Monday, May 17, 2010

The chickens, part three (as the blough's tell it...)

Well, it is true that everything happened kind of in a blur. First, we were vacationing together in November, joking about buying an alpaca farm together somewhere in the central coast on our way up to the bay area to visit family. Next thing you know, they were falling out of escrow and talking about moving away to Indonesia so we had to come up with something drastic! Hence, the farm proposition. I know, i know, it was kind of mean and cruel to entice them to stay, but hey, we were trying desperately to prevent our best friends from bouncing town! In all of the excitement somewhere, sometime before we even knew that escrow was likely to close, Sarah found the chicken lady on craigslist. Now, you have to understand sarah and craigslist. She called me yesterday, outta the blue (when she was really, truly, supposed to be finishing up some work for one of her MBA classes) and told me she was going to be early for dinner because she found an unsurpassable deal on a gate that she had to pick up. A gate that we have no use for, a gate that was pretty and only $10 and she really had a deadline for her homework so she had to take a break and go pick it up. This is Sarah on craigslist, but I digress.

So Sarah was on craigslist and found this really great deal on, like 20 chicks that were all different breeds and she was so excited about it. She told me her plan was to go up and see if the lady would let her pay for the chicks and hang on to them for us for the next month until escrow closed. Sounded good enough to me, we could scramble and build a coop over that first weekend and get them all in a nice little home soon enough, right? Well let me tell you, new projects that involve building never really are as simple as they seem they should be. Many of you probably know that, and of course we did deep inside, too, but we were hopeful and craigslist and livestock are kind of like crack to some of us. Sarah is absolutely right when she says that the boys are the ones who have a better head on their shoulders about some of these decisions, but don't tell them I said that.

Ultimately, one way or another we ended up with a dozen young chickens in our backyard. This was on top of the half-dozen we already had from before, the older gals that had been our backyard chicken factory for the last couple of years. Since they were older and set in their ways AND their coop was really not big enough to comfortably fit any more, we had to build a makeshift run for the new brood. They were all supposed to be pullets, but you know the story. I think two of the ones that we kept in our backyard turned out to be roosters. That's another story all together! I will blog about that adventure next. For this one, i leave you with a photo of one of the roosters in our temporary chicken squatter shanty run...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The chickens, part two.

In the last post, I miss-wrote what actually occurred after the Tragic Raccoon Attack. The chicken-lady called us to come pick up part of our chicken order, not the entire 20+ chickens. We needed to pick up the older contingent of our chicks (she could still keep the smaller ones in her garage, safe from raccoons.) So BJ and I hopped in the car, drove north to Del Mar to claim our chicks.

In our excitement, we forgot anything to actually put the chickens in, so we just stuffed them in our car. No, that's not true. She lent us a cage, and I think we put the rest in a box or something. Then we drove home with our 8 chickens... which, out of the whole 25 or so, wasn't so bad to think about housing. The main problem was that we lived in a small apartment with a "backyard" that we shared with 4 of our neighbors, definitely not the legal 30 feet away from any other houses.

But, luckily our neighbors were pretty mellow. They let us construct a makeshift chicken coop in our shared space. This consisted of laying our outside table on it's side, wrapping plastic mesh around our four post pergola thing, thus creating a 4x4 run. For the actual hen-house (where they slept), we grabbed a big moving box, flipped it upside down, and cut out a door.

The chickens seemed to like their first home. They got busy scratching around, and doing other chicken activities... like pooping everywhere. When we put them in the coop, we  watch with curiosity as most of them seemed to do a strange dance with each other... puffing out their neck feathers and doing what could only be described as a little chicken duel. We thought that was weird, but dismissed it as the girls figuring out their pecking order.

At first I was worried about something eating our chickens, as the whole coop was definitely not predator-proof. But then a much louder concern presented itself. About a week or so after we moved the chickens into their temporary home, we started to hear a strange noise coming from their coop (which happened to be right outside our bedroom window). The noise was somewhere in between a cat's meow and a gargle. We realized that we had a rooster in our midst, and he was learning to crow.

These beginning attempts weren't that problematic, as they were pretty quiet, and we could shut him up by quickly running outside and throwing some feed in the coop. But after awhile, he developed his full crow, and BJ and I would awake with dread to the racket, try to run outside and subdue him before he woke all our neighbors and they called the cops. This morning ritual caused much anxiety for us.

This rooster could not stay in our backyard. I posted him on craigslist for $15, and some nice young man came and bought him. Whether he became someone's meal, only God knows. When we got rid of him, I had my first peaceful morning sleep-in. It was glorious.

Not two days later, we awoke again to crows from the backyard.

"What the..." we groggily complained.Quickly, we ran out to the coop to see what was going on.

We looked at each other nervously, "How many roosters are in there?"

Over the next few weeks, we came to find out that all but ONE of our "girls" were actually boys, and each time we would get rid of one of them, another would start to crow.

Craigslist found homes for about half of them (one time I was in such a rush, I had to leave a rooster in a box on my front step for the person that was going to pick him up), but in the end, we had too many roosters to dispose of. And, we had paid for these birds after all. Might as well get something for our money.

We decided together that they would make some good roast chicken. It was harvest time.

Bravely, the ex-vegan among the four of us was the first to volunteer to slaughter a chicken, so I'll let her describe that in her own words.

Overall, I would not recommend chickens if you live in an apartment in one of the densest parts of your city. It just doesn't make for good sleep. What you really need is a farm...

Monday, May 10, 2010


I am cracking up reading Sarah's entry right now! Yes, yes, it's all true. We counted our eggs way before they hatched, so to speak, and we did NOT have all of our ducks in a row. Ultimately, it all worked out fine. We have a lovely chicken coop, no roosters waking us up in the morning, and all of our hens are starting to lay more regularly. We are averaging 10ish eggs a day, never any less! With 20 hens in the backyard, we anticipate closer to 15 eggs a day at our peak. That means that they are almost all laying now, and the variety of color is awesome. We have a few ameracaunas that lay a lovely pale blue. The crazy chicken lady did some hybridization to produce a hen that lays an egg that comes out looking like a manzanillo olive. The browns vary in shades from a pale, pinkish tint to a deep, dark chocolate. Some of the ladies lay a beautiful rich mocha egg speckled with espresso.

It is funny, in all of it's simplicity, how gratifying it is to collect the freshly lain orbs everyday. I love to count them, to feel their warmth and to "oooh" and "aww" over their color. It never seems to get old. As Sarah said in her last post, hens are not new to us. We obtained our first few about 2 years ago and it has fulfilled me in the most enchanting way, as if I'm a child waking up to exciting gifts every morning. It's as if some seed that's buried deep within my soul is nourished simply by the act of being in touch with my food in this way. Reconnecting with nature. I know that it is so cliche, and I am sure that folks that are real farmers would probably laugh at it, maybe even wishing for an escape of their own some day. I think that people sometimes don't realize what a gift it really is that we get from these animals in every way. Be it as simple as an egg or as generous as their life, we forget to appreciate enough what it is they give. Unfortunately we don't often even make the connection. I feel blessed to be able to give my kids the opportunity to get back to this basic element of nature and food, to instill in them an understanding and respect of where this all comes from.

I logged on here wanting to blog more about the process of the farm, the steps that we went through and instead I find myself reflecting on some of life's "isms". I promise to post soon some photos of the process of building the coop, some pictures of the ladies and maybe a story of the first time we really connected with our food and slaughtered some roosters. As an ex-vegan, the only thing I can say is that I feel like I've come a long way!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The chickens, part one.

Originally uploaded by radioacres
This really was our first project... as we started accumulating chickens long before the farm came along. You can read about our original chicken (and other) adventures here. A couple years ago Kim, Jeremy, BJ and I had built a chicken coop and run in their backyard and purchased our very own six hens. They had been a great investment, and we knew that one of the first things that we wanted on the farm was more chickens.

In anticipation of moving onto our farm, we had started to scour craigslist for chicks being sold. We were particularly looking for unusual breeds of chickens, which would produce a variety of egg colors. I think it was BJ that actually found the post, but when I read it, I got that craigslist syndrome... you know the one where you read the post, see the pics, and immediately need to buy whatever it is they're selling? All rationality goes out the window, and you begin to plan your day around getting a hold of this person and driving wherever they are to claim your items.

At that point, we were a few weeks away from closing escrow and getting the keys, so I was hoping that I could go and look at the chicks, give her a deposit and ask her to hold onto them until we were ready to come and pick them up. I thought up this plan as I was driving to her house in Del Mar, an unusual neighborhood to have a chicken raising operation.

This Del Mar chicken-seller had a plethora of fancy kinds of chicks she had hatched, as well as other unusual fowl such as peacocks, spread out across her nicely manicured lawn. Speckled-sussex, Wellsummers, marans, so many different breeds with the potential for such varied egg colors! I was sold. I asked her if she could keep the chicks until we moved into our new place and she said yes. Paying cash for 20 chicks, she said she'd throw in a few more for free! I drove home to our tiny apartment, excited and feeling very satisfied with my plan. Now we would have the beginnings of our chicken farm right when we moved in!

Kim was also very excited. The two of us comprise the more spontaneous (read: impulsive) side of our farm quadrant. The men tend to be more... shall we say realistic? I think they were worried about pre-purchase of our chickens.

I pooh-poohed their silly concerns, as I was sure it would work out perfectly. We were set to get the keys in about two weeks. Then, we could quickly throw up a chicken coop and viola! Our chicken farm would be ready.

Unfortunately, two things complicated my plan.

The first was Arnold, our governator. He decided to allow a California tax credit for home-buyers, which we found out we could qualify for, along with the national tax credit. It was great news for our pocketbooks, not great news for our chickens, as it pushed back our close of escrow two weeks longer.

The second unfortunate event was a tragic raccoon attack on our pre-bought chickens in Del Mar. I got a frantic call from the chicken-lady, telling me there had been an attack, she was afraid it would happen again, and I needed to come and pick up the chickens right away.

So... there we were, with 20 chickens and no place to put them for a month.

Transporting 20 chickens, their storage and care while living in a tiny apartment, and building a behemoth of a chicken coop in part two...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

We bought the farm.

Many people ask me how this all happened. I will tell you the story as I remember it.

My husband and I have just fallen out of escrow (that makes it sound like a clumsy mistake on our part... i should probably say "got screwed out of the house we were going to buy" but that sounds a little crass). Two days before we were supposed to get the keys, we suddenly find ourselves packed with nowhere to move. We are devastated and moping around.

Our friends, in a humorous attempt to cheer us up, suggest that we all buy a farm together in Alpine. We laugh. Then Kim says, "No, seriously, Jeremy has a friend that sends him crazy listings in Alpine. We should just look at them." We laugh again.

But the idea has been planted. Kim and I start looking on Redfin at large lots all over San Diego. I talk to our realtor and sheepishly ask her to put farms on our listing. She sends us all the lots that are 1/2 acre or more in San Diego county.

We are searching for something that would be big enough to actually do some farming and have the potential to house two families. The problem is that all the properties that even slightly meet the criteria are far, far away.

San Diego county is 4,526 square miles. It stretches from the coast all the way to Imperial county on the east. And closer to that border is where most of these properties are. We are seriously considering looking at them, but as I think about what life would be like living an hour away from the city of San Diego, I start to hyperventilate a little.

"I just can't be that far away from the city." I tell Kim. We all agree. What we need is a large plot of land in the city. But finding that in San Diego is like finding a parking spot at the beach. Near impossible. Or so we think.

We keep looking online, and at what our realtor sends us over. A few days later one listing comes up in the neighborhood just south of the one we are living in. It is 1.6 acres, and has a 3bed 1bath house on it. About 5 minutes from downtown.

I call our realtor and we go to look at it the next day. It is unbelievable. Driving to the property, one right turn off the main road puts you down what looks like a country road. When we get there and look around, we find a little house with an huge grassy hill stretching as far as we can see behind it, and two empty lots next to it. Hiking to the top of the hill, we can see the Coronado Bridge and downtown. We have found our farm in the city.

We submit an offer that day. Unlike our previous escrow experience, this one flies by with no problems. With barely enough time to think about it, Kim, Jeremy, BJ and I have bought the farm.