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I’m Gonna Eat You Little Chicky!

My kids and I regularly filk songs to song while we work.   It’s not a conscious thing,  just a wierd idiosyncratic family habit. My chicken feeding song comes from the BBC show Red Dwarf.  The reason this surfaced in my consciousness probably revolves around the division of livestock and pets for me. Chickens are not pets.

The whole back yard chicken movement has puzzled me many times.   I grow vegetables because I like quality food.   I grow chickens because. …I like quality food.   Now is that the only payback I get from chickens?  Heck no.

Last year a family of raccoons came up from the sewers while the river was high.   Over the course of a month,  they devastated my neighbor and my flocks.   It was heartbreaking,  frustrating,  and maddening.   After careful discussion with my husband I chose to not have chickens again until this spring.   I learned a great deal about why I value them during those months.   First,  the weeds!   Good Lord I thought the yard had a lot of work but I soon discovered that the chickens really carried their share of it.   The weeds went crazy.   All their foraging took hours and hours a week of my chore time.  I knew they helped but that is an understatement.   I can’t keep up without them.   Second,  I’ve eaten some horrible omlets.  Thankfully my neighbors restocked their flock right away and by fall I was getting some decent eggs again.   The free range chicken eggs at the store are that in name only.   No good.   Bland.   Ugh.  Lastly,  it was lonely.   When I go out in the morning they clatter around and beg for scratch and scraps.   My kitchen scraps no longer go to waste and the flock of chickens at my feet make me feel relaxed and centered.   I love keeping chickens.

So much so,  I texted my brother while waiting for them to be ready for the coop with “I rediculously love keeping chickens”.

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This morning while letting them out I received a text back,  ” I ridiculously love keeping cows” with a picture of a brand new wet baby cow lying in a pasture.   Beautiful big round eyes starting into the camera from a creature just hours old.  Looking into that babies eyes, I know, however, that if it’s a boy he’s future steaks and hamburgers.  Is that sad?  Not if you ask my sister in law.  They only eat meat they raise so steaks and hamburger are an uncommon commodity.  In the city, we run to the store and pick up a tidy plastic covered package and take for granted the big eyed little calf that went into it.  Maybe we should all know our food and be given the opportunity to cherish it more.

Why aren’t they pets?   Well they aren’t bred to emotionally give back.   They have a function that is super important and that isn’t it.   Humanity developed domestic cows and chickens to meet a need.   Nutrition,  commerce, and sustainability are their function.   Humanity domesticated dogs for companionship.   Cats too, although maybe cats domesticated us.   My dog shares his day,  reads my moods, helps me or with protection and chores, and injects himself in my personal space when he thinks I need emotional support.   My chickens think maybe my toes are grubs.  They don’t weed because I like it.   They weed because they are eating machines.   They eat bugs because. .. hungry.   They cluster around me because I have food.  Racoons, cats, hawks,  and possums come to my yard because they are food.   Just like loosing fruit from my trees to birds,  I’m going to lose some chickens to predators.  I’m part of an ecosystem.  A style of ecosystem that has been around thousands of years as a matter of fact.  I would love if predators didn’t come in and think chicken tasted good.  It breaks my heart to loose any of them, but it is what it is and it’s natural.

I am often asked what the biggest thing a budding chicken keeper needs to know.  I always answer that chickens taste good to everything.  Even though they often seem like miniature dinosaurs roaming the backyard, they can’t defend themselves.  Roosters do a pretty good job and I recommend finding one that you can live with, but in an urban setting it isn’t necessarily possible.  Your neighbors might value quiet over your food security.  Most of the people around you aren’t really thinking about food security or the realities of the process.  The laws probably won’t be in your favor, so you have to wrap your head around some losses.  Just like with fruit trees.  The birds are going to take what they want.  With fruit it’s easier though.

Now, the second thing I’ve added to this list is DON’T KISS CHICKENS!  Seriously, I’m horrified that this has to even be said.

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Handling Chickens from the CDC

Honestly, they are cute when little.  They are eating pooping machines though that are hatched in a mass production incubator and you don’t know what kind of hygiene the facility you got them from has.  If you got them from the feed store, you don’t know what they have been exposed to.  Don’t kiss them.  Wash your hands.  Use common sense.  This is the type of thing that makes it hard to have open chicken laws.  It boggles my mind that people would think to do this.  I understand giving a chicken a bath (which I also find crazy) because I was in 4-H and understand showing animals.  Don’t kiss them.

Clean the coop.  Keep their living area clean.  After they stop laying cook them in wine and cherish their service.  We have these wonderful animals to help us on their journey.  Care for them ethically and value them.

When I see my chickens I may be a little cold hearted for our current culture of city living.  I grew up in a place and time where I feel I understood their cycle of life and purpose though.  I just can’t see these creatures as a thing to cuddle and pet.  It freaks most of them out anyway and causes them stress.  I want my chickens to be happy, healthy and well taken care of.  I want to eat eggs that explode with flavor.  I want to eat chicken that tastes nothing like the ones bought at the store.  I want the girls to survive and become a delectable coq au vin.  They have an honest wonderful purpose we don’t have to apologize for.

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Bug Class Preview

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Organic gardening is more than just not using chemicals on your garden.  To be successful, you need to create a healthy ecosystem.  On February 12th, Carondelet Garden Urban Farm is offering a class on Composting and Rebugging the Garden.  Come on out and check it out at the Carondelet Branch of the Saint Louis Public Library.

Class Handout:

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Book Review: The Vegetarian Myth

I read A LOT.  It occurred to me that it might be helpful to pass along some of the things I have on my bookshelf.  Last summer my brother sent me a copy of “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith.  What a fantastic book.  The information is astounding and seems to be well researched.

The book is set up into chapters based on all the different arguments you hear when you are a vegetarian.  This author has apparently heard them all and remembered them.  I spent time as a vegetarian and I never felt better.  It is part of my discovery of my love of food.  Being a vegetarian opens you up to so many things out of necessity.  I don’t feel like there is enough time in the world for me to eat everything I want to eat.  Getting married and having children caused me to rethink and incorporate meat back into my diet.  All these arguments covered in this book were said to me at one time or another.

These are the major chapters:

  • Moral Vegetarians
  • Political Vegetarians
  • Nutritional Vegetarians
  • To Save the World

What was I?  I was a vegetarian because after moving into the city I started having horrible skin conditions.  It took me a long time to figure out that I react poorly to meat additives.  I like meat, I love sausage.  I can’t stand fake meat.  It wasn’t that I was opposed to the morals of eating things with eyes, I was opposed to being sick all the time.  Eating a locally produced organic diet serves me just as well.  Many of the points covered in this volume emphasize this understanding.

I enjoyed this book.  The writing style often belabors the points being made, but there is good information available to the reader.  I also like the endless resources to back up the authors claims.  It’s an easy read and doesn’t take long.  If you are interested in food security issues and diet this is an excellent read.  Bear with the author, the journey may seem a bit long at times, but overall the areas of thought that are opened up are well worth the time.

People interested in Geoff Lawton’s permaculture and Joel Salatin’s ideas will also find this fascinating reading.

Happy Reading!

Click on the link above to purchase this book and support this blog!

Planning Your Garden

One of the topics that seems to hang most people up about gardening is how to go about planning it.  Last night at Iron Barley, I spoke to a packed house on this issue for the Carondelet Community Urban Farm.  It was a blast, but unfortunately we did not make enough handouts to meet the demand.  To rectify that for those that were there, here is the handout:

Garden Planning

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We had a lot of great questions last night and hope to be able to go more in depth in future installations of our Urban Tech series.  Stay tuned for more classes!  If you have any questions about garden planning, or would like some time with a consultant please contact us at the garden on facebook and we will see what we can do.  This is all volunteer and we will be able to help as we have time.

One of the main pieces of advice I can give you is know yourself and start small.  Make a list of common vegetable you can eat.  Start with the easy ones.  Find a style of gardening that works with your mental state.  I don’t like a lot of work but don’t mind putting in some effort to get it off the ground right so I choose biointensive planting.  I really hate to water the garden.  Some people hate to dig more than water so Lasagna Gardening might be the way to go.

This is the time of year that seed catalogs come in daily.  Sit down with them and fantasize.  In addition to a few standards, pick something that looks fun.  After you get the basic garden planned out, think about crops that might fit in the beds before the tomatoes are out or after you harvest your broccoli.  But remember each step adds complexity, don’t get carried away.

Keep a journal.  Hobby Farm has a great printout available on line to help you in that endeavor.  When the season is over, think about how much you can comfortably expand next year, try to keep it small enough to be fun and not overwhelming.

Good Luck.

Click on the pictures below to purchase helpful books on this topic (and help support this blog):

Hawk attack!

This morning my neighbours called frantically after scaring a hawk off of their coop.  Apparently it swooped into my yard from there.  I have a pretty awesome rooster, so I have high hours that the girls are ok.  Hawk attacks are my least favourite.  They take the heads and drop the bodies.  Very gruesome.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the blog, because of the heat, I have been letting the chickens stay out at night.  This can be good and bad. Today is an example of potentially bad.  I have provided the chickens with plenty of cover so it’s hard for me to do a hess count when they are freaked out.

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There are some hiding.  What worries me are these pics:

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On the plus side, yesterday I candled the eds under the broody hen and found 50s with babies in them.  I don’t need mitre chickens, but the temptation to see the prices overwhelmed me.  Well she be a good mom, I don’t know.  She is a retired later I picked up last year and was slated for the chopping block at her next molt.  By the end of the day she will have a chicken tractor and fresh straw all of her own.  All the eggs that are fertile come from my one year old turken who bred with a redcap rooster and a lakenvelter rooster.  The candle at around 10 to 18 days development.  Should be interesting.

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My husband is close to completing a new enclosure for the rest.  If it is done by the end of the day, new importation will be starting tonight.  There are two new coops in the enclosure so lots to choose from.  Mama gets to keep the chicken tractor she is in.  lots of straw will be added because even though even though my brother assures me bubbles bounce, I don’t want any little babies falling out of the best, I definitely want to give them something soft to land on.

If she works out, I hope to use her to hatch cochins for the neighbour so they don’t have to buy an incubator. 

Another piece of good news is that I will soon receive some restaurant leftovers to supplement all their diets.  My husband is off on an adventure starting tuesday where he will work outside the country in an effort to get us caught up financially.  6 months of unemployment have taken their toll sadly.  Without him here, I won’t have the kitchen scraps I normally do.  My kids hate food apparently.  If I make something good to easy there just won’t be the normal waste we have when cooking for four.

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Wish us luck!  There was rain last night, I can only take that as a sign of positive things to come.

How does my garden grow?

Drought be damned, we have been irrigating.

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Broom corn

Broom corn is a lot of fun to grow.somehow, I was not paying attention and missed the whole 14 foot tall memo.

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It gets huge!  I think this would make a wonderful plant for pole beans.  This week we harvested it.

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Perfect for dried floral arrangements.  Maybe one day soon we will get ambitious and make some brooms.

Its a beautiful day in the neighborhood

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New layers

Today we got one of the first eggs out of the new batch of layers.  Later eggs start off small but get bigger right away.generally I have not experienced this because I don’t have very many chickens.  The large egg in the photo is from a one year old naked neck, and the small egg is from a naked neck born march 25.

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Quiet after the storm

We are still recovering from the tour.  It went well and we estimate we had 300 folks through.  I really appreciate my friends that came and sat with me.

After, we found lice on the kids which immediately buried me in all the laundry on the planet.  Glad I’m paranoid and caught it early.

Then the fashion label I work with decided to really get on top of things and need to deliver their product so I need to get on top of that. 

Its been 110 degrees here no joke, so I end up having to schedule everything I need to do around watering.  Last year I watered 4ever times all summer, this year, its more like for times a week.

We dug all the potatoes and thanks to my friend mark, sold some produce to a chef.  Petty awesome.  The farmers market is still being stalled by the city.

Somewhere in there I hand fed a baby parrot for a friend which was an interesting learning experience for all of us.  I’m still not on the right sleep schedule.

I learned to make kombucha and it is awesome, so now there are weird things fermenting every where in the house.  Very interesting and wonderful new taste adventures.  I even put a scoby in a gallon of mt dew, so far so good.  I accidentally made hard lemonade and a sour dough starter that might be sentient.

Oh oh and I decided to make dim sum while sleep walking and set fire to the kitchen, so still trying to get that cleaned up.  I have to get that done tomorrow so the cabbage I picked up to make a crock of kimchi so it doesn’t rot.

pigeons are great, garden is great.  I suddenly need a rabbit hutch for prisoners of gardening war. Some chickens from this springs batch have started laying.  My there year old hens got weirdly broody so I’m letting then suit out of curiosity.  If they make chicks it will be interesting how they treat the mutts. 

Tonight I put corn to soak in water so I can make hominy from scratch tomorrow.  So excited!

Them I need the magic night end elves to complete the sweater orders, weed the garden, replant the garden, make a giant garlic mascot costume, take my kids to the pool for lessons, make meals, do laundry, and change the rabbit litter.  Ufff.