Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Backyard decisions: what to do with one urban chicken?

It's now been a month since our Sophia suddenly passed away, and we still have but a single chicken, ZsuZsu, in our Eglu.

My first instinct was to quickly go out and get another hen (a pullet) to provide ZsuZsu some company. But then I researched the proper way to add a chicken to your existing flock and realized it's a lot more sophisticated than simply choosing a breed, picking out a bird and tossing it into the coop with the other one. There's the three-week quarantine and then the socialization and the holding one's breath while the pecking order is sorted out and wow, that's a lot to do.

Meanwhile, I had an overseas business trip and my last triathlon of the season and a climb up Mt Whitney, and suddenly a month's gone by and ZsuZsu is still alone in the backyard.

So now it's time to do something about her lonesomeness. ZsuZsu still seems skittish around the corner of the coop where Sophia passed away. I think we're going to try to find ZsuZsu a new home with an established flock where she'll have other chickens around to chase bugs and munch weeds and split time in the nesting box. While it'll be tough to give her up, overall, I think she'd be happier with more than a single companion, and the change of scenery might do her good.

This wouldn't spell the end of our urban chicken farming. With an empty coop, we'd start anew with a couple new chickens (pullets, I think, but maybe chicks again) that my daughters could help pick out and name and care for.

I haven't yet made a final decision that this is the way to go, but in writing it down, I think I'm closer. There's still the negotiations with my seven year-old daughter to navigate, and the matter of trying to find a good home for ZsuZsu.

Rest assured, I'll share the experience here. And if you've got other insights to add to the mix, please do so in the comments below.

Photo by KayVee.INC on Flickr

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

LA Council legalizes one rooster too many

rooster fineryThe Los Angeles City Council passed a law on Tuesday limiting the number of roosters each household can own to a grand total of one. To my ears, that's one too many. I'm sure others would agree.

Longtime readers know I'm a big advocate for passing urban chicken laws that allow hens only, no roosters. The noise of one hen crowing is bad enough, but the thought of a rooster sounding off at all hours of the day and night would drive even me to seek legal recourse to reclaiming peace and quiet (right after I figure out how to get the neighborhood dogs to shut up with their all-night yapping).

I've always scratched my head at the fact the greater Los Angeles area permits roosters of any quantity within city limits. I don't want to say all roosters in LA are training for a neighborhood fight, but I'd imagine more than a couple are providing a spectacle on fight night.

We know the benefits of hens within city limits: eggs, weed- and pest-control, nitrogen-rich manure, entertainment, companionship.

With roosters, you swap out "eggs" for "obnoxious cock-a-doodle-dooing." I don't get it.

What am I missing?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

urban chickens now legal in New Haven!

So happy to see Board of Aldermen in New Haven, Connecticut (pop ~124,000, View Larger Map) did the right thing by passing an ordinance to allow New Haven city residents to keep up to six hens in their backyards.

This victory comes after months of sometimes rancorous banter back and forth (this particular fight was the source of the regretful "Only two kinds of urban chicken farmer" editorial back in March.)

What I appreciate the most about the New Haven Independent's coverage of the meeting in City Hall is how it sheds a light on the kind of shenanigans that politicians are willing to pull to scuttle something they don't want to see pass (yes, I'm talking about you Alderwoman Arlene DePino).

Thank goodness for the likes of "Chicken Champion" Roland Lemar to keep the ordinance on track, fending off DePino's motions to table/alter the effort at the meeting.

This should be a lesson to all you trying to get the laws changed to allow urban chickens in your own town: no matter how rational an argument you've prepared, no matter how well you've dispelled the myths about urban chickens (witness the follow-up comments to the story on the New Haven Independent site), you're going to run up against the whims and waffling of elected officials who'd much rather see things remain as they are (unless there's money for the campaign by making the change).

Find yourself a Chicken Champion, and then work with that person to identify others who can be counted on when it really matters: when it's time to vote.

Friday, September 4, 2009

how to add another chicken to your flock?

It's been almost a week since Sophia died, and I think ZsuZsu, the surviving chicken must be lonely out there (she's noisy every morning).

Surprisingly, I got the final results back from the necropsy performed by the CAHFS Lab already, and their conclusion as to why Sophia died? They don't know why (although they used more scientific terms than that). At the very least, we know she didn't die of any infectious disease thanks to their tests.

So, knowing we don't have something communicable in our remaining flock of one, we can think of building it up again. ZsuZsu is back to laying eggs again, and I'm anxious to get her a companion to share the Eglu out in the backyard.

As with all things chicken-related, I've been doing some research on the subject of adding a new chicken to the flock, and I gotta tell you: this isn't as easy as dropping another goldfish in the aquarium.

Among the finer points of "how to introduce the new bird" which present a challenge:
  • To accommodate biosecurity concerns, we'll need to keep the new bird separated from ZsuZsu for anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks depending on which resource you choose to heed. We certainly don't want to get ZsuZsu sick from a companion, no matter how lonely she is. Keeping them separated, however, presents a bit of a challenge in our backyard, and we'll need to get yet another temporary pen/house to do so.
  • To accommodate behavioral concerns, we're going to need to find a way to provide room in the Eglu (run is 7'x3', coop is 2.5'x2.5') for the newbie to get away from ZsuZsu, or vice versa, while they establish the pecking order. While I'd love to think ZsuZsu is easy-going and will quickly warm up to whatever new bird we bring in, I also need to be prepared for them to not get along.
Most of the online resources I've read regarding adding a chicken to the flock are dealing with more than a one-on-one introduction, and obviously dealing with a coop bigger than our Eglu. So, as usual I'll be keeping you posted on our experience in our particular setup to add to the corpus of knowledge around raising urban chickens.

Talking things over with LeftCoastMom, we've agreed we don't want to start raising a week-old chick at this point of the year. I'm getting ready to do some pretty heavy travel in the next few months, and the room in which we raised Sophia and ZsuZsu two years ago has been converted into a painting/crafts room for our daughters.

So that leaves us to get a months-old pullet. I've found a local source, Ranch Hag Hens, from which to get the chicken (we'll decide on the breed from what they have available when we get there: either a Rhode Island or an Orpington or a Brahma). And they're not too far away, just 90 minutes north of us.

Now, before digging into the finer points of adding chickens to an existing flock, I'd thought I could take my daughters with me on the drive up and over the Golden Gate Bridge tomorrow to visit Ranch Hag Hens and pick out a new chicken.

It depends now on how much prep work I can get done today to set up a temporary new coop and run in the backyard today. Wish me luck.

"Vacancy" Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

urban chickens on the Today Show!

I'll be brief and let the video segment do the talking. So great to see this ran in the first hour of the NBC Today Show this morning. I used to work at 30 Rockefeller back in my AOL Time Warner days and I never thought in a million years I'd see chickens clucking and scratching on Rockefeller Plaza.

Almost six-and-a-half minutes of urban chickens on the tele!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

what do you do when your chicken dies?

Sophia, our 2-1/2 year-old Barred Rock hen, passed away sometime in the triple-digit heat of Saturday afternoon. My wife found her in a heap in the back corner of the coop at the end of the day when she went out to check on their water and food.

Once I'd quickly processed and suppressed the emotional side of the situation, I went into "dad mode" and began exploring, rapid-fire, all the questions popping into my head:
How do I get her out of the coop? Is it something contagious? Is ZsuZsu ok? Where are my gloves? What do I do with the body? Do we bury her in the yard? Do we dispose of her in the garbage? Will she smell by the time the garbage is collected on Friday? Why did she die? What did I do wrong? How do I tell the kids? Do we get another chicken? Two more chickens? How do I introduce ZsuZsu to new companions? Where will we get them? and on and on
I ultimately decided I need to know what happened to Sophia before I can think of bringing another urban chicken into our backyard.

Thanks to the Santa Cruz Pet Chicken avian flu workshop I went to earlier this year, I knew that I could get a free necropsy performed on Sophia at the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory over at UC Davis. While it costs the big-Ag chicken farmers to get the service performed, for us backyard folks in California, it's free.

All I had to do was wrap Sophia's body in two plastic bags and then put it in the refrigerator until the lab opened up Monday morning and drop her off there.

The only problem? No room in our fridge. I'd have to store her in a cooler on ice. Well, truth be told, our fridge could've been completely empty but my lovely wife wouldn't have let me store Sophia in there. Not enough Lysol in the world to disinfect the mental imagery.

So, I double-bagged Sophia and put her in our old collapsible cooler with ice around her in zip-loc bags (no, I didn't want to have to deal with wet feathers). I placed the cooler in the corner of the garage, and for the next 36 hours, added ice as needed to keep her cool.

Then I woke up at dawn Monday morning to drive the 99 miles to UC Davis to the lab, arriving shortly before 8am. I parked the car across the lot from the receiving dock.

The nice lady at the receiving desk gave me a simple form to fill out and a white plastic tub to place Sophia's body in (still wrapped in the bags, of course).

They'll email me preliminary results in a couple days with final results expected in two weeks.

As I walked out of the lab, I realized I'd parked right next to the dumpster. How convenient. I flipped the collapsible cooler into the dumpster before I hopped in the car to make the drive home. Wouldn't ever be using that particular cooler for food or drinks again. Not enough Lysol in the world to clean out the mental imagery of carrying Sophia in there.

Photo by zirofar on Flickr


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