Sunday Spam: Automatic Chicken Cage

We interrupt the usual picture Sunday feature to bring you the best and most misdirected spam email that has ever graced the Root Simple in-box:

Dear Sir or Madam,

Liaocheng Dongying Hengtong Metal Manufacturing Co.,Ltd here. Glad to hear that you are on the market for Automatic chicken cage. We are a professional producer of the complete sets of equipment for raising birds. At present, it is an enterprise which has the import-export license and exports a batch of complete sets of automatic equipment for raising chickens.

These products gained good prestige among customers and they are not only used in great-scaled biological raising farms in domestic provinces, but also exported to Middle Asia, South and East regions, Australia, South America, Middle East areas, Africa mainland and so on in great lot. We are willing to wholehearted with all the friends and customers to establish good relations of cooperation, realize a win-win benefits, and create a magnificent performance. If any interest, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,
Senior Sales Manager,
Fatma

Clearly a product that’s not a win-win for the chickens, but thank you “Fatma” for providing us with some much needed scratch for the blog.

The Perfect Chicken Coop?

Do a Google image search for “chicken coop” and a solid majority of the results will look very much like this nearly 100 year old coop featured in The Gardener’s and Poultry Keeper’s Guide and Illustrated Catalog. Why is this basic design still with us?

  • The attached run gives chickens some space to scratch around in while keeping them safe from predators if you can’t make it home by dark.
  • You can hang a feeder in the space under the hen house to keep their feed dry.
  • The run is tall enough to stand in.
  • You can put an access door to the nesting box from the outside so you don’t have to go in the coop to collect eggs.
  • It has a roof over the run to keep your chickens dry.

It’s the basic form I used for our coop with a few refinements–I ran hardware cloth under run to keep out burrowing predators. I also extended the run to keep the chickens from pecking at each other (the more room they have the better).

To paraphrase Nassim Taleb for the second time in a week, if a given design has been around for at least a hundred years, the odds are it will be around for many more years. While this particular arrangement may not work in all situations (mobile runs or “chicken tractors” may be a better option for some), this coop design does have a lot going for it for us urban dwellers.

Poultry Houses of the Ultra Wealthy: Part 2

Are $100,000 chicken coops a sign of an empire on the verge of a decadent downward spiral? If so it’s time to get that bug-out location ready because Neiman Marcus publicity flacks just announced a $100,000 “Heritage Hen Mini-Farm.” From the description on their website:

Dawn breaks. The hens descend from their bespoke Versailles-inspired Le Petit Trianon house to their playground below for a morning wing stretch. Slipping on your wellies, you start for the coop and are greeted by the pleasant clucking of your specially chosen flock and the site of the poshest hen house ever imagined. Your custom-made multilevel dwelling features a nesting area, a “living room” for nighttime roosting, a broody room, a library filled with chicken and gardening books for visitors of the human kind, and, of course, an elegant chandelier. The environment suits them well as you notice the fresh eggs awaiting morning collection. Nearby, you pick fresh vegetables or herbs from your custom-built raised gardens. You’ve always fancied yourself a farmer—now thanks to Heritage Hen Farm, you’re doing it in the fanciest way possible!

The Neiman Marcus folks apparently didn’t get the memo on what happened to the original owner of Le Petit Trianon. Those angry mobs of real French peasants weren’t all too happy with a royal family of pretend farmers. Will Neiman Marcus offer a diamond encrusted Gucci guillotine when the chicken coop class war breaks out?

And, in my humble opinion, British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey has a better coop.

Thanks to Root Simple reader Birdzilla Studios for the tip! 

Urban Chickens and Lead

From the One More Thing To Worry About department, the New York Times has an article on lead levels in eggs laid by urban chickens “Worries About Lead for New York City’s Garden-Fresh Eggs.” According to the article, the lead levels found in New York City’s home grown eggs ranged from none to over a 100 parts per billion. Since the FDA does not have an acceptable lead level in eggs it’s difficult to interpret the results. And I have to wonder what unknown problems lurk in industrial eggs.

It’s a reminder that those of us who live in older cities and grow food need to confront the lead problem. Personally, I’d also like to see the Real Estate industry come clean on this issue beyond boiler plate disclosures buried in sales documents. But I’m not holding my breath.

Poultry Houses of the Ultra-Wealthy

Root Simple reader Christopher Calderhead tipped us off to a story in the Guardian on the plans by British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to build a neo-classical chicken coop. Odey will, apparently, be spending at least £100,000 just for the stone. The Telegraph also covered the story and has more details on the construction,

The temple’s roof – adorned with an Anthemia statuette – will be fashioned in grey zinc; the pediments, cornice, architrave and frieze are in English oak; and the columns, pilasters and rusticated stone plinth are being hewn from finest grey Forest of Dean sandstone.

Sir Peter’s duck house.

This isn’t the first poultry house to cause a scandal in Britain. In 2010 Sir Peter Viggers claimed a £1,645 duck house as part of his expenses as an member of parliament.

Now if your taste runs more towards Dwell Magazine than the neo-classical, a British company sells a £1,950, “Nogg” chicken coop. Modern design, apparently, comes with an even higher price tag than Sir Peter’s duck house!. And, like most modern design, the Nogg is more conceptual than practical. Looks like a tight squeeze for a couple of hens. The Nogg could get Prince Charles started on on one of his anti-modernist architecture rants.

Continue reading…

Modesto Milling’s Organic Layer Pellets

I could blog for weeks about all the lectures I attended at the National Heirloom Expo, but I thought I’d take a break to highlight a product I came across in the vendor hall: Modesto Milling chicken feed. I’ve been using it for a few months now on the recommendation of Craig and Gary from Winnetka Farms (where our chickens came from). 

In my opinion, if I’m going to go through the trouble of keeping my own chickens they should get good feed in addition to kitchen scraps and yard trimmings. Since I don’t have a pasture to let my hens forage on, this feed is the next best thing. So that’s why I’ve decided to use Modesto Milling’s organic layer pellets, even though it’s more expensive than the feed I used to use.

Modesto Milling feed is carried at stores in California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Hawaii and online (though I imagine the shipping charges might be prohibitive). I pick mine up at a local pet store. A list of retailers is on the Modesto Milling website. You can also arrange a bulk order and split it up. And if you’re trying to avoid soy in your diet they have a soy free chicken feed.

Teflon Coated Light Bulbs Deadly to Chickens

Something I never would have thought of: Teflon coated light bulbs are toxic to chickens. In the letters section of this month’s issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine is the story of a woman who lost a flock of nineteen chickens after they succumbed to fumes put off by a GE Rough Service Worklight that was in the coop. When the bulbs heat up they release fumes that are deadly to chickens and other birds. According to the McMurray Hatchery website, birds are particularly vulnerable to airborne toxins. I can’t help but wonder about the effect of these fumes on humans too. Several years ago, Dupont was unsuccessfully sued over the toxicity of Teflon in cookware.

Sylvania, apparently, has a warning label on their Teflon coated bulbs, “WARNING: This product contains PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene–”Teflon” is a brand name). When heated, it creates fumes potentially fatal to confined birds.” GE does not have a warning label.

I let the ladies take the winter off of laying and it never dips below 40ºF here so we do not have a light bulb in our coop. But for those of you who do, make sure you don’t use one of these shatter resistant, Teflon coated bulbs.

See also the McMurray Hatchery warning on shatter resistant bulbs.

Lego-Robot Chickens

In response to our Monday post on clicker training chickens, Root Simple pal and fellow Master Food Preserver Diane Trunk posted a video on our Facebook page. Diane explains,

Here’s a link to a silly video of our trained chickens. My son trained them to come running in response to a beep. The beep signaled that a lego-robot box (you’ll see) was going to open, and the hens would get their favorite treat: string cheese. Alas, these hens are no longer with us. Our new ladies don’t care about string cheese, or even Lego robots.

Clicker Training Chickens

Our new pullets aren’t as used to being handled as were our last flock of hens. And because they don’t come when called, they can’t leave the chicken run to wander the yard.

So I’m working on training them. I know I could do more, but for now all I’m doing is taking special treats to them once a day and feeding them while making my chicken call (cheeck-cheeck-cheeck). They’re beginning to associate me and the call with treats. This doesn’t mean they trust me yet, but at least they have started making greeting noises when they see me. I hunker down in the run with the treats and hold very still. I put the treats close to me and make them come near to get them. The boldest one will sometimes take a treat from my hand.

This may work eventually. Or I could step up my game. Do you know that chickens can be clicker trained? My dog trainer friend tells me that in dog training seminars, trainers are often taught clicker training (a form of positive reinforcement) with chickens instead of dogs. This is because chickens are 100% food motivated and learn fast. Also, using hens takes away the potential mind games that occur between dog and trainer. Free of that distraction, the trainer learns the correct rhythm for training. It’s pure stimulus-response–reward.

Here’s a video of a chick learning the basics. You can find others of this sort on Youtube:

You might be able to find a chicken training seminar in your area, probably under the banner of dog training. With the rise of urban chicken-pets I think there is opportunity to be had in offering classes for would be chicken trainers. Googling around, I found this one in Lake Oswego, Oregon which is booked months in advance.

Have you trained your chickens to do anything?