Saturday, July 25, 2009

Progress on the Broody Bird

Wow, after almost 4 weeks of constant broodiness, we finally decided to get serious about Mohawk. Most of what we read said to confine the broody hen in a smaller cage with a wire floor for several days until the bird got back to its usual self. Well, we were reluctant to try it, but ol' Mohawk did not seem to be coming out of it on her own.

So we put her in a wire cage inside the run for a couple of days and finally let her out today. She hopped out of the cage and immediately joined the other two hens in scratching for bugs in the raised bed. I checked on her several times during the day, and she continued to avoid the nesting box.

Finally, the big test: would she head for the roost or the nesting box at night?

Well, I'm happy to report that she's on the roost just like the good ol' days and we're crossing our fingers it sticks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New in the Neighborhood

We saw a pair of Nuttall's Woodpeckers in our yard today. We joked that they were attracted by their much larger and practically land-bound cousins' barred feathers.

My new goal is to try to tale a decent photo of them. We first heard the woodpecker pecking noise a few months ago, but this is the first time they stood still long enough for us to get a good a look at them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Are Urban Chickens Right For You?

In the last couple of weeks, what feels like dozens of people have come to me to ask "Are Urban Chickens Right For Me?" While I'm far from an expert, I have been keeping some notes and guidelines.

This, then, is for them:

The urban chicken craze is still accelerating, flapping and pecking its way through cities from coast to coast and across the globe. While some see it as a fad, others see it as the next logical step in living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Done correctly, keeping urban chickens has many benefits. For children, they learn where food comes from and how to care for animals. For the chickens, life in a nice backyard is light years better than life in a factory farm or "battery." For the eggs, they're healthier, some say tastier, and they're not trucked in from distant places. And for your garden, you can compost the chicken poo and really add a boost to your soil.

But before you decide to take the next step toward hen-related happiness, ask yourself "Are urban chickens right for me?" You'll find the answers in the cosmos...

Laws of Space and Time

To keep things above board, you'll need to find out whether your town allows urban chickens. You'll have to learn the rules: how many can you keep? Are there rules about where to place a coop? Does it have to be a certain size/height? A certain distance from the property line or other structures? Are roosters legal (probably not, and besides your hens lay eggs whether or not there's a rooster present)? You should also share this news with your neighbors before you bring home your new feathery friends.

You'll need space for a coop and for a run. You can get smaller chickens, called Bantams, but you'll still need some space for a run and some shade. A good rule of thumb is 2 to 3 square feet per bird for the coop, and 4 to 5 square feet for the run. And while you're at it, the coop has to be predator proof. You'd be surprised at the number of urban predators out there. In our neighborhood in the Bay Area, we have hawks, possums, raccoons, dogs... And those are just the ones we've actually seen in our back yard! It's up to you to determine if any existing pets will cause problems. Coops can cost thousands of dollars for fancy pre-built ones, or you can make your own out of recycled materials. Chickens don't care much about the aesthetics, just as long as they're safe.

Keeping chickens is actually a relatively low-maintenance task, so you won't need a ton of time. Daily chores include feeding and watering (yes, you can get automatic waterers and feeders) and checking for eggs. Folks also like to let their chickens out of the run to stretch their legs, too. More infrequent chores include cleaning out the coop and run, and inspecting the birds, coop, and run. You'll need to purchase food (and other treats/supplements like flax seed, oyster shell, scratch, cracked corn) and pine shavings or hay. Chickens also love to eat bugs, weeds, and kitchen scraps.

And so, that's it. Are urban chickens right for you? Chances are that someone you know or someone in your neighborhood is already keeping chickens. Further, the amount of help, advice, and support available on the Internet is nearly overwhelming -- just search for Urban Chickens. But you might want to set aside a few hours, first!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chicken Update, (na na na chicken update)

A bit of a status post:

Mohawk, one of our three Barred Rock hens is still broody! It's been 3 and a half weeks now. Sheesh! I suppose we're making some progress though, because if we kick her out of the nesting box, sometimes she'll stay out for a while (10 - 45 mins) before heading back in.

Our little Urban Chicken operation was mentioned in the San Jose Mercury news:

CheepersV, our youngest hen is laying now. So we're back up to getting as many as two eggs per day. We cannot wait for Mohawk to get back to layin' (or as I say, "Make with the roundies!")

Monday, July 20, 2009

Garage Project

Now that we have an outlet at the workbench, it's time to build a shelf and get organized. You turn your back on a kid for one second and the next thing you know there's a bent nail...

And the new shelf. Exciting, eh? Er, well, it will be once I put up the pegboard and get everything put away. Really!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Electrical Goodness

We finally got around to hiring an electrician to take care of some of the last few wiring/lighting issues around the house. Some of these things have been bothering us since we moved in 9 years ago -- like the garage light and door opener that are "wired" via an extension cord snaked through the rafters and plugged in to a light socket extender thingy. Then there's the new stuff. Like getting the new back yard sprinkler timer wired in professionally. Yay! I think I'm more excited to have the project finished than I am by any one or two of the actual pieces. Yes, it's nice to have a bunch of grounded outlets in the garage, but it's also incredibly nice to finally cross this one off of the list!

The crew showed up right on time this morning and got right to work. I wish I were more comfortable working with electricity, but I'm just not. This is one of those projects I'm happy to not DIY.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Of Giant Colons, Shoes, and Chicken Articles

All this over a left foot.

A couple of years ago we were on a family vacation "back East" and we went to a mall. In the mall they had a giant colon. No, really. A giant colon. It was a promotion for some health care company or other and the thing was that kids could climb through the giant colon like a long cave. To make the parents less nervous about their kids traveling through a 20 foot colon, the sides were perforated by dozens of port holes and windows. Our younger daughter was zooming through the colon on her third pass when a man stopped to take pictures of the kids. He showed us his press stuff, identifying him as a photographer for the local paper and asked if it would OK if a picture of our daughter climbing in the 20 foot colon ended up in the paper. We said yes and did whatever else was required. A couple of days later there was a picture in the local paper of the colon and somewhere in the shadowy recesses, a single tennis shoe. Our younger daughter swears it was her shoe and she lorded the fact that she (or her shoe anyway) was in the newspaper over her older sister.

And then there was the time her friend mentioned her in an article on a Bay Area website -- as the name of her pet frog.

Little Sister: 2, Big Sister: 0

So today was our older daughter's chance to even the score, or to at least get on the scoreboard. A member of the San Mateo Chickens group on Yahoo! (Thomas of mentioned that a reporter was looking for families relatively new to Urban Chickens so I contacted her and in a matter of hours had made arrangements for her and a photographer to visit our house the next day. The focus, however, would be on the kids and how they do most of the daily chicken chores.

The photographer showed up at 4pm. The girls ran around and alternated between hiding (shy) and hyper. The kids absolutely loved showing off their chicken knowledge. A good time was had by all, even if my younger daughter forgot to bust out some of her chicken jokes.

And now, we'll wait to see whether any of it makes it into the article.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Broody Update

We're having no luck with the broody hen. She started being broody when we had a giant heat wave last weekend, while we were away on vacation.

We try bribing her. We've been dunking her bottom in water daily for 4 days. No luck. We keep her out of the coop for most of the day, but the second we let her have access, she's right there back on the nest.



In better news, have you ever had something sitting around that you needed to mail/ship and you just never get around to it? You know, it becomes a kind of piece of furniture and soon you're piling other stuff on top of it?

Well, I finally shipped something yesterday. It felt so good I wanted to go out and celebrate, maybe order drinks for everyone at the bar, et cetera.

Instead, we ate left overs and watched some TV. But inside? Inside I was partying like a rock star!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Weekend Project: The Broody Hen

Just an aside, but doesn't "The Broody Hen" sound like a name for an old tavern?

(Robert Jordan fans might recall the crazily-named "Easing the Badger" Inn/Tavern from his epic Wheel of Time series).

Anyway, this weekend we'll see if there's anything we can do to deal with the broody hen. As usual, I got the names mixed up. It's Mohawk with the broody problem. Mathilda is still the sweetest of the three, dutifully laying her eggs even under such trying circumstances.

In a way I'm glad we're running into problems like this because I like to think that things will be easier later...

But we tried luring her out with raisins as a treat. That works ok, but she goes back in about 2 minutes after we leave. We tried closing the door to the coop for an hour at a time. That works a little because Mohawk will eat and drink a bit before settling down in the hay in her run to brood. She also goes up the ramp and inspects the door to the coop periodically.

Anyway, it's difficult to work on things with the hens when we're at work most of the day. The three day weekend should help. I'm thinking the raisin/bribe/treat trick will work if we can spend a little time with her.

I hope to accomplish a few projects in the yard this weekend, including more sprinkler work, major tree trimming (neighbors' trees have grown so much part of our garden is shaded for several extra hours each day), and just general tidying up.

Oh, and we need to buy a card reader for our new camera so we can finally offload all those images. It's probably time to post a few pics of the birds...