I haven’t mentioned it yet, because I’m trying to focus on feeling like a grown-up farmer and putting the past behind me, but: I’ve always been afraid of birds. Ever since Herbert the Duck chased me away from his pond angrily when I was a kid, ever since Hitchcock, ever since I went to Venice and saw tourists pour bird-feed onto their daughter’s head so they could take pictures of the pigeons of Piazza San Marco swarming and pecking at her. I mean Jesus Christ what is that.
Actually I don’t understand how anyone could not be repulsed by birds, if not afraid of them. When a pigeon swoops too low I hit the sidewalk. But chickens are different. They putter around, poking at the ground and cooing stupidly and lovably, they’re even beautiful as long as you ignore the tops and bottoms of their bodies, and they give back such an incredible nutritious gift, I am utterly in love with them.
Still, I had not been able to bring myself to actually pick one up by the feet until yesterday, when I had to. I came out to check on them (change their water, throw some kitchen scraps into their run, and check for an egg), and found one of the Rhode Island Reds lounging right outside the run. I was bewildered before seeing that I had left the door to their nesting boxes open the day before, because I wanted to air out the coop (it’s poopy in there), and I have very early onset Alzheimer’s, so I never closed it. Don’t tell Tei please.
Anyway, I swept in, quite gallantly, and grabbed her horrifying claw feet. She flapped dramatically, which made me want to throw her far away from my body, but I held on until the blood went into her birdbrain and she finally relaxed. I paused for this picture and then tossed her back inside. Fear: faced. The real punishment for my absent mindedness was that I got no egg that day.
Farmer Tei left for tour Tuesday (with Baryshnikov, who is acting in a crazy Russian play which requires many suitcases full of wires and projectors and bing bongs and noodles)—but enough about Tei, the poor guy just missed a very big day at Peebottle: our first egg.
My dopamine spiker went through the roof when I opened the door to the nesting boxes yesterday evening to find a lovely brown egg waiting for me. Tei recently showed the chickens where these accommodations were, since it seemed their small brains had yet to notice them. (We had to do the same thing when we first got them and they didn’t notice the stairs leading to their house from their run. We dragged one up the stairs and the rest followed. Now they go in at bedtime every night.) Although I really didn’t do much work (changing the water and feeding them are so easy, it really makes a person rethink all those non-egg-laying high-maintenance pets), I was overwhelmed with pride, as well as awe.
I’ve never been so sure I was going to break something as when i was transporting this egg to my sister’s house, where she and my brother-in-law and my nephew shared my excitement.
This is Leo. He was really excited about the egg, until I poached it, when he refused to taste it even though he loves eggs. He said “I’m not eating that. It came out of a chicken’s butt.” I tried to argue with him briefly, but it is true, more or less. Anyway, as a fellow city kid, I understood the feeling, a hundred percent. We pointed out that every egg he’s ever eaten came out of a chicken butt, and then my sister launched into a description of a factory farm where chickens are crowded and stepping over each others’ dead, diseased bodies, but I’m willing to give him a little time to get over it.
Double trouble. This is not very unusual with chickens who are just beginning to lay eggs and haven’t quite got the timing of their cycle right. I’m not mad at that.
A really fresh egg has a very compact white. The longer it hangs out, the more it spreads out.
I wish I knew which chicken to praise and which ones to shame into being more like the egg-pooper-outer, but I’m confident all the ladies will follow suit. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Yesterday, we took a little field trip to Smoke Hollow Farm, in Pittstown, New Jersey, and bought six chickens!
We found the beautiful farm and the very laid back, informative farmer, Doreen Weston, on Craigslist, where she had advertized her pullets (young hens, but old enough to lay small eggs). We had decided against starting with chicks, who are very vulnerable and months away from producing breakfast.
Doreen was out of Araucanas, which make blue-green eggs, but had Rhode Island Reds, Black Stars, and Barred Rocks, all of which make brown eggs. We took two of each, for $12 each, and may add a couple in the fall. Doreen recommends staggering your flock with different ages so you’ll always have a high productivity average (as hens approach two years, they’ll lay a few eggs a week rather than one a day).
Tei, checking out the hens while a bunch of silly little dogs run around. Doreen also raises Jack Russels.
Doreen demonstrates how to hold chickens so they calm the eff down. When the blood rushes to their heads they stop flapping and yapping.
Rhode Island Reds, the most common backyard birds.
Our Black Stars, getting packed up in a cardboard box, customized with windows.
Hey, look at that pregnant goat.
Here’s our new bundle, ready to be unleashed in their new home, after a few hours grumbling in the back of my car while I grumbled at the traffic from the front seat, and Tei slept soundly next to me.
By the time we freed them, they had become one huge, traumatized megachicken (as Tei put it). I had to dump them out forcefully.
Starting to check out the digs…
Barred Rocks look really good with pink.
A Black Star, partying.
The dark dirt in the lower left corner is from our compost pile. The hens went crazy for all the bugs and worms in there.
Superdog was curious, Roo was scared and curious. Moments after this photo was taken, a Barred Rock escaped and Roo chased her. No one was harmed.
Folks, it’s been a long process, from deciding on a plan to organizing our Home Depot trips, and, most challenging: trying to work nicely together even though Tei is a cranky only child and I’m a skill-less and emotionally-sensitive builder. But it’s done. We have a chicken coop. And it’s the best one ever, I’m quite sure.
Tei is not very friendly when he’s in construction mode, but I still highly recommend getting yourself a handy boyfriend.
We will have more than three birds to start with, but they will share these three little cabins to lay their eggs in.
The coop, all-told, cost us about $250. And yes, we did see that Times article.
Chicken stairs, hello.
Originally, Tei put me in charge of the paint color, then he vetoed pink. Then he didn’t care anymore and here’s how that turned out. I was very excited for an opportunity to paint anything the kind of color you would see in Vietnam or the Bahamas (two places we have traveled to together), or any third world country, especially where the weather is warm. Diana Vreeland once called pink “the navy blue of India,” so I like to think she would approve.
Behind the coop is a fenced-in run where the chickens can mosey around in the shade, protected from intruders. By the way, the paint color is Dragonfruit, which I just heard was the fruit of the moment.
Door attached, and we’re done. Can’t wait to see how Roo reacts to the chicks. Stay tuned for that next week.
And many thanks to our friends who came over to put the finishing touches on the coop. You will be repaid in eggs!
This is Roo. She’s a messy eater.
I am a deeply flawed person, but one thing I’m proud of, even if it’s a little compulsive and hoard-y, is that I waste very little food. I always save bones for making broth, duck and chicken fat for sauteeing vegetables, and make weird frittatas and stews and sauces with leftovers. After that, whatever scraps can’t be fed to our dogs, Superdog and Roo, get composted for the garden. I also find it hard to throw out containers and bottles, and honestly, my collection is bordering on oppressive, but let’s save that for another day!
Beer-making provides us with a big mesh sack of par-boiled grains, which are often discarded once they’ve lent their starches to the brew to ferment. We always mix the grains into the dogs’ food, and they eat it right up. But there is so much, I know we will also have plenty for the chickens when they get here, and I know they will be just as pleased, because Cathy Erway has documented her hens’ gobbling spent grains over at Lunch at Sixpoint. Check out that and her many recipes for baking with the stuff. Very admirable, we think.
Beer-making is one of our many hobbies over here at Peebottle, and we have three new batches started, a dry-hopped Pilsner, a Kölsch, and a dry-hopped IPA, made with ingredients from Austin Homebrew Supply.
Here’s our Kölsch getting cooled down in the bathtub before the yeast is added. In a week, we’ll transfer it to the second fermenter and dry-hop it. Whatever that means.
(Confession: Beermaster Tei does all the actual work while I stand around drinking and eating cheese. I’m scared of science.)
Hopefully, our next batch will feature hops grown right in Peebottle Farms. Tei bought a Cascade hops rhizome, which I think means “root stick” from Missouri Hops Growers on eBay, and started growing it in a pot in our kitchen. It’s supposed to eventually grow a foot per day and is off to a great start. Soon we’ll transplant it to the garden and run some rope for it to grow on. Any beer-makers interested in trading, stay tuned.
Farmer Tei made me very happy when he took it upon himself to clear out this section of the backyard for the chickens we will get soon. I was hesitant about the whole thing momentarily because he will be away for the second half of the summer, but some friends with years of egg-sperience (I’m really sorry about that joke but it’s genetic and I can’t really be held responsible) convinced me that a few chickens are a piece of cake.
Next, we will nail down our coop design and start building them a home. We’re planning to fence off a nice little area where they can pick through the compost and hang out either in the shade or sun, or inside.
I did not. We are going to try to grow these too. Or maybe make jewelry out of them?
Last year, we made the rookie mistake of devoting too much real estate to the herbs in our garden. This time around, we’re gonna move them up to the roof for easy access now that we’ve moved into the top floor of Peebottle Estates. (Hey Tei, can you build some planters for the roof? Thanks!) In the ground will be some more substantial veggies, like beets, squash, and eggplant, in addition to plenty of lettuces and leafy greens.
We got this thinger that organizes all your babyseeds! We put it in the window! And out the window you can see Peebottle soil beds!
There are a few mysteries in the works.
Hey you beans! Great job.
Hello friends! It’s finally time to dust off this old farm blog and get ready for season two of Peebottle. Now the snow is gone, and we’ve discovered that a few determined plants survived!
Great job, sorrel.
Sage also hung in there through all that winter bullshit.
We’ve got big plans for this season, so stay tuned and tell your friends to get inspired, if only to care for a houseplant or fire escape weed.