Tag Archives: backyard chickens

The Littles

It’s about time for an update on our flock integration! We have taken to calling our segregated flock “The Bigs” and “The Littles,” and it just stuck. While they aren’t best of friends yet, I am happy to report we have made major progress. Go Team Littles!


The Littles


The Bigs


The Littles again – are you seeing the theme here?

When we last left off, Katniss & Primrose were being bullied by Pepper and, more tragically, were really bad at being chickens. Perching and scratching and basic chicken life-skills seemed to be daunting to them. We were told our Lavender Orpington pullets had been free-ranged on 10 acres. In retrospect, what breeder of expensive chickens lets them run so free? I’m pretty certain they never spent a day outside until they met us, and I was convinced they were permanently stunted.

The little hidey-holes I built them (Pepper demonstrates above) proved to be the solution we needed. Instead of getting cornered in the run when being bullied, they miraculously became adept at jumping on top of the boxes where Pepper leaves them alone (mostly). They still spend a lot of time hanging out on top of those boxes, but little-tiny bit by little-tiny bit, Pepper is less interested in bullying them and they get braver.

After the Littles moved outside, Pepper spent the first few long days we were away at work in solitary confinement inside the coop. We would arrive home to a happy little flock of three. Lenora and The Littles would be together, eating and acting like regular chickens. And as soon as Pepper was freed, she would chase Katniss & Prim up onto their box. Sad, but soon they were more confident and Pepper no longer needed to be separated. Baby steps.

They have started hitting important milestones like going up the ladder and going down the ladder. I can’t tell you how much we love chickens we don’t have to put to bed or wake up in the morning. However, they have been putting themselves to bed in the nesting boxes, which has caused some confusion for all parties.


Pepper laid an egg in the hidey-hole because her favorite nesting box was occupied. Pepper has never laid an egg anywhere but the nesting boxes before.

Other new chicken-like behaviors: running, jumping, scratching, eating scratch from a human hand, and just today I found them dust-bathing. Now, if only they could start spending time as a foursome before our flock grows again.

I leave you with my favorite chicken shot from recent days:


Levi & Lenora

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Flock Integration: Can’t we all just get along?

Poor little Katniss and Primrose. They’re beautiful, certainly, but sometimes that’s not enough. They seem to be inadequate at being chickens. They aren’t comfortable with basic chicken skills like “scratching and pecking at the same time” and “perching on a stick.” There are certain chicken behaviors that I believe(d) to be inherent to “chicken-ness” but these two are continually teaching me that in fact not all chickens have survival instincts.

But we’re fed up with having chickens in our house and I started to have nightmares about them starting to lay while they still lived in the brooder, so they got booted out to the coop. We’ve been nervous about flock integration. The “pecking order” is a very real thing, in that chickens actually peck each other to establish a social hierarchy, sometimes injuring or killing each other. It turns out that our concerns were not unfounded.

Lenora, queen of the roost, could not care less about the little chickens. She’s got a really busy calendar and so much to do. She can’t be bothered with some little newbies and simply ignores them 99% of the time.

But Pepper is another story. My theory is that Pepper is second in the pecking order, and she has more to lose with the integration of new birds. She definitely doesn’t want to play second fiddle to younger, smaller, dumber birds. Or maybe she just can’t respect them in their inferior chicken-ness. I’m no chicken sociologist, but either way, this is the face of our bully bird.

She chases them and tries to peck them; they cry desperately and run. No one has drawn blood yet, so we’ve been trying to stay out of it and let them work it out themselves. It’s painful to watch, though. I want them to cuddle up and sing Kumbaya, you know? Until we get there, we’ve been free-ranging a lot to distract Pepper, and Krista built some hideouts for the Littles to escape to.


Unfortunately the Littles don’t seem to be smart enough to hide inside the boxes yet, but they learned to stand on top when Pepper gets aggressive — which is progress! Two days ago they flapped and squawked and tried to fly through the fence when she came at them. Keep your fingers crossed for some peace in the hen house soon.

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weekend chickens

We’ve had some actual, bona fide sunshine here in Olympia this week. Fingers crossed it keeps up. This, of course, means chicken photos.

Leave it to Levi to accidentally behead or precious squirrel. At least no real animals were hurt.

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Smart Water for Chickens

We have been surprised and delighted to find that keeping chickens is lower maintenance than we expected. The only chore we try to pawn off on each other is changing their water. We have a standard metal waterer that they like to stand on, which means inevitably they poop in it. We could get creative with what we have, but even if we stopped them from standing on it the water still gets dirty. We wanted to try something with a smarter design, so we got online and ordered some poultry nipples.

I ordered from this seller on Amazon and received them almost immediately. It cost $11.49 for five nipples, including shipping. If you don’t have the ability or tools to put one together yourself, you can order a bucket with nipples already installed for $35 from The Garden Coop folks.

Then we went to our co-op to get a food grade bucket. Instead of buying something brand new, we paid 50¢ for a used peanut butter bucket. Ramona approves.

The order included handy instructions for “Mounting your nipples.”

The special tools you need are a drill, a 5/16 drill bit, an 11mm nut driver for the drill, and thread tape. Thread tape is in the plumbing section and costs about a buck. It makes the fit more snug to prevent water leaks. You can also add some silicone caulk, but so far this seems to be water tight. I pre-drilled the holes with a smaller bit first, because I have cracked plastic when drilling through it before. This bucket is pretty tough, though. I did run into a problem. My nut driver was the right width, but not deep enough to fit over the poultry nipple. I tried for awhile to screw them in by hand and it absolutely wouldn’t work. I finally had to jury-rig a socket from a wrench set and a screwdriver bit on the drill to get the nipples attached. Success!

The chickens are like this:

They started pecking at them in under a minute. Fingers crossed that they figure it out! We are leaving the old metal waterer in the coop until we are certain they all are experts at drinking water from a poultry nipple. If these babies can do it, I think our flock can too.

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Chicks & Bees @NWFGS 2011

As I mentioned, we’re adding chickens to our backyard farm this year, and you probably know that we keep honey bees, too. These two topics occupy much of my brainpower during my waking hours, so I was on high alert for chicken & bee-related items at the 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

I had the good fortunate to catch a seminar called “What the Cluck?” with Jessi Bloom. It was about adding chickens to your garden. There was a lot of great information about life cycles, breed selection, roosters, coop requirements, permaculture design, other pets, different methods of keeping chickens and even chicken training. The resource section on the handout is excellent too. You can get a copy of the handout here if you are curious. Ms. Bloom brought some friends to help with her presentation — about 10 different varieties of baby chicks. I almost died from their peeping cuteness. ((I can’t wait for our chicks to arrive.)) These chicks were from Portage Bay Grange, in Seattle. They had a booth in the marketplace, and I really want to make it to their storefront in Seattle.

Seattle Urban Farm Co. & the Re-Store partnered up to build this adorable little city farm complete with chicken tractor, a little cold frame and a beehive. You know, typical backyard stuff. They must have some relationship with the Ballard Bee Company, too, because I spotted a jar of their honey.

The chickens at the Seattle Urban Farm Co. booth were completely nonplussed by the thousands of visitors that passed by their space. Not even hoards of devoted children could distract these hens from their scratching.

While this is unrelated to either chickens or bees, I love the creativity that Re-Store brings to their garden show displays. Last year they had a recycled cold frame that I fell in love with. This year? They re-purposed bathroom fixtures for the garden.

In addition to the Ballard Bee Company, I saw some business cards from Crown Bees around the vendor area. I just discovered the Crown Bee website. It’s really informative if you’re keeping solitary bees (which we do — an update on our mason bees is in the pipeline).

And finally, over in the display garden from Christianson’s Nursery, there was an old-fashioned skep in the garden shed. It’s a little piece of history; people kept honey bees in skeps before we developed beehives with movable parts. I get nostalgic for history like this, but I would have hated keeping bees in skeps. Beekeepers had to destroy the skep to get the honey, and that sounds like a giant pain. I like going back to the “old ways” in many regards, but I will keep my movable frame beehive thankyouverymuch.

My other 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show posts: Container Gardening and Themed Display Gardens

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Ba-Gock: Introducing Chickens to Our Backyard

Aren’t we just full of big projects? Many people already know Krista & I have been “planning” to add a backyard flock to our house since forever. I mean, that was part of the reason that we bought a house at all, and part of the reason we bought the house that we bought. Our house is magically in a one square block pocket of the city that is not incorporated (NO anti-urban farm regulations here!) so we can build an egg empire if we so choose. But as with all things, life gets in the way. With all the raised garden bed building and bee keeping frenzy of last year, our chicken coop never materialized. This week, our dear friends forced our hand to throw in on a chick order & build some coops together. Frankly, with all the eggs on our table these days, we’d be fools to put this off another year. So please, let me introduce you to the breeds we’re ordering this year.

CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT: buff orpington, barred plymouth rock, easter egger, white leghorn, that’s not a real chicken, and welsummer

We picked each breed for a different reason, but they are all pretty, hardy and productive. They will lay a variety of egg colors to keep things interesting. Levi read a library book about chickens and specifically requested the buff orphington when we first hatched this scheme years ago. So we had to get one for him.

Now, we only need to train the attack dogs to leave them alone.


When I was a teenager, I had a very failed flock of guinea hens who were picked off quickly by predators thanks to my completely inadequate coop. I do want to publicly thank my dad for telling me that they “escaped” and ran away. I appreciate the kindness of that little lie. My bestie Rayshell had a family flock of chickens for years, but they were not beloved family pets. They were not friendly and really stupid!! I grew up in a rural area, so almost all of my neighbors had chickens and I remember feeding & collecting eggs when our neighbors went on vacation. I have read many, many books from the library about chickens, because I’m that kind of nerd. And that, my friends, is the extent of my chicken-rearing knowledge!

questions i know you will ask:

why are you getting chickens?
This is like asking me why I’m a vegetarian. All of the Reasons! Every reason to get chickens (except eating them) is why we are doing it. Eggs! Localizing our protein supply, food security, economic reasons, entertainment value, a very steady compost supply, food safety issues (no one will recall our eggs), organic food and higher nutrition, we don’t have enough hobbies to fill our time, bug and weed control, etc. Homegrown eggs are rumored to be lower in cholesterol and higher in various nutrients. I’m no food scientist, but it just makes sense. It’s really not a new idea. People have had backyard chickens forever.

how many chickens are you getting?
We’re starting with five and plan to add a couple every year like diversifying a stock portfolio.

i thought you were vegan?
yes, we have a lot of years of veganism under our collective belts and we can bake some mean vegan cupcakes, but having a supremely local, cheap, unprocessed, organic protein source is more important to us at this point. Not every vegan needs to run out and get chickens as mandated by me (obviously I don’t make decisions for other people), but it’s the right choice for our family right now. I still consider veganism to be a superior dietary choice to mindless, unconscious, over-processed food choices. Just sayin, this isn’t a mindless, “trendy” decision for us.

where are you ordering from?
My Pet Chicken. Many hatcheries require orders of 25 birds, but they ship as few as 3.

can i come visit your chickens?
yes, please do! we can watch Chicken TV together!

if i visit, may i draw/photograph your chickens?
What a ridiculous question. I love art, especially art made by you, especially art of my pets. I will make you dinner if you make chicken art for me. Also, can I hire you to do portraits of my cats and dogs, too?

are you going to post 100 photos, stories and videos about your chickens?
Of course. We love over-sharing.

what are you going to do when they get old and stop laying? will you eat them?
Our vegetarianism doesn’t stop at our backdoor, so we will not eat them. They will age as gracefully or ungracefully as they like in our backyard flock. We already have plenty of worthless pets around, so what’s one (or five) more? The way I figure it, at least they will earn their retirement, unlike dogs and cats, who need to get jobs & pay rent.

what is your chickens’ theme song?
I am so lucky to have such good friends who would ask me such an important question. Our girls will cluck, lay eggs and forage to their theme song:

(I’m going to tell the girls that the parts about slaughter and roasting are fiction. These chickens will live a life never knowing the fate of their brethren.)

Stay tuned. We will document our coop-building experience before the chicks arrive, and then all the precious moments after they arrive. The delivery date is the week of May 16th. We won’t see eggs for weeks/months, but the cuddling and entertainment should make up for it.

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