Creek Chicks blog today and came across this great picture-filled post on bathing chickens (yes, as in, cleaning them in water).

Wonderful to see the full thing documented and know that they only lost two days' worth of egg production due to the stress.

I'm thinking we'll need to bathe our own chooks soon. They've got a couple, er, "danglers" on the downy backside that will need to be taken care of sooner than later. I can cut them out, wash them out or just wait until they molt in the Fall.

Methinks the washing is the best way to go.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

on keeping urban chickens v keeping cats and dogs

Nice article coming out of Keokuk, Iowa (map) about the case a local chicken farmer, Celia Malm, is making for keeping a flock in her yard within the limits of the city (pop ~ 10,600).
She does a great job of questioning why chickens are lumped in under the livestock ban when the other livestock (cows, horses, goats, etc) are so much bigger.
“In fact, chickens are smaller than cats or dogs - both of which are allowed in the city - and chickens produce less waste than either of these household pets,” she said. “In addition, the waste products of chickens can be recycled through composting, producing high quality compost suitable for use in gardens. The waste products of carnivores cannot be recycled safely in this way; it simply adds to landfills.”

While chickens would be required to be penned at a distance from neighboring homes, dogs “are permitted to roam all the way to the property line, barking and leaving waste products within easy reach of a neighbor's ears, eyes and nose,” Malm said.
Her proposal for urban chicken regulations in Keokuk:
  • Up to 10 chickens shall be permitted on any city lot.
  • Chickens must be kept penned.
  • The pen must be located no closer than 25 feet to neighboring dwellings.
  • The city may require an annual permit to keep chickens.
And Malm has done her homework, too (like we have), pointing out that "several cities permit chickens in city limits, including Des Moines; Chicago; Los Angeles, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn.; St. Louis, Mo.; Seattle, Wash., and Omaha, Neb."

The City Council, after hearing Malm's reasoning, is asking the Code Revision Subcommittee for a possible recommendation. Here's hoping her petition is successful.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

raising chickens: the one year recap

(I see a lot of folks are visiting from the article in Plenty Magazine, so welcome to the Urban Chickens blog!)

Considering it's been just over a year since I was inspired by an article in the San Jose Mercury News to start raising chicknes in our own backyard, I thought it might be useful to recap the year for those contemplating joining the movement. (longtime followers will recognize the bullet list from my six-month recap)
Once the excitement of getting the first egg had worn off, I have to admit that tending chickens in our backyard has become a very normal, everyday routine. As routine as taking care of the dog, so if anyone has their doubts about being able to keep up with chickens once you have them, don't worry about it.

My biggest concern over the winter (a wet and cool winter here in the Bay Area) was that the girls would dislike being cooped up so much since I wouldn't have time to hang out with them before or after work on account of darkness. Thanks to help from LeftCoast Mom, the hens got enough leg-stretching time during the days that the girls seemed quite content to keep producing eggs at a pace of about eight a week between them (down from their peak of twelve a week in the Fall).

The chicken-raising routine looks something like this:
  • Everyday: fill the food bowl, change the water, check for eggs, add wood chips to the nesting box if needed. (takes 5 minutes)
  • Twice weekly: empty the droppings out of the Eglu, very easy to do by design, thanks Omlet! (takes two minutes)
  • Weekly: clean the Eglu by rinsing and scrubbing the interior parts (20 minutes)
  • Semi-monthly: purchase 50-lb bag of layena crumbles at the feed store (cost is $12 and is worked in with other errands)
When possible, we let the girls out of their run so they can free-range in the yard, and every time I see them snap up a bug or devour a weed seedling, I smile at the thought of such cute free labor.

So you see it's negligible work to keep chickens on your own, and the satisfaction of cracking open your very own eggs each morning to cook up for breakfast (sometimes even warm from the nest) is simply to die for. This spring, I'll be able to use our own chicken-poop enriched compost on our garden, thus completing the circle.

Oh, and since raising chickens has become so routine for us, this blog has started to spotlight the plight of other urban chicken farmers who aren't so lucky as to live in a municipality that allows a small flock of hens.

I think there's a lot of misconceptions about the noise, smell, dirtiness, etc, of raising chickens in an urban setting, and where possible, I'd like to dispel these notions and get more folks to reclaim a bit of the food chain for themselves.

If anyone has any questions about raising chickens, the comments are open. (Oh and any other urban chicken farmers -- you can see a few in the blog roll to the right -- please chime in to fill in any gaps I may have left in the story)

Monday, March 3, 2008

our hens are scratch-hooked monsters

For the last couple months or so, in addition to the layena crumbles, I've been slipping our chickens some scratch. Hen scratch to be specific: cracked corn and seeds and whatnot.

Hen scratch has the comparative nutritional value to chickens that popcorn has to humans: which is to say, not much. So we make sure not too give them too much scratch or they'll fill up on the junk and not eat their nutritionally superior layena, not to mention all the juicy bugs and weeds in the yard.

But our girls love their scratch, and that's really an understatement. We don't give them a lot of scratch (maybe half a handful to entice them back into the Eglu when we're done letting them free-range the yard), but they go nuts tripping over themselves to get to me every time I approach the container in which we store the scratch.

Up until I introduced scratch to their diets, I'd only ever seen them go nuts over grapes (see the video here). I'm thinking of conducting an experiment next weekend where I put a pile of grapes on one side of the patio and a pile of scratch on the other and film what happens.

I'll be sure to post the results to YouTube (and here to the blog, too).

After this small bag of scratch is gone, I think I'll cut them off, ahem, cold-turkey. The girls have got a lot of weeds and bugs to devour now that Spring is here.

Why did the chicken cross the road? iraq edition

Bruce Sterling's posted a compendium of "why did the chicken cross the road?" jokes on His twist? It's an Iraqi chicken so everything's got a logistics-of-conflict bent in this list of answers based on various points-of-view.

My favorite of them all (showing my love of linguistics) is: "Translators: Chicken he cross street because bad she tangle regulation. Future chicken table against my request. 

There's something on the list sure to amuse everyone (set your political correctness threshold on high) so read and cluck and chuckle


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