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back yard chickens

Homesteading Update: Chicken Mutiny

The homestead has been pretty idyllic with the days getting longer. We celebrated an unseasonably warm February by planting a long-sought-after fruiting red-leaf plum.

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Brave Irene, our Delaware hen, is keeping an eye on those blossoms for good things to come.

We’ll do some grafting and pruning so this lady grows low and bountiful. We popped her in the ground right next to the chicken run so that when and if we can’t keep up with the plum glut, they’ll be easy to toss in for the chickens.

Ah yes. The chickens. Those longer days have turned our 0 or 1 egg days into 3 or 4 egg days, so omelettes are back in season! But along with our egg bounty came The Mutiny. It started innocently enough. I peeked into our nest box one afternoon and found a cracked egg. While I sighed over the loss, I wondered if any of the girls had helped themselves to a sample. Somebird must have. In the following days, instead of eggs, I found yolky wet spots in the nest box.

I’d heard about this dreaded development–the Marxist chicken revolution. Apparently, once chickens get a taste for their own eggs and owning the means of production, the habit can be pretty hard to break. I tried collecting eggs more often and put some golf balls in the nest box as a decoy. This did not break their revolutionary spirit. Yolky wet spots abounded.

I suspected Mavis, our Auracana. She was the sweetest little sweety as a pullet, sitting on my shoulder and burrowing into my hair for comfort.

Gone are the days of my sweet little Mavis.
Gone are the days of my sweet little Mavis.

She tossed that meek fragility aside in her old age. These days, she rules the roost with an iron beak, so to speak. The ruthless glint in her eye says, “Given the opportunity, and if I had them, I’d kill you with my bare hands.”

So I couldn’t stop a satisfied “I knew it!” from escaping my mouth the day I caught Mavis in the act, gulping down broken shell with the glisten of yolk on her beak. After that, I stomped into the house and broke out the big guns: emptied some store-bought eggs and coated the insides of the shells with dijon mustard. I popped those little dijon bombs back in the nest box and thought I might have won when Mavis rejected the shells after a single, suspicious peck.

Instead, she got a recruit. The next day, Mavis and Rosie were at it together. And LemonCake might have been in on it too. Mutiny. I was incensed. I fantasized about slitting chicken throats to protect the daily food source for my lean, sunburnt family, just trying to survive out on the frontier.

Luckily, my smart homesteader friend R, the one who used to have the goats we milked, offered an alternative to death: the rollaway nest box.

IMG_3974AJ and I spent all of Sunday retrofitting, and I am proud to say that our frontier spirit prevailed! We set the nest box floor at an incline, so that once the deed is done, the egg rolls via padded board into a slot which empties into a padded aluminum paint tray.

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Brave Irene seeks out the camera yet again.

I am proud to report that our frontier spirit prevailed! No yolky wet spots for the past 3 days. Means of production successfully wrested from Mavis’ crafty beak.

Homesteading update: the chickens have landed

I spent Sunday afternoon somewhere between extremely tired and blissed out. That feeling when something you’ve worked really hard for and toiled over is suddenly, actually here.

Chickens.

In case you weren’t aware, I’ve wanted chickens for a really long time. Remember, way back when I had those chicken and kale dreams? Well, it turns out that the kale was easier to realize than the chickens for a number of reasons. Among them, radical rent increases, pregnancy, buying a duplex, moving and becoming a family of 4.

But we stayed the course, and were regularly reminded of that way-back dream every time we had to haul this coop around over the last 2 years.

#frontyardchickens

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I’m pretty obsessed with these ladies. We chose 4 very docile breeds that are known for being good layers. From head placement in the photo from left to right, there’s the Black Sex-Link who Jo has already named Rosie, the Black Australorp who is still unnamed (suggestions?!), the brown and black mottled lady is an Easter Egger who I’ve already taken a particular liking to and named Mavis. And that big golden gal is a Buff Orpington, also, as yet, unnamed. So feel free to put some names in the hopper.

I chose to get pullets (teenager chickens) rather than baby chicks because I’ve had enough baby action around here, and it’s just less time and labor and material intensive. Pullets have their adult feathers and can sleep outside and eat out of all the adult gear, so no need for heating lamps or special feeders that you only use for a handful of weeks. We chose to buy our chickens from Dare 2 Dream Farms, a sweet and savvy outfit nestled near the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Their website is a complete dream come true–organized, beautiful and delivering exactly the information you need instead of overwhelming you with 300 coop designs or a forum 6 miles long about how to keep pests from eating your layers. We got their coop-ready package which thrilled the pants off me, because it meant I didn’t have to strap the boys in and hunt around for feeders and food and wonder if the person at the farm supply store was giving the city girl a line.

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It probably sounds like they gave me my chickens for free so I’d write all these nice things about them, but no. I’m just a shameless promoter of things that I find helpful. And they were radically helpful from the breath of fresh air website to Jeremy (Dare 2 Dream farmer and co-founder) hanging out in our yard while the girls pecked around their new home. He checked out our coop, gave us tips on how to not freak the ladies out in their first few days with us, and we yakked like old neighbors about farming and New Zealand, as you do.

And then I just spent the rest of the afternoon sort of dopey and in love, staring fuzzy-eyed into the distance and listening to their sweet little croons.

I finally got my chickens.

**long, slow, satisfied sigh**