Chicken Coop Complete

Homegrown Neighbor here:

As you may recall, I volunteer at a local high school where we have been working on building a chicken coop. Last fall we started taking apart the remnants of the old coop. It has been a long, slow process, but I am proud to announce that we are finally finished. The students did a lot of the work themselves and many had no building experience when we started. It was pretty great to watch them figure out how to use a drill.

The coop is big, 10 feet by 20 feet. The first four chickens have moved in and are very happy in their new home. These first four chickens needed a home and the school was happy to provide them one. In the future we hope to have up to twenty chickens at one time.

There is a spacious fenced in area for them to roam in during the day, with a big old oak tree providing valuable shade.

And the usually surly teenagers really enjoy the chicken’s hilarious antics. While digging in the orchard we unearthed some grubs and took them to the hens. One chicken grabbed the first grub and proceeded to run around the perimeter of the coop with all of the others following after her and periodically pecking at the prize in her beak, trying to steal it. Finally, the teenagers found something at school that they find worthy of their attention- chickens.

How to Raise Poultry

How to Raise Poultry (How to Raise...)One of the great tragedies of modern factory farming is the loss of biodiversity in our livestock. Robust, diverse genetics have been sacrificed in the name of cheap and abundant, but low quality food. To use a poultry metaphor, we’re putting all our eggs in one genetic basket, with the consequence being that our whole agricultural system feels like a ticking time bomb. We’ve seen how these short sighted practices have decimated commercial beekeeping in recent years and I fear we may see a similar disaster with our poultry soon. Author Christine Heinrichs, through her books, blog, and work for the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is countering these trends which is why I was delighted to get a copy of her latest book How to Raise Poultry.

How to Raise Poultry covers our familiar feathered friends, chickens, ducks and turkeys but also details the history and husbandry of everything from swans to emus. While I may never keep ostriches, it certainly was entertaining to read about them (don’t mess with an angry one and get yourself a very tall fence!).

Throughout the book Heinrichs stresses the importance of preserving our agricultural heritage through keeping rare breeds and out of favor fowl. Paradoxically I can assure that there will be more geese by eating one. As Frank Bob Reese, a farmer Heinrichs quotes in the book puts it, “The best way to save the old-time poultry is to return them to our dining tables.”

The lavishly illustrated How to Raise Poultry will get you thinking about where your food comes from and what we’ve lost by our over-reliance on just a few varieties of poultry such as the Cornish Cross meat chicken. Hopefully it will inspire hobbyists and farmers alike to bring back the amazing diversity and beauty of thousands of years of living with domesticated birds.

Keeping Chickens by Ashley English

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. The people have been demanding a concise, clearly illustrated guide to raising chickens for eggs in urban and suburban situations and Ashley English has delivered the goods with Keeping Chickens All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock. You may remember Ashley from our first, and so far only, Homegrown Evolution podcast. Keeping Chickens covers breeds, how to get chickens, how to build a coop, hatching eggs, feeding and more. There’s also a few really nice recipes for what to do with all those eggs including an omelet recipe I’ve been using since I got the review copy. You can see that recipe and a few sample pages on Ashley’s website Small Measure. Good straightforward advice here, all delivered with really nice photos. If you’re thinking of starting a backyard flock I’d pick up this handy book. Now go out and build that coop!

Bantam Returns

Homegrown Neighbor here:

I’ve been busy in the garden and letting the neighbors focus on their book, so I haven’t been blogging in a while. But today something very special happened that I have to share with you, dear readers.
My bantam chicken, Debbie, the lighter colored chicken in the photo, disappeared last week. She simply didn’t come in at chicken bed time. This is very unusual. The chickens usually all line up and go into the coop at night in a very orderly fashion. But last week, little Debbie didn’t come home to the coop. I assumed a hawk ate her or that she jumped the fence and was eaten by one of the many dogs in the neighborhood.

It was sad, but I was at least relieved that I didn’t have to deal with any bloody remains- one of my worst fears with the chickens. Every night this week when I put the chickens in I rather morosely counted six, instead of the previous seven. But I moved on, assuming Debbie was gone for good, being digested in some hawk’s belly.

Then, just in time for an Easter surprise, Debbie came back to me. I went over to my parent’s house for Easter dinner. I returned home to find a note on my door. I was hoping it wasn’t an angry note from a neighbor complaining about my chickens or messy yard. I was elated to see that the note was from a neighbor saying he had a tiny chicken sitting at home watching TV with him and he wondered if she belonged to me. I immediately called him and he brought the bantie back home. Apparently he was weeding in the yard this afternoon and she popped out of the bushes. I’m guessing she made a nest in a wild corner of their yard and was brooding until he disturbed her.

So I am happy to say that the chicken is back home. And of course my neighbor who found her got some eggs for so kindly bringing her back. A happy Easter gift for both of us.

Chicken Coop Architecture


I have a guest post over on re-nest.com on how to build a chicken coop:

“Architect meet your client: the chicken. You’re about to become a coop buildin’ Frank Gehry. Keeping chickens is mostly about figuring out their housing arrangement. The rest is easy—chickens are a lot less trouble than a dog. Now I wish I could offer a one-size-fits-all chicken coop plan, but living situations and climates vary. Instead, I’ll offer what the gifted architect Christopher Alexander calls a “pattern language,” a set of general guidelines you can use to get started building your coop.”

Read the rest here.

And a special thanks to David Kahn of Edendale Farm for the architect metaphor. Mrs. Homegrown was not happy that I used Gehry as an example (suggesting that he would build a flashy, twisty chicken coop out of titanium that would leak and get raided by raccoons). I just mentioned him because he’s the only architect most people can name. Come to think of it, most of the architects you can name are all kinda silly. A Rem Koolhaas coop would probably look great in the CAD program but also get raided by raccoons. But I digress.

Bee Rescue Hotline


Backwards Beekeeper Kirk Anderson with the hot tub bees, via the Backwards Beekeeper blog.

First off: bee swarm seasons is approaching and, if you’re in the Southern California area and end up with a bunch of bees you don’t want, give the Backwards Beekeepers a call. The number is (213) 373-1104. I’ve put it on the right side of the page. When you call state:

How to reach you. Please give us a phone number that you will answer during the day. Bee rescue is a daytime activity
Your city Please be as descriptive as possible about where you are.
A description of the bees: Are they in a tree? How high? Do you know how long they’ve been there?

And if you’re not in SoCal, consider giving a beekeeper a call rather than an exterminator.

I’ve been really enjoying the Backwards Beekeepers website, especially the way bees reinterpret our built landscape by taking up residence in the strangest places. The latest beehive location is oh-so-California: a hot tub (pictured above). One of my other favorites–the bike seat bees:

Here’s a few other spots I’ve heard about from the BBers:

doll house

suitcase
electrical box
mailbox
tree
shop vac
attic
wall
file cabinet
meter box
bucket
pot
cardboard box
compost bin
garbage can
fence
and the East Hollywood garage wall bees I helped with

The bee’s creativity in finding new homes reminds me of the way skateboarders reinterpret dull city spaces as impromptu skateboard parks. Apparently architect Zaha Hadid tried to incorporate skateboardable features in her Phaeno Science Center until the lawyers stopped her. Too bad. When will we get around to deliberately creating bee spaces in our buildings? Well, maybe not the hot tub . . . ouch! But that’s what the bee rescue hotline is for!

How to become the chicken coop Frank Gehry

Haven’t laid my hands on a copy yet, but it looks like author and publisher Llyod Kahn has another winner, in this case a painstaking reproduction of a turn of the century catalog The Gardeners’ and Poultry Keepers’ Guide & Illustrated Catalogue of Goods Manufactured & Supplied by W. Cooper Ltd. Kahn says, on his blog,

“It’s hard cover, linen-looking finish, foil stamped, printed on off-white paper — a book lovers’ book — the kind that us bibliophiles love to touch and thumb through (and feel secure in the knowledge that no stinkin’ ebook will replace the “hard” copy). Also, it’s useful: it gives homesteaders, gardeners, builders, and architects still-practical designs.”

I’ll note one detail I like in the chicken coop in the catalog above, the “dry run.” I included a small dry run space in my coop and the chickens really like it–a place for them to hide out when it rains.

Available at Shelter Online.

Urban Chicken Classes

Homegrown Neighbor here:

If you are in L.A. come check out my Intro to Urban Chickens class this Saturday at The Learning Garden in Venice. More info at our Chicken Enthusiasts site. The class is just $10 and if you have never been to The Learning Garden it is a real treat. It is one of my favorite gardens in our fair metropolis. The class is at 10:30 am and will be followed by a general meeting of local chicken enthusiasts.
If you aren’t local but want to learn about chickens there are of course many resources out there. And if you already have chickens maybe you can share your knowledge in your community. I know that I certainly wish I new more when I got started. But its live and learn.
Sadly, not all the chickens lived. But the hens helped me to meet my fellow urban homesteading neighbors…… and the rest is history.
The chickens helped us to create community in our neighborhood so now we are helping others to use poultry to promote neighborly public relations and local food.
In the photo above Peckerella and banties Lita and Debbie eat an over ripe persimmon. Okay, Peckerella got most of it, but the banties stood up for themselves and stole a few bites.

Coffee Chaff Chickens

A hen checks out her fluffy new digs: coffee chaff bedding
Image shamelessly stolen from Lyanda Haupt’s Tangled Nest blog

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Deep litter in the chicken coop is good for chicken health, general aesthetics and good neighbor relations. Chickens need to scratch, so giving them lots of stuff to scratch is kind. It also absorbs odor and protects stray eggs from breakage. Even better, their constant scratching combines their waste with the bedding material, creating useful compost over time.

We use straw in our coop and run (the outside parts) and wood shavings (animal bedding) inside the hen house. We use horse bedding inside the house instead of straw because we clean the inside of the house regularly–their overnight poo is quite concentrated– and it’s very easy to scoop up the poo when it’s mixed with fluffy wood shavings. It also smells better longer. Straw in the house is just sort of substandard.

However…the big however….them’s dead trees we’re shoveling into our hen house, and as we all know, trees don’t grow on trees.

But what’s a good alternative to shavings?

Yesterday, Lyanda Haupt, author of Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, a beautifully written book about crows and the path of an urban naturalist, posted about an intriguing chicken bedding possibility: coffee chaff, a byproduct of coffee roasting. You should go read about it.

Maybe we all can’t access the chaff bounty of our local coffee roaster, but we should think more about upcycling and creative alternatives to business as usual. Depending on our region and location, we all probably have access to different sources of dried plant material fit for chickens. We just have to think outside the box.

One word of caution: whatever you experiment with shouldn’t be dusty. Hens are susceptible to respiratory infections, so sawdust and the like are not a good idea. When you purchase animal bedding look for the higher quality “dust free” variety.