Fancy Fencing for Feathered Friends

The 18″ high fencing we’d been using to keep our 4 chickens in their designated 300 square foot area had been falling short for quite some time.  The Silkies had figured out how to squeeze through and Henrietta could just give a little hop and just roam free all through the yard, which is not a good thing.  I decided I’d had enough of chasing chickens around the yard when I came home from the store, so I did a little research and found this blog post from Sunny Simple Life and knew it was just what I had in mind.  Something nice looking, blends well with the garden and is functional.

Before (morning dirt bath under the Double Delight Nectarine):

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After:

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I purchased it at Lowe’s and it took about 2 hours to install with metal posts that hammer into the ground.  The fencing slides onto the posts and then links together to the panel next to it.  In order to still have access into their space, we left one panel un-linked, sawed off the metal post at the bottom of the panel to prevent drag and then turned around the next panel and continued along.

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I love the leaf design.  Now I know the chickens aren’t causing mischief in the rest of the yard, which makes me an even happier chicken owner.

And a couple fun veggies:

White heirloom cuke

White heirloom cuke

My first butternut squash!

My first butternut squash!

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Chicken Salad

Our hens seem to be little charming magnets whenever family, friends or neighbors come over to visit.  Questions abound about their eggs, whether they’re friendly and how we came to keep chickens.  I’m always happy to share our story and tout how sweet and funny they are.  I think we have about 5-7 kids in our neighborhood dreaming about having their own chickens.

My husband and his sister enjoying some feathered friends.

My husband and his sister enjoying some feathered friends.

My daughter and I love feeding them yummy snacks.  Some of their most coveted treats from the kitchen include old bananas, apple cores, melon rinds, soft tomatoes, lettuce and carrot tops.  My daughter likes to help in the kitchen and she used her culinary know-how to concoct a tongue-in-cheek chicken salad.

Here we have crisp watermelon rinds with some crisp carrot tops.  Isn't it funny how food competition shows can describe a dish so eloquently?

Here we have fresh watermelon rinds with some crisp carrot tops. Isn’t it funny how food competition shows can describe a dish so eloquently?

DSCN0609Our Silkies often get compared to bunnies, and although their noses don’t wiggle, they do hop from time to time, usually to reach a flower or leaf just out of reach.  Otherwise, they have almost no vertical ability.  They are soft like a rabbit and don’t mind being held for some time, as long as their wings are held securely.  Their feathers don’t have the typical barbs, which gives them a fluffy look and a super soft touch.

We love our girls!

We love our girls!

Our grass has never been greener.  We have not fertilized with traditional bagged grass fertilizer since our hens came to our home.  Now we have a more natural and effective fertilizer.  Thanks, chickens!

Our grass has never been greener. We have not fertilized with traditional bagged grass fertilizer since our hens came to our home. Now we have a more natural and effective fertilizer. Thanks, chickens!

Unlikely Friends

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DSCN0528I’ve known for a while now that we have a new (ah-hem) resident in and out of our yard but today was a first.  Our hens and the squirrel seemed to be getting along and were munching alongside each other on the grass for a few minutes.  They were almost hanging out like old friends, neither one too concerned about the other.

And while there are a few holes under our fence now and a couple cherry tomatoes missing, I really haven’t had too much of a problem with the fuzzy guy (or gal).  My large red tomatoes and peaches have been left untouched.  I’m hoping that we may be able to peaceably co-exist ( you can always hope, right?) without having to take drastic measures.

Mohawk Chicken

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It’s been a hair-raising morning with extremely rare San Diego summer rain.  Our Silkies appreciate a nice rainy day, particularly because it gives them a chic hairstyle (note the dyed tips), but also because it allows them to see better!

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DSCN0439It’s hard not to smile at these silly hens as they cruise the yard and visit the back door to see if any scraps will get tossed their way.  Yesterday our Ameraucana, Henrietta (seen above in the background), walked through the open back door and was caught hanging out in the dining room!

Blue Eggs and Ham

Last week, a few days before my birthday, our new Ameraucana hen named Henrietta laid her first blue egg.  I’d heard that her sister had started laying a week prior, so I had a feeling that a pretty blue egg would be coming down the pike.  Last year all 5 of my silkies started laying within a week of each other.  Henrietta was no exception to her sister, even being separated from her and with her silkie step sisters.

Our girl the day she joined our brood back in September.  These days she's much more filled out and round.

Our girl the day she joined our brood back in September. These days she’s much more filled out and round.  And boy does she love to cuddle!  She likes to nap at the sliding glass door after she watches me do this and that in the house.

Henrietta's been laying an egg every other day.  They seem to be getting slightly larger.  Here they are with some brown silkie eggs.

Henrietta’s been laying an egg every other day. They seem to be getting slightly larger. Here they are with some brown silkie eggs.  By the way, I LOVE my plastic egg carton I snagged at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  It’s reusable and washable!

Size and color comparison.

Size and color comparison.  To be honest, the camera seems to wash out some of the blue color, but you get the gist.

And no, when I cracked open the blue eggs this morning, they did not boast a blue yoke as my daughter speculated, but instead a super orange scrambled eggs A LA Henrietta.

And no, when I cracked open the blue eggs this morning, they did not boast a blue yoke as my daughter speculated, but instead made super orange scrambled eggs a la Henrietta.  The taste surpasses even the most expensive store-bought cage free, organic, free-range eggs.  Why? They are mild, fluffy and oh so smooth.  Plus, they’re from your own girls, which always makes it more special.

Clara’s Coop

My daughter has become the true mother hen of our Silkies. So when this sign came in the mail yesterday as a surprise, she was one happy chickie!

I ordered this sign on etsy.com from a shop called Green Chickens. If you look closely you can see the crackle effect. It gives a great personalized touch to our hen haven.

Silkie Close-Call

I’ve recently created an enclosed area of our yard for the Silkies to roam around and peck in most days of the week.  It immediately surrounds their coop and is about an 8′ x 6′ area.  I used some nice, 24″ high decorative metal fencing that is pleasing to the eye and very effective in keeping them contained.  Yet it’s still low enough for my daughter to easily step over to spend her happy afternoons with her hen sisters.

I made this decision primarily based on the dwindling appearance of my bountiful backyard.  The continuous scratching at the grass while looking for bugs and such was taking it’s toll, as were the numerous dirt bath locations.  Not to mention the poo everywhere, including our patio.

Now to the dramatic part: Living in the suburbs of Southern CA has it’s plusses in regards to keeping backyard chickens.  One of the most significant ones in my eyes is that there are fewer large animals to worry about.  So far, I haven’t had any close calls with hawks or coyotes, but what you may not realize or appreciate is that the biggest threat to your flock may be living next door.

A few days ago I’d decided to let out three of my hens to roam the entire yard.  They still do this 1 or 2 times a week.  The other 2 were in the nesting box.  Soon a wood chipper whirrs up across the street to demolish a poor cypress that has been cut down.  The 3 silkies start panicking at the noise and quickly manage to find their way to the furthest most point in my fenced yard, up a steep slope.  Directly on the other side of this fence lives a pit bull.  I’ve been well aware of this dog, even to the point of her jumping over the 5 foot fence when she saw my hens out about 4 months ago.  I had a long talk with the owner about it and he assured me of her sweetness (her name is Bella, after all) and that she couldn’t hurt a fly.  He put up some pretty flimsy chicken wire at the top of the fence and it seemed to be effective.  I never saw the dog peek over again and honestly hardly ever heard her.  Back to a few days ago: I’m holding three chickens walking down the slope to place them back in greener pastures.  I’m about 15 feet from the coop when I see Bella’s face watching me over the fence.  My daughter was standing next to the coop and before I could say “eggs” the dog was over the fence and a foot from my heels.  This pit bull who supposedly wouldn’t hurt a fly looked ready to prepare herself a chicken dinner.  Dogs have instincts that sometimes cannot be anticipated.  I scrambled to get the 3 hens locked inside their coop and one even fell from my grasp.  Luckily Bella stayed just outside our enclosed area and my yelling helped keep her a few feet away.  She was growling, staring at the hens and looked ready to pounce.  I got them locked up and I whisked my daughter inside.  Things could have gotten ugly and I’m so thankful that all were safe.  My dog-loving neighbor came over, leashed the coop-circling dog and helped me bring her back home.  The owner assured me they would put up an electric fence, but did not tell me when.

Bella’s owner are renting their house and I happen to know who the owners are. I contacted them about the incident and apparently the lease states that they are not to have any pets.  Looks like something is about the happen.

My concern is the safety and security of my daughter and animals.  I need to feel confident that letting my daughter or hens in the backyard on their own for a few minutes is perfectly safe.  And that’s that.

The Sweetest Egg

Today turned out to be the day I thought would never come.  We’ve been the proud owners of 5 silkie hens since the middle of September.  At that time they were about 4 months old  and I read that silkies start laying around 7-8 months old.  With it being winter I thought that the gals may wait until spring to start giving their little gifts.

Tonight my husband went out to make sure they had all gone up into their super safe sleeping quarters.  When he came back in the house, he walked over to me and told me to hold out my hand.  I felt a cool, oval shape in my palm and I knew right away what it was.  Let’s just say that my first egg was quite rewarding!  I am so thrilled.

My daughter is excited, too!

Our darling egg is on the left next to one of our store-bought cage-free, organic eggs.  Since silkies are bantams, which means that they’re smaller than normal chickens, they also lay smaller eggs.  By the looks of it, they are about half the size.  An easy conversion for baking and recipes!  Having eaten fresh eggs from the family that gave us our silkies, I know that it will taste so fresh and full of flavor.

I feed our hens organic crumble food, in addition to all of their time out roaming in the backyard eating bugs, seeds and weeds (and their occasional favorite organic tomato from one of our tomato plants.)

I saw some cute bumper stickers from www.backyardchickens.com that say, “My pet makes me breakfast.”  And now I can say the same!

To Chicken or Not to Chicken…

So with my new-found love of all things earthy, I had the idea last week of getting me 2 or 3 hens and a coop.  I’ve never really been the type that loves to be dirty…or the smell of a farm, but the satisfaction of growing my own food has surfaced the desire in me to have my own eggs in the backyard!  Not only would it be phenomenal to have fresh eggs, but it would be an in-house fertilizer, too!  I’d love the pleasure of tossing those nasty little hornworms preying on my tomatoes and bells into the path of a chicken.

I talked to my husband about it a few days ago and let’s just say he didn’t warm up to the idea at first.  Lo and behold, my oboe student (I teach oboe on the side) told me yesterday that they have hens of all breeds in their backyard!  They love their new chicken-owner status and told me of a particular chicken called a Silkie.  It’s a Bantam, which means a small chicken version (I’ve been feverishly researching all things chicken over the past day) and is one of the cutest, friendliest chickens around.  They lay 2 or 3 small eggs a week.

White Silkies. Cute, right?

Today I took the family to a nearby country feed store that also sells live animals.  We checked out a few baby Silkies, Ameraucana, Welsummer and Rhode Island Reds, to name a few.  The sticking point with Silkies is that they are “straight run”, which means you’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting your preferred sex, since it’s nearly impossible to differentiate until you’ve seen an egg or heard a “cockadoodledoo”.  I love the idea of raising hens from chicks, especially with my daughter, but would rather not breed or worry about a rooster bothering me and the neighbors!  I called a nearby woman who raises her own chickens/roosters and she said that the Cochins are also very mild mannered, being medium producers of light brown eggs.

One more issue: coyotes.  Although I reside in the suburbs, there is quite a bit of open land close by, with neighborhood coyote sightings somewhat regularly.  We lost a cat last year to one (we found him hovering over our sweet kitty) and hear accounts of other animals being attacked.  I just don’t want to be concerned about their safety every day.  Will a sturdy, well-constructed coop do the trick with locked-up hens at night?  I suppose I’m attempting to get out all of my thoughts to sort through them, weigh the pro’s and con’s, and hopefully receive some insightful advice from readers.  What should I do?