Tag Archives: urban homesteading

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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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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Spuds growing up

It’s the time of year when we dig through our potato stacks, collect the dirty, jewel-toned potatoes and start to pick our favorite potato recipes. This year we grew six varieties in our stacking potato towers. We alternated layers of 50/50 compost/soil and straw. It was interesting to see the layers when we began to unearth the potatoes.

The chickens were super interested in the potato harvest. Pepper was the most involved. Of course, she’s very interested in all human behaviors.


I planted 1# of each variety in the stacking boxes. Here’s the yield:
viking purple – 2#
german butterball – 6#
russian banana – 1.5#
french fingerling – 5#
princess 1.75#
red thumb 2#

Conclusion: 99% of the potatoes were in the bottom box of our stacked wooden boxes. That means our shoveling, stacking, side dressing and work was for naught. We could have achieved the same yield by growing potatoes in the ground. I’m happy we grew potatoes, don’t get me wrong. Nothing beats the taste of a fresh-dug, homegrown potato. The yield of some of our ’11 varieties was good, but overall, the stacking method was a lot of work without a lot of benefit. We’ll be retiring the wooden boxes next year in favor of planting in-ground rows. It will take up more space, but we can squeeze ’em in since we added those 400 square feet at the community garden. Now, we have to figure out what we can reuse these stacking wooden boxes for…. Any ideas?

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Some hens work harder than others

Lenora Frigid has been hard at work while the rest of our free-loading flock just clucks around, eating their organic, soy-free, corn-free, locally grown, locally milled chicken feed. Lenora has laid 13 eggs in the last 14 days. I think that effort deserves a round of applause, especially since the other hens have collectively laid zero eggs. White leghorn chickens produce most of the eggs at the grocery store, and white leghorn chickens produce all of the eggs in my backyard.

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The Hen that Wasn’t

We knew that being a chicken-tender had its share of heartbreak opportunities, even if you read every book, consult all the right experts and do everything “right.” Chickens get sick. Predators get wily. Life ain’t easy for chickens, even the coddled pets of vegetarians. That is to say, we have discovered our first chicken heartbreaker.

Oh, Cry-Baby Walker. We paid an extra $1 for her to be sexed at the hatchery. We were given a 90% hen guarantee for our tiny birds, although we always knew that chicken sexing is more art than science. We gave Cry-Baby a gender-bending name, knocking on wood and hoping that she would grow into it more gracefully than a boy named Sue.

You see where this is headed, don’t you? Little Cry-Baby has been displaying some unnerving signs of imminent roosterness: early comb development, thick legs, relatively large body size and “shiny” feathers. Krista, Levi & I have spent months comforting each other about these characteristics. We said things like: Buff Orpington chickens are a large breed. She’s big-boned. Lots of BO hens have very prominent roostery-looking combs. The gender-ambiguity of the Buff Orpington breed helped to perpetuate this grand delusion. We’ve been in denial because, of course, we love her. Er, him. We love him. Levi called us out this weekend. “Come and look at this chicken,” he demanded. Pointing at the adorable fluffy chicken butt, he said, “Those are saddle feathers. Those tail feathers are curling.”

One could make a good case to either keep or eliminate a rooster, and we have gone back and forth about this in our family. One of us sleeps flip-flop schedules for work, and no one likes to be woken up by a rooster if they went to bed at 5am. He hasn’t started to crow yet, but it could start any day. We’re squeamish about fertilized eggs in the omelets. He likes to cuddle now, but our charming cockerel might attack his beloved humans to defend his hens. Ultimately, I think the adults in the household agree that there is not room in our hen house for a rooster.


Having decided that we won’t keep him, our options are slim. We’re hoping to find a home for him in a flock with more open-minded owners. Do you know anyone who would like a very sweet pet rooster? Speak up.

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Inside the coop

I am so happy to report that the ladies are greatly enjoying their full-time outside lives. They still seem to love us a lot even though they are big girls with their own lives. Bribery, treats, and special attention will get you everywhere with chickens. I like to peek into the egg door and see what they are doing. Usually they are being cute or funny, or both.

The inside of the coop is pretty nice. The roof is clear as to not interrupt their stargazing.

They’re good at putting themselves to bed when the sun goes down. They are learning to use their perch. They love the bugs and dirt. I enjoy not having chickens in my house. If we ever raise baby chicks again, I would prefer to do it in the garage. Or at your house. We’re friends, right? You’d let me keep a flock of chickens in your house, wouldn’t you? Now, that’s settled.

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Chickens, 7 weeks!

There are so many things I want to blog about these days, but the most labor-intensive project gets precedence today. We have been working on our garden coop for months. In fact, we spent most of the 4th of July weekend working on our chicken coop — what is more American than that, I ask you? I would say that our coop is now about 97% complete. It thrills me to type that.

We still need to:
* finish filling in the predator-proof trenches.
* add hardware to the human-sized door.
* tile and re-install the coop floor.
* add perches and nesting boxes.
* sew up a little part of the hardware cloth to keep predators out.

It’s nearly good enough for chicken habitation. Later this summer I want to add gutters and a rain catchment system, but that’s not essential now. Our years of research, weeks of hard work, the labor of our dear friends who helped to build this, and a smidge of good luck seem to have paid off – we are delighted by our coop. With great relief, many broken fingernails, a sunburn, 5,000 mosquito bites, and a thin layer of caulk on my hands, I am so pleased to present our 97%-complete coop.

The chickens are too big for the light box anymore, so we made them pose with Levi this week. I have to admit, this is pretty much my favorite photo ever. Of All Time. I have never loved a photo like this. No one was pooped on in the making of this photo. (see it bigger here.)

Ramona & Pepper love to perch on human arms. They make us feel like professional falconers. They are so sweet.

On to the individual shots!!

Cry-Baby Walker, pretending to be a pirate’s parrot.

Hatchet-Face is growing some feathery Farrah Fawcett wings on the sides of her head.

Ramona did not want to pose today. Also, her white feathers are coming in like crazy.

Pepper Walker is checking out the egg-access door.

Lenora was far too busy flying around to pose. This was her “best shot.”

The chickens were enthralled by the coop and they can’t wait to move outside full-time. The dogs anxiously tried to herd/eat the chickens, but the coop was secure enough to keep the hounds at bay. I have high hopes that the flock can move outside within a week!

Click here for past chicken portraits.

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SIX WEEKS!

We have managed to live with chickens in our house for six weeks now. I wasn’t always so confident about the chick raising, but we have done it! We have kept them safe from weather, predators, our dogs and cats, disease, over-handling, neglect and everything else that could have ended their little avian lives. They have grown feathers and started flapping their wings.

Being a chicken mom is so rewarding. Let’s not talk about dust or poop. I prefer to focus on the precious moments. I wake up to a chorus of anxious peeping at chicken breakfast time. I am greeted by excited peeping when I get home from work. I hear a round of sweet, sleepy, contented peeps as they cuddle up for bed. I hope we can finish the coop & move them outside within the next week. I’m not sure how much longer we will continue the weekly photos. The ladies are difficult to manage in the photography studio. They hate to be separated from their flock. They are too big for the light box that Krista built to photograph them. That cat keeps destroying the light box by napping in it. There are a lot of factors.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the six-week-old portraits of the chickens in my living room.

Cry Baby Walker has grown into a seriously huge chicklet. I need to get her on a scale. She is Chickenzilla.

Lenora Frigid. I love this bird. She is like the dove of peace, in chicken form. She is terrifyingly good at flying. I need to learn to clip chicken wings.

Ramona Rickettes who is obviously a speckled sussex and not a welsummer. I really wanted a welsummer, but c’est la vie. Ramona is the chillest, sweetest chicken ever, so I am forgiving her for being the wrong breed, even though I am sad to miss out on chocolatey welsummer eggs. Next time around, we are getting chocolate egg layers.

Pepper Walker!! Pepper is a really sweet, chillax’d chicken, much like Ramona. Ramona & Pepper act like BFF’s. You can always find them together, quietly plotting to steal all of the raisins/quinoa/melon/worms/peas from their frantic sisters.

Last, but never least: little Hatchet-face, who is growing feathers and gaining weight but never quite catching up with her sisters. She is looking a little scraggly this week, but our fingers are still crossed for her. I just want a happy, healthy adult hen who lays turquoise eggs. Get to it, Hatchet-face.

Outtakes from this week include close-up shots that show off the wattles and combs we are growing.




Click here for past chicken portraits! Hopefully soon we will have gorgeous shots of our finished coop to share! In the meantime, buck-buck-buck-ba-gock!

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the chickens & their props

It’s hard to tell exactly how big the chickens are in a photo with nothing for comparison, so I decided to have them each pose with props they have posed with before. They mostly cooperated.


Pepper and the swan pepper shaker, 10 days old.


At five weeks, the swan is not so interesting, although she did try to peck at it a couple times.


Cry-Baby, Babe and Paul Bunyan, 2 weeks old.


The gang at 5 weeks. Cry-Baby is our roundest little lady.


A handful of Lenora at 2 weeks old.


She’s not so easy to fit in one hand at 5 weeks.


Hatchet-Face and the apple, at 8 days old.


Still growing, 5 weeks old.


A fluffy little Ramona on our state at 10 days old.


Squatting on top of Washington, 5 weeks old.

Now if I could just finish up the coop so they can move outside! We have been weaning them off the heat lamp and they don’t seem to even need it at night anymore with this decent weather we’ve been having. We offer them new treats all the time, and being chickens they are always skeptical at first. In the last couple days they have tried watermelon and they got to finish off a strawberry a bird had taken a bite out of in the garden. The fun never stops on this little farm.

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four weeks of chicken-y goodness

I’m currently on what I have dubbed “chorecation.” I’m off work for two weeks, and I hope to use that time to get caught up on some things that desperately need to happen. Like, our house needs a good scrub down, the garage needs a miracle, and most importantly, the chicken coop needs to be painted and generally finished up so these ladies can move outside. They are getting huge, and their poop is getting smelly.

Without further ado, someone would like to show-off the feathers she spent the whole week growing:

All that fretting last week, and she starting sprouting feather pins all over the place the very next day. Also, her green legs got a little darker and more vibrantly green. HOLY DINOSAUR FEET.

Oh, and miss Hatchet-Face now weighs over 5 ounces. When we were first worried about her, she was barely over an ounce and lost weight for a bit. We are no longer taking extra measures to keep her growing, so hurray!

I don’t know if the ladies are less used to their portrait sessions now that they are only weekly, or if they are just more curious and aware of their surroundings, but it is getting much more difficult to get them to stay-put. Pepper is usually the most cooperative, but this week most of her shots looked like this:

I did get at least one where she stood in place.

To my surprise Cry-Baby was the only who just stood there and let me snap away while she made funny chicken faces.

This is especially bizarre because girl has really earned her name. She is very vocal when you go to pick her up. She also is like a little alarm going off when she has a treat she is trying to keep away from the others. Not so smart, Cry-Baby. Not so smart.

Lenora is the most curious.

She is the first to fly out of the brooder if the lid is off, and has started to try to take off to explore if you don’t keep her corralled.

This also means of course she kept taking off from the light box.

And last but not least, our colorful little Ramona Rickettes:


(demonstrating a funny new chicken squat pose?)

Jess says her feathers look like bloomers:

One month later, we are still loving this chicken thing so much it is hard not to pick out the chickens for “next time.” Unless there is some disaster, we don’t plan to add to our flock for at least two years. But gosh, aren’t these Lavender Orpingtons gorgeous?

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