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