Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm a Chicken Lady*

We just counted it up. We have thirty chickens: five laying hens, three pullets, and twenty-two broilers ... not-raised-for-eggs chickens.

Here's Little Fire Faery with the not-raised-for-eggs flock number two.

Not-raised-for-eggs flock number one is outside in the tractor, and lovin' it.

We'll get one (or, maybe, two) more dozen by the end of the summer.

Back a few years ago, when I first started blogging about my adventures in suburban chicken farming, I would have never thought that my quarter acre would be big enough for thirty chickens. Certainly, if we were talking about thirty full-sized laying hens, we'd probably be correct.

Here are four of our twelve year-round "fowl" residents (eight chickens + four ducks = 12 birds):

For their health and well-being, I would never try to keep thirty chickens year-round in my yard. It would be especially difficult for them during the winter, when they can't get out of the coop. There's a reason why the term cooped up carries negative connotations, and the chickens know that reason.

I'm fortunate that I can keep chickens, and I'm incredibly thankful, because as John Michael Greer pointed out in his most recent post having a garden and a few chickens means food security, which was kind of the point for doing all of the stuff we've been doing - security.

As a culture, we've grown complacent and fat and lazy when it comes to our food, and if something happens (and it's very likely that *something* will happen in the not-too-distant future - i.e. increase in prices, shortages) to our on-demand food delivery system, if we don't have a back-up, we're going to be hurting. Lots of people have lots of different suggestions, but for me, the best solution is being as self-sufficient as possible, which means raising my own food.

But what if? What if I lived in a place where the powers that be wouldn't allow me to keep chickens in my backyard, but I wasn't prepared to flout the law?

That's the question I've often pondered, because I have a "what if" kind of personality, and it's the question that has caused a lot of people to mass exodus out of the suburbs in search of (literally) greener pastures.

I think buying a little piece of rural suburban land is great, if one can get it, but my premise has always been that it is not possible (and probably not preferable) for everyone to move out of the suburbs and into the country. There just isn't enough country land available, and what's happened and is still happening in some places, is that that former rural, pasture land is being subdivided into the very same suburban neighborhoods we're all trying to escape. Certainly, the rural suburbs have more land and fewer restrictions, but how long will it take before the stereotypical suburban mindset invades those rural suburbanites? And, okay, it's rural, but it's still a suburb, which makes it only a shade better than what I have.

Being the rebel that I am, I declared that if I couldn't keep my chickens outside, I'd keep them in my house (by Gawd and thunder!), but rather than dealing with the mess of having full-grown laying hens inside, I actually have a better option.


I'd read about quail before, but recently, I actually made the acquaintance of another suburban farmer. She has chickens, has recently added rabbits, and has been raising quail.

I visited her nanofarm, and it was fascinating. I didn't count her birds, but there were a lot of them. Quail do not need as much room as chickens. An adult quail needs less than one square foot of space, which means three quail can fit in the space that one chicken needs.

Quail are also a lot quieter than chickens, sounding not much different than a typical backyard bird. The male birds make a kind of chirping sound when they're happy. It sounds a little like peepers, which is my favorite spring sound.

The only downside to raising quail for meat and eggs is their size (which, ironically, is what makes them perfect for suburban homesteaders). Their eggs are slightly larger than a really big marble, and it takes four eggs to equal the size of one chicken egg (but the eggs, poached and served over bread, have a tender, delicate flavor - and are quite delicious). Depending on the breed, the birds are also quite tiny, and if the desire is to keep the birds for egg and meat production, a larger breed is probably better (according to some seasoned quail farmers, for beginners the Cortunix breed is recommended).

We haven't plunged into quail keeping, yet, but next year, when we're evaluating our space and what we might want to add (if anything), we may decide that we'd like to keep quail.

One thing's certain, though, if I had anti-chicken neighbors, I'd be keeping quail.

And if rabbits were verboten, I'd have guinea pigs ... but that's a different post.

*Anyone remember Kids in the Hall? I love Canadian comedy ... ayy.


  1. I read an article yesterday about people in other countries having "rodent farms" for meat. I saw a guinea pig in a picture, which begs the question, how many guinea pigs would it take to feed one person? Can it be comparable to a cornish hen or is there less?

    Not being flip, just curious.

    I must research.

  2. Alyse: Check out this article on guinea pigs for a start to your research:

    I found this quote quite interesting: The common guinea pig was first domesticated as early as 5000 BC for food by tribes in the Andean region of South America (present-day Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia).

    You wouldn't need more than one guinea pig to feed one person - especially if there were other foods. In fact, I probably wouldn't serve more than two for my family of five, but while we eat meat often (twice a day, in fact), we don't have a lot at a time (one five pound chicken is three meals).

  3. I read it. It's quite fascinating. Although, I'm sure countless Americans would be freaked out.

    Definitely something to think about in a food crisis. Especially considering how they reproduce and the not so long time it takes to mature.

    I've only seen a few pigs and they were babies. I see now from the pictures they take up nearly a whole plate.

  4. Ha ha, I appreciate your new name for the br**lers. ;-)
    Back home in North Pole a resident just had 26 of their 29 chickens decapitated and laid out in a lollipop formation. Really weird. And how do you decapitate 26 chickens that quietly? Don't they squawk?

  5. Alyse - At some point I think "countless Americans" are going to have to get over some of their food prejudices :). The foods that encompass the typical American diet are pretty limited, and it wasn't until I started trying to localize my diet that I realized how few foods I normally ate. We've expanded a lot, and yes, I eat dandelions and milkweed and Japanese knotweed, and while I've never eaten guinea pig, I have eaten rabbit, squirrel, deer, moose, cow, chicken, duck, squab, pig, lobster, fish, clams, shrimp, scallops, calamati, and beaver ... and probably a couple of things I've forgotten ;). There's no need to starve in this country. Indeed, there's no need to be hungry. Guinea pigs are cheap (a couple of dollars each at the pet store), don't take up much room, and could be fed grasses that the family foraged from cracks in the side walk. With a couple of breeding pairs, a family could have fresh meat a couple of times a week with very little effort.

    Bezzie - See? I was thinkin' of you ;).

    As for the chickens, it depends on the time of day. At night, chickens get pretty lethargic, and they don't move or squawk. A person could go into the coop and do that without a peep from the chickens. It's actually pretty weird how unresponsive they are. I don't know why someone would do that though. Seems pretty weird.

  6. Beaver??? How'd that taste?

    We get our eggs from The Egg Lady a couple of miles up the road from us and our honey from The Bee Lady a couple of miles in the other direction. I'm sure if we didn't have cash we could trade either something or labor for our eggs and honey. Both are within easy biking (and yes you can bike with eggs just fine) range.

    About the only thing our city restricts animal wise is bee keeping and even then I bet if you were discrete about it and shared a little honey with the neighbors no one would care.

  7. Well - I'm going to day it - I love, love, love the chicken lady from Kids In the Hall - one of my fav shows!

  8. lol, I'm Canadian, I loved Kids in the Hall ("I'm crushing your head!" or "my pennn!!"). Oh, and it's not "ayy", it's "eh" :)