Monday, September 29, 2008

Setting up your brooder

If you have chosen to order chicks (like I did), you will need to have a brooder box for them to live in until they get big enough/feathered enough to go outside in your ark, coop, tractor, whatever you have...

Here's a picture of my Brooder box... it's a 19 1/2" x 32" guinea pig cage I got off of craigslist a year or so ago, and I've added some cardboard around the edges to help keep the heat in and drafts out! Right now I only have cardboard around half of mine because it's in a very protected spot in my house... under a craft table, up against a wall. I may add more if it seems to be drafty, but I think it's gonna be OK!

You may use a large cardboard box, an old cooler, a child's wading pool... whatever has sides big enough that the little peepers won't hop or fly out of(they can fly pretty quickly). You may need to put 'bird' netting over the top of whatever you have, depending on how high the sides are.

A heat lamp is a must... Brand new chicks need their temp at 95 degrees the first week, then each week after that dropping by increments of 5 degrees. If your chicks act like it's too hot, then you can adjust it - don't ever stand firm to these 'rules' - watch what your chicks tell you too! They sell clip-on ones at the home improvement stores, or you could rig it up to hang over the brooder somehow. It needs to be able to be adjusted, lower and higher so the chicks don't get too hot... and I think it's recommended to get the red bulb because it makes it easier for the chicks to sleep, and they're less likely to pick at one another too. Of course you'll need chick feeders and waterers. There are a couple of designs out there, but the main thing is to make sure you place them up on something like a brick or a board so the chicks can reach them but they don't get as much bedding and dirt in the food or water.

We decided to get a digital remote thermometer... like the ones you can mount part of it outside (transmitter) and then read the indoor/outdoor temps on the receiver inside. If you decide not to get a thermometer, you'll probably be OK - the chicks will let you know if they're too cold (by huddling directly below the light), too hot (by staying as far away from the light as possible) or if there's a draft (huddling to one side of the light)... if the chicks are peeping contentedly and moving around the brooder seemingly unaware of the temperature, they're probably happy!

For the first couple of days you will not need to use anything but paper towels as bedding... the little chick's legs can't handle the slipperiness of newspaper, and if you put them in the brooder with pine shavings or other types of small bedding material, they might try to eat it and get sick or die. Put the paper towels down, load up your feeder and waterer, get the heat lamp running and warm up the brooder - all BEFORE you go to get your chicks from the PO or wherever. You want to have things ready for them when they come....

This is the point I'm at now... ready and waiting to see the cute little fluffy butts!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In the N&O, North Raleigh News section today:

Wake Forest approves household chickens
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall, Staff Writer
Comment on this story WAKE FOREST - Emily Cole can have her chickens.
The Wake Forest town Board of Commissioners last week voted 4 to 1 to let Cole and any other town resident keep up to 10 hens.
Cole spoke to the town board last month, asking them to change a rule that required prospective chicken owners to get all neighbors within 500 feet to approve their plans.
Only one family has successfully convinced their neighbors to let them have chickens.
Cole couldn't. Though many neighbors had no problem with her plans, a few disagreed.
So Cole started a petition asking the town to loosen its rules. She eventually gathered several hundred signatures.
In August, town board members said they agreed that the rules needed to be changed.
Earlier this month, they considered a draft ordinance that allowed up to five chickens. Last week, after a public hearing, board members agreed to increase that number to 10. Cole had originally hoped officials would allow as many as 20.
"I'm really happy with the outcome, and I'm really excited that it didn't take six months to do it," Cole said. "I'm also really happy that the Wake Forest commissioners are open-minded. I'm excited that they realize it's a good step forward for the town."
Across the country, more urban and suburban residents are keeping chickens amid fears of the safety of the food supply and a desire to buy local products.
Until now, only the Bissette family in Wake Forest was allowed to have chickens. They were awarded a permit earlier this year after all of their neighbors agreed to their plans.
Neighbors and families at Holding Park across the street often stop by to see their hens.
The new rules mean that the Bissettes no longer have to get their permit renewed each year.
Dave Bissette said he wasn't concerned about getting the permit renewed, but it was a hassle. The family would have had to canvass all their neighbors again.
"I'm glad, quite frankly, I don't have to deal with it anymore," said Bissette.
Nobody came forward to speak out against the new rules at the public hearing. Town commissioner Pete Thibodeau was the lone dissenting vote.
Commissioner Frank Drake said many Wake Forest homeowners who live in neighborhoods where homeowner association rules ban chickens won't be able to keep them, despite the law.
Drake, whose grandparents tended chickens in a neighborhood when he was a child, said most people who contacted him supported the measure.
"I really don't think this is going to be as prevalent as vegetable gardening," he said. "Nobody seemed to have a problem with it once they realized that they lived in a neighborhood that had an HOA that forbade it."
Cole said last week that she wasn't sure when she will get her chickens, but it could be in the next week or so. Her husband has plans to build a miniature barn.
When Cole got home from last week's meeting, her husband and two young children were waiting to congratulate her with chicken drawings taped to the door.
They told her, the "chickens are coming." or (919) 829-8983

Needless to say, my kids are very excited about having some chickens soon!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

So, you want some chicas too? (how to start your flock)

OK - I know some of you would like to have a small flock of chickens. Now that it's legal in Wake Forest to have up to 10 hens (NO ROOSTERS), I've gotten some inquiries on how to start. So, I guess I'll put some info up here to help out if I can..... I will stress, however, that I am NOT AN EXPERT!!!! (I don't even have any chickens yet!)

First, you have to decide how many and what kinds you want to get.... there are SOOOO many different varieties out there, I couldn't begin to list them all. I will just give you a good idea of a few different ones... Please check out MyPetChicken or BackyardChickens for their info on breeds. There are several hatcheries that have great info too - there are links to these hatcheries on those two sites.

If you're looking for mainly egg production:
Plymouth Rocks (Barred, Black, White), Orpingtons (Buff, Black), Rhode Island Reds, Sussex, Leghorns (pronounced 'Leggerns'), and Australorps are going to be the most prolific egg producers... Then you also get into whether you want different colored eggs. There are the 'Easter-Eggers' Ameraucanas, which the Bissette's have over on Main St, and they lay green to blue eggs, and occasionally pinkish. There are also the hard-to-find true Auracanas which are blue egg layers. The Rhode Island Reds have brown, Leghorns have white...

If you just want some mainly for pets, and don't care much about eggs:
Polish varieties come in a myriad of colors (and have fluffy heads), Silkies, with really fluffy feathers that look like a fluff ball, turkens (really a chicken which looks like a bald-necked turkey), and almost all of the bantam breeds... they're in this section just because they've got tiny little eggs. (about 1/2 of standard size large eggs -they still taste great though!)

OK - once you've selected the breed(s) and how many you want, you need to determine how you're going to house them. I recommend you follow the 4 square foot/bird rule for your coop. I would say give them larger space if you're planning to keep them cooped up a lot. I recommend also, that you have a movable coop so your hens can forage in your yard safe from predators. There are TONS of options available. I love the CatawbaCoop chicken ark (he's having a $9.99 sale on them this week!!!) , I think it's a great, affordable design! It's quite attractive too, especially if you made it from redwood or cedar! I would suggest keeping no more than 4-5 standard sized hens in one full-time.

There are also links to coop designs that are for sale on MyPetChicken, and BackyardChickens has a great page full of user submitted photos and sometimes even step-by-step photos showing the folks building their coops. There are many different sizes and styles available - movable, and stationary - the options are unlimited - you could look at a few and then design your own perhaps!

My plan is to have a stationary (attractive)barn-style coop with a large enclosed run attached to it, but also have an ark in which I can take several birds out to forage around my yard where I want them. I like the idea that I can keep some things stored in the stationary coop - I'll use part of it (partitioned off) for storing my personal garden tools, gloves, and the chicken supplies. The plan is to have the nesting boxes on the interior wall so I can get to the eggs via a little door from the 'shed' side and not have to get my shoes dirty to get the eggs. My husband has been excitedly drawing up different plans and asking me what I want everything to look like! Many of you who want to own chickens are most likely pretty handy yourselves, and will be able to come up with a great place - if not, please check the links I mentioned above. Some places will even ship you a kit with detailed instructions, and you just assemble it.

Wow - so you've hopefully decided which breeds of hens, and how many, and how you're planning to house them... now - where are you going to get your chickens from??? That was my major dilemma this week - I am quite impatient now that I've got the legal footing to get some 'chicas'... and I don't want to wait! There are many ways to acquire your flock...

** purchase chicks online or find a local hatchery where you can pick them up, brood them in your house/garage/storage building until they get large enough and feathered out enough to be outside in the elements, then move them to your coop. Wait several months before you get your first egg, then have an 'egg party'! (this method allows you to hand-raise your chicks, which makes them more docile and people friendly ='lap bird')
** purchase 'pullets' online or from a local hatchery, place them in your coop when you get them and only wait a few weeks to get your first eggs. (you can't be sure of their temperament, but usually they'll warm up to you if they're young enough and you handle them frequently)
** purchase grown hens from somewhere close by and start off with hens already laying. You may want to be cautious about this method - some owners may 'fudge' a little about the hen's age, and then you may end up with a hen that produces for a short time. (you're also not sure of the hen's temperament or disposition when you purchase them already as adults, and they can be kinda set in their ways)
** rescue 'battery cage' hens - this is not something I have done much research on, but you can do an Internet search. Key Points: There are organizations which help place unwanted birds from commercial laying facilities, and you can help rescue a few of these poor animals. They're usually really awful and ratty looking at first, but from what I've heard, they warm up to human contact quickly and once they've molted and feathered out, they make great pets.

I have chosen the first option listed above, and have an order of tiny day-old chicks which are coming to me in 9-10 days. I can't wait to meet them! I'm very excited about raising these chicks and so are my kids. It will be a wonderful learning experience for my daughter at least, and something that will keep my son entertained for maybe 10 minutes each day! (he's 2!)
We may also get a polish bantam chick or another bantam chick from a friend locally since they're really cute mini-chicas. I think I'll let my daughter pick one out especially for herself.

So - if you have questions... please post them in the comments section... I'll do my best to answer. Otherwise, those sites I mentioned above are really great resources of information. Please cruise around them! BackyardChickens has a really great forum which is a wealth of information, and tons of folks will post pictures, advice, information, whatever you need! There are also several Yahoo groups dedicated to raising chickens, just search for one in your area. In NC, there are two that I know of, "NCPoultry-east" and "ncpoultry2" click to follow a link to that group.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wake Weekly and Wake Forest Gazette Stories

The Wake Weekly and Wake Forest Gazette both ran stories on Thursday about the 4-1 vote Tuesday night for allowing hens in Wake Forest. While the Wake Weekly's story isn't available online, click here for the Gazette's.

I have a feeling there will be quite a few small flocks popping up around Town in the next year or so. I hope that each of these flocks will be well maintained by responsible owners, and we won't have any complaints do deal with. I think this is a wonderful step forward for our community - let's put it into action!

I hope to have a few 'chicas' in my yard in the next couple of weeks!
Here's what I plan to build this weekend:

Perhaps I'll see a few of these around town soon too?!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's Official! Wake Forest Commissioners Vote In New Ordinance to Allow Urban Chickens.

It's Official! Wake Forest Commissioners Vote In New Ordinance to Allow Urban Chickens.

By David Bissette

WAKE FOREST, NC. - The Town of Wake Forest's Board of Commissioners voted tonight to approve the chicken ordinance amendment. In a 4 to 1 vote, Commissioners Chris Kaeberlein, Anne Hines, Frank Drake, and Margaret Stinnett all ruled to append the town ordinances with an urban chicken amendment. The amendment allows for the keeping of up to ten chickens inside the town limits, excluding roosters.

Dissenting vote Commissioner Pete Thibodeau voiced concerns that the ordinance amendment was not restrictive enough. His concerns were that people would house the birds in their front yards and that there were no provisions in the amendment for how the chickens were to be housed. "We could have chickens running around in the town's major streets." said Thibodeau.

Commissioner Drake countered each point, reminding Thibodeau that there were not provisions for the keeping of other pets like dogs and cats in the ordinances either.

The vote was taken after an open microphone discussion. Emily Cole addressed the board stating that she felt that the town's legal council proposal of five birds was too limited given the period of time that a chicken lays eggs verses it's lifespan. She then proposed that the amendment allow either ten or twelve birds. The assenting commissioners agreed to her proposal and increased the limit on urban chickens to ten during their vote.

Former California resident Jeff Boldizar shared with the board news of the Fair Oaks Chicken Festival. A suburb of Pasedena, Fair Oaks can be considered to be one of the chicken friendliest places in the US. Chickens are allowed to "free range" alongside humans on downtown streets and in city parks. While not advocating such a policy for Wake Forest, he did mention that he thought the trend towards urban agriculturalism would mark the town as a place where people would want to reside.

"I'm very excited about this vote," said David Bissette, owner of the only permitted chickens inside the town limits. "This really opens an opportunity for people to becomes more more familair with their food source. That is something that has been lacking in the American diet and way of life for over 50 years now."

WE DID IT!!!!!

Tonight the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of changing the town ordinance so that residents may keep up to 10 hens in their yards without any sort of permit.

Woo Hooo!!! Yippeee!!! Cowabunga!!! (can you think of any other exclamation I could use?)

When the public hearing session was opened, I made a brief statement about the number being too low (at the suggested 5). Then, several other members of the community spoke in favor of the change. Gerald Potter, whom I had met at the Farmer's Market one Saturday spoke about the importance of people knowing where their food comes from, and talked about the Victory Gardens and Wake Forest's role in helping it's residents when times were tough by bringing topsoil in so folks could grow their own foods. Jeff Boldizar brought information about a town in California which is known for it's chickens - they even have a festival each year! Dave Bissette also chimed in with statistics about Victory Gardens and the fact that in the '40s about 40% of a person's food was grown or produced somehow within their community. The consensus was reached by all that the number of hens allowed should be raised to 10, and that it was an important step for the Town of Wake Forest toward a more sustainable future.

There were no community members in attendance who spoke in opposition to the amendment, however, Commissioner Thibodeau did have some reservations about the change. He stated his concern that if any size parcel could have 10 hens there could be problems. Commissioner Drake tried to reassure him that most of the newer home communities with these smaller sized lots were governed under HOA's and the point was made that most of the HOA's don't allow any hens, so it shouldn't be much of an issue. Thibodeau was also concerned about there being no limitations set on where the hens could be housed. He stated there could be traffic issues if chickens housed in front yards were to get out and roam into the streets. Commissioner Stinnett replied that there were no restrictions on cats or dogs in the same manner, and so she didn't see any reason for there to be such restrictions on the chickens either.

I personally do think that Thibodeau's points were valid - that's why I had originally drafted a fairly stringent ordinance revision for the Commissioners to review in August. Their own staff decided to go the 'easy' route and make it as simple as possible - The wording will only add roughly a paragraph to the existing ordinance books. While I understand the town doesn't have the staff to enforce the permitting restrictions I had proposed, I am surprised at the lack of restrictions. (Not that I'm complaining!)

When time came to vote on the issue, Thibodeau's "nay" was the only one heard, so that meant the amendment passed 4-1.

After the vote, I spoke with Kerry Hall from NBC 17 out in the hallway, and she said a segment will run on the 11pm news tonight. (I've got my DVR set to record!) The Wake Weekly's David Leone was there, as well as Carol Pelosi of the Wake Forest Gazette. I'm interested to see their stories later this week.

I am so thankful for all of the support I have received from this community - especially the Bissette family, and the folks who came out to the public hearing tonight. There were several others there who didn't speak, but showed their support by attending - THANK YOU! I couldn't have done it without that support, and without the knowledge that I wasn't just doing this for myself. This change to the town ordinance will make it much easier for many other families to have a few chickens of their own... have fresh eggs that they know are healthy... this is a great step forward for our entire community!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Come on out on Tuesday!

Tuesday night the Town of Wake Forest Comissioners will hear public comments on the issue of backyard chickens in Wake Forest. I am hoping they will also vote after they hear whatever comments residents have. I plan to ask the Board to consider allowing residents to have up to 10 or 12 hens without the livestock permit, as a compromise between Mr. Summer's suggestion of 5, and my initial request of 20. I am sure there are three commissioners in favor of this number, so I feel confident they will approve that change, and vote on Tuesday.

The meeting will be held starting at 7pm at the Wake Forest Town Hall.

Please come out to show your support for the changed ordinance!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Work Session outcome

I just got home from attending the Wake Forest Board of Commissioner's work session this evening, and left the meeting a little disappointed.

At their last meeting, two weeks ago, the Commissioners asked some staffers to work on drafting an amended ordinance to be presented at this work session for review and consideration for a public hearing. Apparently the duty was delegated to Bill Summers, one of the town planners, who is in charge of issuing the livestock permits currently. He very simply stated, after snickering a little bit about how little he knew of the issue, that he suggested that the simplest change would be to amend the current ordinance to omit hens numbering fewer than five (5). In other words, you would not need a permit from the town to keep 5 or less hens in the town limits. If you wanted more than 5, you would need to submit to the current permitting process for livestock.

Now... this is a step forward... keeping hens would be allowed without a permit - that's great! But in my opinion the number 5 is too low! I had suggested that they allow 20 because of the diminished egg production once the animal gets to a certain age.... this guy wasn't taking that into consideration at all. I wonder if he's read the information I put together for the Commissioners... maybe I should send it to him...

Anyway - that's basically what transpired about chickens at the meeting tonight. I stayed to the end, and spoke with one of the Commissioners, Chris Kaeberlein, who also would like to see the number a little bit higher. He suggested 10. Really, that would be better, but larger families would still be out of luck if it were capped at that number. I am emailing all of the Commissioners tonight about the issue... and I hope they'll support a higher number when the time to vote comes around.

The Wake Weekly will be doing a story about the meeting later this week (Thursday) and I wouldn't be surprised to see something about it in the Wake Forest Gazette too. I just hope all of our local supporters will come out on September 16th to show that they want this ordinance changed with a reasonable amount of hens allowed.

Chicken Coops - they can be decorative too!

SO I haven't posted on here for a while - there really hasn't been much to report - and I think that's a good thing. Right now we're waiting for the Board of Commissioners' staff to draft the new ordinance. Hopefully they'll have that ready for the Commissioners work session this evening, and it will be approved and put to a public hearing to be held on September 16th. I am planning to attend their work session tonight, I hope to get a copy of the drafted ordinance to review, and find out first-hand how they all feel about it, and if it will, indeed be a public hearing item in two weeks! In the meantime, I've been kinda laying low - at this point, I don't feel a lot of media attention is what we need. We don't want to get the opposition all 'riled' up. I would rather not have this drag out for a long time, and it seems with the opinions shown at the meeting on August 19th, there shouldn't be any problem getting the Commissioner's to vote 'yes' for the changes.

Dave and Mitzi have been working more and more on their new business of selling chicken ark plans, and will hopefully be selling kits and completed arks soon. Please check out their site at the link below:

If you're wondering how you can have a small flock in your backyard - just check out these arks... I'm planning to make one or two myself! My family plans to also have a stationary barn-style coop in our backyard with a large run attached for times when we don't want the chicas out in the yard, but the arks will be great for when we might need to have the chicas 'work' an area of our garden, or 'prepare' new bed spaces!