Update: Retirement Home for 4 Hens

UPDATE:  The hens have a home in a lovely retirement community at Eden’s Organic Garden Center!  They are calm, happy, and in retirement (except for the occasion egg they choose to lay).  Here’s an updated picture of them in their new habitat:

In Search of RETIREMENT HOME for 4 hens (ages 4 and 5). (email Anita@AnitasArbor.com if you would like to inherit these hens) The hens have been together since 2013, and even the oldest is still laying occasionally – in spring we are covered up with eggs.  They have all been fed organic feed since they were peeps.  They are:


Winnie came from Peace and Love Farms in 2013, and resided at Urban Acres Market for a year before coming to live with me.  She is about 5 years old. She is an Ameraucana and is anoble gray with a long neck. She is shy of people, and is the last to emerge when the greens (chard, bok choy or tatsoi), scratch, and chunks of pear have been spread out. She lays eggs with a tint of green.




Mavriki (Mav for short)

Mavriki is Greek for “little black one.” She is an Australorp with irridescent black feathers.  She came to me as a peep in November of 2013. She lived at Urban Acres will late 2014 and then came to live with me. She was the one who noted, after the move, that they were in a different place and tried to alert the others, who were too busy pecking and scratching for grain. She alerts me to something that needs attention – like when another hen, Fancy Pants, got sick. Shen Fancy Pants the one who brooded eggs, died, Mav took over the task of brooding – trying hard to hatch that fake egg!  She likes organic produce, and frozen peaches. Her eggs are brown.


Aurie and Rosie (O’Grady, as in Nosey Rosie O’Grady):

Aurie is an Ameraucana, and her eggs are blue tinted. She is the middle hen in the picture. She came to me as a peep in November of 2013 and was raised at Urban Acres, then came home with me in late 2014. She is pretty calm and lays throughout the summer, when other hens take a break. She delights in watermelon, and particularly frozen watermelon in the summer.

Rosie is also an Ameraucana, and lays light rose-colored eggs. She is the hen on the right in the picture. She was also raised as a peep from November 2013 until coming home with me in late 2014. She gets her name because she was the one, from about 2 weeks of age, who was curious every time I went into the coop. She watched me and inquired as to what I was doing. She continues to do so to the this – she will watch me while others are indulging in the goodies I bring. She, along with the others, love the heads of broccoli.

A note in memoriam – the hen at the left of the picture was Ginger. She is recently deceased.  She was the Rhode Island Red, and was head hen. RIP, Ginger.










































Chickens’ Laying Oddities

I am owned by five hens – three Ameraucanas, one black Australorp, and one Rhode Island Red.  The youngest are now about 3 years old, the oldest, one of the Ameraucanas, is about 4.  But all still lay at some rate or another.

I noticed, however, that two were laying pretty regularly in December – Auri (blue eggs) and Ginger (brown eggs).  But in January two others took up the torch while the others took a break – Mav (brown eggs with deep brown speckles) and Rosie (pinkish brown eggs).  In fact, Mav and Rosie are still laying as I write thise.

HOWEVER, the other day, Mav’s egg was rather odd – as you see in the picture.

You will note that the egg on the left is the size of a marble.  This is not something Mav had laid before.  It was perfectly formed, and had that speckled look just like her regular eggs.

So I cracked it open to see what was inside, and it appeared perfectly normal, with a small, almost forming yolk.  The white had a good consistency.  It’s hard to see – I cracked it into a white bowl, and a light keeps reflecting on it.

I asked my local chicken expert and he said – it just happens sometimes!  Doesn’t indicate anything is wrong.

In fact, the next day she laid an egg that was perfectly normal, so I guess all is well in the coop.

One thing that must be remembered – chicks often take a break over winter or when the weather is wonky like we have had lately here in Dallas.  Or when they are molting, or move, or otherwise their world is disrupted.  But usually egg laying subsides markedly in the winter.  And then … Groundhog Day comes … and the laying starts picking up.  It’s really not magic, and don’t go looking for a calendar in the coop, where the hens are keeping track of the days.  It all has to do with the length of the day – the number of hours of daylight.  As the daylight increases, so does laying.

So… keep those hens happy and enjoy the eggs!



We Get Attached to Our Chickens

I must say, we urban chicken wranglers do get attached to our chickens.  Especially if we have raised them from mere day-old chicks.  I had what could only be a “mom moment” a couple of weeks ago.  I had tossed out to the hens some broccoli that had been in the refrigerator a bit too long. As these 3-year olds attacked the broccoli, I had a flashback to when they were mere chicks and were attacking a broccoli floret I had given them.

So here’s the first picture, taken in early 2014:

That’s Mav (for Mavriki), Rosie (Nosie Rosie) and Ginger (Georgia Ginger) going at the broccoli pecking away.






Now let’s look at them in January 2017….. Mav and Aurie (Ameracauna – she was outside the previous picture) as well as Ginger heading for the broccoli.  The gray lady is Winnie, another Ameracauna who is almost a year older.  I got her as a laying hen.

The Freeze is Coming … the Freeze is Coming

Well, all I can say is it’s about time!  Usually we get our first freeze the third week in November, and now here it is the second week of December!

So what to do to prepare?

I’ve been out today, getting my garden, chickens and faucets ready for the next three nights which it’s going to dip way below freezing.

First, I made sure the chickens have some additional straw in their coop.  No, I don’t really worry about them keeping warm unless it dips into the ‘teens.  They have down and feathers and fluff up rather nicely in the cold, and do quite well.  (Our comforters have down in them, remember?)  I also gave them an extra ration of corn late this afternoon.  The carbohydrate helps them get the body fires going and helps keep them warm.


The garden?  I mulched with some old straw around the plants that may have a hard time.  I’m generally of the attitude that if a plant can’t handle it, then I’m not going to worry. Like chard, that can have ice on it, wilt a bit and come back within a day or two in the thaw.  But my kale, mustard, broccoli raab and peas, now that’s another story. You can see the kale all mulched up in the picture. I gave the plant feet a nice 3″ of straw on the ground.  I didn’t have to water, because the rains during the last few days took care of that.

Now… the hoses and faucets.  I disconnected both garden hoses.  Then I covered the faucets.  The one in back, that sticks straight up I covered with a 5-gallon bucket.  The one in front, coming out the side of the house skirting I wrapped with bubble wrap and duct tape.  That worked last winter quite well.faucet-for-freezebucket-on-faucet

Fall is Here! Egg Production Up… and Strawbale Class coming




Fall is here, and egg production is beginning to ramp up in the coop.  I guess it’s the cooler nights and not-so-hot days.  All three Ameraucanas are now laying….with an occasional egg from the Rhode Island Red.  But I’m still waiting for the Black Cochin and Black Austrolorp to come online.  I’ll supplement their feed with some more protein – yummy meal worms and maybe some calcium to help them along.


I was reflecting the other day how going out to take care of the chickens in the morning has become a time of untime.  I move into a zen and no-time, as I care for them, cluck at them and generally carry on the morning conversation.  It would seem odd to hurry through the routine.  Chickens truly are a stress reducer… ask anyone who has sat and watched them scratching as they foraged.

I’ll be teaching strawbale gardening on October 3, Saturday, 10 am at Trinity Haymarket (1715 Market Center Blvd).  The class is free, and the proprietors Bill and Fred have coffee and pastries to munch on before the class begins.  You can learn how to condition strawbales organically to grow (especially) greens for the winter.  Strawbales are excellent choices for a temporary garden, a garden for not bending over, or just plain fun!  and when the season or two the bales last are over, you have COMPOST!

Also come and check out Trinity Haymarket’s new offerings – Sojos freeze-dried, no-grain dog food.  Super nutritious, as well as local honey, chicken and bee supplies as well as organic garden supplies.  It’s like an old-time feedstore and really fun to visit.

The North Wind Doth Blow

I spent all day readying the “homestead” for the cold, arctic front that is supposed to drop temperatures into the teens by morning.

Covered the faucets with either a bucket or, in the case of the front faucet, taped some of that airy packing material Amazon uses around the pipe.  Disconnected the hoses, to allow air space in the pipes.

For the chickens, I took out an old 18’x12′ tarp I had in the shed.  With a helper, I managed to get it over the run and enclosed the run, staking it out on one side like a tent.  BUT….I came back later and found that the tarp had ripped – well, separated is more like it – on the seams where the three 8′ sections had been bonded.  Oops!

Coop cover oops So what to do, what to do?  I used to use coat hangers for everything – they are really very handy. So I got out my wire nippers and a couple of coat hangers along with a pair of pliers and attached the top of the middle section of the tarp to the hardware cloth of the run.  Although not totally enclosed now, I’ve at least blocked most of the north and northwest winds, the chilling ones.  I anchored the bottom of the tarp with bricks and pavers.  I’ll know how effective it was in the morning – by seeing if the chickens’ water is frozen.

Coop cover FastenerAbout 8 or 9 tonight, I’ll heat a red brick in the oven to 350 degrees, wrap it in an old pillowcase, and put it into the coop.  The radiant heat will help the chickens (I know….they have down and feathers, but I worry about them and spoil them) weather the cold.

Moving Hens – and Mav the Alarmist

Chicken-2BMavAbout three weeks ago, I moved six hens into the backyard coop.  You’ve met the hens before…in previous posts… but in a different setting.  Now, they reside with me and I can sit on my back step with my tea and commune with them in the morning.  A dear friend helped me with the move, which required some planning.  First, we had to pick a night we were both available and then find two pet carriers.  A flashlight and headlamp completed the equipment list.

Hens should be moved at night – they are sleepy and so it is less traumatic for them.  We avoided lights, wondering if at any moment we might be questioned by law enforcement about why we were slinking about with flashlights hen-napping.  But, with a few squawks we managed to get all six hens transferred from their roost in the old coop and into the two carriers and loaded in my van.  A short drive to my house and the carriers were moved into position. I had planned on putting the carriers in the run and then opening the doors to let the hens wander out.  But, alas and alack … the door to the run was too narrow!

Therefore, after positioning each carrier at the door, I reached in and plucked each hen out, then placed her on the shelf above the watering/feeding station.  The shelf was the spot of choice because the coop framed out in the shed was not quite complete.  But, with a tarp over the end of the run, it was snug and cozy and the hens slept there for a few nights quite happily.

In the morning, I went out the back door, to find the hens clucking, scratching and pecking in their normal manner.  At least five of them….the sixth, Mavriki the black Australorp, was squawking and pacing about the run, checking the perimeter and otherwise fussing.  She seemed to be saying, “Doesn’t anyone else notice that this place is different?  Doesn’t anyone know we’re not where we were?!”  No one else seemed to care.  By the next morning they had convinced her it was okay, even if it was different.

The hens are now settled in and, with molting nearly complete two of the hens are laying again.  But wait eagerly for the green, blue and pink eggs to be gifted again by Winnie, Aurie and Rosie, the three Ameraucanas.


The Music of Peeps

I have to brag about the new additions to the Urban Acres Farmstead family. 

About 10 days ago I was placed in charge of 4 little fuzzyballs of peeping chicks.  The peeping subsided once they were installed in a straw-bedded crate with water and food and a heat lamp.  Full tummies helped them settle down and take a much-needed nap.

 By the third day, however, they were in need of a deeper crate, and one with a wire top – one was trying to fly to the lip of the crate to make a getaway.  Now, in their second week, they’re ready for another move – to a borrowed indoor coop that will give them some vertical room to test their wings, learn to roost and grow more.

The routine is to change their water, add fresh chick mash, more wheat straw and a half cup of chopped greens.  They seem to prefer parsley, do not care much for brassica greens, and love lettuce as well as bok choy. 

Our chicks are representatives of four different breeds – Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, Araucana and New Hampshire.  I’ll explain a bit about each one.

The Wyandotte coloring is a speckled black and white.  It’s a traditional homestead bird, bred for both meat and egg production.  The silver-laced variety was first standardized in 1883 in the US.   Wyandottes can look heavy due to their feathering.  Eggs are light tan to brown, and they are medium to high egg producers.  A Wyandotte hen can weigh up to 7 pounds.

The Rhode Island Red is a very well-known bird and it was developed for both meat and egg production.  It’s adult color is deep red, and egg color is a light brown.  As a high egg producer, a Rhode Island hen can lay up to 250 eggs a year.   Historically this has been a reliable bird for beginners because it can adapt to extremes of climate.  An adult Rhode Island Red hen can be about 6 pounds.

 The Araucana can grow to 5-6 pounds, and originated in South America (Chile), but the breed was imported to the US in the 1930s. It is a “crested variety” and has ear tufts on either side of its head.  Araucanas are hardy and can handle poor weather conditions easily. They are known as the “Easter Egg” chickens, because their eggs can be tinted blue or green.  Our little Araucana may reach 5-6 pounds when she’s an adult.

Our New Hampshire Red is also a US breed, developed during the early 20thcentury, but became popular in Europe in the mid-twentieth century.  It was primarily developed for egg production.  The eggs are light brown to brown. This chick may top out at about 6 pounds or so.

I’ve found a couple of good references on chickens that are helping to update my knowledge of chicken keeping (since the last time I kept chickens was a good 30 years ago!):

Dr. Joseph Barber (ed.), The Chicken: A Natural History. Lewes, East Sussex, UK: Ivy Press, 2012.

Christine Heinrichs, How to Raise Chickens: Everything You Need to Know. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press, 2013.

Suzie Baldwin, Chickens: The Essential Guide to Choosing and Keeping Happy, Healthy Hens. London, UK: Kyle Books, 2012.

And for chicks:

Jenna Woginrich, Chick Days: Raising Chickens from Hatchlings to Laying Hens. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2010.