How I trick my chickens into growing my garden July 21, 2017 No Comments

I will admit this up-front: I want my garden to be great.  Not just okay, but great.  But here’s the problem: I don’t want to work hard. Here’s how I trick my chickens into growing my garden.

Yes, I’m a lazy gardener.

Thankfully, chickens are NOT lazy. They love to forage, and that can help make wonderful garden compost that you can use to grow a truly great garden.  Combining chickens and gardening is itself actually pretty fun!  You can also trick your chickens into doing your yardwork. Below, you will find my secret to growing one of my favorite foods—sweet potatoes—and how I use my chickens and my local eco-loop (the circle of organic resources around me) to get those delicious, healthy tubers.

Let’s get started!

How I trick my chickens into growing my garden

The first ingredient is LEAVES.

Yes, leaves.  My town gives truckloads of leaves to residents that ask for them.  So every year I have a huge delivery or two left in my side-yard. Perhaps you have your own leaves you can rake up in the fall. You can even volunteer to rake up your neighbor’s leaves, too.  They’ll LOVE you for it!

However you get them, fall leaves can be a good way to infuse organic material into your garden if you do it right! But please bear a few things in mind if you want to toss fall leaves in to your chickens: leaves are not bedding. They are not absorbent, so do a bit at a time to avoid having the leaves turn into a rotting mess. And if your run is grassy and you want to maintain the grass, adding a huge pile of leaves on top is likely to interfere.

But those considerations aside…

A huge pile of free leaves provided by my town.

Move some leaves into your chicken run.

With the size of my flock and the size of my run, I put a few wheelbarrow-full loads in the run and gradually add more as the chickens break down the first layer.  The chickens love it!  On days that I put loads of leaves in their run, I have noted a substantial drop in the amount of feed they consume, which saves me money. This video that shows my excited chickens tearing through a new batch of leaf litter:


As you can see, it doesn’t take long for the birds to scratch through the leaves and find any bugs or seeds.  In the process, they break the leaves down. They also add nitrogen by pooping on it. Finally, they stir up the leaves with the dirt in the run, creating wonderful garden soil.

Chicken-generated garden soil.

Move the chicken-generated soil to your new growing beds.

When I see that the leaves are broken down enough to be used in the garden, I take as much as I need out of the run, and spread it over my new growing beds.

Chicken-generated garden soil delivered to a new sweet potato growing bed.

How I trick my chickens into growing my garden: sweet potatoes

Now that you’ve got your growing bed prepped with amazing, chicken-generated garden soil, you’re ready to start growing your favorite veggies.  Here are my tips for how you can grow sweet potatoes in this soil.

First, start with your harvest of sweet potatoes from last year. 

What?  You didn’t grow sweet potatoes last year?  That’s okay. Just start by purchasing sweet potato slips from a seed supplier instead.   (I’ve been growing Beauregard sweet potatoes for years, but you may prefer a different variety.)

The picture below shows one of the sweet potatoes that I harvested early last November.  My family and I ate the smaller tubers, but saved the larger ones like this one to let them sprout and begin to grow what’s called a “slip.”  A slip is a sprout that comes from the sweet potato.  I store my sweet potato tubers all winter, and they usually start to grow slips in March.

A sweet potato with a new slip growing out the right side.

Next, root those slips!

Once the slips are about 4 inches long, I break them off the potato from the base of the slip and put them in water to begin to grow roots.  I use test tubes for my rooting slips, but any container or small vase with water would likely work.

Test tube with a rooting sweet potato slip

Set your rooting slips in a nice window sill so they can get some sun to help them grow leaves as well as roots.

Several sweet potato slips getting ready to go in the garden!

Finally, plant your slips!

I live in USDA Zone 7b in North Carolina. That means I plant my sweet potato slips around mid-May, when the ground is sufficiently warm and there is no chance of frost.  When you plant your slips will be determined by your local USDA hardiness zone and your climate.

To get those really large sweet potatoes, they’ll need a good 3 to 5 month growing season without danger of frost.  Plant them in  full sun, the more sun the better.  You’ll want to water your new slips in really well for the first few days.  They may look a little droopy at first, but have no fear!  They’ll perk up and begin growing like crazy within just a few weeks.

How I trick my chickens into growing my garden sweet potatoes

Baby sweet potatoes in mid-May

Sweet potatoes are a vine plant, so be ready to give them some room to spread.  If you don’t have the space, you can set up trellising to help them grow vertically.

Sweet potato vines in mid-July

SUPER GARDENER HINT: Don’t let the long vines that grow from the slips stay on the ground in one place too long.  Wherever they touch the ground, they’ll attempt to root again and form a new plant.  If they are allowed to do that, the new plant will take nutrients and growth away from the main slip and will produce more small tubers instead of the larger, big tubers you’ll want to be able to cook with.  

About once a week, when it’s time to cut the grass, I go around my sweet potato bed and lift any vines that were on the ground to get them out of the way.  In so doing, I remove any vine roots that have formed and redirect all the plant’s energy to the main plant.  That way I get the biggest sweet potatoes possible for my garden!

The Sweet, Sweet Harvest

Just before our first frost in October or November (or just after the frost if I’m late), it’s time to dig through the sweet potato bed and find the treasure—big, wonderful, delicious, healthy sweet potatoes!  Your kids will even enjoy this treasure hunt, so feel free to get them involved.  The one who finds the biggest tuber wins!

How I trick my chickens into growing my garden sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes the same size and shape as my head!

I store sweet potatoes on my seed station and eat them regularly throughout the winter.  Don’t forget to save some of the best ones to let them sprout slips to use for next year’s harvest.  If you do that, you’ll never have to buy sweet potato slips again!

How I trick my chickens into growing my garden sweet potatoes

A very plentiful harvest!

There you go!

That’s how leaves and chickens combine to produce a bountiful harvest of sweet potatoes.  You can use these tips to grow all kinds of veggies in your own garden.  Your chickens, your stomach, and Mother Earth will thank you!

2 Ways Chickens Change the World (literally!) June 2, 2017 No Comments

It’s easy to look at our world today and buy into a narrative of hopelessness and despair.  The headlines in our 24/7 news cycle world are never lacking for violence, fear, and desperation.  Even while our world grows smaller and cultures grow closer through the almost-miraculous information-sharing capability of the internet, we often feel deep insecurity in the midst of perpetual national and international intrigue, cultural infighting, and division.

Is there any hope?  And here’s a crazy question: Can chickens help us?

Well, my idealistic answer is YES!

Orpington chickens change the world

Orpington chickens change the world

I’ve kept chickens for over eight years, and they have taught me and my family many lessons, lessons about how chickens change the world, literally!

Two ways chicken change the world

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Chicken Activist One-Eyed Sal: Exclusive Interview April 20, 2017 2 Comments

Chicken Activist Sally Bird—or as she is affectionately known, “One-Eyed Sal”—is a Barred Plymouth Rock and an activist for change within chicken-kind, an outspoken critic of the pecking order as it now stands, and an influential member of her flock.  She granted us an exclusive interview from her coop and run on a lovely spring day in North Carolina.

Here is a transcript of our conversation:


Thanks so much for your time today, Sally.  Do you mind if I call you that?

No problem.  That’s my “given” name anyway, right?  “One-Eyed Sal” is a nickname.  You can call me either.


Thanks.  So before we get started, do you mind telling us the story of how you came to be known as “One-Eyed Sal”?

Sure.  Everybody seems to want to know that story!  The short answer is, when I was a young chick I had a neurological problem that caused me to lose sight in one of my eyes, but fortunately, I was able to overcome that.

One-Eyed Sal, Chicken Activist

We’re so glad you did!  Does that history play a part in your activism today?

Of course—yes—it does.  I think I wouldn’t be as sensitive to the needs of members of the flock that are disabled if I, too, didn’t have my own struggles I deal with every day.  Also, and this is important, if it weren’t for my early chickhood experiences, I wouldn’t be such an advocate for better healthcare for chickens everywhere.

Here’s the thing: when I was struggling as a chick, my flock caregivers didn’t know exactly what to do.  They weren’t trained vets and couldn’t find one to treat me, so they did what they thought was right: they set me away from the rest of the flock.  Isolating a chicken with a communicable disease is usually the best course, but sometimes chickens don’t recover, especially without veterinary treatment. I’m lucky that I survived.

Thankfully, my caregivers were checking on me regularly—they really did want to help if they could—and when they saw that I somehow recovered, only losing my vision in one eye in the process, they put me back in with the rest of my flock. As they say, the rest is history!


So based on your experience, what changes would you like to see in the healthcare system?

Because of my experience and the suffering I’ve seen in my flock, I’ve realized that we need chicken healthcare reform.  First, there just isn’t enough access to good, qualified vet services.  There are vets on every corner for dogs and cats, but in places you can go miles and miles and never find a vet that specializes in Avian Medicine.  This needs to change.

Also, even if my caregivers had found a good vet, they couldn’t have afforded the prices to get me good care.  It’s unfortunate that access to a doctor does not mean true access to healthcare; too many chickens are excluded from good, basic veterinary care because our system drives costs up and drives accessibility down.  I’ve been working hard so that average chickens can get the care they need at an affordable price.


Those are huge, difficult reforms.  Have you seen any progress?

Yes. These reforms are very difficult, and it can be exhausting trying to fix “the system” day after day, but if I help just one chicken, it’s worth it!

And progress HAS been made.  One of the best examples is the accessibility to information for common chicken caregivers.  There is SO MUCH helpful information out there!  For example, your site,, has a “Chicken Help” section with more than 300 articles to help caregivers provide the best care for their chickens.  Of course, the best option for a sick bird is always to go to a veterinarian for professional assistance, but when that isn’t available, resources like these are invaluable!

In fact, and I’m not ashamed to say this, since it happens to many of us hens sometimes, when I was egg bound, my caregivers were able to find helpful advice to care for me, and it worked.  I’ll be forever grateful to them for that!


You have been through a lot!  Yet you’ve remained hopeful.  Other than access to quality, affordable healthcare, what projects are you passionate about now?

Yes, I’ve been through even more than the partial loss of vision.  Maybe later I’ll tell you those stories!

Right now I’m primarily interested in pecking order reform.  I see this as a crucial issue for chicken-kind.  Here’s the thing: because of my disability, I’ve always been near the bottom of the pecking order.  Many of my flockmates see me as a liability to the flock instead of an asset.  Even though I’m smart, resourceful, and kind, they still fear me because I’m “different.”  Thankfully, since I am smart, I’ve been able to dodge trouble most of the time, but I can still feel like an outsider because one of my eyes doesn’t function properly.


Being “plucky” is a characteristic of your breed, the Barred Plymouth Rock,  after all, isn’t it?

“Plucky.”  That’s a funny word.  When someone told me that described me I had to look it up!  It was a new one for me.  It means, “having or showing determined courage in the face of difficulties.”  I like that!  And yes, I guess it does describe me.  But I don’t primarily see myself as a “Barred Plymouth Rock;” I see myself as a member of the overall chicken family.  I want chickens everywhere to know that they don’t have to be defined by their breed, their size, or what others say about them.  Anyone, anywhere, can be “plucky.”  We all face hardships, and we can all show courage and determination in the face of difficulty.  It’s not just for Barred Plymouth Rocks; it’s for everyone!

As you can see, I’m concerned that we separate ourselves by appearance.  Should bantams be picked on just because they are smaller?  They were born that way, and I think we larger breeds shouldn’t discriminate against them for it.  The same is true across all the breeds.  I love to see Barred Rocks getting along with Speckled Sussex, and Silkies enjoying the company of Polish breeds.  All the different colors, all the different feather patterns: I’m not advocating breed “blindness” (something I know about!),  but celebration of all this diversity!  It breaks my heart to see chickens separating themselves by breeds, kinship, looks, when they could be learning from one another!

Vive la difference, I say!

What’s worse is when chickens from different flocks see one another as enemies and want to fight one another.  It’s heartbreaking!

We have to be able to learn to get along with one another.  I know that, genetically speaking, we are “wired” to see those outside our flock as a threat, but though that may have worked to keep us safe in the past when we were so separated, now that we have such access to information through transportation and internet technology, it’s my dream that we can move past our genetic “wiring” to see that all of chicken-dom is one big family, that we are interdependent and need one another, and because of that understanding, have peace among ourselves.


That’s a BIG dream.  How do you think chickens can go about realizing that dream?

Thanks for asking!  There are some basic, fairly simple steps that can be taken to help new flocks integrate with existing flocks.  You have an article on your website that talks about it, I think.   First, as you know, training begins when we are young chicks, and that’s an important age to teach inclusion and acceptance.  The main thing is we have to get to know one another—and that may be a slow process with starts and stops. And some personalities just clash, you know?  But that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground and work together for the good for our flock.

It’s when we separate ourselves from one another, retreating into our own safe coops and runs and nesting boxes, and refuse to come out and see what another hen’s point of view may be… that’s when we have trouble.  I’m not denying that there are real tensions in our flock, even real bullies, but we have to lower the stress levels, sit beside each other on the roosting polls, eat with one another at the feeders, and drink together at the waterers.  When we do, we find that, though we may be different on the outside, on the inside we all have the same dreams, hopes, and goals.


So are you saying that there should be no pecking order at all?

No, if by “pecking order” you mean “social structure.”  All social societies like flocks of chickens need structure and order.  What I would like to see is “order” without the “pecking”!  Imagine a flock in which leadership is not based on who’s the biggest or the strongest, or – even worse – the biggest bully, but a flock in which leadership is based on who brings the chickens together for common solutions best, who helps all members of the flock have their voices heard, who shares their treats instead of hoarding them.  Leadership should not be based on which bird is the most threatening, but on which one exemplifies concern and care for the flock.

Too often the chicken with the biggest squawk drowns out the voice of the others, and fails to take the next generation of chicks into account when they make decisions.  If our decisions will affect future generations of chickens to come, why don’t we take them into account when we deciding what to do?


Some say you are too idealistic, that you’ll never see these reforms.  What do you say to them?

Yes.  I get that a lot.  Here’s the thing: I’m AM idealistic, but I’m also realistic.  Chickens have been doing things the way they do for thousands of years, and change takes time and patience.  I’m willing to put in the time, to do the hard work, and I’m hoping to inspire future generations of everyday chickens to join in the struggle for peace and flock-mindedness.  I know it won’t happen completely in my lifetime, but I can do my part, and so can you!


Our interview went on to address many other issues including environmental reform, change requests for human caregivers, and her other “survival” stories.  We hope to post the remainder of our interview in an upcoming blog.

7 Reasons your Flock Needs a Giant Brahma April 5, 2017 6 Comments

By now you’ve probably seen the viral videos of that giant brahma rooster strolling out of his tiny little coop.  Millions of people have viewed the video of the “largest chicken in the world!” We know that because so many of you immediately came to us to ask about the breed,and to ask, “How big do Giant Brahmas get?” Some didn’t ask–some simply stated, “I want a giant Brahma chicken! Help me out!”

It’s amazing how a breed can go from relative obscurity to overnight global popularity!  Welcome to the age of the internet! And we’re happy to help!

But is it true?  Do “giant” chicken breeds exist?  Or is there some kind of camera trick going on here?  And even if the birds in those videos are larger than average, are they really the “biggest in the world”?  One source estimates there are as many as 19 BILLION chickens on planet earth, so how could you even know which one is the biggest?  Did they measure every chicken on earth?

Well, of course not.  But that said…

There ARE giant breeds. And the giant Brahma isn’t even the largest!

giant brahma chicken


Surprisingly, the giant brahma star of those popular videos is NOT the largest known chicken breed.  The largest recognized chicken breed is actually the Jersey Giant, which commonly grows to be a few pounds larger.

Brahma roosters generally get as large as 12+ lbs, and hens will be about 9.5 lbs. or more when fully mature and well fed. The breed is relative slow-growing, and can take up to 3 years to reach full size, so it will take some time for a rooster to get really GIANT!

So how about those giant roosters in the videos, are they bigger? It’s tought to tell from a vid alone, but those guys look like they may weigh as much as 20 lbs! Most Brahmas purchased in the United States will be closer to the “normal” Brahma size (which may still dwarf the other breeds in your flock). But a larger size and weight is possible if you choose to breed and rear for those traits. 

So, should you consider Brahmas for your flock? Absolutely! Here are seven great reasons to add a giant Brahma to your backyard flock!

7 Reasons your Flock Needs “Giant” Brahma

  1. Brahmas are big!  Not normally as big as the roosters in those videos, but they will grow to be very large compared to most standard-sized breeds, and could become quite a conversation piece in your flock.
  2. Brahmas are friendly!  Brahmas are known to be generally friendly, docile, “huggable,” and quiet and tame. They’re kind of the Great Danes of the chicken world!  Plus, they tolerate confinement well, so you don’t have to worry about flighty Brahmas.

    not-so- giant Brahma chicken---this is a bantam!

    My Buff Brahma Bantam loves to get on my shoulder!

  3. Brahmas are beautiful!  From their cool black hackle “necklace,” to their graciously feathered feet, Brahmas look fun and fancy, and they come in more than just white.  The Buff, White, and Black varieties are recognized by the American Poultry Society.  You can see the colors My Pet Chicken offers here.
  4. Brahmas make breakfast!  They are can be expected to lay 3 medium-sized brown eggs per week, or about 150 eggs per year. You can’t get THAT from a Great Dane!
  5. Brahmas make good mamas!  With a tendency toward broodiness, Brahmas have the reputation to be good setters, which will come in handy when you try to breed your own giant Brahmas!
  6. Brahmas are hardy!  Cold?  No problem.  Heat?  Yes, they can handle heat as well!  Just bear in mind with any breed, if it gets really hot for a long period of time, you may need to intervene a little to make them more comfortable.  Here are some tips from our Chicken Help section to know how to do that: What should I do if my chickens get too hot?
  7. Brahmas can be tiny, too!  While standard Brahmas are among the largest chickens, Brahma bantams are a wonderful, tiny option to consider for those who love the Brahma but aren’t ready for the size.  You can see our Buff Brahma Bantams here: My Pet Chicken: Buff Brahma Bantams.
Giant brahma chicken

Have I stepped on anyone?

Want to learn more about Brahmas and other great chicken breeds?  Check them out in our My Pet Chicken: Breeds List

Ready to order a Brahma for your flock?  You can see our current availability of the Brahma here: My Pet Chicken: Brahma Breeds


Power Out? 3 Ways to Save the Hatching Eggs March 26, 2017 No Comments

Incubating can be such an adventure. As exciting as it is, though, there are also many things that can go wrong! When we rely on machine incubation instead of a broody hen, it’s a good idea to be prepared to save the hatching eggs in the event of an emergency power outage.

Now, don’t let the risks discourage you! Hatching eggs can be incredibly rewarding and well worth the effort—we just have to be sure we have a contingency plan in place for if something goes wrong.

Chick pipping out of her shell

Save the babies! —Stevie Wonder

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Cuckoo for Cuckoos – Cuckoo Bluebars, that is! March 24, 2017 No Comments

At my house, we recently had the privilege of hatching some of My Pet Chicken’s Cuckoo Bluebars, and what an experience it was! We have never ordered fertile eggs before, always hatching eggs from our existing flock, so even the shipping side was a new experience for us. You can also get cuckoo bluebar started pullets (which are older birds), but we love chicks and we love to hatch, so we started with the cuckoo bluebar eggs.

When fertile eggs are shipped, the post office is instructed to hold them for pickup, but somehow, mine slipped through and were out for delivery with the regular carrier. Our fabulous Post Master tracked down the carrier, and hand delivered them right to my door! Love when we find somebody that goes above and beyond the expectation to get the job done!

Bluebars will lay blue eggs… but they hatch out of white or cream colored eggs.


Look how snugly and neatly these are packaged!

We received 20 eggs and candled immediately, looking for damage or stress cracks. Read the rest of this entry »

Inside Birdbrains: Chicken Joke Survey Results! March 23, 2017 4 Comments

The Most Comprehensive Survey of Chickens Ever!

Finally—after incubating the idea for months—the results have hatched!  Through months of vigorous surveying by phone and chicken joke focus groups, My Pet Chicken was able to interview more than 10,000 American chickens from a variety of breeds, geographic locations, and socio-economic situations. Our Annual Report on What Chickens Think—Groaner Version—is here!

Chicken saying "epic!" chicken joke

Epic chicken joke survey results

We’d like to thank all the birds who completed the interviews and didn’t make a straight run for the door, accepting our invitation to vent their opinions on a free range of subjects, including sports, current events, pop culture, and more.

If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on inside those bird-brains, here’s a sneak peak into what chickens think:

Top TV Shows for Chickens

What do chickens enjoy watching on the small screen?  The results may surprise you:

  1. Favorite drama – The Eggs Files
  2. Favorite variety show – America’s Got Talons
  3. Favorite comedy – It’s Always Sunny Side Up in Philadelphia

Surprisingly, “Who’s Line is it, Anyway?” was mentioned by several of those who responded.  Why?  One Barred Rock from Plymouth explained: Read the rest of this entry »

Chicken Consultant: Top 3 Most Difficult Questions March 21, 2017 1 Comment

It’s the Chicken Consultant again! You know me…chicken chatting is my profession. That in itself is difficult enough to explain to people when they run into me at the store, at a party or simply out and about in town.  It does for sure cause a hold up on my errand days though. My store trip can go from a 5 minute “run in and run out” to a 30 minute discussion about a down-and-out hen for a lucky shopper who ran into me.

Some situations with your bird can be outside the norm. This Chicken Consultant sure doesn’t have all the answers! This means I’ve been stumped more than once by some poultry mysteries. So, though I’m here to help, I may not have the answers you need. I sure do help as best I can, even if  I can only get you on the right path to finding answers.

These top 3 difficult questions are often best answered by thoughtful consideration, visiting veterinary experts, and/or process of elimination.

Top 3 most difficult questions for a Chicken Consultant

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Chicken privacy March 10, 2017 8 Comments

I was ready for many adventures when I decided to start keeping chickens! I imagined us all in the garden working and snacking together. I envisioned us napping on the hammock under the summer sun. I knew we would have many interesting conversations, even though I don’t know how to cluck! The one thing that I failed to see was the loss of my privacy. Chicken privacy is something different—-something I didn’t expect!

Buff orpington hamming it up for the camera

Buff Orpington

MY privacy started to turn into “chicken privacy” little by little. First with little peeks in the window: ‘Hello, hi, are you busy? Got any treats?’

“Yes, I have treats… and how can I refuse? Look at you, so cute peeking in my window asking politely.”

Of course, I opened the door to give her the treats.

The was the first moment I began to experience chicken privacy

Fern peeks in to check for treats.

Here’s where it got hairy. Or maybe feathery. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicken Coop Fire – Moving On After Tragedy March 8, 2017 10 Comments

I killed them all.

Eighteen faithful hens, some very old, from our original, first flock.

One beautiful Buff Orpington rooster: Captain Fluffybutt!

It was all my fault. I cared too much! February 15, 2015: it was really cold,  about 5 degrees. It was also really windy, and it had been dry for a long time. Surely they needed an additional heat source, right? At least enough to keep their water from freezing?

Sure, I thought. So I mounted the heat lamp lower to the ground than usual, closer to the waterer.

Big mistake…

chicken coop fire

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