Special this year!
* guest booth from the Humane Society of the United States
* four foster hens from Animal Place ready for adoption
We live in Los Altos and share our backyard with five wonderful pet chickens. Ginger, Poppy, and Sage are Ameraucanas we bought as chicks/pullets a few years ago. Tarra and Marjo are White Leghorns we adopted last year.
Yes! You can adopt chickens! Like cats and dogs, there are many chickens waiting for their forever home.
Our rescues come from a battery cage farm raising hens for egg production. They have been rescued by Animal Place, a sanctuary for farmed animals.
We put together some information that may be interesting for new chicken pet owners. After a quick intro of our hens, you will find information on why to adopt chickens and how to care for them (including details of our coop).
Come and visit our coop on September 17, 2016!
Peter & Isabelle
Ginger is our first hen. She is a 7 year old Ameraucana.
We got her at 9 months with 2 other pullets from a farm raising chicks.
She is quite beautiful with her blond muff and beard, and she knows it! She loves posing for the camera.
She also loves her greens, especially kales and chards.
When she is molting, she gets very grumpy and wants to roost in the trees instead of going back into the coop for the night.
Poppy & Sage
Poppy and Sage are 3 year old Ameraucanas.
We bought them as 1 week old chicks. It was fun watching them grow (very fast!).
Sage is the smallest of the Ameraucanas. She is funny with black muff, blond beard, and her tiny askew comb.
She loves announcing very publicly that she laid an egg. And she gets really upset when someone is in her favorite nest when it’s time to lay.
Tarra & Marjo
Tarragon and Marjoram are the latest addition to the flock.
They are 3.5 year old White Leghorns rescued by Animal Place from a battery cage farm.
Despite being debeaked and missing few feathers, they are very fashionable. They wear their comb as a French beret. Tarra wears it on the left side, whereas Marjo wears it on the right.
Tarra is the smallest of all the hens and a bit skittish.
She had a few missing feathers, and her tail looked like a porcupine as only the shafts remained, she regrew new feathers during the last molt.
Marjo has almost no upper beak. She has difficulties pecking at bugs, seeds… anything that isn’t in a deep dish.
But it doesn’t stop her to be the alpha of the whole flock. All is in the attitude!
She learned to pick out the queen of hearts from a deck of cards. Watch her. It’s quite amazing!
Why adopting chickens?
Chickens are just great pets!
They are fun, social, cute, each has their own personality.
And they are much less maintenance than our cats and dog!
Chickens are also wonderful gardener helpers!
They eat bugs and grubs, weed the garden, and generate nitrogen fertilizer (we put their poop in our compost pile which is then used in our vegetable garden).
Rescue chickens are very rewarding.
They blossom from skinny beaten up birds to beautiful hens. It’s amazing to watch them discovering how to be a chicken: opening their wings, taking a dust bath, tasting new food for the first time.
Adopting a hen actually saves more than one hen’s life.
Not only does it allow hen rescue organizations to keep on saving hens from egg farms, it also discourages the breeding of chicks for backyard flocks.
As with any pet, realize that chickens live for many years and require an investment (food, shelter, vet…).
How to care for chickens?
The next sections give some information about our coop and what we feed our chickens.
Our main coop consists of a small house and a large run.
The house is 4’x3′ with 3 nesting boxes and a roost. The run is 21’x8’6″ and fully enclosed. There is no screen at the bottom to allow the hens to scratch their heart’s content and enjoy deep dust baths. Instead a 2′ deep hex netting (1/2″ mesh) is buried underground all around the coop to prevent any critters to dig under.
We got this coop from Green Chicken Coop which has recently been bought by Frontier Chicken Coops and extended the A frame run quite a bit to give lots of space to the girls.
This coop is completely predator proof. The hens (and we!) can sleep tight at night.
During the day, the hens have access to our orchard (about 2500 sqft).
This area is fenced with a 7′ wood fence towards the neighbors, and with a 4′ sheep wire fence to the rest of our backyard. This protects the hens from our dog, and the vegetable garden from the hens!
Where we live, hawks are the main predators. They already killed 2 of our hens. Now we only let them in the orchard when we are outside in the backyard.
We have another coop for guest chickens. It’s a fun little coop we got from Omlet. It’s super easy to sanitize which is quite essential to offer a perfectly clean home to our guests. And it can be moved around which allows greener grass to the chickens who can’t go free range.
We free feed our chickens with an organic complete feed from Modesto Milling.
They have 2 recipes: the “layer” and the “broiler finisher”. They are essentially the same except that there is extra calcium in the “layer” one. We use the “layer” feed only when all the hens are laying, otherwise we use the “broiler finisher” feed and have an extra bowl of calcium (oyster shells) on the side.
The feed comes in 2 forms: pellets or crumbles. We used to use pellets as it generates little waste, but had to switch to crumbles after adopting Marjo who is severely debeaked and had difficulties eating pellets.
In addition to their feed, they get lots of fruits and veggies. Kales and chards that we grow especially for them. Apricots, tomatoes, cucumbers… nibbled by the squirrel thief squad patrolling our garden. And most of our leftover and kitchen scrap.
They also get scratch (mix of wheat, barley, oat, corn, and sunflower) as treats. They love it! This is what we use to teach them to go back in their coop on demand.
Since the arrival of the rescue hens, we have also been feeding them some of their own eggs (hard boiled and crushed). It’s full of protein and calcium, and helps them compensate for the unnatural quantity of eggs they have been bred to produce.
Other things to see in the garden
There is an old apricot tree from the original orchard which still produces delicious fruits, and 4 young multi-grafted fruit trees.
Since the hens have access to the orchard and they love digging, we replaced the traditional basin irrigation by drip irrigation.
The smaller bushes like the blueberries and red currants are protected from the avid diggers!
The vegetable garden
There are 10 raised beds where we grow veggies all year round, both for us and the hens.
When a bed is not used, we usually grow a cover crop in it (aka green manure).
There are lots of critters (squirrels in particular) who use our garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet. We built different structures to try to keep some of the harvest to ourselves!
The compost pile
Almost nothing goes to the yard waste at our home. All goes to the compost pile directly or indirectly via the hens…
There are 2 piles: one to add new stuff and one that finishes off. It’s mostly a slow composting process, although it does become hot with the right proportion of greens and browns.
The finished compost is used in the vegetable garden.
Mulch and lawn
With the drought, we removed most of the lawn and heavily mulched the soil. The frontyard is a native/mediterranean garden since 2013.
Mulch is a wonderful way to keep your soil healthy, add organic matter, conserve water, reduce soil compaction… and all while preventing weeds to grow!
The reduced lawn consists of 2 different grasses: the seashore bentgrass (agrostis pallens) which is a native cool season grass, and the UC verde buffalograss which is a warm season grass. They both require little water, fertilizer, and virtually no mowing.