Saturday, September 15, 2012

Urban Ag Fair in Jamaica Plain, MA tomorrow morning!

Just a quick note to let y'all know that there will be an Urban Ag Fair in JP tomorrow morning at the relatively-new Agricultural Hall, just a few blocks from the Stony Brook T stop! 

The fair is from 9am-1pm, and there will be contests for a wide variety of produce, including eggs and pies (NOM), so send in your entry form by 6pm tonight! 

I'll be there for a while too... I may even have an egg entered in the contest.  :D

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Look at me! I'm so upset that I'm MOLTING!

So... it's about that time of year when all chickens try to give their owners a minor heart attack.

It might go something like this:

You sleepily wander out to the coop one morning in late summer/early fall, expecting to do your usual check-in/feeding/watering and you open the coop to find feathers EVERYWHERE!  You immediately panic and start doing The Count to see who's ok and who got attacked by some vicious creature and find...

Everyone present and accounted for.


You count again... and again find everyone to be utterly hale.

(And looking at you very curiously because they're not quite sure why you're freaking out.) 

Now that you can breathe normally again, you may notice that all the feathers seem to be from a particular bird or two and, upon closer inspection, you see that they seem to be wearing a lighter-season jacket than usual (they're not quite as thick-and-fluffy).

This, my feather-loving friends, is what's called MOLTING.  It happens approximately once a year, when all birds gradually shed their year-old, worn-out feathers and replace them with shiny new ones (check those two links for pics of slightly less-gradual molts).  In your typical migratory wild birds, this happens so they have fresh, strong feathers to carry them the thousands of miles they need to travel to get to their wintering grounds.  In non-migratory birds, it happens so they have fresh, complete, un-worn feathers to create efficient insulation and keep them warm for the winter.  In chickens, it happens so we have a treasure trove of feathers with which to make ART, of course.  (Except that many of them will be worn/broken/messy/otherwise unusable, in which case they're just there for the initial scare-factor.)

~~Philosophical interlude~~
Ponder this: in nature, many physical structures are intended to be temporary.  Bird nests are only made to last a season, feathers break down over the year and get replaced, plants grow entire structures that only last a few months, we all continuously shed-and-replace hair, skin, the cells in our stomach lining, etc.  And all of this "waste" becomes "fuel" or "materials" for something else to eat or use.  The cycle of breakdown and regrowth is necessary and efficient.  Let the cycle happen and let things go. 
~~End philosophical interlude~~

There are other not-so-okay reasons that one of your girls might lose feathers, including external parasites or disease, or if they are getting picked on by other members of the flock.  Generally they will lose feathers in a sequence starting with the head and neck, then progressing to sections of the body, and finally ending with the wings and tail.  If instead of this pattern you are noticing loss of feathers only around the vent or chin check for lice and mites, if the missing feathers are only on the top of the head/neck check for aggressive flockmates, and if there are any other accompanying symptoms such as lethargy or lack of appetite or a general case of NQR (Not Quite Right) then you likely have an issue that is somewhat unrelated to molting.

In general, you don't need to change anything about your daily routine to accommodate the molting process, but given that they will be putting a lot of their body's resources into growing new feathers they tend to lay less frequently during this time.  If you'd like to help support their systems during the process, you can either switch to a higher-protein food, or supplement your regular food with high-protein fats, oils, bugs, etc. in the form of higher-protein commercial feeds, sunflower seeds, mealworms, yogurt, or cooked egg and meats.  Here's a great BYC thread with more info on feeding for molting and a brief post (not mine) about the fact that chickens are not vegetarian.

I'll leave you with a not-so-minor aside...
If part of the reason you are keeping or want to keep your own chickens is to do some small part to remove yourself and your family from our current large-scale commercial food system, then GREAT!  Kudos.

If you hadn't considered this aspect before, then here's one of a gabillion reasons that growing crops and raising food animals on an industrial scale just isn't working: it is a common practice in the commercial egg production industry to induce forced molting in the entire operation at once by withdrawing food for a week or more.

From the linked article, "Natural molting is stimulated by shortening day lengths combined with stress (of any kind). Before confinement housing with artificial lights were the norm, the fall molt caused a fall scarcity of eggs and high market prices. Farmers attempted to pamper their flocks to prevent the molt as long as possible, to take advantage of the high prices. Modern controlled-environment confinement housing has the opposite problem; the hens are not normally presented with sufficient stress or cues to go into molt on their own. However, after laying continuously for nearly a year, their rate of egg production declines, as does the quality of the eggshell and the egg contents. In addition, the hens are seriously overweight."

So yes, the reasoning for it is understandable, but that's only once you get past the precursor that "modern controlled-environment housing... [doesn't present hens] with sufficient stress or cues to go into molt on their own".  In my opinion, THAT's the cause.  We've been trying to take the "natural" out of nature so we can control it.  Forced molting is simply treating a symptom of the system, when it's the system itself that's flawed.*

(And if this is true for them, can you imagine what our own controlled-environment housing is doing to us?  Get outside.  Eat seasonally.  Move your body.  Get dirty.)

Next up... To light or not to light: prep for winter.

*This opinion is addressed in the "Critiques" section of the article, where it says that the practice of controlling the molting process predates the development of an industrial egg production system.  Sure, but you're still trying to control a system (nature) that took eons to develop, just so a very few people can produce eggs (that they're barely getting paid for) for everyone else to have every morning without seasonal interruption.  The technology is useful and wonderous, but we've swung the pendulum too far.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Chickeness in the news! Again!

I was recently interviewed by Minda Berbeco of, and her "Chickens in the City" article just came out on Monday, featuring her interview with me, as well as a couple of my pictures.  Check it out!

And in case you've missed my previous appearances, here are a few others...

In May of 2011, I was filmed by a crew from Animal Planet's "Pets 101" show for an episode featuring backyard farm animals that aired in November of 2011.  I currently have a copy of the episode, but lack the software or skill (or time to obtain either at the moment) to edit out my sections into something I can post on youtube, so if anyone is capable and willing to take on a small video-editing job, please let me know!

Boston's NPR radio station, WBUR, did a piece on urban chickens in July of 2011 (also entitled "Chickens in the City" and also featuring a few of my photos).  I was also mentioned in a related post.

On 18 May 2012, Chris Orchard with the Somerville Patch published an article that featured a bit about me after I spoke at a city meeting on the proposed zoning ordinance changes.

There's a post on the Somerville Urban Ag blog about a visit I made with a couple of my Chicken Ambassadors to Somerville City Hall to give an Urban Poultry 101 presentation on 31 May 2012.

And, finally, a loosely-related post describing, among other boxes, the "faux chicken coop/real green roof" digbox I created for Dig Boston.  Apparently my Digbox is currently living outside of the Legal Seafoods test kitchen just south of the World Trade Center in downtown Boston, so if you happen to walk by it and notice it needs some water, will you toss a drop or two its direction? 

So. Much. Excitement!  :D

"So then the chicken said to the duck..."

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Chickeness at Boston Greenfest!!

Breaking news:

The Chickeness will be making an appearance at Boston Greenfest at Boston City Hall Plaza this coming weekend!  OMG and also YAY!

This is, I believe, New England's largest green-focused festival, and will feature literally hundreds of vendors, exhibitors, performers, and interactive presentations, and all about being more GREEN!

I'll have a table at the festival with a few of my Chicken Ambassadors all day Friday and Sunday for people to meet in person, AND I'll be giving a "Backyard Birds 101" presentation at some point on one of those days (stay tuned for schedule and table location details).

AND to top it all off, I have a very exciting announcement that I intend to reveal at the festival this weekend, so come say hello and get a sneak preview!  :D

Friday, August 10, 2012

How can I make you happy?

There's a song by that name stuck in my head right now (check it out - Will Dailey is AWESOMESAUCE).

But first, a few things:

First: I'm on my way to Boston City Hall to help them figure out how to officially legalize chickens in the City of Boston.  YAY! 

(I attended an Aldermans' meeting for the City of Somerville on Weds night too - they're nearly ready to accept the ordinance changes that will add some more specific guidelines for our already-legal backyard birds.)

Second:  Did y'all know that my flock has a FB page?  Check there to get additional tips and tricks, links and info, and the occasional hilarious aside.  And if you like what you see, then please "like" what you see.  ;)

Third:  Just had a phone meeting the other day with Noah of Victory Chicken in New York City (Brooklyn, specifically), who is doing something like what I'm doing for the residents of NYC.  If you know folks in that lovely city, they have a resource like me there too!

And now to the big finish: How can I make you happy?

Answer: By helping you get your own flock of chickens, of course!  :D

Here are a few pictures of my client Lori S. of Somerville, the GORgeous coop she built with her husband, and her new flock of 4 Star hens I delivered on Wednesday morning - 3 Red Stars and 1 Black Star!

Isn't this fantastic?!  Lucky, lucky birds.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rent-a-coop, available now!

Feel like you're on the coop fence about whether chickens will actually fit into your daily life?

Oh boy do I have the solution for you...

You can Rent-a-Coop from The Chickeness!

If you live in the greater Boston area, you can rent a complete Chickeness Rent-a-Coop setup for 1 month or 3 months to be sure chicken-keeping will work for you!  You know... before committing to the responsibility of a new living creature that can live for 10 years or more... 

Rental coops come complete with everything you need, including:
*Coop with run (total footprint is variable, but about 4x8')
*3 laying hens
*bedding and food for the duration of your rental
*daily chicken care training
*monthly maintenance from The Chickeness, if requested (coop cleaning and bird check-up)
*unlimited email assistance from The Chickeness if you have any questions
*unlimited on-site assistance if any birds show signs of illness or injury

Our rental setups are also designed with some permanence in mind - that is, if you completely fall in love with that particular setup and/or those girls, the option to buy the whole setup on a permanent basis is definitely available to you (and most of your rental cost will go towards your purchase).

Rates include the monthly rental rate, delivery, installation, and pickup at the end of your rental period, and a partially-refundable deposit to cover any unexpected injuries to the birds or damages that might occur to the coop structure during your rental (of course I'll teach you everything you need to know to avoid any injury or damages, but things do happen sometimes).

All rates include the the entire rental fee for the duration of your contract, plus a refundable $150 deposit and $200 to cover everything associated with delivery and installation, chicken care training, and unlimited email and phone assistance from The Chickeness.

1-month rental with 3 hens - $150/month ($500 total for 1 month)
3-month rental with 3 hens - $125/month ($725 total for 3 months)
Purchase of complete rental setup - $1000 minus whatever you've already paid

If you have any questions (though see the FAQs below), or would like to schedule delivery of your rental coop, send me an email to chat about what you're looking for so we can find the best fit for your space and household, then we'll set up a time for me to come set it all up and show you what you need to know to care for your new girls!

Here are a couple of my easter egger hens checking out the "Coopette".  Your rental coop will have a similar design and appearance, but be just slightly smaller - this one is sized for 4-5 hens.

Rental coop FAQs
(for more general info, visit my favorite online resource,

Q - Will this setup work for the winter too?
A - Yep!  All of our coops are designed to be suitable for year-round use, and chickens have their own home-grown down coat that keeps them warm.

Q - Will I still get eggs without a rooster?
A - Definitely!  No rooster necessary.

Q - What kind of care do they need?
A - I see it as being pretty similar to a hamster.  You need to be sure they have appropriate housing, consistent access to clean water and healthy food, and that everyone is generally happy and healthy.  Beyond that, daily check-ins and egg collection takes about 5 minutes, weekly spot cleaning takes about 15 minutes, and monthly changing of bedding takes about 20-30 minutes.  Of course, I end up spending hours out there just watching them be the goofy little creatures they are, but that's entirely up to you.  ;D

Q - Can I rent for longer than 3 months?
A - Short answer - yes, maybe... let's talk. 
A - Longer answer - the point of this program is to give people who are genuinely interested in having their own *permanent* coop a chance to make sure it's the right thing for them and their family, and I feel that 1-3 months is plenty of time to make that decision.  I do not intend to rent coops to people with "seasonal" interest, if you know what I mean...   These are living animals, and I intend to keep their health and well-being as a top priority, which means ensuring people are serious about caring for them as with any other pet.

Q - Do I need to worry about pests, predators, smell, or noise?
A - If you are responsible about the setup and care of your coop, then not really.  Our coops are designed to be large enough for the number of birds we will provide you so they will have plenty of space and will be easy to keep clean.  They are also designed to keep out pests and predators, and food will be provided in pest-proof containers - eliminating access to food is the best way to prevent pests and predators from being a problem.  As for noise, hens make very little noise, aside from the occasional brawk!-ing that happens when they get excited about something (like if someone lays an egg, if a person walks by, if they find the water... they get excited about a wide variety of things), but overall they're a lot quieter than your typical neighborhood dog.

Have other questions?  Send me a note at or check out the info at or!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

*chink chink*... Is this thing on?

Hey folks!

Been a little quiet on the Chickeness front lately, eh?  Well never fear!  It's been ohsocrazyfullofawesome over here!

Here's a smattering of what I've been up to:

*My ambassadors and I visited a group of kids at the Brown School a few weeks ago as part of their summer program - huge thanks to the Brown School for inviting us, and congrats to them on their fantastic raised bed garden!  Check that out on Willow Ave in Somerville, just south of Broadway, and drop me a line if you'd like me to bring a few of my girls to visit your kids' school, playgroup, birthday party, or other event. 

*I had my first official individual clients, coordinating the purchase and delivery of some birds for folks here in the city from regional breeders at a big chickenswap in NH a few weeks ago.  Congrats to Jim B. of Somerville, and Adriana and Phil H. of Jamaica Plain on the new additions to their family!  (Jim and his daughter, Daisy, actually came up to the swap to check it out, too!)

*My model coop, the "Coopette" has been in testing in my yard for a month or so, and my coop-builder and I have been tweaking the design to make it better for you and your flock.  Let me know if you'd like a Coopette of your very own, complete with site consultation, delivery and installation, all supplies, and even the chickens too!

*I'm putting together an crowdfunding campaign as a way for all of you to support this little slice of the urban ag/localvore movement, helping to *really* get this chicken circus on the road and get some cool swag in return!  Rewards will include services, of course, and also t-shirts and other fun "chickenalia", so keep an eye out for that sometime in the next few months.

*I've been working on my website at - stay tuned for that to go live very soon!

*My first "Rent-a-Coop" is nearly finished, and ready to be rented out - more on that in an upcoming post, including coop specs and rental rates. 

*And finally, I've welcomed a few new additions to my Board of Chicken Ambassadors: say hello to Buttercup, Sweet Pea, and the-Silkie-that-has-yet-to-be-named-but-may-come-to-be-known-as-Wolfgang.  :D

That's it for the moment... lots more news and info coming up.  Thank you SO much for supporting me and my flock!

Happy customers Adriana and Phil, with two of their four new girls, Richard the Silkie, and a Barred Plymouth Rock.  They also got a second Barred Rock and a blue Ameraucana.
Miss Fleur checking out the new Coopette.  This version is 3x4', has linoleum flooring, a large plexiglass front door, external nest boxes (you can see them in the back), an additional door on the side for cleaning, and an attached 4x6' run with access gates, and can comfortably fit 4 full-grown large fowl hens.
Buttercup says Hi.  She was helping me type this blog.  :D
The-Silkie-that-will-likely-be-named-Wolfgang.  And the egg she laid for me this morning.  NOM.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chicks and pullets available for delivery June 7th!

Hello hello!

I'm getting all geared up for a big swap on the 7th where I will be able to get a bunch of chicks and pullets (young hens) from a bunch of local breeders, so place your orders and reserve your girls now!

All birds listed here can be delivered to your door on July 7th (email if you need other arrangements), and will come complete with the Chickeness guarantee - I will treat any that show signs of illness within a month from delivery, and any bird you get from me that decides to start crowing will be rehomed for you as soon as possible.  Totally free.  :)

(Please note: anything less than 8 weeks old will need a brooder setup with a heat lamp, anything less than 16 weeks old will need "starter" or "grower" food depending on age, and if you are introducing new birds to an existing flock you'll need to take the same care as with any other new animals.  Ask me if you have questions!)

Pullets generally start laying around 4-6 months, so any that age or older should be laying for you very soon!

Here's what I either will have available or can get by breed, color, age (as of July 7th), and cost.  Click on the breed name for a link to the MyPetChicken info page on that breed, and check for pictures of the actual birds at the bottom, where available.  Prices may be adjustable for combined orders, especially for the younger ones.  :)

White/black pullets - 5 weeks - $15 each

Mixed colors, pullets - 3 weeks - $15 each

Red pullets - 9 weeks - $20 each

Buff pullets - 8 weeks - $20 each

Plymouth Rock
Barred pullets - 12 weeks - $25 each

Red pullets - 5 weeks - $15 each

Salmon Faverolle
Salmon hen - 1 year - $35
Salmon hen - 1.5 yrs - $30
(These two are possibly mother and daughter and are currently living together here at the Menagerie.  Both are very sweet, and so fluffy!  The younger one is currently regrowing a large patch of feathers on her back from where her previous flockmates were picking on her...  poor baby.)

Black bearded pullet - 10.5 months (show quality!*) -$40
Splash bearded pullet - 10.5 months (show quality!*) - $40
Black bearded pullet - 10.5 months - $30
(These top three bred by Bad Azz Silkies)
Mixed pullets - 4 weeks - $15 each

Black pullets - 5 weeks - $15 each

Barred Plymouth rock pullets - 3 months old
Bearded splash silkie pullet - 10.5 mos.
 Bearded black silkie pullet - 10.5 mos.

That's it for now!  I'll update this post as the list changes, so stay tuned!

~The Chickeness~

*What the heck does "show quality" mean, you ask?  Similarly to purebred dogs, it means that these birds are excellent examples of their breed, as dictated by that breed's Standard of Perfection.  For more info, check out the American Poultry Association website, or the website of the breed club for whichever breed you are interested in.  If you have no interest in showing or breeding your birds, then it really just means you're guaranteed a very pretty bird.  :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's too darn hot...

Every time I hear that phrase (or similar), I hear Stacey Kent singing...

Hey y'all!  How goes?  Want to come hang out in the AC with me at the Artisan's Asylum tonight?  I'm teaching my Urban Poultry 101 class from 7:30-9:30 in the classroom (and I hear there may be some cocktails in the social area if you get there a bit early).  There are plenty of spots left, so come on out and learn everything you need to know about keeping your own chickens!

In other news, it's hot!  I spent 10 years in the great state of Texas, and down there this lovely combination of heat and humidity is standard fare from about late March through September, but here in the Northeast it's not something we, or our birds, are used to at all!  And while we can go inside, maybe turn on an air conditioner, drink something with ice in it, take a nice cold shower, or go swimming to deal with it, our darling little down-coat-covered fluffballs only have whatever options we give them.

So what can we do to ensure they don't overheat?

FIRST - WATER!  Make sure they have PLENTY of water.  This is crucial.

SECOND - Make sure they have shade!  If your coop is in an exposed area, and especially if it doesn't have a roof or something they can get underneath, I strongly recommend creating some form of shelter for them that will provide shade.  They will likely not go inside the coop to get out of the sun, and it's probably hotter in there anyway!

THIRD - Inside.  Make sure you have the maximum possible ventilation going on in your coop.  Open all the ventilation holes and whatever other doors you can safely leave open for them.  If you have electricity to your coop, set up an exhaust fan to pull hot air out of the top of the coop somewhere and increase circulation.

FOURTH - Nighttime is a tricky one, because they all pile into the coop and THEY WON'T GO OUTSIDE, even if they are overheating because they're all in there building up body heat.  So, if it's safe from predators to do so, I recommend leaving the "chicken door" between the coop and run open to allow for even more ventilation at night.  If you have a light inside the coop, leave it off.  Also see #5 for keeping the coop cooler overnight.

FIFTH - ICE CUBES!  Put ice cubes in their water before you leave in the morning.  Better yet, freeze water in a water/soda bottle, then put the giant ice cube in their waterer (I wouldn't freeze the whole thing b/c you want to be sure they have plenty of water).  You can also freeze a gallon jug of water and place it inside the coop to cool off the temp in there (it will condense and drip a lot of water, so put it on a tray or bag or something to keep your bedding dry).

SIXTH - Frozen fruit.  As an extra treat, my girls got frozen watermelon rinds yesterday and today, and you can do the same with any melon and many other fruits and veggies.  I don't recommend small things they can swallow whole (blueberries, etc), but rather larger things that they need to bite off smaller chunks over time.

SEVENTH - Either early in the morning or later in the afternoon (to reduce evaporation and thus water waste), I also water my plants that are around the coop and hose down some larger areas of dirt/fence that the girls can get to.  This cools down the whole area a bit, creating little microclimates of cooler temps they can use.

So there are a few ideas for how to give your girls plenty of help dealing with heat this summer.  If you have other ideas, experiences, or questions, please share them in the comments!

Stay cool, kids.  :D

~The Chickeness~

Here's a nice, cold picture of my coop in winter to chill you out.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yes, hi... I'd like to place an order for delivery?

Three things from the Chickeness to you on this lovely Friday afternoon...

My next Urban Poultry 101 class at the Artisan's Asylum in Somerville is NEXT FRIDAY!!  I'll be covering all the basics you'll need to know to keep your own chickens, with plenty of time for questions and discussion, a chance to meet some of my Chicken Ambassadors in person, and a few fresh eggs to take home with you as a bonus.  Click on the link above to register, and check out the Asylum's other awesome classes while you're there.  Hope to see you in a week!

If you can't make it to this class, but would like to attend another in the future, please let me know!  If we have enough demand we can run another class sooner rather than later.

I gave a presentation to the City of Somerville a few weeks ago, and we got to meet a number of City officials, including the mayor!  This event was just featured on the City's urban ag blog today, so check that out for a few pictures and such.

Are you planning to get chickens?  Do you already have some and want to add to your flock?  Would you rather support a local breeder than a big hatchery?*  Would you rather know that your chicks are being hand-transported from a beloved small flock than airmailed from a place with 1000s of birds who may never have interacted with people?  Do you want to be more connected with the source of your food?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, did you know that I can get locally bred and raised chicks and hens for you?  No?  Well guess what... I can!  (And I want to!)  :D

As I've talked to more and more city folk about urban chickens, I've realized that most urbanites think that ordering chicks from hatcheries is the only way to get chickens.  But I've been attending regional poultry events for the past few years - competing at bigger poultry shows and attending smaller social events known as chickenstocks or chickenswaps - and I've met many lovely, dedicated people within an hour or two of Boston who keep, breed, raise, and show poultry of all types.

Then one day I had an epiphany! 

(picture me staring off into the distance with a surprised look of wonder on my face...)

I thought, "I can provide a connection between all of these fantastic local breeders and raisers-of-chickens with all of the city folk who have NO IDEA that these people exist!  And in doing so, I can help some of the "country mice" find good homes for the birds they've lovingly bred and raised while providing a local, small-business source of high-quality chicks and hens for the "city mice"!  How awesome would that be?!!"

And thus, the first eggs of a new bid'ness were laid.  (N'AMEN)

SO... whatcha want?  Cuz, ya know... I know a guy.  (A few guys, actually.  And a lot of girls too.)

The next big event is coming up on July 7th, so get your orders in now! 

(If you'd like to see what these events are all about for yourself, check out all the info on the July 7th "Sharkie" chickenstock forum thread.  Let me know if you're planning to attend so I can say hello!)

And now... Lemme snooze oo-oo-on, like a chicky in the sun... :D

*Disclaimer: not all hatcheries are bad.  Some are great.  Some are doing a lot to preserve rare heritage breeds.  Some are doing what they can to cater to the new wave of small-time, urban poultry keepers.  That said, I think smaller and more local is generally better, and I don't think that my facilitation of a connection between regional breeders and buyers is going to put any of the bigger hatcheries out of business.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Next Urban Poultry 101 class at the Artisan's Asylum!!


My next Urban Poultry 101 class at Artisan's Asylum has been confirmed for Friday, June 22nd from 7:30-9:30pm in the Artisan's Asylum classroom at 10 Tyler Street, Somerville, MA, 02143.

The class is $30/person and includes a presentation on all the basics you need to know to keep your own chickens (housing, feeding, cleaning, illness and injury, laws and zoning, etc.), plus a guided Q&A discussion followed by playtime with a few of my gals.  AND, depending on how they've been laying recently, you'll hopefully get a couple of tasty, home-grown eggs to take with you!

Go to the Urban Poultry 101 class listing on Eventbrite to reserve your spot, and let me know if you have any questions!  (While you're there, check out all the other amazing classes offered at the Asylum as well!)

And now, here's me an' Lucifer, down by the schoolyard... :)

(Yeah, I'm an Aggie.  It's awesome.  :D)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Let's talk about poo..., let's talk about you an' me, let's talk about all the good things an' the bad things that may be...

(This post brought to you by Salt'n'Pepa and the color three.)

I had a call from a client the other morning who wanted to know about chicken poo.  Specifically he wanted to know what the best thing is to do with it once you have it, but I'll get back to that in a moment. 

First I want to share this lovely page all about chicken poo.  If you aren't sure what normal chicken poo is supposed to look like, in comparison with non-normal poo that might indicate some illness or other issue, check out that page for reference.  Thanks to the My Pet Chicken newsletter for that marvelous little link.

And now back to the issue at hand - whatever to do with the poo.

The answer: COMPOST! 

This, ahem, "$hit", is like GOLD to a gardener.  If you don't garden (though if you have chickens it's probably likely you do), then find yourself some folks who do and offer to have them come pick up your dirty laundry (...bedding)(...from your chicken coop) on cleaning day.  Make sure you let them know if it's fresh manure or has already been composted - fresh manure is too rich for most plants to handle, and you don't want to put it on anything edible.  Once it's been composted it's fine to use anywhere.

If you do garden, just toss your poo-laden shavings into either an open pile (my preferred method) or compost bin and leave 'em for about 6 mos and voila!  You have free-and-fantastic compost for your garden.  The mix of bedding (carbon-ilicious"brown" matter) and poo (nitrogen-rich "green" matter) is already very well balanced to make good compost, and you get the bonus of a great place to toss your kitchen and yard scraps too.  If you'd like more info, there are a bunch of great websites on the hows and whys of composting your chicken waste (like this one), and of course you're always welcome to send me a note or comment! 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chicken Ambassadors

Well, it's official.  While I've referred to my girls as "Chicken Ambassadors" for years, this afternoon I gave an Urban Poultry presentation for the City of Somerville and Lucifer and Fleur got to meet the Mayor.  Thus they are now bonafied Poultry Diplomats.  :D

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

You're an odd little egg, you know that?

Today's tasty little chicken factoid is brought to you by my friend Tony, who just sent me this link, with the subject line "Anything like this ever come our of your chickens?".

My response:

"HAH.  Yeah, oddly-shaped eggs aren't really that unusual.  Unless you're a commercial operation that has deliberately bred for birds that lay uniform eggs that then go through a "quality assurance" process that weeds out any that are shaped or sized differently from some relatively-arbitrary "standard".

Looks like that egg is soft-shelled too, which means the hen's body basically noticed something was off and expelled the egg before any more resources were wasted on it.  It happens."

I'm going to distract you from my overuse of the word "that" in my response by clarifying further: it's totally normal for some of your birds' eggs to be shaped somewhat differently from the standard, store-bought, classic, "egg" shape.  In fact, whatever shape they are will be very consistent for each individual bird - I had one who consistently laid a very round little egg that was about the same size and shape as a golf ball, and another whose eggshell is always "rippled", another whose eggs are slightly thinner-shelled, etc. and I really get a kick out of figuring out exactly which bird made which egg!  In backyard flocks it's not uncommon to get double-yolked eggs too, and you may get the occasional soft-shelled egg that just didn't develop properly.

BUT if any of your birds are consistently laying soft-shelled or otherwise abnormal eggs (in the sense that they are unsuitable for their primary function of being a perfect little protective growth chamber), then something is probably a little off.  If that happens, I would first check to be sure they have access to good, balanced nutrition (and that they're eating it - here's a great post on proper nutrition by another local chicken-keeper and the owner of the Hen Cam), and maybe supplement with extra oyster shell and such for a few days to see if anything changes.  I would also check for external parasites that might be taxing that bird's system.  If that's not it, check for anything else in their environment that might be affecting their mineral balance (standing puddles of water that might have some dissolved something-or-other, or some plant they're eating, or maybe check your soil or tap water for metals, etc.).  If they're still doing it and you can't figure out what's up, a trip to a vet may be in order to check for mineral/nutrient levels from a blood sample and to see if there's something else going on that you aren't able to detect.  Generally speaking for chickens, if one bird is showing signs, chances are good the others are being affected by the same cause.

And sometimes you'll get a hen whose eggs are just a little odd... This is a typical egg from my easter egger hen, Red, who consistently lays really wacky eggs.   But they're still tasty.  :D

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pickin' Chicken!

ACK!  Two posts in one day!!  Egads!

But did you guys know about the Pickin' Chicken app?  Yep, it's a chicken app.  For pickin' your chickens.  Breeds, that is. 


The urban ag explosion!

WOW.  There is so much awesomeness going on with urban agriculture lately!  It's crazy exciting.

For example, friends sent me these fantastic articles in the past few days:
How former B-ball player Will Allen is using urban ag to change lives in underprivileged communities.
A great how-to for building your own 3'x5' vertical aquaponic growing system.

And last night I met one of the organizers of My City Gardens, a group that is connecting or facilitating connections between wannabe gardeners who don't have the space, and property owners/managers who have the space but not the time or inclination to garden it.  How cool is that?!

In today's chicken news, I'd like to share with you a lovely note I received from the marvelous Ms. Roxanne Scrima, who is a kindergarten teacher at Somerville's Kennedy Elementary School and has worked with me on my kids' programs since the beginning.  This was in response to a recent class visit from me and my girls.

"Hi Khrysti,
Saw someone wearing this shirt and realized I hadn't sent you a "thank you" yet.  The kids in my class went home and couldn't stop talking about your visit.  You were voted the "Best thing in Kindergarten" by one of my students.  Thanks so much for coming!  
Roxane Scrima"

I was voted the Best Thing in Kindergarten?!  NO WAY THAT'S AWESOME!  :D

(ETA: You know what else is awesome?  Apparently my blog has been viewed by someone in Malaysia.  Hi Malaysia!!  <The Chickeness waves excitedly to Malaysia>)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

In the news!

Good morning!

There's a lovely article on Somerville Patch highlighting Thursday's urban ag meeting with the City of Somerville, that says a lot about me and chickens!  Thank you, Chris!  :D

ETA: The author of the article, Chris Orchard, did an excellent job quoting me, though there are two points I'd like to clarify... 1) My comment that "the city just doesn't want to hear about it" specifically refers to what I see as the reality of the non-nuisance part of chicken-keeping whether it's legal or not - your city officials don't want to evict your chickens, even if there's nothing officially prohibiting you from keeping them.  So work with your neighbors as much as possible to prevent the city from having to intervene.   2) As of right now, roosters are discouraged in Somerville but not prohibited.  I'm not going to keep any more because I feel it's pushing a boundary that doesn't need to be pushed, but I do want to point out that in my situation about 90% of my neighbors LOVED having the sound of the roo and were sad to see him go!

Thank you.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.  ;)

The meeting on Thursday night was SO exciting!  The city is really on board with this idea, and it was amazing to see the support for backyard chickens among the crowd, and also bees, a wide variety of gardens, and some ancillary groups like the Urban League of Canners, who offer harvesting and canning of any extra produce!

The other super-exciting part of what the city is proposing is this idea that they explicitly want to encourage new urban-ag-related small business endeavors as part of this!  Yay for people like me!  And also for everyone who will be producing more than they can use and want to legally be able to sell the extra to recoup some costs.  I think it's very clever, too, that they are setting some very specific guidelines to go along with that, such as requiring that you have your soil tested for lead and show your test results if you are selling produce.  Great idea - Go Somerville!  :D

In other news, I had an amazing meeting yesterday with my new friend Jessie Banhazi who founded Green City Growers a couple of years ago.  I am SO excited about a potential partnership with them, as well as so thankful for the LOADS of really helpful info and tips Jessie had for me about setting up my business.  Definitely check them out for advice on and installation of your own backyard raised-bed garden - they are awesome.

And now I'm off to a fantastic chickenswap out in Townsend, MA, hopefully to pick up some new girls to quarantine before they head off to new homes AND to meet up with my coop-man for delivery of my new "model coop" (so I'll be able to give folks an idea of what I can have built for them).

Thanks so much for keeping up with things around here, and I'm sure I'll have exciting updates for you soon!

And I will leave you with... CHICKIES!  :D

(These little ones are my current Easter Egger hens Red, Stinker, and Bellina as chicks, along with their sister Saphira (RIP, my dear little dragon))

Wheeee!  :D

Thursday, May 17, 2012

You're a WHAT?

Hello hello!

First of all, the meeting to approve Somerville's new Urban Ag ordinances is TONIGHT!  6pm at Somerville City Hall (not sure what room, so try to come early to give yourself time to find it).  If you are pro-backyard chickens and you live in the Boston area, especially if you are in Somerville, please come show the city your support!  See the link above for more details on the proposed ordinance.  :)

Secondly, I just realized that I haven't yet laid out (haha - laid... like an egg!  Get it?  teehee) what it is that I do, exactly...

In short, I'm basically a Chicken Concierge.  :D

That means that I can help you with any of the following:
*Top-to-bottom setup of a complete coop for you, including laying-age hens
*Monthly maintenance (cleaning the coop once a month and checking the girls over, etc.)
*Chicken sitting
*Taking your bird(s) to the vet for you
*Basic medications and deworming (if needed)
*Finding breeds you want from local breeders (I can get a wide variety of locally-bred or hatched breeds of nearly any age)
*Advice on coop design if you're building your own
*Advice on breed selection
*Food delivery
*House calls if you need a second opinion about something
*Whatever else do you need - let me know!

And that's all in addition to the festivals, skill-shares, seminars, classes, and kid's programs I've already been doing for the past few years.  :)

I have a new website coming soon, so stay tuned for more details and rates at and I hope to see y'all tonight!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Give your input on Somerville's new Urban Ag Ordinance!

TO ALL SOMERVILLIANS WHO LOVE AND SUPPORT URBAN AGRICULTURE - please come to a city board meeting on Thursday evening at 6pm at City Hall to support our new urban ag ordinances!

From a recent email from a new friend who works with the City:
There will be a Board of Alderman meeting at City Hall on Thursday (the 17th) at 6pm where they will hopefully approve new ordinances to support and encourage growing food in Somerville, including bee and chicken keeping. Even though people of course have been growing for ages, only a few other cities specifically have ordinances supporting it so Somerville is definitely ahead of the curve...exciting stuff! The Mayor is also really excited about encouraging the selling of food grown in backyards or urban farms like South Street (Groundwork and Green City Growers new site).

The ordinances were written based on examples of what other cities are doing, and from local conversations as well. Some major things to note from the attached document are:

You can now sell produce you have grown in your backyard or on city owned land with the following restrictions: On-site sale of products from these uses are allowed subject to the following provisions: 1) Sales of produce shall be permitted between the hours of 8:00am and 6:00pm, May 1 – Oct. 31 of each year; 2) Sales shall be permitted not more than three (3) days per week; 3) Sales shall be permitted no more than twenty-five (25) days per year; 4) No sales display or structure shall be located on public sidewalk, street or block vehicle and pedestrian flow; 5) Sales display, structure, and signage must be stored out of site while not in use; 6) Signage shall be limited to one (1) sign and not exceed 64 square inches; and, 7) Proof of annual soil testing must be posted during all sales. (PAGE 7)

Honey bees shall be subject to the following rules: 1) Honey bees may be kept per 7.11.4.k on residential properties only; 2) ownership, care and control of the honey bees shall be responsibility of a resident of the dwelling on the lot; 3) a maximum of 2 colonies may be kept on a lot, although Health regulations may further limit the number and/or manner of keeping of honey bees on lots; 4) structures for honey bees are subject to applicable accessory structure setback requirements, and 5) Honey bees and beekeeping materials are not permitted in front yards or in side yards that abut streets.

Hens shall be subject to the following rules: 1) Hens may be kept per 7.11.4.k on residential properties only; 2) ownership, care and control of the hens shall be responsibility of a resident of the dwelling on the lot; 3) a maximum of 6 hens may be kept on a lot, although Health regulations may further limit the number and/or manner of keeping of hens on lots; 4) no roosters may be kept on lots in Somerville; 5) henhouses are subject to applicable accessory structure setback requirements and, 6) Hens and henhouses are not permitted in front yards or in side yards that abut streets.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's YOUR end game?

I recently had a few friends send me links to this article that appeared in the NYT on April 25th about how "chicken retirement farms" are suddenly a thing.  Not really surprising given the recent explosion of people keeping chickens as pets instead of livestock, and I'm glad someone started the conversation...

Essentially, this issue is this...

Given that:
A) Your adorable new pets can live 10-15 years (often even longer!)
B) On average, a laying hen lays reliably from about year 1 through year 3-5 (though many individuals will keep laying well into later life - see previous links)
C) In the city, you probably only have space for a few hens at a time.

Then it follows that it is probably a good idea to have a plan for what you intend to do if and when your girls stop laying.  (Side note: yay math/logic!) 

If you have them primarily for eggs, are you willing to keep feeding and housing and caring for birds that aren't laying?  Will you consider sending them to "freezer camp" (as is the standard practice for most people who keep livestock for food)?  If part of your goal is to bring yourself closer to the source of your food, would you rather butcher and eat them yourselves over having someone else do it?  (Keep in mind that it is illegal to butcher animals on your property in many places, so if you're going to do that be very respectful of your neighbors and keep it on the DL.)  Have you made plans with a nearby farm that is willing to take your girls when they retire and let them live out their lives there?

For me, my philosophy is this: in my household, once it has a name it's no longer food.  My "chicken ambassadors" also have other jobs in the public sector besides being layers, so they're still in the workforce, as it were.  But I am also an ecologist and have always appreciated a mentality I first heard about as part of the hunting rituals of an Inuit tribe: that it is possible to accept the realities of nature while honoring and remaining grateful for the spirit and sacrifice of the animal you have killed and will consume.

So what's your end game?

BROWK! Uh, I mean welcome.

Welcome to the blog of The Chickeness!

My name is Khrysti Smyth.  I keep chickens.  In Somerville, MA (aka Boston).  I help other people keep chickens.

There are going to be a lot of updates over the next few months as this new thing gets off the ground, so stay tuned here for updates and info on the business side of things, as well as news and info on how you, too, can have your own adorable fluffy pets that make food for you.

In the meantime, check out The Flock of the Menagerie on Facebook (if you like us, then "like" us, yes?).

All questions, inquiries, flames, awesome pictures of your birds, etc, can go to The Chickeness at gmail dot com.

If you already have chickens and you live in the Boston area, please let me know!  I'm hoping to get a better network going so we can coordinate, and so the cities that are still working on their laws (Boston, Cambridge, etc) can have a more clear idea of how many people actually want this. 

And now I will leave you with "Chicky in a half-shell: CHICKY POWER!"