A Northern Coop

It gets cold here in New England, but it’s even colder up in Ontario bordering a Great Lake. Last year, my friend Lisa, who lives up there, had issues with frostbite in her flock. The solution wasn’t heat, rather it was ventilation. Lisa’s partner is an architect, and so their new coop is very well designed – and beautiful!

Lisa's coop


The sloping roofs shed snow, and provide for ample ventilation via the eaves. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know how important I think that height and air flow is. This example is ideal.

coop ventilation


There are large windows to let in the low winter light. Under the windows are screens for additional ventilation. During inclement weather, these are covered with a board that swings down and latches. There are nesting boxes accessible to the outside, a pop door going into a covered run, and a convenient full-sized door for people.

You can imagine how cozy and yet filled with fresh air, this coop will be in the winter.

inside coop


I’ll be talking at length about coop design at the Chicken Keeping Workshops this Sunday at my home in Carlisle, MA. Spaces remain. Sign up here!

Scooter Works Hard

This past week Scooter and I went to a two-day workshop for my KPA class. Most of the course is on-line, but we get together four times to learn from each other and show off newly learned behaviors. Scooter was a star! He did everything that I asked of him. A secret to his success? Knowing when to rest.

When I cue “cone,” Scooter trots over and touches it with his nose. The training facility was chilly and after that work he earned a cozy cuddle in his blankie.

Scooter and cone


Scooter also showed off how he knows exactly what “go to mat” means.



On the second day, he tried some agility equipment, demonstrated how he can do a chain of behaviors (under my knee, cone and back up) and we worked on extending the duration of his sit. Scooter does his “go crate” perfectly.



If this was another dog, curled up and staring balefully, I’d worry that he was stressed out. But I know Scooter. You know Scooter. Almost every photo of Scooter that I’ve taken looks like this and this. Yes, by the end of the day, Scooter was more than ready to go home. But, this dog knows how to handle an intense day – cuddle up in a favorite blanket and take a nap. Not a bad way to deal with life’s demands.

A Bumpy Egg

Each hen lays an egg unique to herself. Shape and color vary not only by breed but also by individual. Consumers of supermarket eggs don’t know this because only uniform eggs are put into cartons. But even those of us who expect to see variation in the eggs from our backyard flocks, once in awhile see a totally odd egg. This was one.



It was a tad smaller than usual. It had bumps.

egg with bumpsI

No matter. I cracked it into the frying pan for breakfast. It didn’t have a yolk (which explains the smaller size.) I cracked in another egg which did have a yolk. Breakfast was delicious.

Those lumps are made of the same material as the rest of the eggshell, it just wasn’t put down smoothly. We’re at the end of the laying season. The hens are beginning to molt. Their systems are tired. I’ve noticed that the brown eggs are paler in color; the hens are running out of dye. Such eggs, and those with bumpy shells, and even eggs without yolks. are still fine for consumption. I appreciate them because I know that in another two months I won’t have a full egg basket, and I’ll be eating oatmeal for breakfast. Meanwhile, my hens will be resting and rejuvenating in preparation for another season of laying.

What unusual eggs have you been collecting lately?



Dog Training

For the next two days I’ll be away from my computer and at a dog training workshop. This is part of the KPA course that I’m enrolled in. I’ll have Scooter with me and will be showing off some of the behaviors that he’s learned so far.

Yes, Scooter, my 10 1/2 pound bowed-leg lap dog, is my training partner for this course. I think that he’s part cat. This is his favorite pose. Here he is telling me that 8 am is too early to get up. He does like to sleep in.


Scooter is a dog of little brain, (truly! not every dog is a genius like Lily) but what’s there he is putting to work. And the wonderful thing about the sort of training that I do – positive reinforcement with the use of a marker for clarity – is that even small dogs that prefer to curl up most of the day can learn, and be happy doing it. Scooter is greatly enjoying the opportunities to earn treats. He’s told me for years and years that he’s a big beefy dog and that his paltry bowl of kibble is an affront. It doesn’t matter that the meaty treats that I’m now doling out are smaller than baby peas – he’s quite chuffed to be getting them!

So far, Scooter has learned how to scoot under my bent knee (while I sit on the floor), sit, stand on a book, touch his nose, or paw, (depending on which I ask for) on a ruler, back up, go to a mat, touch his nose on a cone, and follow a target stick. He also licks his lips when I lick mine and goes into his crate.

Scooter does not sit up and beg like the dog in this vintage photo. I’ll never ask him to because it’s not something he’d be physically comfortable doing. Knowing your animal and then being reasonable in your requests are two essentials of good training.

264-1 - Version 3

At some point I’ll make a video of Scooter showing off all that he has learned, but he’s not ready for prime time. Not yet.

Which Hen?

Later today I’ll be bringing a hen to an after-school program to teach the students about chickens and eggs. Selecting the right hen for the event takes some thought. Not every chook can do the job.

Betsy was a superlative school visit hen. She is small, and so non-threatening. She’d perch on my arm and let child after child stroke her back. But, at the age of seven, Betsy has more than earned her retirement.



During my program, I show the children the vent that the egg comes out of. It’d be easy to illustrate this with Agatha, who is halfway through her molt and so has lost her butt feathers. However, this hen does not like to leave home and her friends. I don’t take chickens that stress out on visits;  Agatha will not be showing off her red bottom.

chicken bare bottom


Amber is fine in the travel crate and patient with children. I might take her, if she lays her egg before we leave. But if she hasn’t laid yet (and she has been laying in the afternoon lately) then she’ll stay home. It’s very worrisome for a hen to need to lay an egg and not have a familiar nest box to go into.

buff orpington


Lately, Beatrix has been my go-to school visit hen. She has laid an egg this morning, and so I might just take her. By the way, that’s her “I’m laying an egg” glare. Beatrix looks far more pleasant when she is out and about.



Then again, it might be fun to take Veronica. She’s quite vocal, and chatters away while I try to teach, which the kids love. Veronica would also be a good example of what the molt is.

cuckoo marans


Or maybe I should take a classic hen. Nancy Drew would do.

Black star


I bet that the students would be happy if I left the chickens at home and brought Phoebe. (That’s not going to happen!)



Later this afternoon, I’ll post on Facebook which hen gets an outing. If you don’t follow me, that’s okay. You can simply click on the FB icon below to see my feed.

Speaking of events – I’ll be at  Let’s Talk About Food in Boston on September 27, and you can still sign up for the Chicken Keeping Workshop or the Advanced Workshop (taking place here in my backyard) on September 28.