Thursday, April 28, 2011

mother nature does not care about our timelines.

We have a tendency to take on a lot of projects at once around here. Our list of outdoor projects for this season is quite optimistic:

  • Build 3 new 4x12 raised garden beds
  • Get chickens & build chicken coop
  • Run drip irrigation to the existing row garden & new raised beds
  • Run electricity to the backyard (for the coop & the greenhouse)
  • Have a 6' cedar fence installed
  • Put up a greenhouse
  • Build a seed starting system
  • Start about 1400 plants & put them into the gardens

Too ambitious? Crazy? Maybe... :) 

Mother Nature apparently did not get a copy of our project list & timeline. We have been doing pretty well with keeping up, even with the late snow & freezes in March. This month, however, has certainly been a lesson in patience. With the exception of one or two dry days, it has been a continuous forecast of rain. Projects are delayed, and the chicks are growing so quickly that they will likely outgrow Brooder 2.0 before we can build the coop!

Curry pokes her head out to see what we're doing.

It seems like just yesterday that Sesame was a tiny fluff ball hiding in the feather duster:

Sesame, 3/29/11

Look at her now, not even a month later!

Sesame, 4/24/11

We did find a nice day to stain the cedar 2x4s for the frame of the coop, so that's some progress! We did some research ahead of time on non-toxic and sustainable exterior treatments for the coop and decided to go with Penofin Verde. The downside of using this is that it's expensive (about $50 per gallon) and we had to order it because we weren't able to find it locally. The upside, so far, has outweighed it though. For a wood stain, it doesn't smell bad at all - in fact, because it's just brazilian rosewood oil, it actually smells kinda nice. It's also really beautiful on the wood and a little bit goes a lot further than we thought - we'll probably only need one gallon for the whole coop. We'll have to wait to see how it holds up in the weather, but at this point, we would likely use it again for future projects.

We're also bringing the chicks outside, as often as the weather will allow, and they are loving it!

Masala testing her wings
Curry leaping with joy

It looks like we may have some windows of sunshine in the coming days, so it's time to get the exact spot for their new home staked out and, weather permitting, have it built in the next week or two. Can't wait to see them enjoying their new home!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


It's finally starting to feel like Spring around here and we have so much going on. After months of planning & anticipation, our baby chicks have arrived! We decided to enter into the adventure of chicken-keeping with an awesome couple who are also starting their backyard flock this year. This gives us two more brains for sharing ideas & concerns, four additional hands to help build the coop, and also provides a sense of community for the whole endeavor.

The chicks have arrived!
The brooder box was amazingly simple to build out of things we already had around the house. We just used a plastic file box and lined the bottom with paper towels. We had some modular wire cubes from another project, so we drilled holes around the top of the bin and secured a panel to one side with cable ties. On the other side, we attached a second panel to the first, creating a hinged lid to open & close as needed. We just use a clamp to hold it in place when closed (mostly to keep the curious cat out). Add a red 100 watt infrared light and a thermometer, and we're ready for the chicks!

Plastic tote brooder box
All set up on a table in our home office

We split an order for day-old baby chicks from a reputable online hatchery and received 8 total - a flock of 4 for each of us. In retrospect, I don't think we would mail order chicks again - especially now that we've found some local sources. For me, the issue is more with the shipping process than the hatchery. Certainly, chicks are shipped all the time and can handle it, but I'd rather not see them put through the stress if there is a local option available. 

Additionally, of the 8 we ordered, one of them unfortunately didn't make it. Sadly, it was our Buff Orpington. For me, this was a very early lesson to not get too attached to them since losing chickens, whether as babies or adults, seems all too common. There have been several existential conversations between the four of us with regard to pet vs. livestock, "egg layer" vs. "egg-laying family member", and the foreboding question of what happens when they stop laying. I'm aiming for something between pet and provider because, let's face it, I'm never going to see them as livestock. As a child, I screamed with delight every time we passed cows on the highway and even once tried to hug one (the cow was not amused). I also kissed a llama at the zoo when I was 5, or rather it kissed me, and I've adored them ever since. And don't even get me started on the goats at Grant's Farm...
Call me Snow White.
Our hope is that we can provide a happy, well-balanced chicken life for them in which they have joy, freedom, and respect - and in return we have entertaining companions, awesome garden pest control, and beautiful, delicious eggs without having to worry about what food recall is currently going on.

We had been kicking ourselves a bit for not starting with a flock of 6, so we took the opportunity while our chicks were still young to add 3 more from a local hatchery. They have all settled in together really nicely and are pure joy to watch. :)

Here is our current flock!

Sesame, Barred Plymouth Rock (6 days)
Saffron, Rhode Island Red (6 days)
Masala, Easter Egger (6 days)
Anise, Black Star (3 days)
Curry, Buff Orpington (3 days)
Tamarind, New Hampshire Red (3 days)