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Posts Tagged ‘city chickens’

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I don’t usually get that excited about eggs anymore. But today we got the first egg ever from Danny our tiny black banty hen. It’s the smallest chicken egg I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t find a ruler, but it was smaller than a standard 35mm roll of film. And about a third of the size of the eggs that Penny lays.

It’s so cute! Even Agnes lays bigger eggs than that. Hopefully they’ll get a bit bigger as she gets into this egg thing. Maisie is looking like she might start to lay in the next week or so. Her hips are getting wider and when you touch her back she now “assumes the position”. Can’t wait to see what color they are…

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I think. I’m 99% sure that the little black chick is actually the smallest hen in the flock. Good thing I decided to keep her. Now I could still be wrong, but she’s now clucking and sqawking just like the rest of the girls with nary a practice crow to be heard. She’s officially the smallest hen I’ve ever owned and she looks nothing like Agnes even though they’re the same cross breed. She’s so tiny that she can stand on my hand or perch on my finger and she’s no heavier than Maisie was at 2 – 3 weeks. It’s almost like having a pet crow…

And the sound she makes, so funny! It sounds like her clucks are coming through one of those voice distorters – you know, the ones that make your voice sound all mechanical and slightly fuzzy? She sounds like that, all the time. And while I was concerned for a while that she would always be a matte black color, and therefore easily confused with a crow, she’s recently developed that beautiful green / purple sheen like Lucy has.

Chickens are funny in many ways. In the way they run, cluck, argue over treats, talk back and sleep. At night Lucy and the chicks perch on just above it on the roost bar so it’s “roof” is always covered in chicken poo. I’ve got a piece of leftover vinyl floor on it so it’s fairly easy to clean, but still gross.

So the other night, I thought I was really smart. Now that we’re down to one egg a day, and I’m guessing even that will be over by Halloween, I decided to move the nest box to the other side of the roost box. It means that I have to go in the coop to get the eggs, but hopefully would mean that they would stop pooping on it as no one sleeps on that side of the roost bar. Until now.

Now Penny, Maisie and Danny have all decided to go sleep on that side. And, you guessed it, continue to poop on my nest box. I always thought they roosted in the order they did due to pecking order, because that’s what I read. But apparently it’s because a few of them actually like to roost above the box. Oh well. Guess I’ll have to keep cleaning up after them.

Not much else to report. I think Lucy and Pru are starting to molt, but not enough feathers to be sure yet. Jake has learned that he can reach plates left on tables, so now we have to extra vigilent about putting dishes away right away. Oh wait, he’s not a chicken is he?

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Of course today, the only day I had to work in the garden before leaving for Italy, it’s raining. And it rained its hardest while I was working in the yard / garden. Oh well – at some point I was so wet that it no longer mattered that it was raining.

Luckily I got a lot done even with the rain. I weeded most of the front flower beds. I pruned the roses. I trimmed back the lavender and I put an end to the sad looking tomato and cucumber plants on the front steps. All that’s left for winter is one last trim of the bushes and hedges. And the roses will need a hard pruning after the first hard frost – I usually do that in January.

Also in January we’ll be putting in 6-12″ of new compost and mulch on all the beds. We didn’t get it done this year because we waited too long and all the flowers and plants were up. But this year I’ve already got it on the calendar to happen in January while everything is sleeping and we can put it in with minimal effort.

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Walt of Walt’s Organic Fertilizer in Ballard. Someone I know turned me on to the fac that he sells whole grain poultry feed. I called Tuesday and they were kind enough to hold the last bag for me until I could get there. The girls are now eating a 1:1 mix of his beautiful layer feed and the organic crumble they had been eating. They’ll eat this until we run out of crumble and then eat the good stuff 100%.

Walt was very helpful and has a fabulous little store. He even had diatomaceous earth by the pound, so I got enough to dust the girls and their roost box. Much better than using the Sevin powder.

I also chatted with him briefly about gardening and he reminded me that we can grow lettuce, carrots, green onions and kale year round here due to the mild climate. Of course that’s only true until it freezes around Christmas. Nevertheless, I’m going to sow seeds for each in the pots I just emptied. Maybe we’ll get enough to eat it for Thanksgiving if nothing else.

If we ever get the garage finished (this requires that we start…), Mike is going to help me build some raised vegetable beds along the south wall. He even offered to help me build a cold frame for one or two of them. Guess then I’ll have NO EXCUSE not to raise some of my own produce.

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Late fall seems to have come early to the PNW this year. It’s been cold and rainy for more than a week, with today topping out at 50 degrees and the forecast not promising anything better for at least the next five days. We may get lucky and be graced with a bout of indian summer, but I’m not holding my breath. Usually when the rain shows up it just settles in for a while.

One of the questions I’m asked most by people considering keeping city chickens is “what about winter?”. Well, it’s a mixed bag here in the PNW, at least in my opinion. For the most part it doesn’t get cold enough to really worry about the hens. They need somewhere to get out of the wind, rain and cold to sleep, but they don’t need heat or a lot of insulation. On the other hand, we get a lot of cold wet rain, and rain means mud and wet straw/shavings and damp birds. Which can lead to illness if you’re not careful.

Last year we tried a few different things before we really hit our stride for how to help our birds through the damp days of winter. This year, I’ve put the plastic (details below) up early as the heavy rains of the past few days have made things really damp and wet in the coop. So, if you’re curious, keep reading for what we do to keep our hens healthy and happy all winter.

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We put plastic panels up about 3.5 feet on the sides of the main coop to keep out the rain and snow. This is less for warmth and more to keep them dry but the side benefit is that it gives the girls a wind break and keeps them a bit warmer. The coop is open completely on the south side to give them access to rain, snow, sun and fresh air. The plastic panels are made of clear PVC corrugated roofing panels. We just cut them with a fine skill saw blade and screw them up. During the summer we store them in our shed.

We also change the straw more often during the winter to keep it drier. We have a door flap made of a vinyl floor scrap that we put over the roost box door anytime it’s below 40 or so at night. And since I’m a softie (and we’ve got a couple of banties) I turn on a heat lamp in the roost box on nights that drop down into the 20s or lower. The heat lamp isn’t strictly needed, but we had a round of the sneezes last year and the extra warmth was a factor in getting rid of them.

The girls eat a fairly standard diet of organic layer crumble and huge amounts of table scraps and weeds / grass / bugs that they scavenge in the yard. We always treat with cracked corn year round but much more heavily in the winter, giving them corn both in the morning and at night. The extra calories help them keep their weight when the temperatures drop.

Finally, I’ll be dusting with either diatomaceous (sp?) earth (if I can find some) or Sevin powder this weekend to get rid of any mites or lice before cold really sets in. And as soon as they stop laying, we’ll do a round of worming as there’s a good chance they’ve picked some up this summer. Both of these are somewhat preventative measures to be sure that the girls go into the cold months in good health.

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Tonight I should have blanched and frozen the 8 lbs of green beans in my fridge. I should have weeded my flower beds. I should have deadheaded my roses. I should have pruned the bushes growing in front of my window. I should have done a lot of things. But I did none of them.

Instead I went to the monthly meeting of the local Seattle Chicken Meet-up group. It was an interesting mix of people with chickens, chicks and dreams of hens. I felt slightly out of place as the only north ender. And also as one of the few people there that thinks of my hens more as farm animals than pets.

I care a lot for the girls (and possibly boy) but I’m not about to invite them into my home, buy them special treats beyond corn or teach them to sit on my lap. I just want them to be healthy and happy and funny in that way that only chickens are. I want them to be true to their nature and instincts (such as haven’t been bred out of them). And I want them to valued members of our household, which they are.

But to each their own – I just think it’s great that people have hens. And fun to talk to other backyard chicken owners and hear about their triumphs and challenges. It was a nice group of people. I’ll likely try to make another meeting if I can, but Tuesdays are hard for me. And driving to Seattle after work was a bit of a bummer. Hmmm, wonder if there’s enough north enders to make a Snohomish County group?

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