In or Out?

It’s cold – 20 degrees F. this morning, and a windy 25 this afternoon. But, the hens are winter-hardy. It’s perfectly healthy for them to go outside, and you can see them on Hencam, trying to scratch a morsel out of the frozen earth and pecking at a bit of glittering ice.

What you can’t see are the hens in my new barn. Lulu, Snowball, Alma, Maizie, Edwina, Twinkydink and Buffy live there. They rarely go outside. Why this difference in behavior? Because the new barn is so cozy comfy, sunny and spacious. It has twice the floor space of the old barn and windows on all sides. There’s water and laying hen pellets and roosts and  nesting boxes. In other words, why leave?

The hens in the old barn aren’t overcrowded. They don’t show any signs of stress. They don’t aggressively peck each other; they are healthy and laying eggs. But it’s a bit like living in a dorm room. Nice, but tight. The party girls, the white bantams, like to stay together and have elbow (wing? space) from the other chooks. You’ll see them outside the most.

The girls in the new barn have no reason to go out. Sometimes I think they have it too good in there. I feel like a mom. You kids need to get out in the fresh air I want to say. In answer, I can just imagine the girls whining do we have to?

The Poultry Industry

The worldwide poultry industry is huge. Here is a report on the recent numbers just from the USA:

Exports of U.S. poultry, eggs, and related products surpassed $4 billion for the first time in 2007, according to the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC). Total worldwide sales last year of all poultry and egg products, including poultry meat, live poultry, table and hatching eggs, processed egg products, and other products such as feathers and down, reached $4.0167 billion, nearly 40 percent over 2006, said USAPEEC, citing year-end data compiled by the Foreign Agricultural Service of USDA.

Meanwhile, here at Little Pond Farm, my 15 hens have laid 87 eggs so far this month. Enough for me to splurge and have Salmon and Asparagus Quiche for dinner, hard-cooked eggs for snacks, French Toast, pudding, and more. Recipes can be found in my Farmstead Egg Cookbook, though all of these recipes are so easy that after you’ve done them once, you can do them again with your eyes closed.

By next month, the girls will be laying so many eggs that I’ll have enough to sell to my neighbors. There’s a need for big farms to supply food to the world, and I’m a realist about the necessity of large-scale agriculture. (I’m not a localvore – I’ll have to blog on that in the future.) But, how delightful it is to have eggs from my backyard hens and to be able to sell them within my community.


Every morning I get a report listing what internet searches have led people to HenCam. A lot of you are looking for information about building coops, some like animal webcams, others are researching chicken breeds.

Then there are the folks who find my hen  house when they’ve actually been trolling for something else. In England, bachelorette parties are called “hen parties.” Personally, I’d rather hang out with my chickens than get silly drunk at a bar, however I doubt that the soon-to-be married are going to watch HenCam instead of have an embarrassing night on the town. (Too bad…)

Yesterday, the person who searched for this found my chickens:

Polish girls in Sussex looking for love.

And how did you find HenCam? Let me know!

Chicken Love

People get chickens for all sorts of reasons. Gardeners who like to grow their own food see a backyard flock as an extension of their vegetable patch. Some think that a few chickens will teach their children about responsibility and where their food comes from. Others are serious about cooking with fresh eggs. Some simply think that chickens look fun to have.

We are a nation of pet lovers. We go on about our dogs as if they are children. We sleep nose-to-nose with cats on our pillows. But, very few people who get chickens do it out of love. Which is why, when we realize that we tell stories about our hens, just like we do about our puppies, when our kitchens have chicken motifs, and we have a growing collection of rooster pins,  and wear socks patterned with chicks, and friends greet us with “how are the girls?” (and they don’t mean our children) we are surprised as everyone else.

Yes, we’ve become smitten with our chickens. Head over heels in love. You can admit it. Go ahead.

So, on this Valentine’s day, buy something red for your girls – strawberries, tomatoes, red chard – you know what they like. You don’t even have to say the L word out loud. They know.

chicken valentine

Dog Training

I have two dogs. Lily is a rat terrier/border collie mix, and so she is alert, prey-driven, smart, and intense. She is a good farm dog and chases flying hawks out of the sky over our hen houses, keeps the deer out of the garden, and the squirrels off of the grass.

Scooter is a chihuahua mix. He is a lap dog. He is sweet and playful. His job is to keep Lily busy so that she doesn’t drive me crazy. He’s good at that, although lately he’s been asking for more attention from me. So, although he has perfect house manners and is easy to get along with, I’ve decided to do some training with him.

I’ve put off training Scooter – sheer laziness on my part – but it’s time. I like training animals. I believe in manners (kids, adults, animals all need them), and the only way to get a dog to be polite is to train it. Safety is an issue – I want the dog to come when called, stay in the car until given an “ok,” and be gentle when taking treats. And then there are the silly pet tricks. They’re so fun!

But the biggest reason to train your dog (or your chicken, I’ve trained them too) is to communicate more effectively with them. And the best way to do that is by “clicker training.” If you’re not familiar with this, go to my friend, Karen Pryor’s web site. In a nutshell, it’s positive reinforcement, using the same techniques that are used with marine mammals. It’s kind, it’s precise, it’s effective.

Scooter and Lily

Here is a funny training story:

I am training Scooter to stand on a piece of cardboard. Sort of  like getting an actor to go to his mark on stage. While I work with Scooter, I have Lily in a down stay on her mat. I toss her a cookie every once in awhile to reward her for staying put.

Scooter is just learning to go to the cardboard. He tends to take his time, sniff around a bit, and looks at me to see if staring at me with his big liquid brown eyes will get him a cookie without actually doing the work. Lily is watching. Scooter circles the cardboard. Lily has had it. She jumps up, smacks the cardboard with her paw and then goes back to her mat. It is absolutely clear that she is thinking, “there you stupid puppy, just do it!!!”

What’s really impressive about Lily’s outburst is that I’ve never taught her the cardboard trick. She figured it out just by watching me train Scooter!