Chicken Coop Deconstructed

Homegrown Neighbor here. I volunteer at a local high school with an agricultural program. Remember that we are in the middle of Los Angeles and agriculture is largely a thing of the past here.

This school is one of the last public high schools in the area to have space devoted to an orchard, garden and farm. Right now it is home to a goat, a Vietnamese pot bellied pig, dozens of rabbits and two hens. As can be expected, the program hasn’t gotten the respect and resources it deserves in the last few years. Things look a little scraggly, the orchard is filled with weeds and most of the barns haven’t been touched in thirty years, now housing only spiders.

This program is special of course because it allows city kids to have access to green space, get outside and get close to a pot bellied pig- all rare experiences around here.

My current project is rehabbing the old chicken coop. I brought in my friend Justin, curator of the local arts space Echo Curio and a fellow master gardener to help. He has the building and construction skills that I lack.

This week the students took off all of the old plywood, chain link and chicken wire.

The students loved destroying the old structure. They got to use crowbars and hammers after a little safety lesson. Dust and spiderwebs flew everywhere. They practically had to be dragged back to the classroom at the end of the period because they were having so much fun they didn’t want to stop. The old chicken coop is now stripped down to the studs. As soon as we can get the supplies, we will start rebuilding. The students will get some real hands on construction lessons and get to build it themselves. Once the paint drys the school will be ready for a big flock of chickens. I think the coop could handle about 20.

Next we’ll rehab the big barn and get mini goats and dwarf sheep. This is going to be a jewel of an urban farm and a great educational space!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Grub


Why start the day with the Wall Street Journal when the real excitement is to be found in periodicals such as Backyard Poultry Magazine? While our broke nation can’t afford missile shields or moon trips anymore, at least it’s comforting to read in the pages of BPM that the citizens of Bonner Springs, Kansas can visit the brand new National Poultry Museum. This month’s issue of BPM also has a fascinating article by Harvey Ussery, “Black Soldier Fly, White Magic” on raising black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) grubs as poultry and fish feed.

“If we offer the grubs 100 pounds of food wastes, for example, they will reduce it to 5 pounds of residue usable as a superior soil amendment, in the process generating 10 and possibly up to 20 pounds of live grubs that can be fed to livestock; in addition to liquid effluent (how much depends on the moisture content of the feeding materials) which can be used to feed crops. Hey, wait a minute–what happened to the “wastes”? There is absolutely no waste remaining after this conversion–it has all been transformed into valuable resource.”

To raise Hermetia illucens you put vegetable and fruit trimmings in a container with a small opening for the black soldier fly females to fly in and lay their eggs and a method for the grubs to climb out of the compost. You can also feed them small amounts of fish and meat but they can’t digest cellulesic materials. A company called ESR International markets a black soldier fly growing system called the BioPod™ at www.thebiopod.com. A spiral ramp in the BioPod™ allows the grubs to scamper out of the feeding materials and launch themselves into a bucket. Each morning you empty a bucket full of grubs for your grateful chickens or fish, making sure to reserve a few to ensure future black soldier fly generations. Adult black soldier flies don’t bite and are only interested in flying around looking for sex and, in the case of the females, to find a good place to lay eggs.

At $179, the BioPod™ is above our humble slacker budget level, but you can make your own out of the ubiquitous five gallon bucket. While I haven’t tested this design, there’s some simple plans on this informative blog devoted to the black soldier fly. The author of this blog, “Jerry aka GW,” cautions that growing grubs requires attention to detail and will be easier in warmer climates such as the southeast and west coasts of the US where soldier flies can be found in the wild. While you can buy black soldier flies to populate your composter, it will be easier to grow them where they already live. Here’s another DIY grub composter. If any of you have experience with building one of these please leave a comment.

And while you’re ditching the Wall Street Journal, why not skip the Netflix this evening! Here’s a video on grub growin’ complete with a dramatic musical conclusion:

The crank in me has to add that simple ideas like becoming a grub cowboy are more exciting, and have greater potential than all the Priuses and algae fuel schemes combined. Growing grubs is an activity many of us have done accidentally. Making use of those grubs is just a matter of inserting ourselves into one of nature’s clever recycling schemes.

New Chicken!

I just couldn’t wait to announce the arrival of my new hen. The Chicken Enthusiasts club I started had our first meeting on Saturday. Twenty five people attended. Not too bad for a group that just started a month ago. The meeting was really fun, much chicken knowledge was exchanged and we all got to enjoy meeting other like minded folks.

At the meeting, this chicken arrived in need of a new home. Since I recently lost a hen, it made sense that I offer her a new abode. She is in a cage inside the coop for a few days, at the recommendation of a more experienced chicken keeper in the group. Today I let her out for a bit and the other chickens instantly attacked. Even my tiny silkie bantam got in on the
aggression. So back to the little cage she went. I’ll let her out again tomorrow when I can spend more time supervising. Hopefully they will establish the pecking order and everything will calm down.
She is an araucana type chicken and seems very sweet and mellow. She lets me pick her up and seems to enjoy being hand fed. Upon being attacked by the others, she instantly submitted, crouching in a corner.

She laid an egg yesterday and it was a pretty pale green color. I’m very excited about the new addition to the flock.

Urban Chicken Enthusiasts Unite!

Creating community is a vital part of the urban homesteading movement. For why should one make jam or grow zucchini without people to share it with? In a big, crazy city like L.A. there are lots of interesting people doing inspiring things, you just have to find them. I’m always excited to meet new people who are interested in all the things we write about here at Homegrown Evolution. I was lucky to move a block away from Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown and find instant community. Now the neighbors and I have been thinking that we would like to meet more local urban chicken folks. As our flocks age a lot of questions come up and we’d like to learn from more experienced chicken keepers. And we often meet people who would like to know more about urban poultry. So I’ve decided to create a group of L.A. urban chicken enthusiasts. I used meetup.com to create the L.A. Urban Chicken Enthusiasts group.

I like Meetup because the point is to organize face to face meetings. Our group will get together every month or so, eat eggs dishes and talk about raising chickens, local food and sustainability. The L.A. Urban Chicken Enthusiasts meetup group is just for people in the Los Angeles area. Not to worry if you aren’t in L.A., I noticed a lot of other urban chicken groups on Meetup and if there isn’t one in your city you can easily start your own. So if you are local and into chickens, join our group. If you aren’t in L.A. or not a poultry person, just go forth and create a group for whatever you are into, network, make friends and build some community.

Chicken Goes to Hollywood

Homegrown Neighbor here.

On Thursday Mr. Homegrown and I escorted my chicken, Peckerella, to her first public appearance. Peckerella was there to assist author Terry Golson, who has written a wonderful children’s book called Tillie Lays An Egg. The book has adorable pictures of her flock and features the adventurous Tillie, who likes to lay her eggs everywhere except her nesting box.
Ms. Golson is currently in Los Angeles to share Tillie’s story with children and chicken aficionados of all ages. Since her chickens reside on the East Coast, Peckerella stepped in to play ambassador. ‘Pecky’ as she is often called, did a wonderful job and was very well behaved, allowing many children to pet her and sitting patiently during the book reading. Her next appearance will be at a reading of Tillie’s story at Chevalier’s books in Larchmont Village this Sunday, August 9th, from 11-1. If you are in the area please stop by and say hello. Peckerella loves to meet her adoring fans. Sorry, Chickenzilla doesn’t fit in the cat carrier so she won’t be able to make it.

Off the charts

Homegrown Neighbor here. My chicken, Chickenzilla, is at it again, producing several mammoth double-yolked eggs in the past few weeks. The brown egg on the right is more of a normal sized egg, weighing in at extra large on this antique egg scale. Chickenzilla’s egg is way beyond the measure of this scale, weighing in I’d guess at somewhere around extra, extra, extra large. Pretty good for an industrial meat chicken that isn’t supposed to be a good layer, much less survive past three months of age.

The antique egg scale, by the way, hails from Orange County, California. Orange County is now known more for Disneyland and exurban, sprawling tract home developments, but it was once a great agricultural county. This scale is a relic of its golden age of orange groves and ranches. I wonder if anyone in the OC has chickens anymore?

Chickens and Compost; A Match Made in Heaven

Before I got the chickens last year, I was already quite passionate about, or perhaps obsessed with, composting and fruit trees.

My composting area was way at the back of the yard ( I also keep three worm bins by the house for easy kitchen access). When we were deciding to put in the chicken coop we put it adjacent to the composting area. The composting area later became a part of the chicken run. There is a tangerine tree that is next to the compost that provides shade and protection to the hens. I never could have dreamed how well the chickens would fit in with composting and fruit trees!

They love eating fruit – pomegranates, figs, peaches, even oranges. The chickens make contributions to the compost with their poop, of course, but the real fun is when you turn it. Chickens are very curious- I’d say they are much more curious than my cats, who have disappointingly little interest in compost. I have to be careful where I plunge the pitchfork into the compost pile because the bird brained Peckerella (pictured) likes to be right in the middle of things. The chickens eat the bugs, grubs, worms and assorted creepy crawlies with glee. They scratch and peck and slurp up worms like noodles. It is a delight to behold. My father, who was very skeptical about the chickens at first, now loves to come over and watch them eat bugs from the compost. It is the best television show I know of, made right here in my own back yard. With the chickens, everything really comes together into a working system. They are also a lot of work and I worry that I’m overly emotionally attached to them. But over all, I am delighted with my backyard agroecosytem.

Meet My Chickens: the continuing story of Chickenzilla



Homegrown Neighbor here. My chicken Whitey, a.k.a. Chickenzilla, has been laying some wonderful eggs lately. Of course, she is a meat chicken, not a layer. I think of her as a “rescue” chicken. Most meat chickens are harvested between just 7 and 10 weeks of age. At over a year old now, Chickenzilla is likely one of the oldest broiler hens alive.  But she is a surprisingly good layer, with a big, bad-ass personality to match her immense body. When I first got her she only wanted to eat chicken kibble, which is mostly corn. When I let her out in the run she would just sit down and do nothing. She was a perfectly lazy broiler hen– a corporate agribusiness chicken. Eventually the other chickens showed her how good bugs and greens are and she started scratching around in the dirt and eating worms. Now she eats all her greens like a good girl. She has more kale and less corn in her diet these days. And she is very active. Despite her heft she can outrun all the other chickens when I throw a choice grub or beetle into their enclosure. She can even jump/fly the three feet into the compost bin to hunt for good eats. If Chickenzilla can leave her corn-fed agribusiness breeding behind and transform into a homegrown, vegetable loving, free range, compost enthusiast chicken then maybe there is hope for the American food system.

Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer

Andy Schneider, a.k.a. the “Chicken Whisperer”, explains that his Internet radio show is “fair and balanced” since, “chickens have both a right and left wing.” The Backyard Poultry show covers everything from bantams to the controversial National Animal Identification System. You can listen live on Sandy Springs Radio or download past shows here.

Thanks to Christine Heinrichs, author of How To Raise Chickens
and the Official Poultry Bookstore blog for tipping us off to the Chicken Whisperer. Heinrichs was a guest on the May 9th show.

Now maybe it’s time for Rush to start talkin’ turkey.