Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reminder - Beverly Chicken Open House May 1

Just a reminder that the Second Annual Chicken Open House will be this Saturday, May 1, from 10am-2pm. Grab your morning coffee, throw the kids in the car or stroller and head over to 10 Harrison Ave., Beverly, where 5 girls and their proud owner will be happy to guide you through the paperwork and process of getting city approval to keep chickens in Beverly. Meet the girls, tour the coop, and see how much pleasure you can have with your own hens.

You can also take a chance on a dozen fresh eggs with all proceeds going to Beverly Bootstraps. Each hen (except Delores who took early retirement) lays a different color and shaped egg, but they are all delicious and better than anything you'll ever find in the supermarket! Even the ones that say 'cage free'!
It's going to be a beautiful day and if you've ever considered raising hens (no roosters allowed in Beverly) now is the time to do it. Come on by!
The girls have been helping get the yard ready for company...every time I rake, dig, clean, they are right behind me! I'm not sure who is in charge of landscaping but I don't think it's me.
See you on Saturday!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Green Poop and Other Compost Thoughts...

Now that there are just two of us to cook for we don't generate the amount of kitchen waste we did when all 3 girls (not chickens!) were at home. Sadly that makes for slim pickings for the hens. When there isn't much to offer them I cook up a batch of oatmeal and raisins with a little cat food thrown in or a pot of rice and it gets scarfed down by appreciative chickens.

I've always been a recycler with a compost bin and in recent years have kept worms, with only mixed success at not murdering them. I'm on my umpteenth batch of red worms and they are happily chomping away in the can-o-worms in the basement, so far alive for 2 months.

Lately it's been harder for me to watch food being wasted both at restaurants and in the supermarket. This drives Naomi crazy. It's bad enough I bring home the restaurant scraps from everyone's plate at the table, but now I want to go into the kitchen with a big bucket and scrape plates for an hour to give my hens the scraps. Of course I can't do that (though I'm not sure why - social isolation, divorce, etc?). I fantasize about a retirement business where I gather all this waste and generate wonderful compost, with or without the worms' help.

To solve this problem and give my girls a more balanced diet after laying pellets and yard treats I contacted the owner of a local restaurant in town, The Organic Cafe, and asked if I might get some scraps periodically. They could not have been nicer and I was give permission to go through their compost bin (yes, they separate out all compost!) and take what I want. So now, a couple of times a week, I trudge the few blocks from my house with my 5 gallon bucket and rubber gloves or barbecue tongs and go through the wonderfully fresh pickings.

It's been a field day lately - sprouts, avocados, lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, some kind of grain and more. And the girls are thrilled. But there's just one poop... When I saw it yesterday in the yard all flattened out I had no idea what I was looking at. But as I walked around the yard there they were...dark green blobs. Not to be too graphic but I do pay attention to chicken poop as it's a good way to monitor the girls' health. So what's with all the green stuff? I looked back in my compost bucket and yes, there's a fair amount of guacamole, but enough to cause this? I eat avocado but I never had a color problem!

Everyone seems fine so I'm not going to worry....the eggs looked normal yesterday though Hazel had some trauma when she was forced out of the nesting box by Gertrude, but that's another story... more later.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Second Annual Chicken Open House May 1

The Second Annual Chicken Open House will be held Saturday, May 1 from 10 am to 2 pm at 10 Harrison Ave, Beverly, MA. The event was so successful last year that I want to do it again so that folks who are thinking about raising chickens in Beverly, or surrounding towns, can see what an urban setup looks like. There will be other chicken owning family members available to answer questions and you'll be able to meet the girls and tour the coop. I'll also have information on the application process that the City of Beverly requires plus handouts.

We had a lot of fun last year and there had to be over 100 folks who came by - some with chickens and some who wanted them. Since I am permitted for 6 hens and only have 5 currently, there may be at least one chick (and others if I can convince my kids to take some). I'm not sure, though, that I'm ready for another chicken integration as this last one has been so difficult...

The open house is a nice way for folks to meet each other and my long term hope is to get a Beverly group organized so we can share information and work on common issues like the city permitting process. And next year have a multi-coop tour in the city!

For more information contact me at or call 978-927-4642. I'll get calendar items into the local paper this week.

Spring Catch-up

It looks like the Hen Saver coat for Hazel will get put away after all. Despite custom fitting a neck piece the coat never fit well and Hazel spent more time wiggling out of it then then using it for her own protection. Much of February and March was spent integrating Hazel with the rest of the hens but it seems to have worked despite a few setbacks. Will she ever be fully accepted? I doubt it but I am looking more for long term safety than anything. These hens can be tough on each other and the term 'pecking order' sure is based in fact.

Both Flora and especially Gertrude go after Hazel on a regular basis and Hazel is always the last one to eat, the last one to leave the safety of the coop, and the one is always on the outskirts of the group. It's 4 + 1 and not 5. I try to let them out in the yard as much as possible and that extra space gives Hazel room to do her own thing and not be bothered too much. She still can't join in the group dirt bath but she sits right on the roost with everyone else as long as Gertrude is busy laying an egg.

Up until last week I thought the truce was going to last but then there was an episode in the run with feathers flying and Hazel trying to escape. The next day I noticed some bare spots on her neck so I tried Vick's Vapor Rub as my friend Martha had recommended for a similar problem. It seems to have worked and we're back to the truce. I probably need to apply another dose.

The family problems prompted me to take care of some coop issues this spring that I couldn't ignore any longer. I've had a flooding problem in the back end of the run and half of it can be underwater during a heavy rain. So in late February, with the ground still frozen, I put in a French drain on two sides. I got it in just in time for the first big rain in March and there was only minimal flooding and it didn't last long.

So I began phase II...the coop expansion. Since I want to get back to 6 hens it was time to expand the coop beyond its 4x8' footprint. I had only one direction to expand in, towards the back, so I put together a plan for an 8x8' addition. Nothing is ever easy...that meant another retaining wall and another drain! All that took place during the second March rains and I have never seen so much water in my back yard. The girls did well though my new drain couldn't keep up with the water. I now have plans for a rain garden downstream from the coop where the water naturally flows. I might as well trap and use what I can as the water comes down the hill and around the coop.

This week I finished the addition and opened up the wall between the two sections. The girls haven't quite figured out this is their new indoor playground, despite the new roost and snacks I put over there but they'll get it. I am so relieved to have more space for them for those days when I'm not home to let them roam. And now Hazel can get some space if Gertrude is being a bully. The nice thing is that from the house you can't see the addition and I think it blends in well so the neighbors shouldn't mind.