Thursday, December 30, 2010

Little NBA Stars?

Chickens are not designed well. They can't really fly (especially since we clipped their wings), they are kinda oddly shaped, and rather clumsy (I can't tell you the number of times I have seen them step on their own feet and then slip.) So you can imagine my shock when we discovered that my beloved birds can jump like little basketball stars! What motivated this great athletic feat? What else but food? Now the girls are very spoiled creatures so they know they don't have to work hard for much of anything especially treats. However, the other night Jeff was feeding them spaghetti when before he had a chance to throw it down one of the girls leapt right up for it. Well, this was not a bright move because now Jeff and I have a new game to play with them. Check out the movie to see it in action!

video 

We are also excited to see that our mushroom log is started to sprout. It won't be long before I can make mushroom soup!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chicken Poop Bingo Contest!!!


A few weeks ago my sister-in-law, was telling me about chicken bingo. While she was traveling, on business, in Texas she visited a bar that had a checkerboard and you could buy a square. Then they put a chicken on the board.  If the first poop landed on your square, you won the pot. This had to be one of the coolest things I had ever heard of!!! I felt compelled to play this game myself. Sadly, I have no bar of people to play this game with me and Jeff didn't want to play with just the two of us ..... so I am bringing this to the blog. I took some wrapping paper, taped it to our coffee table and began measuring out the squares. So in honor of my wonderful sister-in-law here you have it…

Rules-
Open to legal residents of the United States, 18 years of age or older at time of entry. Limit one entry per person.

Email me your most creative pet chicken name idea at clandestinechickens@gmail.com

I will write your chicken name on a square.

When all the squares are filled, I will take one of the birds upstairs and whoever’s square she poops on first will win their own three Australop chicks!!! (You will get new birds; I am not giving away my dearly beloved girls. The birds will come courtesy of  http://www.MyPetChicken.com )

If she poops on multiple squares, it will be a do over. If she somehow manages to poop off the coffee table and onto to my beautiful white shag carpet, I lose and we start over again!

If you are the winner, we will send you an email to arrange shipping the birds. Be aware that it might be awhile before we can send the birds due to the winter weather. (I had a wait a month after I ordered my girls!)  

Good luck!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Normal Day on the Farm

It was a normal day on the "farm." I came home after work and found two eggs waiting for me in the nesting box. I collected them and gave the girls some of their new favorite treat- ramen noodles. They scarfed it up and I, of course, gave them more. Then onto the fish to give them dinner and checking in on the worms and spraying them with a little water. Lastly, the annoying chore of the night- fixing the stupid timer for the potato light. It just kills me. Jeff bought a timer for the chicken's light; it's one of the old fashioned dial timers. He had it up and working in less than a minute. I, however had to be progressive, and buy a digital timer. Between figuring out how to set the clock and then programing the silly thing, I have spent at least an hour. Yesterday when I finally thought I had it worked out- low and behold yet again it wouldn't turn on it. I gave up for the night, for fear I would throw it out the window and started again tonight. Another twenty minutes rereading the directions, and I think I have it working now (or at least it is turned on who knows if it will ever turn off.) Well, I bent over to get the directions off the floor, and I  heard an all too familiar crack sound and suddenly I remembered  putting the eggs in my coat pocket. Yup, just a normal day on the "farm" complete with a pocket full of egg slime. Considering how much Jeff yells at the chickens when they break eggs I wonder how he will react.....

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ramen Noodles and Plant Prep

We learned something new about the chickens today. They LOVE ramen noodles. The girls make me laugh so much; they are just as bad as college students! We made up a bowl (I confess it is Chicken flavor-eek!) and threw in a few noodles. They went crazy and fought over it like it was a worm (which I suspect they think it was a worm hence why it was so popular). Either way, they now have their own  tupperware full of noodles. (Just for the occasional treat- not for an entire meal.)

We also used our boxing day to get the house back in order after the holiday. The potato seeds had sprouted enough that I was able to plant them in the grow bag under the LED light in the basement. First I mixed potting mix with a ton of perlite (to help with compacting soil), then I put four inches of the mix in the bottom of the bag, put the potatoes in (cut side down), and covered them with another inch. The timer is set up to go on at 8 am and off again and 8 pm. I feel bad since that means that the chickens will have to put up with the "club" look for a few hours past their bed time but hopefully it is far enough away to not bother them too much. (I originally wanted the light to go in the living room, but Jeff felt that the blue and red lights looked too much like a bar, and I was banished to the basement with the light.) We also transplanted the seedlings from the mini jiffy greenhouse. Annoyingly, I know I planted peppers and carrots, however, I have two random seedlings that are neither kind of plant. I planted that as well and time will tell what the heck it is. I was surprised by how much fun I had planting. Even in the middle of winter, the smell of the soil and the bright green seedlings make me smile.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cookie

Being the generous type, Jeff decided to give the girls one of the Christmas cookies we made. They, of course, gobbled it right up! Luckily they didn't fight too much over it and they were rather adorable with bits of green icing on their beaks. The only downside was, as I have mentioned many times on this blog, chickens are like children and the same rules about sugar highs apply. They were "buzzed" and the squawking  and running around could be heard for hours. Perhaps next time we will just give them worms for the holidays.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Electric Bill

Today our electric bill arrived in the mail, and running an indoor farm does mean a higher than usual bill. (The chickens do have their very own compact fluorescent bulb though, and I plan on switching it to an LED light due to the mercury in cfls. Can you tell I am feeling very guilty writing this post?) Anyways, enough of me trying to squirm out of the subject....I did promise we would write about our energy bill so below is the low down.

This December we, used an average of 13 kWh a day. Last December, we used an average of 8.3 kWh a day. So what accounts for the differences? Well last December we did not have:
  • The chickens' light, which goes on at 7 am and off at  5 pm
  • The perchs' bubbler and the light for the greens growing above the fish
  • The grow light over the lemon tree, carrots, peppers, and other assorted plants in the living room
  • The AreoGarden which is currently helping sprout the purple potatoes

So our average cost per kWh was $.16 which means we spend an extra $.77 a day and $23.1 a month running the "farm." According to the US Energy Information Administration, each kWh emits an average of 1.27 pounds of carbon. So therefore we are adding 5.97 pounds of carbon to our footprint a day! (Can you feel my "greenie" heart sinking in shame???)  The interesting debate comes in when you factor "food miles." It is estimated that food transport is 83% of the carbon footprint for food consumption (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es702969f). So is our meager two eggs a day offsetting our additional 5.97 pounds of carbon emissions? I doubt it. I have no way to calculate it though. However, I imagine that we come out way ahead when you factor in the summer time garden and all the food we canned for winter. So while the winter farm is a total energy hog, at least we have fun. (Yes, I am trying to justify this!)

For entertainment, I decided to see just how much electricity the average American family uses. According to the Department of Energy, the average is 920 kWh per month. (http://www.oe.energy.gov/information_center/faq.htm#sys4) Yikes!! Even with the farm, we used 442 kWh a month which is 478 kWh less than the typical family. Phew, am I glad I switch all our light bulbs to cfls! : )

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bad Chickens!!!

The girls ate another one of their eggs today! I just don't get it- as soon as we think we have them broken of the habit they do it again. What makes it extra frustrating is after the bloody egg incident, I tried to feed them scrambled eggs to increase their protein and fats. Did they take so much as a bite of those eggs? Nope...but the raw "just came out of my butt" variety was a hit! Silly birds.

In other news, I switched the tube air pump in the fish tank to an air stone. I got tired of having to clean the algae off of it every few days to keep it working. Let's hope the stone works better.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Birds in the Dark

So a few days ago I came home before Jeff and went downstairs to collect eggs. When I got there, the light above the girls' pen was off. This, of course, made egg collection rather difficult. We have the light on a timer so we don't forget to turn it on or off for the girls. We used to set it to go off later in the evening so I couldn't figure why Jeff would change it. The funny thing about chickens is they do or don't lay eggs based on sun exposure so less light would equal less eggs. When I asked him about it, he said that he changed the light to simulate the winter hours. Finding that confusing, I pointed out, "Isn't the whole point of indoor chickens that they are like those birds that go south in the winter but without the 1,000 + mile flight?" I should've know better than to say something smart like that to Jeff because his retort was about how not allowing the birds to go through the "seasons" is tough on their endocrine systems. Of course, their endocrine systems...what was I thinking? : )

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Inspiration

In the about us section, you will see several paragraphs explaining why we are writing this blog. Today a very kind fellow blogger reminded me in a few words why we are putting this site together. Here is her post. (Be sure to check out the rest of her blog- I really enjoyed it.)
http://betweenleafandsky.wordpress.com/category/urban-hens-2/
Thank you Between Leaf and Sky...we appreciate your kind words and hope that your "chicken mission" inspires even more folks to give clandestine chickens a chance.

Cleaning Around the "Farm"

While my dad and I did make a ton of progress on the sewing machine, we got to the point where we needed someone who knows more about the art of the 1970's sewing machine. Tomorrow Bella (yes we named her!) will be going to the repair shop. However, I did have a chance to take a picture to show you. (Based on some internet sleuthing, I think this is a Dressmaker 2402 made in 1977. If anyone out there is a sewing machine expert and knows if it is or has a manual I would really appreciate the help-Thanks!)

When I got back home, Jeff was working on getting last week's pressed cider ready to pasteurize. So I helped him with that. We also re-racked the very first batch of cider. Wow, it still is DRY! We then got into the cider that has only been fermenting since Halloween and it was perfect! I think both Jeff and I were shocked that we managed to make something taste so good on our second batch. It was semi-dry but you could still distinctly taste a subtle flavor of the apples. A lot of time, we have noticed with commercial hard cider, it is sweet but you can no longer taste the apple flavor. This was the best of both worlds. We toasted each other and enjoyed the "fruits of our labor."

Our first meal with our very own hard cider!
Being Sunday it seemed like a good day to tidy up around the "farm" so I cleaned some of the algae off the air bubbler in the fish tank, turned the kitchen scraps and dirt over in the worm bin, watered the potatoes under the grow light, while Jeff decided to spend some "quality time" with the chickens. Well if you recall from my Friday post, the girls had a dramatic start to their weekend. They did NOT take to kindly to Jeff wanted to hold them. There was a flurry of feathers but eventually they calmed down. I think they decided to sneak attach Jeff since as he put the last chicken down, he looked at his shirt and noticed he has been "bombed."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Basic to Basics- Sewing

As much of my life revolves around doing things the "old fashioned way," it only seemed fitting that I learn how to sew and today was my first lesson. I found a quiant sewing school in the basement of a local church- does it get any more cute? There was two of us in the class, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the other girl looked to be about my age. It turned out she is a lawyer who wanted to sew her own dresses for work. It's meeting people like her that make me think that perhaps Jeff and I's lifestyle isn't just for fringe weirdos but might be on the edge of something about to become much more popular than we can ever imagine. Although I might be getting a head of myself, after all there were only two of us in the class : )

After the class, I took the instructor's suggestion to try to find a sewing machine in a thrift shop. Never missing an excuse to go thrift shopping, mom and I went on what turned out to be a marathon day across town at all the local second hand stores. We ended up with the most beautiful, yet not exactly functioning, 1970's teal blue machine. (The motor works but the needle doesn't go up and down (kind of an issue.) However since it didn't work, they only charged me two bucks! We lugged the solid cast iron beast home and down to the basement where my dad and I spent the evening attempting to revive what I am now calling, "Big Blue." We had to give up after a few hours but the mission shall carry on tomorrow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chicken Hemorrhoids? (Bloody Eggs!)

Just when we start to think we have things down to a routine one of the girls does something to mess that up! Tonight, not ten minutes after Jeff left for work, I went downstairs to check on the girls since it seemed I was hearing more noise than usual. I saw an egg in the nesting box and when I retrieved it, I noticed that it was bloody! Of course, I was worried....what in the world does this mean? Is one of them hurt? I threw away the egg and went upstairs to pour myself a glass of hard cider (with what I had to do next I needed something to take the edge off.) Then I went back to the basement and faced what any good urban farmer needed to do- inspect their vents! (Yes, vents are what you think they are!) I began with Scabby since if any chicken was to be injured it would most likely be her. I turned her over and pushed away her feathers. It was a fight, but nothing seemed wrong with her. I did the same for the other two birds and they all seemed fine. (Yes, I googled to see pictures of what their vents should look like-shudder.) Other than annoying the birds and getting myself scratched, I didn't answer the bloody egg question. I went to the backyard chicken forms and found this post that answered my question. (Yes, clearly I should have just looked at this web site first before the "vent inspection".) So it seems that it is perfectly normal for the girls to break a blood vessel in their "plumbing" in the first few months of laying and that it is nothing to worry about. The best remedy is to add some fat and protein in their diet....great just what we need to go out an buy them another treat! Ha!

http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=273527

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No eating each other!

The addition of the new "livestock" to the basement farm has created some interesting ethical issues. The other day I ran out of mealworms, so without even thinking about it, I went to the vermaculture bin dug out a worm and threw it in the chicken pen. The chickens were thrilled and the one girl who got the worm looked pleased while the others gave me pathetic hungry stares. I turned to walk away from the pen, to see my mom standing there with a look of shock on her face! She does have a point that it is kinda mean to ship the worms all the way here from Pennsylvania and then just pull them out of their new wonderful home and feed them to three diva chickens. It is a "cruel and very unusual" way for a little worm to meet his maker. (I am not sure how this worm dying is any different from the mealworms I bought at the pet store, but I didn't press that issue.)  The moral of the story is there is a new rule on our urban homestead: no eating each other! What a strange life we live.....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cleaning The Pen- Winter Time

Living in Upstate NY when I say we got a lot of snow, it means we really got a lot of snow. We are looking at about eleven inches of accumulation. Which seeing as the chickens stand at about twelve inches tall creates a problem when it is the day to change their bedding in the pen. While their breed is cold hardy and they would be perfectly fine for a short amount of time outside, at this point there is no denying how spoiled they are so outside wasn't an option. We debated putting them in the bathroom but that just grossed me out. The final decision was to lay down a bunch of newspapers, and I would "babysit" the girls with treats while Jeff cleaned. This worked great for about ten minutes. Jeff went upstairs to get the soap when he heard me scream, the metal dust pan go across the floor, a chicken squawk, and me scream again. By the time he got back downstairs, I was putting them into the dog carrier threatening that I would serve them for dinner tonight! What happened was, Cluck (who else would it be?) pecked my hand right between my fingers and drew blood, to establish dominance in the pecking order I hit her, she fell down and landed on the metal dust pan which she knocked over when she got up and as I put my other hand down on the floor to get myself up I realized that I had put my hand in a warm pile of poop Scabby had left for me. Wonderful! I cleaned myself up and Jeff finished with the pen while the girls waited in the dog carrier. Even though they didn't make me very happy today, I couldn't help myself but to give them a treat of an apple while they waited. Just like a dog or cat, even when they are naughty we do still love them.

Another positive development- we had my parents over for dinner (it was vegetarian I promise!) And when my parents went downstairs to visit the "basement farm." My dad was able to find my worms! It turns out they had all crawled to the very very bottom just past where I had looked yesterday. We pulled them out and circulated them through the entire mixture to hopefully get them eating the kitchen scraps.

Despite the mishaps, it was a successful day. The pen is cleaned up for the girls, the worms were rediscovered, I think the little algae eaters are starting to do their job, and we had a wonderful evening with my parents.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Apple Pressing Tantrum

Everyone has their limits and today mine were tested by a formidable pile of, what else, but apples. Yes, I said apples. Part of our DIY lifestyle means that inheritantly some days just are going to be more complex than they should be and there is no one to blame but yourself. The day started off normally, I woke up and went down to the basement to feed and tend to the managery of creatures. First I check the chicken's water and feed, then I make sure the worms are moist enough and if not spray them with a little water, and lastly I feed the fish and check their PH and Ammonia levels. (Jeff and I take turns with the morning routine, but I wake up earlier on the weekends.) This morning the chickens had dumped over their water so they were out, and when I replenished that you would have thought they hadn't had a drink in a week. I felt so bad. Then I checked on the worms and couldn't find them! I know they have to be in there since I have a bin underneath them so if they escaped they would be stuck in there. However, I couldn't find them as I dug around in the mess of dirt and leftover egg shells, half rotted blueberries, and green onions. I am not sure what to make of this development. I am really hoping they haven't died in there. I make a mental note to read up on this on the internet later. Lastly to the fish. Here I discover that the bubbler has stopped working and that the algae has grown so much I can no longer see in. Hmmm....well perhaps the two problems relate so I pulled the bubbler and whipped it off. (Very gross and slimy) That did the trick, but I still had to solve the larger algae problem. As I struggled to see into the large green tub I was able to make out that yet another fish had died. I am getting frustrated as I can't determine why the fish are dying.

Moving on with the day, I decided to do a load of laundry before Jeff woke up. This means I needed to get the newly homemade detergent out of the bucket and into the old store bought laundry detergent jug. (I do this rather than use it directly from the bucket because it is easier to use.) Well as I was pouring the goo into the funnel something got stuck and as I tried to look in the funnel I dropped the bucket spilling the light blue jello like detergent all over the floor. Lovely! After cleaning that and finally getting the laundry done, Jeff and I head out to the pet store to pick up a few algae eaters and a fish net. After the last fish died, I had to pick it out by hand and to say the least I am soooo over that.

Upon getting home, I put the new algae eaters in the tank, still in their bag from the pet store, so the water temperatures adjust, and Jeff and I started getting ready to press apples. We decided to make some more cider so we can "backsweeten" the last batch that came out so very dry. (Backsweeten is cider talk for adding something sweet after it has finished fermenting in our case new cider.)

As I have written about, I was really frustrated by our apple grinding issues. The first batch we used a small cuisanart. Jeff felt that didn't really help us be independent (since it is tied into the grid) so the second time we used a large bucket and beat the apples with a long board. Well at this point, I put my foot down and insisted we use the cuisanart. Things were going along okay until about the half way point when I cracked. I just couldn't take anymore of the grinding apple sound, the sticky goey messy everywhere in my kitchen, and the fact that we had been at this for two hours and were only half way done! Jeff looked over at me and asked if I was okay. My response was a five minute whining session about sticky apples and why can't we be normal people who buy cider at the store. After getting over myself, I finished up processing the apples and I began to really think about why we don't just buy cider. This morning we saw organic black beans that cost $1.99 for a pound. We laughed because Jeff and I have several old jars filled with organic black beans from our garden and the incredibly cheap price was a joke compared to the effort we put into the getting ours. So why do we live our lives like this? We can't say we save money. The chicken coop and feed out weighs the eggs we get from them, we drove three hours to get the fish and I have spent a small fortune at the pet shop with nitrate testers, PH drops, etc, the garden also is a money pit although not as bad as the other projects but with the time and supplies we don't come out ahead. So why do this? Jeff and I have different reasons. I know he is more concerned with peak oil and needing these skills sets. I also worry about this but, today being the exception, we have a blast with our hobbies! It is greatly quality time together. We work out challenges as a couple, laugh at our mistakes, and our relationship is strengthened by the projects. Also the quality of food is out of this world. Nothing beats getting to enjoy food you grew yourself canned during the peak of freshness in the middle of the winter. So, for me, I get all the benefits of reducing my carbon footprint (some of the projects others are total carbon hogs), quality time with my husband, and preparing us for a potential emergency. Even with days like this it is worth the trouble.

Note the color difference between today's the the ones from last month.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Barking Chickens?

Chickens, like children and dogs, know just when you laid down because your head hurts and take that moment to do something totally unusual and alarming. Tonight just as my head hit the pillow, I heard the strangest sound coming from the basement: barking. It sounded exactly like we had a small dog in the basement. I ran down stairs, worried they were in a fight or one of them was choking or something. Well, also like children, as soon as I got there they looked up at me like, "Hey, what's up?" They were perfectly fine. Turning to the internet I found this thread about barking chickens.  I learned that they make that sound when they eat too fast and the feed/dust gets caught in their throats. Figures...

http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=5228380#p5228380

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What do the chickens do when we aren't looking?

Jeff came home late from work and we he got home I asked him to not drop his shoes on the floor since I was video taping the chickens to know what they do when we aren't there. The conversation went something like this:
Jeff- "Don't we already know what they do? Scratch around for food and sleep all day. And how are you taping them?"
Me- "I put my digital camera on top of the nesting box.... I hope they don't peck it"
Jeff- "Well it is shiny"
I ran downstairs at this point to find my camera just where I left it (phew) and the chickens asleep on the perch. Below is the first few minutes of the video. The first minute is me feeding them meal worms and then sunflower seeds. Enjoy!
video
Well, Jeff was right. They do just scratch for food when we aren't around. I was kinda hoping for something more interesting. Jeff's response to that comment, "what did you think they would do debate politics?"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pecking Chickens

For quite some time, we had the chickens broken of the pecking at us habit. (There was nothing more annoying than Cluck pecking at my ankles while I was trying to give them fresh food!) Well today I was collecting eggs when Big Crown ran right up to me and pecked at my hand. This really surprised me since she almost never does this and recently none of the chickens had been either. Their beaks are remarkably sharp and on more than one occasion they have made me bleed. We have read, from many sources, that the best thing you can do is swat at the bird to establish yourself as higher in the pecking order. I just hate doing this, but we really have to. She seemed surprised when I hit her, and she ran to the other side of the cage. (I promise I didn't hit her too hard and hurt her.) I was able to collect the rest of the eggs and change the water/food without further incident. With the holiday and both of us being busier than normal at work, we haven't spent as much time with the chickens as we normally do. You can tell that they aren't as social as usual. We will have to make more of an effort to spend time around them.

Laundry Detergent- DIY style

To avoid the incredible amount of waste packing most products come in, we tend to attempt to make as many of our everyday products ourselves as possible. Today we ran out of laundry detergent so it was time to make another batch. For the two of us, we have to make our detergent about every six months or so. (The ironic part of the story was Jeff was holding Cluck when she had an accident and hence the discovery of no more detergent- oops.) What I love about this laundry detergent recipe is it uses ingredients that we need for making other cleaners around the house. So for a few items we can buy in bulk once, we can get many uses out of it, saving money and being earth friendly- win win. So here's the recipe:

This makes a two gallon batch (I save the bulk of the detergent in a bucket and put a small amount in an old store bought detergent jug since it is so much easier to pour from.)
  1. Boil three cups of water
  2. Grate a bar of soap (Use whatever soap you like, but keep in mind this is where your color and scent are coming from) and put that in the boiling water a little at a time until it is all melted in
  3. Add one cup washing soda and one cup borax
  4. Stir it all together until everything has dissolved
  5. Add the remaining two gallons of water
  6. Let it sit overnight with the lid on
The next day it will be ready to go. The final mixture will be globby and you could mix it up every time you want to use it, but I have never seen any reason to as it gets mixed up in the washing machine. Use one cup per load of clothes. During the summer months I will mash up some of our rosemary from the garden to add a nice extra scent. Hope you enjoy this recipe.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Overhaul of Chicken Care Page

When we started this blog a mere three weeks ago, Jeff and I never thought it would take off like this. (We really appreciate everyone sending our blog link to your friends and posting it on your facebooks.) From your emails, I realized that our clandestine chicken overview page was lacking some necessary information to help you get started with your own clandestine chickens. Therefore, we have spent the last few days working hard to overhaul this page and include answers to your questions and more detailed info. Please check out the updated page and, as always, we value any comments or suggestions you have. (Oh and please keep letting your friends know about our blog- we are really excited about getting the word out about the chicken underground!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: Thank God We Are Chickens Not Turkeys!

As I am sure you can figure if you have read even one of my other posts, our chickens are hopelessly spoiled! The question then becomes what to do for the girls on Thanksgiving when almost everyday they get a wide selection of treats and regular food? Well I prepared a feast to suit their palettes- several of the large meal worms from the pet store, an apple cut up so they don't have to peck at it, sunflower seeds, and a few non-salted pecans. They gobbled it right up! They are very lucky birds this morning compared to their poultry cousins the turkeys! Check out the video of them on the first course of their meal, the worms.


video

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What do the eggs look like?


Our eggs are shades of brown, some speckled, some bigger and others more narrow. It is interesting to see the variety. They naturally have a membrane on them so you don't have to refrigerate them. (They last a week un-refrigerated and three weeks in the frig.) (This is why in farm homes you see the eggs left out all the time.) One interesting thing we learned was that you shouldn't wash your eggs with water. This takes off the natural membrane and allows bacteria to penetrate the egg. Your best option for cleaning the eggs is to scratch off any dirt with a light sand paper or scratchy sponge right before preparing it to eat.

A Pound of Worms Really is a Lot of Worms!!!






Today the mail carrier dropped off our pound of red wiggler worms. (I really have to hand it to not only our carrier but all mail carriers. The weird stuff they must see everyday and just handle with a smile is amazing!) Anyways the worms arrived and Jeff called me (mid manicure I might add!) when I got home I was surprised by how small the box was but once I opened it and the small cloth bag inside, it was a mass of squirmy worms! There was basically no padding just one section of news paper around the bag. I pulled out the worms and, per the directions, poured them into my prepared bin and added a half of cup cool water and covered them with wet newspaper and left them alone. The cloth bag had the name of the worm farm on it so I thought it would be cool to save it, and I threw it in the cupboard we keep our reusuable bags in. Well a few hours later I was running out to pick up something for Thanksgiving and went into that cupboard to get a bag. It was then I noticed that several worms had stuck to the inside seams on the bag. I am not sure how many worms might have escaped into the cupboard! Oops! I am not going to tell Jeff about this little mishap right away- let use this as a test to see if he reads the blog! (I'll keep you posted!) The long and short of the day is that most of the worms made it safely to their new home and hopefully soon we will have some wonderful compost that we can use on our indoor garden.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Pound of Worms, Chickens Eat Their Egg, Disco Lights and Homemade Hooch ....just another boring Sunday

In light of the fact that we emptied our compost into the garden and that it's too cold in our climate to start a new compost, we decided to get into vermaculture. Basically this is indoor composting but with worms to prevent odors. I took an old plastic trash bin, drilled holes in to the bottom, put in shredded papers, cardboard, and a few kitchen scraps then moistened it with a spray bottle. I put the entire thing in the extra chicken poop bin that we don't use any more (yes, we cleaned it out first!) This is the YouTube video I watch on how to set this up.



I called several bait shops to order red wigglers (this is the type of worm you need to use in the system) however they are not being sold this time of year so I had to resort to ordering them online.

I was going into the chicken coop to collect eggs when I noticed that there was a shell on the floor. I am guessing that this is more evidence that Scabby is laying now. The other chickens ate their eggs when they first started to lay so it would stand to reason that this is Scabby's reaction to her new found skill set. I cleaned up the shell, put a few more golf balls and river rocks in the pen and hoped for the best. (To see the full post on how we handled this the first time click here.) I did still collect two other eggs so lets cross our fingers that Scabby doesn't give the same idea to Big Crown and Cluck.

The next project of the day was setting up the LED light for my potatoes. Originally I had ordered this light for the Meyer lemon tree we are growing in our living room; the lights are in the blue and red spectrum for optimal plant growth. However Jeff took one look at it and told me there was no way we were going to have our living room look like a cheap night club! Banished to the basement, I had to figure out a new way to use the light. I thought about what grows well in containers and decided I had enough herbs in the living room set up, so I will try potatoes. One of my co-workers gave me a potato grow bag as a wedding present so I was already half way there. I just had to hang the light fixture. The seed potatoes should be coming on Monday. (I wanted to just take regular potatoes from the grocery store but Jeff did some research and found that you really do want to spend the extra money for seed potato since you have to be very careful about potato seedlings since potatoes are notoriously susceptible to plant disease, and you want to be very careful and use only seed potatoes certified as disease free).

We ended our evening by making homemade bread (by hand- one of Jeff's favorite things to do). We used a simple recipe for plain whole wheat bread. Its so easy to do, but mixing and kneading the dough takes a surprising amount of physical labor. We didn't realize making homemade bread could give you muscles! The smell of bread baking in the oven is almost better than actually eating it. Tonight we decided that we couldn't wait any longer to try our first batch of homemade hard cider. The cider was exceptionally dry and slightly effervescent. Alcohol content is a mystery as we don't yet have the tool to measure specific gravity (how you determine alcohol content). Jeff likes the natural dry cider flavor, me.....not so much. Woodchuck cider, it was not..... but at least it wasn't vinegar! Jeff is looking into ways to sweeten it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

First three egg day + fish deaths

Today has it's ups and downs. It was the very first day that we got three eggs meaning that I am now certain each chicken is laying. As a reward, I gave the girls their favorite treat of meal worms. I had a feeling which egg belonged to Scabby- one of them was much smaller and paler and was an odd shape. Chickens tend to have oddly shaped eggs when they are beginning to lay. I was researching if there was anyway to tell which chicken laid each egg and found out that if you put a dot of food color on the bird's vent (yes the vent is what you think it is) then the egg will have a touch of that color. I decided I didn't care that much.

Sadly though we had a first animal death on the urban homestead. Five of the yellow perch were sunk on the bottom of the tank when I went down to feed them this morning. When we bought the fish, the farmer told us that we should expect to lose 10% due to stress of the new environment. Since it had been a week to the day since we bought the fish I thought we were home free but, I was wrong. Unfortunately I didn't buy a fish net so I had to get the bodies out by hand (gross!!!!) I wanted to have a burial at sea (toilet) but Jeff pointed out that they would be great compost so their final resting spot was in the garden under some of the leftover bedding from the chicken coop. With all the chicken poop and now the fish, next year that spot in the garden should do great. I called my dad to let him know the news and got made fun of for having pets not livestock! I had to laugh because he is right I need to be careful to not too grow attached to the fish or chickens. After doing some research, I have also decided to buy a aquarium plant. Eventually the roots of my greens will handle the filtration issues but for now I want to add an established plant and hope that helps. In case this was a nitrogen not stress issue.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quick Video

Check out this quick video we made about the chickens!


Indoor Gardening

Random fact I learned about indoor gardening..

The reason you need so much perlite (or whatever you use to combat soil compression) in indoor plant pots is because when the exact same soil is outside the 2-3 feet of soil below it acts as a sponge and pulls water through. Hence the same soil indoors would become compacted without the perlite. I, for one, thought that was really interesting....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Aquaponic Mishap Recovery

Well hopefully today I corrected my aquaponic mishaps.
The new air bumbler makes bubbles all over the surface of the water helping to mist the plants.


I added a PH sensor, nitrate/ammonia sensor, a thermometer, bacteria starter, a dechlonrine solution. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chicken Personalities

As we get to know our birds over the months, we can definitely tell their personalities apart. It is their personalities that make them each so much fun and interesting. While they are by no means as smart as the average family dog, it surprised both of us how smart they are and that they each have a distinct personality.

Cluck, the Head Hen

Cluck is, well, kinda mean. I think she is the one who cut Scabby and she is always pecking at Jeff and I as well as the other chickens. We forgive her since she is a regular layer, and I think she was the first to lay! Although she really pushes her luck when we are trying to put fresh food in the pen and she pecks at our ankles the entire time!

Scabby the Sweetie
Scabby is really sweet. She will come up the pen whenever anyone comes over to visit. She never minds being pet, never pecks as us, and is a good sport about Cluck picking on her. However she is not the smartest bird. None of them are exactly brilliant but Scabby is always the one confused by things. The other day she got herself turned around the the dog carrier, and I couldn't get her out the front door since she was pecking so hard at the back of the carrier. She also is a total suck up to my parents. She has figured out that if she comes to them and lets them pet her she is guarantee either an apple or a worm....it kinda figures the only thing she is smart about is food.

Goofy Big Crown
Big Crown is the funny one. She is funny mostly because of how she looks. For some reason her comb/wattle is much larger than the other two and as she was growing her wattle grew in first and was really disproportionate. She is a regular layer (every morning as Jeff and I are waking up around 6-7 we can hear her crowing as she lays-just awesome!), her eggs are a darker color and speckled. She tends to like to be left alone and whenever they are outside for the nightly walk she is the one who wonders away from the other two. We have to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn't walk into the neighbor's yard!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cleaning the Chicken Coop/Does it smell?

When it comes up in conversation that my husband and I keep chickens in our basement, one of the first few questions asked is, "Doesn't that smell?"

I will be honest, if we let changing their bedding go too long it does start to smell. Right before our wedding we were both too busy to change it and you could start to pick up an odor when you were about half way down the basement steps. Since the wedding, we have gotten back on track, and we change their pen about ever three weeks. It takes us about a half an hour. When it does smell, it only smells in the basement. We have never let it go so long that our entire home smells! Changing their bedding is just like when you changed your childhood pet hamster's bedding but on a bigger scale!

How we clean the coop...
What the chickens are doing while we clean out the basement pen....must be nice : )
1. First we put the chickens outside in their makeshift pen.
2. Remove all their "accessories" - the water, food, nesting box, etc. 
The pen with the bedding swept out. Didn't Jeff pick a nice pattern of linoleum for the girls?
3. We sweep up the aspen bedding which we buy at the pet store and carry it outside to our garden or compost pile.
Washing the bottom of the waterer.
4. We wash out their water and food containers with disinfectant, soap and hot water.
This is the bedding we buy for the girls.
5. Lay down new aspen bedding and put back their accessories.

A note about bedding: Using wood shavings over linoleum has worked out really well for us. The wood shavings absorb moisture and the manure quickly dries out as it gets buried in the shavings. This really keeps any smells to an almost unnoticeable minimum. The chickens also like to scratch and root around in it. It is also a cinch to clean. We just sweep it up and either put it in trash bags out by the curb, or put it out in the composter in the back yard. We usually go with aspen bedding which is a more expensive than regular pine shavings, but really keeps the pen smelling fresh and clean. Beware of cedar, though. Supposedly the strong smell given off by cedar can be harmful to chickens respiratory systems.

Clean to their majesties' satisfaction!


Aquaponic Mishap 2

While I did make a fatal flaw in the aquaponic system I didn't mess it up in the way I thought I did! So today I was at our local home brew/hydroponic store (Yeah, isn't that cool?) I was asking about their pumps after my last aquaponic post where we thought I had left out a pump (see post here.) I ended up chatting with the girl who low and behold turned out to be a aquaponic major at a local college. (Yes they do have such a thing...I was just as surprised to learn that.) She was great! Turns out that I am okay with out pumping the water out of the tank onto the plants since the air pump makes the water (with the poop when is dissolves) mist onto the bottom of the plants. So instead of buying a new water pump all I had to get was a a tube for my air pump to make sure the mist spreads around all the plants.  My big mistake was is putting perlite as my growing medium. Fish will eat the perlite and can't pass it which eventually kills them. I am going to have to grow my plants in just the pea gravel. Lets hope I can transfer my seedlings to the just pea gravel pots because I would hate to lose that growth.
The fish in the bag they came in. I had them waiting overnight so the temperatures would adjust to avoid shocking them.

Aren't they cute?

Freedom! I let them into the big tank this morning, and I am glad to say not one of the died overnight!

Garlic Planting

One of the many garlic seeds I planted today. You can see a little of the cider making pulp that we are using as fertilizer also.

Chicken bedding instead of straw to keep the garlic warm over the winter. (Yes that is my Halloween pumpkin in the background that we threw in the garden to compost over the winter.)
Sadly it is that time of year to plant cold crops so today we put in our garlic for next Spring. My dad got us the garlic from a local farmer's market. He wrote on each bulb what kind of garlic it is but the marker blurred so I have no idea what I am planting! Hope we like it! Lacking straw to put over the garlic like you are supposed to do I put old chicken pen bedding over. I figure it will keep  it warm like the straw would and the chicken poop will be fertilizer- bonus! Lets hope this garlic works out.

Fish Poop?

Hmm.... so it appears that I overlooked a major part of the DIY aquaponic system. Last night when we got home from the hatchery. I had to immediately get dressed for a black tie event. Another challenge of being an urban farmer- going from farm duties to professional duties. Not a problem though! I had my pantyhose on underneath my jeans and used a witch hazel based hand sanitizer to get the fish smell off me. A simple black dress with a major wow crazy artsy fartsy necklace to distract from not so perfectly done makeup/hair and I was good to go! Anyways where I am going with this post, is while I was gone at this dinner Jeff started doing some research on aquaponic systems, and I left out a major element when I was building my system.  I forgot about the poop!!!! The fish liquid waste (pee) will filter into the plants since the plant pots are submerged in the water but the poop will sink to the bottom. This means two things, one my system will start to smell and two I will have to clean the tank which isn't fun and the plants wont get the fish poop nutrition. I am going to have to go out to the hydroponic store and pick up a pump and figure out a way to get the water pouring on to the plants. To be determined on how to do this.....

Fish for the Aquaponic System

Wow, yesterday was a long day. Jeff and I drove two hours each way to get fish for our aquaponic system! I was shocked by how hard it was to find perch fingerlings. Originally I had wanted to find tilapia. I called all the local aquarium stores who told me they didn't have any. Then I tried pond stocking hatcheries who would only sell them to me by the hundred. Eventually one of the hatcheries took petty on me and let me know of a guy who would sell a small number. I called Phil at Fingerlakes Aquaculture. He was great! He let me know that I didn't want tilapia after all since I would need a heater to keep them from dying, and I should probably go with perch. He was a wealth of information and yesterday we got the twenty yellow perch fingerlings. We had to put them in a cooler and drive home with them in the back seat. I was worried on the way back if I had to stop suddenly we would have fish and fish water everywhere! Lucky Jeff, myself, and the fish made it home safe and sound. I put them in the bag overnight in the aquaponic system to let the temperature adjust and today I opened the bag and let them loose in the main system. Not one of them died but Phil did warn us that the stress may kill about 10%. Fingers crossed for the newest members of the homestead!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Neighbor Discovers Clandestine Chickens!

While Jeff and I pretended otherwise, I think we both knew that the day would come when someone would have to notice that we had three clandestine chickens living in our basement in suburbia! Our next door neighbors generally keep to themselves. On one side is a young family of five and the other is a retired widower. Well today I was working out in the yard when he came over. He was moving quickly and waving his hands saying, "I gotta talk to you, don't leave!" I had a very bad feeling in my stomach. I went over to him and the first thing out of his mouth was, "You got chickens" This was a statement not a question. The gig was up. I responded that yes we did. I figured I would say as little as possible. Perhaps he wouldn't know this was illegal. Last year our other neighbor had problems with someone reporting them for building a porch without a permit and then complaining to animal control that their dog was barking all day and night long. We live right next door and that dog never barks so I know someone in our neighborhood needs to get a life. God willing it isn't him. It seemed like forever until he finally said something again. "Oh good because at first I thought you had the weirdest looking dog I had ever seen!" He laughed and began to tell me all sorts of stories of the chickens he kept as a young man and how great it is the see younger folks returning to the older ways. I was shocked! I asked if he would like to come inside to see the set up. He said no, "I've seen plenty of chicken in my day." Then just like that he said he had to get going and went back in side. Lets just hope that he isn't the one reporting every neighbor infraction of the law! It is good that there are still people out there who remember when it wasn't unusual to keep backyard chickens. Hopefully if more people start doing this, it will become as normal as having a tomato plant out on your porch.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Coop!


There seems to be some interest in the pen Jeff built for the chickens so I thought I would post a few pictures and a movie to clarify how we keep chickens in our basement in suburbia. They way I describe it to my friends is, "Think of the world's biggest hamster cage and then you have a chicken pen."

video

Monday, November 8, 2010

Food Security and Safety

Shucking beans and our all from our garden meal
11/8/10- Last winter Jeff started making homemade bread and it became quite the hobby for him. My mom got him a breadmaker and things really took off. I do see his point in understanding where your food comes from and to know what is in it. Today for dinner I enjoyed some homemade egg bread (thanks chickens) and homemade cider. It felt so warm and yummy it almost didn’t make me sad winter is coming. Today my LED grow light came. The light is all red and blue for optimal plant growth but it makes my living room look like a bad nightclub! I will have to figure out how to hang it also. If I am not careful the cops might knock on my door to see what kind of plants are growing in my house!

Let There Be Light


The Air Pump

11/5-6/10 Jeff was working late so I decided to have dinner at my parents. I mentioned to them that I was going to hydroponic store to pick up some supplies for the aquaponic system and if they would like to join me. Well my dad mentioned that he may have some of the needed supplies in the basement and before I knew it we had started building the light system. The next day we went over to my house to install the system. To summarize the process, we took two fluorescent light fixtures and screwed them to leftover bamboo floor scraps. Put in eye hooks and hung it to the ceiling in the basement. Below is a large storage unit with holes cut out of the top to hold hydroponic pots filled with pea gravel and perlite on top with mustard greens and basil sprouts in them. Fingers crossed that this experiment goes well however with most new things around here there is some experimental error first.

First Aid

11/3/10 It is very ironic that just yesterday I mentioned our interest in learning more about first aid as Jeff sprained his ankle pretty bad today. He was breaking down the garden he stepped in a hole and strained his ankle. While I felt bad for him that he wasn’t able to work tonight it was very nice to get to spend the night together. This defiantly sparked my interested in learning more first aid. Jeff is very up to date on his first aid knowledge. I need to work on this and not be so dependent on him.

Cider

I tried to give the chickens the left over apple pulp from pressing. They didn't like it at all. Ha!
11/2/10 I can’t believe how much the cider has lightened since we pressed it this weekend. A lot of sediment must have settled. This time we kept one gallon for just cider and another for making hard cider. Instead of boiling it we are experimenting with campden tablets to kill the natural yeast. On a mission to fill in our indoor “green house” so I went to a local home improvement store and see if they had any seedlings….not likely this time of year but I did find an aloe vera plant which is good because we want to do more of our own minor medical care.

Aquaponics


One Week Later
11/1/10 Today we decided to set up Jeff’s AeroGarden. Unfortunately the middle light was burned out so we went to the hydroponic store to pick up a new bulb. We got home and replaced it but no luck still didn’t work! Seems as though the entire hood is broken….. Jeff called and we got a replacement. It will be worth it when the green beans come in but it does say something about the reliance these “systems” create. If we had done a DIY kit it would have been harder to fix but we wouldn’t be so depended on a corporation that you just charge anything that is broken. Using the extra light cast off from the AeroGarden, I decided to start the aquoponics seeds. Some folks recommend starting the plants out of the hydroponic set up so as the seeds don’t accidentally wash away. Our kitchen table is pretty much taken over but that’s okay it is worth it for our experiment! I also ordered the LED light for the aquaponic system….again these systems of self reliance are ironically creating a system of dependence on utilities for the light and companies for the supplies. Oh well, I am having fun and that counts for something plus I was highly amused to read that my new light has a low thermal footprint. Jeff had to explain to me that meant pot growers don’t get caught with these lights. Well I don’t care if the electronic company finds out I am growing mustard greens and basil but I do appreciate the low carbon footprint.

Cider Making Continues

10/30/10 We re-racked the first pressed cider into a new carboy. The second round of apple pressing was even more of a pain in the arse than the first! My beloved husband decided that using the quisanrt to grind the apples really didn’t make sense with our philosophy of self reliance. Of course I can’t disagree with him, however I wasn’t so thrilled with taking a bucket and beating the apples to pulpy death with a 2x4 board. A new apple-grinding scheme needs to be developed before we press the second batch of 40 pounds of apples. That all being said the juice was spectacular! We invited my parents over to see the pressing which I think they got a kick out of. It also turned out to be a good idea as my dad was able to help me drill holes in the top of my Tupperware aquaponics system. They also helped us figure out how to eat the chestnuts Jeff bought at the grocery store this morning. My father is a genetics researcher working on bringing back the American Chestnut tree. This lead to Jeff reading a book on the tree that my dad was profiled in and hence the pile of Chestnuts being put in my grocery cart when I wasn’t looking! The nuts were yummy and the juice was great so it turned out all okay. We also had time to carve our Halloween pumpkins and get candy ready for the kids.

Apple Pressing



10/16/10 For Jeff’s birthday his mom and I got him an old-fashioned apple press and today is our first run of cider. Fingers crossed we make cider and not vinegar!

More Aquaponics

10/5/10 I got the pots and packs of mustard greens and basil seeds. Went to the home supply store for pea gravel and perlite. I have been setting up the system in the basement near the chicken pen. They just sit there and watch me. They seem half interested which normally they notice very little of what is going on around them.

Experimenting

9/14/10 I have decided to use a big plastic storage bin from our camping supplies for the aquponics experiement. My first attempt involves using a second bin for the plants. I quickly realize this bin isn’t big enough and it seems that putting the plants directly in the water works well for others I have read about. I will go to the hydroponics store to pick up some pots and seeds.

Aquaponics

9/13/10 It seems reading all sorts of blogs and web sites on self reliance is what tends to get me into trouble! Recently I have been reading about aquaponics. Which is a closed eco system where you grow fish and vegetables together and the fish fertilize the plants and the plants clean the water. The commercial systems are really expensive but I figure I could make my own. This project is all on me as Jeff hates seafood but I figure that if the world ever got to a place where we really had to be self reliant he would find a way to eat fish!

Chicken Diapers?

9/12/10 Well I said I wouldn’t take YouTube videos on chicken care seriously after the nail bleeding incident but today I saw a video on chicken diapers. It made me think it would be nice to have the chickens upstairs as we do enjoy spending time with them. However something is stopping me as I feel that would cross a line from self reliance urban farming to just weird. Yes I am aware of the fact that many people would already classify our lifestyle as weird.  If I think something is weird it has to be really out there and I know I should stop myself! On the other hand, we have noticed that the more time we spend "socializing" them the nicer and gentler they are. (Except of course for Cluck who is just plain old mean no matter what.) I am going to have to think about this one.

Are We Normal?

We felt a brief sense of normalcy as Jeff found an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about Urban Chickens! Yes that’s right- yesterday urban chickens were a slightly insane preoccupation of survivalists, off-gridders, and new agey back-to-the-earth proto farmers, and today they have arrived on the front page of the WSJ. We immediately clipped it and sent it to family….hey this was our brief moment to prove that we aren’t totally insane.

Goosed by a Chicken!

9/5/10 The egg laying is become more regular, they have finally started using their nesting box and the egg size is getting bigger. One of the girls must lay in the morning as when we wake up around seven we hear her squawking up a storm. It is particularly loud in the bathroom which is directly above the basement coop so the noise goes right through the air ducts. My mom was rather startled the other day when she was in the bathroom and the chickens started crowing! We have read that each chicken lays a distinct egg color and shape. We have figured out that it is big crown who lays the speckled eggs and Cluck who lays the light brown eggs. I am not sure Scabby is laying yet. She seems to be the lowest in the pecking order. None of the chickens are particularly bright but poor Scabby is defiantly the slowest but she is never mean. Cluck is rather mean. She loves to peck at Jeff’s ankles or anyone who tries to pet her. We weren’t sure what to do about her pecking problem until we read on several sites that if you hit them with a rolled newspaper you establish yourself as higher in the pecking order. I felt awful to do this but eventually Cluck made me bleed just one too many times and I finally hit her with an Economist Magazine (hey we want our chickens to at least be educated if we have to hit them magazines!) It seems to have worked and she is much less likely to peck now. It is funny because both Jeff and I can clearly see the look in her eyes when she is thinking about pecking either one of us. The chickens still peck at shoes laces but that is only because they think they are worms. The other day Jeff was bent down tending to our grape vines when one of the chickens came up behind him and pecked him right on the butt! The other two immediately came over and did the same thing. We think they thought his belt loops were worms but I was laughing so hard I couldn’t help Jeff and he had his hands full with the vines!

The Fight

9/6/10 Well sadly we can now tell the Clucks apart. Today they got into a fight and one of them got their crown cut. We picked up the injured chicken and took her to the bathroom where I held her while Jeff washed her cut and put hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin on it. (Try holding a chicken during that!) We had her upstairs in the living room for a few hours to make sure the bleeding stopped and just to make her feel better (to be honest that was my idea as she seemed just fine but I was concerned). She seemed okay as soon as we stopped messing with her! Now we have Big Crown (for obvious reasons), Scabby (again for obvious reasons), and Cluck. As least we can tell them apart.

Treats

The Treat Bin
9/2/10 The golf balls seem to be helping. Jeff also put some river rocks that look more like their eggs in there as well so between the two they seem to have stopped eating the eggs. What a relief! Jeff also read that sometimes they eat their own eggs due to a calcium deficiency in their diet. He bought them crushed oyster shells to help with that problem. Now every morning before we leave for work we give them black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS), cracked corn, and bits of crushed oyster shells to munch on. The ironic thing is that of all the treats we have bought for them their favorite thing to eat is grass. We will pull it from the front yard and put it in their pen and they go crazy. (Yes, our chickens are very spoiled, and if I was a jealous woman I would be put off by how much time and money my husband spend on them!)