Tuesday, June 30, 2009


We have a broody bird!

That's the news we were greeted with when we returned from our vacation. We had been away for a full week, "enjoying" the humidity and rain and steamy heat of New England. While we were gone, our chickens (and 95% of our plants/garden/etc.) survived a terrible heat wave thanks to the outstanding efforts of our next door neighbors.

Having chicken owners living next door is an incredible convenience. They took extra special care of our house and chickens during the unexpected heat.

But when we got home and were still pulling our luggage out of the car, our neighbors came out of their house and walked across the lawn. They looked almost solemn. I got a nervous feeling and began to prepare myself for the bad news. What terrible catastrophe happened while we were gone?

"You can't be home! We didn't check for eggs yet!"

Phew! That didn't sound so bad. Why the long faces?

"I think one of your hens is broody. She hasn't left the box..."

Sure enough, I went out to check after we got our bags out of the driveway and Mathilda was sitting in the egg box. When I peeked in she puffed up her feathers and made a rude screeching noise I've started calling her Velociraptor scream. She stayed there all day. We braved the risk of pecking and peeked under her -- no eggs. Silly bird.

So now I get to read up on how to deal with broody hens.

But the vacation was fun. The teasing I expected from my relatives for keeping urban chickens never materialized. There were a few Q&A sessions, but no teasing... One thing I expected to see while we were out there was chickens. I had read other folks' blogs about how once they started keeping chickens, they noticed more chickens out in the world while on vacation or whatnot. Well, we saw only one place that looked like it might have a little coop out in the back. We were in rural New Hampshire, which I figured would be ripe grounds for chicken spotting, but no luck.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chicken Sitting

We're off to New Hampshire for my sister's wedding and this will be the first time since we brought home the little peeps in January that we'll be away. Our nextdoor neighbors are doing the chicken sitting. They have chickens, so really, we're in good hands and we'll be able to return the favor next time they head out on vacation.

Since their chickens aren't laying yet (should be soon though!), they will get to enjoy the fresh eggs laid while we're gone.

Still, the chickens will be stuck in their run the whole week (we let them roam around in the back yard when we're home). Even though I know they'll survive, I can't help feel bad for them. We'll have to have some good treats for them when we return.

CheepersV is now 19 weeks old, so it's entirely possible that she'll start laying while we're gone.

It'll be interesting to see how my relatives act when we finally see them in person. I'm sure there was some eye rolling when they found out about the birds earlier. We're not typically "fad" followers, so we'll probably get some good-natured ribbing for that.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Now _That's_ an Egg!

Trusty Mowhawk laid a huge egg today. This sucker is much larger than our store bought eggs and positively dwarfs the usual eggs our hens lay. Behold!

The picture shows the two brown eggs we got from the birds this morning, and one store bought extra large egg we had in the fridge. Wow!

Things have changed since we installed our little window in the coop. The hens used to avoid the nesting box end of the roost, so the box stayed clean(er) and things were nice. But now, with the window in, they like to stay on the other end of the roost so they can look out the window (I'm guessing) which means lots of droppings in the egg box. Bleh.

The plan is to put in a nicer/reconfigured perch when we return from vacation. More on that, later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I read about a call for submissions at a site I frequent and I finally got around to sending in an article today. My muse has been absent for months now, and I attribute that creative vacuum to my mostly dull job. It always seems that the more I'm working, the more I'm using my brain, the more I feel like I want to write. And that's when the better ideas come along.

So this article today is nothing great. In fact, I'd be a bit shocked if I get a call. No, I submitted it because I was so happy just to have written something. Also, I went with a different take on the subject, knowing that I would be competing with lots of "straight" submissions -- so that will either give mine a chance at standing out, or it will be an easy reject for the editors.

I'm still trying to geared up for writing the second book for my daughters. Last year for Nanowrimo, I wrote a book that I thought would really capture their imaginations. They liked it a lot and so this year I'll do a "sequel." I'm still toying with the idea of trying to publish the first one. There aren't a whole lot of fantasy books aimed at 7 - 9 year old girls.

One interesting issue is that my girls are growing up so fast, I won't be able to write many books for this age before they're off to the next stage of life. Better get to work!


See what I did there?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Coop Update

I love it when projects go smoothly and everything pretty much works as it should.

And that actually does describe the coop window project.

We really wanted to put in a window on the back of the coop so that we could increase the ventilation during the hotter months (and, yes, that way we can peek in without opening the egg door or entering the run).

The fun part of the project was getting to use my (early) father's day present: a router.

We bought a $3 piece of plexiglass (14" x 11") and then I cut out the opening in the back of the coop. I wasn't even done drilling the pilot holes for the jigsaw when CheepersV ran into the coop to investigate! So I had to close the birds out of the coop for the duration. After I cut out the opening, I routed out a "rabbit" in the back of the leftover coop trim, attached hardware screen to the inside of the coop, and voila!

The gap on the ends of the right-hand piece of trim is there because that part slides out to the right and a little wiggle room seemed to help.


Yes, that's our old camera... Our main camera is definitely broken.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Weekend Project: Leak Fixing

A couple of weeks ago we noticed that the ground over by the valves for the new sprinklers stayed wet all the time. After it didn't dry up during a 90-degree day, we decided to investigate and sure enough we found a very minor leak.

We called the person who put in the sprinklers, but after a little more than a week without a call back, we decided to just see if we could fix it ourselves.

Turns out it was due to some of the blue epoxy stuff getting stuck in some threads. It wasn't hard to fix and now we can fill in the hole we dug. Just before writing this up I ran outside to take a quick photo of the hole/valves/etc. only to find that our digital camera is broken!!!! It worked just fine the last time _I_ used it, but I looked at the last few pictures actually taken with the camera and they were taken by one of our daughters. She, of course, plead innocent to charges of camera battery, but regardless, that stinks. We're heading off to my sister's wedding in a week, so our choices are to use our (very) old 1.2 megapixel digital camera, buy a new one, or use the Flip video camera we just got and basically eschew photo-taking.


Tomorrow's project, time permitting, is to finally install a "window" in the coop! We have everything we need: some Plexiglas, painted trim, tools/supplies. I've even drawn the outline of the hole we'll cut out. Also, I get to use the router (yay! finally). BUT, I have to leave to play ice hockey at 12:45PM so I'm not sure we'll get to it...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Noise Factor

This morning, persistent noise from the coop woke us up. It was 6:00. I'm sure the neighbors appreciated it even more than we did. We checked on them at 6:10 after the noise continued. One hen was in the (egg-free) nesting box, the other two were in the coop just hanging around. The noise stopped and we went back inside and tried to sneak just a few more minutes of sleep. And I actually did fall back asleep.

For about 5 minutes.

The egg-laying noise started up again, and this time it kept going for 20 minutes. I was worried that the excessive clucking meant one of the hens was egg-bound or something. My imagination ran wild as the noise continued. It was so loud it even woke up our sleepy-head daughters who dutifully got out of bed and fed the chickens! (That's usually my job in the AMs)

Sure enough, our daughter came running in the house bragging that she was the one who "got a double!" and proudly displayed the two eggs. Turns out that in the interval between 6:10 and when the kids went out, both of the 23-week old hens got to work.

That's great! (and I'm especially glad everyone's ok) But I'm concerned that my neighbors won't quite see it as such a great thing. At one point during the ruckus, a neighborhood dog let out a few barks, just to let everyone know he was still around:

DOG: Bark! Bark! (Shut up, chickens, it's 6 in the morning! Sheesh!)
HEN: Cluck! Cluck! (Hey, we're layin' over here! Give us a break!)

I've often read where people who don't have chickens complain about the noise and chicken owners calmly explain that chickens are not noisy at all, and you simply get a little clucking around egg time. But our experience has been different. In fact, we have a neighbor three houses down who used to keep hens and said they stopped due to the early morning (6AM, summer) noise! (but this neighbor also starts a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at 7AM every Saturday AM...)

Yes, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we get a visit from a neighbor...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hens Reading This Blog?

Of course, the minute I make it a matter of public record that Mohawk wasn't pulling her own weight around the coop, she laid an egg yesterday!

Now, we know it was her because she laid it right in the middle of the run, rather than deposit it neatly in the nest box like Mathilda does (nearly) every day.

We rewarded the birds with a few blueberries and some scratch.

Today, Mohawk went into the nest box and sat there making the "here comes an egg!" noise for 20 minutes, but she left without laying an egg. I'm hoping it's just a case of her figuring out how things are done.

Go Mohawk!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Egg Doubt

So, I was convinced that both of our 22 week old barred rocks were laying eggs, but we've been keeping a close eye on the birds and it appears we were wrong. One bird -- Mathilda -- is doing all the heavy lifting.

Mohawk makes all the same noises, but we're fairly certain that she's not laying. We scoured the yard and their run and the coop: she's not hiding them.

Our current (admittedly lazy) plan is to just sit back and wait it out. I don't know what else we could do. Mohawk is not a rooster. She looks nearly identical to Mathilda and at 22 weeks, she doesn't have any rooster-ish characteristics.

They're eating laying feed and we have some oyster shell out for them to grab if they so choose.

My only real concern is that Mohawk will start laying while we're on vacation, in which case we won't be there to deal with any emergencies. That's ok, though, because our neighbors are chicken owners themselves, so ours will be in good hands.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Love/Hate Lawn

The other day I came home from work and both of my daughters and a friend of theirs were out on the new lawn in the backyard. They had their shoes off and they were just laying there in the sun chatting and playing under the curious eyes of our three urban chickens. It was great. I smiled.

On days like that, I'm so happy that we decided to put a lawn in the back yard.

But then when I look at our tiny little garden (48 sqft), and I look at our water bill, or the lawn mower, I hate the lawn. I curse it.

When my wife and I talk about wanting to grow blueberries or plant more vegetables or fruit trees or build a playhouse for the kids, I hate the lawn.

I fully expect that some time in the next 5 years we'll end up tearing out some/most of the lawn. As we continue to want to plant more and water less, we'll come to see that lawn as a huge soft/lush/green carpet of doom. One that requires mowing/edging and other maintenance.

But until that day, I'm going to go out and set up the tent on the weekends so my daughters and I can camp in the back yard. I'll kick the soccer ball around with my younger daughter and play catch with the older. We'll have friends over and they'll sit down on the lawn and relax. And I'll smile.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


We'll never keep bees.

Bees are the logical "next step" for many folks looking for sustainable ways to grow and eat local.

But bees scare me. This can be an issue if my daughters are around. My vanity insists that they NOT see me run screaming from the yard, arms flailing around my head every time a honeybee comes near the garden. So I remain calm and stoic while I find an excuse to go get something in the garage.

I keep reading about (and meeting) people taking up bee keeping. It seems a perfect companion to gardening and even raising a few urban chickens. In fact, it's a trend gaining in popularity, much like urban chickens and victory gardens. And even the White House is getting in on the action.

But we'll never keep bees.