Monday, March 17, 2014


A quick note about Sybill Trelawney. This fabulous little chicken was a gift. You know those friends I mentioned a few posts back that have 200 + chickens? Well, we were chatting with them a couple years or so back and told them we wanted to add a few more birds to the flock. They said, "You can have one of ours." Just like that. Brian drove to their little farm and Jenine picked a bird, put her in a box and said, "Here ya go!"
 That's how we acquired Sybill. She is a Black Sex Link, Sex Links are pretty cool. You see you can tell if the chicken is male or female at birth by the color the of the chick! Isn't science neat? When she first joined the flock I called her our street chicken. She looked like she'd been around the block, pretty ragged around the edges. Her feathers were a bit mangy, and she didn't have any of the chicken grace that our other girls had. After several molting sessions and some sweet food scraps, Sybill's feathers look much nicer these days. She isn't going to win any beauty contests, but she's a real sweetie and a great layer. She lays light brown eggs, and is fairly steady about it. Sex Links can lay up to 300 eggs per year! She also tolerates us petting her once in a while, though I think her little chicken brain tolerates it because it reminds her of mating. The way she hunches down and dips her tail to the ground, I'm pretty sure that's what they do when a rooster... erm... mounts them. Oh well, she's a funny hen and I like her. She also has a little blue anklet, from her days at Wyeth Acres.
Here she is, she's the black one on the left.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Patel Twins

We have two new chickens! Padma and Parvati! ( If you've not yet noticed all of our birds have Harry Potter names ).We decided that waiting until the end of April for our new chicks was too long to get some fresh layers in the flock. Yesterday afternoon Lyra and I ran down to Western Farm Supply and picked up 2 beautiful Barred Rock Pullets! I have always been enamored with the sight of this breed. They have lovely black and white laced feathers, I guess that's how they got their name, their feather patterns look like rocks?? Hmmm...
They are about 6 months old and Barred Rocks can start laying at 7 months! They lay large brown eggs, are pretty faithful layers and I've read that they are pretty sweet chickens with lots of personality.Ooh boy!

It's always a bit nerve wracking adding new birds to an existing flock. Chickens are extremely social birds and they develop a hierarchy among themselves, we call this a  pecking order. There is always a mama matron and a bottom girl, the one that gets last dibs on that tasty broccoli, it's most often the youngest or most recent addition to the flock. So it's never quite clear how the birds will react to new comers. You always want to wait to introduce new hens until they are large enough and fast enough that they can defend themselves. Though some pecking and bossing around is inevitable, you will see less of this if the newbies are the right age. Chickens can be pretty gnarly and might kill a new chick if it's small enough and doesn't have a mama type hen protecting it. There are lots of different methods folks use to introduce new birds, one of the most common being setting up a small fenced in area and tiny coop within the existing run so the birds can get used to each other through the safety of the fence. The method that we have used all 4 times we've brought new birds home is to stick them in the coop at night when the other chickens are docile or better yet sleeping. Chickens aren't known for their intelligence and often will wake up only slightly confused about the new birds, more like, "Hmmm when did she get here??" rather than, "Intruder! Get her!".
So that's what we did with Padma and Parvati. Brought them home, stuck them in the coop when the girls went to bed and so far so good. One of the funniest things we've noticed is that the lowest ranking bird (in this case it's Ginny, Minerva's daughter) will be all huffed up about moving up the social ladder. It's always that birds job to pick on the newbies and show them who's boss. It's hilarious seeing the one hen that has been the most frightened and the most picked on all of a sudden start strutting around and acting like she found the golden ticket! The rest of the birds have been amazingly tolerant so far today, only pecking at the new girls if they get in their way. It does throw the flock off for a little while though, while they re-establish their ranks and places.
I am super excited about these beauties! We decided to name them after the Patel twins because I have a feeling they will be a bit hard to tell apart. That lovely red headed girl in the photo below standing next to ... let's say Padma, is Poppy. She is a stunning Americauna, that lays pretty pale blue eggs. She could be a show chicken... people do that, show chickens. I mean, it's no weirder than showing dogs, so why not?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Children and Chickens

Above photo courtesy of Kimberly Taylor Pestell.
Chickens are our only family pets. We've thought about cats, and bunnies but for the time being it's chickens. My oldest daughter is 2.5, we've had the birds for most of her life. Ever since she could walk we've let her tromp around int he chicken yard, chase and feed the birds. It has been a wonderful experience for her. She's watched a chicken sit on eggs for days on end, seen baby chicks just hatched, she's watched them grow ill, and known them to die. She watches them, feeds them, pets them and just really enjoys them. Some days we will sit at the window or on the front porch and watch them, pointing out to each other the silly things they do.
We once had a chick given to (actually dumped on) us from a neighbor. This was the most friendly, affectionate, wonderful bird we ever had. Lyra named her Sarah. She was great, until she started to get really big, I mean really big. Then she started to show signs that she might not be a she. One of the earliest ways to tell is a hen's tail feathers tend to point skyward while rooster tail feather start curving towards the ground. Roosters also develop spurs on the back of their feet fairly early. Also you'll notice that the hens stop picking on them (they always pick on the new/young birds) pretty early and they start politely avoiding them. Anyhow, Sarah turned out to be a rooster. It was actually pretty sad for us, he was the only one that would let Lyra pick him up, until he grew too large of course. He would run after us when we walked away, such a sweet little pal, always down for a nice little petting session. We gave him away, he might have become someones dinner, or even worse someones bird for cock fighting. Wow, I hadn't actually thought about that possibility until now, and it makes me want to cry. People can be so cruel. Here's a picture of Lyra petting Sarahfino.

My husband told me of a study that attributed the rise in allergies in young children to less exposure to farm animals. Here's a link to that NPR article. To Sniff Out Childhood Allergies
How interesting is that!? Hopefully my kids will be all good in that department, especially after we add goats to our mix.
Lyra loves the chickens, I am excited that when she's a bit older daily egg collection will be her responsibility. She will love bringing her little basket out there every morning and gathering the colorful eggs. She could spend all day out there and it is so good for her! Chickens are great with children, especially if they have been raised by people and are used to children. I am super excited to raise the 15 chicks we just ordered! I'll tell you all about that adventure next time!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Thoughts on Leghorns

Leghorns (I just learned it's pronounced "Leggern") are an interesting breed. Not interesting in the unique, heritage, beautiful bird type of way.... but interesting none the less. They are your basic white chicken. The chickens from cartoons.... white with bright red combs, probably Leghorns. First off they are such amazing layers, large white eggs, nearly every day of the year. When other breeds slow down in the cold months you can count on Leghorns to keep your protein packages coming. At first I wasn't too thrilled about them. They are not as beautiful as some of the other breeds, at least at first glance.  After growing up on white eggs and then later in life being introduced to green, blue, brown, dark brown, tinted eggs... white eggs just seemed rather boring to me, too normal. I also was put off by their "spunkiness". They can be pretty aggressive when snacks (snails, and scratch) are tossed into the pen. It drove me crazy when I just wanted poor Mrs. Weasley( a stunning cochin) R.I.P, to have a tasty snail, and those blasted Leghorns would swoop in out of no where and snatch it up before she even realized it was there, granted she was really slow. Still I would try and fake them out by tossing something on the far side of the run and then giving the others fast access to the treats, but those Leghorns are quick, I've got to give them that.
The Leghorns have grown on me. They were originally my cousin Shaun's. There were three of them, one died (rather odd story that). Now there are two, Cherry and Carllozy, I think. Shaun was never too clear on their names These are the brains in the flock. I mean as big as a chicken brain can be, these two actually use it. They are the ones that fly, where as the others are happy hanging on the ground, these two fly over the 8 foot fence, even when they have clipped wings (Not a cruel process I assure you). They make me laugh with their determination. We put bird netting over the entire run to get them to quit flying the coop, alas they found the one little opening in the netting and managed to get out. Next thing I know they are on our front porch steps eating the shells that I have in a succulent planter! Little buggers! They are the only chicken that will bite my hand if I try and reach around or under them when they are laying an egg, they are pretty vocal about this intrusion too. Overall they are crafty, determined and by far our best layers.
We have some friends that have over 200 chickens. They sell produce and eggs at the Healdsburg Farmer's Market and they sell eggs to local health food stores. Their farm and eggs are called Wyeth Acres, maybe you've seen them? They have all brown egg layers, maybe there's a few blue in there, I can't recall. They thought about getting some Leghorns for their flock to up the egg production, but chose not too because consumers are snobby about egg color! Sounds so weird, but it's so true. I too was biased about the colors of my eggs, why would I want a boring white egg when there are so many other beautiful colors to choose from? These days I am perfectly happy with our white eggs, they are just as tasty and maybe even more nutritional since Cherry and Carllozy are the only birds that escape the pen and find other things to eat like shells and bugs. In a few weeks we will be letting them all out to roam during the day if we are outside to keep our eyes on them, but for now we want them to get really used to the new coop. If you are thinking of getting a flock of chickens, I recommend at least a few Leghorns, you can count on them for year round eggs! Here's a picture of them , I tell ya, they have trouble written all over their faces!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A new house for the hens

Before we ever got chickens, I had heard that it can be pretty addicting. Now that we've had a small flock for 2 years or so..... I totally get it. I love our girls! They are so much fun and bring us great satisfaction, that our family is somewhat sustaining through having these birds. One more step on the path to keeping our consumerism truly local. We recently moved from an urban setting where our flock was in a backyard, shared with a pool and lawn, to the country. The very place where I was raised, up on a sweet little mountain in Sonoma County. There is ample room here, and the birds look out of their pen to see trees, mountains, clear sky and breathe the fresh air. It's that way for us too, every time I step outside I feel utterly blessed by our home.
Living out here has countless benefits for our family though there is one major hurdle for having something like a flock of birds. Predators. Where we were living before we could let the birds out in the yard all day for them to forage, the only "predator" being a neighborhood cat who stalked them from the top of the fence.  Up on our hill though.... the only way we can let them out is if we remain close by and keep our eyes peeled for trouble. There are foxes, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, rats and raptors. They all would just love to have a nice fresh egg or better yet a plump organically raised chicken for supper! (They probably don't care about the organic bit, but I'm sure these birds would taste nice)This morning we saw a coyote trotting past the coop, she stopped and eyed the birds until I poked my head out the door and belted, "Get out of here!" The coop itself is a chicken fortress, my husband Brian made sure no animals would get in there without our permission, but we still have some animal proofing to do to the chicken run, probably on the sooner side, before one of our sweet silly birds becomes lunch.
That there is Minerva, she's kind of my favorite. Don't tell the others. She is a Cochin. She is gorgeous, with shiny black feathers, that are iridescent and highlighted with green and gold. She also happens to be our most friendly chicken. She tolerates my 2.5 year old Lyra following her around the pen saying , "Oh Minerva, such a beautiful chicken, can I pet you." Every so often Minerva will slow down enough that Lyra pets her. She'll let me pick her up and pet her, she is so soft and oh so sweet. Typical of her breed, Minerva is a brooder. Brooding is what chickens do when they decide it's time to hatch some eggs. They hunker down and sit on the nest. This would be a wonderful trait if only a) we had a rooster and the eggs were fertile b) if we wanted to figure out how to deal with a potentially large amount of male chickens (roosters) coming into the world. A flock can only handle one of them. What do vegetarians do with a bunch of roosters they don't need? I'm not against eating them theoretically. If I was going to bring meat back into my diet, that is about the only way I would do it. Birds that we raised and ideally we slaughtered, full circle. I'm not up for the whole slaughtering bit, neither is my husband... hence we don't have a rooster. Minerva has gone broody probably 12 times in the last 2 years. Seriously!! One time we ordered a dozen fertile eggs for her to sit on and hatch. I guess she didn't do the best job because only 2 eggs hatched and then one chick "disappeared". We think something ate it. Her one surviving offspring was thank goodness a female! She is a Welsummer named Ginny. A super beautiful breed, she is thin and graceful, upright and active. She is also the most skittish chicken we've had! Apparently when chicks are raised by a mama chicken rather than in incubators by people, they tend to be much more wary and squeamish around people. Oh well, she's lovely to watch and lays the most beautiful chocolate brown colored eggs.

Perhaps I have found my calling with these birds. I could watch them, take photos of them, and write about them all day, alas.... my real children need my attention too, so until next time.... enjoy those frittatas!