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The Chicken Chronicles

It's all your fault.

Today, the boys and I took the #4 all the way from SE Portland to N Mississippi, where we selected and purchased three chicks: Bella (aka Ariel, Everett's fave and a real looker), a Rhode Island Red; Mathilda, an Australorp; and Twitter, a Barred Plymouth Rock. They're now cheeping and pooping happily away under a heat lamp in a tub in Everett's room.

It didn't take long for the boys to fall in love, I'd say, 7.8 seconds. While we purchased our heat lamp, while we waited for the bus on that sunny stretch of Mississippi, while we rode the long way home, Everett couldn't stop talking about how cute they were! And deeming them his. And asking if he could sleep with them, and insisting that he would start taking them on walks, immediately. As for Truman, he nearly fell out of the backpack several time trying to pet them.

I didn't expect to be quite so enamored with them; I'm a bit of a skeptic, and I'm not big on pets. My general theory is that I never want to have to decide whether to take my cat to the vet or buy groceries for the kids. You know? But the chickens, they have me right where they want me. They lay delicious, nutritious and (if you do it all right) organic eggs in a rainbow of pretty colors. They're little composting machines, happily munching up kitchen scraps and turning out nice nutrient-rich poop. They're fairly cheap to keep and very cheap to buy. You never have to walk them. If you build their coop right, you'll never have to put up "lost chicken" signs on the telephone poles. Even when they grow up, they're still pretty cute. And, as I've mentioned, I come from a long line of chicken owners (I almost typed "chicken stock", teehee!).

Bella pretty much sealed the deal for me a few minutes ago. I was "checking" on them, again, and there was a big black fly who'd gotten inside hours earlier. He was attracted by the chicken poop, I think, so he'd made his way to the tub. Bella's eyes were bright and suddenly glurp! The huge fly was in her beak. She peeped proudly and hopped around the tub. Oh, how I love her.

If you, too, decide you want chickens, Pistils Nursery on Mississippi has chicks right now (hurry! or call ahead) for $4.50 each; they're cheaper at Linnton Feed & Seed, I think. Expect to pay around $20 for a heat lamp (Sunlan Lighting, almost next door to Pistils, has 'em but they're only open until 5:00 -- they stayed open extra late for us b/c we had chicks, thank you!), and you can spend $8-20 on feeding supplies. The chick food is really cheap, 50 cents a scoop and one scoop will last you several days. Three hens can be kept in your backyard without a permit, and up to five hens with one (it's only $31, and lasts as long as you live in your home). You'll need enough space to build (or buy) them a coop -- 40-50 square feet should do it, ours will be a lot roomier since we have tons of space to fill! Once they move to the coop (at around 2-3 months old, I think), you'll spend $20-ish a month for food and straw, and need to clean the coop once a week; hens start laying eggs when they're five or six months old and lay one every day or two. Hens are low-maintenance but do need company.

I just had this image of holding cracked corn and hen feed in my apron, running out to the backyard as the sun is setting, calling "chick chick!" and I got shivers. Yay for chickens!

Update: Please add photos of your chickens to the flickr pool! Tag them with 'urbanChicken' and I'll create a mosaic.

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I do hope there is a follow up to this post as well as pictures! Hmm, cleaning the coop once a week...there's no way to romanticize that. I will have to live vicariously through you for now.

Me taking pictures? You must not be serious!

I'll have to take a lot b/c chicks grow up so fast! they're already getting bigger, and I'll be sure and do a fully-annotized photo essay soon :)

boy, they *do* poop a lot.

once a week coop cleaning is pretty ambitious....i do mine once every 4-6 weeks, with a little "freshening" in between (i.e. scrape off some poo, toss the straw and add more).

we've had cats, dogs, fish...you name it- we've had it- but chickens take the cake for being easy, fascinating, and so much fun. plus, they're hysterical when they run...

We had a hen named Bob. We found her when she was a chick when we were camping outside of Spokane. Someone had dumped her at the campsite.

We were in the middle of a road trip so Bob ended up traveling and camping with us for a week before we made it back to Portland. At the time our dog, Diva, was still with us and she quickly adjusted to life with Bob.

While we are camping I would go for walks in the morning and both Diva and Bob would join me.

When we returned home I built Bob a house and a chicken run but we often gave her access to the full back yard. When Diva was alive, she and Bob would hang out together in the back yard. Bob would also hang out in the front yard with us on sunny days. She was a very social and friendly bird. Mila really loved her

At some point a cat started hanging around Bob's coop. I scared it off a few times because I assumed she was looking at Bob as lunch (Bob was a full grown hen by this time).

One day Bob disappeared. I looked all over for her. When I finally found her, she and that cat were laying down together under a bush. I stopped chasing the cat away after that. The two of them would just hang out together in the yard.

I am sorry to say that Bob - as well as our dear dog Diva - has passed on. She was a great chicken. We all miss her.

Have fun with your birds!

That is so SO awesome. We've been talking about getting chickens for awhile (my husband eats a ridiculous number of eggs and we could save a ton of money if we would just buy the damn source). But we needed to finish up some yard projects and then we went and had a baby (silly us) so we set ourselves a goal of getting them by the time our little Bean is about 3 or 4 years old, so she can be a big part of the whole experience (ahem, chores!, ahem).

I am also hoping for pictures of your sweet little chicks and eventually the coop you build and your setup. Thanks so much for posting about it!

Oh and Tony that is a super story about Bob. I love the part about the cat and the dogs too. We have two dogs and I used to worry about them but they don't seem to bother the 3 chickens down the street that roam the neighborhood once in awhile. I think 3 chickens are probably something no one wants to mess with!

I loved your story, Tony! and Melissa, I definitely suggest getting chickens when your baby is older -- my son Everett usually wakes up slowly and watches Nick Jr. in the morning but today, he's been giggling over the chicks for the past hour, TV ignored completely.

I am posting like crazy this AM. Sorry there are just a lot of topics of interest to me...

Bob was super productive, she laid an egg a day. And let me tell you, those eggs ROCKED! There is nothing you will buy in a store that can compare (they were better than any organic, free range, what-have-you).

We got our organic feed from Pistils or feed stores but her diet was supplemented with bugs and grass in the yard during her free range times (no pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides in our yard) and appropriate table scraps.

I would put lawn clippings in her run as well. The variety of diet makes a big difference in the quality of the eggs.

We hope to raise birds again some time (although Bob was one of a kind in our hearts). Definitely looking forward to some delicious eggs.

we LOVE our chickens!!! we have 4, and we're getting tons of eggs each week. they are pretty low maintenance, and really are great pets. our cats like to chill with them, too.

ours have been *free range* through the winter and we are finishing up their run now (they will TEAR UP your yard looking for bugs!). we built a chicken tractor (you can google and find this, or i can send you pictures of what we modeled ours after) with recycled materials from the rebuilding center, and i think it cost maybe $100ish. we get our feed and cracked corn from pistils (i work down the street), and i will feed them scraps occasionally as well.

IF anyone wants a heat lamp and a temporary chick home, please email me. i'll happily pass our stuff on.

If you don't already have a coop for when they are older (or your heart set on building one yourself), I know of one some friends (near SE belmont) are looking to unload. They had (and loved) chickens, but found that living too close to restaurants meant they were also feeding rats. They made a good sized coop (they had five feathered girls) that is in good shape. Let me know if you are interested and I will pass on their contact info.

oh, I'm just reading the chicken books now and we are very amped and ready to go. Although afraid we might miss the "season" as we are closing on a house and pretty busy with the move, etc. The coop building kind of intimidates me. So excited to see your journey!

I'm reading this with curiousity, since we too are contemplating the leap into chickenhood.

And by chance, it being the week of Passover and Easter, I'm looking at books for kids about chickens on my blog next week--check it out at www.thelittlebookroom.typepad.com if you'd like to get your kids thinking about chickens, too.

Don't mean to be "Debbie Downer" but what about the noise - are the Hens noisey when they get older - or is that only Roosters? Also what about illness - do you take them to a vet? I was interested in getting Hens when my son is older but I was always worried about the noise & sickness factors...
Thanks!

thanks so much for your link, Lisa, what a cool blog! and Liz: it depends on your definition of "noise." Hens do make a nearly-constant low clucking noise (as chicks, it's more 'peep peep peep'), but most chicken owners find it more pleasant and comfortable than "noisy."

As for illness, you can prevent most problems simply by keeping the cage clean and making sure they have appropriate food to eat. But if they do get sick, you can take them to the vet or just leave it in God's hands...

Oh, Sarah, your chick pickup sounds like so much fun! Makes me wish I'd gone the local route with mine, although for some reason I thought it would be harder to find the breeds I wanted (but you've got two out of the three I picked). Anyway, I'm glad you guys are having so much fun with the chickies.

I got our brooder supplies including feeder, waterer, heat lamp & 25 lb bag of chick feed (which the guy said they could eat until it's gone) at Foster Farm & Feed on Foster Rd just east of the 205 (next door to the strip club). They also have chicks, not sure what kinds.

and to add about the noise...
i'm not sure about my neighbors' perception of the noise factor, but i can hear my girls in the morning from inside the house. they make quite a fuss when they're up& about & laying in the morning. i think about everyday labor and give them the benefit of the doubt on the noise issue.

as soon as we go out, feed them, and let them out of the coop, they're pretty quiet. disgruntled neighbors are often won over by fresh eggs, however.

illness: we're fortunate enough to live on the same block as our vet, so.... but keep in mind that it's very important to have the kiddos wash their hands after every handling.

and as for Easter pets...please consider the responsibility of owning chicken(s) as you would any other pets - they require constant attention, upkeep, and money for feed, proper housing, and vets. it's really not something to be entered into lightly.

that said, they're really wonderful to keep. our "backyard farm" is a lovely place, reminiscent of growing up in rural Montana....

Well I leave town for a week, and look at all the chicken craziness that has ensued! Yeah...I love this town. My lovely ladies are Betsy, Pepper, and Camilla, and they do not make a mess or smell thank you very much. Camilla is getting broody, so it's likely that she'll be the one to hatch out this spring. I'm so excited I could spit.
I was re-introduced to Keep Chickens! by Sarah today. (I called it Keeping Chickens earlier, but I was wrong.) I hadn't picked it up since before the ladies moved in. It's truly awesome, with everything you'll need to know to keep chickens, plus lots of great resources.
The noise- Yes the hens are loud. But it's a really good loud. If anyone ever complained, I would invite them over early in the morning to have a cup of coffee and watch the ladies bustle around the coop and chat with eachother. Then they would want chickens too!


Can the chicken-raisers give us some advice about rat prevention? I saw a mention of rats up above & that's the kind of thing that gives me pause. We had rats in our residential neighborhood (! not near any restaurants -- are we just nasty people ?!) a few years ago - several of the neighbors, including us, had rat holes appear in our yards. (I hate to think it was because our compost pile wasn't secure, but that's a possibility; we fixed that situation in case that was what was attracting them)

Anyhow, what do you do to prevent rats from seizing the day? I also wonder if chickens attract other city vermin like raccoons. There's a mama raccoon in our neighb; big & nasty. The neighborhood dogs are afraid of her. Animal Control has been useless. Are these things to take into consideration when deciding whether to raise some feathered friends?

PS - I should add we knew we had rats not just because of the holes but because we had a rat sighting... EW

both rats and raccoons are threats to chickens, with raccoons being far worse. the coop must be raccoon secure - which means going beyond chicken wire, which raccoons can pull apart, to hardier reinforcement.

as for prevention, both are attracted to any food left outside, including pet food and compost. raccoons also like pools of water (they have little mercy on inflatable kiddie pools). our dog is our "prevention" and so far, knock wood, it's been sufficient. i keep hounding myself, however, to reinforce the chicken wire on the coop because we're bound to run into these problems sooner or later...

good luck!

We have two Banty hens that are 11+years old. We bought two chicks last year, but they both turned out to be roosters so they went to new homes. We're going to try again this year. I would really like to have another hen or two to keep whichever old girl outlives the other company. I love reading about other people's chicken adventures!

There was an article in the paper just recently about the dangers of Ecoli and chicks and the usual easter warning about giving chicks as pets.

How do you chicken owners with little ones deal with it? The article cautioned against kids under 5 (or was it 3?) years old handling the chicks and urging going beyond just hand scrubbing and having the clothes go right to the laundry too. Seemed a little extreme to me but I'd love to hear owners responses.

Oh and about noise - we have two or three chicken owners on our street and I almost never hear them (once the roosters were gone of course). They are beautiful birds and I love when the wander into my yard and eat bugs!

As for predators - one of our neighbors suffered two separate chicken fatalities due to raccoons so ditto on a secure coop.

We have two dogs (one is 110 lb mastiff shepherd mix) and a cat and all of them give wandering chickens a wide berth! :-)

Well, we have a typical small yard in Portland and we do have a couple veggie gardens. How feasible is it to keep the chickens out of our garden space? We also have kids who use the yard to play in. Will the yard become dirt after life with chickens? Thanks!

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