Posts Tagged ‘noisy chickens’

My advice to chicken beginners

Friday, May 16th, 2014

I’m no expert, but since I tend to be vocal about how much I like keeping chickens, people sometimes ask me questions. A friend of mine’s neighbor is interested in getting chickens, and wanted to know how much it cost, how much space they might need, and how much of a time commitment it was. This was my response. He was so happy with it he suggested I post it somewhere, so here it is. You may disagree with me, as this is the internet, that’s what people do. Have fun with that. Anyway, here’s my first advice column.

dear chickie

Dear Chickie,

A few days ago, our neighbors proposed the idea of raising chickens in our yard. As our town allows such a thing, we want to figure out what it takes to do this, so I’m asking you, our resident poultry farming expert, for any advice you may have. We want to find out how much space we need for say 3-4 hens (we don’t want to keep them constantly “cooped” up), how much effort is required to feed/clean/etc., and a rough ballpark of cost.

 Your friend,

Bawking in Belmont


Dear Bawking in Belmont,

On days I don’t let them out, I spend maybe 10-15 minutes in the morning with the chickens, and then maybe another 5-10 in the evening. Mornings I open the coop door to let them out into the enclosed run attached to the coop, fill their food and water if they need it, and then throw fresh pine shavings on the night’s poops. (On Saturday I scoop all that out, which takes another 10 minutes. Some coops have a removable board under the roosts, so you can scrape that off instead of adding more bedding. There are multiple ways to do it). At night I collect the eggs and then close up the door to the coop. I really only need to do that in the winter to keep them out of a draft. My coop and run are fairly secure. Chickens generally require less time than a dog, maybe about the same as a cat. When I let them out I prefer to be out there with them to keep an eye on them, but it’s usually when I’d be out in the yard anyway. Yardwork, AMIRITE?
The main cost is really the initial cost of the coop. If 3-4 is the amount you’re going for, you’re in luck, because the cut off between “kind of expensive” and “wicked expensive” coops is at 5 chickens. Under 5 you have cheaper options, over 5, it gets pricey, due to the size coop you need. I started with 6, not realizing this, which is why I built my own coop, which was a bit of an ordeal. You could get something like this for less than mine cost to build. (The hardware cloth you need to keep out predators is expensive. Chicken wire keeps chickens in, but it is really easy for varmints to chew through, so you need hardware cloth.) That website has a lot of options. I would suggest something with a built in run so they can get outside of the coop whether you’re around or not. The rest of the costs aren’t so bad. Food is like $15 for 50 pounds, and that lasts me over a month. Bedding is $7 a bale, and that also lasts over a month. You might need other things here and there, but they aren’t too bad. Scratch lasts a long time because you don’t give them that much. Oyster shells to give them calcium are expensive up front (I think like $25 for a big bag) but they last a really long time because you only give them a little bit. Then a feeder and a waterer are maybe $10-20 depending on what you get. I would recommend a plastic waterer so you can put unfiltered apple cider vinegar in the water to ward off vent gleet, among other things. It’s good for them, but the metal waterers are bad to mix with vinegar. You’ll need a different feeder & waterer for chicks (smaller ones) and a heat lamp, but that all comes out to under $25, if I remember right.
How much space do you have? My friend in Brooklyn has 3 chickens in a coop like the one in the link above, and they never leave it and are perfectly happy. A yard for them to run around in is good, but mine often stay in the same general area that’s not very large, so they don’t need a ton of room, depending on the chickens. I recommend not letting them out unsupervised for too long because of predators. Hawks especially, but also dogs. Dogs kill more chickens than anything else, because no one suspects them. If you have a fenced yard, that’s good, though it doesn’t save you from hawks, but it limits roaming.
Does this help? I also recommend this site.
They’re who I go to when I have questions. They have forums that are helpful, but the learning center spells a lot out for you. You can also research breeds there, which is helpful, since it gets both cold and hot in MA, so you want hardy ones.
Bawk and roll,

Developments in broody chicken maintenance

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Last week I mentioned that I had a broody chicken. The broodiness was really hard to shake, in spite of my having the Miracle Broody Hen Cure. She’d be in there for a while, seem better, I’d put her back in the coop, and she’d go right back into the nesting bucket. So then I’d put her back in the MBHC, and she’d act all agitated, so I’d put her back into the coop, and you probably can see where this is going. It turns out I was doing it all wrong. Observe the below photo:



What do you notice about this? That’s right, you can see everything. My mother-in-law, just out of trying to get a moment’s peace, went and covered the cage with a dropcloth. (The chicken can be quite vocal when the mood grabs her, by which I mean I now know what an unholy racket sounds like.) Well, it turns out this cage coverage was the missing link we needed. A day later, the chicken was cured!



We’ll see how long it takes them to get resistant to this new cure, but hopefully this works for a while.

In the meantime, I’ll keep telling you I’m not sure when Garden Guys is back on the air, because I don’t know. But I’ll be sure to make a post about it when I find out anything.

The Chicken Days of Summer

Friday, August 16th, 2013

(Broadcast 8/16/2013)

Summer chickens, make me feel fine. Something’s blowing through the jasmine in my mind and it’s got a hint of chicken poop in it, but that’s o.k. The humidity has been down lately, and so the smells don’t linger like they used to. Plus, we all know chicken poop is good for everything, so let it rip, ladies. However, summer seems to be winding down, or at least what most people think of summer is. Maybe technically we still have a bunch of September, but you know that if you don’t make August count, it’s all over. I’ve tried to explain this to the chickens, but they have odd interpretations of this advice.

Read this. It will change your life.

Read this. It will change your life.

Before I had my own chickens, I visited some at the Franklin Park Zoo. Apparently, the chickens there like to stretch out in the sun so much that they put up a sign to tell you that yes, the chickens were o.k. I had kind of forgotten about that sign until this past weekend. I was trying to make the most of a waning summer weekend by doing stuff in the yard because I like to maximize my pain and suffering. Amazingly, my mother in law claims to like mowing the lawn. I have never heard of such a thing, but at least I don’t have to mow anymore. But that unfortunately frees up more time for tasks involving manual clippers. So I was out clipping stuff, and came upon one of the Mandrell Sisters lying on her side in the sun. Of course, my first instinct was to assume that we were at Woodstock and she had eaten the brown acid even though they said not to, until I remembered that it was not the 60s anymore. I wasn’t convinced something else wasn’t totally wrong, and then that lesson I learned at the zoo years ago came back to me. “Yes,” I said, “that chicken is o.k. They like to do that.” The chicken gave me look like I was an idiot for talking to myself, and went back to sunbathing. At least one of us was having a good time.

sleep on sides

I haven’t had much problems with broodiness and the Mandrell Sisters lately, at least not until our little talk about packing excitement into the end of summer. One of them went broody last Thursday, and so I put her into the isolation of the Miracle Broody Hen Cure, aka, my mom’s old bird cage. Usually this can blast the broodiness out of them in a day or two. Well, a day came and went, and there she was, still brooding. Two days went by. She had turned around in the cage, but was still puffed out and making the “I am broody” noise. Three days went by, and I was impressed with her commitment to this bit. After four days, I started to wonder how long she could be away from the others before I had to do an elaborate routine to introduce her back into the flock. On the 5th day I approached the cage, and upon putting my hand close to it and getting the broody noise in return, I had had enough. I figured I would put her back into the coop temporarily for a change of scenery, and if she was still broody that night, I’d bring her back inside. That way she’d also get reacquainted with the others, so I could hopefully avoid any reintroduction rituals. I picked her up out of the cage while she did her best pufferfish impersonation, and there, underneath her, was an egg. She was most definitely broody when I put her in, and I didn’t think broody birds laid eggs until the real or imaginary ones they were sitting on hatched. This would probably explain why she wasn’t snapping out of it, but how that egg got there is a mystery. I took her outside and put her into the run while I filled up the feeder. She puffed around a little, then hopped up on one of the roosts, and began a run of top volume clucking for about 5 minutes. This was at 5 in the morning, mind you. My cries of “shhh, chicken!” did nothing to silence her. So I grabbed her and put her inside the coop with the others while I finished up. They all eventually came back out, and she went right back up on the roost, but rather than continuing her earlier monologue, she produced the gigantic, nasty poop that is the general indicator that broodiness has left the building. My plan that I didn’t really even think was a plan had worked. I allowed myself to feel good about it, while stepping away from the massive stool.

chicken is o.k.

That chicken is o.k. Both physically and existentially.

Clearly my standards for what constitutes making the most of the rest of summer have changed. But I suppose chickens will change a person. I’d like to be able to just hang out in the yard with the chickens without doing any sort of manual labor, but our yard seems unwilling to compromise. I suppose if I do have to be out there doing work, at least I have chickens around to keep it entertaining.

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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?


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.


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.


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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Chicken Noise Complaints (aka Everybody’s Bawking At Me)

Friday, June 14th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/14/2013)

My wife was commenting the other day about how even though where we live is pretty far from a city, some of our city neighborhoods were actually quieter than where we live now. There are a lot of trucks that pass by on a nearby road, as well as frequent commuter rail and freight train horns. As the summer months approach, let’s not forget about motorcycles. And while we’re speaking of things on two wheels, we also seem to have wound up in a place where large groups of middle aged men put on silly spandex outfits and ride bikes en masse. The bikes themselves are quiet, but the chatter of the riders can make a din, and some of the outfits are quite loud. The good news is that very little of this wakes us up at night.


Who need alarm clocks?

The bad news is that there is something that wakes me up consistently on weekend mornings. Now that the sun is coming up early, it means the chickens are waking up earlier. They don’t have any curtains, so with the first light, they wake up and wait patiently for their master to let them loose into the run. Did I say wait patiently? I meant they begin to make constipated squawking noises at high volume until someone lets them loose. That someone is me. On weekdays, this isn’t a big deal. I get up disgustingly early during the week in order to make the train, and so I am up before the chickens get restless. But it’s exactly because I get up so early during the week that I want to be able to sleep in a little on weekends. Well, chicken culture doesn’t seem to have calendars, so they don’t know about the weekend. I suppose that it has to do with them working from home. Their job is never done! And they’re dedicated workers, so they make a stink when they can’t get out there and chicken.

 photo punchintheclock3_zps39810b8e.jpg

Here’s the scene: day breaks, the sun comes up, the chickens start complaining. Why is it such a big deal? Well, it seems to have to do with a flaw in my coop design. I have managed to lay things out so the large window in the coop points towards the window over our heads in the bedroom. So with the nice weather when the windows are open comes a relatively direct line of squawk from the coop to the bedroom. I’ve tried using earplugs, but chickens seem engineered to produce frequencies that cut right through those things. If I’m lucky, I get to sleep in until 5:30. I let them out, and they’re happy.


I said, “Who needs alarm clocks?”

The next problem arises when they get too happy. I’m not 100% sure what triggers it, but more and more often these days, at least one chicken will go completely berzerk and sound her barbaric yawp over the rooftops. Or more accurately, sound her barbaric bawk over the cooptop. The bawks are loud, frequent, and repetitive, but also joyous, so this is actually kind of fun. A new development is that one will start and the others will join in. So all six chickens are bawking in unison. The first time this happened I was certain something was threatening them, but when I got to the coop, there they were, all sitting on the roosts, squawk squawk squawking like it was perfectly normal. I took out my camera to get it on video, and they immediately fell silent. I have tried to document this on multiple occasions, even sneaking up on them with the camera, but they can sense when it’s out, and they clam up. I tried to explain to them that people often watch funny animal videos on the internet, but they’re not having it. These chickens value their privacy.

private chicken

Private chicken.

Sure, they’re noisy, but it could be a lot worse. There’s a farm down the road that has a bunch of roosters, and they don’t just crow when the sun comes up. They crow if the sun is out, or even if it’s overcast. There’s a housing development that runs along the side of the farm, and I suspect those people have some regrets about moving in, since they weren’t there first. We’re lucky to not have anyone living in the house next to us, so for now, I’m the only one bothered by our chatty ladies. If someone should move in, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about what happens. Unless my lawyer has advised me not to talk about it.

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