Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Happy 5th of July!

Friday, July 5th, 2013

There’s no Garden Guys Green Revolution Radio this week, and as a result, no Too Many Chickens! Enjoy the lack of the sound of my voice/sight of my words. And don’t forget (if you’re in the area) to come see me at the Chelmsford Farmer’s Market, next Thursday, July 11th, from 3-4. Or just wait for a new episode on the 12th. Whatever your deal is.

See Too Many Chickens! Live And In Person!

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

I’ll be reading the Best Of Too Many Chickens! on Thursday, July 11th, at the Chelmsford Farmer’s Market, on the common in Chelmsford, MA from 3-4. Come on by and throw organic vegetables at me. Information about the market can be had by clicking that link, which takes you to their Facebook page.

Chicken I.D.’s

Friday, June 21st, 2013

(Broadcast 2/21/2013)

I have three Buff Orpingtons that to me are almost identical. So identical that rather than give them individual names, I chose to give them a group name, which is The Mandrell Sisters. I suppose I could have given them individual names within that name, such as Barbara, Louise, and Lurlene, just like the actual Mandrell Sisters, but aside from not being able to know which one was which, there’s also the issue of which one was going to be Lurlene. Lurlene is not a name given lightly. At least not by me to a chicken.


It’s a magical moment when this name is assigned.

I pay pretty close attention, but I’ve never been able to get a handle on them visually or personality-wise. They’re all roughly the same size, and pretty much the exact same temperament. My take on Buff Orpingtons is that they are pretty mellow, all around nice chickens. My Barred Rocks have more variation in personality, from the vaguely malicious boss type, to the afraid of everything type. The Orpingtons are sort of the everyman of chickens. This is fine. They’re the bedrock of our flock. I really just wish I could tell them apart. Partly because I feel like I’m slighting them, but also because they keep going broody on me, and I’m curious to know if it’s the same one, or some sort of rotation.

the brood wheel

How else do you know whose turn it is?

There have been times when I could tell at least one of them apart from the others. When they were still living in the brooder, one of them had managed to get some, er, “fertilizer” on her back. She didn’t seem too concerned about cleaning it off, and didn’t like it when I tried to. I figured if she was o.k. with it, then it was probably better to leave it than to stress her out by trying to rub it off. While it lasted on there, I referred to her as a form of “Poopy Mandrell,” that I can’t say on the radio. So let’s just pretend I called her Poopy Mandrell. The poop didn’t take too long to come off on its own, and so she disappeared back into the crowd of three.

Chicken needs a tissue

You have to be subtle when pointing this out.

Shortly after moving them out to the coop, I stuck my head in to say goodnight, and saw one Mandrell Sister pecking at another one’s back. This had apparently been going on for a while, as there was blood all over the place. I reached in and broke it up, and then went inside to figure out what to do. I looked up anything to do with pecking, and it’s kind of hard to know why this happened, but the gist of the fix seemed to be to put something called Blu-Kote on it. It would dye the feathers blue, but if the chickens kept pecking, they’d get a taste of Blu-Kote, and that would be the end of it. We didn’t have any on hand, so I grabbed some trusty Bag Balm, and put it on the wound to at least keep it from getting infected until I had the chance to get to the feed store. When I did get to the feed store, they told me Bag Balm would work fine too, so I lucked out. For about a month or two afterwards, the one who had been pecked had a stain on her feathers from where the Bag Balm was, so she stood out. It too eventually went away, and she eased back into anonymity. I still don’t know why she got pecked, though. Incidentally, I didn’t kill the chicken who did the pecking, and it hasn’t happened again. I’m sure someone told me to kill the culprit, but as has been my experience, I found it was a one time thing, and lives were saved.

bag balm

The balm squad

The Bag Balm stain got me to thinking about other ways to mark them. The obvious indelible option would be to write their names on their back in magic marker. It would be pretty funny to see a chicken with “Lurlene” written on her back in giant letters. It would even be funny to see one with “Poopy” written down her back, at least to me. However, getting a chicken to hold still long enough to write legibly on her is not a task I want to attempt. Plus, the joke might wear off after a while. It’s kind of like a regrettable tattoo. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I have a dumb-looking chicken. So I don’t think I’ll try this.

poopy mandrell

Not how you do it.

You can actually buy a device that will put a colored band on their legs for identification. The problem here is that they aren’t cheap, and I only have three chickens I want to distinguish. That seems like a big investment for something that’s not all that big a deal. I would like to know if it’s the same one getting broody, and I’d feel a lot better about myself if I could tell them apart, but I don’t feel so bad that I’m going to blow a lot of money on it. I can probably just get some zip ties or something if it finally wears me down. But I’m only going to do that once I know in my heart of hearts that I’ve got a Lurlene in there.

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One Year Of Chickens

Friday, June 7th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/7/2013)

We got our chickens the first week of June in 2012. They were a week old, so I did some math and figured out they were born the last week of May 2012. Last week was the last week of May 2013, and I said to my wife, “Hey, it’s the chickens’ birthday.” She didn’t feel like having a party. The chickens probably didn’t either, since I don’t think chicken culture has the concept of parties. I, however, have the concept of thinking about things too much, and so I decided to look back at the past year, and see if I have learned anything.

party chicken

Someone say “party?”

The big thing I think I learned was that you should not get the chickens until you have the coop. I spent a lot of last summer building the coop, as the chickens got ever larger in their brooder. If you do decide to build your own coop, I hope you have a plan, and some knowledge of how to use tools and/or how to build things. I didn’t really have those things. I pulled it off, but it got pretty hairy towards the end. The chickens were more than ready to go outside by the time we got them outside, and were almost out of space in their indoor pen (even after one space upgrade). I might have some idea of how to build stuff now, but I also probably aged myself a few extra years due to stress and forgetting to put on sunscreen while out working on this project. I will tell you to not get the chickens until you get the coop, but many people will not listen. I heard this rule, and I didn’t listen either. I think maybe it’s a rite of passage. I am now a man, and can take my place in chicken society.

My coop

They say a coop is never really finished.

If you’re new to the internet, you might not realize that people have a lot of opinions online. They do. I’m kind of amazed at how quickly people have gone from hiding behind screen names to using their real names and Facebook profiles to post mindblowingly vicious things online. However, I also read the comments on news sites, which I know I need to stop doing. It’s like staring at a car wreck full of kittens. (I totally apologize for that image. I may be turning into one of these people myself). People also have strong opinions about how to handle chickens. When we first got the chickens, I stumbled on a rant by a farmer about people naming their chickens and considering them pets. “Chickens drop dead all the time for no reason!” he said. Goldfish drop dead all the time for no reason, too, but those are considered acceptable pets. I think what he was trying to get at was that getting chickens isn’t the same as getting a dog. They have specific needs, and you have to commit a lot of time to them, and it’s not always as fun as throwing a ball, or letting them stick their head out the car window on a drive (though I don’t think you’re supposed to let dogs do that either). But as a farmer, I think the idea of chickens as pets was so alien to him he started to lose it. Or maybe building his coop wasn’t going so well. It’s hardly the worst chicken opinion I’ve come across. Often the first answer to a “my chicken is doing this, what should I do?” question is “kill it.” Euthanasia is something you have to keep in mind in many cases, but not always. Getting information from the internet should be like going to the doctor. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. There are plenty of them out there, and it is the internet, so many of them may actually be wrong.

chicken expert

Anonymous internet chicken expert.

The last thing I take away from my first year of this chicken business is that this has been far more enjoyable than I had any reason to expect it to be. Someone I know recently emailed me about having spent some time around chickens, and how he found it very meditative. I think that’s a good way to put it. In small numbers anyway, I find them to be very relaxing. Being in a factory chicken facility is another story. Chickens are also hilarious. One day one of mine found a worm in the dirt, and half of it was hanging out of her beak. Another chicken saw this, and wanted in. She lunged after it, and the first chicken spun in circles as she choked the worm down, with the other one in hot pursuit trying to eat it out of her beak. Double chicken spiral! Sure, there is work, but you also get entertainment. And eggs. Don’t forget the eggs.


Life enricher/guru.

Someone recently dismissed my first year of efforts as no big deal, since all the bad stuff happens in the second year or beyond. Nothing is worth doing if you look at things that way. I’m prepared to deal with tragedy if I have to, but I’m not going to let the fear of it stop me from enjoying the parts of this that aren’t tragic. I think there are still more good things to experience. In the past year, I’ve killed more hard drives than chickens, and I’m supposed to be a computer guy. Hard drives aren’t as charming as chickens, anyway. And you know what? Without chickens, I wouldn’t be able to come onto Garden Guys each week and share with you what a complete ding-dong I am. That’s something we all benefit from.


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Chickens – Nature’s Compost Piles

Friday, May 24th, 2013

(Broadcast 5/24/2013)

Now that Spring is here, everything has begun to bloom. If you have allergies, you probably noticed this already. My wife and I usually get excited when the weather finally gets nice, go outside, and get so thoroughly attacked by mosquitoes that we wonder why we ever leave the house. But with a little homemade insect repellent (witch hazel and lemon eucalyptus oil) it gets better, and so I can sit outside and take in all of Nature’s glory. For better or for worse, Nature’s glory contains weeds. It used to be that I would just mow them, or ignore them altogether. I don’t take pride in having a pristine lawn, and mowing the lawn actually tends to fill me with existential dread. Oddly enough, weeding doesn’t bother me as much. I actually kind of like it, even though it’s very time consuming. I’ve heard that the hand motions used in weeding are hard wired to some sort of evolutionary rewards center, which is why gardening is so enjoyable. It gets us in touch with our inner chimp. Just keep the dung throwing to a minimum, please.

Did somebody say "dung throwing?"

Did somebody say “dung throwing?”

Aside from any sorts of feelings of getting back in touch with our primacy, weeding is also a good way to supplement your chickens’ diet. We actually get so many weeds that we even have too many for the chickens. Luckily, we also have a compost heap for the overload. I found when they were baby chicks that they loved dandelion greens, but those seem to be pretty popular across many species, save for the homo perfectlawnicus. I’d pull them out, rip them into tiny pieces, and watch those goobers go nuts for greens. It also helps give them variety in their diet, which improves egg flavor. Everyone wins. I’ve read that if you pick the weeds and give them to the chickens, rather than letting the chickens pick the weeds on their own, there is some risk of the weed getting stuck in the chickens’ crops. The crop is where they store their food right after eating, before it heads to the stomach. If things aren’t torn into pieces, there may be a bit of a digestive traffic jam. Like people, you need to take sensible bites. What I usually do is either toss a pile into the run, where they rip them to shreds in a frenzy, or I poke them through the hardware cloth, and again, in the competition for the weeds, they rip them into smaller chunks. The chickens don’t seem so interested in eating the weeds on their own, so I have to do the work of pulling them out, and then do what I can to insure clear crops.

Lawn perfectionists quake with fear.

Lawn perfectionists quake with fear.

Weeds aren’t the only plants chickens like to eat. I have heard chickens referred to as “living compost piles,” as they’ll eat all sorts of vegetable scraps. I prefer to call them “Nature’s compost piles,” since that doesn’t really make any sense, and that’s how I roll. But when the farmer’s markets start opening and I find myself buying more kale than I can handle, it’s nice to know I can give the extra to the chickens as a treat. We’re growing our own kale this year, so I suspect even more excess than usual may find its way into the run. Most vegetable scraps can be fed to chickens as long as they’re raw and oil free. There are a few that are off-limits, so it’s not a bad idea to check online to be sure something is o.k. before tossing it into chicken town. Green potato peels can be bad, as well as the leaves of tomato plants. The list goes on, so be safe, rather than sorry. (Here’s a good list of acceptable treats and things to avoid.)

toxic symbol

Be sure not to poison your birds by accident.

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t tell you the one crop chickens excel at eating. As you know, every summer our nation squirms in the grip of what has come to be known as “The Zucchini Problem.” Our gardens, homes, and workplaces sag under the weight of this most prolific of green beasts, and friendships can be strained by being overly generous in an attempt to be free of the surplus. My friends, the chicken is here to help. Last summer, my coworker brought in a crop of zucchinis that were the size of human legs. I brought one home out of politeness, but had absolutely no idea what I would do with it, save for possibly beating an intruder to death. I thought to myself, “well, maybe I’ll cut a hunk off and give it to the chickens.” You may have heard stories about piranhas skeletonizing a cow in seconds. I can assure you that in this part of the world, the chicken is the piranha and the zucchini is the cow. Chickens will skeletonize a zucchini in record time, and act as though they want more, even if it was a small green blimp like the one I had. We do need to be cautious of overfeeding, so let’s not go nuts with our extra veggies. Think of them as treats, and we’re all set. But woe be to the inexperienced zucchini who innocently wanders into the chicken run.

The real green monster

The real green monster


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