Tag Archives: chickens


The poor chickens have been all cooped up this winter. Well, I don’t think they think they’re “poor” because if you open the door for them to come outside they look at you like you’re crazy*.

But last week their coop got a little less, um, cooping? Coop-like? What I’m trying to say is the door blew apart on a windy week day night. And the short days combined with the day job means the poor birds had no door for 3 days straight. Every morning I’d hear the rooster crowing as I went to my car and I’d be thankful that a fox hadn’t gotten them all overnight.

So this weekend, during naptime, we made a new door.


This is a rustic “barn board” door that Neil and I agreed some hipster would probably pay good money to have. But for us, it’s something we could slap together entirely with supplies we have on hand. The rough cut 1×4’s and 1×6’s are cheap lumber we have left over after fixing the roof last summer.


Neil had to literally dig the lumber out of a snow bank with a shovel. Then we had to scrape ice off the sides to get it to lie flat so we could line everything up. And let’s not forget that we had to take 1″ off the width at to bottom because the amateurs who built our coop (oh yeah, that’d be us) didn’t quite frame the door square… I like to pick on us, but mostly I’m proud we built this thing 7 years ago and it hasn’t fallen over or blown down yet!


It was a cold, blustery way to spend our saturday afternoon. Although it was better than the sleet we had on sunday. At least by then the chickens had a new door, so their deep layer shavings stayed fluffy and dry. And after building a whole door from scratch we did feel pretty accomplished!

*ok, chickens don’t have the brain power for that. But they DO look at the snow like it’s an alien substance that they’d rather not touch, thankyouverymuch.

Not how they usually look

The pencil by the egg tray was meant for dating the eggs as we collected them. We get a lot of eggs this time of year, and it can help to know which ones are oldest.

egg crew

But Neil got bored, and this happened.


And my breakfasts have taken on a slightly murderous feel…


early spring

Spring is here, the early version of it anyway. The last of the snow lies in dirty piles, hiding in the shadows.

last snow

The chickens are so happy to be outside again! My breakfast eggs have turned from sunny winter yellow to vibrantly orange. Which is a delicious sign of spring.

spring chickens

And finally, the morning sunrise has almost caught up with my alarm clock (again). It had just barely caught up when daylight savings time pushed it back. So I’m relieved to have it back again. What signs of spring are popping up where you live?

bad year for chickens

It’s been a bad summer for our chickens, we’ve lost four hens since spring. I’m not entirely surprised, the batch of chicks we got when we moved in (spring 2008) are 5 years old now. And while chickens can live to be 10 or more, 5 or 6 seems to be when the mysterious diseases begin to pick them off…

Luckily the new ladies are all doing fine, we still have the four Zibbleses


Ok, that’s just two, but have you ever tried to herd chickens? We can’t tell The Zibbleses apart, hence the name… We also have two white ladies

white ladies

If you’re like me, you don’t believe that one in the back is a hen. I’ve spent 6 months claiming she was a very confused roo. But last weekend we watched her lay an egg, so I guess I have to adjust my thinking…

Those six birds? When we adopted them we were told they’re straight run. So these six hens must be a balance for all those occasions when “straight run” really means 75% roosters…

And we still have plenty of old ladies running around, laying the occasional egg and keeping the bugs down.

old ladies

But honestly? The flock is suddenly down to 10 birds, and I’m starting to wonder if I can pick up a hen or two off craigslist…


The chickens have been LOVING the recent spate of sunny weather. The grass and other plants are green and tasty. The bugs are out, the dust baths are dusty. Really, what more could a chicken ask for?

spring barred rock

I love watching these ladies, they’re better than TV (although some days that’s not hard).


I’m a bit sad that we have no chicks this spring. But it’s for the best. Neil and I agreed that trying to process meat birds when I’m 7 or 8 months pregnant would not be a brilliant plan if we could avoid it. My mom agreed, so my parents ordered some extras this year to make up the difference.

old roo

And we have no layer chicks either. The addition of 5 young hens last fall means we have an ABUNDANCE of eggs right now.

eight eggs a day

We’ve gotten 16 in the last two days. I’m probably eat 3 eggs a day but we just can’t keep up with them! It’s a good problem to have, mostly.


Growing up with chickens I know we gave them calcium supplements from time to time. I remember the bags of oyster shells. That’s not something we’ve had to worry about much with our birds. I sometimes wonder if it means there’s more calcium in the soil (and thus the plants) that our Vermont birds forage for all summer.

But in the winter sometimes the birds get thin egg shells. There is calcium in their pellet food, but it can be a good idea to give them additional calcium, which they can choose to eat if needed. Instead of buying oyster shells Neil and I decided to try something different.


Eggshells. Clearly this is why the layers need so much calcium. Why not give it back to them when we’re done with those eggs? First I dried the shells at 200F in my oven for about an hour. Then I put them all in a plastic bag and crushed them up fine.

crushing eggshells

This does several things. Cooking the eggshells dries up any remaining moisture, and probably should kill any bacteria*. Crushing them makes it easier for the birds to eat. It also makes the shells not look like egg shells anymore. The last thing I want to do is give my birds the idea of eating eggs…

crushed eggshells

All those eggshells above (about 2 weeks’ worth at 4 eggs a day, so maybe 50 eggshells total) gave me somewhere between 1 and 2 cups of calcium supplement. Which I put in a tray (separate from their food) over by where the birds like to lay their eggs. We’ll see if they like it, or just spill it everywhere…

*not that there should be any bacteria since we wash them when they come in from the coop. But it can’t hurt.

January thaw

The snow pack outside is looking pretty soggy, because it’s been above freezing for more than 24 hours. The rain on Sunday didn’t help much either.

January thaws are to be expected, what with it being January and all. It was a perfect weekend for opening the double doors long enough to get the Christmas tree out of the living room.

january thaw chickens

It was also the first weekend in months that the chickens actually deigned to come out of the coop and stand around in the muddy bits of exposed ground. So we all enjoyed a bit of a respite from the winter. But I hope it doesn’t last too long. I still want to get some more snow-shoeing in before spring!

they’re still here

This time of year I tend to skimp on the chicken content. There’s just not much to talk about. But don’t worry, they’re still here.

sheltered ladies

They’ve just taken shelter in a sunny, protected spot to keep out of the wind. Well, except for Thomas. He’s standing guard just the way a good rooster ought to. I’m afraid he’s getting old for a meat bird, but he’s still the prettiest rooster around.

thomas the friendly rooster

The new birds are getting pretty big. Well, the barred rocks are. The squirrely little white birds are still little and white. And squirrely, someday maybe they’ll learn I’m the source of food; but not yet.

new birds

Out of the 6 straight run birds I think we’ve got two roosters. Can you figure out which ones I suspect? If I’m right the roos should start crowing (and the ladies start laying) sometime in the next month. Then at last we’ll be able to stop buying eggs…

Chicken day

It doesn’t seem appropriate to blog about my meat birds all summer, and then skip the final step: we harvested the last of our meat birds last week.

This process is not fun. It is, however, an important part of owning our food. Chicken day lets us say “Yes, we take responsibility of the meat which we eat.” And I believe that’s important.


I divide the process into two steps. The first steps happen out doors. Plucking, gutting – I think of these at the “dirty” steps. The scalding pot lets us pluck more easily, the coolers chill the meat until we can move it inside.

Chickens (like all living creatures) do not have bacteria in their muscles. So tell me – why do we ALL accept that chicken must be cooked until it isn’t pink to kill the salmonella? It’s because the process of slaughtering a chicken is so very hard to do at any speed without spreading the germs from the chickens large intestines everywhere.

Slaughter happens quickly but deliberately so I can make sure the chickens don’t suffer any more than necessary. Plucking and gutting happen slowly and patiently- they’re done outside so we can avoid spreading feces and make sure the meat going into the coolers is clean and safe. Also outside requires less scrubbing afterwards.

Once the birds are cleaned and in the coolers they look like giant rotisserie chickens – more like something you’d find at the store. We move inside now and butcher the whole roasters into halves and quarters, drums & thighs, boneless skinless breasts, stir fry meat, etc… We part out the portions down to sizes that are useful to us. Sharp knives and lots of towels are needed, but at least I can sit down now.


Once the meat is bagged and in the freezer there’s still more to do. Chicken fat is rendered down to schmaltz. Leftover bones and meat are simmered down to stock and soup. I clean up and freeze the livers, kidneys, and hearts.

When you’ve put this much of yourself -your emotions, time, effort, and yes money- into raising 24 chickens wasting a single portion is very clearly unconscionable.

3 months

The meat birds are three months old now. And they’re full sized. The really freaky cornish cross breeds get this big in two months. But three months is still shockingly fast growth. Most laying breeds don’t get to be 8lbs, and the ones that do take over a year…

3 month old bird comparision

The rooster in the back is Thomas, the surprisingly competent 2 year old freedom ranger rooster we kept last winter. He’s the exception to the rule. The rule being that most meat birds seem to die of natural causes within 18 months. It’s as if their whole lifespan is just sped up. And if you look closely at him you can tell he’s got the gnarled feet of a much older chicken.

Still, this year’s batch are pretty happy birds, scratching and dust bathing, and sun bathing. They don’t run around as much as layers. But they’re still living the good life – chicken style.

sun bathing chicken

But the hard part is coming soon.