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!)

Tragic Egg Eating

8/30/10 The chickens are starting to lay every few days. However tragedy struck today. One of the chickens ate her own egg. Jeff was furious!! I could hear him yelling at them in the basement throughout the entire house. I ran down there and saw the silly bird with yoke dripping over her beak and had to keep myself from laughing. We read on the internet that if you put golf balls in with them they will peck at the golf balls which of course wont break which tricks them into not pecking their eggs. I immediately ran out to Wal Mart to pick up some golf balls. (Jeff hates supporting Wal Mart as he puts it, “that store represents everything wrong about America” but this was an emergency after all!)

Manicure Mishap

8/25/10 So today I decided that the chicken’s nails were getting too long and I should clip them. So as we normally do, I went online and read up on how to do it. Well never again will I take the advice of a YouTube video for chicken care….I was just beside myself when I clipped a little too high and made one of them bleed. She didn’t even so make as make a peep, but I felt awful. Jeff and I wrapped the nail in a paper towel until the bleeding stopped and put a band aid around it. I put her back in the coop and we watched for awhile to make sure she was okay. She was fine except the other two chickens tried to peck at her band aid! I ended up pulling it off and leaving well enough alone (which is what I should have done in the first place!)

Canning

Some of the finished product
8/23/10 So last year we were wary of canning our vegetables because of all the warnings you see about botulism. However over last winter we did our research and decided to give it a try. Little did we know that this would become an all-consuming addiction. I couldn’t believe how much fun it is to can. After I found all their canning supplies 50% off at Lowes we really got into production! We even bought more produce at the farmers market to supplement what we got out of our garden!

First Egg!

8/21/10 So post wedding and triathlon I needed to seriously catch up on sleep and just chill out for awhile. Jeff has done most of the chicken and garden care for the last month or so….what a great husband. But today was a big mile stone in our self reliance, urban farming lives….one of the chickens laid her first egg!!!! Over the past few days we noticed that they seemed really pissy!!! And while I was at the office, Jeff called to let me know the good news. He said that it sounded like they had gotten into a big fight and when he went downstairs to break it up there was an egg!!! Notice how small it is compared to the store egg.

Triathlon

/7/10 I completed my triathlon today!!! Such an amazing feeling but wow do I hurt!!! All the training paid off even if I was 13th from last! ☺ We feel it’s important to be in good physical condition should an emergency arise we both want to be a good enough shape to handle what may come our way and the triathlon seemed like a good way to force myself into training. Jeff is very self motivated in his exercise program. You can’t take the military outta that boy!

The chickens are no longer bastard children....

7/30/10 “Were going to the chapel and were gonna get married.” Okay so no chapel since we wanted a nondenominational ceremony but you get the idea. Marrying Jeff was the most amazing day of my life. In addition to all the normal sustainable wedding things (local flowers, locally sourced grass feed meat, recycled paper for invites, etc.) we purchased carbon offsets for the ceremony. Check out the web site if you or someone you know is interested. http://www.terrapass.com/wedding/ I will never forget how it felt to look into his eyes as we said our vows. It was like he was the only person on the planet at that moment. Plus the party was awesome!!!!

Reactions

Today I decided to make an entry regarding the general reactions we have gotten about keeping our chickens.
My Parents- They just love the chickens. They act as our babysitters when we are gone and often bring over treats. My dad thinks it is great in terms of sustainability and self sufficiency.
His Parents- They didn’t seem too surprised coming from Jeff and I.
My Extended Family who happen to hail from an Iowan farm- They seemed generally confused by the chickens but thought we built them a nice set up.
My Co-Workers- So originally I didn’t plan on telling them but got so excited when they first came I totally spilled the beans. I was surprised by how very interested everyone was. Several people have asked about how we do it (another catalyst for this blog) and one day they even asked if we could have an egg day. I brought in the eggs and several other people brought toast and sausage and everyone got to try urban farm fresh eggs.
His Co-Workers- Jeff, who can keep a secret, never told them. However one day one of his coworkers came into the office and was just flabbergasted because on his way into work he saw a chicken coop in someone’s yard. He went on for several minutes about how weird it was and why would someone want to do that while Jeff just quietly laughed on in the inside.
My Friends- Generally not too surprised and thought it was interesting. One friend even let me know about a few other “clandestine chickens” she knew of in nearby towns.
His Friends- Being the survivalist types no one seemed too surprised but thought it was a great part of a survival plan.
Our vegan animal rights friend- To be honest, I was nervous about telling her. However she was really into it and thought it was great that we gave them such a good life. Upon talking to her I did some more research into factory chickens conditions and realized, yup, our chickens live in the palace of coops.

No Interest in Escape?

Hanging out in the yard on a nightly "walk"
7/28/10 We continue to struggle with watching the chickens while they are outside. Even with the carrier helping us get them back inside it is a struggle to get them in the carrier and we have to watch them to make sure they don’t wonder into the neighbors yards. I have been looking into one of those outside kid play castles and was shocked by how expensive they were. We ended up just using the lattice fence from the old pen and putting it up against the shed. The funny thing about the chickens is their total lack of interest in escape. They could easily get out of this pen or the basement pen but generally they have very content to stay where there is food!

New Pen Adjusting

7/20/10 The chickens have adjusted to their new pen eventually and seem pretty comfortable there. Changing the pine shavings for the first time went fairly well. Except I got the stupid idea that we could change it with them still in there and not have to watch them outside. We swept the shavings into a trash bag to put in the compost and all was okay until the end when I think the chickens had enough and started to freak out on us. Next time we will take them outside to change their bedding. Jeff had built them a really nice perch to sleep on at night; however they kept sleeping on the edge of the pen. Which was annoying in two ways. One that clearly meant they could just fly right out of the pen if they wanted and two their little fat butts were bending the chicken wire. Eventually Jeff put a 2x4 across the pen at the top and just conceded to where they wanted to sleep.

Change is Not Our Friend

7/2/10 While the chickens may not be the brightest they do notice change. They seem so confused by their new pen. They totally went beserk when we put them in for the first time, and immediately tried to fly out! Now they sit in one corner and just make this strange almost humming sound. I feel so bad for Jeff who spent so much time putting this together and I feel bad for the chickens who seem stressed by the much bigger and nicer pen. Hopefully with time they will get used to this set up. I wish we had known what a problem change would be and then we would have worked harder and getting the pen right the first time.

Coop Change

7/1/10 It is time to figure out something new for the chicken coop. Both Jeff and I have had it with washing the “poopy blanket” (which I am amazed how clean it comes out every time.) My mom and I hung out outside and watched the chickens while Jeff started building the new coop. What we came up with is a 6 x 8 piece of linoleum from the scrap bin at Lowe’s, as the floor, and 8 inch wide boards fashioned together into some thing like a sand box sitting on top of it. Then a wood post in each corner to support chicken wire around the whole thing, and finally a sack of aspen pine shavings over the linoleum (not cedar –it can cause respiratory problems for the birds). Easy to build, and much cleaner and nicer for the birds to live in. I am so impressed with his design. With the pine shavings in the bottom we can change it every few weeks by sweeping the shavings up into a big garbage bag. The shavings should absorb moisture and hopefully control the odor.

Bridal Shower

6/28/10 We received an awesome wedding present today….. a new pitchfork! That has to be a first in bridal shower history and will be so helpful for make dust baths for the chickens.

Chickens + Cats

6/10/10 Jeff and I were hanging new gutters with my dad when I looked over and saw a neighborhood cat spying the chickens. I ran after the cat to scare him away. The chickens didn’t even notice. However they are terrified of other birds. A chickadee went by and they ran and hid under my peony bushes.

Dog Carrieer

6/7/10 The dog carrier has turned out to be a great success. 3 Chickens fit inside perfectly! One of us holds the carrier up while the other picks up the chickens and put them in. That way we can keep the door closed after each bird. It’s a big help in taking them outside at night. The new food tray hasn’t worked out as well. We decided to just accept that they top part of the feeder isn’t going to work.
Duck Friends

6/5/10 We went down to the farmer’s market and happened to see baby ducks in a nearby pond. Amazing how similar the ducks are in terms of how they act as our chickens. On the way back, we decided to pop into a county farm store. We picked up a variety of baked goods and vegetables. We even got purple potatoes which tasted amazing and are supposed to have more nutritional value. Next year I am going to have to get them for our garden. While there we saw a new tray style feeder that we thought might help with them, since they started with the obnoxious habit of knocking the old plastic feeder over on its side and spilling their food, and making a huge mess. We also picked up a small dog carrier to carry the chickens around in, since bringing them in and out of the house for their “free range” time in the back yard has become more and more difficult. Recently as the chickens have gotten bigger we have started having problems with catching them in the backyard to get them back inside. (Picture two humans running around in circles, under lawn furniture, through our garden, after chickens.. rather funny but annoying). Chickens are surprisingly quick and agile when you are trying to catch them. Hopefully the carrier will make life easier. Also the carrier will make is easier to discreetly carry them outside so we wont have to wait until the neighbors are inside or gone to take the chickens out for their almost nightly “walks.”

Waste Management

We also tried newspaper
6/1/10 The blanket idea is not working out so well. They cover it in poop in no time and it starts to smell. Again, if you are contemplating keeping your own micro-flock in your basement, make sure you give due consideration to how much these creatures poop. “waste management” has become the most frustrating part of this whole project. Chicken manure from 3 birds is pretty easy to manage, but not very pleasant if you neglect cleaning up after them for even a short time. Having the house smell like a barn is NOT an option and every time we have company over I have to wash the blanket which means one of us needs to stay outside and watch the chickens while the blanket is put in the wash and then the dryer (yes I know we need to buy another blanket) Lining their “coop” with a blanket is not turning out to be a very feasible idea, especially with the chickens growing so rapidly! We have to come up with something new.