Archive for the ‘Coop’ Category

Chickens And Mites

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Henny Penny has a naked butt. At first I suspected that it was from butt pecking. Suzy Creamcheese Junior shortly thereafter lost a bunch of butt feathers, and I even saw wounds on her butt that totally looked like pecking wounds. I was putting Blukote on the affected butts, which is an antiseptic, and is supposed to stop butt pecking. But the butt feathers continued to disappear, and/or not grow back. Then I noticed that one of the Mandrell Sisters was starting to lose butt feathers too. So I either had a rampant butt pecker on the loose, or this was something else. And the something else that it probably was was probably mites. The story you’re about to hear will make you very itchy.

pecky the kid

Pecky The Kid – as seen in the book Buttpeckers and Bad Hens.

I recently thought Steve had vent gleet. She may still have had it. I almost hope so, otherwise I put her through the epsom salt drink ordeal for nothing (see last week’s post for more details on the epsom salt drink ordeal). But she had a poopy butt, and in my experience, that means vent gleet. However, it turns out that having a poopy butt can also be a sign of having mites. So I had thought that I had chickens with multiple butt ailments, and only when I looked at the big picture did I see what was really happening. There may not be a phantom butt pecker on the loose after all, just a ton of tiny butt biters.

butt crisis

Steve’s existential butt crisis.

Mites can be very hard to see, but I thought I’d look for them anyway. When the ladies were resting on the roost at night, I grabbed a Mandrell, and gazed deeply into her featherless butt area. I did see tiny dark spots on her skin. They didn’t move, like mites often do, but they also didn’t look like they should be there. It was time to treat for mites, just in case. The “good” news is that like everything to do with chickens, there are a million opinions about how to treat this. One was to use diatomaceous earth in the coop to kill the mites. That was lucky, because I have a bunch of diatomaceous earth. I sprinkled it in their bedding, and waited. Turns out I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, so a few nights later, I went in and patted some onto each of their butts, just to make sure it got where the little nasties were.

butt in the night

Things that go butt in the night.

People often complain that diatomaceous earth is bad for the respiratory systems of everyone who comes in contact with it. This may be true. Others say this is why you should use Sevin dust instead of diatomaceous earth, but if you read the label, Sevin is 95% diatomaceous earth, plus some poison. It also apparently is terrible for bees, and I am a big supporter of bees, so I crossed that cure off my list. The next thing I heard about was called “poultry powder.” This seemed to be the thing that people who didn’t like Sevin recommended. It’s also a poison, but allegedly less dangerous than Sevin, so I ordered some of this just to hedge my bets. Then I got it, and on the label it says it too is bad for bees, but only if you put it on flowers bees are pollinating. I wasn’t doing this, and there are no flowers near the coop, so hopefully no bees died in the treating of my chickens. However, chickens can die from mite infestations, so it was important for me to get this sorted out. I did the same thing with the poultry powder that I did with the diatomaceous earth. I snuck in at night, patted some on the infested butts, and hoped for the best.

love the bees

Love the bees

One dose won’t do it. I have to repeat this procedure in 10 days, since the powder doesn’t kill the eggs, just the live mites. So in 10 days the mite eggs will hatch, and then I’ll get those mites too, I hope. I also cleaned all the bedding out of the coop, washed the entire coop in vinegar, and let it air out. It smelled like a salad for a while, but who doesn’t like salad? I’m not sure how I’ll know if the mites are defeated, since feathers can take a while to grow back. This may be a slow process. I guess I’ll repeat the treatment as needed until I see butt feather regrowth occurring. I suppose I have all summer, huh? This is not the vacation I was hoping to take, but maybe with the right amount of marketing, butt mite excursions will take off. Another million dollar idea from my chickens’ hinders.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Guatemala – Panama March by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Snow and Flat Rooves*

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Our house has a flat roof. In some parts of the world, this is not such a big deal. In New England, where we live, it’s not entirely a big deal either. In Boston, the flat-roofed “triple decker” is pretty standard. I lived on the top floor of a row house with a flat roof through many terrible winters (including Boston’s snowiest!) and nothing ever came of it. So when we found a house we could actually afford that wasn’t a shoebox, we jumped on it. “Sure,” I thought, “Maybe once a winter I’ll have to get up there and shovel, but that’s not such a huge deal.” Then that first winter in our house it snowed all the time, and it occurred to me that since our house was only one story, all that square footage that seemed so appealing was also roof area that needed shoveling. I’d come home, tuck my son into bed, strap a light to my head, and go shovel the roof until I collapsed from exhaustion. After that first year, it wasn’t so bad. Even last winter, which seemed to never end, doesn’t stand out in my memory as a horrible roof year the way the first one did. Maybe I’ve just completely blacked it out. I hope, given this current winter, that this blacking out of roof shoveling is going to happen again. Historic though it may be, I don’t think I want to remember this February, at the very least. More snow is always on the way, it seems. At least I’ll have gigantic arms and one weird huge muscle in my back by summer, if summer ever comes.

six pack

I’ve got a six-pack, it’s just on my back.

What does this have to do with chickens? Well, the thing is, my coop also has a flat roof, and so does the run. I have made sloped, but not that sloped, rooves out of corrugated plastic to direct the rain away from the run and the coop. The run has a clear one, so the sunlight can come through, and the coop has a white one, to match the overall color scheme. They’re held together by flimsy, but cheap, pieces of wood called “furring strips.” The angle the rooves are at comes from hunk of a pallet that I stuck on the top of the coop. Rain runs off just fine, and it’s great to not have a totally soaked run after storms, because boy does it stink when it gets wet. However, with the constant snow this winter, I find myself having yet another roof to shovel, and this is one I can’t climb up on. I have to reach over my head as best I can and get as much as I can hold at this weird angle, and then try to find a place to throw it that isn’t already taller than I am. It’s a delicate business. It also makes the chickens go mildly bananas. I don’t think they like the noise, or maybe they’re just annoyed that I have to do it too.

brick

My degree is not in engineering.

I haven’t fully tested how much snow the roof can hold, but my expectation is that the four feet that we’ve gotten is probably more than it could have taken. I have added various braces in several spots, by which I mean bricks or big pieces of wood underneath that will stop the roof from bending too much if it’s weighed down. The furring strips have a little bit of give, but I don’t think it would be that hard to snap one. It hasn’t happened yet. Whether or not this means that I made a brilliant design decision by wedging odd pieces of pallets and bricks under long portions of the roof remains to be seen, but it’s held up so far. It’s actually doing better than my sanity, which is currently in the rear view mirror. As I write this, it’s already on the way to being the snowiest February on record, and we’re not even halfway through the month. I’ll be out shoveling the coop roof again sometime tomorrow, and I get the feeling this isn’t the last time, either. They say New Englanders are tough for putting up with all this, but I think it’s really just that we can’t leave because we’re plowed in. Then, by the time we get out, that repressed memory reaction I’m hoping for kicks in, and we have no idea we should get out of here before it starts happening again.

coop roof

One flat roof, viewed from another.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: True Blue Sam by Zez Confrey And His Orchestra)

*Rooves as a plural form of roof is dated, but not incorrect. The Oxford English Dictionary lists “rooves” as an alternate to roofs, one of several outdated spellings used in the UK, and in New England as late as the 19th century. If you can’t handle my use of it, you may getteth thineself bent.

Winter And Warping Wood

Friday, February 13th, 2015

I built my coop on my own, and while it’s not perfect, if viewed from a distance it looks pretty nice. If you get too close, you may be able to notice some areas where things may not line up exactly as they’re supposed to. It was never about perfection, so that doesn’t bother me. I needed a place to keep my chickens safe, and I needed to not spend what a store-bought coop for 6 chickens would cost. When I got my chickens, I chose to get six, because I had no idea what to expect. I feared they were fragile little things, and could possibly die if I looked at them sideways. Three seemed like too few, in case one or two did die. Having one chicken is a no-go, since they like company. Six seemed to leave me wiggle room for a couple dying, but then still having enough left over to make for a friendly social gathering. Of course, they were more rugged than I expected, and the cutoff for coop sizes seemed to be 5 chickens. To buy one big enough for 6 birds, prices doubled, and prices weren’t that cheap to begin with. So, for about what a small coop would have cost me, I was able to build both a coop and an enclosed run, using mostly reclaimed wood from various sources (including some bathroom stalls that had been in our house – it’s a long story). The hardware cloth to keep out varmints was the biggest expense, and there was no skimping on that. The rest was improvised.

coltrane of chickens

I’m like the Coltrane of chickens.

The original door into the run was a canvas stretcher I had pulled out of the trash at work. Working for the Art Department at a college has its perks. It was a pretty good sized rectangle of wood, and I figured it was probably more perfect in shape than anything I was going to be able to make myself. I reinforced the corners, added some hardware cloth and hinges, and affixed it to my creation. It was fine for the time being. I could get in and out to open the coop door and bring in food and water. However, I also had to squat down really low to enter. I knew it was going to be a temporary thing, but the length of that temporary period got shorter each time I had to do the Groucho walk to get inside.

groucho chicken

Oh, come on. You try drawing a moustache on a chicken.

Eventually I went out and bought some 1 x 6s, and cobbled them together into a door with whatever other scraps of wood I had handy, or could pilfer from the wood shop’s free scrap wood pile. (At some point, I started to grab anything that looked like it might be useful down the line, and became a bit of a wood hoarder in the process.) Now I had a door I could walk through like a normal person, and my chicken duties got easier. Or they at least involved less awkward bending and waddling.

 

bend and waddle

I can still bend and waddle in my spare time.

However, each winter I run into the same problem. At a certain point, the door will just not shut flush. It happens to various degrees, which in turn gives me various degrees of worry. I had always assumed it had to do with the cold temperatures making the wood warp. Last winter, I just needed to add a zip tie to one of the latches so I could get the door hooked shut without having to risk breaking anything (though I did end up ripping some screws out of the bottom of the door from pushing too hard to shut it – Hulk smash!). This winter, since it has not stopped snowing, I’ve realized the issue is that snow gets in the space between the bottom of the door and the run, and in doing so creates an icy barrier to closure that only a thaw (or maybe a heat gun) will overcome. This time around there is a good-sized gap between the door and the frame, even with the door latched. I’ve been stuffing whatever sticks I can find in there to plug the holes, figuring that an animal would have to touch the electric fence to get these out, and so wouldn’t get very far in their break-in attempt. This is really a flimsy fix even by my own slack workmanship standards. It doesn’t help that one gap has 3 sticks that I have to wedge in there in a specific order to make them stay. Luckily, my wood shop hoarding days have paid off. I found some pieces of wood that are a good thickness to cover the existing gaps, and leave extra room for if the gaps get larger, and I had already even painted them for some other abandoned and forgotten project. We currently have 4 feet of snow on the ground (and of course, more on the way, because winter is now an endurance sport) so running an extension cord out there to drill pilot holes may not happen, but I’ll find a way to get this done, and soon. This whole coop project has been about making things work, even if in an inelegant way. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this really just validates my hoarding, so I’ll have to make an extra effort to avoid the scrap wood box for a little while. I’m miles from campus right now, but I can hear its siren song already, telling me I never know what problem I’ll have next, so I’d better have weird pieces of wood at the ready. Can you hear it too? Shh. Listen.

bunch of sticks

Desperate times call for a bunch of sticks.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Untitled by Zeke Healy)

Coop Muscles

Friday, November 14th, 2014

My freshman year of college, I had a class with a guy named Thad. Though he was built about as slightly as I was, he was on the rugby team. If you didn’t know me back then, I was the guy who once got a Christmas card that said, “Maybe Santa will bring you a chest for Christmas.” I’m not sure what kind of cards Thad got during the holiday season, but I found it surprising that he would go out for rugby, given the size of some of the other guys on the team. Maybe he liked getting squashed regularly, or maybe he just liked saying “scrum.” I don’t claim to understand what motivated Thad to do anything. Except one thing. One of the other guys on the rugby team once warned me to watch out for Thad at parties. I asked why, and he gave me a big smile, and simply said, “beer muscles.” I had heard of beer goggles before, but not beer muscles. However, given that I was in college, I used some of my intellectual powers to determine that this must mean Thad became a bit of a tough guy when he was drinking. I suppose some of his need to appear hypermasculine may have come out of having been named “Thad” (sorry to any listeners named Thad, but come on, this is not a name generally associated with tough guys). I’m not a psychologist, and Thad is long out of my life, so I’m not going to dwell much longer on this. But the term “beer muscles” sort of came back to me recently, and so I went down memory lane a bit.

beer muscles

Dude, do you even work out?

I didn’t actually have a run-in with someone with beer muscles, or even experience them myself. But I have now on several occasions run into something I’m choosing to call “coop muscles.” I probably need to explain. Chickens are generally docile, or least many breeds are, and I intentionally chose mellow breeds so as not to put myself or my family into any sort of poultry-based peril. Even so, when Boss Chicken was healthy, she was a bit of a terror, but I suppose that was her job as Boss Chicken. (After her stroke, or Marek’s, or whatever her issue is, her personality did a complete 180. It’s kind of like Regarding Henry, but with a chicken instead of Harrison Ford. Think about that, then think about what Star Wars would be like with similar casting.) Basically she might have charged you if you turned your back, but once you faced her, she’d back down. Unless you were my son, who she had it in for. He’d climb onto a tall rock, and thus find safety. The rest of them generally steer clear of humans unless those humans have treats.

han solo chicken

Han pecked first.

There have been a few occasions though, where I’ve stuck my head in the coop, and a chicken has really tried to take a chunk out of me. Sometimes when they get broody they can get a little aggressive, since they want to protect the eggs they think they’re incubating. But since they want to protect the eggs, they generally stay seated on them, which isn’t the best attack position. I’ve gotten a bad peck or two from time to time, but nothing major. What I’m really talking about is sticking my head in the coop to see what’s going on, and a chicken will charge me, squawking and kicking like this is some sort of championship cockfight. This has happened to me several times now, and I have no idea what I’ve done to provoke it. Usually, they’ll walk away from me in the coop, since if I’m poking around in there, I might be looking to grab a chicken to medicate it. Maybe every once in a while a chicken just isn’t interested in being handled to the point of completely losing it. We all have our bad days, but some of us try not to kick and squawk at the source of our annoyances unless absolutely necessary.

reaction wheel

How I make most of my decisions.

What finally occurred to me after my most recent chicken attack was that when I stick my head in the coop, I’m at eye level with them. Out in the yard, I’m bigger than them, so they respect that. In the coop, I must seem like I’m their size, and so maybe they think they can take me. I’m not really sure. But since it only happens in the coop, I’ve decided to just call it “coop muscles.” Next chicken to try anything gets named Thad.

thad

They can’t say I didn’t warn them.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Laid Ten Dollars Down by Black Twig Pickers)

 

Introducing New Chickens Part 3!

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

At the end of last week, I was thinking that maybe it was time to get the new chickens sleeping in the coop with the old ones. There had been an incident in which the alpha hen attacked one of the n00bs when I tried to put her in the coop, and so I began a slow process of acclimating the two groups of chickens to each other. This involved leaving the new chicks in the run in the protection of a dog crate, and then building up to leaving the crate door open during the day so everyone could mingle if they so chose, but the teen chickens could hide in there if they felt threatened. I also threw in a hearty dose of group free ranging. The free ranging really seemed to be helping. The old guard was surprisingly tolerant of the new school when they were out in the yard together, and so I knew it was only a matter of time before they began to accept them in the coop as well. Just how much time was proving to be the big question.

bad clock

I really wasted money on this clock.

After a week or two of the free ranging togetherness, I decided that this was it. They were getting along fine, or at least ignoring each other, out in the yard. If they could do it there, they could do it in the coop too. So finally one night, when the grownups were in the coop and the youngsters were roosting on top of their crate out in the run, I decided to try putting another youngster in the coop. I picked one up, hoping it wasn’t the same one who got pecked so badly the first time around, apologized quietly for what might be about to happen, and put her right inside the door. There was what amounts to the chicken equivalent of a growl, but there wasn’t an attack. Seeking to capitalize on this moment, I put another one in there. Another chicken growl, but peace. Going for the hat trick, I put the last new chick in there. Still just squawking. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Except that the chicks all piled on top of each other with their heads sticking out the coop door, rather than hunkering down inside. It was a start, anyway. They were in the coop.

heads out the coop

In, but out. Very Zen.

My original group of chickens took under a week to figure out that I was going to put them in the coop every night so they might as well just go in on their own. These new ones either weren’t so fast to figure it out, or were too afraid of what might happen if they went in on their own. After a week of putting them in every night, I decided it was time to take the dog crate out of the run. That would get them to mingle even more with the adults, and would take away their default nighttime roosting place. So I took it out, and that night I came out and found them all roosting on one of the roosts I set up in the run for daytime use. So I continued to put them in by hand, and they continued to stick their heads out the doorway. I guess this was like sticking their heads in the sand. If they couldn’t see the adult chickens, they weren’t there, right? And if they’re not there, they can’t peck you.

head in sand

Their necks are too short to actually stick directly in the sand, so they make do.

I didn’t mind leaving the coop door open at night when it was warm, but it was getting colder. There were several nights in the 40s being forecast, and I wasn’t going to leave the door open for that sort of cold. So the night before the first cold snap, I put the chicks in, and then pushed them far enough into the coop so I could close the door. They made agitated noises, but the grownups were silent. The next morning, everyone was in one piece.

That day when I went to check for eggs, it was already getting dark. As I approached, I noticed that Henny Penny was actually herding the babies up the ramp into the coop. She had finally taken them in as members of the flock, and was making them sleep in the right spot. Or, sort of. They still sat in the doorway, but at least they were going in on their own. I crammed them in and shut the door again.

That Saturday I cleaned out the coop, and the youngsters came in to watch me. They were very curious about what I was doing, and then they saw the roost, and that seemed even more interesting. They all sat on it and made excited chirping noises. I think they had been so intimidated by the older chickens that they were afraid to even try roosting in there. But they gave it a shot when the grownups weren’t around, and they seemed to enjoy it.

on the roost

The thrill of the roost!

The next night when I went to check for eggs, it wasn’t quite getting dark, but when I opened the coop door, the youngsters were all in on the roost, ready for bedtime. I sometimes want to go to bed really early too, so maybe they’d also had a bad day at work. Or maybe they were getting there early to get a good spot. Either way, after attempting a lot of different techniques for getting everyone together, it had finally worked. At last I had a happy chicken family.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Little Nemo Selection by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)

 

Yay! More snow!

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Got about another foot on Wednesday. Luckily I had finally gotten around to putting the new roof section over the run. Up until now, it was protected by an old tarp that got a little leaky when wet. Now it has a clear roof that should keep them dry while letting light through . . . unless it’s covered in snow.

coop roof

Look at all that snow protection!

I still need to add one more support beam, but in the meantime, I just used a huge branch that came down in one of our earlier snowstorms.

branch

Use what tools you have available.

Don’t forget, new Garden Guys episodes (featuring Too Many Chickens!) begin February 28th!

 

Snowed in!

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Well, not really. We got maybe 8 inches, way less than other parts of the state. It also drifted a lot, so it didn’t even build up on the coop roof that much.

coop drift

Let the wind do your work for you!

The downside of the wind is that it blew snow directly into Boss Chicken’s hutch. Luckily, she wasn’t in there, since she comes in at night in the winter. The hutch doesn’t give enough protection for the cold temperatures.

snow hutch

Like a ski slope in your house!

(Garden Guys will return late January/early February, and that will bring more full length Too Many Chickens! posts. In the meantime, why not browse the archives?)

Winter Molting and Warm Decembers

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Boss Chicken decided to molt right when it got really cold, so I brought her inside. She’s out there by herself with no other chickens to keep her warm.

molt

She lost a few feathers.

The bad cold snap has now passed, and she seems done molting, so I decided to put her back outside today. She was psyched.

hutch

She lives in here, since the other chickens will attack her due to her disability.

chicken in hutch

The red eye is actually a gleam of joy to be back outside.

 

(Garden Guys and Too Many Chickens! will be back in full in January.)

Too Many Crickets!

Friday, October 18th, 2013

(Broadcast 10/11/2013)

If you’ve ever been outside, it’s probably not a surprise to you that there are things out there. You know, things: lions, tigers, bears – that whole nature trip. I often scan the darkness with my headlamp while walking out to the coop to see if I’m alone out there or not. I usually am, at least that I can see. But I think that’s only in terms of things large enough to have eyes that would reflect back at me. Certainly the tree frogs have been out there in force until it got chilly, and the wooly bear caterpillars seem to like our front steps, though sometimes it seems to be where they come to die. I fear we may be living on top of some sort of wooly bear burial ground. But dead wooly bears don’t talk, so I may never know. When I go out to take care of the chickens and it’s dark out, I often suspect I am not alone. The spiderwebs on the coop are a giveaway, but surely there are other things out there besides spiders, right? If not, why did I spend so much time on coop security?

lions, tigers, and bears

Oh my!

With autumn here, my chicken responsibilities can be dealt with earlier and earlier. Sometimes in the summer, I would want to go to bed shamefully early, but it would still be light out. The downside of living close to nature but far from my job is that I have to get up awfully early to get to work on time. I didn’t feel right going to bed before closing the coop door, though they’re perfectly safe if I don’t. I actually leave it open on summer weekends so they don’t squawk to be let out at 5am. For some reason, weeknights are different, and I would force myself to be up past 8:30 so I could lock them in. Lately though, I can get my chicken tasks done even before my son’s bedtime. I suppose that’s the silver lining of shortened daylight. Then I can relax a little and go to bed at whatever ludicrously early time I choose.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man constantly tired.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man constantly tired.

A little while ago I was out doing my evening ritual of checking the food and water, and then saying goodnight to the chickens, and thinking again about whether or not I was alone out there. These positively extraterrestrial looking caterpillars have been out in the yard lately. They’re bright yellow and have antennae that look like horns. They don’t seem to be afraid of the coop area, which is foolish. Chickens don’t care if you look cool, as long as you are tasty. I even had one on my arm one night once I was back in the house. I have no idea how it got on me, but there it was. I put it back in the yard, and vowed to be more vigilant about stowaways.

caterpillar

This is supposed to be a caterpillar.

So the night when I came in and felt an odd tickle on my leg perhaps indicated I had let my guard down once again. “That’s a weird itch,” I may have thought. Then, as it progressed up my leg, it turned to, “that’s a weird itch moving up my leg,” and then further to, “I hope that’s not a tick on my leg.” Then I realized the sensation covered an awful large area for a tick. “Oh no,” I realized, “One of those caterpillars is IN MY PANTS.” In a surprisingly (for me) quick motion, I grabbed the outside of my pant leg in my fingertips right where I felt the weirdness. “There’s . . . there’s something in my pants,” I said to my wife. She gave me a look. “No,” I said. “I mean there’s someTHING in my pants.” That’s when the strain of profanity that indicated I had no next move started pouring out of my mouth. I had trapped the thing, but if I let go, it would be loose again. “The pants must come off,” I said, and proceeded to undo all the workings of them with one hand, while still containing the pant creature in the other. I stepped out of them, released my fingers, and then shook the pants, not knowing what to expect. I half worried that it was really only an itch, and I was now standing pantless and full of swears in front of a witness. But as I shook, there, on the floor, appeared a reasonably large cricket. I understand it is good luck to have a cricket in your house, so it must be even more so if they head up your pants. Lucky me. I went to find a container to catch it in to let it loose outside, and my wife called out that not only was the cricket o.k., it was also very “sproingy,” so I’d better hurry up before it escaped. I caught it in an old takeout container, and released it near the wooly bear burial ground.

pants

They were pants . . . JUST LIKE THESE

A more vengeful person might have put it in with the chickens as a treat for them, but in spite of the scare it gave me, I bore it no ill will. Maybe it stowed away on me because it was trapped in the coop and knew it was doomed if it didn’t. Maybe it was just a pervert. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into all of this. I often worry about the big things that may be out there sniffing around the chickens, but there are plenty of smaller ones too. I resolve to be more observant, and to maybe tuck my pants into my socks from now on.

pervert

“Hey, whaddya say I climb up your leg?”

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Brooklyn Chickens

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

In spite of how often I seem to find ways to make mistakes, I sometimes feel like I have it easy with this whole chicken thing. We’ve got a ton of space to let them run around. We live 5 minutes from a feed store, so whenever I need anything, I can just nip over for it. No one lives in the house closest to us, so they can’t be bothered by noise. It could be a lot worse. If I find myself thinking some chicken-related task is a drag, I remind myself that I could be doing this in the city, and it would be a lot harder there. Then I think, “Well, how do people do this in the city, then?” My friend Scott lives in Brooklyn and has chickens, so I decided to ask him about it. Is that city enough for you? You got a problem with Brooklyn?

cityscape

Life in the city.

The big thing I was curious about was predators in the city. I’m a little obsessed with making sure nothing can get into our coop besides chickens. That’s probably a good thing, since so many things that like to eat chickens live where we are. When I think about times I’ve lived in cities, though, I start to think about rats, and how I am so much happier worrying about fisher cats and possums and raccoons than rats. Rats can pretty much get into whatever they want to, no matter what you do to stop them. I was once on a kick where I read a bunch of books about various types of vermin, and the rat one really kind of scarred me. I know what they’re capable of. So I asked Scott what predators he had to worry about. His answer kind of surprised me. Rats aren’t really the issue. Feral cats are. I had completely forgotten how many feral cats are kicking around Brooklyn, even though we have one as a pet, which we rescued when she was a kitten. Because of this feral cat situation, Scott has made the wise decision to not let his chickens out to free range in the yard. There are some rodents around, but the cats are probably the ones to watch. His own cat even once snuck into the coop and experienced a brief moment of what Scott described as being in the Thunderdome before beating a hasty retreat. I think street cats might not back down so easily. His coop setup is quite nice, and the chickens have plenty of room to run. They’re happy and safe inside.

Scott's coop

Scott’s coop

It’s been a while since I lived in Brooklyn, but I never remembered seeing any feed stores around in my travels. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were there, since you can pretty much find whatever you need if you look hard enough, but I asked how Scott handled the feed issue. He said they used to just track down an Agway any time they left town, but they’ve recently found a guy who raises his own chickens and sells feed out of his garage right in the city. Of course, his garage is protected by security cameras, barbed wire, and a gate with a buzzer, so you might think he’s selling something other than chicken food. Maybe he is, but you have to applaud his industriousness for finding new markets. It’s certainly easier than having to go out of town any time you need to stock up on feed, intimidating though it may seem.

chickens

No buzzer here.

I suppose Scott could just get chicken bedding from this guy also, but why bother when the New York Times is printed with soy ink? He just shreds some copies of the Grey Lady, tosses it in the coop, and that’s all there is to it. Food for the mind, bedding for the other end. It’s compostable, and maybe the chickens will learn something. It almost makes me want to subscribe just to do this too. I really like this idea. He keeps the paper on a good rotation, and so there are few problems with smells.

NYT

Good reading, and other things.

The question I was a little afraid to ask had to do with the ultimate fate of these birds. Not everyone is a weirdo chicken-hugging vegetarian like me, so I had prepared myself for a less than storybook ending (depending on what sorts of storybooks you read). He did say that once they stop laying eggs they will have outgrown their usefulness to him, as he is not running a chicken retirement home. However, he has a cousin in Vermont with a fruit tree that is a magnet for a certain type of bug, and these bugs are considered highly delicious by chickens. So when the time is right, they will be sent out to the Green Mountains to retire in bug eating bliss. It’s the rare case where sending your pet off to a farm in the country isn’t actually a euphemism.

Future bug eaters. (Probably current bug eaters, also).

Future bug eaters. (Probably current bug eaters, also).

There are a million stories in the chicken city, and this is just one of them. What I love about raising chickens is that there’s room for everyone to do things their own way, and so they do. Loads of people in New York have chickens now, and I bet plenty of them do things entirely differently from Scott. If I hear about others, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll think about how my own coop could probably qualify as a highly expensive studio apartment in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood, and remind my chickens how good they have it.

(All photos from Scott’s Facebook page.)

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