Saturday, January 29, 2011


We're deep into dog training with the shock collar. Shocking, I know, that people like us would resort to this, but it's a matter of life and death for our hens, so.....

Training has been wearing us all down. Cosmo has become chicken-obsessed and there are times the collar doesn't seem to dissuade him from his obsession. Sunday training seemed to be going really well when all of a sudden he took off at a dead run from across the yard, making a bee-line for one chicken who had isolated herself from the flock. Standing on the shock button couldn't have stopped him, but finally, at the last minute, he turned from his intended prey just after they disappeared behind a pile of debris in the yard. I was fully expecting to see a rain of feathers from behind the pile. I don't know what changed his mind at the last minute....maybe the shock was finally too much to bear. Now every time he goes out, he's searching fervently for the sight or scent of the object of his obsession. So, I'm zapping him now just as soon as he places his gaze on a girl for more than just a passing moment. Ugh, this is not fun.

Meanwhile it is hard to concentrate on any of the chores of creating peraculture here. Today was seedling planting day and a few actually got planted, wonder of wonders. The rain is beating down now and so training is over for now. Tomorrow it is up Up UP with the intensity on the collar. We're going on two weeks and not enough progress for my liking.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spring Is Around the Corner, Bees Are In The Air

Not literally as of yet, but certainly figuratively. I'm all signed up and ready to start a practical beekeeping class through HSU Extended Education. I'm excited for the opportunity to help this fascinating and vital insect continue to thrive. Not to say that I'm not just ever so slightly anxious about getting my first sting over with...

During the cold wet and dark winter months (it is very obvious I'm happy the hibernation is ending?), I've been reading up on the subject and picking the brain of Tom at A&L Feed as to what to expect. "Beekeeping for Dummies" by Howland Blackiston is a great beginner's reference, Tom loaned me two editions of Bee Culture, and I found a Humboldt Beekeeping group in Yahoo! So I feel at the very least mentally prepared, and very slightly educated. Let the buzzing begin! Class doesn't start until mid-February and bees don't get shipped until some time after that. Patience grasshopper...or should I say, "Patience beekeeper"?

In the mean time Miller Farms is offering a fruit tree pruning class this weekend which may help me get a handle on the three bare root apples I planted last year. They are giving me some consternation as I don't think they weathered the whistling wind we have here near the ocean very well. All the little apples dropped last summer and the leaves dried up to a crisp despite moist soil. The neighbor around the corner has crafted homemade wind blocks with metal posts and what looks to be visqueen (is that really how you spell it?). Must try it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Egg Nutritional Value: Commercial v. Free Range Duke It Out

So, after reading my earlier post about the tension between our dog and our flock,  you may be wondering why we're asking for trouble by allowing our little flock the run of our yard. Read on...

A 2007 project conducted by Mother Earth News (gotta love your mother!) comparing nutritional content of eggs from free range layers v. commercial layers. According to the article, here's the additional value you'll get from your free range chicken eggs:

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

There's another value that the article doesn't speak to:  the intrinsic value of looking out across the lawn to see the happiest of hens foraging for bugs!

Humboldt Hens: Backyard Chickens in NYC: Creating a Local Food Network

Humboldt Hens: Backyard Chickens in NYC: Creating a Local Food Network

Backyard Chickens in NYC: Creating a Local Food Network

Here's a great article about keeping chickens in the Big Apple. Apparently one persuasive apartment dweller convinced her landlord to allow her to become an urban chicken tender!
Photo borrowed from

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chickens Without Borders

As this picture clearly illustrates, we've been extremely generous with free-ranging our chickens, although I doubt Ruby will find anything edible in here. Cosmo Bean says that although he has no problem setting boundaries for the people in his life, this is proof-positive that he has boundary issues with his animals. I say, so long as she doesn't deposit anything while exploring, I'm in favor of a studious chicken. The first dropping however will be the time of reckoning...or at least reconsidering the free-range boundaries.

I also think this picture would be fun for one of those "Can You Find..." games. Can You Find the:
music device
walkie talkies
unfinished light switch
amber necklace
Wildberry's Marketplace logo

Oh The Things You Can Do With Free-Range Eggs

meets asparagus...
meets ham!

We have a three-day weekend, which leaves time to create some eggy concoctions. I'm not sure what is more gratifying, collecting the eggs, or creating something yummy with them. This morning's fare was organic ham, asparagus, and gruyere quiche, this evening I'm in the "cooling off period" of making my first batch of ice cream in many years...maple pecan. Sadly I don't think it will be ready for testing/tasting until the morning, unless we stay up past our normally early bed time.

...of Birds and Boxers

The Chicken-eator

Since October we've lost two of our young layers to our pet Boxer. Talk about a dwindling return on investment. But more than that it has stirred up emotions, ideas, and internal dialog about pets, both companion and producers, and ultimately how the two may or may not co-exist. With the second hen killed, it became obvious that our boxer, Cosmo, has instinctively little control over his innate desire to kill the chickens. While we are around the chickens are pretty well guaranteed that Cosmo will not pounce, rather watch and apparently plot for a better time when one of us turns our attention elsewhere. However, when the moment comes that the chickens are out free-ranging and our gaze is turned inward, upward, wherever, he feels bound to his obligation to be true to his dog nature. After much deliberation, and tales and advice from other dog and bird owner's, we've purchased, ohhh how i hate saying this, a shock collar. It arrived in the mail late Thursday, and today is most likely the day we'll get up the gumption to begin the taming of Cosmo. We really can't live with the constant anxiety of pet and poultry sitting, want a good life for our pets, and at the same time desire a high quality egg product that results from our little flock foraging afield in our yard. At some point we think we'll put in a bigger fence for the girls, but truly they need to crop rotation so that good grass and new bug colonies are at their "beak and call". Neither of us has the stomach for the shock collar, but neither do we have the stomach for yet another premature loss of one of our laying ladies. Wish us luck.