Category Archives: Chicken talks

Lesson 691 – A nesting box of her own

Although chickens can function well without one, most hens very much appreciate having access to a nesting box when it’s time to lay their eggs. It’s where the ladies go to literally produce what it is inside that is yearning to get out.

Quiet leads to focus and focus always leads to production.

Everyone needs a little space to call her own – it’s part of human nature and it’s also part of the creative process. I see it constantly in the hen house where if some of the birds don’t have immediate access to a nesting box they will, instead, improvise by using a hidden corner, an overhang in the rafters, or even an overturned bucket – whatever it takes to create that private little space to do what needs to get done.

Anyone who knows me, knows that this nesting-space force lives strong in me. For years I have been fascinated by tiny houses – not much more than bitty play things – my very own place that I could call mine. Continue reading

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Lesson 690 – More lessons learned from the flock

Good news for those who like to read about lessons learned from having chickens in your lives. I’ve recently been asked by Grit magazine *and* by Community Chickens – which is a jointly-run site between Mother Earth News and Grit magazines at Ogden Publications –  to write blog posts about our adventures with children and chickens in New Hampshire.

Although I do write (and teach classes) on the care, feeding, and maintenance of a flock, it is the life lessons we’ve all learned from living in a combined flock of children and chickens on which I will be concentrating.

I learned valuable lessons like no matter which species you belong to, all flock members have to fed, guided, entertained, taught, and tucked safely into beds at night. Continue reading

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Lesson 539 – Our little Charlie is growing up

Charlie has been losing her baby feathers lately. I know this because like leaves in the fall, small feathered fluffs fly all over our house when we walk from one destination to another. I had thought capturing our errant household dust bunnies was tough, try sneaking up on those tiny wisps of nothingness that fly away as soon as they sense the air of your breath.

Along with losing her baby feathers, Charlie is also getting a fluffy bum – no surer sign of hendom exists.

Our little baby is growing up.

I had mentioned that we might start getting eggs from Charlie in the next 4-6 weeks (she was born in January) but a Black Copper Maran guru (Linda) had told me to hold on that excitement a bit. She said that with her first few Black Moran chicks, they didn’t start laying until around 8 months which would be sometime in August for us.

Linda (located in MA, LLBickford@aol.com) raises (and sells) purebred Black Copper Marans and has graciously offered us a hen when her current batch of chicks are old enough to sex. (She actually offered me a newborn but I can’t take the risk of getting a rooster – as gorgeous as they are.)

I know what she’s doing.  Linda recently had a bird that spent time in her house but unlike me, she has worked on transitioning her bird to the outdoors. Birds belong with birds. On a deep level I know this. Continue reading

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Lesson 538 – Guess what? Chicken Butt. All about chicken diapers

I know that there are many of you out there who have long waited for this one, well here it is. This is a post about chicken diapers. Yup, you heard me, chicken diapers.

As you know, Charlie our house chicken has complete run of our first floor (It’s a renovated old cabin and the floors are either worn down wood or tile so it’s easy to clean up after her.)  Charlie goes everywhere. It’s not unusual to hear her squawk when someone bumps into her in the kitchen because Charlie is also there thinking she can get a free nibble (Charlie is a horrible beggar) or when someone reaches for the remote and accidentally grabs Charlie’s tail feathers.  (I know, I’d squawk too.)

Charlie is a lovely bird, with a tremendous sense of humor and tons of personality. She fits right into our flock.

She’d be a welcome member of the house any day …. If it weren’t for the poop.

Chickens poop. They poop a lot. Hens have only three things to do in life, eat, lay eggs, and poop.

I tried the clicker thing and although I’ve trained Charlie to come running when she hears the clicker (if you haven’t seen this video, you should, it’s hilarious) I was never able to get her to poop on command.

I think one of the reasons for this is that Charlie is not the type of bird to cuddle up in your lap (and we have a few of those in our flock – Simon and Morganne) Charlie wants your attention but only on her terms. If you are sitting down, reading a book, or watching TV, she’ll come over to you, not you to her. She doesn’t like to be picked up (except by Emily- the-Black-Copper-Maran-chicken-whisperer) but she adores it when you stroke her chest and the bottom of her beak.

At nighttime, we always have a rousing game of tag as I try to corral her into her roosting area.

So you can imagine, Charlie probably wasn’t going to be too keen on wearing a diaper. The first one I ordered from Amazon, was too large and slipped off her no matter how much I tightened it. I tried modifying it, no luck. That ended up being  28 dollars down the proverbial toilet. Continue reading

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Lesson 536 – Do it yourself – chicken night stand and nesting boxes

Up until now, we’ve had Charlie sleep in a modified rabbit wire cage. We jury-rigged a roosting bar in the corner and every night before we went to bed, we put her in the cage, locking her in to roost for the night.

We did this for a few reasons:

  • We needed to make sure that Charlie was safe during the night. Our dog also sleeps on the first floor and while they get along during the day, I didn’t want to take the chance that Pippin might mistake Charlie in the dark as something that must be challenged.
  • It is instinctual that chickens roost at night. During the day there aren’t a lot of roosting opportunities for Charlie (she does like the view from the top of the couch) in our house and so by forcing her to roost at night, at least she is getting her “roosting” exercise in.

Our little girl, however, is getting bigger so this weekend the kids and I went to a thrift store in order to get something suitable for Charlie to spend the nights in.

We looked at coffee tables – too big. Children’s play structures – too primary colored. We even considered a bureau and then, like the Holy Grail shining from the mountain tops (at least that’s how it’s depicted in Monty Python films) we saw a wooden filing cabinet.

Really mom? Said Emma.

At first my kids couldn’t see the possibilities. Just trust me, I told them as I put the cabinet in my carriage, brought it up to the front and paid my $6.99.

When we got it home, I took the drawers out, measured the inside, cut an old broom handle down to size, nailed it in and VOILA,

My very first car was a black beetle *sigh* LOVED that car.

A roomy chicken night stand – suitable for one. Continue reading

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Lesson 535 – Charlie our house chicken comes running

 

As an added bonus, here is a short video of Charlie running to me when she hears the clicker. (this is what you do to entertain your son when he has to stay home from school for the day because of that nasty head wound.)

Such a smart chick.

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Lesson 532 – Our newest celebrity chick

A few weeks back I gave a Chickens 101 workshop in Concord, NH for people who are planning to establish chicken flocks in their backyards.

It was an introductory class on how to get chicks and then, once you have them, how to take care of the birds until they reach egg laying age.

The second workshop (cleverly named Chickens 102) scheduled for April 30th will cover some of the problems you need to be aware of with chickens and basic chicken first aid. (It’s also going to cover “coning” but we won’t get into that right now.)

Because chickens are new to Concord – it’s a probationary program where they are letting people have 5 hens on their property – there are going to be a lot of people who will need chicken support, at least initially. For this reason, not only am I holding the workshops, but I’ve also written an article for the Concord Monitor which covers some of the chicken basics.

The Monitor sent down a photographer (Brad) to get “action shots” for the story and he and I had a lovely chat about chickens in general. Brad was intrigued with the diversity in our flock and asked all kinds of chicken questions. (See, even during a photo shoot, our birds are fowl ambassadors, sharing the chicken love.) Continue reading

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Lesson 521: Chickens 101 and lava lamps

Last night I gave a chicken 101 workshop for the Capital City Organic Gardeners club in Concord, NH.

Concord is running a 21 month probationary program where home owners are allowed to have up to 5 egg laying chickens in their backyard. There are a few restrictions including:

  • Single family residences only.
  • Lot size may be less than 1 acre.
  • The chicken coop must be at least 30 feet from each lot line.
  • Coop must be located in side or back yard. Coop cannot be in front yard.
  • You can have no more than 5 female chickens.
  • No  roosters are  allowed.
  • Chickens cannot be free ranging.
  • You cannot sell the eggs or the meat. On site slaughtering is prohibited.
  • Chicken manure must be covered by a fully enclosed structure or container. No  composting or fertilizing must be removed from property.

While this isn’t a perfect situation, it is certainly a start. Continue reading

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Lesson 446 – Double yolked eggs and other oddities

If you take one of my chicken workshops, then you learn how chickens form and lay eggs. The first thing I always do is draw a chicken oviduct on the white board. It’s not that hard to draw because essentially the oviduct is simply a long twisted tube.

So let’s start at the beginning. Roughly every 18 hours (more for some birds, a little less for others) a hen releases an egg. That’s the yellow part that is blamed for our cholesterol counts being high.

As it travels down the oviduct, a gelatinous membrane is added. That’s the white of the egg, also called the albumin and is the stuff of which lovely meringue is made of.

The egg then continues to travel down the twisty oviduct. Because it is being rolled over and over, the fibrous strands inside (called the chalaza) twist which helps to anchor the yolk within the albumin.

Once the egg reaches the lower portion of the oviduct, calcium is deposited around the egg creating the shell. Continue reading

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Lesson 426 – Cold and flu season for the chickens

A bit of a Public Service announcement.

In my chicken workshops, I cover a little topic called Biosecurity. Basically it’s steps you can take to protect your flock from outside illness.

A healthy chicken is a healthy chicken

Treat your flock as you would any other animal, I tell my classes. Wash hands, wear boots to the chicken yard that are left at the door. Chickens are not dirty animals but they can carry diseases.

Just be smart.

I warn them about things like if you go to a county fair and touch the livestock, wash your hands and change your clothing (including shoes) before you interact with your flock (bet you didn’t think of that one) Same thing goes if you visit a farm, or your kids go to a petting zoo.

And if you introduce a new chicken into your flock, you need to isolate her for at least a week to see if she has any symptoms of disease.

I told my class about how we were nothing but lucky when we purchased our adult hens. We didn’t know any better and simply put them in the hen house with the others. Luckily what could have been a recipe for the destruction of our entire flock, turned out to be nothing more than a happy home-coming.

This past weekend, I got several emails from a person who had been in my class and who was in a spot with his chickens. It seemed that while on Craigslist (trying to get rid of two roosters) he saw an ad for some free egg laying hens. Such a deal right?

Except that very few people (other than breeders) want to get rid of egg laying hens. Those are the bread and butter of your flock. I would be suspicious of anyone offering an adult hen (this is not to say that there aren’t legitimate offers out there, just make sure you clear them first – do your homework.)

He contacted the owner, picked up the birds, and put them in with his flock (of two, now that the roosters had been removed.) Within a day he noticed that one of the new birds was sneezing. Not a good sign, chickens can get flu like illnesses (bird flu, anyone) that can make them very sick. With the sneezing it’s also tough to control the illness’ spread throughout your flock.

Should I isolate her? He wrote me.

There are all kinds of expressions to answer that one and “closing the barn door after the horse is out” is the one that first came to mind. The damage has been done. If the bird was infected (and it certainly sounded like a sick bird, healthy birds just don’t sneeze) then it’s too late. His entire flock was in danger. He went to a local feed shop and got medicine to treat all the birds.

The salesperson at the feed store told him that he should throw away all eggs while the birds are on the medicine and for a few days afterward. Good advice. Store eggs are loaded with antibiotics and hormones but home eggs are (hopefully) not. Store eggs have a certain level of medication that is allowed (I know, gross) and when you are treating your own flock, it’s tough to regulate that level. You could end up with super-antibiotic infused eggs. Continue reading

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