Lessons learned from Backyard Chickens

It’s been two years since we drove up the Mabel Lake road to a small hobby farm to pick up our two fledgling Plymouth Rocks, Keelee and Hailey. I’ve learned a lot in those two years, including some unexpected lessons in peacekeeping and community.

backyard chickens2

On a little fieldtrip while I work in the garden….

I had decided to get some backyard chickens, despite the mixed message I was getting about the legality of it all, for the wholistic benefits for our family. I wanted the girls to know where their food came from, and to build some of my own self-sustainability skills. I’d never farmed any kind of animal, and I figured two little cluckers wouldn’t be much work.

It turns out that I was right on all counts. The girls now know where eggs and meat come from, although they’ve reacted in different ways. Sugar wants to become a piscatorian when she grows up, and Spice wants to have her own farm and slaughter the animals to sell and eat. Ok, then.

backyard chickens passive solar coop

My animal husbandry skills have come a long way… I’ve built enclosures, including our passive solar chicken coop, checked the cluckers daily for eggs and kept their food and water fresh. The gooey side of chicken raising has been a bit yuck. I have my sister, the first to have chickens, on speed dial for such things.

Twice my hens have had mites, and I’ve had to dust under their wings and wipe down their blowholes. Ew. As much as I enjoy talking to them, I don’t really like handling them. They feel like a store bought chicken breast warmed up and wiggling. I’m not eating a lot of chicken these days, either, btw.

What didn’t I expect?

dogs and backyard chickens

Well, it was very hard at first to get the dogs acclimatized to the pullets. Maggie especially, our cocker spaniel, tried with all her might to lunge at the chicken tractor. We have to sit beside that enclosure with the dogs on the leash, on and off, for days. Finally, the only thing that trained Maggie to leave them alone was the citronella bark collar. We put the collar on her, and when she lunged at them (and barked) it sprayed citronella in her face. After a few times of that, she lost interest. Yeah for citronella. (PS, we sell these miracle workers at our clinic.)

backyard chickens3

This morning in the back yard….

Now, as you can see, the chicken and the dogs peacefully coexist. Our naughty cairn terrier Laughlin is a huge defender of the alley, barking and running up and down the fence when people pass by. Keelee and Hailey don’t even look in his direction, they are so used to it.

Sometimes I open the gate of their hens’ yard and let them run around our lawn and garden. The dogs pay them no mind whatsoever; however I have to say that Keelee does peck Laughlin a little if he comes in to steal her food.

There are way more people with backyard chickens than I ever imagined. Within a two minute walk of our house, there are at least three yards with chickens. And we are right down in an urban residential neighbourhood, by the way. Backyard chickens are indicators of a larger sustainability movement, and we’ve met some interesting people just by having cluckers in common. For instance, we found the best caterer when my friend with the organic grocery business offered leftovers to the caterer and myself (for our repetitive garden garburators). There is also a certain social caché to having chickens… People know that you are extremely committed to local food, even if you have to be a little subversive about it (all true.)

Hmmm… What else?

I didn’t expect them to be so loud. Dang it, I bought Plymouth Rocks because they are supposed to make eggs and live a super long time (four years) and they were supposed to be a quiet, winter tolerant backyard breed. Poppycock. I have the most obnoxiously loud chickens ever. I couldn’t keep them from the neighbours if I tried to! Fortunately, none of my neighbours give a rip. I think when I put the clothesline up seven years ago, they knew what they were in more. Every time I come out in the yard, the hens start yelling at the top of their lungs. Just for me, btw. They know who the sugar mama is.

But seriously, the neighbours don’t care. In fact, we’ve had five different neighbours look after Keelee and Hailey when we are away, even for weeks at a time. Many have thanked us for the opportunity after… Not only for the eggs, but the chance to care for animals in a way they haven’t done since their youth. (And a huge thank you back!!)

Arnica Rowan backyard chicken

Lastly, I didn’t expect to like them so much. I thought “livestock is livestock,” very different than pets. But I can say honestly that my two Plymouth Rocks have become my pets. I visit them every day out in the yard, have a chat with them, and care for them. My daily visits in the fresh air and sunshine have also been a small dose of nature therapy each morning. The days I spend a little time outside chatting with the chickens always get off to a better start.

I hope this little article encourages more of my friends and readers to consider backyard chickens. A great mentoring resource, if you don’t have a friend with cluckers on your block, is AlbertaChickensEtc, an online community with over 20,000! Members in western Canada, all who have backyard chickens.

20% off Africa Sleeps Organic Shea Lotions

Organic Shea Lotion offerb

Fall is here, and winter is on its way. Time to nourish that skin!

Africa Sleeps is our little family business, providing organic, natural hair and bodycare products for children of African heritage. Until November 22, 2014, you can use this coupon…


…to order any of our luscious organic shea butter lotions at 20% off. What a deal! the lotions are made from Canadian botanicals, and fairtrade shea butter from Ghana. I don’t know how our daughters (or their daddy, for that matter!) would get through the winter without it!

Happy shopping!

This is it: the new normal

For the last few months, our family has been running on adrenalin. Starting a new business (Pandosy Village Veterinary Hospital), constructing, hiring, and hitting the ground running… The entire process is exhausting, and precludes any other true focus in life. I’ve found myself taking a week to get back to Africa Sleeps customers’ emails (sorry!!) and barely seeing my friends (double sorry!!) Thank goodness Vulnerable Children has a team of people to keep it chugging along, because I totally neglected my charity for a couple of months.

I liken starting a family business to running with blinders on… Knowing chaos is happening around you, but still focussed on just getting across the finish line, hopefully intact. It’s been about six months of running like this, gasping for air, and knowing that the harder we work, the better off we will be in the long run.

You may be wondering where the kids have been in all this. Well, I’m actually very proud of Jason and I in the parenting department. We may have been subsisting on subpar nutrition, but our kids have not in any other way been worse for wear. (I, on the other hand, have put on fifteen pound and aged five years….) We’ve spent every minute that we aren’t working with the girls, and even homeschooled them during three months of the teachers strike. They are proud of the clinic, and love being with us there. They are good.

One other activity we’ve been thankful for in the last two months has been Jason and I’s tango lessons. For one hour a week, we don’t talk about work or the kids… In fact, we don’t talk at all. We just look into each other’s eyes, and I surrender to being led around the dance floor. It’s been key on keeping a connection during a time of great stress.

If I truly take a birds eye view, however, this actually was the sprinted end of a marathon. We hung a billboard three and a half years ago, at what was going to be our clinic location, and Jason’s veterinary contract wasn’t renewed. So he started loccuming and working far away from home. I was waiting and waiting for the clinic to open, so I could wind up my career at the college, and slow down our pace. We were in this holding pattern of working too much, bridging the time until the clinic opened, for three years. We never intended it that way! The building we were going into had stall after stall, and finally went bankrupt. So then we waited another year for our current location to be built. What was meant to be a short-term inconvenience for our family stretched to a couple of years… All towards the goal of living and working within a couple of city blocks, in our own business, run our own way.

Now, two months into opening… This is it. We are here. The building is built, the staff are great and working well, the word is getting out. I quit my professor job this spring (in a torrential way that wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t at the end of q marathon…) and am now totally self employed. The kids go to school three blocks from the house. Jason walks everywhere, including the five minutes to come home at lunch. My Africa Sleeps business is doing well, despite my shared focus, and my marketing efforts are paying off at the clinic and store.

It’s finally time to stop running.


In the world of adoption, we talk about the “new normal.” This is when, after turbulent months, the family recalibrates and becomes, well, a functioning family again.

What does this new normal look like for our family? I’m still building the family business, and the attention I give it and Africa Sleeps determine their success. But running full stream isn’t appropriate, nor sustainable any more. So how much do I work? It’s been seven days a week… So is the new normal seven with some afternoons off? Or five?

What about blogging? What about meeting up with friends? How about that garden that was planted in the spring but left unattended for the latter half of the summer? Where and when I am going to travel? What amount of time can I reasonably set aside for Vulnerable Children, the work that brings me the most gratification, but no income? Shall I bake bread, or buy it? How much time should I spend saving money by cooking etc vs making money? Should I be spending energy and focus on losing the weight I gained in the last few months, or will that fade off as the stress subsides? What should my day look like? Should it be multitasking or setting one day aside for one business/charity?

In any case, it’s a time of change. And what that new normal looks like… Well, maybe I’ll have to blog about it in a month or two.