Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Egg Song

No, we at the farm are not taking up music. We'll leave that to folks who know how to play instruments or wait until someone teaches us the finer points of banging on the cow bell.

The Egg Song is the name used for particular clucking hens do when they want to tell the world how proud they are that they are either going to lay an egg or have just performed the miraculous deed. We can't say that they shouldn't be proud or want the world to know how talented they are - just imagine trying to do what they do.  But we really wish they would do it more... quietly.
Ginger's first egg.  It's hard to tell, but it's pink.
Louise's first egg, a soft minty green

When we first decided on chickens our big fear was smell. We'd visited farms and petting zoos and realized that, well, chickens stuffed in a pen and left to it smell terrible. We made the commitment to keeping our chickens clean and reacting swiftly to the first whiff of something nasty. We routinely sift poop out of the run and clean the coop weekly. We can confidently say there is very little chicken stink here.

But who knew chickens would make so much noise?

Obviously, not us.

Three of our hens have begun to lay and each has decided that she needs to do so at a different time of day. So far we have one who hollers first thing in the morning, another at noon, and the third, kindly waits until 3. You might think that a chicken singing a few times a day isn't a big deal, but it turns out that when one chicken decides to sing the others have to join in too. Three times a day we have the chicken chorus screaming this:

An Egg Song

(Note: this is someone else's chicken singing.  We'll post our own song once we get an audio of it.)

In the end, we have to thank goodness it's not as bad as this:


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hipper Chicks

We at the farm want our followers to know that just because we've been getting down with the earth, it doesn't mean we don't appreciate the asthetic value of what can be produced by the human hand.

It has come to our attention that some of our fellows, who shall remain nameless, think that since we've moved to the 'burbs we've lost our appreciation for edgy cool and can no longer blend ideas like abstract and realism. There is a suspicion among this nameless sect, that somehow, having kids and planting stuff means that very soon we'll be hiking the pants up high and ironing the pleats in those w-i-d-e mom jeans. We state here and now, this is not the case.

To prove that we can still go toe to toe with the hipster set, we imported an artist - from Brooklyn no less- and commissioned a mural for the chicken barn.


You can tell our artist is hip 'cause he has a beard.

And most importantly, the chicks dig it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Babies on the Farm

Yesterday I was jolted from a mid afternoon nap by excited shrieks. "Mom! Mom! Come quick! They've hatched!"

I ran through the long list of animals we own and racked my brain to figure out which one could have possibly laid an egg in the last twenty minutes. Then I remembered.

Here at the farm we appreciate the unusual. We have a resident insect specialist who tends to broody spiders in the bushes and ensures that ant colonies thrive and, more importantly, survive thorough waterings when they build too close to the tomatoes. So when we were on a trip to Wolf Hill Garden Center a month ago and noticed a small cardboard cup on the counter labeled "Praying Mantids," we had to snatch them up. We brought them home for our oldest boy Percy to mother over.

The egg casings, called ootheca, are odd looking; brown and crunchy. The sacs are adhered to a stick by some bizarre substance that only a mother praying mantis could produce. The instructions said to hide the egg sack in a bush, but Percy needed to watch over them. He lovingly placed them in one of our many bug houses and laid soft material in the bottom for safety.

When I reached Percy on the porch, baby praying mantises were everywhere. And they were tiny. Percy gently scooped up a few at a time and found new homes for them all around the garden.

So while the yard is teeming with baby mantises, it seems that we have added a new addition to our zoo. Inspired by the book Pet Bugs by Sally Kneidel, Percy has decided that "Blade" will be an excellent new pet.

Praying mantis facts:

Praying mantises are the only insects that can turn their heads a full 180 degrees.

They can see up to 60 feet away.

Nymphs eat flies, aphids, moths and other insects. A large adult of some species can eat frogs, lizards and even small birds or rodents.

Contrary to popular belief, females do not always kill the male after mating. The post coitus decapitation and cannibalism occurs more commonly in captivity than in the wild.

For interesting reading, check out Sally Kneidel's blog. She writes about green living, ecological travel, and, our favorite, insects and scientific method for kids.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Long Silence

Okay, things beyond our control at the farm have kept us from posting. We are hopeful that these distractions have hit a lull and we are now ready to let you in on all the news.

For the most part, all news is good. We still have six chickens.







Our crops are going well too. In fact, they are growing so well that we are planning an expansion for fall plantings as well as next spring. This August we will remove the rest of the lawn and plot out more permanent plots for next year. Anyone with suggestions for how to make this happen without looking like poo, we'd love to hear from you!

Here are a few highlights of what's growing:

Thai Hot Peppers







We also have brussel sprouts, bok choi, cabbages, tomatoes and more herbs than we can list going.

Aside from eating our own lettuce and watching the rest grow, we have been lucky enough to enjoy the strawberries that cover our yard where ever we're not growing something else.

Coming soon: The coop gets some art, concrete mushrooms are growing, and making seed bombs...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Girls Move Out

It stinks when the drudgery of jobs and bad weather get in the way of important tasks, like taking care of chickens. But that's exactly what happened this week. Several days of bad weather and late nights working really slowed down progress on the run. We put up wire whenever there was a break in the rain but getting the birds out of the basement had to wait.

Until today.

The run is close enough to complete to let the girls out. It was a chicken rodeo trying to catch and carry six frantic birds past a salivating dog to the great outdoors. Ginger, being the easiest to catch, was the first to go. It's been weeks since the poor thing has seen natural daylight, and I think she was temporarily blinded by the sun.

After a few minutes of wandering around in a daze, she started to look pretty happy so we brought out the rest of the gang.

It's been a chilly and windy day. Thelma and MaryAnn chose to nap in the coop, but the others preferred to huddle together.

They are loaded up with food, water and fresh air. Now we'll have to see what new adventures await.

Then again, they have to make it through their first (very cold) night on their own!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's Time to Stand on Our Own (or Chicken Run Part 2)

Colonel Mustard and Ms. Scarlet left us in such great shape that we had to let the momentum take us forward. Following up on the framing, we prepared the run flooring for stink-free chicken fun. If anyone has been near our basement lately, you will realize how important the "stink-free" part is. Chickens confined to small spaces reek.

Creating a stink-free run meant digging, laying gravel for drainage and adding a few inches of sand on top. This is not an easy task for those of us who just got used to watching someone else use power tools to make our rosy visions real.

After attacking the ground with a pick axe, we enlisted Billy and Percy to dig too:

Next was gravel.

Then they left.

Percy tried not to complain too loudly that there were no video games to play while his mother worked. That was a big help. Another run to Home Depot and a slushy stop quieted the rumblings even more.

Eventually we laid down the landscape cloth for the run.

Next we added sand.

And chicken wire.

Lastly, we put down linoleum floors in the coop. We have the walls partially covered too for easier cleaning.

There are tweaks to be made and more wire to be hung, but we have proven a few things to ourselves and those in the know. The first being we really do try to do the best by our animals. Secondly, we are freaking nuts for all the money, time and energy we spend on the damn animals.

We definitely need to do more planting.

Col. Mustard and Ms. Scarlet save the farm (or Chicken Run Part 1)

We had a good ol' fashioned barn raising this weekend and learned some life lessons on the way. Col. Mustard and his fascinating and fabulous girlfriend, Ms. Scarlet, answered the Farm's call for friends with skills to help out. Having worked with at least one of us in the past, they knew the limitations of our abilities and were aware of the hurdles we would throw in front of them. They arrived early on Saturday armed with a car packed with power tools and acrylic paints.

Col. Mustard is the best; after only a short conversation about the vision for the run, the colonel rattled off a list of supplies. We swiftly jotted down everything he said in crayon. Thanks to Ms. Scarlet and her tactical task mastering, we had an record quick trip to the building supply store and arrived home with all we needed to make our fantasy run come to life.

We shifted the coop so that we can create an access from the side. Then we laid out the supplies.

You may not see it in this shot, but Col. Mustard chiseled out the fittings so the support beams would fit flush into the posts. We'll update later with close ups.

In what seemed like no time at all, the walls were being raised.

A DISCLAIMER: Do not let these photos fool you. We at City Kid Farm had the pleasure of watching Col. Mustard attack and destroy the problems presented by this project. We were on hand to hold things in place if necessary. It was an amazing show, reminding us of how much we don't know how to do.

Next we trenched for the posts and hardware cloth. This time Billy got in on the action.

Then it was time for the roof.

And who could forget the door!

So what life lessons did we learn? If you want to get something done, leave the person who knows how to do it alone. Sometimes helping is a hinderance (at least when time is an issue.) Who can forget, keep your mouth shut and listen to your NCO. Maybe all three are the same in the end.

Lastly, Col. Mustard is so cool, Elvis and MJ are dying to be his back up singers.

We were left with a run that surpassed our imaginings. certainly anything we are capable of. We are thinking of ways to honor the Colonel in our structure so that generations of chickens to come will remember the sacrifices that he made for their safety and comfort.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We did it!

It was actually a very successful weekend here on the farm. Not only did we pick up the chicken coop, but we managed to paint it. Even Percy pitched in to paint. You can admire it below:

Freshly delivered and quickly (sloppily) primed.

This is not a chicken house it is a chickenhaus!

We're proud of the paint job, but it is screaming for some art.

We tested out colors we want to use on our own house. Any comments on the palette are welcome.

On top of that, we filled in most of the front flower bed with perennials. This was met with smiles and cheers by the walkers who frequently pass and watch us tear out clumps of grass.

Could this weekend be any more productive? Sure! We planted our seed potatoes, peas and pole beans. Billy even helped to dig out his "private" flower bed. Things are looking up at the farm.

We wish this sentiment was a little wider spread. Percy, our ever optimistic 10 year old, told us that when our vegetable farm fails, we should get a cow for the front yard. At least that would be worthwhile.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Coop d'Etat

The chicken coop is ready and we are frantically running around (well, frantically surfing the web) in search of a vehicle big enough to haul our new coop home. After a few phone calls and some debating, we decided to rent one of those honking big pickup trucks instead of a U-haul. The builder is located in god-knows-where New Hampshire so finding them will be an adventure in itself. We figure a pickup may be easier to maneuver with a huge coop strapped in the bed.

You may ask why in the world are we going through all of this for a box to keep our chickens in? The bottom line is the bottom line; coops are very expensive. We went to the agriculture stores, read the poultry magazines, surfed the urban-chic backyard chicken sites, and followed up every kind of discounter for a deal. There are no deals when it comes to coops.

From what we've found most ready to take home chicken coops come in two standard forms:

This "A Frame" coop is designed so that you can move the coop around the yard giving the chickens a chance to peck at and fertilize different areas. We have no space for such nonsense.

The next option is the gigantic shed coop for a mini farm. This would leave us with no space for a run.

Building a chicken coop is another option. The internet is filled with low cost chicken coop plans enabling the average person with a miter saw and nail gun to put together a fine structure. We own neither and from all our research, we have learned is that it is really, I mean really, easy to make a hideous coop. Exhibit A:

If we were to build our own, the heap above is exactly how it would end up. That is unless we decided to use an existing structure. With stimulus money being offered to put toward buying green appliances to replace inefficient ones, we could get a new dryer and reuse the old one like this.

Here's a coop made from a trash can. This one is actually for sale and boasts its "stealth" nature for those of you whose zoning does not allow for pet poultry. This is the HenCondo and can be yours for the low, low price of $499.

There are many people out there who have the skills and tools, and in at least one case a hexagonical Ikea wrench, to build their own. Here are some of the more interesting coop designs that we have come across:

This one is for people who take their road trips seriously:

The Ikea home for chicks

This coop is built entirely from Ikea products including, but not limited to, a bunk bed, a storage unit and a bottle rack. You can click on the link above for more details about the coop and how it was constructed. Check out Ikea Hacker for more cool stuff you can do when your Swedish prefab furniture gives in. Many thanks to Amy for sending us the link.

Here's a chicken gazebo:

A chicken villa:

And a lovely little Dutch shed:

Of course no review of coops would be complete without a chicken oasis:

To be fair, this coop was designed by folk artist Lisa Rauter. It's well worth looking at her site here for her gorgeous gardens, intricate studio building and imaginative rabbit hutch.

Here are a couple of beautiful craftsman coops built with so much care and detail:

The above coop was constructed with all recycled materials. The one below is a true chicken palace.

If you are a busy urban farmer and you really don't want to be bothered with building and painting coop, or, heck, even picking out your chickens, you can simply order the Eglu from the good folks at Omlet.

It's not cheap, but as far as we can tell no option for housing chickens and pleasing neighbors is. We are currently counting on our first dozen eggs retailing at $28.67 to help offset cost of feeding, housing and entertaining our chickens.