Ain’t nobody here but us chickens (and a creeper with a camera)

The chippies aren’t really chippies anymore. They are more like chicken teens….chikeens, if you will. No eggs or anything yet, but they are getting pretty close to rivaling Frannie Sue in size. They’re big enough now that we’ve taken out the barrier that separated the chippies’ side of the coop from Frannie Sue’s side, so now they can all live in chicken harmony. They also get to roam the yard for bugs and steal lettuce from the garden every afternoon. Yep, it’s a pretty good life for the chickens these days.

Chickens are sometimes cute, but sometimes they look like raptors on the prowl.


Taste =Tested

Question: Can the average Joe (or Bro) REALLY tell the difference between a fresh egg and an egg from the fridge?

As keepers of chickens, we get that question semi frequently. We always answered with a resounding “YES” because, well, we want to feel justified in our chicken raising. But can we really tell or is it just wishful thinking? Who better to test this theory than the one and only Bro? A manboy who exists solely on a diet of sloppy joes and ravioli and has practically no picky eating habits to speak of whatsoever is the perfect subject on which to test this theory.

Hypotheses: I predict, that even with the palate of a common man, fair Bro will be able to distinguish the fresh egg from the friged one.

The experiment: First things first…gather materials. One fresh egg and one from the fridge.

Both yolks side-by-side. Guesses as to which is which?

To test accurately and fairly, it had to be a truly blind taste test with both eggs prepared under identical conditions. Both eggs would be cooked over easy, on the same type of pan, cooked over the same heat for the same length of time. They would even be served on the same plate. No differentiation whatsoever.

And we couldn’t add any fixin’s like salsa or salt and pepper. Only egg in its purest form would do. 

Bro prepares.

Bro chooses his favorite.

Bro chose the fresh egg! We are vindicated!

The Result: In the end, Bro finished both eggs but said there was a clear difference, and the fresher egg was “more robust.” He said there was more flavor, thought it wasn’t over powering…just preferable.

So there you have it. Fresh eggs are finer. Another hypothesis tested and proven.

Special thanks to Frannie Sue, the Scientific Method and Bro for contributing to this post.


Out of the closet

Well, the chicks, or chippies as I have been calling them (think cheep + chickies), are officially out of the laundry room and enjoying life outside with Frannie Sue in the coop! It’s an exciting time to be a chick.

The chippies seem to enjoy their new abode and it has been super fun watching them explore the new digs. Their personalities are starting to shine a little more and we’re thrilled to just watch and get to know them.

We’ve not named them yet, as I have been satisfied just referring to them as “chippies” or “the black one” and “blondie” but I wouldn’t say it’s an indicator of indifference on our part.  Do allow me to share with you some of the fun facts about our new(ish) little friends.

-Pecking order is a real thing. We got lucky when we introduced Frannie Sue and Marion to one other, as Francis was small and spunky and Marion was just happy to have a companion, but that was pretty much a fluke according to tales we’ve heard. Sometimes when you introduce new fowl to one another, things can get ugly with the more established chicks attacking the newcomers, often pecking them to death. Not exactly a “welcome to the neighborhood” situation. I’ve read tips by many chicken farmers that say you can prevent this by placing the new hens into the coop at night while the rest of the brood sleeps. The idea is the chickens will wake up and have a “the gang’s all here” mentality without really counting heads (chickens are cute but not the brightest). But with Frannie Sue being the only lady of the house, we knew this tactic wouldn’t work. Fortunately Handyman Heath rigged up a chicken coop floor plan that allows the birds to see one another and interact without having to actually share sleeping space. The idea is that overtime Frannie Sue will take it easy on the whole territorial thing and embrace the company of the chippies overtime. So far, so good.
-You can train a chick to not be “chicken.” What I mean is, if you make the chicks feel safe, they will take on loving, social personalities. If you threaten their lives and set them up for scary situations, they’re apt to be a bit more timid. We were bad about this with Frannie Sue. We might have prematurely let her out into the real world, which resulted in some dangerous situations when she was younger (Stella got a little too “friendly” a time or two) and she did witness the brutal murder of her bff, which doesn’t inspire much confidence in nature or humanity. But the little chicks have had it pretty good thus far. We made a point to talk to them every day while they lived in the laundry room, and we made sure to handle them semi-regularly so they could get accustomed to people. Now, whenever they see us approaching the coop, they run to the gate and “cheep cheep” at us. It’s ridiculously cute.
-Different chicks, different style.  As I mentioned earlier, chickens have their own personalities, as well as looks. The barred rock hen is definitely the dominate one of the chick family, while blondie is by far the most curious. She’s always the first to greet us at the gate or pop her head out of the chicken house. The Ameraucana is timid and needs a little courting to come around. But frisky or fragile, they’re all a lot of fun.


The need for seed

Blast those nincompoops who told us, as children, that gardening is as simple as dropping a seed in a hole and splashing it with water. Maybe that’s the case in the Northwest, but here in Texas it’s just not that simple…especially when you’re talking about seed starting.

Heath’s been itching to start gardening from seeds (rather than transplanting) for quite some time now. For one, it’s a pretty stellar way to feel somewhat God-like. Taking a tiny pebble-like object and transforming it into leafy, nutrient providing green. It does wonders for the ego.

Secondly, if the seeds grow to maturity, it’s a much, much, much more economical way to garden. Think about it: a single 3-inch tall tomato plant usually costs around $3.50 and will probably yield around 15 pounds of fruit in a good (“good” being the operative word) season. Not too bad considering what you pay in a grocery store for organic ‘maters. But a package of seeds, which usually has a count around 100 or so, is less than $2. I’m no mathematician, but based on those numbers, if you can do it right, seed starting is the way to go.

No problem except that when you start getting into it, seed starting is tricky business. Conditions must be perfect.

  • The seeds need to have between 12 and 18 hours of light each day. In the winter, when daylight isn’t so ample, dropping them in a hole and letting nature do it’s thing isn’t so much of an option. You’ve got to rig up a complicated lighting system, preferably attached to a timer, to make sure they get the appropriate amount of artificial sunshine.
  • Not just any soil will do. In fact, when seed starting, the experts recommend “soilless” soil. Which seems a little paradoxical. Using top soil from an existing garden can actually kill the seeds and you don’t always know the exact compounds you’re dealing with, and it has a tendency to compact easily without air ventilation, the presence of earthworms and manual tilling.  Instead, it’s recommended that gardeners use a mixture of sphagnum peat moss, plus vermiculite and a little perlite. The soilless mixture is much lighter than top soil and ultimately helps the seeds grow stronger, faster.
  • Seeds like the temperature to be juuuuuust right. Like me, seeds do best in temps between 65 and 70 degrees. While the temp has been known to occasionally hover around that level for day or two during Austin winters, it’s not a done deal. So the seeds usually have to live inside, and not just inside, but in a place that is well ventilated with moisture control. I’m telling you, they get a better set up than me, Heath and the doodles combined.

The caring and handy individual he is, Heath spared no expense creating the perfect environment to start our seeds. Well, I guess he spared some expense, considering seed starting paraphernalia can retail in the hundred dollar range. We spent a grand total of about $30, but the top shelf of our laundry room is now Seed City. The spectacular shelf-top community features scenic views (of our washer and dryer), superfluous sunshine (16 hours of florescent lighting) and a cool and breezy climate (a circulating fan rigged to dangle from the ceiling in lieu of an actual ceiling fan). It might be a little makeshift, but dammit if it didn’t get the job done.

By summer, we should have a truck load of tomatoes, kale, chard, lettuce, peppers and broccoli to keep us satiated. What’s more, seedlings are not the only thing growing beneath the light of the laundry room. We have new chicks as well.

It’s going to be an exciting spring.


Fencing

Handyman Heath has struck again, this time leaving a beautifully constructed horizontal cedar fence in his wake.

Yes, while I was spending my Friday night gallivanting with girlfriends Heath was getting acquainted with a handsome set of post hole diggers. Twenty four hours, three 2-foot holes, 240 pounds of concrete and $270 later we found ourselves the winners of a sort of fencing match.

It was our (Heath’s) first attempt at legit fence construction, but the final result couldn’t be more beautiful. Before the fancy fence, a significant portion of our backyard was visible from the street, as a 3.5-foot chain link fence didn’t lend us much in the way of privacy. And while I do post photos of our backyard for the world to see on this magnificent creature we call the Internet, I felt funny about so much of it being on display to every passerby in the neighborhood at any time of day or night. So after a bit of eye lash batting and finger hair twirling, I convinced Heath to gift me with this enchanting piece of back yard privacy.

Heath considers himself a novice craftsman, but proved to have a knack for fence building. To other “fencers” he offers this advice:

1) Keep a pickaxe handy. Blackland prairie soil (what we have here in Austin) is not easy to dig into. It’s hard and it’s thick, and you will save yourself a lot of trouble if you have the right tools. In this case, a pickaxe was the ideal weapon for tackling this muddy mess. Plus swinging a pickaxe back and forth is an easy way to get instant street cred on the East side.

2.) Make sure the faces of the fence post are even. While everything may be nice and level, the faces of the posts have to be flush with one another. Otherwise, you run into trouble when it comes time to put on the horizontal planks. A difference of an inch or two between the faces will result in a wonky, bendy-looking fence, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

3.) Check that the wooden planks you select for the fence aren’t warped. This one got us a couple of times and forced a few unexpected return trips to Home Depot. A warped board will affect the leveled appearance of the fence. Instead of clean, even lines between each slat, you will wind up with variation that can diminish the entire clean and streamlined look of the project.

Building the fence was a big piece of completing the back yard puzzle, and while it will probably never be “finished” this, along with some extra weekend gardening, made the new house feel a little more like home.

Heath picked up these concrete pavers from Gramps after a recent trip to Denton. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to use them in the yard but finally settled on burying them as a type of garden border.

Silver Cassia shrub purchased this weekend from The Natural Gardener

The air conditioner got a make over with these concrete blocks and bright planters.

Moss Phlox

The windows hanging in the back ground were found as garbage on a neighbor’s curb.

Frannie Sue isn’t allowed out of the coop while we still have chain link around the yard. She’s hoping this “building tall fences” trend continues so she can have free range of the yard again.

The veggies at the new house finally start to take shape.

The entire front of the house has a planter that’s quickly filling with anemone-like succulents.

The vegetable garden slowly taking shape.


Austin Place to Love: Buck Moore Feed and Pet Supply

Often friends will ask me where it is we get out chickens and I answer with the enthusiasm of a TV game show contestant, “BUCK MOORE FEED STORE!”

Buck Moore Feed and Pet Supply is what happens when an old fashioned Mom and Pop business meets the “weird” Austin culture.

Here’s what I mean by that—the place hasn’t been updated since the family biz first got off the ground in 1972. It’s got basically the same old signage, the same hand-built, no frills wooden shelving and random knick-knack laden walls of its past. But, by design or not, the outdated decor sets a mood for the store that just works. Perfectly. No hoity-toity dog biscuits or cat outfits here, just high-quality animal feed and customer service. REAL customer service. The kind where they ring you up and carry your bag out to your car for you. They keep a small but knowledgable staff who can tell you everything you wanted to know and more about chickens, dogs, livestock and the like.

That’s the old-fashioned, traditional side. Then there’s the quirky side. The side that hosts the city’s annual Funky Chicken Coop Tour and makes sure it stays stocked with local products like John Dromgoole’s Lady Bug garden products.  The side that, despite originating in the early 1970s, continues to use technology from far preceding decades: the cash register is from 1923, their feed scale is a 1930 IBM model and the Coke dispenser is possibly one of the first ever built. Quirky indeed.

The marriage between quirky and traditional may seem like an unlikely one, but it’s a relationship that has worked very well for Buck Moore’s store–the only place in town I go to for good [dog] food and good-looking chicks.


Hot Chicks

Meet some new hot chicks.

Those of us at the doodle house were feeling the pain of losing our beloved Marion recently. So, like any grieving chicken parents, we picked up some new ladies recently to help us:
1) ease our wounds
2) give eventual company to surviving Francis Sue
3) provide us with blogging material.

Clearly, points 1 and 2 are the most important. Point 3 is just a lucky perk. Meet the new ladies.

Keeping in step with our naming-chickens-after-grandparents theme, this little lady has been dubbed Patsy. She is the leader of the 2 youngest chicks. She’s a hot blonde with a lot of attitude. Welcome to the family.

Elouise, here, is a soft-spoken gentle soul who gets along swimmingly with all her fellow chicks.

This is Chick. We picked up Chick  before the other two babes, and we bonded with her instantly. We never gave her an official name, but she doesn’t really need one. She comes when you call and loves humans to an  unusual degree–she is more like a dog when you get right down to business.

So there it is. The hot new chicks of the doodle house. Stay tuned for more developments.


Mourning

Yesterday I came home from work to find Marion dead in the coop. It was frightfully upsetting.

Marion was the the godfather chicken of the doodlehouse, the original gangster. We brought her home as a chick last summer and watched her grow from a furry and skittish baby chick to a matronly sweetheart of a chicken. She gave us eggs, nurtured the other fowl we brought into the yard and pecked around the premises with a cheerful personality that made waking up in the morning and coming home after work just a little bit sweeter.

Immediately after stumbling upon her lifeless body in the coop, I was flooded with emotion. Why? It’s hard to say. She was a chicken, not a dog. Heck, we even did in a rooster ourselves. But for some reason this discovery sent a shockwave through the doodle house.

Losing a chicken at the hands (or paws, or claws, or talons) of another animal is incredibly unsettling. Part of my shock, sadness, and frustration was rooted in the realization that, even in my own backyard, I have no control over the savagery that exists in nature. I felt guilty, too. Guilty for allowing it to happen and for giving the chickens the allusion of a safe haven, of a peaceable kingdom, only to leave them susceptible to attack.

In the end I guess you have to shrug it off, sigh, and say “these things happen.” But it doesn’t make the absence of our orange beauty Marion any easier to swallow.

 


They grow up so fast

Little Francis Sue has joined the egg layers club. Yesterday we found two tiny bright white eggs in the coop.

Her egg laying days could not have come at a better time since Marion is on hiatus from her egg laying. Her embryos are nowhere to be found, at least not in the coop; although it’s possible she could have stashed them somewhere in the yard as she is known to do. If she did take a vacation from laying, I can’t blame her. It’s too hot outside to do anything but think about being inside.

At any rate, here’s a toast to Francis Sue’s coming of age and the promise of many omelettes to come.


birds of a feather

Chicken Run, it turns out, is the story of my life. But instead of playing the determined, capable and charismatic chicken (as I always assumed I would if cast in a barn-themed movie), I would play the evil, ruthless chicken-hunting villain determined to keep the chickens cooped. That is certainly how Frannie Sue  perceives my life at least.

How do I know this? For the past couple of weeks, mornings at the doodle house have consisted of invigorating little games of “Chase the Chicken,” in which I, or Heath, spend a good 5 minutes herding Frannie Sue (and it’s always Frannie Sue) from the front yard—into which she has somehow managed to appear—back into the rear.

Despite being constantly fed and tended to, Frannie Sue is determined to escape (so determined, in fact, I’ve considered renaming her Andy Dufresne), and she always finds a way. Over the fence. Through a hole. Beamed by Scotty…what have you. This was all well and good because for one reason or another, Frannie Sue called her escape quits once she hit the front yard. This is either because:
1.) She is a “chicken” in the sense that she is too afraid and cowardly to proceed any further.
2.) She is an idiot.
3.) She is as loyal a bird as Stella is a doodle and can’t bare any real separation as she fears the inevitable anxiety it would cause.

I’d like to give credit to either choices 1 or 3 as they imply some sort of forward thinking on the chicken’s part, but in all actuality, number 2 is probably our best bet.

Or so I thought, until…

FRANNIE SUE RECRUITED MARION INTO HER ESCAPADES.

I arrived home yesterday afternoon to find not one, but TWO CHICKENS pecking around the front yard. I was heart broken.

Marion, how could you? I thought we had moved beyond our rocky history and started fresh?  I thought you knew we were here to provide a port in the storm, protection from neighborhood cats, constant eating of your babies. We gave you a new friend with whom to play and this is how you repay me? 

Francis Sue, you tricky little devil. You recruited your mentor, your mother-figure, your friend, to join you on your quest to escape The Doodle House. Escaping alone wasn’t good enough, so you poisoned the well and got innocent, sweet Marion to join you. There will be consequences.

I put my devastation aside for a moment to engage in “Chase the Chicken, Level 2″ and got the ladies back into doodle territory ASAP. My plan worked well enough, but I was still left with a tricky predicament. What’s a girl to do with 2 renegade chickens?

The way I see it, I’ve got 3 choices:

• I can do nothing and hope the chickens continue to abandon their escape plan once they reach yardus frontus. It’s a risky choice but one that takes the delicate feelings of the chickens into consideration.
• I can clip their wings which seems logical enough but I’m a bit squeamish and unqualified to perform such a complicated surgery. Plus it would only add to the trauma I seem to have at some point caused them.
•  Keep ‘em cooped. Good for the yard, bad for chicken morale.

Such are the stresses of my life and the lives of those at The Doodle House. Chickens, I beg you, keep the shenanigans on this side of the fence and spare yourselves the drama that may be to come.


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