Some Cool Chicks

chickens

It’s been hot around here (David Bowie is panting). So this is how we keep our girls cool. A kiddie pool filled with muddy water. The trick is the mud. They refused to stand in it when it was just water. All of them loiter around the pool during the hottest part of the day taking turns dipping their toes in the cooling mud.

A Garden for the Birds (and the Bees) Part 1

This picture makes me sad. It makes me sad because it no longer looks like this. We had a brilliant plan to redo the garden. We pulled everything out to make room for new plants. And then we moved the chickens.

And now it looks like this. And I hate it. I’m the mechanic with the crappy car that doesn’t run. For reals. This is the plan view:

Dirt and birds. That’s what I’ve got. And the trees are a bit bigger now. There are only a few token shrubs left, some of which look better than others. We don’t even have any weeds. Have I mentioned how good chickens are at weeding? This is just a portion of our yard, our “entertaining” area where we can seat a lot of people. The patio is actually more square footage than our house to give you an idea. The trees moving from upper left, across and then down to lower right are: Arkansas Black apple, Manzanillo olive, Arbequina olive, random orange tree, pomegranate, Karp’s Sweet quince, Johnny Appleseed Apple, Illinois Everbearing mulberry, Indian Free peach, Jubileum plum. The gate to the right of the chicken run has actually been removed so that the birds have access to the large orchard area near the garden. I’m not so concerned with that area right now as I just want to focus on this main part of the yard. The first area that people see when they enter our backyard.

A couple of months ago I was sent a book to review. I was so excited to get this book as it was EXACTLY what I needed to inspire me to get moving on the garden. Free Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard  by fellow designer Jessi Bloom was going to be my garden savior.

This is definitely a book you can judge by it’s cover. It’s got beautiful photos – full page photos – throughout with tons of information including basic chicken care, how to build a coop using different materials (plus the pros, cons, availability and relative expense of those materials), and of course what plants you can and cannot use around chickens. It also features different chicken gardens throughout the book which is great. I like seeing what other people are doing with their gardens.

As designers we take a lot of inspiration from what other designers do. We don’t copy but we are inspired by different ideas and then change them to make them our own. Our book shelves are lined with relevant topic books that we go through and tag the ideas that we like for each project. Then we work on bringing all the things we like together into a design that flows. This book is perfect to add to my shelf because it deals with a lot of plants I don’t normally use – perennials. I work mostly on large projects where we need bulletproof plants that don’t die back every year so my experience using perennials is a bit limited.

Next week I’ll unveil the plan I have for the backyard along with a plant list that will use chicken-friendly plants. I’ll also be incorporating bee-friendly, edible and medicinal plants as well. A following post after that will be the project of putting the plants in (though this might be over a few weeks because I’ll need to source them through wholesale nurseries. I’m really looking forward to this project.

 

Book Review & Giveaway – A Chicken in Every Yard

*Update: Susan is our giveaway winner! Look for an email from us to get your address.

The Review

I rarely ever read a “reference book” all the way through. Actually I have never read a reference book all the way through (not even my college textbooks). That was until I got my paws on A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt, owners of the Urban Farm Store in Portland, Oregon. It was an easy and quick read while containing quite a bit of information. It is a great primer for those that are planning on getting some backyard chickens. It’s also got some good information if you have chickens including a health section that goes over the most common ailments that your chickens might suffer.

It goes over various topics including some of the more popular breeds of chickens, brooding chicks (more on that below), litter management, feeding, predators, clipping wings and introducing new birds. A Chicken in Every Yard even includes simple plans for building a basic chicken coop. It discusses various options for runs that will effectively keep your chickens safe and happy. It breaks down how much time per day you’ll need to work at keeping chickens depending on what management system you’re using.The most interesting chapter, to me at least, was about eggs. I never realized there were so many different parts to an egg. It’s also got some delicious looking recipes that utilize those tasty homegrown eggs.

Because there are as many management styles as there are chicken owners, there are some things that they recommend that I personally don’t follow. Their recommendations include the use of medicated feed which is definitely an option but I wish they would have discussed other management techniques such as brooding without the need for medication. The one great thing they offer in their chapter on chicks is a checklist of all the supplies you will need if bringing home chicks.

This book is targeted towards those that will be keeping chickens as “pets with benefits.” If you want a book that also covers chickens for meat this wouldn’t be the book for you as they are clear in the very beginning that they will not be discussing using chickens for meat – even retired chickens. And this is really the only source of contention that I do have with this book. They don’t push the issue in regards to what to do if you end up with a rooster (while not likely with sexed pullets it’s still a possibility that people need to think about) and they “highly recommend” sending retired hens to farm sanctuaries if people don’t want to keep them past their egg laying years which I find very irresponsible. I always tell people that there are only two choices when you have chickens. They are either a pet or they are dinner. But don’t let this turn you off from the book because otherwise it’s quite good and if you are new to chickens you’ll be successful if you follow their recommendations (even if there are other ways to do things).

The Giveaway

If you would like a chance to win this book please leave a comment with your beginning chicken keeping questions. For extra entries you can like us on Facebook for one entry and get another entry if you share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter (that’s 3 extra entries). Just leave a comment here that you’ve liked us (even if you already do) and/or shared this post.

The giveaway will go until midnight on Friday, June 22nd and I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, June 23rd. Unfortunately I have to limit it to residents of the U.S.

Guest Post – Defending Your Flock from the HOA

With chickens becoming more and more popular some people are running into problems with their HOA bylaws. Most of the time the problems stem from lack of knowledge about chickens that is spread through misinformation. Chickens are not any noisier, stinkier, or more likely to spread disease than the family dog. I personally don’t live in HOA so today’s post is from Shannon who recently had to defend her hens from her HOA. She has some great advice that might help you if you are having a problem with your HOA.

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Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having to defend my dear chickens at my neighborhood Homeowners Association (HOA) Board meeting. After numerous complaints from a single neighbor, my husband and I had to attend a hearing in which the fate of our chickens was in the hands of 3 unknown Board Members. Though I won’t go into about the actual specifics about my case (that’s a different post), I did realize I had a new wealth of information to share with other folks who may be up against a similar threat. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the murky waters of HOA rules.

Tip # 1: Do your research
This may sound pretty obvious, but knowing the rules is the most important part of building a case for your chickens. Read your CCRs carefully. Don’t just pay attention to the rules about animals, think beyond the box. Have some knowledge in your back pocket.
What are the proper channels one should take when filing a complaint against a neighbor? In our case, the HOA encourages neighbors to resolve issues on their own. Our neighbor never contacted us with her concerns about the noise our chickens made. Knowing that the HOA encourages neighbors to deal with issues on their own shows that she a) doesn’t know the rules, and b)if she knew them, she didn’t act upon them.
Find out what the proper dispute resolution sequence is (for my HOA, it was having a hearing, then mediation, then arbitration). It’s good to know what steps you’ll need to take in case they deny your case.
Are there height/dimension limits to any coops built in your yard? Do they need to be a certain distance from your neighbors’ houses? This is important to know. For example, if our coop was another 2 feet taller, we would have had to get approval from the HOA to build it.
How much authority does the Board really have? In our case, the Board had the final say on issues – meaning one cannot get a measure put on a ballot for the neighborhood to vote on. Some HOA’s allow members to gather enough signatures to get something on the ballot (how democratic!) This is worth looking into just in case the Board decides against you – you could still get a petition going and leave the vote to the masses.
Get your city and/or county’s municipal code, and be sure to include it with your materials. Many CCR’s defer to the municipal code (be sure you don’t have more chickens than you are allowed!) Thankfully for us, our city doesn’t have a restriction on the number of hens you can keep for non-commercial purposes.
If your HOA is run by a management company, get to know the person that works with your Board. If they are friendly, use their knowledge of the CCRs to help build your case. This proved to be a great resource for me – I was told there was a 1987 CCR that prohibited poultry in our neighborhood (which changed in 2007). I never would have known that if I hadn’t *gently* prodded my contact.

Tip #2: Get the support of your neighbors
I can’t stress this one enough. Thankfully in our neighborhood, everyone loves our chickens. It was really easy to pass a document around for their signature, stating that they did not believe our chickens were loud or a nuisance to the neighborhood. If you do get people to sign a document, be sure to include specific language related to the CCR’s. I used “loud” and “nuisance” because there is a rule against loud animals that are a nuisance. This allowed the Board to compare the CCRs with the support signatures apples for apples. Once you get those signatures, create a graphic that shows your house in relation to all that signed your petition. This is a great way of visually showing those who support you in your neighborhood. Finally, if you’ve got great neighbors like mine, you’ll have them come as your posse to the Board meeting. I had 5 adult neighbors (and 1 child) attend the meeting and speak in support of our chickens. Hearing this from others really showed the good impact our flock was making in the neighborhood. (Note: a carton of eggs is a great way to show your thanks)

Tip #3: What have other Associations done?
Google “HOA and Chickens” or any combination of “chickens”, “HOA”, and “CCRs”. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Backyard chicken has a few great forums with information from other chicken owners and their experiences with HOAs. I found a few promising articles and presented this information to the Board. I think it’s important to highlight that people all over the country have chickens, and there are many different ways of accommodating them in a HOA (whether that means restricting the number of chickens, or how the decision to allow chickens is made).

Tip #4: Are you willing to compromise?
On a personal note, this was the hardest part for me to come to terms with. If the Board votes no more chickens – are you ready to go to the next level (i.e. court) to keep them? Are you willing to give up a few hens to keep the neighbor(s) happy? After taking everything into consideration, I decided to pair my flock down from 6 to 3. Sure, I miss the extra eggs and the sound of a happy coop. But, because I showed the Board that I was willing to compromise, they agreed to let me keep my remaining girls. In the end – totally worth it.

Go to the meeting with confidence and your head held high – after all, you are a steward of this uncharted urban chicken-raising territory!