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.

Los Angeles Chicken Produces World’s Largest Egg


Well, I exaggerate a bit. Neighbor Lora Hall rushed over this afternoon to show us an egg as big as the Dodger Stadium parking lot produced by her hefty Cornish Cross hen who goes by the name “Chickenzilla”. It was the same day that we found a tiny shell-less egg in our chicken coop. For your amusement we’ve lined up a set of freakish and normal eggs above. From left to right, a banty egg, one of our Plymouth Rock’s eggs, Chickenzilla’s big-ass egg and, on the ruler, the shell free egg.

Chickens have been bred to be egg laying machines. Occasionally an egg will emerge before it’s time and you get an egg without a shell. Conversely some eggs will stay in longer and get big. You also get oddly shaped eggs on occasion. It’s perfectly normal if these freak eggs happen once in a while. If you get a lot of strange eggs it may be a sign of disease or nutritional deficiencies.

Hall’s Cornish Cross chicken, incidentally, is a meat chicken that is not meant to live beyond a few weeks. Chickenzilla is remarkably healthy for a year old Cornish. They are bred to put on weight quickly and often can’t support their own weight should they somehow skip the butcher’s block. Permaculturist Harvey Ussery has a nice article in Backyard Poultry magazine on alternatives to the Cornish Cross if you’re interested in keeping meat chickens (or interested in knowing where your meat comes from as Cornish Cross chickens are what you get at the supermarket). Meanwhile Chickenzilla is happily living out her years and producing eggs the size of the national debt. Stimulus omelet anyone?

Texas Town Outlaws Common Sense

Lancaster Texas city officials have decided to enforce codes outlawing backyard chickens and Marye Audet a food writer, author and owner of nineteen heritage breed Barred Rocks has been pulled into their poultry dragnet. She ain’t happy about it.

“My dad and my father- in- law were WWII vets. I am a veteran. My husband is a disabled veteran. My oldest son is in Iraq currently, for his second tour of duty. And this afternoon, as I shut the door, in tears, I wondered…This is what we served for?”

To add to the indignities, Audet is not some tight quarters urban chicken enthusiast. She and her family live on 2 1/2 acres. Read more about her dilemma in her article City of Lancaster bans sustainable living…more or less.

How will we know when our country has climbed out of its current morass? A city will cite someone for not having chickens.

Denver and Los Angeles Experience Crowds Staring at Chicken Coops

Denver Urban Homesteaders looking at a chicken coop

Judging from the phone calls and emails coming into the Homegrown Evolution compound, America has discovered that it just might be a good idea to grow some vegetables and keep some chickens. There’s lots of motivating factors, no doubt. A bad economy and dissatisfaction with factory farming to start. But we also suspect that folks have discovered that it’s just plain fun to do all the old home arts with the handy networking tool known as the internet.

Above, the Denver Urban Homesteading meetup group. If you’re in the Denver area (where Mrs. Homegrown Evolution spent her formative years) get to know these fine folks at: http://www.meetup.com/Greater-Denver-Urban-Homesteaders/

LA Urban Homesteaders looking at a chicken coop. Photo by Elon Schoenholz

In a strikingly similar photo, our urban livestock workshop that we hosted yesterday featuring us talking about chickens, Leonardo Chalupawicz (from the Backwards Beekeepers) on bees and Joan Stevens introducing rabbits. We had to turn away quite a few folks, so watch this blog for news of more workshops soon.

Waking up on New Year’s Day with the world of long crowing roosters

Now I’m not suggesting these guys for urban situations, but New Year’s Day seems an appropriate moment to survey the world of long crowing roosters. According to poultry expert Gail Damerow, writing in the current issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine, long crowers probably have their origins in Japan and have spread throughout the world through deliberate selection. Here’s a play list for your listening pleasure, consisting of a Turkish long crowing breed, the Denizli, followed by a Koeyoshi (good crower in Japanese) and the Tomaru (black crower):

For those of you trying to awaken hungover members of your household, here’s two audio files of: A Totenko (red crower) and a Tomaru.

Somewhat perversely, the long crowing trait makes for lower fertility in eggs and greater susceptibility to disease in chicks. As Humans have bred long crowing roosters for thousands of years, it’s a reminder that people have been placing fun and entertainment before utility for a long time. An anthropology professor I once had speculated that the musical bow came before the hunting bow. Other anthropologists theorize that chickens were domesticated for fighting before people figured out the whole egg and meat thing. Far from a defect in human behavior, for me things like long crowing roosters prove that innovation comes out of play.

Thanks to longcrowers.de for sharing those videos!

Talkin’ Chicken

One of the Homegrown Evolution Hens taking care of our termite problem last week

We’re in the Los Angeles Times today “clucking” about chickens. We share mention with fellow Los Angeles urban homesteading bloggists Dakota Witzenburg and Audrey Diehl, who write Green Frieda. Witzenburg designed an amazing coop, complete with a green roof planted with succulents that you can see on Green Frieda here.

In other chicken related news, the December/January issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine is hot off the presses with a provocative article by permaculturist Harvey Ussery, “The Homestead Flock: Pets or Partners?” The article is not online yet, but you can read Ussery’s excellent guide to keeping poultry here.

Lastly, poultry expert and author Christine Heinrichs, who we met at a recent poultry show, has an interesting post on her blog about the lack of genetic diversity in chickens.

Chickens in Chicago

Another gem from City Farmer News. Somehow it’s a lot more fun to listen to someone else talking to city bureaucrats:

“Video by Chad Kimball. Raising Chickens In The City – Chicago Police Say NO. “Is it legal to keep chickens in the city of Chicago? Listen to conflicting information I receive from the police, the city clerk, and the legal department.”

For more info on the law in your area, City Farmer News suggests checking City Chicken’s list of chicken laws.