Tag Archives: keeping 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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chicken check-in

We still have the chickens separated for the sake of quarantine.

Katniss & Primrose are still inseparable.

And they are growing like weeds.

Unfortunately, the weather has been mostly terrible so they have been pretty cooped-up. They need a lot of practice exploring the world, because they have a lot to learn about it. It’s so strange to have babies in the house again. They are getting braver and testing their wings little by little. We have read that we need to quarantine them for 30 days, but I’m not sure how easy it will be to keep them separated for so long. We are anxious to see how Pepper & Lenora treat the little ones, and to get these ladies out of the brooder and into the world.

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Lavender Hens dilly dilly

Thanks so much for your kind words about Ramona Rickettes. Your sentiments help us get through rough spots and we appreciate it.

Today, I bring another chicken update.

Over the past month, we have been discussing adding to our flock. Even before Ramona passed away, we needed two more birds. We researched our options: chicks-by-mail via USPS, buying chicks from a feed store, buying hatching eggs, getting older birds, etc. We scoured craigslist, mypetchicken.com and breeders’ websites for hours. I have called just about every farm store in a 100 mile radius to talk to them about chicks. I made plans to pick up day-old chicks, but the chicks died in shipment. None of our options seemed like the right fit.

Some history: Years ago when we started planning our future as chicken keepers, Krista and I became a little obsessed with a British breed, the lavender orpingtons. They are like standard orpingtons, fluffy and docile and dependable layers, but they are a very strange color. We did some research and learned that there was only one breeder in the US actively improving the lavender orpington. We couldn’t find a single breeder in our state. Those were the good old days when I didn’t think I would drive to another state for a chicken. So we put our lavender dreams on the back burner and focused on some more practical breeds for our backyard flock.


Photo from Feathersite.com
They are so pretty.

Last week, Krista saw an ad on craigslist from a lavender orpington breeder who sounded competent in her ad. If you’ve ever looked at chickens on craigslist, you know that competent craigslist ad-writing is not a prerequisite for chicken husbandry. I placed a phone call and we found ourselves in the car lickety-split. After a harrowing experience with traffic in Bellevue and several conversations about how we would never, ever willingly move to that metro area, we found ourselves at a 10-acre farm some 30 miles outside Seattle. It was dark when we arrived, so we took charge of two sleepy young pullets and brought them home.

Welcome home Katniss and Primrose!

They are such a peculiar color. I can’t wait to see them fill out with fluffy feathers. We’re very smitten. They are being quarantined in the brooder for a while because biosecurity is important. It’s very sweet to hear the peeping and talking of young chickens in the house again. We’re spoiling them with cuddles and treats so they will be trained to worship us like the big chickens do.

Speaking of the big chickens, stay tuned for our experiences with flock integration. The pecking order is very real and merciless, so keep your fingers crossed for us.

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R.I.P Ramona Rickettes

I know a lot of our new readers are here for the food, but the heart of our operation is really the animals that live with us. I need to share a few words about our recently departed hen, Ramona Rickettes. When Krista went out to let the chickens out yesterday morning, she found Ramona lying still and quiet in the run. There was no sign of violence or illness, just a quiet bird lying down like she was taking a nap. We spent a long time trying to guess what went wrong – was she egg-bound and we didn’t notice? It seems unlikely since we spend a lot of time with them, but it’s possible. Could she have eaten something sharp or poisonous? Did her heart give out from the excitement of a rare sunny day? We’ll never know, we can just re-double our efforts to be vigilant, re-read all the books and hope we’re better at spotting problems in the future.

She was supposed to be a Welsummer, but through a fateful mix-up, we got a Speckled Sussex instead. She was an extremely cute, spirited chick who grew into a beautiful speckled bird. She reliably laid lovely light brown eggs. She was one of the best models during the early days of chick photography.


She was best friends with Pepper Walker, and you rarely saw one of them without the other. They were closer friends than any of our other birds, and I feel especially bad for poor Pepper, who has lost her kindred chicken spirit.

I know she was “only a chicken,” but what a chicken! She was one of our first chickens, and she brought so much joy and life into our backyard. Thank you for the cuddles, Ramona, and for your peeps that grew into squawks. Thank you for quiches, fritattas and poached eggs on toast. Rest in Peace, Ramona Rickettes. You were a funny, beautiful bird and we miss you so much.

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a little chicken update

Freshly washed eggs. Our ladies have muddy feet lately.

I am happy to report that we haven’t had to buy eggs since Lenora first started laying. I keep enough on hand that we have plenty to pull out for an egg heavy recipe when needed. See that brown pointy one in the middle? Pepper finally started laying! Her eggs are a very slightly different shade of brown than Ramona’s. I think the only reason we can tell them apart is she is still new at this and they are on the small side.

It’s about time, Pepper!

It’s cold, grey, and wet out but at least it isn’t freezing. Everything is covered in a layer of wet leaves.

The chickens love the okara we give them sometimes after making soy milk.

I love watching them get messy faces. Usually they wipe their beaks on the ground to clean up. This continues to be funny each and every time.

I tried to get a picture to share, but today they decided to take a different approach – shaking it off.

We are still keeping the ladies locked up when we can’t be outside with them. No luck catching a raccoon at night in the trap we borrowed. At this point I think it is unlikely we will. Our neighbors have had their flock outside free ranging just over the fence and haven’t had any attacks, so perhaps we will get brave and things will go back to normal soon.

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Loss

It’s been a rough week for our little backyard farm.

On Christmas Eve, Jess discovered that one of our hives had died. We decided to look for a bright side. There is a ton of honey left to harvest. This will make it easier to move the hive to a different spot as planned. We still have one surviving hive, and we can get more bees in the spring. We’re not sure what happened, although Jess’ theory is that on the day I was stung by several bees she may have somehow killed the queen in her haste to get the thing closed up.

Yesterday, just as our Christmas cheer was winding down, Levi said he heard a chicken noise in the yard and went to investigate. I made him stop and put on his boots because I didn’t want him running outside in his new slippers. The chickens make crazy noises all the time, it wasn’t dusk yet, and a few of the chickens were visible from the door. I will probably always feel guilty for making him change his shoes, even though it is very unlikely he could have saved our precious Hatchet-Face.

Levi returned from the yard a few minutes later, visibly shaken, announcing that Hatchet-Face was dead. I was completely stunned. I ran outside and stood over the huge mess of feathers, just staring at her for several minutes. I couldn’t believe she was gone, even though most of her body was right in front of me. Only the neck was missing and her head was unrecognizable. We’re pretty certain a raccoon was the culprit. What a terrible waste. I am trying to tell myself that it was probably over very quickly.

We were so fond of that goofy bird. We know that keeping chickens means dealing with loss and often short little lives. I just feel so cheated, though. She was our little heroine; the runt who outgrew her flock mates in the end. Despite her rough start in life she was delivering us a beautiful blue egg almost every single day. I have never seen another pure white Easter Egger with dinosaur green legs like her before. It never failed to cheer me up to look outside and see the way Hatchy ran across the yard with such gusto, or the funny exaggerated head-bobbing as she walked. We would be heartbroken to lose any of these ladies, but this just seems so wrong. We were talking about it today, and both realized that in the end it makes sense that she was the one to get picked off because she was a loner (a rebel), often off exploring by herself.

Rest in peace, Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski. We already miss you.

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and then there were three

Yes, we are going to write a first egg post for each of our darling chickens. Thank you for asking.

This one is a little extra special, though. First of all, it’s blue.

Levi corrected me. Maybe it’s blue-green. That would belong to our Easter Egger, Hatchet-Face. If you read our blog back during the days when our house was full of tiny, baby chicks, perhaps you remember the saga of little Hatchet-Face.

She had some mysterious failure-to-thrive illness that caused her to stop growing when she was only a few days old. We treated her for Coccidiosis just in case, and eventually got her to slowly gain weight by force feeding. One day she perked up and started eating on her own again, but she was half the size of the others for months. I read somewhere that chickens that have a rough start like that may never lay. We prepared ourselves for this hen to be a freeloader for life.

Even if she never made us breakfast, that little character is worth having around. Still, we are glad to have our Easter eggs.

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coffee chaff: upcycled chicken bedding

People are always teasing the modern backyard farmer with their thousand-dollar chicken coops about the true cost of their eggs. While our coop was closer to half that price tag, we have talked about our choice to use pricier organic, local chicken feed. With that in mind, anywhere we can cut costs seems like a great idea. How about free bedding?

Coffee chaff is a byproduct of coffee roasting. Have you ever roasted hazelnuts? Those papery flecks of skin that come off the hazelnuts are similar to coffee chaff.

We learned right away when we brought our chicks home and had them all set up in the brooder that there is one downside to using coffee chaff. It is really lightweight and easily gets kicked up into their food and water. While they were in the brooder, we mixed coffee chaff with pine shavings to solve that problem. Thanks to the smart design of our Garden Coop, our chickens always have access to their outdoor run and their food and water can be kept separate from their bedding. As we run out of pine shavings, we have been using more and more coffee chaff without any problems.

Here the ladies are strutting around in freshly changed bedding. I keep saying bedding, but it is really more like chicken litter. They sleep up on their roost. We have found that we can just layer more bedding on top once a week and change it out once a month. Some people do a deep litter method where they encourage the chickens to turn it and add layers as needed, going for as long as a year before changing it out.

You can see we still have some pine shavings left. We continue to use a higher chaff to pine ratio and expect we won’t have to buy another bag of wood shavings.

We store the coffee chaff in a big garbage can in the garage. It is so lightweight that it is easy to transport back and forth. The first local coffee roaster we went to was more than happy to let us take some bags of coffee chaff before it was tossed out. Thanks, Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.! We just have to stop by on the right day of the week. It’s been pretty easy so far, and we have a few other coffee roasters we could check with if we were in need.

Having the faint aroma of coffee in the coop is just an added bonus.

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