The Literal Hen House

I originally started this page to document my life with the hens. Well, they started bitching and moaning about how cramped this place was, and after much negotiating I finally gave them a cyber space of their own. If you want to read more about them and their diva-like ways, please visit Ruling the Roost.

The remainder of the page below is still in its original condition:

I know not all of you are here to read about my chicken adventures, so I made this page dedicated to life with the hens. I’m going to try to document my fails and triumphs as I dive into the world of urban farming. Please consider this page my personal diary. Excuse all four-letter words, grammatical errors, and general lack of wordsmanship. While you’re at it, go ahead and  apply that to the rest of my blog as well.

Day 1: We have chickens. Four of them. O. M. G.

2/19/11: It’s eleven o’clock at night and I’m suddenly realizing I know nothing about the new additions to our family. I don’t know how old they are, if they have been vaccinated, of they have been (de) wormed…. nothing. It’s like when you go to a doctor’s appointment, get diagnosed with some ailment, go home, and immediately think of fifty questions that you didn’t ask.

The transfer into the hen house went well. Whitey was able to put the box on its side, and the hens just kind of walked out. I think we are both a little scared of actually picking up a chicken at this point. Baby steps. A few of them pooped right away, which must be a good sign. Or a bad one. TBD.

I went to check on them a few hours after their arrival and there were three feral cats stalking the coop. Crap. The hens seemed a little freaked out. I mean, I’m no chicken whisperer or anything, but that’s just how it seemed. I chased the cats away and put a blockade in front of the door to the run just in case. Fucking feral cats. I hate them. Spay and neuter your pets people!

I went to check on them a few hours after the feral cat debacle, and it had rained on them and their food got soaking wet. Fail. I guess they hadn’t figured out how to get inside the coop yet. I mean, I thought the new and shiny ramp with its nice rungs that lead directly into their shelter would be enough, but I was wrong. We had plans tonight, so they needed to get secured in the coop before we left. I ended up “ushering” them up the ramp and into the coop with a broom. Again- not quite ready for actual chicken handling. We put a tarp over the run and headed out.

We came home  early evening and Emma wanted to check on the hens. So cute, right? We took a flashlight  and headed out to the coop. There was another feral cat stalking the hen house. Beat it cats! Emma and I pointed the flashlight inside the coop and peeked in. Nothing. Like- they weren’t there. My heart started racing and my first thought was that someone stole them. Given where we live, that is very plausible. Then I got scared that the feral cats had eaten them. I was almost too afraid to look around the yard for evidence.

I went around to the other side of the coop, and there they were-all nestled in together right next to the opening to the ramp. Kind of weird. I think. I thought they might be in the nesting boxes or on the perch. It is their first night and all, so maybe they need some time. Oh, and the tarp blew off the run. I told Whitney to tie it down, but he insisted that it was secure. I love being right.

I’m looking forward to heading out there with Emma in the morning. We need to clean out the feeder and put new, dry feed in it. We also need to secure the tarp over the top of the run. I may need to kill a cat or two also. We’ll see.

Day 2: We have eggs!

2/20/11: I went to bed feeling midly panicked about the chickens, the safety of the coop, and their general state of well-being. I was also really worried that I had put them into the coop too early and that they were starving. I woke up bright and early (5:30 am) and headed out to the coop to let them out. They were already awake, and were making quite a commotion. They went straight for their food and water, which calmed my nerves quite a bit.

I also realized in the middle of the night that I had forgotten to put a perch in the coop! Chickens like to perch and you are supposed to indulge them in this activity. I scrambled and managed to put together a make-shift perch out of two upside down planters, each with cinder block on top of them to weigh them down. Then I put an old hoe across them to make a bar for them to perch on. I secured the ends of the hoe with bricks on both sides of the bar. It’s not pretty, but it seemed to do the trick. I saw a little spider crawling on the handle of the hoe as I was assembling it. Instead of immediately killing it, as I always do (I loathe spiders), I left in on there as a little surprise for the hens. Hopefully one of them found it and gobbled it up. The thought of that tickles me.

Emma woke up a little while later and wanted to see the chickens right away. It’s really cute how much she loves them. Today she had her heart set on petting them and picking one up. Given my own phobia about picking them up, you can bet that I’m not nearly ready to teach her how to do it. We had a few petting attempts, but the hens were really rambunctious and loud. I was really nervous about my neighbor just next to the coop. They were a lot louder than I had originally thought. Oh, I also brought out some leftover cut up apple from Emma’s snack and they wanted nothing to do with it. I thought chickens liked treats and snacks, but the apple did not go over well.

Emma and I headed out again a few hours later and much to my surprise- there were four eggs in the run! It was really quite shocking. I mean, I know that chickens are supposed to lay eggs and that’s what this whole urban farming thing is about, but it really threw me for a loop. There were four perfectly shaped brown eggs just laying there. I actually had a quick thought that someone had planted store bought eggs in the coop to play a trick on me. That’s how strange it was to me.

Emma was beside herself. She actually insisted that she wanted to go inside, cook the eggs, and eat one that very minute. We all know that she would never do such a thing, but it was cute that she pretended to want to eat something other than pancakes- even for just a few minutes. Collecting eggs from the coop was such a gratifying experience and I’m glad it happened right away. I already feel like a chicken junkie.

I’m guessing that all the cackling and chattering the hens were making this morning had more to do with egg laying than anything else. Hens make a lot of noise early in the morning during their egg laying time. I think I let them out too early. Three of the four eggs were cracked, due to their untimely entrance onto the hard brick. I’m going to shoot for more of a 10am coop exit tomorrow morning in hopes that they will lay inside their nesting boxes.

Emma and I took the eggs inside, discarded the cracked ones, and gave the remaining good egg a good cleaning. We used warm water and soap, but apparently you are supposed to use mildly warm water and no soap. I read this online after I washed the eggs, of course. You are also supposed to gently scrub them with a paper towel to remove any dirt and poop. Hot or cold water can compromise the shell, leading to contamination of the egg inside. The water I used wasn’t too hot, I mean Emma was helping me, so hopefully the egg is still good. It’s hard to imagine not washing them with soap, as the though of chicken shit on my eggshells is vile, but I’m going to trust the good peoples of the internet.

I also had a chance to clean out the run a little bit (the anal retentive part of me is having a hard time dealing with the messy habits of the hens) and add more shavings to the inside of the coop. I used an old broom to sweep up the droppings in the run and on the ramp. I also cleaned up all the uneaten apple. The hens seemed really excited to have me in there messing around. After I got done with adding the shavings, they all went in the coop and started digging around. They were also crowding around me and getting underfoot while I was cleaning the run. I’m guessing this is a good thing, as they seem quite docile and curious about me. They start clucking and run to the door every time we come out now. If this keeps up, I might be doing a some chicken holding sooner than later.  The thought still creeps me out a little.

I didn’t see any feral cats today either. Hopefully they were just being curious, as all cats naturally are, and the novelty of the hens has worn off. I also brought the hens some leftover lettuce and cabbage from the fridge, and they didn’t eat that either! WTF! Please don’t tell me I have four more picky eaters to add to the family. I’m a little puzzled as to why the hens aren’t eating our scraps. They also haven’t used the perch yet, and they don’t sit in the nesting boxes. Hopefully these kinks will work themselves out.

We had plans again tonight, so I put the hens in the coop on the early side. When I went out there, three of them were already inside. They must have been tired after an early morning and long day. When the last hen saw me coming, she walked into the coop all by herself. No chasing them with a broom! Hooray! Maybe they are starting to get the hang of things.

Emma, Whitney and I checked on the hens one last time before we tucked into bed. They were nested up in the same spot as last night- right near the entrance to the exit ramp. It’s sweet the way they all snuggle together. I’m looking forward to observing their behavior and learning about their personalities. There is one hen that is much bigger than the others and I’m wondering if she is the dominant one. There is also one who is smaller than the rest and much lighter. The other two are hard to tell apart right now. We’ve picked out names, but haven’t decided who is who yet. I think we are waiting to learn more about them before we assign them.

Hopefully I’ll be drifting off into a deep sleep tonight. Surely I’ll be dreaming of my four hens, my two chicks, the rooster snoring next to me, and fresh eggs for breakfast. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Day 3: Crying Over Cracked Eggs

2/21/11I kept the hens in the coop a little longer this morning- until 8:30. They were chomping at the bit and ready to go by the time I got out there. I felt bad keeping them in the coop without food and water, so I let them out. I checked the coop for eggs- nothing. Boo.

They started eating and drinking like crazy, so it seems like letting them out was the right thing to do. I went out to check on them about an hour later and what did I find? A single egg laying on the brick, and it was cracked (insert a BIG sad face here). It wasn’t all over the place or anything; it just had a small hole in its top. I’m guessing that is where it landed upon exiting the hen. It was still warm too.

I left the hens to their eating and checked back on them a few hours later. There were three more eggs in the run this time. They were also still warm. And again, I had this sense that someone had placed store-bought brown eggs inside the run. They looked so perfect. Also? None of them were cracked. Hooray! Considering we had three cracked eggs and one good one yesterday, this is a vast improvement.

I’m still puzzled as to how to get them to start laying in their nesting boxes. It seems like they lay around 11am. I certainly can’t keep them in the coop that long without food and water. Here are my options: wait it out and see if they start to develop better egg laying habits, feed them in the morning and then put them back in the coop until they have laid their morning eggs, just learn to live with cracked eggs, or put food and water inside the coop so and keep them in there for most of the morning. I’m going to give it another week or so until I decide on a course of action.

The hens seemed even friendlier today and Gnocchi let me pet her for a while. She seems like the nicest one in the flock. Maybe I’ll get the nerve to hold her soon. Ack! So not ready for that yet.

The hens seem to love it when I clean out the run and the coop. I cleaned out the coop and put fresh shavings in. They couldn’t wait to get in there to see what I had done. They immediately started digging around and fluffing things up. We went out again tonight and instead of putting them in the coop early, I just left them out in the run. By the time we got home, they had put themselves to bed inside the coop. Yes! I just shut the coop door and left the hens to their snoozing.

Speaking of snoozing, I’ve got to catch up on some rest. All the excitement and anxiety from the weekend is catching up with me. I’ve got three fresh eggs in the fridge waiting for me to scramble in the morning!

Day 5: Doing a Happy Dance

2/23/11: Do you know what those are? Two eggs. IN THE NEST. Yesssss. It took a few days, but the chickens have caught on to the whole laying eggs inside the coop and not outside on the brick way of life. Can you see the difference in the colors of the two eggs? One is a deep brown and the other is a light tan. Until now, they have all been pretty similar. It was really fun to see some variation today. I can only imagine how exciting it is for people who have chickens that lay green or blue eggs. Hmmm. Might need to get a few of Easter Eggers next time around.

I took Annie into the coop this morning while Emma was watching a movie. We sat on one end of the perch and watched the hens for a bit. Gnocchi hopped up on the perch and stood next to us for a long time. She held really still while I pet her. Suddenly, she jumped into my lap- right next to Annie. There I was, with Annie on one knee and a chicken on the other. I’ll admit that I was kind of bummed that she was putting her gross feet on my $150 jeans, but oh well. I also didn’t crap my pants or have a nervous breakdown when she jumped on me. *patting myself on the back* Note to self: I may need to invest in some urban farming gear. Not only are my clothes too nice to be farming in, but been wearing my J Crew wellies in the coop and I’m not loving the fact that they are caked with chicken shit. Maybe some overalls and cheap rubber wellies would come in handy. WHO AM I?!?!?

I went back a while later and resumed my seat at the end of the perch. This time Dagny came over to me. I can’t be sure, but I think she’s the Head Bitch in Charge. She’s a lot bigger than the others, and she seems to call all the shots. She didn’t want me to pet her, but she did peck at me a little. It didn’t hurt and I didn’t freak out. Yay for me!

I also cleaned the coop out twice today to make up for not cleaning it yesterday. It’s really, really hard to see it get dirty. My dad came by and picked up his first load of poop to compost at his house. Hopefully his garden can keep up with the amount of fertilizer the chickens make. He also took home two eggs, but he grabbed the hard boiled store bought eggs on accident. Oops! I sent my sister over to his house later with some freshies. I hope he and my mom enjoy them over breakfast tomorrow.

The hens are putting themselves into the coop at night like a bunch of pros and everything is going really smoothly. They seem like they want to go outside of the run and poke around, but they need to get their wings clipped first. I’m hoping my friend Julia’s mom, who is a retired vet that specialized in poultry, will help me. She might need to give me a few pointers on chicken holding too. We only got three eggs today, but I think it’s a bit much to expect each hen to lay every single day. It seems like a lot of work- making and laying eggs all the time.

The neighbor kids have been fascinated by the chickens and they come to the fence every time I am out there. They are really nice kids and it’s fun to teach them about the hens. A few interesting observations: They did not recognize lettuce when I brought it out for the hens to eat. They asked what the green stuff was and looked at me blankly when I told them it was lettuce. I live in a low income urban neighborhood btw. I’ve heard of studies that have shown that some of these kids cannot even identify a tomato, but to see it in person was… I don’t know. Sad? It’s very difficult to buy fruits and vegetables in my neighborhood and the nearest grocery store is only accessible by bus or car. Also, they were amazed that the chickens lay eggs and we eat them. They had to idea that the eggs were edible. I know that I will probably never inspire some kind of great change in my life, but if these kids learn a little something about food from me, than I can die a happy person.

If we ever follow through with eating the hens once their laying days are over, we might have to spare Gnocchi.

Day 6: Yum!

How delicious does this look? It’s a wilted spinach salad with bacon, and a poached egg on top. Oh, and in case you were wondering, that’s a side of cheesy bread. I might have to post a recipe to it some time. It takes about five minutes and makes the perfect addition to a light dinner. I have a feeling we will be eating this meal at least once a week.

We got three eggs again today. I know that is still a lot, but I kind of bummed we didn’t get four again. One of them was so light that it almost had a pinkish hue. I saved it to photograph tomorrow. I love the monochromatic look of all the eggs together. I wish I had a white bowl to display them in for the photo session. I do have some vintage Limoges china with gold trim that might do the trick though.

It’s supposed to rain again so I covered the coop up with a tarp. I weighed it down with bricks and cinder blocks. I’m hoping it stays put. I really don’t want to have to throw out the wet grain again.

I cleaned out the coop again today. My book says that once a week is fine, but I really hate to see it get dirty. After I swept the run I moved on to the inside of the coop. It seems that the hens all sleep in one area, which makes it much easier to clean. We have a board in the bottom of the coop that just slides out and dumps right into the compost bin. Gnocchi was in there when I opened up the coop, so I tried to shoo her out with my broom. She would not budge. She was not freaked out at all. She reminded me of a curious cat. I finally had to go into the run to get her to come out from the coop. What a funny little bird she is.

Emma and I spent some alone time in the coop this afternoon. She is desperate to hold a chicken. We sat for a while and tried to get one to sit on her lap. She’s so funny though because when they get close to her she claps at them like she’s calling a dog and then they run off. Maybe having pet chickens will teach her a little patience. Ha!

I gave them some more table scraps today- blueberries, strawberries, scrambled eggs, and bread. All leftovers from breakfast. It seems like they only ate the eggs. So freaking weird! I have a plate of leftovers from today to give them tomorrow. There are two chicken thighs on it. Whitney is really bugged out by me wanting to feed the chickens chicken. I get it, but I heard they eat it. You tell me: is it wrong?

We are having a few friends over tomorrow to celebrate Annie’s birthday. I thought I might serve roasted chicken with vegetables and then I realized that it might freak our guests out to go visit the chickens in the coop and then see me serve up a bird on a platter. The sick part of me really wants to see how that would go over though. Hahaha! My poor friends have to put up with me. I’m making chile verde instead: it’s done in the crock pot and has three ingredients. Hmmm. May have to post that recipe too.

18 Responses to “The Literal Hen House”

  1. Lori Dyan February 22, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    O.M.G. indeed! Honey, I am fascinated by this adventure you’re on. Do you live in the city? Can anyone just buy chickens?!? I think it’s so cool and also heeelarious that you seem to have a mild chicken phobia you’re working through. In Serbia last summer we went to my husband’s family’s ranch and there were chickens running everywhere – they can be a bit freaky (also, my daughter is convinced they poop out the eggs). Have you checked out She’s another urban(ish) farmer with chickens!

    • The Little Hen House February 22, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

      I live in a completely urban neighborhood. A lot of the area is zoned for commercial use. It’s legal to have chickens (I think) but you can’t have a rooster. It’s a noise issue. Our neighbor had two roosters for a while, but SOMEONE had to call the city and have them removed. *cough*

    • The Little Hen House February 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

      PS I love Molly on Money! She’s one of my regular reads. 🙂

      • Lori Dyan February 24, 2011 at 6:37 am #

        Forget BlogHer…you need to start ChickHer or maybe CluckHer (LayHer sounds like a porn convention)

  2. mamatoo3penguins February 22, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    I think I’m addicted to the Hens, I love reading all about them 🙂 and I have to tell you, I find it totally cool that you have fresh eggs!

    • The Little Hen House February 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

      I still can’t get over the shock that the hens lay actual eggs. It’s such a trip.

  3. Carri February 22, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    Yummy…. Aren’t fresh eggs so much better than store bought? They make the best meringue, too.

    • The Little Hen House February 22, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

      They are so delicious, and they look so different than store-bought eggs. Meringue? Yum! I’m adding that to the list. It’s going right after hollandaise.

  4. Amy February 22, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    Very fun experiment, you urban farmer, you. So why can’t you eat the egg if it has a small crack? I mean, it’s fresh, right? Adison and I just watched Nanny McPhee Returns and I thought of you with your livestock. My mom grew up on a farm and her chores involved collecting the eggs from the coops. Ahh the adventures…I pray you don’t attract an urban possum!

    • The Little Hen House February 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

      It’s not recommended to eat the cracked eggs because they can become contaminated. Unfortunately, the eggs are usually covered with chicken poop and hay. Hens aren’t the tidiest housekeepers. I will kick any possum’s ass that comes near my coop!

  5. Denise February 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Get some fake eggs (brown river rocks will work!) and put them in the nest boxes. You can also take their eggs and place them in the nest boxes. It will help them recognize where eggs are supposed to go.

    When you pick them up, the easiest way is to grab their feet and hold them upside down. Then tuck their wings against your body as you flip them right side up. Keeps them calm. Sounds mean but I swear it isn’t!

    • The Little Hen House February 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

      Should I take a valium before or after I attempt that maneuver?

      Thanks for the tip about the eggs!

  6. Molly On Money February 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    The checks are in the mail for you and Lori!
    This journal is so much fun to read; please, please keep it up.
    FYI- we all have our own custom wellies that reflect each of our personalities. Ya gotta look good out on the farm.
    In fact my butcher apron is made from a pink flowery oil cloth.

    • The Little Hen House February 27, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

      I’m so glad you read it! The hens have their own blog now. They are already such divas:

      Don’t be surprised if I email you with 50 questions about raising chickens. xo

      • Molly On Money February 28, 2011 at 4:54 am #

        Ask away! If I could convince every household to have a few chickens in their backyard my life’s work will be complete.
        BTW-What are your feelings about bees? (j/k, j/k)

  7. BevE March 5, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    What fun! I love your post. My SIL lives in CT and is raising chickens. She came to visit us (Ohio) and brought eggs with her – they were delicious. Her hubby feeds them stale doughnuts sometimes and the hens really go for it! Looking forward to more of your chicken adventures.


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