Hatching baby chicks

One of our dear hens recently went broody. Beezus, a gold-laced cochin, starting sitting on eggs and did NOT want to leave the coop. I’d pick her up to gather eggs and place her outside the coop where she’d run around for a few minutes and maybe get a bite to eat before returning to her empty nest. Eggs or not – it didn’t seem to matter to her. She just wanted to sit.

I mentioned her broodiness to my farmer friend Michelle who suggested I put her on some fertile eggs and hatch chicks. Living in the city, we aren’t allowed to have roosters so we have no fertile eggs, but Michelle on the other hand does and was happy to trade me eight of our unfertilized eggs for eight of her possibly fertilized eggs.

I made Beezus a nice little nesting box in our shed to keep the other chickens and any other animals from bothering her and she went right to work sitting on “her” new eggs.

The nest of eggs

Mama Beezus sits on "her" eggs

The incubation period for chickens is about 21 days.

Around day 7 we candled our eggs (held a bright light to them) to try to see if chicks were growing in them. My husband has some powerful flashlights and that made the viewing all the better. We only candled 4 or 5 of them, but we saw blood vessels and movement in three of them. It was pretty amazing! It was starting to look like we were really going to have babies!

After a few more weeks of waiting, on June 23, I noticed the eggs were pipping and we could hear the peeping of the chicks from inside the eggs. They were starting to hatch!

Instagram video of the eggs with little holes

The next morning, June 24, we had a few chicks! The rest hatched throughout the day. Out of eight eggs, we ended up with six chicks — three gold and three brown!
Fresh baby chicks

The kids welcomed them with love.

Ava and Julian with the chicks

The chicks are now 17 days old and still extremely adorable. Mama Beezus has been doing a great job of teaching them the ways of the world. She taught them how to drink and eat, and she keeps them warm at night. She’s a great mom.

Here are a few videos:

If you have the opportunity to hatch chicks in this way with a broody hen, I highly recommend it. Mama hen takes care of just about everything. You get to just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. And what a cute show it is.

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Our chickens and that time they nearly died in a fire

One of our pullets in the spring 2012

It’s been nearly a year since I shared that we’d finally gotten our backyard chickens. When I last wrote, they were itty bitty chicks living in a cardboard box in our basement while they grew bigger and my husband Jody built their permanent home. Now they are a year old, doing well and living in their palatial coop, built by Jody and painted by yours truly, but their life wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns (or mountain scenes and prayer flags as the case may be).

The coop One of the girls with my mountain mural

Nest boxes with sunflower

One day last March — only weeks after getting our chicks —  I arrived home to find the smoke alarms going off and the house filled with smoke! HOLY CRAP! I think I was in shock as I quickly unlocked the front door, let our confused dog Piper out of her kennel and looked around trying to figure out the source of the smoke. I only had my son with me at the time and I instructed him to take the dog outside. Unable to figure out where the smoke was coming from, I joined Julian outside and called 911. While I was talking to the dispatcher it dawned on me — maybe it was the brooder heat lamp and the cardboard box that the chickens were living in in the basement! OH NO!! NOT MY CHICKS!!!

Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, I took a deep breath, ran downstairs, grabbed the frantic chicks and shoved them into the ferret carrier, unplugged the heat lamp that started the fire and ran up and out of the house. The box had indeed caught on fire and appeared to be smoldering. If there had been flames, I’m sure I would’ve turned around and ran back upstairs, but it didn’t look too menacing, just smokey. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I coughed for a while lived and my chicks were safe and sound with me, Julian and Piper in the front yard as we waited for the fire department to arrive.

It turns out I had neglected to turn around the protective cover on the heat lamp so it keeps it AWAY from things and prevents fires. A helpful firefighter showed me how to do it. I thanked him, all the while thinking I may die of embarrassment. There I was, one of the people who spoke out in favor of backyard chickens to our city council, saying they wouldn’t cause any trouble or use any additional city resources and I was the one who called 911 after having a fire in my basement because of my ineptitude! Oy. Of course I didn’t tell the firefighters that. I just smiled and nodded and apologized profusely. (Thank you for your quick response and help, fire department! :)

Thankfully there was no damage to our house, just some water to clean up and soot on the wall and carpeting. The chicks’ cardboard box, on the other hand, had seen better days and I had to find them new living quarters. The girls desecrated lived in our bathtub for several days until we borrowed a friend’s dog kennel to house them in while work on the backyard coop was started in a hurry completed.

Lucky for us, the smoke and fire scare didn’t seem to cause permanent trauma (three cheers for resilient chickens!) and the girls started laying eggs in the summer just like happy little hens should. For a while we got the occasional double yolker (two yolks in one egg) as the girls sorted out the whole laying business, but these days they tend to be single yolks. Generally we have plenty of eggs — even enough to give some to my parents — but the girls have slowed down their laying over the winter as hens tend to do and we’ve had to supplement our supply at Vitamin Cottage.

Fresh eggs

Now spring is just around the corner and we’re hoping to add a few more chicks to the mix. Ava may be taking some to the county fair this summer as part of 4H, where she’ll have the option of selling them when it ends so our flock won’t get too big. This time around, however, I will be putting the protective cover ON the heat lamp (or maybe even buying an EcoGlow Brooder — how cool is that?) and using a large plastic bin for a brooder.

The next time I attempt to smoke a chicken, it will be in a smoker, not in my house. :)

Our Ancona this winter 2013

Here’s your Public Service Announcement for the day:
Brooder lamps get very, VERY hot and can cause fires even when properly installed. Please be careful if you use one in your house or chicken coop or perhaps check out this alternative instead — the EcoGlow Brooder.

Learn more about raising backyard hens:

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We finally got our backyard chickens!

OK, so technically they are basement chicks, at least for now. But yes, it’s true — we’ve got chickens!

After much organizing, letter writing, signature gathering and city council meeting attending, backyard hens were finally given the go-ahead in my city. I could have actually gotten chickens quite a while ago (when the limited number of permits was opened up city-wide), but like all good things, planning and patience were involved. I can’t even say now that we have it all planned out, but we’re working on it. And with chicks in the basement that are growing bigger by the day, we have to have it all sorted by the time they need to spread their wings!

Oh, and hi by the way. Yes, it’s really me coming out of blog hiding (is that what it is I’m doing?) to share this fun news with you all. :) Happy Spring!

We chose a variety of chicks. I based my decision on some breeds based on what I’d read about their temperament, etc., and some choices happened because the kids each wanted to choose one for themselves and we were at the mercy of what the local feed store had in stock. Currently residing in our basement are a barred rock and gold-laced cochin (my choices), a production red (Ava’s choice), a gold sex link (Julian’s choice), and a black and white ancona (one that I thought looked cute). Our chicks are 3 to 4 weeks old and have recently started having some supervised playtime in the backyard. They LOVE it! Pecking around in the grass and dirt is apparently a fabulous thing when you are a chicken. I have to admit that they are pretty fun to watch too.

The two chicks pictured with our newish dog Piper (we got her in November 2011) are the same chicks Ava and Julian were holding in the first picture taken just two weeks prior. These little ones grow fast!

My husband has been scouring the ‘net looking for the perfect coop design for our feathered friends and so far we are both liking this free insulated coop design. The coops looks to be some pretty snazzy digs, including a solar-powered door and a deicer for the water in the winter.

I’ll be sure to update once our chickens have a permanent home in our yard and when that first egg comes you’ll probably hear me shouting from the rooftops! :) Bawk, bawk.

Learn more about raising backyard hens:

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Now Accepting: Chickens, Goats, Kids, Farmers, Bloggers

Many of you know that my husband and I have been working hard at getting our house ready to sale for the past few months (which is why my posts here have been so few and far between). In addition to trying to sell our house, we’ve also been scouring the real estate sites looking for a good deal on a house with a fair bit of land. We haven’t had any luck so far, but what we did stumble upon is an amazing deal on 50 acres in southern Wyoming! We drove out to see the land this weekend and fell in love.

Jody and I started talking about it and while we definitely don’t need that much land for ourselves, we’ve always joked, but also dreamed about living in a commune. So we’re going for it! We talked to the owners of the land and they are cool with waiting until our house sells as they aren’t in a huge hurry to sell. So as soon as our house sells, we’re buying the land and starting our dream! :)

That’s where you come in. We figure that between the land that will be committed to gardening/farming, an orchard, livestock, a huge communal kitchen and dining hall, a big playground, land for hiking, and maybe even a pool and small rec center, we’ll still have room for about 30 families to join us. Jody is writing up an application form which I will post in a few weeks for interested families to complete. Anybody interested? :) Leave a comment if you think you might be interested in learning more or if you have ideas on how to make this commune an awesome place to live.

Obviously we have a lot of details to work out, but we’re both very excited about this opportunity for us and for the many families who will eventually be joining us. But most of all we’re excited to say April Fool’s! :) Too bad it’s not for real. I was really getting excited about it. ;)

Photo credit: Tourism ROI

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Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).

Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

Related posts:

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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The backyard chicken saga continues locally

As many of you have read, I’ve written about my desire to get backyard chickens on more than a few occasions, like:

There have been quite a few developments since last I wrote on the subject in January and since several of you were interested in following my progress as I and a handful of others pushed for the legalization of backyard hens in our city, I thought an update was in order.

In February 2009, the Longmont city council finally passed an ordinance to allow backyard hens, but only for 50 people who had to register with the city, comply with the set guidelines, pay $30 and obtain a chicken permit. And this would only be for a trial basis. The ordinance would be revisited at the end of 2010 at which time the council would reassess the situation, possibly either allowing more permits to be issued or opening it up citywide, or if it wasn’t working out, shutting down the whole thing all together.

The restriction to 50 permits was upsetting to a lot of us. It seemed like a totally arbitrary number – enough to shut us up, but not enough for a real trial of any kind being that it involved only a tiny fraction of the city’s population. After all of the work we put into it, I was glad they approved something as it was better than nothing.

I had planned on getting one of those 50 permits, but procrastinated a bit because Jody and I weren’t sure if we were going to try to sell our house in the near future and if we were going to, we didn’t really want to have chickens in the backyard during the process (and I didn’t want to snatch up a permit if we weren’t really going to use it). So we hemmed and hawed for over a week and finally decided that we are going to stay put here for a few more years (and make this place more appealing to us and hopefully the next owner too), so I emailed the city planner to make sure permits were still available and he told me they had sold out earlier that week – less than two weeks from when the ordinance went into effect! Ugh.

I later found out that several other people who had been instrumental in getting the ordinance passed in the first place did not get a permit either. :(

The city planner decided to start a waiting list in case anyone who obtained a permit changed their mind and returned it, the city would then reissue it to someone on the waiting list. I am #4 of 22 on the waiting list.

I decided that with all that I’ve had going on lately (health tests, panic/anxiety, putting one of our dogs to sleep, etc.), getting chickens at this time was the least of my worries, and I was OK with waiting another year and a half (provided council approved more permits at that time) before pursuing it. Nonetheless, in the spirit of educating ourselves, Jody, the kids and I attended a chicken ownership class in Lyons in April that was quite informative though we still did not plan on getting chickens any time soon. But then…

One of the women who was very involved in getting the chicken ordinance passed was unable to get a permit due to circumstances beyond her control, and because she already had chickens (now known to be illegally), was at risk of having to get rid of them. She appealed to city council to see if they would consider allowing more permits. While they didn’t want to open up permits to the general public, several council members felt it would be OK to allow residents who already had chickens before the ordinance went into effect and were unable to obtain a permit to get a permit and allow them to be within the law. It was also apparently suggested that the 22 people on the waiting list be allowed to get a permit at this time too!

There has been one vote by city council so far to increase the permit number and they voted in favor of it 5-2. There will be a second vote on June 9, then I will know for sure whether or not I can apply for a chicken permit. Whether or not we decide to get chickens this summer or wait until next spring, I am going to pay my $30 and get my permit – just in case. Especially after going to visit a friend’s chickens tonight with the kiddos, I really want some feathered friends of my own. Brawwwk, brawwwk. :)