Gifts for the Chickeneer in YOUR life

Like the obvious? How about a t-shirt?






Or jewelry?




Something for the home?





or something more unusual?





Or do you really just want something for your chickens?




What are you hoping to unwrap for the holidays? Have you found that perfect gift for the Chickeneer in your life? Post any great ideas below and add to the list!

Baking with backyard eggs – What the heck’s a “large”?

Those first few eggs are precious! You probably hoarded them and showcased them proudly sunny-side up for breakfast or delicately sliced them hardboiled to show off those bright orange yolks. But, eventually, the numbers increase and those more plentiful eggs get tucked into homemade cookies and cakes.. But maybe not always with the expected results.. Shouldn’t you get BETTER results with homegrown fresh eggs? What’s going on here?

SIZE! Most recipes call for “large eggs” but backyard eggs can vary widely in size based on things like breed and age of each individual hen. And (as I found out the hard way) they can wreck havoc with your baking recipes -the more eggs the recipe calls for the more the size can throw you off. Luckily, it’s not that hard to grade your own eggs and convert to “standard measurements”. Your flan will thank you!

First, you can weigh your own eggs to determine their US equivalent:

Jumbo eggs weigh more than 2.5 oz
XL eggs weigh 2.25 – 2.5 oz
Large eggs weigh 2 – 2.25 oz
Medium eggs weigh 1.75 – 2 oz
Small eggs weigh 1.5 – 1.75 oz
Pee-wee eggs weigh 1.25 – 1.5 oz

And if your ladies turn out to be churning out something other than the standard “large”, you can estimate the number of YOUR eggs you’ll need to fulfill your “standard” recipe with this handy table from the Rodale Food Center:


Creative ideas for using those empty feed sacks cluttering up your garage

I’ve had chickens for about 2 years now, which means I have a stack of about a dozen feed sacks hanging out in my garage.

They’re huge, heavy- duty, waterproof, often colorful, and I can’t quite bring myself to just throw them out. So.. I’ve been scouring the internet for creative uses for this growing pile, and thought I’d share.

Here’s what I’ve come up with, so far:

Grocery totes - This is my favorite idea. Cute, useful, but requires rudimentary sewing skills. Plus they’re trendy -I’ve seen them for sale online or even at some farmers’ markets -though, not any around here (home business opportunity, anyone?). There are tutorials all over the internet (I like this one from Community Chickens.)

Grow Bag for herbs or tomatoes – Just like those fancy ones you’ve seen on TV. Fill with compost, or potting soil, fold and staple the open end shut, then slash a small “X” in the front to plant your seedling. It’s strong enough to nail the folded end to a two-by-four and hang vertically from a wall or fence. Just cut a hole for watering.

20130927-120737.jpg(Picture posted at by DawnSuiter)

Gift Wrap - Especially when gifting to those who truly appreciate the pure, wild beauty of a chicken!

Placemat – Cut them open (into a single layer) and use them to cover the table during messy art or baking projects.

Text Book Covers - Protect those school textbooks -either white side out or chicken-side out (depending in how cool your kids are). You fold and assemble them just like you would if using brown paper.

Waterproof mailer - Cut the bag to whatever size you need, turn it white side out and use packing tape to turn it into a custom-sized waterproof mailing envelope or package wrapping. You can use permanent marker to write the address.

Anyone have any other ideas? Please comment!

The Rant of an Impatient First Time Chicken Owner

AKA: Lay an egg d@$% it!

I know I am supposed to be patient.

I know they can take up to 6 months to for a chicken lay their first egg.

I know that they’re supposed to get red combs and start squatting before they even think about laying an egg.

But I can’t help myself! Everyday (ok let’s be honest here) Multiple times a day I check the next boxes for the possibility of an egg. I scrutinize the wood chips to see if it has moved at all – indicating someone checking them out. I’ve even sprinkled diatomaceous earth in the nest boxes so I can see if it gets disturbed even in the slightest. Sigh, nothing!

I analyze the girls’ combs regularly. Who has the biggest wattles? Whose comb might be turning red? Is it darker then yesterday? Wait, this one looks lighter than before – how is that possible? How can they be getting darker every day and yet still manage to be pink? Grumble, mumble!

The girls swarm me when I break out the scratch grains. “A treat! Gimme, gimme, gimme! I’ll do anything, just hand over the cracked corn, lady! You want me to lay a what… an egg? What the heck is that?” I toss out the “chicken crack” and they scurry after it – but not a single squat.

I give up and go inside to the laptop. Then I see a post online, “here’s a photo of my first egg” from another new chicken keeper. So I run back outside and check the nest box another time, you know – just in case. (Because, you know, my chickens could be some weird mutants that lay eggs before their combs are fully red. You never know, really! I swear….) Those girls are 18 weeks, plenty old enough to lay an egg – so get cracken’ ladies!

I know, I’ll fire up the grill and throw on some store bought chicken. I’ll tell them that’s what happens to birds that don’t earn their keep!

I just want my eggs, d@#$ it! (It’s gonna be a long wait… I think I’ll go look at some egg baskets online to pass the time.)

How old were your chickens when they started to lay eggs?

Chicken Roosts

When we went to design our chicken coop, we knew we would have to install roost bars for the chickens to perch upon while they sleep at night. I left ample amount of space in the design for them but I didn’t know the recommended details for proper roosts. I had questions like:

  • How high should they be off the ground?
  • How far apart should they be?
  • Should I use a tree branch, a dowel, a 2×2, or a 2×4 piece of lumber?
  • What’s the correct diameter of a roost?
  • How much roost space per bird?

So I did some online research and found so much variation on the answers to the above questions that it can made me crazy. My final decision was to use 2x2s with rounded off corners. I put them at 2’ & 3’ above the coop floor and 14” apart from the wall and each other.

Roosting Bars

Roosting Bars

The chickens are using them and I don’t hear any complaints and don’t see any sores on their feet. So they must find them acceptable and I guess that’s the most important thing.

What do you think makes the best roost? I’d love to hear more opinions and even read some research on it if it’s available.

Chicken Breeds

We decided that we were getting chickens a good 8 months before we actually picked up the chicks. This gave me a lot of time to figure out which breeds of chickens I wanted.

At first, I was overwhelmed by just how many breeds there were. A quick search on Google pulled up hundreds of breeds and tons of information. How was I supposed to wade through all that chicken data? But as I read about the birds I had to choose from, I learned there were some basic qualities of each breed to look for that would help the decision process. Some of those categories are: egg color, feather color, temperament, size of bird, size of egg, broodiness, egg production, and rate of maturity. While I’m sure there are more criteria than that for picking out breeds of chickens, those seem to be the main reasons.

We’re only allowed to have 4 birds in my community so I had to narrow all this down somehow. Being new to this, I used what I could glean from information online and photos I could see. So I made my top two priorities in choosing breeds based on color; color of egg and color of bird.

I wanted a colorful basket of eggs from my chickens, so this was my first credential while choosing a breed. When you look at a chicken catalog, often the birds are sorted into groups by the color of the egg they lay; the main groups being brown, dark brown, blue & white. While there are other colors such as cream, pink & olive for example, they are rare and often lumped into the color group they closest resemble.

I quickly decided that I wanted blue, brown, and dark brown eggs from my chickens. There isn’t much choice when it comes to blue toned eggs, which made that choice easy: Easter Egger. They are sort of a mutt breed of chickens that always incorporates a blue egg gene from a much more expensive breed, the Ameraucana. Each hatchery has their own way of breeding these birds and there is a huge range of how they look. So it would be a mystery of what that bird would actually look like until we brought her home from the hatchery.

The dark brown selection was a bit harder. There are at least a dozen breeds that lay darker colored eggs and even then there is variation within the breed itself. Just because you bought a breed that lays chocolate colored eggs doesn’t mean that your particular hen will lay the egg that is show cased as the perfect egg for the breed. Better get two breeds, I thought, just to be sure I get some darker colored eggs. Welsummers lay dark terracotta colored eggs, sometimes with speckles. Speckles?!! I must have one of those. Then I looked at the Marans, which are supposed to lay some of the darkest eggs in the world of chickens. There are also many different colors of Marans as well. The Blue Splash variant was so pretty – I had to have one of those as well.

So now I had three breeds picked out, there was only one left to choose and it was from the biggest egg color category: Brown. I was trying to choose a range of egg colors that my future birds produced and one of the things I found interesting is that the color group of brown runs the gamut of pale cream to pink to medium brown.  And to top that off, most of the breeds have a huge range in the actual color of “brown” eggs they produce. This was quite the conundrum, so I thought better to just pick a bird for the feather color. I fell in love with the color pattern of the Gold Laced Wyandotte. With feathers such a lovely shade of yellow, each one delicately outlined with a black edge to set it off from the adjacent feathers. Just lovely! Mark it sold!

I placed my order for the selected birds in fall and then poured over photos of what they might look like when I picked them up in the spring from the hatchery. Late March I brought them home and doted over them like a mother hen (pun intended). Slowly I realized that some of my birds didn’t enjoy my company as much as the others. See, what was important to me when I had the actual chicks in my hands was temperament; a quality that I had overlooked very much while picking out breeds. And while I had expected the lovely Gold Laced Wyandotte or the Easter Egger, who would eventually lay those pretty blue eggs, to be my favorite bird. It was the Marans that became the beloved hen. She is quite the tolerant bird and lets me pet her and hold her on occasion.

One of the breeds that I looked over with prejudice was the Golden Buff. I didn’t want to get one because everyone had them. I wanted something different. But what I failed to realize was that they are popular for a reason and it’s not just because they consistently lay an egg every day. Golden buffs are extremely friendly. I didn’t realize just how friendly until the recent Coop Tour when many owners could just reach down and pick up a hen (and not chase them halfway across the yard). So next time I pick out a pet chicken, you can bet that temperament will be on the top of my list. Maybe it will be a Golden Buff, or an Australorp, or a Delaware, or oooo look at that pretty one over there (here I go again)…

What was you reasons for picking your birds?

*Please note that I love my birds and their personalities. They eat out of my hand and come back to the chicken coop when I call them in for the night. Sometimes I wish that at least one of them was more of a lap chicken…

Cleveland Heights Coop Tour Map is released!

The Cleveland Heights Coop Tour Route has been finalized! The Coop Tour will be held Saturday, June 15th, rain or shine.

The tour will be a two-part open house -half the coops will be open from 1:00-3:00 PM and the other half will be open from 3:00-5:00 PM. Look for the Coop tour signs and balloons outside each home.

Bookmark the Interactive Coop Tour Map on Google Maps and tour with your phone or print the pdf version of the map and coop descriptions (2013 Cleveland Heights Coop Tour Map) and bring them along.

While we expect visitors will primarily use our web-based interactive coop tour maps or print their own from home in advance, some paper maps and other materials will be available at two of the sites (one in each time slot). These are our “recommended first stops”. Every stop on the tour will have a stack of info cards (so people can find our sites and the google map) and a sign-in/comment book. So please at least sign in at each site -we’d like to have an idea of how many people came!

Please note we are posting on the maps that no restrooms will be available at the coop tour sites. Public restrooms are available at nearby local libraries and parks, and are indicated on the maps.

We can’t wait to see you all there and talk chicken!

The Chicken Coop Application Cheat Sheet

So you want some chickens in Cleveland Heights, but after in initial glance at the form and paperwork requested by the city to get a coop permit, you might be a bit overwhelmed. But what looks like a complicated mess is really easy. Here is what you really need to do.

First go HERE and print a copy of the permit form. Fill it out and bring these 6 items with your permit application:

1. Application form you just filled out (15 copies)
2. Written description of your coop (15 copies)

Just a few sentences stating about how big the coop will be and where it will be located in the yard. Also include in the description that it will be at least 10 feet from your house and all property lines. You can give exact distances if you like or just that it will be more than 10 feet.

3. Proof of ownership of property(1 item)

A utility bill is fine. If that’s not available then a copy of your lease, or a copy of your actual deed will be fine. The clerk at the office will make a photocopy and return this to you when you drop off the application.

4. Site Plan (15 copies)

A very simple map or your property. This should show your property lines, house, garage, and where you plan to put the coop. This it to show that the coop is at least 10 feet from your house and property lines. You can show that by drawing a dimension line from the edges of the coop and noting that it is at least 10 feet.

5. Graphic or photo of what your coop will look like. (15 copies)

If you already have a coop just include a photo. If you don’t have a coop yet – find a picture of what you plan to buy or what you want to build.

6. Application fee of $80

That’s it!

Tips about the Application Process

  • The actual approval for your chicken coop application happens at a Planning Commission Meeting.
  • Planning Commission Meetings occur only once a month and your coop approval will be scheduled for the meeting directly after the one coming up. *For example if you want to be on the agenda for the August meeting, you need to apply for the coop permit before the July meeting occurs. This means you will have to wait between 1-2 months for approval.
  • Including signed letters of recommendation from your neighbors helps to ensure everything goes smoothly. After all, the entire point of giving approval at a public meeting is so that neighbors with issues can share them directly with the city.
  • The city will send post cards to all your adjacent neighbors (including the ones behind you) letting them know that you are planning to have a chicken coop. If a neighbor has an issue, they will be encouraged to attend the Planning Commission Meeting to ask questions/bring up issues.
  • Talk to all your neighbors about getting chickens. If you take the time to let your neighbors know about the chickens moving in next door – you can address any questions they have long before the meeting occurs.
  • A few days before the meeting, the city will send someone out to take photos of your property that will be shown at the Planning Commission Meeting.
  • You should plan on attending the Planning Commission Meeting that your coop approval is scheduled for.
  • The people working at the Cleveland Heights Planning Commission are really nice and very helpful. If you’ve filled something out wrong or forgot to include anything – they will let you know long before the meeting so you can fix it.
  • To date I have only heard of one coop application being denied. Which was really pulled by the applicant because a neighbor complained at the Planning Commission Meeting. So just to reinforce this: Talk to your neighbors ahead of time! You can smooth over ruffled feathers before they become an issue.

If you have any questions – feel free to post them in the comments and you’ll get an answer pretty quickly. You could also join us on Facebook and post your questions there as well.

The Secret Diary of an Illegal Chickeneer

Editor’s note: This author doesn’t live in Cleveland Heights!

If you want to keep chickens in Cleveland Heights, you don’t need to go underground! Just hop on over to this helpful page on the Cleveland Heights website and follow the steps. Need help with the approval process? Ask on our forums or in our facebook group.

Also, just to be perfectly clear, we’re not encouraging anybody to do anything.

They say moments of clarity come when you least expect it. I had mine last weekend, as I hurried down West 65th here in Cleveland. Carrying a modified cat carrier filled with oak leaves, my daughter skipping beside me, I hurried to the small parking lot where I’d arranged to pick up yet another refugee chicken. If you’d told me a year ago I’d have a tiny flock of illegal chickens happily clucking in my garage, I’d have thought you were mad.

I’ve always wanted chickens. I read far too much and very early developed a chicken fantasy based solely on the works and life of Tasha Tudor. Toni Morrison’s writings didn’t help much either. I obsessively watched PBS’s “The Natural History of The Chicken,” bawling like a baby each time that farmer’s poor bantam silkie finally hatched a clutch of eggs, and then saved them from a chicken hawk. The final nail in my chicken loving coffin was when Alice Walker published a memoir of sorts titled “The Chicken Chronicles.” Walker’s description of just sitting quietly in the midst of her flock wiped away all traces of the city girl I am and created a yearning I could not explain for something I had never had. I wanted that level of peace, that level of custodianship. I wanted to sit and close my eyes and let the clucking of hens wipe away all traces of stress and worry, narrowing my vision down to keeping something so beautiful, so useful, so timeless, safe and content in my care.

Yeah, try using that line on your husband. He may have rolled his eyes behind my back while I painted urban chicken fantasies in the sky, but my darling was quick to assure me that if the city we lived in ever passed a law supporting urban hens, we’d have a coop up in no time. I make a pretty mean omelet but I think he saw an opportunity to improve perfection.

I really tried to support the urban hen movement in my town. But after countless rallies, meetings and watching city council members taking furious notes, only to write up proposals for outrageous fees and complicated ordinances, then shelve the issue in session, I saw the process get mired down. My town was not becoming chicken friendly any time soon. I consoled myself that the husband had promised me a small farm, with chickens and a donkey when the kids were grown and I decided I’d have to wait. I’m essentially a good girl at heart, and had no intention of breaking the law.

But a few things happened to change my mind. A friend of mine, letting her pet bunnies play in a pen in her front yard, was issued a $10 ticket from animal control. Because (and this was news to her) pet bunnies are illegal in my town. So are pet bobcats, most snakes and bears. “Seriously?” I thought. Soon after, I encountered a neighbor couple walking a raccoon at the park. They explained they had found it orphaned near a dead raccoon in the street and had taken it home and raised it, even going so far as to getting it immunized. Charlie the raccoon was such a doll; he climbed right up my legs and nestled in my hair, chattering away. When I asked if they were worried about the police seeing them with a raccoon at the park, they told me the police said there was no specific law on the books regarding wild raccoons.

I decided then and there that the law didn’t make good sense. And that I was not going to be bound by laws made by idiots to protect other idiots. (Again, try that line on your significant other. It’s fun.)

Shortly there after, visiting some friends up North with a farm, I was happened upon my first orphan chicken. Beatrix, a tiny bantam hen, survived a coyote attack that killed her entire flock. She had flown up and hid in a tree and survived. But the farmer didn’t want to deal with caring for one solitary bantam, who refused to join one of his other flocks, so I offered to take her home. The husband was alarmed, but recognized the irrational look in my eye as I declared this chicken was coming home with us.

So we brought her home. I put her in an oversized dog cage with a broom stick for a perch.

My husband said, “Now what?”

And I said, “I guess she’ll need a coop. And don’t you think she looks kinda lonely?”

Before you knew it, a friend of mine showed up with a bantam frizzle hen (the best present someone can give you), so Beatrix would have company. We named her Prunella.

The husband sighed mightily and began making plans for a coop that would fit in our garage, accommodate several chickens and be easy to keep clean. My garage is attached, heated and gets lots of natural sunlight, so while it made keeping a few hens in there easy, tidiness was essential due to its proximity to my kitchen. He built a modular structure, about 6ft square and 4ft tall out of 2×4′s and plastic hex netting, and then made me a little door with a latch to go in and out of. The modular structure makes it convenient if we ever add on, and I can flip the whole thing up to clean it.

I didn’t want to destroy my garage floor, so I asked friends for any cardboard they had. I wanted to keep things cheap, so I asked my neighbors for their fallen oak leaves to use for bedding. I filled 8 yard bags with dry fall leaves and had more than enough to get me through the winter. I know this is pretty non-traditional, but it’s free and smells great. And the hens love to burrow down into it and hide. Just recently, as it began to warm up, I ran out of oak leaves and switched to pine shavings for the summer. Its smells good and seems like a lighter alternative in these warmer months.

I just line the bottom of the pen with cardboard or brown paper lawn bags, cover with litter, toss in some grit and a dusting of calcium and I’m done. I used some giant branches from the yard and crisscrossed the inside to make random perches, and gave them a wooden crate for a nesting box. They ignore it completely, preferring to poo on it, and use a cozy corner for all egg laying. They get all the scraps they want because they are only a few steps from my kitchen, and like to listen to sports radio and NPR. I also learned really quick that, like children, hens benefit from a schedule and it’s best to keep them on it if you want your eggs every day.

A new friend at a local, urban feed store was so helpful in answering all my rookie questions and mentoring me as I began. It was through him that I found my way out of the garage, so to speak, and into the wider world of urban chickeneers and all the support and encouragement that goes along with it. He’s also the best possible definition of an enabler, encouraging my orphan chicken habit. He messaged me one day, saying, “Some old man walked in here off the street with a cute little Buff Brahma. Her flock drove her out and she’s been living in a dog cage for a while. Want her?”

Did I?! The next day saw me hurrying with an old cat carrier to pick up the poor hen. She must have been in a very wet environment, because she hobbled rather than walked and I noticed her feet were bound and twisted with dried mud and poo. The fact that she’s a “chicken with pants” (my layman term for a chicken with feathered feet) made it all the worse.

I called my husband.

“Honey, I got a new orphan chicken. I named her Cosimina, she’s softer than a chinchilla, but her feet are a hot mess. I need you to come home and hold her for me while I give her a pedicure.”

He sighed again, and later held her downy softness while I cut away her feather pants, untangled each little yellow toe and trimmed her overgrown nails. I finished her up with a quick foot bath and after a week of trying to remember how to walk and perch, she finally sorted it out and scampers around happily with her pretty little pedicure. She and her sisters lay once a day, and all was bliss.

Of course, anyone who owns chickens will tell you that anything can and will go wrong, despite all the care in the world. We lost Prunella recently to a mysterious affliction that mercifully did not affect the other ladies. When I found her in the morning, limp and lifeless, I wished other people could have seen how she had as much personality as my dogs and cats, and that, even in death, had an almost human expression on her little chicken face. I miss her still.

But life goes on. And my feed store mentor heard of our loss and messaged me again, this time saying, “This dude came into the store with a chicken in a purse and I immediately thought of your orphan chicken spa. Want her?”

Which brings me to my moment of clarity, hustling down West 65th to a urban farmers market in Cleveland. Another chicken no one wants, coming to live like a refugee in my garage chicken orphanage. Is it crazy to keep illegal chickens? Yes. But I’m OK with that. As crazy goes, it’s not the worst thing I could be doing. My hens give me more eggs and whimsy then I could ever ask for. My children and their friends delight in their silly ways and spend a surprising amount of time checking on them and petting them. Frequently, I catch my husband watching them and laughing. As a family, we’re building a play pen of sorts for the yard so they can have more freedom. So, it’s a good kinda crazy. And everyone wins: me, my family and the hens. I’m not hurting a soul.

When my neighbors, unaware of the operation I have going on next door, complain about people wanting to keep filthy, smelly chickens in the city, I just smile and suggest they read up on it more and educate themselves. When I see a man down the street, hauling a 50lb bag of chicken feed out of the trunk of his car, I smile and give a furtive wave. Sometimes, taking our nightly walk, my husband and I hear the unmistakable sound of hens settling in somewhere nearby for the night. So I know I’m not alone with my refugee chickens. One day the tide will turn, the law will change and my chickens will range freely. Until then, I sit in my garage sanctuary, listen to their favorite radio station and watch my worries fall away. They cluck about; safe and wanted. Orphans no more.