A Chicken Named Dog

Adventures with a Flock Family

Month: January 2013

Martha Stewart Does A Segment on Chickens

This is an older segment from Martha Stewart’s show. I was first directed to the Martha Stewart website after reading an article my sister brought me from the Martha Stewart magazine.  I was prompted to look online and find out if Martha Stewart had produced any videos.  She had, and this is a pretty good overview.  The hen in the commentator’s lap, a woman who wrote an article about chickens for The New Yorker, looks like she would like to fight with Martha’s lap hen, and Martha makes for a suspense-filled beak dip with a chick (hoping she didn’t drown it). It’s worth the watch.

Having Chickens, It’s a Good Thing

I have not always been a fan of Martha Stewart.  No really good reason other than her place is always so  much cleaner than my own, which is not really a good reason.

Martha’s chickens sitting on her homemade roosts.


Anyway, I have recently warmed to her for one basic proposition–she is a chicken mom.  Actually, it seems that she has chickens, ducks, turkeys…she doesn’t seem to be one who does things by the half measure.

My sister-in-law, Rachel, brought an article, which I cannot find, but I did find an interesting clip from her show:  Martha Stewart on chickens.  Although she gives good, solid advice, I would disagree with her recommending a heat lamp for the roost for cold temperatures.  With our experience with an inadvertent forced molt, such supplemental heat, actually it is the supplemental light, should be used with care and sparingly.

I am wondering if there is a good way to introduce low-level heat without the light…

I have also read that a roost should not be too large, nor too small.  Hers seem on the large side.  I shall investigate for a future post, about posts…

If you go looking for chicken information on Martha’s many websites, be prepared to find lots of recipes.  She is way short on chicken advice, which I find interesting.  She has lots of cooking, cleaning and dog posts, but scant chicken.  Perhaps she will work on that.

Ms. Stewart has a picture-perfect farm, for which I am annoyed with her by implication.  But, she has happy and health chickens, so her place must be, on the whole, a good thing.

Just how hardy is “cold hardy”

This week, and extending into the next couple, we have been experiencing winter colds that are, on average, colder than they have been in at least four years.  That is, it is colder than we have experienced with chickens.

So, how cold hardy are our birds, all of whom we bought with an eye toward the “cold hardy” breed description.

We are in the process of finding out.

In order to protect our birds, we have, in the past, put up heat lamps.  Our first year, three years ago, we placed a heat lamp directly in

The girls and Sonny  in warmer times.

The girls and Sonny in warmer times.

the a-frame coop, tying it up and leaving it on all night.  Our two birds (see “Other Peoples’ Dogs“) made it just fine in the cold, but with the direct light, we inadvertently pushed our hen, Dog, into a premature molt.  Judging by the timing of other silver-laced Wyandottes, she shouldn’t have molted until around 18 months–which for Dog should have been the following summer/fall.  With the increased light, though, she dropped her feathers in the coldest part of the winter, thus, to us, increasing the need for supplemental heating.

Not wanting to repeat an inadvertent forced molting, the next winter (last winter and number two for us and fowl) we supplemented mainly under the main coop and mainly to help out Melanie the Peking duck.  She had lost her duck-mate a few months earlier, and while she seemed to be accepted into the full coop flock of hens and one rooster, she would act cold, pulling her feet up into her feathers and voicing her disapproval at the whole snow idea.

This year we are going without lights, hoping that no inadvertent molting will occur.

This year we are trying WATER!

In the past, the garden pump, placed over a stab-well, is pulled in the late fall at or around the first frost.  Since it isn’t our pump, we complied, carrying the necessary water in gallon jugs.  With the increased population (yay for success there), this year we are attempting to overwinter with water access at the garden.  Thus far, with a few minor set-backs, we continue to have running water, even with overnight temperatures at ZERO degrees Fahrenheit (all temps in Fahrenheit).

I notice a couple of nights ago that the brown-runner drakes (who still have not laid their first egg–D@#! Tractor Supply worker who promised two females) were standing in the running hose water, even with the ambient temperature at zero.  The water out of the well, we were told, is about 38–40 degrees, so it is, comparatively, balmy.

So, we set up a hose in Melanie’s area to see if she wants to stand in the running water as well.  Bonus, the ground in the run-off area is thawing, opening up a potential access to dirt.

We have also used straw and hay (organic–see “The Dangers of Treated Seeds“) to fill in the cracks in the nesting areas and to bale around the “skirt” area in the bottom portion of the A-frame.

With a forecast of two-to-three weeks at single-digit overnight lows, we shall see if our approach will make it.

Coping with Coop Poop

As I compose blog posts in my head while I tend to my chickens, one of the recurrent themes is that the art of chicken maintenance is all about handling the poop–specifically, and here it goes, the coop poop.


When dealing with the dreaded coop poop, nothing beats the hand rake at keeping the stuff at a reasonable distance.

We have a variety of coops (more on this in a later post), so our coop poop approach varies.  Today’s topic will deal with our oldest and first coop design and the absolute, most important tool for the job.

Our first coop was designed and built by Adam, my brother-in-law.  He saw it as a building challenge.  We discussed what we wanted out of a coop: movable through the garden rows,  nesting boxes that opened to the outside, a retractable ramp to close the hens in, and a screen skirt with a removable door for their scratching pleasure.  The idea was to move the chicken tractor/coop up and down the rows, with the hens scratching underneath and going up to roost at night.

Things don’t always go as planned.

The A-frame design is a good design: sturdy, stays put in wind and accessible–especially with a large side door.  We kept that basic design for our second large coop last summer.  Yay A-frame design.

We did not, though, anticipate the demands of the coop poop.  Here’s how: when constructing a door or access way, it is easier to clean if the opening extends down past the floor level.  That is, the easiest cleaning comes from a smooth scrape out.  We did not anticipate this.

While seemingly providing good access, the lower lip becomes an obstacle to a clean sweep.

While seemingly providing good access, the lower lip becomes an obstacle to a clean sweep.

We thought that a good nesting box, located at both ends of the A-frame, needed borders, much like a raised bed.  So, our doors have a lip around the bottom–good for holding in straw or bedding, bad if you then want to scrape out that straw or bedding with minimal effort.  (see picture to the right, with the removable door removed)

Enter the hand-rake.  Extending about a foot from my hand, my trusty hand rake offers me two options for coop poop removal: the three-pronged rake for grabbing the straw, and the hard edge for scraping the extra sticky droppings and, when the straw is extracted, shoveling the dust and dropping up and over the wall’s lower lip.

So, if you create a coop which has a level that is not open to the outside at the floor, then a hand-rake should be on your shopping list.

Happy chickening.

Composting with Chickens – BackYard Chickens Community

I just read a wonderful article about using chickens to “turn” a compost pile until it is mulch.  This aligns with our goal of having working chickens that add and benefit the garden.

Chickens begin to root and scratch around a pile of fresh compostable materials.

The same compost pile, now after 4 months of chicken work,resulting in actual compost.

I am linking a few of the photos (particularly the before and after shots), so to get the full article and more pictures, follow here: Composting with Chickens – BackYard Chickens Community.

Composting also allows us to cycle through the Franken-hay that we inadvertently bought.  In a pinch, we purchased some hay from the local co-op.  After working with the hay, Rebecca broke out in a pretty severe rash on any skin that was exposed to the hay particles floating in the air.  When asked at the co-op, they indicated that it was “normal” hay, probably just treated with a little  2,4-D.  

We are now buying straw and hay from a local farmer committed to organic practices.  The hay is not as green, but we are finding that the greener the hay, the more toxic the hay.

A final note, Penelope the duck has started laying again.  She has been fallow for about a month, with an occasional “rubber” egg–an egg whose shell isn’t completely firm.  We tried providing oyster shells to help, but it (coincidentally?) seems to correlate with removing all of the co-op hay and introducing the organically-grown hay.  After two days with the better hay, the shell has firmed up.

The franken-hay is being moved well away.

The Dangers of Treated Seed

Who would have thought mice would be a vector for seed with a poisoned seed coat, a.k.a., treated seed?  When my father first ordered his garden seed for last year, he swore he got untreated seed, had checked the box on the order form for untreated seed, and so he had.  Unfortunately, the seed that arrived was treated.

Treated seed…treat with caution.

According to the FDA‘s website, these are some of the labeling requirements for treated seed:

Section 201.31a (d) of the FSA regulations requires seed treated with a chemical not assigned to Toxicity Category I by EPA to be labeled with, “Do not use for food,” “Do not use for feed,” “Do not use for oil purposes,” or “Do not use for food, feed, or oil purposes,” if the amount remaining with the seed is harmful to humans or other vertebrate animals. The most commonly used labeling for seed with these types of seed treatments is “Treated with (name of substance)” and “Do not use for food, feed, or oil purposes.”

The type of seed treatment we have is dangerous to birds, and therefore would be dangerous to our chickens. I looked online for other views on treated seed and birds, and I found this from Michigan, as well:

The neighbor next to me planted 40 acres 12 days ago, and filled in some wet spots a few days ago. I walked down my lane two days ago and found two crows 30 yards apart in the fencerow. They are both dangling from limbs several feet off the ground. Wings wide open, drool hanging out of their beaks. Very close to death. I am sure they ate too much treated corn seed. Not a pretty site. They are a few feet from my neighbors newly planted corn field. (Michigan Sportsman Forums)

The forum also included a section about how this man’s field was sprayed with Round-up, obviously not healthy to birds, but the treated seed caused death of crows. The treated seed at our garden was stored in a shed that was infiltrated by mice, who infiltrated treated packets, and we began to find dead mice on the floor, in boxes, and in corners.  Unfortunately, we also found mice droppings and the remnants of coated, treated, seed shells under our packages of oyster shells in our shed.  We tried to put out oyster shells, but we found blue flecks in them, and upon closer inspection, we found that the treated seed had been spread by the mice to our mineral salts for the birds, as well. Even stored treated seeds have the potential to adversely affect your birds if mice carry them around.

Here is the warning for Syngenta, a treatment to prevent fungal infections in plants:

DO NOT use treated seed for animal or human consumption. DO NOT allow treated seed to contaminate grain or other seed intended for animal or human consumption.
DO NOT feed treated seed, or otherwise expose, to wild or domestic birds.

When treated seed is stored it should be kept apart from other grain and the bags or other containers should be clearly marked to indicate the contents have been treated. Bags which have held treated seed should not be used for any other purpose.


DO NOT feed treated seeds to animals, including poultry.

This product is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. DO NOT contaminate streams, rivers or waterways with the product or used containers.

This segment was taken from the Syngenta website. Apparently we are not the only people noticing the toxicity of these seeds. We ended up dumping all of our products that the mice had gotten into anyway–who would want to feed mouse poop to their chickens–but we never expected the treated seed to be spread by the mice to multiple locations.  We thought we had the seed stored safely away from our garden.

I, personally, never handle treated seed, nor do I allow my daughter to handle it. I get too nervous about the toxicity of these chemicals on treated seed.  If the seed is so toxic, then why use it or touch it, but I just wanted to offer a cautionary tale that even storage of these seeds can result in spread by vectors we might not foresee.

Other Peoples’ Dogs

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever (Photo credit: emildom75)

I like dogs.  We have three.  I like our dogs, sometimes, more than I like most people.  What I don’t like is that terrible interaction that results in other peoples’ dogs.

Three years ago we started out chicken/garden experience kind of on a lark.  The local feed store was selling chicks, and we had talked about how nice it would be to try out some of the natural gardening techniques we had read about (using a chicken tractor to till, incorporating chicken poop as a fertilizer, etc.) and brother-in-law #1 agreed to make a coop.  Suddenly we had chirping chicks in the living room hopping around an unused dog crate, and our little family expanded cheeps and chirps.

The coop was built (a nice a-frame structure on wheels–our own chicken tractor) and the chicks, upon intense web-searching/study, deemed strong enough to live outside of the house.

Summer came and the chicks grew strong.  Who knew those cute, little white ones with the big legs would grow so big?

Our idyll was complete.

We went to Washington DC on a family trip.

We then got a phone call.  A broiler (which we had no intention of eating–one does not eat one’s friend, my daughter will say) went missing.  Then the other.  Then more.  An unnamed predator had found our flock.

By the time of our return, our flock of 18 was reduced to 2: Sunny and Dog.  Sunny turned aggressive and Dog neurotic.  The day before Papa found the culprit, in flagrante endente, with a hen in his mouth, running home.  Other peoples’ dogs.

We confronted the owner, argued about chickens being just as valued a pet as a dog, and fought off the now-trained-for blood canine for the rest of the fall.  Then the dog quit coming around.

Another year, some more chicks, and then one more year and some more chicks.

Since we have beefed up security.  We added a dog-run (incidentally enough) cyclone fence around the two large coops–so much for chicken tractor– and check the electric fence for pulse obsessively, and keep watch.

Yesterday I got a call: dog prints in the garden.  The prints somehow make it through the fence and circle each community: the purple coop with last summer’s chicks, the main coop with the chicks from two years ago with Sunny as their leader and Duck-duck Melanie as their alarm; the iBaby’s coop; Coyote and Matilda’s in-row chicken tractor coop had signs of digging attempts; the non-egg laying drakes…all had signs of interest from a large dog.

Melanie the duck attempted to fly through the fence to get to her “mama.”

With panic and fear riding host, the frustration and anger of two summers ago quickly returned.  We shouldn’t have to defend our pets against other peoples’ pets, yet here we are.

With the frozen ground (digging was foiled) and the snow pack showing tracks (something we didn’t have in the last neighbor-dog encounter), the wife and child tracked the trespasser to a neighbor’s house.

Other peoples’ dogs.

We will keep you posted.


UPDATE: It has been almost three weeks since I was prompted to write this by the emergence of a neighbor dog.  After a visit from the local sheriff’s deputy, the offending dog has not, fingers crossed, been seen sniffing around (literally seen in the snow pack–one good thing about lots of snow).  Credit goes where credit is due–and the owners of the current dog threat are to be commended on keeping their animal safely away from our fowl.

2013–New Year, 1st Post

Nothing like starting off the new year with a new blog.  This is our first post for our chicken-themed blog, even though the whole family has been talking about what posts we would write as we go about our daily chicken tasks. Who knew chickens could be so absorbing?  Who knew there was so much to learn about chickens?

I had been told: “Chickens are easy.  They are so easy. All you do is put down scratch and water.”  For the uninitiated, scratch is a form of feed made up of large seeds (corn, etc.), but not the only one, and our life was not confined to scratch and water.  We have bought mash feed (more finely milled grain for daily feeding), built coops, built nesting boxes, raised chicks and lost chickens to predators.

Winter scene of the chicken garden

Winter in the chicken garden

The chickens are, in large part, an extension of our garden, an almost-organic garden, designed to supply the family with fresh produce. We have come to rely on the eggs and the chicken antics to keep us entertained.  Stick with us – we’ll try to pass it along to the family and friends interested in our latest chicken endeavors.

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