Thursday, September 07, 2017

Farm Life: Gardening with Chickens

The Original Vision: My garden would be the bucolic picture of life on the farm. Every critter would live in perfect harmony with one another. The compost wouldn't smell, the chickens would fluff up and poop in unison in the designated spot like a well-choreographed hen ballet, and everyone would use the gravel paths I painstakingly created for their use. The compost bins would be loaded with fluffy black gold. I would be wearing cute little overalls with a gingham blouse and my hair would be perfectly coiffed while heading out to pick tomatoes with my picnic basket lined in red-and-white checked fabric. Life was going to be perfect. Well, it is pretty sweet, but, hold on, wait, please allow me to paint the more accurate picture of the reality of farm-life, especially the part about chickens.

Can you spot the girls? Common chicken warfare is to split up and hide behind small shrubberies.
 On the peaceable kingdom: Our cats want to eat all the neighborhood cats that wander into our piece of paradise. One black kitty in particular has a death wish as she comes over from the neighbor's house, hungry or ready to hunt birds. On the two or three occasions I let our kitties out unaware that Black Kitty was in our midst, they chased after her and proudly came back with clumps of black fur in their mouths. So much for peaceable kingdoms. The chickens chase the squirrels and, while I'm at it, I've seen them chase the doves. When we introduced the three pullets we call the Pellets (Bea, Cheddar and Cheeto) there was much strife in the chicken kingdom. No eggs, just pecking order business and the rather astonishing change of our black girl, Blanche, into - well, Bruce. She crows now every morning. Like a half-crow, but a crow all the same. She, (ahem) pardon me, um, mounts the other chickens to keep everyone in line. OK! Moving on.


Here, Cheddar and Cheeto talk in secret chicken language about their next target. I suspected they were in cahoots together. Now I know the truth.
 The compost bin, full of hay, kitchen scraps and you name it, is regularly attacked by the chickens and I'm sure night creatures. There are avocado pits 89 feet away from the bin as well as a 4' radius of compost goo that the chickens rearrange daily. Walking out the front door, you need to have glasses on to see well enough to dodge chicken bombs. Those gals poo anywhere they want, usually on man-made surfaces, not grass where it magically becomes fertilizer. Did I mention how horrid chicken poo smells? As far as staying in the designated lines, HA! Chickens (and moles and raccoons and skunks) go wherever they wish.


Can you see the dinosaur in them?
 As far as my overalls and gingham blouse, substitute for a sleeveless cutoff T-shirt with stained shorts and rubber sloggers with chicken pictures all over them with brown socks, once white, that have the ability to stand on their own. My hair is in a wad on top of my head so that the cheap Fred Meyer cowboy hat I bought for sun protection will stay on my unusually small head. Never mind the sweat mixed with sticky sunblock and mystery dirt under the fingernails, despite going through a pair of gloves a week. Really. I'm a vision of beauty, let me tell you. Probably with chicken bombs under my rubber shoes.

Facility Manager here: Actually, TP looks wonderful in her dirty, stained clothes and silly hat. I love it, except when she enters the kitchen! Yikes!


 Here, Frida thinks she wants to eat green olives fresh from the tree (from last year). They would each take one out, look up at me as if to say "what the hell is this?", spit it out and throw it on the ground, go for another, look up at me as if to say "what the hell is this?", spit it out and throw it on the ground, go for another. Chicken logic. All of this is just fine, though - it's still paradise. That is until this happened:


The plant formerly known as Cornus canadensis, bunchberry. Currently known as compost.
Deal breaker. Don't mess with the plants. This is the reality of "free-range chickens." Chickens scratch the *f*%%#@@! out of, well, basically whatever they want. It works like this: I plant a treasured plant with starry-eyed dreams of its full glory in a few years. I water said plant carefully and often in this horrible, hot, drought-like weather -- Facilities Manager has a full-time watering job around here. Bugs (and moles - that's another post all together) go where the water is, chickens go where the bugs are. Those little fluffy butts don't have a care in the world. La la la, the choreographed hen ballet plays out as plants are pulled out of the well-tended buggy wet soil, dry out, die sorry little lives at the hands of prehistoric monsters. Tamara MAD!

When reading up on keeping chickens, I read that they do this but you can put little fences around your treasured plants and that will deter them. I have about 4,789 "treasured plants" - little fences my ass. I read that they would destroy gardens and I denied it. No no, not in my garden. This will be the one exception in the whole world where the magic chickens will read my mind and do exactly as I wish, for I am the chicken whisperer (head hung low in shame and disgrace...lesson learned).


This is the head dinosaur, Frida. Her cohort, Blanche (Bruce), innocently eats watermelon in the background.

FM: It is not really Bruce. We call her Tranny Blanche! We support diversity!


They travel in packs and go everywhere, including the neighbor's home. Not good. It's like a gang.


All this while no one, I mean no one was laying eggs this summer. OK, why do we have chickens?


Nearly every day I raked the gravel paths only to find this every morning. Entire garden beds have been destroyed by these creatures.


Frida and Blanche teach the younguns how it's done.


Miss Cheddar, looking all innocent-like. I'm on to you, Missy.


Destruction in action. 


Not to mention the hundreds of these - dust bowls. Places in the garden look like the moon with all these craters. Difficult to photograph, but believe me, they are there and several inches deep. They bathe in these and make new ones every day. You would think the same bone-dry dust bowl would be enough, but no . . . one must have fresh dirt to be properly preened.


Enter my hero, Facilities Manager, who enclosed the hens in a . . .  wait for it . . . in a "henitentary." Small, harsh and penal. Oh yeah, music to my ears. After building a temporary addition to their pen, he bought 500 linear feet of fencing, attaching it to the existing coop and pen and designated the upper northeast corner of the property as the chicken badlands. Not much more than weeds and a few planted shrubs, it was going to be our native habitat area. I think it still can be, but with the addition of chickens. And moon craters. And chicken poo. On this decision, initially we went back and forth for a week or so, thinking it might magically get better. Let me share with you, it doesn't. Even with two acres to cruise around in, chickens find the plants you don't want them messing with. It's chicken law. Eventually Facilities Manager snapped, too, and we were in blissful unison on this decision to wrangle them onto their very own land.


 Don't feel too badly for the girls, they now have an 8,580 square foot area (instead of two acres) to make craters, pull out weeds, and poo wherever they wish to their hearts' content.

Tamara happy. Tamara not heading for a heart attack any longer. The compost bin stays as I left it, gradually turning to black gold now that it's in one stationary pile. Craters are slowly being filled in, paths remain groomed, plants stay where I plant them. No more chicken bombs at the front door, little plants have a fighting chance and, oh, by the way, we're getting four eggs a day from five hens and one cross-gender hen who thinks she's a rooster. Oh yeah, we've got this chicken thing dialed in.

Life is back to normal and our whackadoodle farm is, well, paradise after all.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and happy gardening!

30 comments :

  1. Oh Tamara, thanks for the laughs and the update from Whackadoodle Farm! Is that chicken soup I smell simmering in your kitchen? Somewhere there must be a gardener who lives in the idyllic picture you paint in the first description. (Besides in Disney movies.) This is what happens when you fire your garden staff. Glad that the henitentary has brought back a bit of your sanity. Facilities Manager is a keeper!

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    1. Ha ha...good one, Peter! Somewhere out there, yes...there must be that idyllic picture of the perfectly clean garden. I think I saw it in a Cialis drug ad once...or was it for Bonnie Plants?

      Oh, if only I had a garden staff. I suppose I do in Facilities Manager. Keeping him, indeed ;)

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  2. I am so glad now that I never got chickens. Dealing with the raccoon damage here has been similarly stressful for me. FM came up with a great solution for you guys. I still think you should have named your chickens after chicken dishes -- Fricasee, etc. I bet the prospect of eating them sounded more appealing for a while, even if just a few seconds, didn't it?

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    1. Ummm...ok maybe. OK, yes. YES.

      For your fabulous garden, Alison, I cannot see chickens obeying, too many temptations. You made the right choice :)

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  3. Oh my gosh, I'm still laughing! Sorry, well not really, laughter is good and you're funny. AND, that my friend is why I don't have chickens. Oh, and I love gingham too.

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    1. Oh, I'm glad you're laughing! That's the best reaction I can think of :)

      We laugh too...despite their destruction, we still love our hens.

      Gingham rocks. How about some gingham garden boots? THAT would be stylish.

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  4. Delightful! We have chickens next door; thankfully, they stay put, unable to do otherwise. All the way reading through, chuckling at your avian nightmare, I kept thinking they needed something like your very aptly named "henitentary". Well done!

    And it was SO nice seeing you last night - sweet! : )

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    1. Oh, I'm so glad they stay put for you. It would be double maddening if neighboring chickens did this!

      It was FABulous to see you and G. the other night, too. Wonderful commission, by the way - I'm in love with your artwork, Stephen.

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  5. I always say that disaster stories (and a good rant) make for the best reading. If only your readers could see your chicken imitations!

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    1. Oh, if anyone asks, I'll perform chicken imitations in exchange for chocolate. Bring it on.

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  6. Okay, you've succeeded in blowing up any remaining chicken dreams I may still have had! I periodically wish that a peacock would settle here (our peninsula is rife with them).
    They're so pretty! And the cat would have an endless supply of peacock feathers to play with! However, I've heard their blood-curdling screams and read about the destruction they wreak on gardens. I guess I should count myself lucky that the coyotes send the juvenile male peacocks packing when they show up during their annual dispersal...

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    1. Should I feel badly about this, Kris? Heee hee... I think I've shattered many the bucolic gardening dream with this post. BUT a peacock...now you're talking! Those sounds that come out of the peacocks - blood curdling indeed. What a strange problem to have, gangs of peacocks wreaking havoc on your piece of paradise.

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  7. For years Andrew kept with the chicken talk and I kept saying no, no, no. Fear of exactly the same things you were dealing with, but on a much smaller scale. Henitentiary to the rescue!

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    1. You said no no no for the right reasons, Miss Loree. You have no room for a henitentiary! Therefore, no chickens. Good choice.

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  8. I laughed through this whole post! At one time (many years ago) I entertained the idea of having urban chickens. You're cementing in the immense relief I feel at not having gone through with it at the time. Silly feathered nitwits! I love the henitentiary - it's the best of both worlds for you, the FM and the girls.

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    1. I'm so glad you laughed, I have to laugh to keep sane. Henitentiarys are the BEST! :)

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  9. I feel your pain. I had suburban chickens for almost a year and they ate everything. Although I enjoyed having them, it was a relief to have my garden back.

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    1. Oh no! You too?

      I do enjoy them, too...I guess I should have mentioned that at some point. They are sweet with their cooing and following me around, but it is SUCH a relief to have them in a proper environment where they can be chickens and do what they do, not what I think they should do. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

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  10. I love your henitentary and the "badlands." Your chickens are still very spoiled.

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    1. They are spoiled, and that's ok with us :)

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  11. Richard Hoffman1:03 PM PDT

    Tamara, I totally commiserate with you and the FM! We currently have two wonderful chickens with a henhouse and little yard on our suburban property. The chickens very occasionally get an opportunity to roam free in our small suburban backyard. Their bugging does wonderful things for the garden. However, scratching around, as you indicated, is instinctive. After a fun day of work on the part of our hens, I come out to examine chicken amendments. Oops, the Heuchera marmalade is now in three pieces. I'll try to replant the one drifting around the yard. My wife wonders why our dog's breath is so bad the next day. I have suspicions but insuffient proof. Don't get me wrong...our chickens are wonderful, exchanging vegetables, fruit scraps and organic feed pellets for eggs, and providing dynamic nitrogenous pellets for our garden and compost. When we pass by, they sing happy songs to us, and come over to talk. The hens express their delight after receiving treats. Really, properly penned in, the chickens make wonderful companions. You and the FM did it right in the end! Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Richard. We love our girls too and appreciate the exchange of eggs and fertilizer for fruit and veg scraps. We love their soft cooing too, it's very calming. I kind of miss having them around when I garden, but....you're right, when properly penned in, chickens are the best! Good luck with finding the rest of that Heuchera 'Marmalade' - it all sounds oh-so-familiar. :)

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  12. This is the funnies post I've read! I will share with Scott and Clara, just to make sure I don't come home to find that chickens have joined our menagerie of guinea pigs, rabbits, tortoises, cats, fish and a dog. Scott likes his garden too much to risk such havoc! KW

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    1. Oh my, don't let Scott near any hens for sale. You have quite enough to manage on your little urban farm, I think chickens would be the extra chaos that would drive your dog mad. Yes, keep it calm, my friend!! :)

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  13. Anonymous7:09 PM PDT

    That is hilarious. Am pretty sure I would have eaten the chickens if they dug up my precious plants! Your solution was much better :)

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Well....we were pretty frazzled by it all, to be sure. Now they dig up weeds and are making epic craters in their new pen. Better there than in the garden!

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  14. When we had chickens we briefly tried to free range our girls. Very breifly.

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    1. Ha ha...oh yes, sounds like you've been there. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. If I had any doubts about my decision to never have chickens (or ducks) in the garden, this post has erased them! Sorry you've been so hen-pecked. At least they're good for a laugh!

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  16. To think I even entertained the idea of chickens. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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