Sunday, September 26, 2010

Increasing Sustainability

Backyard chickens are a great way to increase your personal sustainability and the sustainability of your community. When I look at my hometown of Tacoma, I can see that we are not yet a sustainable community. We have a lot of sustainable practices, particularly in the legal and political fields, but not in the environmental or food department.

Our current system relies on diminishing supplies of fossil fuels to keep us fed. Because this can’t continue forever, we must find a way to transfer to a more sustainable method of living. Urban chicken farming is a step in the right direction. By producing eggs or meat in your backyard, you are cutting out the distance that the eggs or meat need to travel to get to your plate. This is a great step toward sustainability.

But how can we increase our sustainability if we already have a backyard flock? While chickens are very efficient at producing consumable energy (eggs and meat) they don’t produce in a vacuum. Chickens require food and water if we expect them to produce food for us.

I purchase X-Cel Chicken Crumble, a chicken feed produced here in Tacoma, and I have used that to feed my flock, but a tremendous amount of energy is nonetheless used to grow the grains, ship the grains, and process the grains in order to feed the chickens. A backyard chicken flock might be more sustainable than buying eggs at a store, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The core from this apple on the tree in our backyard makes a great dietary supplement for our hens.

You can start by trying to feed your chickens as much as possible with table scraps. Apple cores, leftover rice, stale bread, etc. will supply your chickens with a great deal of nutrients that would have otherwise ended up in the garbage. I always think that for every apple core my chickens eat, they are eating that much less grain, which is decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels.

Penny and Dorothy attack the apple core.

Chickens are also great foragers. They enjoy grazing on tender grass and clover. They also eat various roots, bugs, and flies. Chickens that forage tend to produce eggs that have a higher Omega 3 content.

As conscientious urban chicken farmers, we should always be mindful of ways to increase our sustainability. We should be careful about the feed we buy for our animals. We should allow them to forage as much as possible and supplement their food with our kitchen scraps.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Egg Recipe: Migas (with homemade guacamole & pico de gallo)

Migas, with fresh eggs from our girls!

This southwest concoction of eggs and pretty much everything that is heavenly has become one of my favorite things to make in the kitchen.  In my humble opinion, the key is to serve it with fresh, homemade guacamole (make it nice and chunky), homemade pico de gallo, and some sour cream.  

Migas (6 servings)
(I'm using Pioneer Woman's recipe, since that woman simply can't go wrong.  She also posts fantastic, illustrated step-by-step guides to all of her recipes).

  • 4 whole corn tortillas
  • 1 whole jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, finely diced
  • 4 whole roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 whole green pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 whole red pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 whole medium onion, chopped
  • 12 whole large eggs
  • 1/4 liters Cotija cheese, grated (or Cheddar, Monterey Jack, etc.)
  • 1/3 cups cilantro, chopped
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/4 cups half-and-half

In a bowl, whisk together eggs and half & half.  Salt and pepper eggs, then set aside.

In a small skillet over medium heat, heat oil and fry each corn tortilla just until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Chop tortillas and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the olive oil with the butter.  Add onions and bell peppers and cook until starting to turn brown/black, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add in diced jalapenos and stir to combine.  Add tomatoes to the skillet and stir around, then add tortilla pieces, stirring gently to combine.

Reduce heat to low.

When the heat has decreased, pour egg mixture into skillet.  Stir gently to cook with the peppers, folding mixture very gently as it cooks.  Once eggs have cooked, add in grated cheese and chopped cilantro, and stir to combine. 


Guacamole and Pico de Gallo (8 servings)

  • 5 whole roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 whole large onion
  • 3 whole jalapeno peppers
  • cilantro
  • lime juice
  • salt to taste

  • 3 whole avocados
  • pico de gallo
  • lime juice
  • salt to taste

Chop jalapenos, tomatoes and onions into a very small dice.  Remove jalapeno seeds if you are like me and can't handle too much heat.  

Next, chop up a handful of cilantro. Put jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro into a bowl and stir.

Squeeze the juice of half of one lime into the bowl. Add salt to taste and stir again.

 Halve the avocados lengthwise and remove the pits.  Next, scrape the meat out onto a large plate.  Then mash the avocados with a fork, but don't mash too thoroughly - leave them chunky.  Add a dash of salt.

Next, add a generous helping of Pico de Gallo.  Fold together.  Squeeze the juice of half of a lime over the top. Give it one last stir.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Hen Who Wasn't

Bandita, in a very unflattering photo, arriving home from the farm.

We acquired our first backyard hens about a year ago - two huge Plymouth Rocks, as well as a small chick that was a mix between a Buff Orpington and a Black Sexlink. We didn't intend to bring the chick home, but she was tugging at my heart strings. Since this was obviously not the ideal age mix for three chickens, we kept the chick separate until she was old enough to hold her own with the big hens. We dubbed her "Bandita", and watched her grow from the scruffy-looking chick in the photo above to a gorgeous bird with bright orange plumage and extravagant feathers on her feet.

David grew up on an organic farm in the Snoqualmie Valley, which is where we got these chickens. The farm had about 500 chickens at one time, so David was certainly very familiar with raising poultry - but raising them on such a small scale, in a backyard, provided difficulties all its own.

Bandita seemed like an incredibly healthy bird. She was always smaller than most, but since she was the product of a large chicken breed and a small chicken breed, the strangeness in her size didn't surprise us.

One day, out of the blue, Bandita started limping. We kept a close eye on the problem, inspecting her feet carefully and checking for any cuts. The leg in question was incredibly stiff - she had a hard time bending it back to walk properly, and the whole leg tended to stick out in front of her. The next day, she lost use of it entirely - she just stayed in an egg box, and we brought food and water to her throughout the day. Her other leg soon began to exhibit the same symptoms.

Then we did something that David, as a farm boy, would probably have never imagined himself doing. We took our chicken to the vet. We viewed our birds as pets, after all.

(Attention Tacoma chicken owners: if your bird is sick, I highly recommend the Jones Animal Hospital at 3322 South Union. Most vets don't take chickens, but Jones can handle pretty much anything).

We expected that euthanasia was the only option and were surprised by the vet's analysis. He suspected that Bandita might have had a vitamin deficiency of some sort that was causing paralysis in her legs.

We still have no idea how this vitamin deficiency could have occurred; we kept the chickens outside, in full daylight (with a shelter of course), where they hunted for bugs and ate grass. We also fed them chicken crumble from a local Tacoma supplier. Moreover - none of the other chickens showed any signs of illness or paralysis.

At any rate, the vet gave Bandita a shot (some sort of vitamin cocktail) and sent us home with a vitamin paste to mix in with her food as well as very specific instructions.

We spent the following week feeding that chicken by hand about 6 times a day. We mashed Flintstone vitamins up with her crumble, as instructed by the vet (I'm not kidding), and also mixed the vet's vitamin gruel in with the concoction.

A few days later, that bird walked again. A few days after that, her limp was gone.

A few days after that, at about 5:30 in the morning, Bandita let out a warbly crow.

Bandita was actually Bandito. The blend of breeds in Bandito's lineage made it hard to judge him by size, so we were pretty surprised, to say the least. Since roosters are not allowed in the city of Tacoma, we had to drive him back to the farm and bid him a fond farewell.

As far as the vitamin deficiency goes, we're really not entirely sure what the problem was - neither was the vet. We haven't had a problem with any of our chickens since the Bandito incident. It could have been related to a genetic disorder, but I guess we'll never know for sure.

Ultimately, though, it was a humbling experience to discover that we didn't always know the different between a rooster and a hen. :)

More reading:

Sunday, September 5, 2010


On the left is an example of one of Petunia's regular eggs.  On the right is the mammoth that she laid last week.
Please forgive me for this post's title.

We bought our hens as week-old chicks in February 2010 (surprisingly, every chick we bought turned out to be female), so they just started laying eggs in July.  Hens under the age of 1 year are technically called "pullets", and they start off their egg-laying careers by producing small pullet eggs.  Our girls were quite disconcerted by their changing bodies, and their first egg-laying endeavors started with lots of pacing and squawking.  Understandably so.

That was nothing in comparison with the squawking that poor Petunia did when she laid the monstrosity pictured above.  She went from laying pullet eggs to laying a gigantic double-yolker in one day.  It was fortunately an anomaly, and her eggs have since returned to their normal size.

What's the deal with double-yolks?  According to, they appear "when ovulation occurs too rapidly" and are often laid by pullets who don't yet have a properly synchronized laying cycle.  Here's a more detailed answer:

When an egg starts its journey inside the hen, the first thing formed is the ovum in the hen's ovary. This grows and the colour changes from pale grey to the yellow we know as the yolk colour.
Once it reaches full size, the yolk sac breaks away (ovulation) and begins a journey down the oviduct where the egg white (albumen) and the shell form around it. The process from ovulation to egg laying takes around 24-26 hours.

Normally, the next ovulation is triggered by the hen laying the egg but occasionally things go wrong and two yolks are released at the same time to travel down the oviduct together, being surrounded by one shell and giving us the double yolker. 
Much to the chicken's horror.

More reading:

A Day in the Life

Meet Penny, the hen who thinks she's a person.  She regularly scoots onto our porch, hops up onto a chair, and spies on us.  She drives the cats crazy.

Kristin and I are starting this blog to chronicle our experiment of raising chickens in the city Tacoma. I say "experiment" because we are certainly not experts in the field of chicken-raising; nonetheless, we hope that our experience will be beneficial to others.  We also hope that other urban chicken farmers and those interested in producing their own food will contribute to the blog to add to the knowledge base of urban food production in the Tacoma area.

We became interested in starting our own flock a couple of years ago as a way in which we could draw closer to the food we put in our bodies daily.  We value sustainability and autonomy, and we are hesitant to put our full faith in the vast global food network to provide quality food for all people indefinitely.  We hope that this blog can articulate the importance of local, urban food production and explore the philosophy behind this movement while encouraging others to start making adjustments in their lives.

There are lots of questions that people have about raising chickens and starting gardens. Sometimes it seems as though there is so much information that it can be difficult to sort through it all and know where to begin.  We aim to make this blog a place where practical information will be readily available and where people will feel comfortable asking questions and posing problems.  And if we don’t have a good answer, we hope that others will step in and share their knowledge.

Chickens are a lot like conventional pets such as dogs and cats. Anytime you bring an animal onto your property and into your life, you can expect to have to make adjustments in your routines and schedules.  Along those lines, this blog will also be about the day-to-day aspect of keeping a flock in an urban environment. We'll be posting photos, anecdotes, delicious egg recipes, etc., and we encourage other urban farmers to send in their photos and stories as well.

Thanks for reading! We plan on updating at least a couple of times a week, so check back and please do participate!  If you'd like to add any content to the blog, feel free to comment or send us an e-mail.