Friday, April 29, 2011

The kids went to bed with dirty faces...

And dirty feet.  And tummies so full, it looked like they had sprouted a third breast.
If we were not talking about chickens, I'd probably have child protective services at my front door.  Fortunately, we are talking about the cluckies.

I didn't get a chance to tidy up their run over the weekend so that was my chore for Monday night.  Which also includes turning the compost bin.  This means taking off the top stack, setting it next to the original stack and transferring the contents from one side to the other.  And in the process, mixing in pine shavings and dropping from their house, kitchen scraps and other yard clippings.

This is an old photo of the girls working the area where I just moved the compost bin from. 
What's funny is that it wasn't that long ago when the girls would FREAK each time I came into their run with a pitch fork.  Now, they all queue up around the bio-stack and jump in the first chance they can get.  They get in there and scratch and dig and gobble up any bug they find.  And the thing is full of bugs.  Why not, it's warm in there from the heat generated by the decomposition process.  Actually, I should say it's hot.  Chicken manure is like nuclear waste in a compost bin.  The thing is literally steaming from the heat it's generating as it's decomposing.

After trying to shoo them so I could keep transferring over the contents, I finally gave up and just let them have at it.  And have at it they did.  They worked that thing till the sun went down.  I went out later to finish up and they were waddling towards their house with awkward lump in their chest.  That would be their crop full of all their tasty treats.

I scooped up Ginger and worked my fingers under all her feathers down to her crop.  It felt like she had swallowed an apple whole.  It made me wonder if chickens dream at night.  If they do, my girls had some sweet dreams last night.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Another Hat Trick

When I selected the breeds of chickens I wanted to raise, egg production was not high on my list.  Even if my chickens only laid two or three days a week, I'd have plenty of eggs for our needs.

My goal was to have fat, docile hens who were quiet and friendly.  At the time, I was still thinking that I'd let my girls free range, so my main concern was that they wouldn't be inclined to fly over the fence to my neighbor's yards.  But as you'll recall from a previous post, they are too vulnerable to hawk attacks and thus, will not be allowed to free range.

But now that they have matured and started to lay eggs, we get three eggs a day nearly every day of the week.  Coco and Ginger will take one day off each week.  But Pumpkin is just and egg making machine and I can always count on a green egg waiting for me when I come home.


We've come to call a three-egg-day a "Hat Trick" at our house.  I know, I can hear you hockey purists now, a true Hat Trick would be if one hen laid three eggs in one day.  But that just not how they work.  So I'll gladly settle for a three eggs a day.  A special Spice Girl Hat Trick.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

SPOILED Chickens

My chickens are spoiled.  I know my chickens are spoiled, and my chickens know they are spoiled.

They come running when they hear the back door open cuz they know I'm probably bringing them a tasty treat.  And I like to hand feed them treats because it gives me a chance to get down to their level and watch them eat and make eye contact.  But I really do have to watch my fingers around them because they are constantly pecking at them looking for treats.  And Coco can really bite with that big beak of hers.

This morning was simply priceless.  I was cutting up some mango and set aside a few bites for the girls.  And sure enough, they were all lined up once they heard the back door open.  So I bent down and handed each of them a nibble of mango.  And one by one, they each took the mango from me, dropped it to the ground, and looked back up at me like, "No thanks.  What else you got?"

I tried one more round of mango and they each did the same thing.  SERIOUSLY?!?  Are my girls THAT spoiled?  I dumped the rest of the mango into their treat bowl and left for work.  I'll bet money it's all gone by the time I get home tonight.  But how spoiled are my girls!

Friday, April 22, 2011

10 Ways You Can Conserve Water and Preserve Our Planet

Happy Earth Day
Please do your part to help save the planet!
  1. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and washing the dishes. Shave a minute or two off your shower time. Millions of people doing even the little things make a difference.
  2. Fix leaky faucets right away.
  3. Install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. Because you're saving hot water, you'll also reduce your energy bill.
  4. Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when full. When it's time to replace them, buy water- and energy-efficient models. Remember, saving water saves energy, and saving energy saves water.
  5. Eat a bit less meat, especially beef. A typical hamburger can take 630 gallons of water to produce.
  6. Buy less stuff. Everything takes water to make. So if we buy less, we shrink our water footprint.
  7. Recycle plastics, glass, metals, and paper. Buy re-usable products rather than throw-aways, as it takes water to make everything.
  8. If you’re in the market for a toilet, buy a low-volume, ultra low-volume, or dual-flush model.
  9. Choose outdoor landscaping appropriate for your climate. Native plants and grasses that thrive on natural rainfall only are best.
  10. Know the source of your drinking water—the river, lake, or aquifer that supplies your home. Once you know it, you’ll care about it. You just won’t want to waste water.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Missed Opportunity

I've really got to take a camera or video camera with me each time I go out to see the girls.  You just never know what they will do next and I never seem to be prepared.

I was out working in the yard on Sunday and found a bug for the girls. I took it over to them but they were busy taking dust baths.  And I mean B-U-S-Y.  My girls have each dug out a hole the size of a small microwave so they can get all the way down in there and roll around.  I've mixed in some sand and DE into each of their favorite spots to dust bath to keep the dirt soft and mite free.

Typically, they will hear me coming and will all line up at the gate.  But not when they are in the middle of a good dust bath session.  They roll around at such awkward angles.  Honestly, it looks like they are having a seizure in there with a wing sticking out in one direction and a foot sticking out the other.

Finally, Ginger decides to investigate why I'm at the gate and comes over to me.  But doesn't bother to shake out the pound or so of dirt she's hauling under her feathers.  She arrives at the gate with sand and dirt just pouring off of her.  As if that wasn't funny enough, THEN she decided to shake.  And shake she did, dislodging all of the dirt into a big pig-pen pile all over the patio.  She snapped up the bug.  Said thanks, and wandered on her merry way.

Left behind on the patio, were two perfect foot prints, outlined by all the dirt and sand.  It would have made a great photo.  Oh well.  Next time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Favorite Things

Oprah has her favorite things.  My chickens have their favorite things.  And I have my favorite things too! 

And one thing I love for certain are shoes; especially, my garden clogs.  I loved my first pair from day one and when I wore them out, I went down to Smith & Hawkins for a second pair.  But when Smith & Hawkins went under, so did my easy access to my favorite garden clogs.

Since then, I've searched high and low, online and in stores, looking for these clogs.  Along the way I have purchased about six pairs that are simply terrible.  I turn my ankles.  They pinch my toes.  They are so wide, they fly off when I walk.  They lack any degree of support so trying to dig with a shovel is impossible.  And the worst problem, most are fleece lined.  Great when they are brand new.  But when it comes time to give them a good hose down, it takes days for them to dry out again.

Following a link for another reason, I stumbled upon my favorite clogs.  I nearly cried.  I put a pair into a shopping cart, hit purchase and a few days later I was standing in my garden in my favorite garden clogs once again.

Made in Germany and TOTALLY worth the $45 price tag.  If you spend any time in the garden, live in a rainy environment, need something to slip on quickly to walk the dog or kids to school, you need a pair of these clogs.


I bought mine from:
http://www.gardeners.com/Classic-Garden-Clogs/ClogsShoesBoots_Cat,11922,default,cp.html#

Friday, April 15, 2011

Our first Three-Egg Day

It's our last major milestone for my Spice Girls; today we received an egg from each of the girls on the same day.  Ginger also laid her first egg today.  So it was a very big day.


And yes, they all laid in the same nest box.  Their house has three nest boxes but my girls have decided they must do everything together, including eating, dust bathing and apparently laying their eggs together in the same nest.  If I catch all three of them squeezed in there at the same time, I promise to post photos.

Ginger is a Smart Bird

A few weeks back, I blogged about how smart Ginger was not wanting to put her head all the way into a cup to get the bug. 
http://the-spice-girls.blogspot.com/2011/03/chickens-are-smart.html

Well, I finally got a video of it.  It's not a great video.  I'm still working on how to hold the camera on what I'm trying to film, while looking up at the chickens.  But you can clearly see her trying to get the bug from the bottom of the cup.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI3wEj2u7s8

Now we need to work on her ability to hang onto the bug after she gets it from the cup and not let her sisters take it from her.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Predator Amoung Us

Raccoons are the largest predators we have that we need to be concerned about as far as our chicken's safety.  I've spent a great deal of time and money making sure I built a safe enclosure for my girls.  And one specifically, that would keep raccoons out.

But I know they are out there.  Just two nights ago, a friend who lives two blocks away told me how she was awaken the previous night when a raccoon came in to her kitchen via the cat door and was rattling around looking for snacks.

So I know they are out there.  But I wasn't scared until today.  This morning I went out to give the girls some treats before I left for work.  As soon as I went out into the yard, I noticed the Chickadee house.  All of the insides were, well, outside.  It looked like the house exploded.


I showed the photo to some fellow birders and they all feel that a raccoon did this.  It really freaked me out.

This bird house isn't too far away from my chicken run.  I check their run all the time and have never seen any evidence of raccoons trying to get in.  Which is good.  And while I feel awful about the Chickadees, this has been a good reminder that I must never let my guard down.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crack for Chickens


I bought this huge bag of crickets for the girls as a reward thinking they had all started laying eggs.  In hindsight, I don't think Ginger has laid yet, but that she will any day now.

Either way, I love my girls and I'm happy to provide treats.  The video is of The Spice Girls devouring nearly 100 crickets.  It's a long video and if you stick around to the 4 minute mark, there's a quick tour of their house and me collecting eggs.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Girls have a Following

I've had 5000 hits to my blog!  Not sure if that's a testament to how interesting my chickens are to everyone or perhaps my journalism major/art history minor being put to good use?  Either way, it makes me happy.

I promise I'll post some updated photos of the girls soon.  They are such a challenge to photograph.  They get so excited when I come to visit.  (I think I might be over treating.)  Ginger is convinced the camera is food and just stands there and pecks at it.  She even jumped on my head to get close to the camera when I backed away from her.  Now THAT would have been a great photo.  Pumpkin is so fast that even on a high shutter speed, I'm still getting blurry photos of her.  And Coco is simply shy.  I usually get photos of her backside.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yet another use for the chicken..

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE | March 31, 2011

Advance toward making biodegradable plastics from waste chicken feathers

Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society
ANAHEIM, March 31, 2011 — In a scientific advance literally plucked from the waste heap, scientists today described a key step toward using the billions of pounds of waste chicken feathers produced each year to make one of the more important kinds of plastic. They described the new method at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, being held here this week.
"Others have tried to develop thermoplastics from feathers," said Yiqi Yang, Ph.D., who reported on the research. "But none of them perform well when wet. Using this technique, we believe we're the first to demonstrate that we can make chicken-feather-based thermoplastics stable in water while still maintaining strong mechanical properties."

Thermoplastics are one of two major groups of plastics, and include nylon, polyethylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and dozens of other kinds. They are used to make thousands of consumer and industrial products ranging from toothbrush bristles to soda pop bottles to car bumpers. Thermoplastics got that name because they need heat (or chemicals) to harden from a liquid into a final shape, and can be melted and remolded time and again. The other group, thermosetting plastics, harden once and can't be remelted again.


Yang pointed out that both kinds of plastics are made mainly from ingredients obtained from oil or natural gas. Because of concerns about petroleum supplies, prices, and sustainability, dozens of scientific teams are working to find alternative ingredients. One major goal is to use agricultural waste and other renewable resources to make bioplastics that have an additional advantage of being biodegradable once discarded into the environment.
Recycled chicken feathers could be used to create a new class of environmentally friendly, biodegrade-
able plastics, scientists are reporting. 
"We are trying to develop plastics from renewable resources to replace those derived from petroleum products," said Yang, who is an authority on biomaterials and biofibers in the Institute of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Utilizing current wastes as alternative sources for materials is one of the best approaches toward a more sustainable and more environmentally responsible society."

Chicken feathers are an excellent prospect, Yang explained, because they are inexpensive and abundant. Few shoppers think about it, but every shrink-wrapped broiler in the supermarket cooler leaves behind a few ounces of feathers. Annually there are more than 3 billion pounds of waste chicken feathers in the United States alone. These feathers can be processed into a low-grade animal feed, but that adds little value to the feathers and may also cause diseases in the animals. All too often, they become a waste disposal/environmental pollution headache, incinerated or stored in landfills.

Yang explained that chicken feathers are made mainly of keratin, a tough protein also found in hair, hoofs, horns, and wool that can lend strength and durability to plastics. Yang added that the mechanical properties of feather films outperform other biobased products, such as modified starch or plant proteins.

To develop the new water-resistant thermoplastic, Yang and colleagues processed chicken feathers with chemicals, including methyl acrylate, a colorless liquid found in nail polish that undergoes polymerization — that's the process used in producing plastics in which molecules link together one by one into huge chains. This process resulted in films of what Yang's group terms "feather-g-poly(methyl acrylate)" plastic. It had excellent properties as a thermoplastic, was substantially stronger and more resistant to tearing than plastics made from soy protein or starch, and as a first among chicken-feather plastics had good resistance to water.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rat - 21 / Flock Mistress - 1

Now I know what you are thinking, these are terrible odds!  How can you be proud of this to the point of posting it?  Well, think about it.  The rat could have all the points in the world, but each one of my points means there's one less rat in the world.

I knew that rats would be an issue when I decided to get chickens.  I bring in their feeder each night but chickens are messy eaters and there's always some left on the ground.  And with all the juniper and ivy in my neighborhood, like it or not, rats are going to be an issue.

I remember one morning, standing at the kitchen sink watching this lady try to walk her dog.  But the dog was fixated on a juniper bush.  She was tugging on the leash and trying to encourage him but this dog wasn't budging.  He was sniffing and pacing back and forth around this small bush.  This went on for maybe five minutes before a rat finally shot out of the bush and took off down the street.  The dog took chase and this poor lady unfortunately, went along for the ride.  We now affectionately refer to him as Rat Dog when we see him out on his walks.

I refuse to put out poison for all the obvious reasons so I started with one old fashioned wooden Victor rat trap.  Each night I set it with peanut butter, cheese, walnuts or sunflower seeds, and every morning, the food was gone and no rat.  I was so frustrated.  Last night, I upgraded to the Victor Power Kill rat trap.  Pretty much the same design as the original but with an easier mechanism to set and thus, a more efficient release.

And this morning - BINGO!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

We're Pullets Now

Pumpkin's eggs are easy to ID because they are green.  But Coco and Ginger are brown egg layers.  I've been hopeful that their eggs would be different shades of brown or that one would have freckles so I could tell them apart and give proper credit where credit was due.

Last Saturday, I went outside to an awful commotion and Coco was singing the egg song.  And when I looked in the nest boxes, nest number 3 had a brown egg in it.  So I assumed it was hers.  Tuesday, I got another brown egg in the same nest.

Pumpkin consistently lays her eggs in nest number 1.  Except for a few days when I had put some pine needles in the nest thinking she'd like to build a deeper nest.  But she obviously wanted nothing to do with the pine needles because she moved to nest number 2.  I removed the pine needles and she's back in nest 1.

Last night, there was a tiny brown egg in nest 1 along with a green egg.  I took it inside and compared it to the other brown egg and it's definitely smaller.  Which would make since since Ginger is significantly smaller than Coco.  And Ginger was acting different last night too.  It's difficult for me to describe but she seemed to want more attention.  I picked her up and tickled her and she just fell right to sleep in my arms.

So I'm pretty sure that all my girls are now laying eggs.  Hopefully, this weekend I can spy on them a bit to see who likes which nest box and see if I can't come up with a way to correctly ID who's laying which eggs.  Otherwise, I see a web cam in my future.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chicken Sitting IS a Real Job!

http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/03/29/chicken.sitter.mnn/index.html?iref=obnetwork#


Chicken sitters ready to tend your flock

By Matt Hickman, MNN.IS
March 29, 2011 10:59 a.m. EDT

With more people keeping chickens in urban and suburban areas, trained chicken sitters are in demand and available.
With more people keeping chickens in urban and suburban areas, trained chicken sitters are in demand and available.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • With more city people keeping chickens, trained chicken sitters are available for hire
  • Sitters will clean chicken coops, put out food and water, and collect eggs
  • Pet-care companies that look after dogs and cats will also watch chickens

RELATED TOPICS
(Mother Nature Network) -- In most cities and towns across the country, it's not difficult to find someone who will, for a certain price, walk your dog, brush your cat, feed your fish, and pet your rabbit while you're away at work or on vacation.

The dog-walking/pet-sitting business is a booming, often lucrative one and an industry that I once, as a graduate student in New York, worked in (in case you were wondering, I'm certified in pet CPR and can remove Great Dane poop from a sidewalk in one single swoop ...what can I say? I have skills).

And now, with an increasing number of self sufficiency-minded folks beginning to keep chickens in urban and suburban areas, you can hire trained chicken sitters to watch over your brood -- and perhaps supervise conjugal visits -- while you're out of town.

L.A. at Home recently spoke with Anna Goeser, Master Gardener, veteran chicken keeper (15 years), and proprietress of Easy Acres Chicken Sitting, a professional chicken sitting service or what L.A. at Home calls "the latest indulgence for L.A. urban gardeners."

Starting at $20 a day, Goeser will do what most other urban pet sitting firms fail to offer on their menu of services: clean coops, put out food and water, and collect eggs.

In the event that a flown-the-coop client keeps free-range chickens, she'll let them out in the morning to roam and hustle them back into the coop in the evening. Goeser also offers domestic pet sitting and yard maintenance services.

Although the Easy Acres Chicken Sitting website doesn't list preferred methods of payment, I do wonder if Goeser accepts fresh eggs along with Visa, Mastercard, Discovery, and cash.

In addition to years of chicken keeping at her own home, Goeser possess a much-needed skill of the trade: she's not at all intimidated by the sometimes unruly backyard beasts.

She tells L.A. at Home: "You can't imagine how many people are afraid of chickens. People are really freaked out by them. Over the years I've heard so many stories from people who were chased by chickens. It is hard to find people to look after them when you go out of town."

As it turns out, Goeser isn't the only fearless flock-tender for hire. After doing a quick online search, I found several other dedicated chicken sitting companies including Chicken Sitting and Just Us Hens, both based in Portland, Oregon (shocker!) and Sound Chicken Sitting in Seattle, Washington.

And as it turns out, many non-poultry-centric pet-care companies that primarily focus on sitting of the canine and feline variety will also look after chickens, horses, and other critters primarily found in barnyards, not backyards (are there are nanny goat nanny services out there?)

As a former pet care provider, I can't say that I'd be willing to sit chickens (I draw the line at pilling other people's cats and interacting with most reptiles).

I do admit they make me a bit nervous and besides, I'm too busying conjuring up my own fantasy niche pet-sitting business: Boozehounds, New York's first doggie daycare/after-work cocktail lounge.
© Copyright 2010 Mother Nature Network

Friday, April 1, 2011

What's your favorite food?

Experts say that chickens don't have a very good sense of taste.  But I'm not so sure.  They certainly have razor sharp eye sight.  And they must have a good memory because they recognize things quite well.  Both as far as foods they like and dislike as well as anything new or different in their world.

Coco LOVES fruit; bananas, strawberries, apples and even grass.  I guess she's my vegetarian.  She'll eat anything I bring out for a treat.  But if she sees I have a strawberry or piece of banana tucked in my hand, she can spot it from across the run and will come running.  I've even seen her smash into Ginger and Pumpkin to get to me first if she sees fruit.

Ginger is my seed eater and bugger.  I guess that makes her my Atkins Diet girl.  I made oatmeal for breakfast the other day and saved a few bites for the girls.  Ginger delicately picked off all the flax seeds from my fingers.  And she's the first to peek into any and all containers I bring with out me to see if there's a spider hiding at the bottom.

And Pumpkin is my carbohydrate lover.  Oatmeal, rice, bits of bread, etc.  She even likes eating the pine shaving from their house.  Not sure if that qualifies as a carbohydrate or fiber.  But it's certainly not fruit or protein.

Now don't get me wrong, they'll all eat anything and everything I bring out.  But they have very clear favorites and I know when I go out with a treat, who's gonna get to me first based on what I have that day.