On Crows: Are They Friend or Foe to Our Chickens

I have a bias when it comes to crows because I love them. They are quite loud, but they are so intelligent and interesting. I recently read a book to my youngest son about the crows in New Caledonia. Researchers have been studying those crows for quite a few years and discovered that these crows will not only make tools but will also teach their young about how to make tools. These crows are even adapting tool use over time. This is no small thing.

Some scientists now think that crows may be as intelligent as the great apes. They can problem solve and remember a lot, including our faces. When researchers in Washington state were studying ravens (also a member of the corvid family), the ravens remembered the researchers and would attack them when they came onto campus. The researchers ended up having to wear disguises when they came on campus in order to hide from the ravens–for years.

But what does this have to do with backyard chickens? It turns out that the intelligence—and feistiness—of crows can come in handy when keeping chickens.

I saw this for myself last summer.

If you keep chickens, you know how scary a hawk or eagle presence can be. We had a few close calls with our girls, especially before we got a rooster. In a couple of instances, I thought surely we had lost at least one of our girls, but we found them hiding later. We were lucky. I know many people who have lost chickens to birds of prey in our area. One morning, however, I saw something different.

Two crows had moved into the trees near our home a few weeks prior, and after hearing a loud commotion, we looked out our window into the chicken yard area to find two crows “mobbing” or attacking mid-air a hawk that was flying over our yard. The crows were loud and aggressive—and very handy, I thought.

Since I love crows anyway, I decided to take the crows some treats to thank them later. I saw the crows watching me, so I raised my hand to show them the bread and then sat it down at a tree near the woods. I went back in the house and watched. Sure enough, a few minutes later, they came for the bread.

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photo credit: Pixabay public domain photo

And, in that one instance, they were trained. It became a habit for us until a couple more crows moved in, and all four crows spent the day arguing right outside our kitchen window. My husband told me the crow treats were going to have to stop. So I stopped. It was kind of loud out there.

I was worried the crows would leave. I needed them around to protect our chickens. Thankfully, they stayed, but they keep more of a distance now. I haven’t seen any more mobbing, but I do hear a commotion every now, which makes me think they are still patrolling the area.

I didn’t realize how common this behavior was until I read recently in a chicken discussion forum about chicken people who had their flocks protected by crows. Of course, the crows aren’t setting out to protect our chickens, but they are territorial and will do what they can to keep birds of prey out of their territories. So, if a crow lives near you, it’s like having an extra line of defense against birds of prey attacks.

Of course, it seems important to note that crows do pose some problems as well, and not all chicken owners appreciate crows. Apparently, crows will steal eggs if they have the chance and will even eat baby chickens. They don’t seem to bother full-grown chickens. But, as I learn more about bird diseases, I’m also thankful the crows aren’t quite so close to our chicken yard as they used to be. Like all wild birds, crows can carry diseases that could be harmful to your flock, though I haven’t heard of anything going around right now to cause alarm.

So, for now, I’m glad our crows are still around, and apparently, a lot of chicken people love their crows as well. For my research for this post, I read forum after forum of chicken people talking about the benefits of crows. They are excellent at patrolling an area, and people will use the crows as a warning system. If you hear the crows making a scene, it’s a good idea to go investigate. Many people who keep chickens consider crows beneficial guardians.

It also seems like a good idea to just take in the beauty of such an amazing animal. People used to think that birds couldn’t possibly be that intelligent because they had small brains. Now, we know for sure it’s not the size of a brain that matters. Crows are proof of that.

On Loving Hummingbirds and Feeding Them Safely

We don’t have our feeders out yet. I’m running behind, but yesterday, my youngest son called, “Mama, come here! Fast!” To my delight, a hummingbird was drinking nectar from one of the flowers on the shrub in our front yard by the window. That stocky little ruby-throated bird brought joy to my heart.

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Public domain photo, Pixabay

To me, the hummingbirds bring hope back to Maine. I love winter until about the end of February, and then, I’ve just about had enough. By the end of March, I’m getting pretty anxious for spring, but, of course, it’s often well into May before it arrives.

Sometimes, like this year, it can be a little hard to tell when spring has finally made its way to Maine. It’s been a bit dreary, a bit chilly, and a bit rainy. I should mention that, like many here in Maine, I also struggle with vitamin D deficiencies.

But, yesterday, I saw my hope that things are about to get better, my hope that, soon, we’ll be in the middle of one of the most beautiful times of year here in Maine—summer.

Every summer for the last few years, I’ve been feeding our hummingbirds with a couple of feeders, and every summer, I do a little more research and learn a few more things about these amazing birds who visit us each summer and how to provide safe nectar for them.

  • Hummingbirds eat bugs. They don’t live in the nectar alone, so you don’t need to purchase those packets for hummingbird nutrition to add to your nectar. I made that mistake after reading on the package about how hummingbirds do not get complete nutrition from sugar water. That made sense to me. I mean, who can live on sugar water? Turn outs, hummingbirds don’t. They eat bugs. They get their nutrition there, and the nectar just keeps those busy little bodies going. Hummingbirds eat everything from weevils to flies, gnats, and mosquitos. They’re pretty awesome like that.
  • Although there’s some debate about this and the hummingbird feeder companies say the red dye is fine, most experts agree that you should not put food coloring in the nectar. Although the chemical dye is supposedly safe for humans, no testing that I can find has been done on hummingbirds, and scientists say to assume something that’s safe for us is also safe for hummingbirds is a mistake. And, since the feeders have color on them, the birds will be attracted to your feeder anyway. I’ve never used food coloring in my nectar and have always had hummingbirds move in for the summer.
  • Keep your feeders clean, and this may mean you need to purchase a feeder that really comes apart and can be cleaned easily. The mold that will grow in and around your feeder (that icky black stuff) is not good for the birds. You’ll want to keep those feeders clean, and since most of them say they can’t be placed in the dishwasher, you need to be able to take that feeder apart and scrub it with water and vinegar.
  • All you need to do to make your own nectar is boil water and add sugar. The ratio for the syrup is 4 to 1, so 4 cups of water for 1 cup of sugar. Mix while the water is hot, let it cool, and you’ve got hummingbird nectar ready for those little birds to enjoy.

If you haven’t seen a hummingbird yet, you can track them to see if they are in your area by using this site that tracks sightings of ruby-throated hummingbirds. We use it every year, and I love seeing the path the birds take.

And, if you haven’t yet decided whether or not you want to do the necessary work to provide a clean, safe feeder for the hummingbirds, just check out this video I took from our deck a couple of years ago. It was near the end of summer, and the male hummingbird was about to leave. Those birds put on a show that brought tears to my eyes and touched my heart with the beauty of it. I hope you enjoy.

On Dandelions: They’re Good for You, Me, and the Bees

When I was growing up, I was taught that dandelions were dreadful “weeds.” I remember picking the beautiful yellow flowers only to learn from adults that they were “just weeds,” and I remember getting into some trouble for blowing on the dandelion seeds because I was spreading them in the yard, which was definitely frowned upon. I remember learning to spray chemicals on the dandelions as a child, and this was something that I carried into my adult life—and then I learned better.

I don’t know when Americans started to hate the dandelion, but according to my research, it was sometime in the 20th century with the invention of lawns. Apparently, someone wrote a book about the “perfect” lawn and identified dandelions as the enemy.

However, dandelions have a long history of being important to human culture, and we definitely need to let go of those notions of the “perfect” lawn. I just can’t see that those notions do anyone any good—not us and certainly not Nature.

My own epiphany about the usefulness of the dandelions came one day when I was making a salad from a giant container of mixed greens I had purchased at the grocery store. I look at the greens and realized there were dandelion leaves in the mix. I checked the ingredients list and found out that, indeed, I had just paid money for leaves that I could easily go get from my back yard.

Then, I learned that bees need the dandelions. They are the bees’ first food, and goodness knows the bees need every little bit of help we can give them. It’s a wonder of the world to me that humans can be so short sighted, and our history with bees is a prime example of this. However, that’s another story for another day.

dandelion
Photo credit: Stefan Steinbaur, Unsplash

So instead of working against Nature, let’s embrace it and embrace those little yellow flowers. There are many helpful uses for dandelions, so let’s try one of these options instead.

1. Leave the flowers for the bees and make or get your kiddos to help make a “Bees are welcome here” sign. After all, we really need those bees to be happy because what’s good for the bees is good for us in the long term. Then, you can just let the dandelions do their work of loosening the soil and fertilizing your lawn. It turns out that dandelions are actually good for your lawns.

2. Pick the dandelion leaves for your salad. This is the simplest use I can think of. Instead paying for those dandelion leaves, make a salad from your backyard instead. It turns out that dandelions are healthier than many of the veggies we grow in our garden. According to this article from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, dandelions have more Vitamin A than spinach and more Vitamin C than tomatoes.

3. Make dandelion tea. Apparently, you can make tea from the roots or the flowers, but I found this flower recipe that looks really yummy. Just be sure to read this short piece on the health benefits and risks of drinking dandelion tea.

4. Finally, you can also make dandelion wine, though it takes a few months for the wine to ferment of course. But there are, apparently, a wide variety of ways you can use the dandelions for food, from jams to baking. Check out this article from Mother Earth News about some of the many ways you can take advantage of those little yellow flowers.

So think of the bees and what’s good for the planet and for you. Let those dandelions grow free in your yard this year!

On Salmonella and Kissing Chickens (Fine. I’ll Stop.)

It’s spring and baby chicks are everywhere. You just have to visit your local farm or hardware store, and you’ll see those little cuties in the bins, peeping and pecking and jumping and being adorably tempting.

But there’s something important to keep in mind about those cute baby chickens.  A report was released last year from the CDC stating that salmonella cases from chicken kissing and snuggling, as well as from chickens living in our homes, is on the rise.

It’s a reality that people love chickens, and I know why. I love our girls. They’re funny, ornery, sweet, full of personality, and they give us delicious eggs. I mean, what’s not to love? I guess, however, it turns out that I may love our girls a little too much.

According to the Washington Post, the CDC says there was a rise in the number of poultry-associated salmonella outbreaks between 2005 and 2014, and this rise corresponds with the rise in the number of people who are keeping chickens. Yes, chickens are really popular, and it’s easy to see why. However, it seems we love our chickens a little too much.

According to the report, about 6 in 10 salmonella patients said they had been exposed to baby poultry, and of that number, 49 percent reported having been snuggling the baby birds, and 13 percent reported kissing the baby birds.

When I first read this study, I thought to myself, well, I’ve done a lot of snuggling with those baby birds, I guess. I’m sure giving hugs and holding babies kind of counts as snuggling. But, I don’t kiss our girls.

But then I remembered maybe giving a baby chick or two a kiss on the back of the head, but that doesn’t seem too bad, right?

Well, when I fessed up to my husband that I had given a few of the baby chicks a little kiss on the back of the head, he wisely pointed out that the babies step all over each other when they are running around, so there’s a chance there’s chicken poop germs even on the back of a baby chick’s head.

So there you go. I guess I’m going to have to quit kissing the baby chickens.

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Look at these cuties! They are so hard to resist!

But, I still love our girls, and I’ll never stop that. I’ll definitely cut out the kissing on the back of the head, but I might still have to give one of our girls a hug every now and then.

I’ll just wash up really, really well.

And the good news I gather from this CDC report is that Americans are not only keeping backyard chickens more and more, we really love our chickens.

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Here, my husband and youngest play with one of our ISA browns when she was a baby. We love our girls so much, and they have brought so much joy into our lives.

Every effort we make against factory farming is a good thing in my book. Happy eggs from happy chickens is a goal we should be aiming for. If you can’t keep chickens, there’s a good chance you know someone who does. Buy your eggs there. I’m glad we’re moving in this direction.

I guess we just need to stop kissing those baby birds.

On That Giant Chicken Video: Or Why I Need a Brahma Chicken

Because I’m the chicken lady among all of my Facebook friends, any time there’s a chicken story in the news or going viral, it’s shared on my Facebook wall, usually many times. The first time I saw the video of that giant chicken (see below), my first thought was “Oh, I want one.”

Apparently, this is not how many people feel about that giant chicken.

My friends were asking “What IS it?” And others on social media have been terrified that such a big chicken exists in the world. Then, I saw this headline stating that this big chicken was terrifying. I had no idea people could be so scared of a chicken, even a giant chicken like that.

But it turns out people sometimes have a lot of trauma related to chickens. I have to admit, when I was little, my great grandmother had chickens, and the first time she had me help her get eggs, her girls pecked me pretty good. A few weeks later, I came down with chicken pox, so, in my mind, my grandma’s chickens definitely gave me chicken pox. This made me a little scared of chickens.

And chickens are, after all, the closest living relatives to the Tyrannosaurs Rex, and, sometimes, I’m reminded of that. When my girls are going after some corn on the cob I’m sharing, I’m reminded that I never want to pass out in the chicken coop.

Still, people shouldn’t worry about this giant chicken. I can tell by the way this rooster in the video walks that he’s a pretty laid back boy. And that’s the thing. The chicken in the video is a Brahma, and Brahma’s are really cool chickens.

Here’s a little background on the Brahma to help those who are worried about that bird sleep a little better at night:

  • People think the breed originated in the United States from chickens in China in the middle of the 1800s. It was originally a meat bird, so the breed was continually bred for size. That’s how you get such a big bird.
  • Brahmas are great layers, and they lay very large brown eggs.
  • And here’s the most important information: Brahmas are known for having a calm temperament. They are known for being gentle giants.
    I’m sure chicken people can tell by the way that big boy in the video walks that he’s a pretty calm bird. He’s large, beautiful, and not out to hurt anyone.

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There are some other really large breeds of chickens. The Jersey Giant can be even larger than the Brahma, so let’s just let that set in. But Jersey Giants are also known for being really sweet chickens.

It seems important to remember that breeders of chickens over the last few hundred years were, of course, being practical when they bred chickens. The big ones needed to be sweet. You don’t want a giant angry bird attacking you every time you have to collect eggs. It’s just not practical.

So don’t worry about that giant chicken. He’s probably a real sweetheart, and writing this post reminds me: I so want one!

On Raising a Sweet Rooster

I’ve been reading chicken blogs, chicken forums, and following chicken Facebook groups for several years, and I’ve read some mixed reviews of keeping roosters. We had chickens a for quite a while before we made the leap and got a rooster for our flock.

We accidentally ended up with two roosters (story below), and so far, both of them are relatively sweet boys. They are mostly grown but still immature, and I keep watching and waiting for major signs of aggression. Based on what I read, I’ve been worried they are going to turn into mean roosters one day, but I’m starting to hope that we have two sweet roosters.

Is that possible? It is possible to raise a sweet rooster?

Rooster
This is our accidental rooster named Rooster. He’s our rooster who really seems to worry about the flock. He frets every time something isn’t right.

And I’m not talking about the roos who live in people’s houses. I expect them to be sweet. They get so much human contact that you just know they’re going to grow up and be sweet. I’m talking about the farm roosters who protect their flocks and live in the barn or the coop and, of course, have human contact but nowhere near the contact a house rooster gets.

And, by the way, if you were unaware that people have pet chickens in their homes, let me tell you: It’s true! There are many people who keep chickens as house pets because chickens are so sweet and smart. The chickens have to wear little chicken diapers, but people do it. If I could, I might try to let my favorite chicken, Poe, move in our house, but my husband thinks this is not a good idea. So there’s that.

Anyway, so far, my experiences tell me it might be possible to raise a sweet rooster, so I did some research. It turns out that there are some strategies to help promote sweetness—or at least good behavior—in a rooster, and I was accidentally doing some of these things, just following my instincts with my flock. I was impressed with myself!

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bragging. I’m not. I was just really impressed with myself that this once city girl and academic had some proper gut instincts in relation to our farm animals! I have grown!

But I won’t keep these strategies to myself any longer. Here’s what my research revealed about how to raise a sweet rooster, and, so far, these tips have worked for me.

Handle your rooster as much as you can as early as you can.

We were able to do this a lot with the Rhode Island Red rooster we bought as a baby, but we accidentally got a second rooster in a group of chickens that were supposed to be girls. I was outside last summer cleaning water and filling up food buckets when I heard a big crow come from a direction where there shouldn’t have been a crow. It turned out we had another roo, and since we had the space and enough hens, we decided to keep him. So we started holding and petting him as much as we could from that day forward.

The idea, of course, is to humanize them as much as you can, and the handling is how you do it. If your rooster is not a fan, use bribes. Treats are a good way to get your rooster to hang out with you a bit.

Don’t let your rooster mate in front of you.

You want to be kind about this, and you don’t want to kick or hurt your rooster, but, apparently, it shows your rooster that you are the boss if you don’t let him mate in front of you. I was doing this before I read about this as a strategy just because chicken mating is pretty aggressive, and I didn’t like one of my sweet girls getting jumped. So I just take my foot and scoot the rooster right off when he jumps on a hen in front of me. Not everyone agrees with this strategy, but, in my research, it came up time and time again.

If he gets aggressive, hold him or give him a time out.

If your rooster does get aggressive, it’s best if you can just pick him up and hold him firmly until. he settles down. I have also read about the method of picking him up by his feet and carrying him around a bit upside down, but I also read this can be dangerous if he happens to have something in his mouth when you do this. So I would recommend just holding if you can. Time out in another area also seems to work well.

Never, ever hit or kick your rooster, unless you are defending yourself or your kiddos.

Over and over again, the most important I read is to never hit or kick your rooster. You don’t want to hurt him—ever. He’s going to have instincts you will want to work with, and unless you just have to fight back to defend yourself, never hit him.

Of course, reading this list, you may be wondering if roosters are worth it. There are a lot of people who keep chickens who never want to mess with the trouble of a roo. They can crow quite loudly. And, in addition to being aggressive toward people, roosters can be aggressive to your hens, and this just makes them not worth it to many people. I do understand.

However, roosters will provide protection for your flock and can be raised to be kinder. And, if you want to raise your own baby chickens, you’re going to need a rooster.

And, so far, our experiences with roosters are pretty positive. The two we have, Runkle and Rooster, are at least pretty sweet. We can hold them, though they gripe about it a bit. And Rooster is a great guard rooster. He worries about the girls, gets stressed if something is out of sorts, and is the last one into the coop every night. He’s a good boy!

If you have rooster tips or experiences, please share below. I’m still learning, but so far, I’m a fan of roosters. Our roosters are pretty good boys, but I’ve read that even a mean rooster can be rehabilitated if you’re willing to work with him.

Of course, the best plan seems to be to try to raise a sweet rooster from the beginning.

On Chickens: Are They the Gateway Farm Animal?

I’m just going to go ahead and answer the question of my title right away: The answer is yes. It’s my belief that chickens are, indeed, the gateway farm animal. Right now, all we have on our little backyard farm is chickens, but I’ve got goat fever in a big way. Goats are next.

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But it’s my chickens’ fault that I have a need to add to our farm animals, to add to my reasons that I will never, ever sleep late again as long as I live or have to shovel snow out of the chicken run and put down leaves saved from the fall so that the girls who are afraid of touching the snow will have a place to put their cute little feet. I know it’s going to snow again tomorrow, but those babies can’t stay cooped up all day!

But I enjoy every minute of it deep down. Our chickens have been amazing little animals that we let into our lives, and I’m so thankful for them.

Our chickens have been great layers and great friends. They give us breakfast, as well as loads of entertainment and joy. I even enjoy cleaning out their coop. I know it’s going to make their little days to have all that fresh straw to play in, and I lost my sense of smell, so I can’t even smell their poop. I was meant to be a farmer of some kind, right?

I’m not alone in my love for chickens. Backyard chickens are wildly popular in the United States as more Americans work to be more self sufficient and raise their own food. A recent study for the U.S. Department of Agriculture documented the popularity and attitudes toward keeping chickens and estimated a 400% growth in backyard coops in the next five years.

So, since it’s quite evident that chickens are awesome, it’s easy to see how one thing can lead to another, and the next thing you know, you’re thinking, “I wonder how tough it would be to raise goats, milk them, make goat cheese.” It’s well known among the chicken community that keeping backyard chickens leads to more and more and more chickens for many, but it also leads to ideas about different animals.

Before we got our backyard flock, I watched this video and thought surely this was an exaggeration. Nearly two years into raising chickens, I realize this video is exactly right. This woman knows the danger of keeping backyard chickens—you’re going to love them WAY too much.

Now, I want to go to goat school. I love goat milk. And we really need some bees one day. And maybe a pig. I think my husband is a little worried about me, but I’m thinking this is all a good thing. Well, maybe. I definitely have way more pictures of my chickens than my kids on my phone.

So what do you think? Are backyard chickens the gateway farm animal?

On Preparing to Get Your First Backyard Chickens

Chickens are awesome. They just are.

And, as more people begin to figure this out, the word is spreading. I know many people who are considering backyard homesteading and want to start with chickens, and with good reason. Chickens are great producers of food, highly efficient, relatively easy to care for, sweet, interesting, smart, funny, and quirky. They’re a good homesteading animal to start with.

I dreamed of having our own chickens for years before we finally had a place where we could give them a nice coop, plenty of space, and would have the time to care for them. And, when we did get our chickens, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with them.

guiniveve

This is Guiniveve, and she has more personality than I thought a chicken could have. She’s also a great layer and just a sweet hen.

We started with 17 Rhode Island Reds, and I loved those girls from the start. They were my babies, and they changed my life. But I won’t go on and on here about how much I love my chickens or how much they have taught me; I want to focus this post on helping you answer this question:

What happens when you finally decide you can get those backyard chickens you’ve been thinking about?

I learned fairly quickly that, while chickens really are relatively easy to take care of, there’s a lot than can go wrong. So you have to be prepared going in. Preparedness is going to be especially helpful if you find that you love the little girls like I do and can’t bear the thought of losing one.

And, I’m just going to assume right now, if you get chickens, you will love them and want to learn as much as you can about them because, well, you’re probably just going to love them.

With that in mind, here’s a list of 5 tips I have for being prepared to get chickens for your backyard homestead.

Do some research about keeping chickens with good books and sites.

I’m a slow mover, so I read books and sites for about two years before we finally got our girls, but I think that’s probably a little overboard. Still, I recommend going to this site, Fresh Eggs Daily, and reading every single link on caring for chickens. The site is awesome, and Lisa Steele really knows her stuff. Her advice has saved more than one of my girls, and I am forever thankful! You can also order some helpful books here.

You should also check out these helpful resources from your local university extension office. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension office here in Maine provides a number of helpful publications on chickens as well as a number of web resources on everything from selling eggs to chicken nutrition.

Give them a home safe from predators.

Thanks to our neighbors who already had chickens, I learned about the high number of predators in our area. While it helped that my husband had grown up with chickens, I think having an awareness of the types of predators in our area also helped us make good decisions about the chicken coop.

We decided to keep it as close to the house as possible. This makes daily chicken chores easier, but it also adds protection. I have seen coops out near the woods, and those people tend to lose a lot of chickens.

Keep your coop close if you can, and having dogs around seems to help a lot. Make sure your coop is sturdy and can be closed up at night. There are just too many predators that can get at your chickens at night.

We also have two roosters, and they really do seem to help guard the flock. There are pros and cons to roosters, though, and one of them is the crowing. I like the crowing, but you should check to see if roosters are allowed in your area. Some towns will allow hens but not roosters.

Consider breed and number.

You want to consider climate, temperament, your space, and your goals as a chicken farmer when you’re choosing your choosing breed and making decisions on how many chickens you’ll get. We wanted a smart breed that was winter hardy and great layers, so we chose Rhode Island Reds for our first hens. They have been wonderful! But there are other breeds that work very well in Maine.

Here’s a link from The Livestock Conservancy that will let you download a chicken breed comparison chart. But you should also ask around; ask friends and neighbors for their experiences and recommendations.

Be aware you will have chores.

So, yeah, chickens are easy farm animals to care for, but they’re still work. As you do your research, you’ll find this out, which is why that research is so important. Chickens need fresh water every day and clean food and clean facilities. This means you will have some daily chores, which can feel a little tougher in the winter. We also shovel a run for our chickens in the winter, so it adds to my husband’s snow shoveling duties.

You’ll also need to do health inspections on your chickens to make sure all is well. But I’ve found that, if you spoil your chickens, the health inspections are easier. They don’t run too much when you try to catch them and don’t make too much of a fuss as you are investigating vents, legs, eyes, feathers, etc.

Get connected to chicken communities.

I’ve found that being connected to some excellent chicken communities has been so helpful. If I’m having a health issue with a chicken that I just can’t figure out or I’m just worried about, I can post a picture and description to the Maine Poultry Connection, a Facebook group, and get tons of help and advice. I’ve also learned so much by just following the threads and reading. There are MANY chicken communities online, and you’re likely to be able to find a community particular to your state on Facebook.

There’s a lot to consider, but I found that, once you’ve done your research and done your best to be prepared, don’t be afraid to just dive right in. There’s a lot that we’ve learned along the way and things I couldn’t have been prepared for, like the time I was running around the yard trying to shoo away a hawk or the way my girls stole my heart.

Once you’ve made your decision and are ready to purchase, I recommend purchasing local if you can, but you can purchase from national hatcheries. Just be aware that some post offices seem to be more prepared for handling boxes of live chickens than others. Ours is great, but I’ve heard stories about boxes of chickens arriving without many survivors. So local purchases are really a good way to go if you can.

I wish you the best with your backyard flock, and I hope they bring you as much joy and breakfasts as our girls have brought our family!

On the Year of the Rooster

Chinese New Year is coming, and it’s the year of the rooster! This is going to mean a lot to my fellow chicken friends.

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Photo credit: Paulo Morales, Unsplash

I would love to sit here and pretend I’m this cultured person who has traveled the world and fully appreciates all the beautiful cultures our big world has to offer, but the truth is that this is just what I aspire to be. So I, shameful as it is to admit, originally grew excited about the Chinese New Year because it’s the year of the rooster—and, well, if you’ve read my blog before, you know I love all things chicken.

Now, I really was always pretty interested in the Chinese New Year anyway. As I said, I aspire to be more cultured and learn more about the world, but I never took the time to dig into the history behind this lovely holiday. Then, when I saw it was the year of the rooster, I was super excited about the holiday. Shallow, I know.

But somewhere along the lines, in my daily self analysis, I realized I should research the holiday and use this opportunity to teach my son and myself a little about Chinese culture.

Before I developed this plan to learn more, my knowledge of the Chinese New Year was limited to having some fascination with Chinese astrology and finding out that I was born in the year of the rabbit. According to what I’ve read, this means I am cautious, patient, quiet, kind of a worrier, and also stubborn and melancholy. I’m like, yeah, that about sums it up. I like this stuff!

But I never really investigated the history of the holiday—until the rooster.

And what I learned with my son has us both excited to learn so much more about this holiday.

  • The Chinese New Year celebration is thousands of years old. It’s so old, there is some debate, apparently, about when it started. It’s the most important festival in Chinese culture.
  • The myth behind the holiday is that, long ago, a monster named Nian (which also means year) would come on the first day of the year and eat the crops and the livestock. But the people learned that Nian was afraid of red and loud noises, so people started decorating their homes in red and using fireworks to keep Nian away. Since the Chinese invented fireworks, this makes sense.
  • The celebration lasts 15 days, and people celebrate with fireworks, costumes, parades, and people give gifts of money in red envelopes. We learned that the money gifts should be in even numbers, and it’s considered rude to open your red envelope in front of the giver.

Of course, this is just a bit about the holiday, and it’s a fascinating event. Thankfully, here in Bangor, we’re going to be able to expand our learning about Chinese New Year this weekend. There’s a Chinese New Year parade at our local mall, and I encourage you to check in your area, as, chances are, there’s something fun and educational going on.

I have a lot more to learn, but I’m going to keep at it. My curiosity has been sparked, and my son’s has been as well. We’re headed to the library to pick up some books, and in addition to attending our local parade, we’ll be having Chinese food on Saturday.

You can read more about the history of this holiday here, and you can learn about your Chinese astrology sign here. It’s fascinating!

Also, I’ll confess, I will be taking advantage of this opportunity to get some rooster gear. I already found some flour sack dish towels with red roosters on them. My frugality goals went out the door, but I’m giving myself a pass. I mean, really…

It’s the year of the rooster!

On Planning Your Garden (in January)

My husband and I will be embarking on our fifth organic garden journey this spring, and this year, we’re planning ahead. Every year, we learn a little more about growing our own food, and while my husband specializes in the soil preparation in early spring, I specialize in dreaming about what we will plant and finding organic seeds from cool places.

Before it was even Christmas, my husband and I were talking about what new things we were going to try in the garden this year, how he was going to expand our garden area again, and how many rows of our tried and true favorites we would be planting.

And the truth is, while it seems early to be planning our garden for the summer while our driveway here in Maine is a giant sheet of ice, now really is the time to make your plans and order your seeds.

As you’re making your plans this month and dreaming of fresh strawberries and ripe tomatoes, here are a few things to keep in mind based on lessons our family has learned from our own organic gardening adventures.

harvest

I took this picture during one of our first fall harvests. I had never had a garden and tasted food fresh from the earth before. I was hooked!

Grow Foods You and Your Family Eat

There’s nothing worse than working for months, cooking something up, and having your kids say “I don’t like that.” That has never happened too much for our family, but it is an issue I’ve heard others talk about. Thankfully, our boys seem to be big fans of the garden harvest, but I have made a few mistakes in terms of the kinds of foods I actually know how to cook.

After a few years of trial and error, we realized that our family really eats things like onions, green beans, dried beans, carrots, and potatoes, so these foods get more space in the garden. If we try something new, we usually limit it to a half row to give it a trial run before we take away precious space from one of our staples.

Remember Some Fruits and Vegetables Need Two Years to Harvest

There are some foods that are going to require some delayed gratification, and this is never easy for me. I’ve been wanting to plant asparagus for years, but I can’t seem to get excited about it because, if you want it to last for years, you have to leave it alone the first year. I’m determined to show some discipline this year and plant that asparagus, but you should be aware that there are some things you have to wait until the following year to harvest if you want them to do well.

Strawberries and blueberries should be left alone the first year as well. And, of course, fruit trees will take some time, depending upon the kind of tree you buy.

Consider Harvest Timing

The seeds you buy will come with instructions for harvest timing or you can research the days to harvest online. You should also keep in mind when the food will become ripe and ready to harvest. Is that during your family vacation or when you have to work extra hours at work? The first few years we grew our garden, we had to work so many hours during the fall harvest that some of our harvest spoiled, and our hearts broke.

Make Your Plan

Once you have considered what your family wants and needs and can handle, you should make your plan. And, since you need a good plan before you buy your seeds, it’s good to sit down and make a plan for exactly what you will plant, how many rows you will plant, and when those seeds need to be in the ground or started inside.

You should also think about if you want to start with seeds or purchase starter plants from a local nursery in spring or summer. We’ve found that things like green beans, carrots, and dried beans grow easily from seeds. But we’ve frequently purchased starter plants for things like tomatoes and broccoli. This year, I’m determined to do some starters inside for those foods, but we’ll see how it goes. I tried last year and still ended up buying starter plants. Our cat kept eating my starters!

Purchase Your Seeds

Once you have your plan, gets your seeds early. You wouldn’t think so, but if you wait until too late, it can be difficult to find some seeds that are really popular. This happened to us last year with our favorite dried beans, so we saved some seeds for this year. But, if you’re just getting started, this can be an issue. I recommend checking with local nurseries and coops to make sure you are getting access to foods that grow well in your area.

This year, I’m planning to write a series of posts about the steps our family is taking to plan, plant, grow, and harvest our garden. I hope you’ll follow me on our journey and share your stories as well.