Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Urban to Rural

Big Red strikes a pose.

Well, folks, we've done it.  We've packed up our hens, our cats, and our earthly possessions, and have moved to an organic farm (David's family's farm) in the Snoqualmie Valley.  Our hens have gone from urban to rural.  One of them was so nervous that she laid an egg on the car trip over.

We're keeping our flock separate from the farm's flock.  The girls have a spacious run with more egg boxes than they know what to do with.  

The most exciting thing, though, is that we've "borrowed" the farm flock's impressive rooster, Big Red.  He's already quite protective over the ladies and isn't too sure about David or I - he always puffs up at us when we come in the coop to nab some eggs.

We're going to try to convince one of our hens to actually sit on her eggs.  Thus far, Penny hasn't taken kindly to our attempts - we tried putting her with a clutch of eggs with her in a separate cage, but she continually kicked the eggs out from underneath her.  We'll keep trying, for the time being, though we might have to introduce some notoriously broody breeds into our flock to get any results.

At any rate, that's the status of our Tacoma girls.  As far as our decision to move goes, it involved a lot of thinking about our interests and goals...we decided that we wanted to make our passion for food production more of a full-time gig.  We'll miss Tacoma - it was a great place to live, grow a garden, and raise chickens.  We're truly bummed that we won't be able to have our coop in the Urban Coop Tour, but we're hoping to make it back to the city to see the other coops on the route.

I hope that our previous blog posts, links, etc. will continue to help Tacoma-area chicken enthusiasts.  We might blog a bit about our farm adventures here, though I wouldn't want to distract readers from the Tacoma-based content that they came here to read.  If we form a separate farm blog, I'll keep you updated.  (Any thoughts, readers?  i.e., would you prefer to see this blog kept as a Tacoma-only information base, or would you want some of the farm stuff here, too?)

Thanks to all of you for continuing to read our blog!  We're excited to see the direction that Tacoma is moving in.

More reading:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tacoma Urban Coop Tour, etc.!

We stopped by GardenSphere (3310 N. Proctor) today to get some more chicken feed and were excited to see that they've started to stock Scratch & Peck's feed (starter, layer, and grower).  Scratch & Peck, based out of Bellingham, WA, sources their organic grain locally.

Also, chick season is upon us!  GardenSphere has a beautiful selection of Barred Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, and Partridge Rocks (all hens).

What was most exciting about our visit, however, was our discovery that GardenSphere is sponsoring the first ever Tacoma Urban Coop Tour!  The details:

Date: Saturday, June 25, 2011 
Time: 10 am - 4 pm 
Where: within Tacoma city limits 
More info: Brochure (.pdf); Rules

If you'd like to participate and feature your own coop in the tour, there are a few basic rules (coop must comply with city ordinances, birds must be healthy, etc.).  The application deadline is March 31 (i.e. tomorrow...sorry for posting his so last-minute!), and the application form can either be picked up at GardenSphere or be downloaded here (.pdf file).

We sadly won't be available to have our coop in the tour, but we're looking forward to seeing everyone else's coops!  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chicken Run

Fellow Tacoma chicken enthusiast (and gardener extraordinaire) wildcelticrose posted this lovely video of her recent chicken roundup:

Our girls have been escaping their enclosure a lot lately, too - it must be all of this wonderful sunshine.  Chickens aren't quite bright enough to systematically check a pen for weaknesses, but they're still surprisingly adept at the art of escape, especially when they sense that there's a good supply of worms in the veggie garden.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wendell Berry and Sustainable Cities

Here are a few quotes from the Essay “Out of your car, and off your horse,” by Wendell Berry.  In this essay Berry lays out propositions for making sustainable cities.

“If we want to keep our thoughts and acts from destroying the globe, then we must see to it that we do not ask too much of the globe or any part of it.  To make sure that we do not ask too much, we must learn to live at home, as independently and self-sufficiently as we can.  This is the only way we can keep the land we are using and its ecological limits always in sight.”

“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding.  Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.”

“To make a sustainable city, one must begin somehow and I think the beginning must be small and economic.  A beginning could be made, for example, by increasing the amount of food bought from farmers in the local country side by consumers in the city.”

I find these quotes to be moving and inspiring for those of us who take on the challenge of urban farming.  Wendell Berry is insightful and visionary in his writing and if you are interested in the culture and politics of agriculture and food, I would encourage you to check out his works. 

Friday, March 18, 2011


My hometown's newspaper (in Billings, Montana) had an article today about a seriously enormous egg laid by a local backyard chicken.  Impressive stuff.  (And, fortunately, the hen survived!)

Billings Gazette: Lockwood chicken lays massive egg

(It dwarfs the egg our girl Petunia laid back in the fall of 2010).  

Monday, March 14, 2011



When we initially decided to start a backyard flock, we were a bit concerned about our neighborhood's cat population. There are lots of cats that consider our backyard to be part of their territory - some are feral, some have homes.

The morning after our hens spent their first night in their outdoor coop, there were multiple cats perched on top of the coop trying to size up the birds. We shooed them away, and they soon lost interest.

We like to let the girls out of their run to stretch their legs and munch on fresh grass (their pen gets awfully muddy during the rainy winter months), so we were especially watchful at first, since there would be no protective barrier of chicken wire between the hens and the cats.

I'm not sure if our experience is typical or not...but we've had absolutely no problems with the cats. Cats still like to come through the yard while the chickens are out, but once those girls fluff up their feathers, the cats are gone in an instant. For the most part, the chickens don't even bat an eye while the cats circulate around them.

I took the above photo this afternoon - a neighbor's new kitten had gotten a bit too close, so Penny stared her down until she ran away. (Note: Penny's molting right now and isn't looking her prettiest).

The biggest danger for our hens is at night, when they're sound asleep and unaware of impending danger. Otherwise, they seem to intimidate the daytime predators.

Have any of our readers encountered any cat problems?

Update: I came upon this lovely photo at South Sound Hounds today. How peaceful!

More reading:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts on Urban Meat Birds

Our egg-layers enjoying a stroll through the corn.

I love eating chicken. I have always loved meat and have never been a vegetarian. The older I get, the more conscientious I am of my choices at the grocery store. I know that with whatever I buy, I am encouraging some corporation to produce more. So I look for meats that were free range and/or organic, and I try to buy local meat at farmer’s markets.

There are a myriad of documentaries that show the horrible conditions in which animals are fattened and slaughtered. The environmental havoc that those systems cause is hard to condone, and the way in which life is turned into a commodity is hard to stomach. Knowledge of these things certainly makes consumers, such as me, think twice about what they purchase.

I have heard vegetarians say that the reason they don’t eat meat is that they could not butcher an animal, and so they cannot support a system that does. Their rejection is on moral grounds: life is sacred and it shouldn’t be taken away.

I do not have these moral objections when it comes to eating meat. But I am not ambivalent about the butchering of animals. I have helped in the butchering process (having grown up on an organic farm in the Snoqualmie Valley), and it is not enjoyable. It has given me a greater appreciation of life and death and exactly what it takes for meat to be on the dinner table. I know from experience that it is especially difficult to butcher animals that one has raised. That being said, I am still not ready to give up eating meat.

Chickens fall into four basic categories: Layers, Meat birds, Dual Purpose Birds and Ornamental. Most urban chicken farmers raise chickens for eggs or to maintain heritage breeds. Most people shy away from meat birds because the process of butchering is brutal and bloody; they also do feel confident enough to butcher a bird (or at least in their ability to do it safely and cleanly). I have read about people who raise two flocks a year and those flocks provide the household with meat for the year. Meat birds can be ready for butchering in less than two months. For these people, meat birds are a way to get meat for their families in a sustainable manner.

I believe that people who eat the birds they raise will treat the birds better. An attitude of respect informs how people treat animals. The issues that surround raising meat birds are complicated, and each person must sort them out for himself/herself.

That being said, Kristin & I made the choice to raise only egg-layers - we don't feel comfortable raising meat birds and butchering them at this point in our lives.