Coming Back Down to Self

I’ve been on somewhat of a hiatus since last December.  The Rescue just began taking off and demanding much of my free time.  Now that everything is in place, and I have an awesome team of volunteers working with me, I can breathe a little.  So, I decided to write an update.

Recently Chris and I had to reinforce the chicken pen, as we have had so many foxes in the area, and one even dug under the fencing to get a poor hen.  We lashed 36″ chicken wire all the way around the coop building and fencing to the ground, then put soil and grass seed over the top.  The worst part was burying the wire under the landscaping blocks around the kennel panels – those things are 28 pounds each!  Add in July heat (90 degrees + STL humidity), and we were pretty wiped out after the project.

Because of said foxes, my flock had been dwindling from 16 down to 8 with the last attack.  I bought 9 new pullets and was given 4 pullets by a friend.  So, I’m up to twenty-one now (6 Rhode Island Reds, 3 Buff Orpingtons, 3 Leghorns, 3 Black Australorps, 2 New Hampshires, 1 Barred Rock, 1 White Rock, 1 Black Star, and 1 Polish). Unfortunately, the girls can’t free range any longer, but they now have a 22′ x 30′ pen (we decided to expand from the 12′ x 20′ pen before renovating).

The garden had been doing well until July.  All of the squash family plants were taken over again this year by stink bugs.  I really need to work on an organic solution – I guess my concentration of Neem oil was too high again this year for the poor plants.  We did get some great cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.  Some melon plants have survived too!  Just so sad we don’t get any great Connecticut pumpkins this year!

I have been sewing and crafting a little this summer (thank you cards for the Rescue, a few dresses for myself and Kari, painting and tie-dying shirts, making some new jewelry pieces, and knot blankets as a fundraiser).  I enjoy making my own things, as I think it is so fun to have a piece no one else in the world has…and to be able to make it your own!

The Rescue is going very well – so far, we have rescued over 275 pets!  We have adoption events several times each month, but by far, the Internet is the heavy hitter for adoptions!

After much flip flopping, I decided to make the jump to get the iPhone 4 from my 3G.  Although I pre-ordered mine, I stood in line for 6.5 hours.  And, yes, next time I am going to have it shipped. Turns out, I broke even with the upgrade as I sold my still new looking 3G on ebay.

Then, now that my computer demands have changed (video/design), I’ve become more taxing on a computer’s get-up-and-go, so I (after again much flip-flopping) sold my black Macbook and bought a new iMac.  I had to calculate a method of making the upgrade financially responsible, then I was more comfortable with it (buying on tax free weekend, selling my computer first).  And then, when the new iMacs were announced, I was all on board!  I went Friday early so I could be sure to get my iMac.  Friday also was the first time in my line waiting history that Chris (and Kari) actually waited in line with me!  Kari was the line’s comic relief.

Banning the Bockers

Eggs !
Eggs like no other

When I purchased my chicks in 2007, I knew next to nothing about chicken raising in real life.  All of my knowledge was derived from books,, and  Of course, all of these are ‘pro-chicken’ resources, but they also told me about diseases, care, costs and housing requirements.  I learned a lot in my first year and now I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but experience and knowledge are key in making valid arguments.

Some good tips for keeping your chickens, the neighbors, and city officials, at bay:

Building Design

Design something that is multipurpose.  Consider if chicken raising isn’t for you, can the building make a good shed or potting house?  Build something that is asthetically pleasing. Choose paint colors that match the house, or follow the trends in English gardens recently and paint all the outbuildings one color (i.e. coop and shed match). I built my coop out of some recycled materials, but I decided to choose wisely.  The exterior of the building shouldn’t be ramshackle.

Decide on a good size.  How many chickens do you want to keep?  What will provide them with good ventilation?  As chicken droppings break down, they form ammonia.  Litter that stays moist can also harbor illness (coccidia for one) and cause respiratory aggravation.  Recommended space, design and  other tips can be found here from Virginia Tech.

Work in easy numbers – like 8′ ceiling, or 4′ if you’re doing a small chicken hut – this way you can maximize use of purchased 2x4s and not have a lot of falloff.  See here for some good designs – some are more suburban friendly than others.  Le Poulet Chalet was even featured on HGTV for its design.  Here is even a chicken ark plan from our beloved Marley & Me author, John Grogan.

Pen Design
Pens should be secure, durable and attractive.  Chicken wire with staples to wooden beams can easily be rammed by a stray dog or other chicken chasing wild animal.  I chose a 10x10x6 chainlink dog kennel kit and bought an additional 12′ panel for a little under $200 at the farm supply.  My coop is 12′ long, so I put two 10′ panels on each side with a 12′ panel on the end being sure to attach the panels to the coop with bolts!  I also had to use something to accommodate the slope of the land, so I chose attractive landscape blocks to level the ground for each panel to step down.

Landscaping around the pen will help cut noise and block them from neighbors’ sight, if that is an issue.  It also could help cut the wind and provide shade for the chickens during the various seasons.  Pampas grasses are great natural shields.  They grow 8 – 10′ high, are perennial, but they must be divided annually to avoid taking over your lawn.

Many of you may choose to free range your flock, which is great, but consider several pros to having a pen:

Less flock loss
They won’t get in the street
Some birds roost in trees if let out
They don’t eat your garden, or your neighbors’
You will have less chicken ‘do’ on your yard, deck, driveway, etc.

The Bockers

Choosing the right birds is key.  You want birds that are friendly, bare confinement well and aren’t flighty.  I haven’t had many birds go broody (want to hatch eggs), even if they were listed to be broody.  Try’s breed selector tool.  Want both standard breeds and bantams?  Stick with either one or the other, I have found.  The bantams get picked on by bigger birds, lay smaller eggs and are easier for hawks and other aerial predators to carry away.

Do not get guineas, peafowl or roosters for your flock.  Those are all very noisy birds.  Roosters don’t just crow in the morning, they crow at 2 a.m., 12 p.m., 7:14 p.m. and so forth.  Chris and I have often woken up to Joe’s crowing at 3 a.m.  Roosters can also be aggressive.  My rooster of 2007 spurred me and cut me through my jeans.  If that had been my daughter, it would have been her face.  I got rid of him promptly that evening.

Against Arguments
They smell – sure, anything can though if you don’t pick up properly after it.  I change the litter every few months.
They’re noisy – much less than a dog or some playing children.
They carry diseases – not many that are zootonic.  And no, the avian flu isn’t in any backyard flocks I know of.
They’re undesirable – to whom?  I loathe yappy dogs, but it isn’t my property nor my choice regarding the neighbor’s pooch.
Decrease property value – my nice little coop actually raised my property value.  Keeping it nice is the key though.

Why is this such an issue?  Is it right for someone else to tell someone what they can do with their property?  If someone doesn’t like my chickens, what keeps me from saying I don’t like their shed or deck?  Or their obnoxious barking dog?  Their fence that needs painting?  If chickens are kept clean in neat housing, they are not a problem to anyone.  I cannot even hear my hens bocking (the “I laid an egg” community celebration) with my windows closed.  I can barely hear them if I have my windows open and theirs closed.  Besides, my neighbors love my chickens.  They enjoy watching them put around the yard, and theirs too (although I discourage them from such).  One neighbor even tosses out scraps for them.

Recent Articles about Chickens in St. Louis County
Chickens vs. property values
(By the way, Merryl, quoted in the article, hosts wonderful cheese making classes!)
Council amends “chicken law” to smooth ruffled feathers
(Previous article about Chesterfield chickens, and another)

If you have more questions, please feel free to leave comments.

Where are the Welsummers?!

Welsummer Chicken (Home)
One of srjm's beautiful Welsummers

It is day 22 at the Koerner house for the Welsummer hatch.  Only 2 chicks have popped out.  One I am gradually helping throughout the night.  My hatch rate is 80% with eggs from my friend Kelly (if you would like hatching eggs, let me know – I’ll send you to Kelly!).  This is horrible!  My hatch rate for these guys is only 18%.  Fertility was only 24%, so hatch of fertile eggs was 75%.  Mind you, if we’re going that route, my hatches from Kelly have been in the 90% counting out the infertile eggs.

I was so excited for these chicks, not as excited hatching barnyard mixes as one never knows what is inside, but still excited nonetheless.  I bought these from a breeder and anticipated great results.  This happened last time as well when I bought from a breeder.  Perhaps it is just that things shouldn’t be pure.  Genetic differences in the gene pool are wonderful, biologically speaking.  I think from now on I will stick with the barnyard mixes from Kelly or the standard chickens from the feed store.

Here Chick, Chick!


Due to my apparent need to feed the wildlife last year, and my stray dog, my chicken population went from twenty down to 3 lonely hens. I am now in the long process of raising laying hens again. It is very hard to find healthy hens of laying age that are reasonably priced. Hens begin to lay around 20 weeks of age. They are at their peak laying during their first few years. Hens that are within this range typically cost anywhere from $20 – $50 each plus shipping. Since I am price conscious, and I do not want to bring an ill hen into the flock, I opted for chicks.

I hatched a few last month, but 6 of the 10 are boys, so only 4 hens came out of that hatch. I bought 2 cute chicks from the farm supply in Herculaneum (actually bought 6, but the 4 had an unfortunate circumstance with a huge water jug). I bought 6 from the feed store by me tonight and I have 42 eggs in the incubator. Am I keeping all of these chicks? No. I’m going to sell the hatch that I have coming up – spreading the wealth of chicken keeping! This will leave me with fifteen hens:

3 Rhode Island Reds
2 Australorps
1 White Rock
3 Buff Orpingtons
2 Barred Rocks
1 New Hampshire Red
3 Ameraucanas (which lay blue-green eggs)

I am expecting some Jersey Giant and some Appenzeller Spitzhauben hatching eggs at the beginning of June. I’ll probably keep some of each breed – maybe just a few more, then my max will be twenty. My new theory is that I should have extras, just in case of an occasional dog attack. I am considering building a pen just because of predators, but I think they’re much happier left to roam.

A Little Bit Country

I recently hatched my first brood of chicks – 10 of fifteen hatched. I got an idea. Not only to get more return on the investment in the incubator ($40 with turner and digital hydrometer) , but to also bring chickens to a more urban environment, I have decided to continue to hatch chicks. To piggy-back off of my previous post, I am going to educate as many people as I am able about getting back to the basics. If the listeners would like to go as far as chickens, I have them covered.

In St. Louis City, up to 4 hens are allowed. In most parts of St. Louis County, farm animals are allowed. I am allowed to have chickens, even being in St. Louis County. To accommodate 4 hens, one would only need a 4 square foot coop and a sixteen square foot run. That’s not very large for fresh eggs out the back door! Plus, instead of $5 per dozen of free range eggs, they’ll only cost pennies (including feed and litter cost). And honestly, their care only takes a few minutes every few days. So, to anyone who wants chicks, let me know – I have over forty due to hatch at the end of May. I will even raise them to 8 weeks of age (when they can be without a heat lamp) if desired.

All the Cool Chicks are Doing It.

Think Geek Incubator

I’m incubating my first set of chicks in my incubator. This is a pretty cool device as everything is preset. It even came with an automatic egg turner. All I have to do is monitor the humidity, which is very easy with the digital gauge – just add water.

In thinking about incubators, I thought about the incubator I saw on Thinkgeek about a year ago, pictured above. It was pretty awesome – again, just add water. I also found a helmet incubator, which just looked cool, much cooler than my ‘styrofoam box’. What interesting technology – farming may just be crossing into something a little bit geeky.

Heating Small Outbuildings

For the coop, I have two infrared heat lamps that I put in 3 gallon plastic buckets so the metal wouldn’t catch fire with feathers, etc. I took a short extension cord, cut it and used the male end to hook into an extension cord from the deck. I wired the bare end of the extension cord into a baseboard thermostat on the inside of the coop (you must get one that is 120 volt and water heater thermostats didn’t have the desired temp range). The thermostat then powers the outlet inside. Once it’s above 50 degress, the lamps kick off.

Cost of all materials ~$80

Heat lamps $6.50 each from Buchheit
Buckets $3 each
Cord $6.50
Thermostat $19
Bulbs $11 (noticed that name brand put off stronger heat than o ff brand)
Extension cord $10
Protective box for outdoor cord union $3
Outlet $.46
Face Plate $.20
Insulated housing $2 each
Wire nuts

Need drill, pocket knife, screwdrivers.

Took an hour. Hang lamps low (not too low to catch straw on fire, but remember heat rises). Keeps uninsulated 8×10 coop at 35 degrees in single digit windy, weather.

Holy Moldy, Batman!

A fellow chicken lover posted a great suggestion online:

Supplement your chickens’ diet with grocery store greens (not moldy!) that are past their selling prime.

Great idea! My free ranging flock doesn’t have much to munch on recently since the grass is dying back for the year, so I started calling grocery stores in the area.

The first store said they donate old veggies to charity, then the second store said they no longer give produce to the public due to health and legal concerns. They had to even switch to trash compactors instead of dumpsters due to people diving for food, and in the event they got ill, would sue the store. I would have never thought of such things happening – wow!

Needless to say, I didn’t find any greens for my chickens. I do have to call one store back tomorrow to talk with the manager, but I’m not hopeful considering all the other information I have heard today.

The House that Jack Built

After 5 months of weekends, the barn is finished. I now just have to add some finishing touches: paint, lights, cabinets, door knobs, shutters, and steps into the potting shed. My dad might even go as far as automating the chicken door and lights with solar sensors – awesome! My parents have been wonderful throughout this process supporting my crazy homesteading dream – chickens and all.

I have actually come to know my neighbors throughout this process: each coming over to pet a chicken, ask questions out of curiosity, or reminisce over guinea hen noises.

As worn out as I am now, I am excited to get back to work on the cute little barn in the spring. Pictures to come.