Monday, December 29, 2008


Well, we have a rat problem.

We should have known. It started a while ago, when rats got into our 50-pound bag of chicken food in the garage. We should have known that 50 pounds of poultry feed in a paper sack would be tempting for any varmits around. Still, we solved that one pretty quickly by putting the food in a plastic tub with a snap-on lid. End of story.

Well, not quite. I went out on one of our snow days and discovered rat pellets in the chicken's food trough underneath the coop. Because of the snow, it was pretty easy to figure out where they were coming in -- there was a hole in the snowpack where they'd dug through it and into a gap in the coop's outer wall. I put a few bricks in place there, but the next night they repeated the trick by digging into a different area.

Since then, I've started taking the food out of the coop and putting it in an airtight bin on the porch. Annoying, but I figured that would solve the problem. However, when I went out the other night at 5 p.m. to shut the chickens up for the evening, I found rat droppings in the food. They'd either gotten into it during daylight hours or right at dusk, in the hour of darkness before I removed the food.

Greg bought the latest in rat-catching techniques, something that some people we met at a party told us all about. (It was a good party, really, even though we spent a lot of time talking about chickens and rats.) The trap is basically a piece of plastic coated with uber-sticky gel. The package even touts a "natural anesthetic" in the gel, presumably to calm the rat in its death throes as it discovers it is permanently adhered to a piece of plastic.

We'll see what he finds in the trap tomorrow. Here's one thing I cannot do -- I can build a chicken coop with power tools, but I cannot deal with a rat.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gertrude doesn't make it

Sadly, one of our chickens died on Christmas Eve.

Gertrude, the little bantie, had been moving slowly and acting a little off ever since the cold weather hit -- perhaps longer than that, now that we think of it. Her comb had lost its bright red color and turned pink and gray. On Dec. 23, we found her lying on her side outside the coop in an awkward and ominous position. We took her into the house and tried to warm her up in the laundry room, but 24 hours later she died. We buried her under the dogwood tree.

We'll never know why she died. We did have an epic stretch of cold and snowy weather, almost historic by Seattle standards, with five rounds of snow and temperatures into the teens. Still, the coop temperature always remained above 32, and Greg worked hard to clear the run of snow and give them extra food and treats, including warm oatmeal every morning.

When we embarked on our little chicken project, one of the books I read said that when you begin keeping domestic farm animals, you're inevitably going to have to deal with life and death issues more directly than when you have pets living indoors with you. You're not likely to take a chicken to the vet and you may not know something is wrong until they drop over. They're exposed to the wind, rain and cold, and their environment can only be made just so clean and sterile.

Gertrude was a sweet chicken, but she was the least productive layer of the flock, giving us only about a dozen eggs before she stopped laying for the season. We always noticed that she seemed less "social," if you will, and less aggressive about eating. Maybe the cold was not a factor, and she was just in poor health all around. I guess we'll never know.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snow birds

The henhouse now has heat. Greg rigged a light bulb in the chicken coop on Friday night. The coop has a cleverly-designed roof that lifts right off, so it's easy to get inside and make modifications.

On Friday night we used a 40-watt bulb, but on Saturday morning, with the paper predicting a stretch of sub-zero temperatures, we broke out the 60-watt bulb.

It was a kick to be able to see the chickens in their little glowing house in the evening. You could see see them settling in for the night, preening their feathers in front of the warmth of the light.

The lighted coop glowed in the dark.

On Saturday night we went to a party; as we were leaving it was starting to snow. When we got home around midnight, there was a magical layer of about an inch of of snow on the ground. The next morning, the henhouse was covered in snow, and there were icicles hanging off the roof. I gave them a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Explosive cyclogenesis coming

We've had an unusually mild fall so far, and even the rains haven't been so bad -- they've come in bursts, followed by days of relative dryness. But now the weather forecasters are warning that cold is on its way, and possibly snow as well.

I've put off rigging up a system to keep the chickens warm 'til now. A 40-watt light bulb in one of those caged outdoor/shop fixtures is now sitting by the door. Greg is going to try to affix it to the roof of the chicken coop tomorrow, while I'm at work. I hope it's enough to keep the chickens warm.

One of my coworkers with chickens is going to leave his birds as is -- he pointed me to a discussion on in which the author said he just let his birds adapt to cold weather and thought it made them hardier.

I don't know enough about meteorology to completely understand what the National Weather Service is talking about in its forecast discussion, but it sounds dramatic and interesting!


But wait, there's more:


I love snow.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Asheville chickens

My parents live in Asheville, N.C., and while they don't have room for chickens (they live in a condo), they report that the city is considering a chicken ordinance to allow people to raise chickens in their back yards. The current ordinance is apparently too restrictive.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The girls, all grown up

Well, I think I can say that my chickens are all fully mature now, seven months after we brought home the little fluffballs from the Issaquah Grange. All three are producing at least an egg every other day, and the egg bin in the refrigerator is regularly full of a dozen eggs at all times.

Here's a photo of the three. Gertrude the bantie is in front, with Wilma just behind her and blue-egg-laying Mathilda in the back. I must say, it's hard to take pictures of chickens -- their bodies move in a herky-jerky motion, and it's hard to get them to stand still.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three egg-laying chickens

Mathilda, our Americana (or is that Auracana?) has finally joined the egg-laying crowd, and, as promised, she lays blue-green eggs! They're very pretty, and just as good to eat. Here's the first egg, as we found it in the nest, alongside the golf ball and one of Gertrude's little eggs.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gertrude lays an egg

Gertrude the bantie laid her first egg on Friday, and followed it up with an egg Sunday. They're very cute eggs, if it's possible for an egg to be cute -- small, and with a hint of light beige in the shell. In this picture, the top egg is Wilma's and the bottom egg is Gertrude's.

She has an entirely different nesting habit from Wilma. When she wants to lay an egg, she kicks ALL of the nesting material out of the box first. It's a bit messy.

One chicken to go! Mathilda might not begin laying until the spring. She is the biggest bird of the three, and I wonder if her eggs will be larger, too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pumpkin pie with fresh eggs

A new experience: Skipping the egg rack at the grocery store as I gather the ingredients for a pumpkin pie. I know Wilma has laid four eggs in the last four days, so I don't need to stock up at the store!

If you need an egg for a dish, just wait a few hours -- Wilma will produce.

We think that Gertrude, the bantie, will be the next chicken to start laying -- indeed, I'm checking both nesting boxes every day now, in hopes that she'll lay an egg soon. Her comb and wattles have come in now, and they're different from Wilma's. The comb is much shorter and lies closer to her head, and a bit of it sticks up in the back -- it looks like the jaunty hat that Robin Hood wore.

Since one chicken is named after my paternal grandmother, I probably should have named one of the others after my maternal grandmother, Helen. But Helen seemed too elegant and regal for a chicken, so I cast about and finally settled on Gertrude, who was one of my grandmother's best friends. It sounds like a good name for a chicken.

Last weekend we went out to a pumpkin farm in Snohomish to pick pumpkins for Halloween. There was a lot of corn lying around in the field -- it looked like they had picked most of it and then run over it with a tractor to make a parking spot for all the cars -- but there was plenty of less-than-grocery-quality corn still lying around, clearly going to waste. We picked a bunch up and have been feeding the chickens an ear of fresh corn a day. Of course they love it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bad eggs

I've been worried all along that we weren't giving Wilma enough calcium to create shells around her eggs. I knew we needed to switch over to layer food - that is, food formulated for chickens that are laying eggs - but our chicken-food-carrying pet store, Mud Bay Granary, was always out when I came calling. Anyway, sure enough, on Thursday evening Wilma laid a shell-less egg.

It's probably not what you're thinking -- it was an egg, all right, same shape and everything, enclosed in the membrane that usually lines the shell. Except, no shell. It was weird, and also a bit dirty, and I threw it out.

We were frantic to get layer food, so I sent Greg over to Mud Bay on Friday. They had gotten the food in but were already down to their last bag. Meanwhile, Wilma laid ANOTHER shell-less egg, and this one broke open in the coop and made quite a mess.

When I finally got my hands on the layer food, I stood over her while she gobbled it down. Since the shell-less egg incident, I'd also been feeding her a lot of yogurt, which she loves.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, she was back to laying eggs with shells. Hopefully, that's the last shell-less egg we'll see.

In the meantime, I've also been giving her ground oyster shells (yeah, they eat those, too) but I'm not sure she was eating those, or recognizing those as food. I started scattering them on the ground, finally, along with some cracked corn.

All in all, those chickens eat pretty well. Among the foods we gave them this week: some over-ripe figs, a couple of slightly burned blueberry pancakes, a bowl of soggy corn flakes, split plums from our plum tree, an overgrown zucchini. Stuff that nobody wanted to eat, which would have gone down the disposal or in the compost pile otherwise.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Six eggs in seven days

Wilma is rapidly turning into a very productive chicken. Since her first egg on Monday, she has laid five more, giving us one fresh egg almost every day.

And how do they taste? Well, Elliott describes them as "saltier" than a normal egg and I call them "eggier." The yolk is a shade darker than a store-bought egg, and the white doesn't run in the pan when you crack the egg open -- it sort of stands up, and when you've cooked it sunny-side-up, it looks like it's been poached.

So yes, they're delicious, and different from store-bought eggs. We love them!

Monday, September 15, 2008

First egg

I could tell something was up with Wilma this morning. She was making a low, unhappy noise and pacing frantically around the chicken run. Sometimes one chicken or another will become agitated for no known reason, but they usually stop after 10 or 15 minutes. But Wilma wouldn't quit. I wondered...

Finally, she went into the coop and I saw that she was sitting in the nesting box, the one with the golf ball in it. Mathilda was keeping her company in the other nesting box, and Gertrude remained outside -- now she was the one doing the pacing.

I had to make a run to the store, and when I got back, Wilma was outside, standing in one place and looking a little stunned. I opened up the back of the coop, and there it was: the first egg.

It's a little smaller than a store-bought egg (my guru Janet says the first eggs are always smaller) and not as white. The shell is a luminescent, pearly color -- almost pink. It also feels very dense and heavy, and there are a few faint streaks of brownish blood on the sides.

I put it in the refrigerator after taking many pictures of it. Perhaps tonight we will eat it!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Watching for eggs

Not much has happened with the chickens in the last three weeks, and we were also on vacation for a bit, but I'll catch up here.

We think Wilma is getting close to being old enough to lay eggs because her comb and wattles have come in. She now looks like a chicken, in the most classic sense. See for yourself.

I never did buy a manual on raising chickens, although I checked out the few books available to me at the Seattle Public Library. They're always on back order -- tells you something about Seattle. But there's a very active web site called, with an active forum of users. If you have a question, you can either submit it on the forum or, better still, just look and see what else everyone is asking about. If it's a common chicken question, at least one person has asked it in the last 24 hours. You'd think the chicken experts would get tired of answering the same questions all the time, but apparently they don't. Anyway, the red pigmentation and the comb and wattles all have something to do with the chicken reaching maturity, so either Wilma is going to start crowing or she's going to start laying eggs.

To encourage the latter, we put a golf ball in the laying box. Said golf ball is supposed to give a young chicken a visual clue about where to put her first egg. We could have used ping-pong balls or plastic Easter eggs, but this happened to be what we had in the garage. Greg said he hopes that instead of laying eggs, she'll lay golf balls. They'd certainly be worth more!

I peek in the coop window every morning in hopes of sighting the first egg, and every few days I do a more thorough search by opening up all of the little doors in back. But so far, she's holding out on me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Egg countdown

I counted forward from the date we got the chickens and realized last week that we're close to the magic number -- 18 weeks -- when our hens will be old enough to begin laying eggs.

Of course, we do still have our fingers crossed that they're hens. Their voices are changing, like adolescent boys. Mathilda and Wilma now make clucking noises, and Wilma occasionally lets loose a loud honk.

One of my colleagues whose chickens are about the same age recently discovered that one is a rooster. Tell-tale sign: early-morning crowing. Additional evidence: a bossy manner and a curling plume of a tail. I think he has decided to slaughter it, following the philosophy of Michael Pollan the author.

All of our chickens have straight, short tail feathers, and Mathilda, who has almost no comb or wattles at all and the very shortest tail feathers, is the bossiest.

I just couldn't slaughter my own chicken, even if one does turn out to be a rooster. I'm a coward. I don't even like squashing bugs, and my daughter forces upon me a moral dilemma every time she finds a moth in her room, since she's terrified of moths (go figure) and they cannot be easily caught bare-handed without damaging the wings. I try to catch and release, but it's time-consuming and it doesn't help to know that the moth will probably be dead in a week anyway.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The origin of names

Wilma the chicken is named after my grandmother Wilma, who was born into a railroading family and grew up in a small town in Arkansas. She eventually married a successful, cigar-chomping man in the advertising industry, and moved to Washington D.C. The two of them traveled frequently to Europe, and when I was a kid, they would send us package of souvenirs from Rome and France and Spain. Wilma my grandmother could play "Kitten on the Keys" on the piano, owned a mink coat, and had a suitcase with stickers plastered on it from famous European hotels, like Hotel de Crillon in Paris.

Most likely she wouldn't have been especially flattered to have a chicken named after her. But now I think of her every time I think of Wilma the chicken.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Early risers

One thing about having chickens is that, for better or worse, I rarely sleep in now. If it's a sunny morning, I wake up at 7 a.m. and immediately start thinking about the need to get the chickens out of their coop. (Of course, on weekdays I wake up at 7 anyway, but now I get up at that hour on the weekends, too, even without an alarm to wake me.) Usually, by the time I get out to the coop, the chickens are making a bumping, thumping racket in the coop -- it sounds like they're body-slamming the door. I have even seen Wilma try to fly out the tiny plexiglas window -- haven't they figured out by now that they can't do that?!!

So, that's the bad, never being able to sleep in. The good is that summer mornings are so lovely in Seattle, especially when it's already sunny by 7 a.m. The rays of the sun slanting across the yard, the cool shadows cast by our big Douglas firs and the pleasant sounds of flickers and songbirds all add up to a peaceful, serene start to the day.

I usually make myself a cup of tea and then go outside and sit on the little bench at the end of the chicken run. The companionable chickens hang out at the far end of the run with me, preening their feathers in the morning sun while I sip my tea and plan my day. There's little traffic at that hour so I almost feel like I'm in a park, although occasionally I hear a boat down at the Ballard bridge tooting its horn to make the bridge tender raise the bridge.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Egg and I

I've just finished reading "The Egg and I" by Betty MacDonald, that "enduring classic" about a Seattle woman who marries an older man in the late 1920s and moves to a rural part of the Olympic peninsula to raise chickens. It's a very funny book, although less about chickens than about the rough backwoods characters who inhabit the farmland around her house near Chillicum, Wa. Her portrayal of Ma and Pa Kettle is so wickedly funny that it inspired a TV series on the slovenly, lazy but warmhearted hillbillies (and not surprisingly, a lawsuit by the real-life Kettles, who settled out of court, according to

You can also read the book another way -- as a woman's revenge against her first husband for taking her out to the woods and making her live a life of perpetual hard labor in a remote, gloomy outpost in primitive housing, surrounded by uneducated hicks.

If you can get over her portrayal of Native Americans, which is rather uncomfortable, it's a pretty funny read.

From the book:

Gathering eggs would be like one continual Easter morning if the hens would just be obliging and get off the nests. Cooperation, however, is not a chickenly characteristic and so at egg-gathering time every nest was overflowing with hen, feet planted, and a shoot-if-you-must-this-old-gray-head look in her eye. I made all manner of futile attempts to dislodge her--sharp sticks, flapping apron, loud scary noises, lure of mash and grain--but she would merely set her mouth, clutch her eggs under her and dare me...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just like TV

Here's a surprise about owning chickens: They're fun to watch.

We find ourselves spending a lot of time out at the coop, watching the girls do their thing. What, exactly, is their thing? Well, it involves a lot of scratching up dirt, chasing any bug that flies into the enclosure, eating greens we throw into the pen, chasing each other when one bird has an especially delectable morsel, standing up and beating wings in the air, going to the door of the coop and then flying down into the pen, and just generally being busy. Greg set an old bench up at the end of the coop, and we sit there in the late summer evenings, watching the girls and occasionally poking a worm or some chickweed through the mesh. They really like being hand-fed.

My theory is that we like to watch chickens because they're sort of like us: industrious and curious. They never stop looking for something to do.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to catch a chicken

How hard is it to catch a chicken with your bare hands? Pretty hard, it turns out.

Gertrude/Chika slipped out of the chicken run this afternoon when Greg opened the door to throw in a handful of greens. Gracie the schnauzer, who was wandering around the yard, immediately gave chase. We've always wondered what would happen if there was no chicken wire between Gracie and the birds, but now was not the time to find out. I made a heroic, diving leap to grab the dog before she caught up with the bantie, scratching up my knee.

After tying Gracie up, Greg and I gave chase. Gertrude weaved in and out of the laurels, through the raspberries and over the raised beds. She darted in and out of difficult areas. I despaired of ever laying hands on her, and yet she clearly wanted to go back home, because she kept circling around to the pen. Eventually, we got her lined up near the door to the coop, Greg opened the door, I flushed her in, and all was well.

If our yard was enclosed, we could probably let the chickens out to roam. But it's not, and every so often a big dog -- liked the mixed breed next door -- rushes into the yard, leaping back and forth in front of the pen and scaring the chickens half to death. If they were out wandering around, they'd be dog food.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Big chickens

We came back from a one-week vacation, and the chickens were much bigger - rounder, taller, more full of themselves.

The kids have been careful observers, and have their own analysis of the chickens' personalities. (And different names for them, too.) Lauren thinks that Gertrude (alternate name: Chicka), the banty, may act like the helpless little chicken, but she's wily and sneaky and clever. She sneaks her way into treats and gets what she wants when nobody's looking. Lauren insists she has the longest attention span of the flock.

Mildred (alternate name: Gangsta), the Americauna, is aggressive and insanely hungry and gets what she wants, but loses track of almost everything immediately.

Wilma (I forget Wilma's alternate name) has the least personality of the three. She's still just a little bit bigger than the others. She jumps impressively high when food is poked through the fencing at the top of the coop.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What they eat

It's fun to introduce the chickens to new foods. Kind of reminds me of what it was like to give my kids their first taste of a new food. Like kids, they play with it for a while, roll it in the backs of their mouths, and then proclaim it good or terrible. Actually, with chickens, even if they don't like it, they'll still peck at it on and off throughout the day. Heck, these birds eat DIRT, so what else won't they try?

I've read that chickens like yogurt, which makes no common sense. In the natural world, when would a bird ever come across a blob of yogurt? And they're birds, for goodness sake, not milk-fed mammals. Still, there you have it: One little bowl of yogurt, and they're immediately dipping their beaks in it and getting it down somehow. (Is there a tongue in there? Must be...)

They also like certain weeds, namely chickweed (thus the name) and they're fine with dandelion leaves and anything in the garden that's bolted. They especially like buckwheat sprouts, too, and they'll even eat grass.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Picky chickens

The chickens have been outside for more than a week now, and seem to be quite happy. They have frequent visitors - including Toby, the cat next door, who terrifies them. And, of course, Gracie is still infatuated with them - or possibly consumed by thoughts of a fresh chicken dinner.

I'm surprised by one thing: They're a bit picky when it comes to food. I thought they'd eat just about anything, but they didn't much care for leftover cantaloupe (although they gobbled down the seeds), cucumber peels or tomato ends. They do seem to like greens, including buckwheat sprouts and spinach.

We had a torrential rain on Wednesday, a good test for the henhouse, which passed the rain trial and stayed dry inside. However, the wood on the front door swelled up, so now I have to pare it down for it to shut properly.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Outdoor birds

I got home Friday night, put the finishing touches on the chicken run, made a crude ramp and opened up the door to the outside world. And the chickens came outside for the first time, skidding down the ramp (a little steep, I'm afraid), flapping their wings, cocking their heads and picking their way through their first outdoor adventure.

A couple of surprises here:

- Chickens love to dig, or scratch, and although I don't think they can dig their way free and escape, I did worry that they'd dig a deep enough hole to make it easy for some predator to get into the cage while we're gone. So I ended up lining the bottom of the run -- where the wood meets the soil -- with bricks.

- Chickens really like to eat bugs, worms and anything that crawls.

- Chickens are in motion from morning 'til evening, every moment of it spent obsessively eating stuff they find on the ground, or scratching the dirt up and then investigating what their claws have uncovered.

- Chickens don't like broccoli.

- Chickens never stop talking.

- Chickens like to fly (or try to fly), and they also like to run. For fun.

- At dusk, chickens go in their roost and go to sleep. You don't have to make them - they just do it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Henhouse, run and garden

The run still needs hardware cloth on the end and top before the chickens can go outside. What makes me laugh: Seeing the chickens looking out of their plexiglass window. I am looking forward to letting them outside - this weekend, I hope!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Chickens and Pythagoras

For the third day in a row, I've done almost nothing but work on the chicken coop. With the chickens safely installed in the doghouse portion, I turned my attention to the fenced chicken run, while Greg finished the "patio" -- the bricked area directly underneath the doghouse, where they can get out of the weather.

The run is made of 2x4s and 1/2-inch hardware cloth. It could house a chicken, or probably a cow. I seem to not know how to make anything that's not heavy-duty.

I had quite a time trying to figure out the measurement of the angles, since the shape is a slanted rectangle (parallelogram?). I have a tool that has degree marks on it, but I couldn't figure out how to use it. However, helping my kids through math problems recently made me realize that I probably needed to trot out the Pythagorean theorem, do a drawing that contained a right triangle, and figure out the other angles.

The nice thing about having kids in school is that you're constantly using old math skills to help them on tests, and you suddenly find that they really ARE useful to know in real-world situations. I'm surprised somebody hasn't started marketing algebra to baby-boomers who are worried about getting Alzheimer's -- what a way to work your brain...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hens in the henhouse

After a weekend of frantic construction work, the chickens went out into their new home this weekend. They're spending the first night outside tonight. I hope it's secure enough to protect them from the raccoons!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Henhouse goes into ground

Last night, after dark, Greg and I set the nearly-finished henhouse/ doghouse into the post holes we'd dug. There's still a bit of work to be done, and I was out there frantically last night nailing cedar planks to the side of the henhouse, trying to finish it off. Meanwhile, a neighbor told us that another neighbor has lost three chickens this week to a marauding raccoon, adding energy to my efforts to build the Fort Knox of henhouses.

The chickens, meanwhile, are like rowdy teenagers who want to skip town and have their own lives, and all three of them now regularly fly to the top of the box and perch there, somewhat defiantly. The bathroom smells like a farm.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gracie and the chickens

Our dog Gracie, a miniature schnauzer, can't get enough of the chickens. Let into the bathroom, she puts her paws on the edge of the box and looks inside, her tail wagging furiously. I don't know what she's thinking -- does she want to eat them? Chase them? Just watch them, like dog TV?

Meanwhile, the birds are getting out of the box more and more often, perching precariously on the cardboard edge.

Chicken movie

Several people have told us to feed our chickens a little scratch in the palms of our hands. Once we started doing this, the chickens lost their fear of us and began hopping up in our hands, the better with which to survey their world. Here, Mathilda the brave jumps up first, followed by Wilma the leghorn. Gertrude skulks in the shadows.

Chicken salad

"Made the chickens a salad," Greg said.

"Salad? A chicken salad? What's in a chicken salad?" I asked.

"Cole slaw, carrots, broccoli and some bugs."

I worried all yesterday that our newly-flight-worthy chickens would wreak havoc upon the bathroom, but they were in their box when we got home. However, there were random dots of chicken poop on the bathroom floor. The chickens apparently flew the coop, but then came home to roost.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Free Range in the bathroom

As I was getting ready for work this morning, one of the chickens (Gertrude) successfully flew to the top of the box and perched there, clinging to the box edge with its chicken-feet, surveying its domain - the bathroom. I shooed it back in, but by the time I had brushed my teeth, Wilma had done the same thing.

Yikes! Our chickens can now fly the coop! We have free-range house chickens! Not good.

Meanwhile, I have about 12 solid hours of work remaining to do on the coop, plus numerous supplies to buy before they can go outside. I'm feeling the pressure, all right.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The chickens are eating like pigs

Front and back views of the henhouse.

The two doors in back are my handiwork from Mother's Day (some families, ahem, take their mothers out to brunch. Mine left me to build a chicken coop). The hinged doors will allow us to open up the back of the house and gather eggs from the laying boxes I made. I estimate we could get eggs in September -- or possibly next spring, since chickens don't lay eggs in the winter, unless you provide them with light. That's what the books say, anyway.

The birds are really growing fast now, and they eat all the time. The largest, Wilma the leghorn, is about the size of a robin, and the other two are roughly the size of starlings.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

With apologies to T.S. Eliot

The naming of chickens is a difficult matter.
So far, each of our chickens has had THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

But, there's no poetry involved - we just can't agree.

Greg and I both think that old-fashioned names fit best. So we cooked up a trio of very nice, old-fashioned names for the three of them, and they were automatically rejected by our kids, who have a lousy track record of naming birds.

The leghorn has variously been named Wilma, Phad Thai and Blaze. In truth, I think I will always think of her (I hope it's a her!) as The Leghorn. Or Hawk, because she has a hawk-like face.

The bantie has a few names, including Gertrude.

The Americauna has been christened Mathilda, but we all keep referring to her as Baby, because she's still the roundest, littlest, cutest chicken of the three.

I don't know if any of these names will ever stick, so we may just end up calling them The Chickens.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Great coop example

We were cleaning out the back yard this weekend to prepare the chicken run, and as part of that we set out some old creosote-soaked railroad ties that had been stashed out behind the garage. A woman immediately showed up to take them away, and as we were talking, we learned that she has chickens too.

I followed her over to her house in Ballard to get a look at her backyard coop, which could have been a cover photo for Modern Urban Chicken Farmer magazine - if such a magazine existed! It was really elaborate and handsome. She has three lucky chickens. It's a two-tiered coop, made mostly of cedar, with lots of space on top and bottom for her four hens.

I'm working on modifying a large cedar doghouse, which we picked up for free one summer, and making it into a coop. I think I'm going to have to make it taller, though.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Like part of the family

Day three, and it's already starting to seem downright normal to have chickens living in a box in the bathroom.

They're pretty quiet. They walk around the box, pecking at the pine shavings, at each other's backs or beaks and occasionally scratching. They are especially cute when they drink water, because they have to tip their little heads up so the water goes down their throats.

A block away, there are some neighbors -- people I don't know -- with chickens. I was walking home from the bus this afternoon and their chickens were walking around the front yard, unpenned, nobody in sight, just scratching away at the dirt. I was impressed with how LARGE they were. They're not small, chickens.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The latest thing

Day 1: In which the Zuhl-Long family acquires three chickens.

Greg called from work, ready to go home for the day. “Hey, how about we go out and buy some chickens this afternoon?”

Not as in, “Let’s buy a chicken and roast it for dinner tonight,” but rather, “Let’s buy some baby chicks and raise them for the eggs.”

We’d been thinking about this step for quite a while, and suddenly everything just seemed to come together. I had a little while before Elliott needed to go to piano, so we jumped in the car and headed over to Issaquah’s Grange Co-op store, where, over the phone, a somewhat harried but enthusiastic woman had rattled off the names of a half-dozen different varieties of chickens that they had in stock and more on the way.

The place was a little crazy – people were running in and out getting supplies for horses and other animals. A guy with a shaved head and a large tattoo behind his ear – indeed, he looked more like he should be working at a tattoo parlor than a grange – helped us pick out a couple of likely-looking birds: a brown leghorn, a bantie and an Americana, which will lay blue-green eggs. (We hope they’re all females – there’s no guarantee. You can’t have a rooster in the city. “What if one of them turns out to be a rooster?” I asked. The guy shrugged. “Let it go?”)

The kids were extremely excited about having chickens. Elliott, done with piano, dashed home to see them. He texted Lauren in the car – she was still at school, taking after-school driving lessons – and she and her friend Kristen immediately decided Kristen should come over as well. Nothing brings kids into your house like a couple of baby animals in a box of pine shavings.

They’re going to live in the bathroom for now, just because it’s tiled and large and warm. We have a heat lamp for them. In about a month, they will get to live outside, in the chicken coop that I have not yet made. The plans are in my head.