Chicken Cannibalism!

We caught our Rhode Island Red pecking at the base of our Araucana’s tail this weekend. Fortunately we stopped this act of cannibalism before it got past a small wound and a few missing feathers and we’ve been able to isolate the victim from the perp until she recovers. Cannibalism is common amongst chickens and there are a number of theories as to why it happens including dietary inadequacies, genetics and simple chicken boredom. The most plausible theory in our opinion is that cannibalism results from insufficient opportunity to forage.

Simply letting our flock out of their run to free-range throughout the backyard seems to have taken care of the problem. Sure we may lose a hen or two to hawks and cats, but that seems a better fate than being eaten alive by one of your own kind. We’ve also switched to a higher protein feed to see if that will help as there is a minority opinion in poultry farming that chickens resort to cannibalism as a result of protein deficiencies.

Most commercial poultry farms take care of cannibalism by cutting off beaks when the chicks are around 4 to 6 weeks old. We believe beak trimming along with the associated practice cramming chickens in “battery cages”, as pictured above, to be inhumane. For more on the behavior of corporate agriculture read about the Humane Society’s Factory Farming Campaign or better yet start your own backyard flock.

We’ve taken the flowers out of our hair

Homegrown Revolution is back from San Francisco with a couple of random observations from our trip:

1. The picture above of a gas cap spotted in the Mission District demonstrates, that even in a bike and mass transit friendly city many folks take their cars a little too seriously. Let’s remember folks, we suspect that Jesus rides two wheels and takes the bus and does indeed look anguished every time we open the gas cap.

2. We took our bike with us and enjoyed the numbered bike routes that take you north-south and east-west. While not perfect (we would have preferred a few more signs to point the way) these routes help a cyclist navigate thought the city taking you down more bike friendly and less hilly streets. The San Francisco bike map (pdf) shows the routes in addition to signage on the streets.

3. Raising chickens made us appreciate San Francisco’s strident health food store, Rainbow Grocery which has a chart in their egg section to show how the chickens that produce the eggs are raised. We meant to get a photo of this elaborate chart but unfortunately we forgot the camera. Posted on the refrigeration cabinet, the chart tells you which of the brands they carry clip beaks or wings and whether the chickens have access to pasture. Rainbow Grocery was the first San Francisco retailer to carry only cage free eggs.

4. Unfortunately we didn’t see this exhibit by photographer Douglas Gayeton at Petaluma’s Singer Gallery, but you can view images from his slow-food related photo essay about Tuscany here.

5. While Homegrown Revolution promises never again to get into celebrity gossip, we’ll note that we spotted gravelly voiced alt-rock singer Tom Waits gassing up his Lexus SUV at a filling station in Berkeley. More exciting to us was discovering that our base of operations in the Mission was a mere block from the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army safe house where heiress Patty Hearst became urban guerrilla Tanya. We have a feeling we’ll see the return of revolutionary noms de guerre in the coming few years and when that happens we’ll see Tom ditch the SUV for two wheeled transit on Berkeley’s many bicycle boulevards.

Why Urban Farm?


Nicolas Poussin’s “Et in Arcadia ego

It’s been a challenging week at the Homegrown Revolution compound. We lost one chick, bringing our nascent flock down to two. We decided that since chickens are social animals to add two more in case of other unforeseen problems bringing our total up to four. Such are the cycles of life and death on the new urban homestead.

Bryan Welch, who raises livestock and is also the publisher and editor of the always informative Mother Earth News, wrote an editorial in the February issue called “Why I Farm” in which he says,

“There’s a Buddhist wisdom in the stockman’s cool compassion. The best of them seem to understand that our own lives on this Earth are as irrefutably temporary as the lives of the animals, and that we should provide as much simple comfort and dignity to our fellow creatures as we can. After all, aren’t simple comfort and dignity among the most important things we wish for ourselves and our children?”

It is with this desire to know the food we eat–if just for eggs in our case–that we’ve begun our own urban small stock journey. Welch concludes his essay eloquently, “I have a lot more death in my life than I did before. And, ironically, that’s part of the reason why I feel like I have a lot more life in my life. That’s why I farm.”

The Brooklyn Bee


“if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live”
-Albert Einstein

Homegrown Revolution spoke to urban beekeeper John Howe today who keeps a couple of hives high atop the roof of his home in Brooklyn New York. He got the idea to take up urban beekeeping when one day a bee landed on his plate while he was eating at an outdoor restaurant and now his hives produce around 150 pounds of honey a year which he sells at a couple of locations in Brooklyn. He’s self taught and figured out beekeeping more or less on his own thanks to the internet, books, a little help from a beekeeping club in Long Island, and advice from a beekeeping supplier.

Howe said that the key to urban beekeeping is maintaining good relations with the neighbors since bees have a tendency to swarm on occasion and people are always shocked to see a basketball sized cluster of bees hanging out on a local light post. He deals with these sticky situations through careful neighborhood diplomacy and, of course, free honey.

Howe argues that his honey is more organic than commercial honey since his bees pollinate plants in an urban location that does not have the sort of intense insecticide application seen in agricultural areas. Since he’s the only beekeeper in the neighborhood he knows that when he sees a bee in the two nearby parks they probably belong to him. Howe’s suspects that in addition to pollinating the local plants and trees his bees also collect pollen from cut flowers at outdoor florist stands.

Homegrown Revolution wishes that we could end this story musing about a bright future for urban beekeeping, a future in which each neighborhood has a beekeeper to pollinate the many fruit trees that should grow on our city’s streets, but sadly bee news these days is on the depressing side. If the Albert Einstein quote is correct we’re in trouble since bees have been disappearing in the past year due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which the hive flies off and simply does not return. The cause of this mysterious problem is not yet known, but many beekeepers including Howe suspect that pesticides may be the culprit. Upwards of 30 to 60% of hives in 24 states have vanished in what could prove to be a huge economic and ecological disaster since many crops including almonds and avocados depend on bees for pollination. Howe himself has lost one hive. Read more about this depressing story on the BBC and it that ain’t enough doom and gloom, there’s the tale of an insecticide called fipronil, sold in the US under the brand names MaxForce and Combat, which is suspected in the deaths of billions of bees in France.

Speaking of the symbolism of the beehive Robert Macoy said, “It [the beehive] teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.” Pesticides are the crutch of the lazy, and it’s time for us all to figure out better, more enlightened forms of agriculture in order to save the industrious and essential bee. And it’s time for more urban beekeepers like John Howe. Pay a visit to his website and blog and buy a jar of his honey if you find yourself in Brooklyn.