Wait! Is that crowing in the coop?

My daddy left home when I was three
And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue.”
–A Boy Named Sue, sung by Johnny Cash (Written by Shel Silverstein)

buttercups4It happens innocently enough.  You get your six (eight, ten) chicks from the hatchery, a suitable mix of breeds to satisfy your desire for variety and a flash of color in the backyard.  You name them, names of pets, relatives or whatever strikes you.

You anticipate these adorable little chicks growing into egg-producing hens and the speed at which they grow is just amazing.  They’re growing more feathers every day, their little combs beginning to develop, their legs lengthening.  It’s all very fun and exciting.  Fun until the day when little Sue emits the strangest sound.  It sounds like a strangled screech. Could it be…oh no, surely not. But yes, its a crow!

Oh dear, little Sue is really little Stan.

I’ve gotten a call more than once from a rattled owner of some brand-new chicks.  “What do I do now?  I can’t keep a rooster! “

It’s not an uncommon occurrence for a male to slip through the folks at the hatcheries who determine the sex of a chick within hours of its being born. The laws of nature being what they are, the breakdown of male to female chicken is about 50-50. Unfortunately, the market for males is not very big, as most backyard poultry owners only want females.  And even those that do have roosters usually only keep one or two.

But what are you to do, especially if you live in a city that does not allow roosters? (And for good reason:  they are quite noisy and don’t crow just at daybreak.  Trust me on this one…they can crow just about any time of the day or night.)

There are a number of options you can consider if you really can’t/don’t want to keep a male bird. Some of the options may not be ones you like considering, but these choices often come with raising chickens–even if all of yours have names.

1.  Consider an ad in the local paper or on Craigslist.  I’ve seen several “Free rooster to good home” ads in past weeks.  You may think no one will be interested, but you might be pleasantly surprised. There are people out there who might need a rooster of the same breed that you have or they may simply like having a rooster crowing about the property.  However they may want to gather a collection of roosters that will eventually become Sunday dinner.  This is a fate that many male chickens meet, and it’s wise to keep this open as an option.

2. Ask your poultry friends if they would like an extra rooster.  The same reasons for taking a rooster that I listed above might apply to poultry people who live on a bit more land.  I recently gave about 10 young males to a family in the country who were interested in letting the males free range until they reached an age that would be considered desirable to become food for the table.  It was a great trade…I got rid of lots of my males and they left with a lot of males and a few females that I threw in, in gratitude, for egg layers.

3.  Check out the Wanted or Farm section of the classified ads in your paper.  I actually saw an ad in which a person was looking for a “male Black Australorp”.  Perhaps he wanted to start a flock and needed a male to get things started.  You just never know. Little Stan’s breed might be just what the neighboring farmer wanted.

4.  In some communities, there are groups that dedicate themselves to taking in wild animals and birds,, and they often need food for their young owls and hawks.  I spoke with the director of our local group and she assured me the birds are euthanized humanely before being offered to the young raptors.  While I found it ironic that I spend most of my time trying to keep hawks and owls away from my chickens, it was nice that the extra males could go to good use.

5. Think outside the box.  I read a story about an artist who keeps nothing but roosters, and thinks they are so beautiful that she paints them and sells her work all over.  Someone like this might be a perfect candidate to take your exotic-breed chick that was supposed to be a female.

It’s dismaying to the new backyard chicken owner to find they have a male in the chicken harem, but you are not alone.  And, depending on what your tolerance is for little Stan’s final home, it is possible to move him to new digs rather quickly.

Hmm, and now that you have that empty place in the coop, well, there ARE a lot of interesting breeds out there to look into.  Just as long as she IS a she!

 

Report from my winter of deep litter

IMG_0362It was a long winter.  A LONG winter.  And it was the first winter my chickens lived in their new house built for me by my husband.  The large building with southern-facing windows was amazing for its heat-gathering. There were many days that I didn’t even open the door, choosing to let the chickens (and three ducks who got to come in in sub-zero weather) stay inside all day with feeding and watering stations.

I had read about how old-timers used the deep-litter method for coops, just turning over the dirty litter with a pitchfork to keep it dry and adding new shavings in on a regular basis. So, I decided to try it.

In late November, I cleaned the entire house out and added new shavings, about six inches thick.  And every couple of days I went in and turned over the wet droppings to dry out and added new shavings, mostly under the roost areas.  Things seemed to go very well until the end of January, when the relentless cold just seemed to go on and on.  And, when the litter is frozen, it just doesn’t smell that bad or seem that wet. I will confess, I didn’t keep up with the turning.

And that is the kiss of death for the deep litter method.  I read that if you start smelling ammonia, you have failed and you have to start all over again.  However, as the cold waves kept coming and coming, I just added more shavings and tried to patch things up.

And then, one sunny day in late April (yes, its taken me this long to write about it), I cleaned out the whole darned coop. The ammonia smell was pretty strong the more I took off the top. It took me about 15 wheel-barrel trips to my litter pile and about two days over the weekend.

But, finally, the place was cleaned and I put out about four bags of fresh shavings again.  It smells much in better in there, and I’ve been far more diligent about keeping the litter turned over to stay dry.

I won’t have the luxury of having frozen litter over the summer, and it’s been absolutely necessary to turn it every couple of days.  But even doing this is easier than cleaning out the entire large house every week or two–which is what I used to do when the birds where in smaller coops.

So I”ll report back in the fall, and hopefully this deep litter method will prove far more successful and far less work than the old way.IMG_0363

Have you got a license for that thing?

DSCF2303As far as animal-keeping goes, chickens really aren’t high maintenance.  You have an animal that is no noisier or messy than a dog or cat, fresh eggs and–best of all–countless hours of entertainment! I love watching the chickens pecking around the backyard so intently, moving around the plants looking for bugs and other things to eat.  But not every place is welcoming to chickens.

So how can you find out if chickens are legal in your city? It’s a true understatement to say that laws regarding keeping poultry in the city and in the suburbs vary. Just do quick Google search for “municipal codes poultry (name of city)” and you’ll find there are different laws for nearly every city in the US!  Don’t assume that just because one city in your state allows chickens, that another city will.

Some cities let you have one rooster; most don’t let you have any roosters at all. Some have specific regulations about the chicken coop and its placement; others are more vague in describing the space for birds. There are websites that have many poultry municipal codes listed in one place, which is a good place to start. But you really need to get the information from your own city, preferably from a government source.  If you can’t find what you are looking for online, call!

If by some chance you live in a city where chickens are not legal, there are many ahead of you who have led the charge and been successful in getting the city laws changed.

One really good resource is urbanchickens.org, a site that has a lot of useful information for the very new and wanna-be poultry keepers.  On their page concerning chicken laws, they give very specific advice for those who want to change the chicken laws.

The issue of whether to allow chickens inside city limits is on the table at many places around the US, from Idaho to Indiana.  So, chances are someone in your city has had the same idea.  You can find like-minded folks in many ways.  Try searching for a Facebook group.  Call your local county extension agent and ask if there are any poultry groups in the area.  If not, ask for the names of a few people who keep chickens–once you find one person, you’ll find the chicken people tend to know each other, so your network can grow very quickly.

But remember,  you’re probably not alone. Most likely there are others like you, maybe even a chicken lover in government.

Many people with children have even joined a local 4-H poultry club and found city, suburban and country folk alike who love their birds. A 4-H club is also a great way to get your children involved in chicken keeping and to get some help if you have chicken questions.

But here is my best advice: Obey the law or change the law. Just avoid going rogue, as it could end badly and you might hurt the chances of getting chickens legalized in your city.

No matter whether you agree with the law or not, its best to follow the current laws and change what you don’t like.  I have friends who lived in town before chickens were allowed legally, and the stress of unfriendly neighbors forced them to choose between their in-town home and a country home with the chickens.  They chose country and ended up with a great place. But not everyone is willing to go to these lengths.

Going rogue is pretty stressful if you are worried that someone might turn you in at any time if your beautiful little coop is discovered sitting illegally in the city limits.

eggs

However, even if it is legal to have chickens in your city, it never hurts to take a dozen eggs to your neighbors from time to time just to make them glad you’ve taken on chickens.

I’m dreaming of a white chicken….

Orp croppedAlong with seed catalogs, now is the time of year many people start receiving catalogs from hatcheries around the country. And, just like some thumb through the catalogs filled with colorful, glossy pictures of flowers and vegetables, its tempting to  imagine your backyard filled with feathers that come in all kinds of colors and types.

Chickens have become fairly common in many urban backyards, and most people handle them successfully, though sometimes after much trial and error. Many people who want to get chickens to give their children a “farm experience.”  Whether or not this is a good idea depends on your children. I’ve known children as young as 8 or 9 who were quite responsible in taking care of their chickens for a 4-H project, while I’ve also known adults that I wouldn’t leave with my chickens for one day.

The basics: Chicken lairs and laws

As far as animal-keeping goes, chickens really aren’t especially high maintenance.  You have an animal that is no noisier or messy than a dog or cat, fresh eggs and–best of all–countless hours of entertainment! I love watching the chickens pecking around the backyard so intently, moving around the plants looking for bugs and other things to eat. Its often a source of entertainment for our family, to see the chickens exploring the woods and yard area around our house, and I’ve been known to bring a lawn chair outside on a nice summer evening before the sun goes down and watch the birds go about their business.

So how can you find out if chickens are legal in your city? It’s a true understatement to say that laws regarding keeping poultry in the city and in the suburbs vary. Do quick Google search for “municipal codes poultry (name of city)” and you’ll find there are different laws for nearly every city in the US!  Don’t assume that just because one city in your state allows chickens, that another city will.

Some cities let you have one rooster; most don’t let you have any roosters at all. Some have specific regulations about the chicken coop and its placement; others are more vague in describing the space for birds. There are websites that have many poultry municipal codes listed in one place, which is a good place to start. But you really need to get the information from your own city, preferably from a government source.  If you can’t find what you are looking for online, call!

If by some chance you live in a city where chickens are not legal, there are many ahead of you who have led the charge and been successful in getting the city laws changed.

One really good resource is urbanchickens.org, a site that has a lot of useful information for the very new and wanna-be poultry keepers.  On their page concerning chicken laws, they give very specific advice for those who want to change the chicken laws.

Age isn’t everything

This old girl is 12 years old and has hatched out chicks for me for eight or nine of those years.  She’s a production Buff Orpington that we got from Murray McMurray years ago for my son to show in the county 4-H show.  She isn’t show quality, but she IS quality nonetheless.

How old can chickens live to be?  Well, she’s testing that question for me.  I have to say, when she got broody this year I was a little leery of letting her sit on some eggs.  Yes, its only 21 days, but a kind of tough 21 days when you don’t move most of it, don’t eat or drink much and its generally hot.

But I let her hatch out five Buttercup eggs and, as usual, she is a wonderful mother.  She’s slowed down a lot lately, and seems to fall asleep in the oddest places.  But hey, when you’re the poultry equivalent of 90 years old, you’re allowed to fall asleep where ever you want!

Orp cropped

The new coop is done!!

New coopIt took about nine months…long enough to birth a child, but I got instead a wonderful new chicken coop.  Small barn, really.

Before the chickens moved in, some friends came to see it and thought it would make a great guest house.  Fat chance!  I have needed the extra space for some time.

My husband and son did  a great job!  They used a lot of material that we had stored in our garage.  The windows were a find…special-order windows from Lowes that were returned.  About 90 percent off the original price!

new coop front steps

I’ll put it to the test this winter…I hatched out about 75 chicks in August…insane, I know.  So we’ll see if the house can handle my 30 adult birds plus a large number of adolescent Buttercups.  But, in the hot days of early August, I won’t worry about that.