Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who could oppose chickens?

Seriously! They are fluffy, quiet, and very charismatic. Tomorrow is another meeting of the Urban Fowl Subcommittee (9am Wednesday morning, City Council Chambers!) and I am hopeful that it will go well. Matt is coming to the meeting, too, so that will be fun.

Sometimes, when I feel like I need to relax, I sit on the lawn and feed macaroni to the chickens. We all enjoy it very much- especially Mrs. Tweedy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Over two dozen!!!!

Summer is officially here, and it gets dark around 9:45pm. You are probably not surprised to hear that our veggie garden is doing extremely well these days. Matt and I decided not to let a one month (August) adventure away from home prevent us from having the best garden we've ever had. Last year the wedding prevented us from fully realizing our garden's potential (failure to plant potatoes, with both Irish and Polish heritage, is almost a cardinal sin). This year, we planted weeded, tilled and mulched like crazy people.

This year everything is going according to plan. From broccoli to zucchini, if it grows in Montana, we are growing it. Yesterday I did the first big harvest of our incredibly awesome strawberry patch.

Over two dozen!!! Fooooooooled yoooooou!!!

Still no eggs. EggWatch 2007 is officially on.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rough Draft of Ordinance!

The Missoula Urban Fowl Subcommittee is meeting next week to discuss the first draft of a pro-urban chicken ordinance. This ordinance, if the draft is approved, would then go to a vote in front of the whole city council (I think). Here is the wording of this first ordinance draft, care of one of the UFS members. This part follows a general no livestock in the city section of the Missoula city ordinances, hence the "prohibition in this section" verbage in the first sentence.

F. The prohibition in this section also does not apply to the keeping of up to 6 chickens within the city limits in situations in which the animals are kept in such a manner that the following standards are complied with:

1. No person shall keep any rooster.

2. The chickens must be kept on a single-family lot, unless all parties who share a multiple-family lot consent to allowing the chickens on the premises.

3. The chickens shall be provided with covered, predator-proof housing and must be kept in a covered or fenced enclosure at all times.

4. No enclosure shall be located closer than 25 feet to any residential structure occupied by someone other than the chicken owner, custodian, or keeper.

5. The enclosure must be thoroughly ventilated, of sufficient size to admit free movement of the chickens therein confined, and be at least 2 square feet per chicken in size.

6. No person shall slaughter any chickens within the city limits.

7. Feed must be kept in a rodent- and predator-proof container. The management of chickens and their feed shall comply with Ordinance 3330, Chapter 6.02.

8. It is unlawful for the owner, custodian, or keeper of any chicken to allow the animal(s) to be a nuisance to any neighbors, including but not limited to: noisome odors from the animals or their enclosure; and noise of a loud and persistent and habitual nature.

9. If a chicken owner is in violation of these standards, the mechanism for enforcement is as follows:

...i.Upon receiving a complaint of a possible violation at any given address within the city of Missoula, Animal Control will respond and leave a notice of violation/warning and/or a verbal warning with the chicken owner or temporary owner and provide them with written or oral information on how to correct the alleged violation.

...ii.Animal Control will revisit the chicken owner’s address 10 days or more after the notice of violation/warning is issued. If the chicken-owner has failed to comply with the ordinance, Animal Control may issue a citation to the owner, custodian or keeper of a chicken for failure to comply with any applicable section of this chapter. At this time, Animal Control may also confiscate the chickens without a court order. Animal Control may also recommend to the court that the chicken owner lose the right to keep any other chickens for 1 year or more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Profiles: Littles Rockette

Littles is a sweet, skittish chicken. Her older sister Biggie is constantly getting all the treats, all the attention, and all the publicity. Littles prefers to quietly graze on grass in the background, nervously eyeing the other chickens, the dog, the sky, the ground, and anything else that might somehow pose a threat to her existence. You can see in this first photo that Biggie is hogging the shot, while Littles is lost in a sea of chickens in the back. Typical.

Don't get me wrong. She isn't named for "Chicken Little" as you might think. She is named because her big sister got spontaneously named Biggie, and Littles just seemed like a nice counterpart. We considered "Smalls" but "Biggie Smalls" is the name of a rap star (I think) and that did not appeal to me. The pluralness of her name, Littles, is just because I thought it was a better name that way.

She is a curious bird- much more so than some of her fellow hens. But if I had to guess where she is on the pecking order, I would say she is only above Zippy and Beldar, and below Biggie, Mrs. Tweedy, and Rosie.

Littles' head is smaller than Biggies. I know that sounds funny but the most noticeable side effect of that fact is that Little's eyes are kinda bugging out of her head. Subtle, but funny, and it adds to her nervous persona. The other thing is that Littles' head feathers are darker and denser than Biggies'. She looks more black with white stripes, while Biggie is sort of really dark grey with really light grey stripes.

I looked through my past photos and discovered that there are two kinds of photos of Littles- ones where I am not sure if it is Littles or Biggie, and ones where both of them are in the picture. So I set out today to get some good pictures of her. The three shot sequence that I captured is the result of cheese-baiting her. Mmmmmm... cheese... I think it is pretty funny. She came, she pecked, she left.

Littles Rockette will lay large brown eggs and should be a steady hen in bad weather and cold winters. Even if she isn't a big clown like her sister Biggie, we still think she is very cool.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Free Ranging

This afternoon we visited our friend's chickens over in the University district. They have a chicken tractor (very cool portable chicken housing unit) and 6 young hens. Their hens free range around their yard pretty frequently, and Matt and I decided after our visit it was time to let our free range.

The hens have been outside their pen before, but never for very long. When we let them out they wandered for while and then moved to the far edge of our lot to scratch around in the potato and pumpkin garden. You can see the majority of the chickens in the first photo are in the pumpkin patch (back left of the photo), while Pot Pie calmly allowed me to photograph her. She looked so nice in front of our flower bed.

After they scratched around in there for a while, Matt and I decided they needed some leftover macaroni and cheese. Mmmmm... They swarmed Matt for this tasty treat. You can clearly see in these photos how fabulous Beldar's poof has become. She is a beautiful bird. Her personality leaves something to be desired- she is skittish, whiney, and antisocial. It is not easy being gorgeous, I guess.

Pot Pie, on the other hand, is a very placid, accepting hen. Matt scooped her up and she calmly stood on his hand, observing her chicken domain. "Some day, Pot Pie, all this will be yours."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

UFC meeting #2

The Urban Fowl Committee met again today. Again, very fun and productive.

Here are the current ideas for the ordinance as I recall them from the meeting this morning;

- 6 hens (chickens only, no turkeys)
- No roosters
- Coop must be 25 ft from nearest neighboring dwelling
- No butchering
- Run must be fenced, Henhouse must be covered/enclosed
- Hens causing a nuisance are covered by animal nuisances clauses elsewhere
- Feed attracting wildlife is covered by Wildlife Attractant clauses elsewhere

Pretty straightforward. It is mostly modeled on the Madison WI ordinance, but of course they don't have bears that roam around downtown so the Wildlife Attractant clause is something a bit more special for Montana.

The wording of the ordinance will be drafted by the end of next week. I'll post it here for reference and general interest once I get it. After that, we'll have a third meeting to agree on the wording. Then, it goes before the whole city council. I hope this all happens before we leave for our big vacation!

My favorite quote from the meeting was, "Does the 25 feet have to be horizontal, or could you put a coop on the roof of your home?"

Good question, sort of. I can see it now...


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Built a new feeder

I've been displeased with my feeder lately. I feel like it is too prone to feeding other things (mice, starlings) and just a few days ago a whole flock of house sparrows descended upon it. I decided then that I wanted to make a new feeder.

The idea with the new feeder was this; I wanted to have the food access be inside the coop, but the food refilling be outside the coop. Simple, right? I thought about this for a while and decided that what I really needed was some kind of feeder tube that went through the wall. What is a tube that goes through walls? Duct work tubes! Where can I find duct work tubes? My favorite place! The used building supply place!

So here are the steps to building a new feeder.
1) Think up the design for the new feeder.

2) Go to the used building supply place and spend $2 on four old ductwork fittings. The pieces I bought were; end cap (to cover the feed from the outside), double end fitting (to allow the cap to fit on the next piece), 90 degree elbow (to tilt the tube through the wall), and rectangular register fitting (to dispense feed into the bowl).

3) Distract hens with honeydew melon rinds. Mmmmmmmm... tasty.
4) Assemble ductwork fittings on the lawn and take measurements.

5) Cut a big hole in the wall of the coop with the reciprocating saw and a spade bit. Fun! Super duper deafeningly loud with the corrugated tin!

6) Re-fit ductwork together inside (register/dispenser and food pan) and then attach the outside tubes from the outside (90 degree elbow, double end fitting).

7) Fill with feed to test system

8) Place cap on new feeder
9) Watch as dominant hen, Biggie Rockette, immediately attacks new feed. Go Biggie! Good hen!

Now all I need to do is fill the small gaps from the rough cut I made in the wall of the coop. It is hard to cut an 8" diameter hole in 1" of plywood and corrugated tin, with a reciprocating saw. I'm thinking expandable insulating foam plus some kind of "cuff" to keep the hens from pecking at the foam. We'll see how that turns out. For now the weather is nice enough that those gaps are not a problem.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The cat came back

The big black cat was at the back door last night, looking in. I don't know where this cat came from, but I worry about him. Apparently, Gladys and Ray have one of his toes held hostage- the cat got caught in their extremely frightening raccoon leg hold trap that is in their tree (no kiddin') and left a black fuzzy kitty toe behind. I feel bad for the cat... sort of. It harasses our chickens, poos in our gardens, and screams in the middle of the night sometimes. Not a good kitty, really. And only 15 toes, so I know it is him when he walks on my car with muddy paws.

Anyway! The cat was stalking across the lawn this evening towards the hens so I snuck up on it and threw a shoe at it. Missed, but he got the message. Honestly, I picked the wrong shoe. I think I would have hit him with a "chaco," but I grabbed a "croc" instead- totally an amateur mistake.

While I was wearing only one shoe in the cool evening grass, I remembered I should take some photos of the hens enjoying a snack for the blog. I got the other shoe and the camera and took some photos of them eating diced spinach stalks out of a tupperware container whose lid I lost at least a year ago. It is the chicken treat bin now.

Pot Pie is just so very... special. She is not interested in treats the vast majority of the time. She spent the photo shoot preening her feathers (her favorite past time) and staring into space. You can see her preening some belly feathers in the first shot. I took a photo of just her when she deigned to make eye contact. She is really weird, and by weird I mean wonderful in a very unique way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Snowy day for hens?

Today is a rather stark contrast in weather from my last post. It is about 45 degrees and it has been pouring rain, cats and dogs style, all day. The mountains around the house have been getting some very wet snow. For those of you that are familiar with the topography, there is snow on Marshall, snow on the back of Pattee Canyon, snow on the top of Sentinel, and a hint of snow on the ridge above Jumbo.

The hens are not entirely displeased with this weather. They don't mind rain all that much. I've seen them scampering about in the rain, taking mud baths in their dirt bath hole (filled with mud today, of course, not dirt right now), and even perching and preening in the rain. Their feathers seem very water resistant. Beldar's hairdo is not water resistant, however, and she is not looking very sassy in these conditions. She's gone from Cher/Liberace to more of a... Sonny Bono. Not flattering.

I've put some extra food in their coop to allow them to eat in the warmer location during this cold spell. They still go outside to eat all the time, but I'm just a little nervous about them with all the moisture so I figure better safe than sorry.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Hot day for hens

Today it is really hot out- I'm talking bright sun, low 90's. The hens are getting so big that yesterday when two friends of mine came over for dinner, they both exclaimed "Holy Sh**t they got big!" when they saw the girls. The combination of these two things (big birds, hot day) means that the girls are trying really hard to keep comfortable. All those adult bird feathers makes it hard to stay cool, I think.

Apparently, the preferred techniques if you are a hen for staying cool are;

1) panting in the dark henhouse
2) taking dirt baths in nice dry dirt
3) sitting in the shade under the plum tree and panting some more
4) drinking cool water

I think these all sound pretty reasonable. The Wyandottes, who are the thickest set birds and are built for cold winters, are having a tough time with the heat. Rosie is panting very aggressively- she's huge, fluffy, and very, very plump. You can see in the picture that Biggie barely has her beak open (front and center), while Zippy (out of focus in the back) and Rosie (foreground) are both panting quite obviously.

I'm thinking that some more shade might be good once summer gets into full swing. Maybe something like an extra awning near the chicken-port could be good. I'll have to think about that.

I took a week off from posting to the blog because I was distracted by the birth of my new niece, Eleanor Caroline!!! So exciting. Now I have two beautiful baby nieces; Jacqueline Sage (now 3 months old) and Eleanor Caroline (now 5 days old). I'm really really happy about these little additions to our families.