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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How to dye Easter eggs naturally – a tutorial

So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

To get started you will need:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below – As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I used last year along with comments on the colors that resulted.


  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue


  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink


  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color


  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow


  • A mix of spinach leaves, canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color – I think it would work without the spinach leaves, but I happened to have some that were wilting so I threw them in.


  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue


  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color


  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Last year I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from Organic.org. The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On Organic.org, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It was like a fun science experiment that the whole family could get involved in. Happy egg coloring! :)

The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

If you dye your eggs naturally and blog about it, please leave me your link and I’ll add it to the list. :)

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Why buy the cow? Here’s why!

I’ve decided I’m over getting chickens for my backyard. Sure, eggs would be nice and chickens would be fun, but eggs aren’t THAT expensive to buy at the store or even from the local farm down the street.

What’s really been bothering me lately however is the price of organic milk and cheese. I love that we get our milk delivered right to our door, but it’s costly and it’s not raw, and really I’d like to have raw milk. Also the cheese I buy at Vitamin Cottage or through our local co-op is not exactly cheap either.

So I’ve been doing some research the past few weeks and, while this totally wouldn’t be legal in my city, I’m going to give it a shot and buy a Shetland Cow! It’s like a Shetland Pony, but it’s a cow. The breed is mostly brown with white spots and has a little mop of hair up top. They only grow up to three feet tall and weigh about 200 lbs when full-grown. They also only produce about a quarter as much milk as a full-sized cow, but I figure for our family of four, that will still be plenty. Since they look rather like a large breed of dog, I am pretty sure our neighbors won’t even notice, so I’m not too worried about being turned in to animal control. Oh, and they are great with kids. :)

We will get our Shetland Cow, which Ava has already named “Pony” (because the first time she saw one she didn’t believe us that it was a cow), this weekend. We’re picking it up from a farm about 25 miles from here. Pony is only 3 months old, so still is quite small at this point and can easily fit in the back of our Forester for the drive home. I can’t wait! :)

The best part about owning a Shetland Cow is tricking all of your friends. ;) April Fool’s! :) Did you really think I would buy a cow and give up on chickens that easily? Here’s the really funny part. I honestly thought the idea of a Shetland cow was totally a joke, but apparently (now that I really am looking into it), miniature cows do exist and even Shetland cattle! Apparently, the joke is on ME! Anyway, I’m not getting a mini cow (of any type), but I am long overdue for writing a post to update you all on the chicken happenings in town. It’s finally legal (for 50 permit holders). More on that later. Hope you all have a fun April Fool’s Day! :)

The fabulous organic food co-op

About five months ago, after receiving interest and encouragement from others, a friend of mine decided to pursue starting up a small organic food co-op (or food cooperative). Because she owns a business, she fulfilled whatever qualifications are necessary for ordering food at wholesale prices. We just have a minimum dollar amount for each order (which is not hard to fulfill at all).

There are about 10 of us in the co-op and while it would be cool to open it up to others, it’s confusing enough just trying to figure out who’s splitting what with who with only 10 people involved. ;) Of course because we are ordering in bulk and generally nobody wants 50 lbs of onions or oranges themselves, we have to decide who wants how much of each item. It’s not really that bad, but it can get a little hairy at times and is time consuming for the friend of mine who heads this up.

In December, we placed our first order and have been periodically placing orders about once every two to three weeks. It’s an awesome way for us to get great quality organic food at good prices and I’m so thankful to my friend for coordinating this and receiving shipment of all of the food at her house for us. Oh, another perk is that we are able to choose to buy our food from local growers too (when available) and buying in bulk reduces packaging.

We usually each chip in $5 and my friend uses it to buy extra produce for the local food bank. This week we forgot and instead all brought some nonperishable foods and/or donated some of the food we ordered. It makes me feel good to be able to do this, especially now that more and more people are losing their jobs and having to get help to make ends meet or feed themselves/their families.

This week for my family I ordered 2 dozen eggs (which will last a couple weeks), 10 lbs. of onions (that should last quite a while), 8 lbs. of rolled oats (which will come in handy with all of the PB granola squares I’ve been making lately), 18 navel oranges, 2 lbs. of baby bok choy (which I’ve never made before), 4 lbs. of cucumbers, and 2 bunches of broccoli – everything was organic – for $35.

Box of co-op produce My big helper with the onions

I was so happy to get home with all of my food tonight because after the great cleaning out of the fridge before the Food Waste Reduction Challenge and in anticipation of my co-op order this week, my fridge had been looking pretty bare. Plus we ate our last orange (Julian’s current favorite fruit) yesterday so it was good to replenish our stock.

Anyway, I mention all of this because an organic food co-op might be a viable option for some of you and your friends. All it takes is a few phone calls. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’ll see if I can get answers for you.