Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Lauren: Chicken Lessons: What Not to Do August 22, 2013

Filed under: Chickens — lkcook20 @ 4:35 pm
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Our coop was up and ready. Now it was time to get chickens.

We decided to go for pullets, which are chickens that are less than a year old. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with chick stuff like brooders, heat lamps, special feed, etc. And, we didn’t want ones that were too old because chickens lay the most eggs in their first or second year. Pullets are the best of both worlds.

It was difficult to find someone who had four different kinds of pullets. I finally found a guy who had three, all around 4 months old. He seemed sketchy in the emails, but I chalked it up to him being an eccentric farmer. When we got to his place, it was not at all what I had envisioned. The stench hit me as soon as I got out of the car. Flies were everywhere. And the chickens were kept in pretty small cages, reminiscent of factory farms. But I felt like we were kind of stuck. We’d driven two hours to get there and I didn’t want to go home without chickens. So we bought three and brought them home. In order to get them into the coop, I had to pick them up out of the dog crate we had used to transport them. Then they slept a lot, way more than I was expecting. But, I didn’t really know any better and thought they were just transitioning to their new home.

We were happy to finally have our chickens. We named them Martha, Mabel, and Dozer. (Can you tell which one our 4 year old named?)

Mabel (in the forefront) and Dozer

Mabel (in the forefront) and Dozer

We bought them on a Wednesday and found Dozer dead on Saturday morning. That same day, Mabel looked unwell so we gave her water through an eye dropper and offered her yogurt on a spoon. Our efforts weren’t enough, though. She passed away that afternoon.

Moral of the story: If the conditions the chickens are raised in are not good, just say no, unless you want to save them and are prepared to lose money and dig a grave, if need be.

We buried Dozer and Mabel in our backyard. Some people recommended composting them, but that seemed a little complicated to me. I haven’t even mastered regular composting yet.

“There’s no one else I’d rather bury chickens with,” I told Dave later. I feel like this experience has allowed us to reach a new level in our marriage. I’m just not sure what that level is. . .

Then there was Martha who was still alive and kicking, albeit lonely.

Martha

Martha, a Barred Rock. She will lay about 4 brown eggs/week. She is supposed to be smart, plucky, and docile.

I’d heard chickens can go a little nutty when they are alone so we needed more chickens–and fast. Some guy on craigslist was selling 32 chickens and he was only an hour away. But by the time we got there, after the kids finished napping, someone else had bought all of them and paid for it over the phone. When we expressed our surprise that the other guy had been able to prepay, the man selling the chickens  told us we needed to get with the times. He was 74 years old.

That night, we emailed a family whose farm we had toured earlier this year and they recommended Eden farm. Now we know; recommendations are the way to go. It was a much more reputable farm. The chickens had ample space and there were no flies or horrible odors. And so far, Frances and Grabble seem to be doing well.

Frances

Frances, an Ameraucana. She is supposed to lay eggs with a green or blue tint to the shells. Her personality is supposed to be docile and fun.

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Grabble, a red star. She is supposed to lay 5 brown eggs/week and be docile with a rugged personality.

We got our first egg. It appeared like magic.

Our first egg

 

Despite our setbacks, I’m hooked.

 

Lauren: The Making of a Chicken Coop: A Tour August 6, 2013

Filed under: Chickens,DIY Projects — lkcook20 @ 3:46 pm
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My mom basically called my chicken coop “redneck.” My mother-in-law said, at first glance, she thought it looked kind of rundown. I prefer the term: rustic chic. I’m super proud of it and LOVE that I can say that we didn’t buy ANY wood for this project.

Some guy cut down a tree in his front yard and advertised free logs on craigslist. We jumped on that great deal and crammed them into our Mitsubishi.

Ezra with logs

logs in car

I think he called it fire wood, but we had other plans. . . The other wood came from pallets we salvaged and dragged home in our kids’ wagon. Clearly, we need to buy a truck.

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It was like a puzzle.  Each log got notched and cut so they would fit together.

Ever helpful

Ever helpful

We scraped all the bark off and stained the logs. Dave wanted to leave the bark on, but I thought it would be more aesthetically pleasing for the posts to look similar to one another. And, I have this knack for turning small projects into larger, more time-consuming ones–all in the name of beauty! As luck would have it, the wood was infested with bark beetles, which were slowly eating the wood and etching little grooves into it. When I discovered them, I felt very vindicated in my decision and determination to scrape off all the bark and by default, the beetles, too. Now whenever Dave and I disagree about something, I just say, “Remember, remember the tiny bark beetle,” which doesn’t really win me any points, but I feel good saying it.

File:Dendroctonus ponderosae.jpg

A bark beetle: small but destructive.

coopdoorwithtext

Here is  one of my favorite parts: the chicken door and ladder. The door slides open if you pull on the rope so you don’t have to enter the run to let the chickens out in the morning.

run

This is my other favorite part. I saw this door in a neighbor’s backyard. It was there for a while and I kept looking at it, thinking it would make the perfect chicken coop door. So I went over and asked if she had any plans for it. She said she didn’t. Score! Free door!

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This is the inside where the ladies will sleep. The roosting bar was another free branch.

I installed the flooring myself. It’s made of peel and stick vinyl. It ended up costing about $1.50 because it was on clearance. By far, the most expensive part of the whole thing was the hardware cloth mesh that encloses the entire run. I guess protection is costly.

wholecoop with text

Here it is in all it’s rustic-chic goodness.

 

Lauren: Chicken Update April 9, 2013

Filed under: Chickens — lkcook20 @ 10:39 pm
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While Dave was driving home from work the other day, he got a call from the Sheriff.   One of Dave’s hobbies is worrying, so that was the last people he wanted to get a call from. Dave was able to breathe (a little) sigh of relief when the Sheriff revealed that he was now the man in charge of the chicken applications.

The Sheriff was less than enthused about his new job as “the chicken and bees guy.” During their conversation, he kept pausing as if convinced that his last statement would have made Dave finally see the light and rescind our application.

Their talk went something like this:

“I’m looking at the satellite view of your yard and it looks awfully small.” Pause.

“Okay.”

“Well, have you measured it?”

“Yes. I think it meets the requirements.”

“Well, have you talked to your neighbors yet?”

“No.”

“Well, you’ll want to do that and make sure they are okay with it. I will be talking to them myself, too.” Pause.

“Okay.”

“I’m pushing all these chicken applications to the back and starting with the bees.” Pause.

“Okay.”

When Dave told me about the phone call, I panicked. I was worried the Sheriff would get to our neighbors first. So even though we were in the middle of packing to go out of town, I cajoled everyone into taking a walk. I just knew we had to get to our neighbors first; they would have a much harder time saying no to our sweet faces (well, at least E. & A.’s).

We had to warm up before talking to Wilma, so we went to our next door neighbor first. The mail carrier fortunately gave us a piece of her mail so we had an extra excuse to visit her. She was not too impressed by the mail carrier but grateful for the mail and said she didn’t see any reason we couldn’t get chickens. We promised to give her some fresh eggs.

Then came Wilma. She was cordial and invited us in. Everybody did their part: A. looked cute. E. managed not to break anything. Dave schmoozed (one of his hidden talents) and I looked earnest and tried not to be too frank and honest as I have a tendency to do.

She didn’t seem thrilled. She wrinkled her nose and asked about noise, about our dogs, and about what the rest of our neighbors had said, but in the end, she gave her approval. We also promised her some fresh eggs. (Eggs for everybody who helps us get closer to owning chickens!)

Now we’re just waiting for the Sheriff to come out and measure our yard. Then we could get this chicken party started.

 

Lauren: Chickens October 2, 2012

Filed under: Chickens — lkcook20 @ 3:42 pm
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I want chickens. Bad. I hear they make great entertainment–and need I even mention. . . Fresh eggs!

I would love to be able to walk into my backyard and pick up a freshly-laid egg. And clean it off, of course, because apparently they don’t come out looking like they do in the grocery store. I don’t want to get too graphic, but if you are unschooled in chicken anatomy (like I was), let me share what I learned: the great manure chickens produce doesn’t have a separate exit ramp. . .

A year ago backyard chickens weren’t a possibility for us since we live in a small city. But the urban farm movement is surging and seven hundred city residents signed a petition for bees and chickens in the city. The council people had to sit up and take note of that! Fast forward through paperwork, research, and bureaucracy stuff blah blah blah and the ordinance was up before council for a vote.

A couple of weeks before the meeting the city chickens and bees Facebook group  asked people to email their representative to express support. I wasn’t sure who my representative was so I emailed. . .  all of them. Can you tell how political I am? To their credit, they all emailed back asserting their support. The only details left to iron out were setback limits. This was an important factor since city lots tend to be small and deciding on something too high would make owning birds and bees an impossibility for most residents. After I emailed them all once, I wrote again to specify what setback number I thought was reasonable. But I gave myself away by telling them what street I lived on and they stopped emailing back since all but one weren’t responsible for fielding my fiery emails.

It felt so good to write to them. I gained a sense of pride in being passionate about an issue and doing something about it. I began to think, I could get into this local politics thing. I carried this buoyed feeling with me into the council chambers as I sat reverently on the hard wooden bench, hoping my mere presence showcased my zeal for the issue at hand.

But chickens and bees weren’t the first thing on the agenda that night. First the council had to listen to a traffic expert (who knew those even existed? He got my vote for having one of the most boring jobs on earth). He gave his findings on the traffic patterns of a particular street and what would happen if they added a turning lane here or there. The discussion droned on and on. I think my eyes started to water a little from boredom and probably sympathy for the guy’s wife for when she had to hear about his day at work. And then I knew–local politics weren’t for me. But I gave those six council people and the Mayor credit. They sat there and listened and even looked mildly interested. Not one of them (that I could see) pulled out a contraband book from their purse (or murse) and started reading it like I did, waiting for a more interesting topic to come up. (I recommend Major Pettigrew’s Last stand. It really kept me entertained).

Then I knew it was only the chickens and the bees that I cared about.

Long story short and a couple of weeks later, they passed the ordinance 6-0 so I’m on my way to owning backyard fowl.

Pickle is on the left, Turtle on the right

It’s too be determined how my rear neighbor (we’ll call her Wilma) will feel about them, if she will dislike them as much as she does Turtle and Pickle, our two bark-enthused pugs. I’ll keep you updated on my chicken endeavors (designing a coop, etc) as well as the Wilma drama sure to ensue.

Who knew dogs like to spoon?

 

Lauren: I’m Growing! September 18, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 6:22 pm
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If you would have told me when I was growing up that six years after I got married I would want backyard chickens, I would have said you were crazy. C-R-A-Z-Y, crazy.

I grew up in a typical suburban home in Cleveland, Ohio. There, my mother’s hobbies leaned more in the direction of Bingo rather than sewing or gardening, so I didn’t grow up knowing or seeing someone doing those things.  The first time I used an iron, the one that had idled in my mom’s linen closet for quite some time, was to straighten my hair in high school. In my defense, this was back in the day before flat irons became widely available. I got pretty good at not burning myself.

So what changed? It all started when I stumbled into the bottomless well I now know as the Netflix documentaries page. Growing up, I thought documentaries were a teacher’s way of torturing small children by making them sit through some old guy talking for an hour about the life cycle of the dung beetle. It turns out they aren’t boring like I thought they’d be and instead let me sit down and learn something new (in one hour!), a feature I especially enjoy since I have a toddler and infant at home. Oftentimes I only have one hour, if I’m lucky, when no one needs to be fed or held or changed, when no one (husband included) is asking “Want to play?” And there are only so many times I can read “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon. . . ” before I start to crave some more challenging concepts. Not that I don’t love Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, but sometimes I need a little more.

Most people will never forget their first love, I’ll never forget my first documentary: Food Inc. 

 Food Inc. was the movie that planted a little seed in me to be more conscious about the things I am buying and what I am putting into my body and the bodies of my loved ones.  And that little seed has sprouted. Continuing on with the analogy. . . My frugality is the water that helps it grow. It’s cheaper in a lot of ways to make your own cleaning spray or new skirt or graham crackers (more on those later). I prefer the term thrifty rather than miserly.

In short, I am in love with becoming more and more self-sufficient. Then I can make things exactly the way I want them with the ingredients that I want. Hmm. I think am starting to sound like a control freak. I don’t think I really am. Let me explain. Sometimes I have this daydream about what would happen if there was an apocalypse and then I envision how I would handle it. My husband usually daydreams about being a hero and saving people and I daydream about being the last ones on earth. (I really am a happy person. See this? That’s me.) Anyway, then in the daydream I list off the things I could do/make myself and try to gauge how well I could take care of my family (we all survived the apocalypse, of course). So in trying to defend myself about being controlling, I’ve let my weirdness show. Oh well. It was bound to come out sometime.

Now I find myself dreaming (a happier dream) of a little farm with goats, chickens, a pot belly pig (as a pet; they’re so cute), a huge garden, and a root cellar full of food I’ve canned. But I am not sure when (or even if) that will happen. Right now I have to be content with turning my little bungalow in a small city into a little urban farm and teaching myself how to make things myself.

I wish my porch still looked this clean.

 

 
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