Water repellent feathers: NOT due to the oil gland April 17, 2015 No Comments

Chickens don’t necessarily go inside when it rains–and as we’ve discussed, it’s not because they’re not smart enough. They’re smart! They just know that they’re outfitted with pretty durn good rain gear: water repellent feathers. Especially in light rains, water just rolls right off. (Ducks have even more effectively water repellent feathers–you may have heard the phrase “like water off a duck’s back.”)

If you’ve ever wondered how that works, your first thought was probably that when they preen, the oil from their oil gland provides a protective coating, making for water repellent feathers. But you may be surprised to learn that the uropygial gland—the oil gland—is not the reason that water rolls right off at all! It’s actually the structure of the feathers themselves.

Water repellent feathers: Saddle feather from a Cuckoo Marans

If you think feathers are pretty already, you’ll think they’re amazing once you know how they work!

 

When we’re looking at feather structure, we start with the shaft, which is composed of the calamus (close to the body) and the rachis (further out). The shaft is Read the rest of this entry »

Vegetarian chickens? Ha! April 10, 2015 2 Comments

One of the weirdest things I see on the cartons  of commercial eggs in stores is this: “Vegetarian-fed.” Vegetarian chickens? Ha! What are they thinking?

Easter Egger chicken: no chickens are vegetarian chickens on purpose

Got meat? You got it. I’ll eat it.

Chickens are omnivores, so even setting aside the conditions most commercial hens endure, it seems strange that any company would purposefully claim their hens are vegetarian chickens. You don’t have to be an expert to remember that chickens eat bugs and all sorts of little critters: worms, grubs, arachnids and more.  And if you ARE a chicken keeper, even a beginner, you doubtless know that chickens not only eat insects and creepy crawlies, but also mice, frogs, snakes, voles and so on. Almost anything small enough to consume, they eat! They are effective predators in that way—the closest thing we have to dinosaurs.

So, what’s with the “vegetarian-fed” labeling? Part of it, I am convinced, is just marketing. Vegetarian chickens: it SOUNDS good—so long as you don’t think about it. “Our cage-free chickens are fed an all-natural vegetarian diet!” But “cage free” means they are crowded into a warehouse, not outside in a field as you might assume… and “vegetarian” means they are purposefully being deprived of their natural diet.

Sigh.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Controlling the diet of your pet chickens is Read the rest of this entry »

Chicken Marionette DIY Egg Carton Craft March 27, 2015 No Comments

When it gets to be the holidays, I get to feeling crafty. While my chickens have started laying again like crazy (thank goodness!), it seems like a bad time to waste egg cartons on crafts. But I don’t let that stop me! I decided to make a chicken marionette out of egg cartons.

Chicken Marionette made from egg cartons

Crafting a chicken marionette from egg cartons is easy!

I’ll need to make my chicken marionette a few  companions before I can put on a show, but I’m pleased with the way she turned out.

What I used to craft my chicken marionette

Read the rest of this entry »

A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens March 20, 2015 29 Comments

Our friend  Melissa Caughey of Tilly’s Nest just released her first book about keeping chickens: A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens. The most delightful thing about it is how it focuses on chicken keeping as a family activity, with “make and do” ideas for family projects you can complete together for your flock.

Reading A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens actually made me rather nostalgic. Our family did a lot of chicken projects together when my daughter was of an age. Not only were there baby chicks to tame and name, but there were eggs to color for Easter (and recently even projects for Halloween and Day of the Dead), and incubation countdowns to hatch day with paper chains. And looking back even further to when I was young, even my grandmother and I had egg-related projects: we made caterpillars, flowers, mushrooms and ladybugs from egg cartons.

These complex egg carton roses and daffodils are among the types I used to make with my grandmother; the egg carton flowers in A Kid's Guide to Keeping Chickens charmingly use lollypops as a flower center.

These complex egg carton roses and daffodils are among the types I used to make with my grandmother; the egg carton flowers in A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens charmingly use lollypops as a flower center.

So that’s really what I go back to in this book. I still love crafts and DIY. I’ve talked about this before, but I grew up with the bizarre idea that  Read the rest of this entry »

8 Employee Favorite Chicken Breeds March 13, 2015 5 Comments

As you probably know, what chicken breed works best for your family will depend on what you’re looking for, as well as where you’re located. For instance, if you live in Minnesota and want a hen that lays brown eggs, you’re not going to like cold intolerant, white egg laying Leghorns very well! On the other hand, if you live in the desert southwest and want heat tolerant birds with spotted plumage, you’re not going to care much for, say, Black Cochins. That in mind, we recently asked our employees to officially share their personal favorite–and least favorite–chicken breeds or varieties.

The list is fascinating–we both agree and disagree with each other! You may notice some employees have the same favorite chicken breeds for (seemingly) schizophrenic reasons. That is, when a variety is among the favorite chicken breeds because they’re not overly friendly AND because they’re lovey-dovey, how do you make sense of that? I reconcile it two ways:

  • First, individual birds have individual personalities.
  • Second, maybe they just give you the affection you’re open to! :)

Interestingly, there were also a few varieties that made both lists. We attribute this to the fact that our employees telecommute and live across the country, with flocks in vastly different conditions. Varieties that made both list are in BLUE. 

So… first, we’ll share our MPC favorite chicken breeds.

Favorite Chicken breeds of MPC Employees

(in alphabetical order)

1. Cochin

Jordana: “I know eggs are great, but I adore the huge, fluffy, gentle giants! They sit on my feet when they are small to ride around the yard!”

Favorite chicken breeds

Mottled cochin

2. Easter Egger

Sam: “They are such beautiful birds with Read the rest of this entry »

5 Ways To Teach Life Skills to Kids with a Flock March 12, 2015 2 Comments

Not long ago I saw a post on Facebook about a child who had just gotten a website up and running for his small, local business selling hatching eggs and chicks. I was fascinated! I have children of my own, and we have also been on the journey of starting small business endeavors within their capabilities. I spoke with the parents of this young entrepreneur, and they agreed to let him do an interview with me and find out how other kids with a flock are learning and benefiting from keeping chickens.

So, without further ado, let me introduce Pete, owner of Pete’s (adjective) Poultry.  (That name is not a typo; it’s actually named that so you can insert your own adjective, like “Pete’s Pretty Poultry” or “Pete’s Wicked-cool Poultry.”)

Kids with a flock: Pete and Sprinkles

Me: Pete, how old are you? And how old were you when you got your first chicken?

Pete: I am eight and a half years old. I’m guessing seven (when he got his first chicken). Pete’s Mom; He was 3 when we got our first chickens, but I don’t think he really considered those his own. He started doing the 4-H poultry curriculum and raising his own chickens last year.

Me: Pete, what is your favorite breed of chicken? Read the rest of this entry »

Fantasy World Poultry Tour February 27, 2015 3 Comments

I’m ready to go on a fantasy world poultry tour. Why? I miss my chickens. I mean, technically, they’re still here. I’ve not stopped keeping chickens, of course. Nothing has happened to them. Nothing but snow. Deep snow.

Deep, deep snow.

Mother nature decorates with chickens

How can I get back to the coop without touching this white stuff?

My girls enjoy a little of the white stuff, but when it gets deeper than they are tall, they tend to stay in their coop. Wouldn’t you? And when it gets to be in the single digits as it has in my area recently, I tend to stay in my coop–I mean, house. By the fire. Ideally with hot cocoa or bowls of steaming soup.

So, I stay in and they stay in, and we seldom cross paths. I gaze longingly at the coop door through my window, hoping for a glimpse or two as they pop their heads out to test the weather, but they’re as disgusted by it as I am. When the temperature rises to the 20s and 30s, it’s snow and grey skies. When it’s sunny and clear, the temperature has dropped  to intolerable.

Dear Spring: I’m quite ready.

plant-forsythia

Forsythia, I long for you!

In my winter dreams, I fantasize about taking a world poultry tour. I could tour poultry farms of the Italian countryside, and Read the rest of this entry »

How I beautified my coop–cheap! February 15, 2015 3 Comments

This winter I finally decided it was time–and I beautified my coop–for next to nothing! Now it’s a bright, cheery spot in the brown winter landscape.

Don’t get me wrong; I love winter! I love all seasons, but the magic in a newly fallen snow-covered landscape is especially appealing. Sadly, I live in the warmer south now and we get very little snow most years. Instead of that sparkling beauty as the sun comes up we have brown… and more brown, with a spot of green from a pine tree or ground ivy.

A rare winter snow is lovely near my newly decorated coop.

Read the rest of this entry »

Six Kid Favorite Bantams February 13, 2015 3 Comments

When you’re looking for pet chickens for your family, don’t forget the bantam varieties. There are lots of kid favorite bantams!

If high production egg laying is not your top priority, there is plenty to recommend these little cuties. While the eggs laid by bantams will typically smaller than the eggs of large fowl varieties, there’s something about the adorable little eggs that they do lay that appeals to kids (imagine tiny little devilled eggs).

_MG_7123

Size comparison: bantam chicken on left, and large fowl chicken on right.

 

What’s very cool is that many kid favorite bantams look very little like regular old “boring” chickens–or they have beautiful plumages that really make them stand out! When raised with affection, chickens are as friendly as cats or dogs. And for those allergic to “regular” pets, chickens make a great alternative… and bantams in particular take up little space. There are a ton of benefits to keeping chickens, no matter their size (and if you can manage to adopt rescue hens, there are even more benefits).

Six Kid Favorite Bantams to Consider

1. Belgian Bantams

If you prefer a breed that looks a LITTLE more like a bird, Belgian bantams are lovely. First of all they’re friendly and easily handled, but they also have some “fancy” feathering, with beards (and some varieties with feathered legs).

kid favorite bantams - Belgians

Self-blue Belgian Quail D’Anvers

 

2. Frizzle Cochin Bantams

Cochins in general are great friendly birds for the family… but kids often like the frizzled varieties especially. The frizzling causes the feathers to curl up, so the birds look as if they’re in a constant wind storm. They come in many different color varieties–and in fact you can get frizzled feathers in a variety of breeds, although the cochin in probably the most common.

kid favorite bantams - frizzles

White frizzle cochin bantam

 

3a. Silkies Read the rest of this entry »

6 Most Important Rules for Home Hatching February 6, 2015 3 Comments

Home hatching projects can be a great project to enjoy with your family. There are many things you will want to consider BEFORE starting up your incubator, though… and if you’ve never hatched before, there are some things you may not think of. If your vision of home hatching consists solely of how cool it will be to have baby chicks in the house… well, take a step back and consider these six issues first.

If this is what you're picturing when you think of pet chickens, it's easy to achieve!

I’m counting on you!

Hatching baby chicks shouldn’t just be an exercise in biology. It can also be an exercise in problem solving, thinking ahead, taking responsibility, accepting disappointment and making hard choices. After all, a hatching project doesn’t begin at incubation, it begins long before when you start taking responsible steps to care for the living creatures you are hatching—they are totally dependent on you to provide them care. Just like you wouldn’t have a “birth project” with a pregnant dog without making responsible arrangements for any puppies, you don’t want to start a hatching project without making responsible arrangements for the baby chicks . If you can teach your kids about responsibility in the process, it’s still a successful hatching project in our book, even if you don’t hatch a single solitary egg.

Rule 1: Be educated about home incubation

Incubating chicks in a home incubator is often more challenging than humans expect. Aside from shipping issues, Read the rest of this entry »