Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ohhhhh, muck!

Let me start out by saying that chickens are great. We love having our girls and they've brought a lot of joy to our lives. Heck, they even gained me some notoriety in The News Tribune last May.

The girls are funny, inquisitive, silly, and attentive. They follow us around the yard, sit on our laps, and pull at our pant legs until we pick them up. They crack us up with their antics and break our hearts when they leave this world.

Not to mention that hens are probably the only pet that pays "rent". Right now we're getting over 3 dozen eggs each week from our 9 girls. If I sell just 4 dozen eggs a month, it pays for the 50 lbs of feed they'll eat during that time. I don't want to go near the things our cats produce.

In the 2 years we've had chickens, the only food scraps that I've thrown into the garbage disposal are things in the citrus and onion families. Everything else - moldy cheese and bread, fruit and vegetable peels, leftovers retrieved on archaelogical missions to the farthest corner of the fridge - goes to the 9 walking stomachs.

They're pretty good for the garden, eating dandelions and pooping out fertilizer.

Chicken invasion
Because all of the girls were brooded in the house, our girls are very friendly and have no qualms about sneaking into the house any chance they get. The house is, after all, the People Coop. Last fall I hosted a baby shower and the guests were entertained by a surprise appearance by Curry when I was distracted: brrrrrawwwwk!

Remarkably, the chickens rarely poop during their visits.

Keeping hens in the city on a small lot definitely has its disadvantages.

Unfortunately, having the world as their buffet means everything in the yard is on the menu. My red-twig dogwood and Japanese maple have no leaves below 2 feet. The sole plants the yard sharks haven't nibbled to nothingness are the hydrangeas and the columbine, and it's not for lack of trying. We're limited on where we can put their run so last fall I spent a lot of time transplanting plants out of it to other areas of the yard.

They also love to steal whatever you're eating. Dining al fresco can be like that seagull scene in Finding Nemo. "mine mine mine... mine?"

I laugh when people ask about grass. What grass? And with no grass, our backyard becomes a quagmire of muck when it rains... which is about November to April here. We've adopted a no-shoes rule in the house because of the muck.

All chickens have a weird obsession with styrofoam. They've eaten a faucet cover, pecked out the spray foam insulation next to the back door, and demolished the lid to a styrofoam ice chest. Grrrr.

And don't get me started on their digging. They love to dig more than any dog. What plants they don't dig up or eat, they trample.

So, we've given up. Last summer we created the "No Chicken Zone", aka "The NCZ". The wire fencing keeps them out of the house, off the back porch and carport, away from the vegetable garden, and prevents their general destruction of the other half of the yard.

The problems we must address this spring are:

  • increasing drainage in their area by installing a French drain

  • keeping the summer fly population down; last year's fly paper didn't do the trick. I'm even considering getting fly predators.

  • finding a way to get grass to grow without it being utterly destroyed within 3 days

  • figuring out more plants that are unpalatable to chickens and that can survive the harsh conditions in their run

Be forewared: if you decide to get chickens your yard and life will be forever changed.

Not that I think that's a bad thing.


  1. Awesome, Jenn. Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea chickens were so domestic!

  2. We didn't either, and that's the joy of them! I think that a large flock, while equally attentive and just as likely to get stepped on, would be quite different. We know the personalities of each of our girls (or lack thereof, in the case of Nugget). They're a delight.