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!"