“Neighborly Advice” Chat Room Opening Saturday at 8pm EST

The next edition of “Neighborly Advice” weekend “how-to” magazine for beginner’s will be published in just a few more hours, but first I wanted to tell you about the new Saturday night live chat room.  Right here

Grab a cup of coffee and a warm blueberry muffin.  Join the fun tomorrow night.

I will be opening the “Neighborly Advice” chat room any everyone is invited.  I’ll be there with other folks from around the neighborhood.  You can ask questions, offer advice, chat about your garden or critters, share recipes, whatever.

Double check that I’m “available” in the Meebo box to the right.  Just start typing and hit enter so I pull you into the chat room.  Sign into your regular IM account or try the Meebo website, if you want a screen name.

Drop by, join the fun and feel free to bring friends.  There will be plenty of virtual coffee and Philadelphia Sticky Buns to go around.

Don’t forget to come back tonight for this week’s edition of “Neighborly Advice” weekend “how-to” magazine for beginners.

I do hope to see you there.


The Backyard Flock: You Can Build a Brooder

Look what I made.  You can, too!

Look what I made. You can, too!

Now, don’t panic! This was my first building project. Ever. I bent nails. Shot them around the basement, but in the end I had a very nice brooder for 8 fuzzy fluff ball chicks.

Let’s take a closer look. The why of it all is at the bottom.

Let’s begin the adventure:

I started with two pieces of 1″x 10″x 8′ pine boards. Use 1″x 12″ x 8′ — I wished that I had.

1. I hacked…and I mean hacked them into three foot sections. My son claimed the leftovers for his own construction project.

Why? Because I wanted 9 sq ft. for 8 birds to grow in.

If you cut the boards in half (4′ sections) you will make a brooder to fit a 16 chicks. Assume 1 sq ft. per bird.

2. I hammered my now 1″x 10″sections into a box shape.

Note that those 2 pieces of strapping are what the enitr thing sits on like little feet.

Note that those 2 pieces of strapping are what the entire thing sits on like little feet.

3. Using 4 gazillion staples, I stapled hardware cloth (AKA 1/2″x 1/2″ wire grid) to the brooder box. This will eventually be the bottom. For now. you are working on it up-side-down.

4. Using two pieces of strapping (AKA 1″x 3″ board,) I hammered them over the hardware cloth, essentially pinching it in place.

5. Flip the whole thing over so that it is sitting on the strapping and the hardware cloth is now the bottom.

Making the lid:

Oh, yes, you want a lid. As they grow, they really want to visit the rest of your house.

A. Again using 1″x 3″ strapping, make a flat square, that fits the brooder box. If you can make nice corner cuts… what’s the word? Mitre (sp?) cuts then hurray for you. That was beyond my skill. So I just made the shape and hammered it together using metal cleats. Take a close look at the corners of the lid in the top photo.

B. Staple 1/2″ by 1″ welded wire grid to the “outside” of the lid.

C. Using relatively sturdy hinges, attach the lid to the brooder.

TaDa! You did it.

Why this design?

1. The dropping fall through to the newspaper below, for cleaner healthier birds.

2. You can easily change the paper without disturbing them much.

3. It rest on the strapping so little toes can grip and grow stronger, healthier legs.

4. No dust. Raise them in litter and after they play in it. You’ll have some mighty dangerous dust in you air, your lungs, your kids lungs. Gross!

5. Because they grip the wire, they are not very likely to suffer hip displacement.

6. This is the absolute cleanest way I could dream up. Cleaner for them, means the grow into darn sturdy birds. Cleaner is easier and healthier for you and your family.

7. I used strapping on the bottom so they would be as close to the floor as possible, without touching their feces. This way less heat from the lamp escapes. Hot chicks. Sexy!

I think that’s everything. If any of this was unclear feel free to e-mail me, write a comment or check the IM at the right to see if I’m “available.”

Here are some other articles from the Backyard Flock series:

Chicks Checklist

The Beginner’s Flock

Coop Considerations

The Egg Challenge: Store Bought Vs. The Backyard Flock

Contemplating a Backyard Flock

Choosing a breed

The White Egg Layers

So, how many chicks are you going to get? Are they for eggs? Meat? Both?

The Backyard Flock–Chicks Checklist

Well, hi there! I’m so glad you could join me today.

So, your thinking about bringing home some day old chicks?

Learning responsibility--Don't forget to was your hands, Peanut.

Learning responsibility--Don't forget to was your hands, Peanut.

Not a problem. We’ll take it a little at a time.

Grab a piece of scrap paper and pen from over there by the muffin basket.

Oh yes, by all means take a muffin or two, while you’re there.


You have a little muffin crumb just…there.

That’s better.

Chicks Checklist:

Specific to chickens, not all poultry.


This can be as simple as a cardboard box filled with shredded newspaper, something you build (recommended, more on this next post ) or purchased from a catalog. Assume one square foot per bird. Some places say 1/2 sq ft, but I was very glad I went with the bigger number.


Shredded newspaper, rice hulls, wood shavings. Just not something smooth. Little toes like to grip and risk hip displacement on smoother surfaces, like whole newspaper sheets.


Chick Starter or Chick Crumble. Never feed the little ones adult poultry food.


Clean and clear, changed at least once a day.

Electrolite and Vitamins:

Give fuzzy babies a strong start by adding this Vitamin B rich formula to their water. The packet sold at the seed and feed is deceptively small and is for a 50 gallon tank. Using just the tiniest bit on the edge of a teaspoon, mix it to the color of lemonade. In the water for 3 days, then give them just straight water for 4 days.

Chick Feeder:

I like the red plastic one. Why red? Chicks are attracted to it. Weird, but true. Plastic because I find it the easiest to clean. Assume one opening per little fuzz ball. Assume one whole per bird.

Chick Waterer:

I like the little red plastic one that screws onto a mason jar. Again attraction, easy to clean, easy to see water level, easy to see vitamin coloration. Assume one inch of drinking rim per bird.

Light for heat:

I really like a red heat lamp. The red color helps them to not get overstimulated and do naughty things like peck at one another. Also, if they do in the red light, blood appears black so they are less attracted to that spot. We used the red heat lamp and had no pecking problems at all.


Thermometer: Standard room thermometer is fine. It isn’t necessary because you can see they are cold because they clump up. Or that they are warm because they head as far from it as possible. Ideally, they will be nicely scattered.

What the thermometer does do is help you reduce the heat 5 degrees (from the initial 95 degrees) each week until they head out to the coop. Acclimation, you know. Otherwise you’re wingin’ it.

Well, I hope that little checklist helped to get you started.

Click below for other Backyard Flock articles.

See you later

See you later

The Beginner’s Flock

You Can Build A Brooder

Coop Considerations

The Egg Challenge: Store Bought Vs. The Backyard Flock

Contemplating a Backyard Flock

Choosing a breed

The White Egg Layers

Have fun on your new adventure and don’t forget to get an egg cookbook at the next library sale.

Don’t Let This Happen in Your Town – or – Neighbor Nancy’s No Good Very Bad Week

A very big, dark, political cloud closed in around me, while I was busy “getting by.” The daily chores of financial survival kept me too busy to notice the following.

I was talking to my pop this morning and he said,” did you see today’s headline in the little local paper.”

I had not so he summarized the story that followed this local head line:

Dalton Council: No chickens

Go ahead and click that I dare ya.

While I understand their concerns, I am still reeling from their decision. So, please forgive my lack of words. I’m stunned.

This decision has nothing to do with our “girls”. It is, however, just a hop skip and jump away. What thoughtless things are going on in my township? Very scary.

Obviously, the councilmen that voted against have had the luxury of full, comfortable employment.

That’s right I say luxury. A job is a privilege and not a right. Obviously, they have not gone to bed hungry so their child did not. Obviously, my brain is going to explode.

It is apparent that their eyes are wide shut to the world events around them. I am deeply saddened and shamed by them.

I want to shake them and yell,” engage your brain!”

Why not offer town courses in chicken keeping. You county extension agricultural agent was extensively trained, by your own tax dollars for just this sort of teaching. A clean, well maintained chicken coop has very little odor. Education, folks, not ignorance will get us through tough times.

Aw, they don’t like how the chicken coop looks? Then teach people, help them create a structure you can tolerate. Hold a covered dish chicken coop building party, where everyone helps according to their skill.

I would rather see a neighbor’s truly hideous coop built from scrap than try to fall asleep at night knowing they might be going to bed hungry.

Shame on you, councilmen. I was always proud of my little town. Now, I am truly ashamed.

Again, forgive the poor writing. I’m just too angry to even be able to collect my thoughts in a clear, concise manner.

I’m sorry that tonight waiting-for-payday recipe may be a little late. I need to settle down first. Check for others in the category at the right.

Has this happened in your town?

Please take a moment to leave a comment.

(Neighbor Nancy hides her tears of outrage, fear and frustration behind her apron and goes to sit with her hens for a little company)

Snow Day Secrets

Where snow days were day dreamed away.

Where snow days were day dreamed away.

As a child, waiting for the ever elusive snow day was about all my soul could stand.

If the snow started while I was still in school, I would require constant redirection of my attention. My mind would swirl with the whiteness outdoors. Are the flakes small enough to keep falling? Will it continue through the night? Will it possibly be enough to scare the school superintendent into giving us that most magically of all days? The snow day.

The odd thing was that the snow day was always so long. It was a constant surprise that I couldn’t truly last that entire magic time on Suicide Hill with the fastest sled I owned. Eventually, I got cold, changed, got cold again, changed, baked cookies, got tired of getting wet and cold. Whew! it was exhausting.

The best place to spend the rest of my time was in my wondrous play house. It was huge. Well, still is. It is about the size of my current living room and kitchen combined. There were two lofts with a very cranky wooden ladder spanning them.

In the days when we had a backyard flock of sheep, the early lambs waited for me in a three dimensional maze of hay. Only the lambs and I could find our way through. I warmed bottles of milk fortified with molasses and set out to snuggle in with my wiggly tailed friends.

The new arrivals I visit to get my lamb fix.

Together, we contemplated the snow, discussed the problems of being young, and took cozy comfort in the sound of each others hearts.

The day usually closed on my mother awaking me from my toasty pillow of snoring lambs.

“Time to come in. Tomorrow is a school day.”

BTW, Check out the beautiful painting, by Joanne Benson, of my beloved playhouse.  She titled it “Shed in Late Day Winter Light,” ’cause she just didn’t know that it was my magical playhouse. Click here to view.

Backyard Flock – Coop Considerations

Wheeee! Look at that stock market drop. Now, let’s not all run around like chickens with our heads chopped off.

The plan: feed the family no matter what.

Time to think backyard chickens. Why? See links at bottom.

Moving on.

What does a simple backyard flock need?

A clean, draft-free place to roost at night that is safe from predators.

During the day?

A little fresh air, a nice place to scratch for worms, a good roll in the dirt, followed by a nap in the sun is pretty much all the backyard flock needs to live in bliss. Okay, yes, and a little supplemental feed and clean water, but we will get to that another time.

If you are not handy, you can purchase a coop. More and more places are selling them. For just 2 or 3 hens you might consider using a clamshell dog house. Click here for the mini coop plans. This coop is suitable for the average small suburban family.

My husband and I built our own…just about choked each other, but we did it. See below.

I couldn’t even hammer a nail when we started, but I had the design all worked out. Plus, I was very determined. You can build your own, too. It is an adventure and you’ll save money.

Keep in mind:

The coop:

While coop sellers will tell you that you only need two square feet per standard chicken, the hens will be happier and less prone to peck at one another if you assume 4 square feet per chicken.

So a coop built with the floor size of a single piece of plywood ( 4′ x8′ standard ) could healthily house 8 hens.

The roost:

Figure 1 foot of roost per chicken heiny. I like to keep the roosts all the same height so there is less squabbling at bedtime. The girls get to be like little kids fighting over who gets the top of the bunk bed.

The nest box:

1 square foot per 3 hens seems to work well here. They like a little privacy so a little curtain they can pop through is nice. Or just choose the darkest corner of the coop.

The floor:

With toes that like to grip, your hens will have nice strong legs, if they have a removable raised floor made of 1″x 2″ welded wire. They stay cleaner and healthier, too. I also prefer a solid floor below to keep the mice and rats out. Very easy to clean.

Do a little research. Learn some more. Give it a whirl.

Click here for some other coop plans.

Almost finished here.  Note that the entire wall is hinged for cleaning--chicken door and all.

Almost finished here. Note that the entire wall is hinged for cleaning--chicken door and all.

Here’s a view of the inside. The entire wire floor and all the roosts pop out for a good Fall and Spring scrub.

A glimpse of the inside.

A glimpse of the inside.

Hopefully, better written thoughts:

And just for my humiliation and your entertainment…

Best advice I received from a Great Depression survivor? Raise some chickens. Food and entertainment.

Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 9:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Backyard Flock–The Beginner’s Flock

It is generally accepted that brown egg layers are the best choice for beginners. It also seems that the brown egg layers tend to be dual purpose birds. Meat and eggs. Raise them for which ever you prefer or both.

Let’s check out some common breeds:

New Hampshire: friendly, docile, good backyard bird, make good mothers, not overly active. The happy healthy New Hampshire hen will lay about 140 egg a year

Plymouth Rock: friendly, docile,doesn’t mind being handled, good with kids The happy, healthy Plymouth Rock will lay about 160 eggs per year

Rhode Island Red: egg laying machines, great beginner bird, usually calm, not the greatest mothers. A happy, healthy Rhode Island Red will reward your care with 200+ eggs a year.

Orpington: Believe it or not, this breed is considered cuddly. When I asked around at the county fair. What is the best chicken for a beginner who is afraid of chickens? Every time it was the Orpington. Big, fluffy, so gentle they tend to get bullied by other breeds. While they aren’t laying machines, they will give you a very respectable 160 good-sized eggs.

Another thought: If you have little kids that will want to pet the chickens, Orpingtons might be your girls.

What’s in my backyard?

Auracana cross bred with some brown egg factory layer.

Why? My little boy was far more likely to do his chore of egg collecting, if the eggs were cool to look at. He told his class that he is the only kid in school that actually eats “green eggs and ham.”

We get 36 eggs ( twice what we hoped for ) every week from 6 girls. The egg shells range in color from blue green to khaki, since they are not pure bred. Some places call these pretty egg laying crossbreeds Easter Egg Layers–not a breed, more like a nifty mutt.

Since the ground is so covered with snow, today, my layers are playing in a wheel barrow filled with fresh compost. Goofy! I wish we had gotten them years ago.

Other Backyard Flock articles:

Chicks Checklist

Coop Considerations

The Egg Challenge: Store Bought Vs. The Backyard Flock

Contemplating a Backyard Flock

Choosing a breed

The White Egg Layers

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Backyard Flock–The White Egg Layers

While there are many different colored eggs that chickens lay, including sky blue and pinkish, the most common are white or brown.

No matter the color, they all taste the same. Scrumptious!

White egg layers…and why I don’t keep them.

Leghorns: While each happy, healthy hen will lay over 200 eggs per year. That’s a lot of eggs! These are the typical grocery store eggs. However, take into consideration they can be flighty. Make sure you keep that in mind when you build your chicken run. Or, if the thought of a nutty, flying chicken scares the S*&% out of you.

Ancona: Each happy, healthy hen will provide around 180 eggs per year, a sizable quantity. As they are a bit…hm…boisterous, I wouldn’t recommend them to a beginner.

Minorca: These chickens have a beautiful profile and each hen will give you about 200 eggs per year. However, they are another rowdy breed best left to the more experienced keeper. Another consideration, some have large combs that could easily suffer frost bite in colder climates.

While the concept of 400 eggs per year from just two birds seems nice, the beginner may prefer a brown egg layer. It is generally agreed that overall the brown egg layers are easier and nicer to handle. A more enjoyable experience.

I’ll be back in a bit with more on the brown laying,dual purpose, meat and egg breeds that might be appropriate for a first flock.

Other Backyard Flock articles:

Chicks Checklist

The Beginner’s Flock

Coop Considerations

The Egg Challenge: Store Bought Vs. The Backyard Flock

Contemplating a Backyard Flock

Choosing a breed

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 11:55 am  Comments (1)  
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Backyard Flock–Choosing a Breed

With 825 gazillion breeds of chickens from which to choose, you can get overwhelmed very quickly.

Let’s try to simplify things.

1. Do you want chickens for eggs, meat or both?

Chickens for eggs only are probably the easiest for a beginner. You can always expand later as you gain experience.

Why I don’t raise them for meat: No one in my family has the heart or stomach to process our own. And, as we learned in the story of The Cock and the Granny Nightie, none of my local slaughter houses will process any kind of small number. Stinkers!

Following posts (hopefully, today) will break down this topic further. So come back and we will continue our adventure!

Other articles in the Backyard Flock series:

Chicks Checklist

The Beginner’s Flock

Coop Considerations

The Egg Challenge: Store Bought Vs. The Backyard Flock

Contemplating a Backyard Flock

The White Egg Layers

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 9:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Thumbing Your Nose at the Dairy Aisle – Contemplating a Backyard Flock

The decision to raise a few laying hens did not come easily to our family. It was a hardship decision. Out of work, we needed food. It turned out to be a cool, educational experience.

Now, we keep kicking ourselves for not doing it sooner.

I was not particularly fond of chickens. Okay, I was afraid of chickens. I knew nothing about raising any kind of livestock. I couldn’t hammer a nail to build a coop. I knew no one I could ask for advice. Did I mention I was afraid of chickens?!

They kind of look at you sideways. They might not be happy to see you like a dog. They are not independent like a cat. Right?


Well, peeps aren’t scary. If you watch them grow daily, oddly enough they grow into non scary chickens with individual personalities. Who knew? I always thought those people who wrote about enjoying their chickens as a bit loony.

Some hints for the fearful:

1. Know your zoning.

Raising chickens is allowed in more places than you might think, but it is best to double check. Live in an apartment? What about a rooftop chicken coop?

2. Research the different breeds.

Do you want lots of eggs or a few? Is it cold where you live? Consider a small combed breed. Do you have little kids or are you afraid of chickens? A calm breed for you. Do you care if they fly around a bit? I wanted a heavier bread so they might not scare the s*&% out of me flying about. Of course, not so heavy as to have the advantage. (shiver) What about egg color? There is not just white or brown. There’s white, cream, pinkish, light brown, chocolatey brown, blue, bluish green, khaki and so on. Guess what? They all taste the same. Wonderful!

3. Figure out how many eggs you might want per week.

Once you choose the breed, look up the hen’s average weekly production. That can be found online somewhere. Use that number to help you determine how many chickens to get.

For a beginner, I suggest a minimum of two, so they have a friend. They are a flock animal after all. A maximum of a dozen. If you’ve never had chickens or any kind of livestock before, more might become overwhelming.

4. Figure out how to house them.

You can build your own, buy a pre-made coop, modify an unused shed. Two can usually live happily in a slightly modified, large clamshell doghouse. They need a draft free, well ventilated place to lay, roost and be safe from predators.

To be healthy and happy, assume 4 square feet per bird. Coop sellers often over estimate how many chickens their coops can healthily hold. Try your favorite search engine for more specifics.

5. Do your homework.

Learn everything about what you should and shouldn’t do to keep your girls healthy. Read about their life cycle, common illness and what you can do to prevent them. You wouldn’t want to confuse molting with illness or worse…the other way around.

For the most part, if your chickens have enough space, you keep up with any cleaning, you supplement what they forage for themselves and keep them in fresh, clean water, they do fine. For us, they take 5 minutes a day and a 15 minute cleanup, once a week. Very easy.

6. Buy “day-old” chicks from a seed and feed store.

They usually show up around Easter, but you might want to go on a recon mission to pick the brains of the seed and feed people. Are they getting the breed you are hoping for? Can they? No? what might they suggest instead.

“Day old” chicks at the seed and feed store are inexpensive, but have the benefit that someone with a clue is handling them in their most tender days of life. Also, I would rather the natural culling happen there, instead of here. About the last thing I need is my six yr. old discovering the corpse of a tiny fluff ball that just wasn’t ready to give this life a try.

Besides, you usually must order 25+ chicks to get them mailed to you. That’s a lot of chickens for a beginner! Again, scary.

7. Have fun.

They grow so quickly. Soon enough, you will discover they actually have fascinating personalities. Some days, you’ll look out the window, only to walk away shaking your head and chuckling to yourself.

Lousy economy? Raise some chickens. Ask your favorite Great Depression survivor for more advice.

You might be interest in:

or the ready-for-chickens article in the Backyard Flock series:

or Entertained by: The Cock and the Granny Nightie

And come back tomorrow night for the weekly Waiting-for-Payday recipe. If your hungry tonight try: Egg Drop Soup for the Hungry or Stale Bread Comfort Food

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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