Edible San Diego Fall 2010 : Page 17
Do you have any eggs yet? No, my chickens are 3 months old. They won’t start laying until 6 months. Do they stink? We clean up after them fairly regularly. Once a week we scoop the poop and put fresh pine shavings in. It actually smells piney and nice for the first few days. Are they noisy? They make lots of noises, but none that are really loud. When they are unhappy they sort of whine. When you hold them they make a curious kind of whirly noise. When they are roaming and scratching they make a contented clucking sound that’s as satisfying as a kitten’s purr. How much space do they need? The recommendation for fully confined birds is 10 square feet per bird. With less space there’s increased chance of disease and pecking. If you’re going to let them roam during the day, the coop can be a bit smaller. My coop is four feet by six feet by six feet tall. Will they eat all the bugs and weeds out of your garden? Chickens are born knowing to eat grain and scratch for bugs. At first my birds would eat from my hand, but mostly ignored everything else. Recently they have begun eating the weedy clovers and grasses, but also raiding my garden for treats like strawberries and young squash vines. I believe eventually they’ll devour everything in their path; I suppose that includes bugs and weeds. Do they fertilize your yard? They almost exclusively eat and poop. I use pine shavings in the coop to absorb the droppings, and then put the combination in the compost. It has rounded out my compost nicely, which was previously almost entirely kitchen scraps. When I let them free roam they leave little fertilizer packets all over the yard. Minnie Rose Lovgreen’s Recipe for Raising Chickens This book is an interesting collector’s piece, written by an intriguing British woman. Minnie Rose was born in 1888, the eighth of 19 children. She left home at the age of 11 and worked her way around the world, including a near miss on the Titanic. She eventually settled near Seattle, where she built a dairy farm with her husband. At age 86, while undergoing treatment for cancer, she dictated this book to her neighbor and friend Nancy Rekow, who later crafted and published it. This book is probably not an adequate guide for those just setting out on the adventure of keeping backyard chickens; much of the content is a bit antiquated. A major focus is breeding and hatching chicks, as well as managing the chick-hen interaction. Today, most backyard chicken keepers are likely to buy t a chicks from a hatchery and raise them sans mother hen. The book also addresses topics such as how to supplement chickens diets with oyster shells, grain and various proteins. Today feedstores carry a variety of feeds, highly tailored for each stage of a chicken’s life. That said, this book is worth a look and probably a second one. It is neatly hand lettered, amusingly illustrated and a pleasure to read through. It is full of interesting anecdotes about chickens warding off cows from their chicks and Minnie Rose’s (sometimes failed) attempts to try new methods. It contains gems of Old World knowledge, such as how to “measure”if your hen is laying with your two fore-knuckles (nothing too weird, I promise), or how to ward off mites by painting crankcase oil in the coop. It also succeeds in amusingly describing the many sounds that chickens make. This short book is a delightful piece of folk history and a welcome addition tomy library. Available from NW Trillium Press online at nwtrilliumpress.com, or by phone at 202-842-6908. —Matt Steiger fall 2010 edible San Diego 17 What kind of an emotional bond can you form with a chicken? They do learn to recognize you, especially if you handle them as chicks and feed them treats. After you’ve bribed them with mealworms for a few days they will run right up to you. Why would you do something like this? I like the idea of producing my own eggs in an environmentally friendly and humane manner. But I also like the challenge, sense of adventure, oddity, and feeling like I’m connecting with some deep human drive for self-reliance. Are you going to die of cholesterol poisoning? Maybe. But considering eggs are one of the most versatile foods, which can be used in every course of every meal, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go.