The Cross Beak Chronicles: Helen’s Story… July 30, 2020 No Comments


This is the story of Helen, my little cross beak Easter Egger. She is a survivor, to say the least, and has completely captured my heart. Helen was not expected to live very long, yet she is now three and a half years old already! She recently moved out of the main coop and is now a permanent resident of the back screen porch of our home. Helen’s home is nicely furnished. She has her very own coop, a patch of grass, and even a friend. I will explain who her friend is later on in the story!

Helen poses in her chicken tutu after getting a fresh manicure

How It All Started

I’ll begin with a little backstory, of how I got into chicken keeping. I have always loved chickens. I’m not sure why. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I didn’t even know anyone that had chickens. One day, out of the blue, my cousin said to me, “Why don’t you get some chickens?” And that was that.


I got my first 12 chicks from My Pet Chicken three years ago. I thought I’d get maybe 7 or 8 chicks and that would be great, plenty. Giving it a little more thought, I decided adding a few more chicks wouldn’t be a big deal. I ended up buying 12 chicks. I found out shortly thereafter, the local farm store had baby chicks for sale and buying another 5 or so should be fine. Ultimately I ended up with a total of about 20, maybe 22. I can’t actually remember. When you don’t know how many chickens you have, you are afflicted with Chicken Math. It’s a real thing in the chicken keeping world. In other words, who is really counting how many chickens you have?

Baby Helen

This Is Where Helen Comes In

We went to a local farm store to pick up a couple…well, lets say a few more baby chicks. On the way home, I peeked in the box to look a little more closely at who was doing all the fussing. I looked at one little chick in particular. I noticed something wrong with one of her eyes. It looked a little droopy, not quite normal and healthy like the others. I told my husband, “I think there might be something wrong with this one. Her eye is not right. Maybe we should turn around and take her back.” That said, my husband floored the gas pedal, as he had enough fun for the day already, and away we went, headed for home. There was no turning back.

Cross Beak! What Is That?

I didn’t think a lot about it at the time. Around a week later, I noticed her beak wasn’t aligning properly. It was starting to cross, or “scissor”. I had no idea what was going on. As a first-time chicken mom, I worried about what I was seeing. Immediately, I started to research and soon discovered what I was dealing with. I had a chick with a cross beak, also known as “scissor beak”. Most of the information I read, said to cull her, as most cross beaks would never be able to live a normal life of a chicken. I read articles saying it was never going to get better, it was only going to get worse, and was basically a death sentence for my little chick.

Nope, not acceptable; I knew I couldn’t cull her. So what was I going to do? After careful thought and consideration, I decided what would it hurt to see if she could live with it. We decided we would take care of her and love her no matter what.

Only The Strong Survive

The information I gathered was right about one thing. It definitely got worse! In fact, I can’t imagine her beak any worse than it is. She learned to eat with her tongue. She would stick her tongue into the feed, and the crumbles would stick to it. That is how she ate. She has never been able to pick anything up with her severely crossed beak. She prefers a trough feeder, as that is what she started out with. However, she can also eat from other sorts of dishes and a treadle feeder as well.

At some point last year, the tip of her tongue sort of, well….dried up and fell off. Let me tell you, that was a frightening discovery! My first thought was, You have got to be kidding me, now what!? My heart sank. I knew this was it. She would no way be able to survive now, with only half of a normal tongue, right? I tried feeding her a wet mash with a dropper, very unsuccessfully. Believe me I tried! What. A. Mess. I thought, how am I going to do this all the time? I mean, let’s be real. To everyone’s surprise, she made it work somehow and continued to live and seemingly thrive. Helen is surprisingly still able to eat her dry crumbles, on her own.

Cross Beak, The Struggle Is Real

Helen is at the very bottom of the pecking order. She’s lived a stressful three and a half years of life so far, avoiding continuous harassment of the other hens. I thought it was best to keep Helen with her flock mates, in the beginning. After three years of continuous harassment, I ultimately decided enough was enough.

She had all her tail and back feathers painfully plucked out. She was continuously trying to live a peaceful life. However she was just not able to, due to the other chickens. She was different, and chickens instinctively know it and act on it! I decided it was time to make a move. It was time for her to have some peace in her life. We discussed it, Helen and I, and she very gracefully accepted my offer of a new home, and took up residency in our back screen porch. She now has her very own coop and private space, all to herself. No one bothers her anymore, except me.

Home Sweet Home

Living The Good Life, With A Friend!

And so, her new life begins. She quickly grew her tail feathers back, along with lots of other feathers I didn’t even realize were missing! Helen can eat and drink in peace, without being chased away by the other chickens. She can sun bathe and simply relax. She has her very own coop, adorned with a wreath on the door, her name placard proudly hung and a “friend” that I felt she needed, to keep her company.


Helen truly loves her friend, who is a taxidermied chicken that I’ve had for years. Yes, let me repeat that. It is a real, professional taxidermied Black Australorp hen. It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with. In short, it has to do with a family owned gift shop, some very old hens that lived a full life and a taxidermist that let them “live on”. I have several of them and I chose one to live with Helen, so she wouldn’t be completely alone.

Helen and Company

She took to her immediately and loves being by her side. I decided to offer her another friend, since the first hen was so compatible. I gave her a beautiful taxidermied Welsummer rooster for her to flirt with. She actually lost her mind for a moment! She attacked that rooster with such vengeance, I thought she was going to seriously hurt herself. Never, did I ever think she had it in her to do something like that. However, it’s Helen we’re talking about. She was now queen of her castle and surely wasn’t about to let an old rooster rule her roost, no way! Here is a video of Helen, ruling her roost!

And The Cross Beak Story Continues

It was very important to share Helen’s story. Just because a chicken has a cross beak, there is still hope for them. There is a lot of hope, actually. It is not an automatic death sentence. I think the key is, do what works. There are no set guidelines, on how to care for a cross beak. It really is all about doing what works for both of you.


I am glad my husband had a lead foot that day and didn’t turn around. We enjoy Helen so much. She is a big part of our family. I enjoy caring for her and doing what I can to improve her life in every way possible, and really, it doesn’t take all that much effort. Okay, that’s not entirely true. However, it’s what you do when you love a chicken or any pet that needs a little extra care. I’ve enjoyed every minute of caring for her. She gives us so much back and she doesn’t even know it. Helen is one very special girl.

Helen, The Little Chicken That Could…And Does

Do you have any cross beak chickens in your flock? Share with us in the comments below.

Top 4 Compost Methods using Chicken Manure July 24, 2020 No Comments

Compost using chicken manure
An open-air compost pile using chicken manure

It’s time to clean the chicken coop again and we have 4 compost methods for using chicken manure in your garden. While coop cleaning is not the best part of owning chickens, it’s definitely necessary. You are left with a pile of bedding and droppings, also known as the second-best thing a chicken can give us other than fresh eggs! Yes, seriously. You’ve just collected some really good stuff there. That soiled bedding is now compost gold and perfect for feeding to your garden…almost.

See, Chicken manure is high in nitrogen and runs really ‘hot’ in a garden bed when it’s fresh. Adding to the garden straight out of the coop will cause your plant’s roots to ‘burn’. Essentially killing all your hard work in the garden beds. Even using pine shavings can be too acidic to add directly to soil as-is. Composting chicken droppings and soiled bedding is the correct way to get it ready to feed your garden.

Chickens hang out in play yard
The poop monsters at work producing chicken manure

4 Methods to compost chicken manure and bedding

Here are the 4 best methods of composting which incorporate chicken manure that the staff of My Pet Chicken prefers to use:

1. Set It and Forget It

This is the easiest compost method using chicken manure. Yes, you can dump your pile over in the unseen part of your yard, or along an area you don’t frequent. Just leave the pile to decompose in its own time with no intervention. I’ve done this and I find by the next season, everything on the bottom of that pile from a year ago is just right to add to my soil as-is now. It’s a long wait but worth it.

2. Open Air 3-Stage Composting

This is another easy method that is considered a traditional method of composting. You can create three separate piles for this composting method. One pile for new compost, one pile for “cooking” compost, and the third pile for the finished dirt that goes back to feed your garden.

Stage 1 includes collecting items like food scraps, paper, yard waste, and soiled chicken bedding. Add all these compost ingredients to a dedicated pile. This pile will get hot in the center, up to 104 degrees, and help cook the compost while allowing beneficial bacteria to thrive. This pile will then begin the 2nd stage process where the composted items break down into their smaller bits and “cook” just before becoming dirt. It’s recommended to turn the compost ingredients weekly using a pitchfork in order to help speed up the process by delivering oxygen where needed. Stage 3 – After 4-6 months, your scraps have now turned into beautiful compost ready to be added to your garden.

3. Compost Tumbler

This small tumbler is a rotating bin. These often come with two compartments. In one compartment, you will add fresh compost ingredients while the ingredients in the second compartment are left to “cook.” It’s important to turn the tumbler regularly. The time it takes depends on the moisture content and temperatures in the tumbler. It can be pretty fast at an average of fewer than 6 months. Adding a compost accelerator can speed this up even more.

Compost Tumbler
This compost tumbler helps make finished compost in a shorter amount of time

4. Bokashi Composting

This is really fermentation composting. The goal is to ferment your collected waste over a 2 week period, then bury the waste right into your garden bed where you want to use it. Within 2-4 weeks, the compost will be completely broken down into dark soil. Some tips for starting Bokashi composting are: You can begin with a starter kit, including inoculated spent grains or a compost accelerator. You will need a container you can seal to put your compostables and soiled litter in with the inoculated grains. Double stacked 5-gallon bins are a good and alternative choice for this method. Make sure the container also has good drainage on the bottom so ‘sludge’ doesn’t build it.

Use your flock to live a more sustainable lifestyle

A backyard chicken flock helps you have a more sustainable lifestyle since you have no waste actually leftover from your chicken keeping. They have gifted you with food and now with a healthy fertilizer for your garden. Whether you grow trees and bushes for shade, flowers for a beautiful landscape or fruits and veggies to eat… your chickens are there to help. What amazing little creatures! By implementing any of these compost methods using chicken manure, it will help you live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Scratch, Check, Peck, Repeat July 11, 2020 2 Comments

Scratch, check, peck, repeat
Through the winter cold, in the summer heat
Under spring rain, through the autumn leaves
Scratch, check, peck, repeat.

Mottled Cochin Bantam checking for bugs

Here you see a bug, there you see a seed
Keep your body moving, everything you need
Lies underneath those busy, busy feet
Scratch, check, peck, repeat

Cackle, cluck, purr, sing
Early in the morning, hear our egg song ring
Soothing little sounds chatting through the day
Talking to each other like the words people say

A broody Mottled Cochin Bantam

Sit, brood, push–an egg!
Listen to the human as she starts to beg
“Breakfast, please, my pretty pet hens!”
We’re working on it here, my impatient human friend!

Dig, huddle, kick some dirt
Underneath your feathers, so the mites won’t hurt
Pick, shake, nibble, preen,
Gotta keep the feathers looking nice and clean

Scratch, Check, Peck, Repeat

Rest, relax, soak some sun
Perfect definition of some chicken fun
Eat, drink, explore, rest
Chillin’ like a chicken, feelin’ fine, no stress

Light’s getting dim, climb into the coop
Getting kind-of tired, must be time to roost
Rest, relax, beak under the wing
Wake up with the sun, do the same things!

A White Silkie Bantam is feelin’ fine

Every single day, every single week
Scratch, check, peck, repeat
Happy little chickens, best you’ll ever meet
Scratch…
Check…
Peck…

Repeat.

A happy Speckled Sussex after a long day of scratching for bugs

Use First Saturday Lime for Chickens & Your Garden Will Thank You! March 27, 2020 10 Comments

First Saturday Lime & Chickens go together
First Saturday Lime is great for the garden and chicken coop!

One of my must-have supplies for backyard homesteading is First Saturday lime. Garden lime (no, not the citrus plant!) is a rock powder that is widely used in organic gardening.

Garden lime is alternately called limestone, agricultural lime, aglime, or just plain lime. It’s all-natural, safe for pets and kids, and it’s organic-compliant.

(You can use any brand of garden lime, but we really like First Saturday. They’re family-run and they source their product responsibly, in America. Plus, they’re the nicest people!)

First Saturday Lime for your chickens

Lime helps reduce bacteria and repel bugs
Use garden lime in the chicken coop and run to help keep it clean.

Lime is another best friend to chicken keepers.

  • It’s an insect repellent. Lime repels ants, fleas, ticks, lice, mites, aphids, and small hive beetles. Sprinkle some where your flock takes dust baths to prevent mite and lice infestation on your birds.
  • In water, it combats mosquitoes and prevents algae from growing. This is good to keep in mind for the warmer months. Just sprinkle some anywhere you have standing water, including your flock’s waterer.
  • It kills stink-causing bacteria to help keep your coop smelling sweet and clean! It’s odor- and moisture-absorbent and therefore helps counteract the effects of ammonia build-up from chicken poop in-between coop cleanings. I sprinkle it in my coop in between cleanings
  • Spread it around the footprint of your chicken coop to keep carpenter ants and termites at bay.
Read the rest of this entry »

So you want chickens? Here are the first 4 rules of chicken farming. March 24, 2020 2 Comments

Does Coronavirus have you thinking about producing your own food? Sweet. But take a sec and think this through, please

Follow the rules of chicken farming for success

Yesterday I was chatting with a good friend who works at our local feed and seed store. They’ve been swamped with customers clearing out seed packs, buying up gardening supplies, and scooping up hens. That’s awesome, on two levels.

One, mom-and-pop feed stores like theirs have been hard hit by chain feed stores (you know, the ones that make you lug 50-pound bags of feed into your trunk yourselves). Two, people are about to experience the simple pleasures of producing their own food for the first time.

But then my friend told me about this one customer who came into the store to buy chickens and demanded that she write down everything about chicken care on a piece of paper.

Huh?

This, plus the fact that our own business is up 400%, inspired me to write down these 4 rules of chicken farming. Please at least clear these rules before you explore this obsession hobby further!

Chicken Farming Rule #1: If you don’t have time to learn how to care for chickens, you don’t have time to care for chickens.

Chicken care is so easy. We’ve dedicated the last 15 years to teaching people just that. I wrote this free how-to chicken care guide that takes about 30 minutes to read, no strings attached. You don’t have to sign up for anything, or give us your email address, and we never sell your data, anyway.

Chicken Farming Rule #1: learn to care for chickens

If you don’t have the time to read that, or any number of other online how-to guides, you don’t have time to care for chickens. Period.

Chicken Farming Rule #2: Be prepared to deal with death

This is a sad one, and it’s tempting to gloss over, but it’s important. Being a farmer means having to put on our big girl pants when it comes to losses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Coronavirus Chicken Checklist March 22, 2020 No Comments

How to breeze through the apocalypse with your flock

So you’re hunkered down, doing your patriotic duty to stop the spread of coronavirus. What next? I’ve come out with this coronavirus chicken checklist to help you make the most out of it.

1. Get the necessities: food, grit and shavings/bedding

Agriculture and feed stores won’t be forced to shut down — but still, others will be stocking up, and you don’t want to get into a situation where you can’t find any locally.

I’d like to tell you to buy from us, online, and we appreciate every order. But mom-and-pop feed stores are hurting right now, so if you can, give them your business first. If you don’t want to have to go into the store, maybe you can call in your order in advance and have them load your items right into your car when you arrive.

(If your feed store is out of stock, or there isn’t one nearby, of course we’re here to help!)

How much food?

Chickens eat, on average, a quarter pound per bird, per day. So if you have 10 hens, you should go through a fifty pound bag of feed in 20 days. If you want to have a 2-month supply, you’ll need to get 150 pounds of feed.

How much grit?

An average flock through a 5lb bag of grit about every other month. (Why grit is necessary.)

How much shavings?

That depends; how often does your coop get dirty? We go through about one bag per large coop per month, and one bag for every three small coops per month at our house. The good news is, shavings are inexpensive, so they’re easy to stock up on!

More on shavings and bedding

2. Share your extra eggs

If you have extra eggs, sharing them with the less fortunate is next on your coronavirus chicken checklist. So many people are feeling the hurt financially right now. Grocery store shelves are empty. Be the good! Put any eggs you can spare outside your door; post on Facebook; make a sign and put it by the side of the road. (Not like I need to tell you; chicken keepers are the best group of people I know.)

3. Get some babies!


If you have to be shut in, let some babies soothe your soul. ‘Nuff said.

(Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays is when you can get the best variety of chicks at MPC, including breeds that are sold out months in advance, because that’s when we count the difference between how many eggs were egg-spected vs. actually collected.)

Alternately, what about hatching? You could borrow an incubator if you don’t have one, or stick some eggs under a broody hen. There’s nothing like watching babies “unzip” out of their shells home… or like watching a fierce mother hen protect her brood.

Read the rest of this entry »

Agriculture & feed stores remain open per government order March 21, 2020 2 Comments

Feed stores will remain open

Are you concerned that if you order a new flock of chickens, you won’t be able to source feed? Don’t be: your local ag and feed stores will remain open! Agriculture stores won’t be forced to shut down per Presidential Policy Directive 21.

Even as governors shut down retail businesses and ask people to shelter in place, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designates the Food and Agriculture industries as “critical infrastructure.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share eggs & get your stingy town to (finally) legalize chickens March 19, 2020 1 Comment

Give away your eggs so your town stops stomping on backyard chickens
Give away your extra eggs: One strategy to get chickens legalized

Do you live in a town you wish would stop stomping on backyard chickens? Have you tried to legalize chickens and failed? Does your town council or zoning commission seem to want to control your every move? Do they force you to pay for a permit for the privilege of raising a few hens? In other words…

…does your town think it’s too “classy” for chickens?

Well, now’s the time to show them that we chicken keepers are the true class act. It’s time to show them once and for all why they need to encourage chicken-keeping — for everyone’s benefit.

In this challenging time, folks all over America are coming together and helping one another in beautiful ways. Knowing what I know about chicken keepers, you’ve been helping people for years.

(Yes, chicken keepers, I see you: you, fostering kids in need; adopting the “unadoptable;” homeschooling; volunteering for Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity and a million other causes; gardening because you don’t want pesticides in your food, and donating your extra veggies. You are a special bunch and you deserve recognition.)

In reality, backyard chickens are a positive good for your town.

In my town, the grocery stores were all out of eggs a few days ago. I know because neighbors and friends were texting us begging for a dozen. We were the only people they know who kept chickens. Of course, we shared.

Empty egg shelves in grocery stores
Empty shelves at a grocery store in Chicago

In doing so, we realized that there had to be many more who not only needed eggs for their recipes, but might be so desperate financially that a dozen eggs could be a God-send. This alone was reason enough to give away our extra eggs. So we did that, too. We made this cute little sign and we are putting eggs out for free whenever we can.

The coronavirus provides a salient, timely and in-your-face example of how we chicken keepers can benefit the community. In reality, though, every time we gift a dozen eggs to someone less fortunate, we’re helping our community. Yes, you, me, all of us: we’ve been giving away our extra eggs for years — our towns just never gave a hoot (or a cluck?), because eggs were readily available in the stores.

Now, maybe they’ll finally pay attention.

Give away your extra eggs
Our daily egg take is an embarrassment of riches

So give your eggs away for free (like you do anyway) to get chicken regulations re-written.

Go on with your lovely selves, find someone in need, and share your extra eggs—just like you always do.

When life returns to normal and it comes time to once again fight your town to legalize chickens, or to ask yet again that they loosen restrictions from the preposterous one-chicken-per-acre rule (or whatever such garbage zoning code your town employs to make it all but impossible), you can remind them that in its time of need, chicken keepers showed up for their neighbors.

Our ability to help in meaningful ways is all the reason our towns should need to finally write reasonable regulations around the the keeping of chickens.

If they don’t, they’ll have egg all over their faces.

Don't forget to document it!
Remind your town why they should permit chickens

(PSST: Don’t forget to take photos to prove it!)

Evidence is key! They won’t take your word for it. So don’t forget to take photos of your good deeds. Post on social media, #shareeggs. Get the word out. Keep those 501(c)3 receipts from your local food bank. Ask your egg takers to come to those future zoning meetings, if they can, to speak up for you — you who had their backs when they were down and out.

Three cheers for all us backyard chicken keepers. Let’s do this!

My Pet Chicken is open for business! March 13, 2020 1 Comment

With so much uncertainty around you-know-what, with schools and businesses closing, we want to let you know where we are. And as of today, we are open for business! Here’s what you need to know:

We are ppen for business
Chicks are shipping!

COVID-19 does not affect birds as far as we know

Our understanding is that birds do not carry COVID-19 and that they cannot communicate it to humans.

The CDC says “There is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus. To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19.”

Read the latest animal-related COVID info from the CDC, here.

Products are shipping on time

  • Our partner breeders and hatcheries are still hatching and shipping chicks, waterfowl, started pullets and hatching eggs.
  • Our product fulfillment centers are still open, and shipping coops and supplies on time, for now.
  • Some of our chicken coops are quite low in supply, however, and it may be a few months until we receive more. Affected products are marked as such, so you won’t have to guess. If you think you might need a chicken coop, in other words, you are best to purchase soon.
  • As of today, we have no word of post offices shutting down, but that could happen, so if you’re expecting an order of chicks, it’s best to call your local post office in advance for pickup instructions (which we always recommend, in any case).
  • Coronavirus can survive on cardboard shipping boxes for a short time. Read about that and how to disinfect surfaces.

Our staff is staying safe

  • My Pet Chicken has always been a virtual business. Our staff work from their own homes around the country. Therefore our operations remain “business as usual.”
  • Our partner breeders and hatcheries have their non-essential staff working from home, and essential staff taking extra precautions to stay healthy.

While this time is a bit scary and uncertain for everyone, we at My Pet Chicken, and our partners, will continue to do the very best we can for you as we remain open for business. Thank you for your trust in us. Please stay safe!

March Backyard Chicken Checklist: 5 Pro Tips March 5, 2020 2 Comments

Spring has almost arrived! March 20th, 2020 is the spring equinox and we will all soon be enjoying more sunlight hours, with earlier dawns and later sunsets. (Thank goodness….) Here’s my March backyard chicken checklist to help you prepare for spring with chickens.

1.Incorporate chickens into your garden plans

Gardening is the whole reason I got into chickens in the first place, so it ranks first on my March backyard chicken checklist. Keeping chickens can seriously contribute to gardening success: after all, chickens eat plant pests. Their droppings and litter make for some truly amazing compost. They can clean up your beds in fall and take care of those extra veggies when you have more than you can handle. But they can also cause destruction and eat your garden in the blink of an eye! Here are the top 5 ways to combine raising backyard chickens and gardening while saving your plants from being eaten.

Backyard chicken tip 1: plan for gardening with chickens
Backyard chicken tip 1: Plan for gardening with chickens

Don’t forget, though, when you’re planning your spring garden, that some plants are poisonous to your flock, and choose alternatives accordingly. Chickens are foraging birds by nature. They will take a small taste of most plants to determine what is good to eat and what is not. While they seem to have a pretty good ability to determine what to stay away from, it’s always better safe than sorry, right?

Read the rest of this entry »