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.

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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.

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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?

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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.)

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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.

October Family Photo Album

It’s been a whirlwind month, as October usually is… But we find ourselves having more time for family and friends. Thank goodness, because I’ve felt like a social recluse for the last few months.
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Jason’s parents joined us for a week from Saskatchewan, I won tickets and took my friend M to a wine and appie tasting, Jason and I went back to my old Rotary Club to speak about natural pet health, our community welcomed home a new little boy from Ethiopia, the girls had a sleepover with their pseudo-cousin N, and Sugar and Spice and I have had many hours on the back deck reading Harry Potter as the leaves fall off the trees.

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The Road Not Taken

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

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Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

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And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

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I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

My dream in reality: Pounce & Hound Fine Pet Goods Open

Today day for me. For the last four years, Jason and I have been working on opening our own veterinary clinic and pet store. Today, we open our doors to Pounce & Hound Fine Pet Goods for the first time.

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It’s a dream that we have been working on so long, we can barely comprehend that it is actually coming true. We’ve had numerous stops and starts along the way… The biggest of which, was the building we were going to that went into bankruptcy. So we had to move locations. That means we have literally been planning this little space of 2500 ft.² for four years.

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Jason has to wait another week or so until the veterinary clinic opens, as we have another veterinarian inspection to do first. But today, my shop, Pounce & Hound Fine Pet Goods, will be open.

I love it when people walk inside, and gasp with her beautiful it is. It’s been such a creative work, from picking out the products to designing the space and I love it that it brings others as much pleasure as it brings me.

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If you’re ever in Kelowna, please come by and visit… Least furry friends are very welcome too!

Pounce & Hound Fine Pet Goods
2720 Richter St., Kelona, BC
www.PandosyVet.com

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Lemonade Stand: Learning the value of money

Today the girls set up a lemonade stand at the end of the block, to make some extra dough. It’s certainly a great experience to learn about hard work and business.

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For a few years, our girls have had an allowance. They get five dollars, which is a lot of money! But they have some restrictions on it. Sugar and Spice put one dollar in their “learning” jar, which is for their education and travel, one dollar to a “giving” jar, from which they donate money to a cause of their choice, and then three dollars into a “fun” jar, their discretionary income. In the beginning, we had to give them loonies, to teach them relative value. But now they make change!

Anyway, having their own discretionary income means that we say “no” to just about everything they ask for, and they have to save up if they want toys. I don’t remember the last time I’ve bought them a toy. They even treat us occasionally to icecream or frozen yogurt, which is lovely.

Sometimes the girls want to increase their income, however, especially if they have their eyes set on something. Apparently it’s a play mobile veterinary set right now. So they get entrepreneurial; we totally support this. For a little money, they can do extra chores around the house, like wiping baseboards (with so many pets, we always have baseboards to wipe.) But sometimes, if they want to make more money, they set up a little business.

They’re so experienced, they’ve already had a failed business. Sugar came up with an idea of making hair ties. They bought yarn (out of their own money.. I don’t do capital investment…) but after selling a few on credit, realized their friends were never paying them. They lost their investment.

A lesson well learned. “Never sell anything to someone before you get the money first,” Spice will tell anyone who needs business advice. “Especially your friends.”

The tried and true business model is the lemonade stand. First, they save enough for ingredients. Frozen lemonade mix, then sugar, flour, butter and chocolate chips for cookies. They have bought premade cookie dough in the past, but they realized the higher costs were cutting into their profits. So now they make the cookies from scratch. Luckily they’ve found out that Daddy is a cheap employee… For two cookies, he’ll help them bake. Sucker.

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They figure out their advertising and distribution. Today, Spice was thinking about selling the cookies door to door. After carefully consideration, she decided that “we might sell more cookies to one family, but some people will also say no. I hate that. And we’d have to lug a tray from house to house. So I think we should just sit on the corner and they will come to us.”

The advertising is a big poster that they make, with prices clearly marked. Then, they chose their location wisely, which is beside the synagogue parking lot at the end of our street. It has good drive by visibility, and good parking. “People just stop because we are cute and we have cookies,” pronounces Spice, without a lick of sarcasm.

So, today was family day, with the girls choosing the activity. And guess what?

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Jason helped make cookies, I helped with the sign, and we all sat out in the sun. In an hour, they made $42. There were a few tips in there, and some people even just drove up and handed them money. I kid you not.

Playmobile vet set, here they come!

“We didn’t actually make $42 an hour, mommy,” my daughter Spice reminded me after I read her this post. You forgot to count our baking time.”

Such a smart cookie.