Category Archives: chickens

Visiting Chileno Valley Ranch

IMG_8023 IMG_8026 IMG_8027 IMG_8028 IMG_8030 IMG_8032 IMG_8034 IMG_8037 IMG_8040 IMG_8041 IMG_8042 IMG_8054As you might well remember, for about five years now we’ve been buying a fourth of a grass fed cow every summer. For many years we bought from Beltane Ranch which is just a few miles away from us. Unfortunately due to new regulations they aren’t able to sell directly to customers anymore, so we’ve switched to buying from Chileno Valley Ranch over in Petaluma. You can read a bit about why we eat grass fed beef from this older post and even more from this older post.

On Sunday they hosted a u-pick day for their apples. Our poor apple trees are in a serious state of decline, so we headed over there to meet the rancher couple and to get some apples. This ranch is deep down Chileno Valley Road, past curving roads, filled with hillsides, ponds and large ranches. It was a beautiful drive. As we approached our destined ranch I was pretty awed by the amazing house you can see from a distance. The house had been in the wife, Sally’s, family since the Civil War! Sally and her husband Mike took ownership of the property in the early ’90’s and set about rehabilitating the house (check out the original structure) and the land.

Everything was gorgeous. We came for the apples, but I left inspired by the gardens. While Scott chatted with Mike about the beef order we recently placed, I talked with Sally about her roses. Strangely enough I didn’t get any pictures of her dozens upon dozens (maybe a hundred +) of roses, but they were unbelievably beautiful. All with bright green leaves and in full flower. My roses at home have been in a sad state ever since their initial spring bloom and I’ve given serious consideration to taking a good majority out. Everything Sally grew was bountiful and lush. As we talked she mentioned how when she cleans out the chicken coop she sprinkles a little of their manure around the roses. She also has sheep and cows that she collects manure from and also has a local dairy deliver manure to her. Ah-ha! Yes, of course. Manure!

As soon as we got home I found my Felco’s and got to work tidying up around the roses and then promptly cleaned out the chicken coop and spread what I scooped all round the roses and watered it in well. Within easy walking distance I can access cow, horse, sheep and chicken manure. I need to collect my wheelbarrow and shovel, head down the street and put these neighboring friendships to work.

If you are local, Chileno Valley Ranch holds these u-pick weekends all the way until October, it’s worth the trip, if you can make it!

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Chicken Tractors & Inspiring Hippies

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Last Tuesday I woke up with an extraordinary amount of energy and announced to the kids at breakfast that we were going to build a chicken tractor. In case you aren’t familiar with chicken tractors, they are basically a small coop, or enclosure that you can put a few chickens in and then drag around to where you need it to be. And we needed them to be in certain spots, for instance in one particular row of our garden. The collards had long since been in an edible state and as I pulled a plant up, to walk it to the chicken coop thousands of pill bugs were underneath along with a good helping of earwigs. I needed the chickens to eat those bugs, yet not the tender plants in the next row over.
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So we got out the tools and a bunch of scrap lumber and made this funky thing. I’ve always been curious about building things myself. I’m pretty good at small scale construction, having been a sewer/knitter/bookbinder/general craftsperson for a long time. I was excited to give a try at larger scale building. I got the circular saw out and cut the boards with ease, but man, when it came to the nailing. Oh! That put me in a foul mood. So much so that after a while, I slumped down in the shade and I said to my oldest son, “I don’t know, I don’t think I can do this!” He, skilled at woodworking from doing it at school every week, said to me so calmly, “Mom, we just put the nail in the wrong place, it’s easy to fix.” I went inside to get a drink of cool water and when I returned he had nailed the boards together in the place I had so much trouble with. Then when he got frusterated, I took over. We make a good team, that kid and I.
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Anyway, we got it constructed. It is Funky! That’s for sure, but it was free and it’s functional. We took an old screen to use as a sliding door and we used half shade cloth on top and half plywood. From having shade cloth over our chicken run I know that while they are just fine under the cloth, they’d much rather be under solid shade. The plywood provides that plus gives the funky structure added stability, yet with it only covering half, it’s still light enough to pull where we want it to go.
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The boys have had the most fun collecting different chickens to put in the tractor everyday to eat away both collards and bugs. Since they are getting a wider variety to eat, the hope is that their eggs will be more nutritious. They are debugging the row that we will plant again soon and also tilling and fertilizing as they go. Other than collecting chickens to put in it, we haven’t had to do any work. So far it seems to be a win-win-win situation.

I don’t know about my future woodworking endeavors. Building this was a complete mixture of fun and frusteration. I guess that’s the learning curve on any new hobby though.

In completely unrelated news, Scott and I watched the documentary Saint Misbehavin’ the other night and we can’t get it out of our heads. Having always had an ear out and an eye open to all things hippie and counterculture related, I’ve heard a lot about local legend Wavy Gravy growing up around here. He even entertained a small crowd of us years & years ago at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley, while waiting for a late appearing Baby Gramps (another phenomenal character). I don’t even think he was scheduled to entertain, I think he was there as part of the crowd, but when we were all left waiting, he hopped on stage to keep us all happy. Anyway I never did know much about him, but now I know and I completely admire him. Wow, what a great ton of good he’s done for people in this life (and he’s still moving full steam ahead)! It was inspiring to me how many people you can affect in a positive way if you make it your life’s effort. His marriage to Jahanara is an inspiration as well. They’ve been married since 1965 and still very much in full partnership and admiration of each other. She seems like and incredible person. The movie is certainly worth looking out for if you can find it!

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getting eggs & play in a surprising way

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We’re getting eggs again. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it much to you, but we’ve been frustrated chicken keepers for well over a year. We just haven’t been getting any eggs! In thinking that our existing six were just old and done (they are 3 & 6 years old) we got six new chicks over the winter. Still once winter solstice hit and the days began to grow longer and other chicken keeping friends were starting to get eggs, we were starting to get even more frustrated.
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Then we’d occasionally start to see broken eggshells…ah ha, we had an egg eater! Turns out we had two. Notice I said ‘had’. Fueled by a marathon watching of this addictive show (particularly this scene) Scott culled the flock of our two Americanas last Friday while the kids and I were out. These birds not only were eating eggs but just causing overall unrest in the coop and laying nearly unedible eggs. They terrorized the new chicks and just overall added more drama than we needed to coop life. Within three hours of dispatching the two troublemakers we had our first egg. The next day we had four eggs, the next two and so on and so forth. The chicks are starting to lay and the older hens are laying every couple of days.
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Needless to say we’re very happy now. It was a tremendous relief to see all those eggs come in after killing those two. It’s not easy on Scott to harvest chickens, we don’t enjoy it. So to see that in doing so resulted in us having a productive amount eggs again was great relief.

In related news, our two boys had developed a really crazy energy about them. Constantly fighting, complaining about being bored, happy about nothing. I knew some of this was related to end of school emotions, but I wondered if there was anything I could do to change the dynamic. And no, I didn’t ‘harvest the boys’, but I did ‘harvest’ their toys. They share a room, it’s a pretty big room, but it was getting pretty chaotic in there.

They’ve never been much for playing with toys. I know some kids get deep in imaginative play with certain things, but my boys never much have. Apart from a few trucks or cars and legos, they spend the majority of their time outside with exploring with sticks or throwing balls or what have you. Despite that, the toy build up from birthdays and Christmas’ and party favors was getting out of control. Being an astute Montessori parent, I wondered if the chaos of their living space was bringing chaos to their lives.

So one day while they were at school, I brought in two big boxes and I boxed everything up. Really, apart from their Lego collection and a few other toys, their room is pretty bare. I left a small dresser that’s full of art supplies, one shelf of Legos, their foos ball table under the bunk beds, their clothes dresser and their bookcase. To me, it’s beautiful in there! I was curious to see how the boys would react when they got home and you wouldn’t believe this, but they played for a couple completely peaceful hours. No fighting, no complaining whatsoever!

My oldest was immediately drawn to his Legos again. In fact he actually imagined an entire skit in his head with them and has the goal of filming a movie this summer! (never has he done anything like that!) And my younger son, along with my daughter got out their paints and paper and spent the afternoon painting. Bliss! Bliss I tell you.

So there you have it, if you want eggs, get rid of some chickens. And if you want kids to play, take away their toys! Who would have thought?

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The Birds & The Bees

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Just two short weeks ago I was certain without a doubt that I had lost one of my beehives. They underwent a pretty hard period of robbing in late fall. Robbing, for those even newer to beekeeping than myself, is when other bees or in this case, yellow jackets, enter the hive to steal honey and kill the defending bees. Between the robbing and the ants that seemed to be making their home in that battered hive, I feared the worse. There was minimal activity on the monitoring board (a white board at the bottom of the hive you can pull out to view debris that has fallen – a way of seeing how active the bees are and where they are in the hive) and minimal activity at the entrance of the hive.

But with this warm sunny weather we’ve had that hive has come alive with activity. Bees are coming back with mustard, eucalyptus, manzanita, rosemary and all sorts of other pollens and nectars. Seeing that there is hope yet made me feel happy indeed.
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We’ve been disappointed in our egg production the past couple of years, so we’ve decided to bolster our chicken count. Scott went to the wood pile and crafted together a brooding box on Saturday morning and by evening we had six new chicks to keep us entertained. Four Rhode Island Reds and two Gold Sexlinks, both high egg producers.
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We’ve backed away from getting chickens that lay exotic eggs. Our cookoo maran chickens didn’t lay the dark chocolate brown eggs that was advertised, instead laying light brown eggs. And our Americanas? Well, they do lay blue eggs, but they’ve always looked like this below. Not so appetizing.
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Here’s to hoping that come summer we’ll be blessed with ample amounts of honey and eggs.

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Le Run for Le Tour

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Nothing lights a fire under one’s rear faster then signing up to have a steady steam of traffic parade through your backyard. Yes, once again Le Tour de Coop is on and we are on the map. For a full year we’ve been lavishly throwing out comments like, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a much larger chicken run?’, ‘won’t it be nice when the chickens have a big enough run that we won’t have to let them out so often. (and risk being a foxes lunch)’ Well with a deadline of June 2nd looming we had to get to work. Since my job as ‘second in command’ on digging and building projects has been suspended due to a curious toddler, we had to call in backup. We called in Dave. Dave’s the kind of guy you call when you need a house full of heavy furniture moved, or when you need a 12-ish foot WWII-era antenna removed from your roof, or as it turns out, when you need a chicken run built.

So in the eery light of last Sunday’s eclipsed sun, the men built the run. A few more hours of trench digging, to bury an extra six inches of wire, and door building and our ladies and gent have a new place to ‘run’. Our little mobile PVC run worked quite well for our old garden because we felt quite free letting them be free range, but here we are in fox and coyote territory. Knowing that they could stay inside for days on end with a big outdoor run, is a reassuring thing.
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Also, we’ve had our hens for some time now. Three of them for almost five years and three for two years. Our older hens are for the most part retired, and our newer hens aren’t very productive layers. Our egg production is at a slow crawl. We get maybe one every other day, if we’re lucky. So we’d like to increase the flock and now we have the space.

If you are in the Sonoma area next weekend, please do join Le Tour de Coop! It was such great fun to talk with all our visitors last year and the proceeds benefit one of our favorite places, the Sonoma Garden Park. I know four other coops and coop-caretakers on the tour and all are more than worthy of the visit. So stop by and say hello!

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the men of the neighborhood

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Pardon my absence from this space. Things got a little overwhelming over here when my new years resolution of taking on more design work again got a little out of hand and the candle was certainly burning at both ends. Well, in my absence, we got a rooster. Scott came home from the feed store one day and said, ‘there’s a beautiful rooster at Broccos, should we get him?’ We quickly went over all the worst case scenarios, he could be too aggressive with the hens, he could be too aggressive with us, he could rattle the hens so much they’d stop laying etc… In the end we took a chance, found a big box and went to rescue the poor guy. On the drive home we named him Francesco. A little Italian love for our fair hens. He’s a Golden Lacewing Wyandotte.
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Turns out he’s a dear. He follows Scott all over the yard. In a dog-like way, not an ‘I want to peck your eyes out’ way (as our former rooster did). The hens don’t seem too put out by his presence, we’re still getting eggs. But what’s that you see over his head? That’s Mr. Peacock. He lives next door. He’s been our resident rooster since we’ve moved in. He comes over everyday to check on the ladies and makes sure everything’s all right. We sometimes let them out during the day to roam around and it unnerves poor Mr. P., he likes to see them all herded together and preferably in their coop. He’s not mean about it, he just likes things to be the way they should be.
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When we tell people we have a peacock next door they usually make a comment like, ‘oh they are so loud.’ Yes, I suppose he can be loud, but we don’t mind the noise one bit. We love this guy. He wasn’t too sure about us for a long time, but now I think he’s warming up to us. He’s been spending a lot of time over here now that we’ve got Francesco. Trying to figure out where his spot is in the pecking order, I suppose.
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Isn’t he gorgeous?
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Well, rest assured Mr. P is still at the top of the pecking order. The other day I saw him take a literal peck right on Francesco’s rump which made him jump about a foot in the air. It had me laughing for a good long time. It’s a good thing to keep a rooster humble.

Cockadoodledo!

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Eviction and Upcycling in the Chicken Coop

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We’ve been having a little problem in our chicken coop. It’s a problem we had back at our old Sonoma garden, but it was only a little problem. Here it is a downright infestation. Rats. We’ve always used an old cabinet as their nesting box. We put some hay on the middle shelf and on top and they were quite happy with that. Unfortunately the rats were also quite happy that they too could build a little nest underneath the cabinet. We noticed the problem a while back when the chicken’s food dish was licked clean…chickens don’t do that. Then we started seeing tunnels. Everywhere.
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(June, a buff cochin)
Thinking we were quite clever we cleared out the coop a couple of months ago and laid down some large old doors we had laying around thinking that putting in a ‘floor’ would deter the little buggers. To no avail. Instead they were digging massive rat superhighways underneath. Things were getting out of control and we had to do something fast. We needed to get that cabinet and floors out of there pronto and get their boxes up onto the wall.
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(Bea, a coocoo maran)
Unfortunately the pre-made hanging nesting boxes were either too small for our well fed hens or too expensive. Even the ‘economical’ boxes we’d seen at Rivertown were $25 each. Multiply that times 6 and that makes our backyard eggs pretty darn expensive. While I’m all for good quality and high style, in this case, thrift and ingenuity won out.
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(Edna, an Ameriana)
Scott took three 15 gallon pots we had around from trees we bought a few years back and sawed them in half. Then he screwed the lip to two old wood slates we had from an old futon frame. These then got screwed straight into the coop wall. He made two sets of three. One up high for the agile girls, one set of three down low for the old ladies. We were very curious as to how they would adapt to this change. The original three gals had been using that cabinet for their roost for the past four and a half years. But it seems like they warmed right up to it.
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They even laid us two eggs today. Thanks ladies. Oh, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the rats, but at least we aren’t encouraging breeding grounds for them.

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