Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: chickens

A Sad Mystery

We have some sad news to report. Fanny, our Jersey Giant hen, has passed. We’d had the ladies out free ranging the evening before, and all seemed well. The next morning, she was dead- no feathers or bloodshed in sight. We hadn’t noticed any signs of disease, but we’re closely monitoring Chica, Yolko, and Mother just in case.

In looking through the Backyard Chickens forum, it appears that mysterious chicken deaths are not uncommon. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Fanny was a wonderful bird and a great pet, the most curious and human-friendly of our flock, and, I must admit, my favorite. She will be missed.


Spring Chickens

Chica, our Polish hen, is the star of this photo update because she's the most photogenic (read: she's the most oblivious)!

Fanny, a Jersey Giant, lives up to her name and is always the first one to find food

Yolko the Ancona, Fanny the Jersey Giant, and Chica in the background

Chica's crest puts her at a disadvantage when it comes to nabbing treats we cast out for the ladies, she's basically half blind! But she's easy to catch and hand feed.

Lots of eggs in the nest boxes these days... we don't always collect them daily, but we think some of the ladies are laying more than once a day! They never really stopped laying this winter.

Edit: Mother Clucker is the shyest and most difficult to photograph, so she didn’t make her way into this post. She’s still with us!

Frugal Friday: Vegetable Broth

We eat a lot of vegetables. We try to use every last bit of a vegetable before sending it to one of four final destinations: the compost pile, the worm bin, the dogs, or the chickens. To really get the most out of our veggies, we use scraps and peels to make our own homemade vegetable broth.

All you have to do is fill a pot of vegetable scraps with enough water to cover everything, then simmer for a couple hours. We like to keep the water level about 2 inches above the top of the scraps, and add water if needed while simmering. We’ve tried simmering with and without a lid and both yield a decent stock- you will need to add water while simmering if you leave it uncovered.

The great thing is you can use virtually any vegetable scraps, even those you wouldn’t want to put in the compost bin (like onion skins). You’ll definitely want to make sure you use scraps that have been washed and scrubbed clean. We also highly recommend you use scraps from organic produce, as non-organic fruits and veggies can carry high amounts of pesticides and other chemicals in their skins.

We’ve used carrot tops and peels, the tops and bottoms of celery stalks, kale stems, onion skins, garlic peels, broccoli stalks, squash rinds, beet greens, tomatoes, and the like. Some people advise against adding potato peels because they’ll make the broth murky and earthy, but we like it. Dried or fresh herbs like thyme, basil, oregano, and parsley add great flavor, and of course we add salt and pepper toward the end. We’ve even added whole hot peppers or crushed red pepper for extra spice.

After a couple hours of simmering, the water should look darker. Results will vary depending on the amount of water used and the cooking time.  Once we’ve reached our preferred flavor-to-water ratio, we strain out the vegetables with a colander in the sink. Then the broth is poured in containers and frozen.

And here’s a super duper Frugal Friday bonus:

The ladies got to enjoy the warm, cooked veggie scraps on a cold day!

Chickens’ First Winter

As we’d recently mentioned, winter weather in St. Louis had been wonderfully mild. We took advantage of it, and so did the chickens.

Chickens eating a pumpking

They even got to peck at a pumpkin we rescued from the trash- quite an autumn-like treat!

The weather was particularly kind to the ladies who molted, who didn’t have to face freezing temperatures without a full coat. We stopped getting eggs when they molted and as the hours of daylight diminished. A few days ago, Eric had a dream about finding an egg in the ladies’ nesting boxes. Unbelievably, after more than a month with no eggs, there was an egg waiting for us!

winter egg

And we got another egg the next day, too.

Yesterday, winter hit suddenly. We got our first snow, and the daytime temperature plummeted from the balmy 50°F  we’d enjoyed the day before to a frigid high around 20°.

huddling for warmth

The ladies huddled together for warmth and protection from the wind.

Some chicken owners provide a heat lamp in the coop for their birds, to keep them comfortable and encourage egg production. Our coop is too small to safely provide a heat lamp, and even so the ladies would still have to go outside of the coop to access food and water, which would be a shock to their system. We decided that it’s best to let the ladies acclimate to the weather, even if it means no eggs. However, we have taken measures to help keep them comfortable in the new winter weather.

heated chicken waterer

We had already set up an electric chicken waterer to keep thawed water available at all times.

wind stop

In the snowstorm yesterday, we quickly hung a tarp around one of the corners of the pen to act as a wind stop.

A neighborhood menace


This hawk was sitting on top of our chicken pen this afternoon… it was about as big as Chica! Good thing the ladies are completely fenced in, including chicken wire and corrugated plastic on top, and chicken wire buried along the sides underground.


chicken feathers everywhereIt looks like one of our ladies exploded in the chicken run, but fortunately it’s just Mother Clucker and Fanny molting. Chica and Yolko appear to be on a different schedule.

Poor Mother CluckerThey’re shedding their feathers and will grow in a new set to keep them warm this winter. Mother Clucker, the Partridge Rock hen at the right, is in the worst of it.

Here chick chick chicks!Molting chickens may look and act sickly- as you can see here Mother Clucker is hiding and refusing treats- but they’re focusing all of their energy on regrowing their feathers.

Mother's feather

Molting chickens need extra protein to stay warm and replace protein lost through their molting. We’ll keep them warm and full with protein-rich scratch.

Our Chicken Set-Up

We haven’t mentioned the chickens in a while, and we realized we never gave our readers a tour of their home. We kept it cheap by buying used items and using  materials we found or already had on hand, as well as paint Sallie had left over.

Here’s our coop, which we discussed a long time ago in our post Dog House Turned Chicken Coop. The dog house already had the hinged roof- perfect for cleaning and egg collecting. We added the window on the right, which we’ve had propped open this summer. Chickens love being above the ground, so the coop is elevated on a coffee table we found in the alley, which also gives the chickens extra space to walk beneath their coop. Eric made the ladder out of sticks we found in the yard and a few screws… it’s held up well!

Here’s a view inside the coop, taken from above.  Chickens’ natural instinct is to sleep as high up as possible, so we installed a tall roost in the middle and a ramp to access it. Behind the roost are two nesting boxes. They don’t need separate ones, they like to share- they have their own laying schedules and like to lay their eggs all together in a clutch. We covered the nesting boxes to give the ladies an extra surface to roost on and to prevent them from pooping on the eggs.

This is the birds’ eye view from the entrance of the coop (incidentally, not the traditional “birds’ eye view”!)

Our chicken run is a chain link dog pen we bought on Craigslist, which we topped with a couple of corrugated plastic sheets for rain protection.

We have two waterers to keep the ladies hydrated. We made the one on the left using a large plastic jug with a slit towards the bottom, which sits in a plant tray. With the cap on the jug, the water flows out from the bottom and fills the tray up to the level of the slit. On the right is a pet waterer Eric’s mom found for us, which works essentially the same way. These sit atop a long roost, and there are two other roosts in the corner of the pen, out of view. Have we mentioned that the ladies really like being above the ground?

Here’s Chica our Polish hen working the camera, while Mother Clucker the Partridge Rock, Yolko the Ancona, and Fanny the Jersey Giant peck at their food. Their feeder is a 5 gallon bucket with holes cut along the bottom, attached to a plant tray. We have it suspended and attached to the top of the pen to keep it from being knocked over, though they still spill their food everywhere!

Chica, Yolko, Fanny, and Mother free ranging in the side yard.  This is their Abbey Road pose (silly chickens, they’re facing the wrong way!)

Dinner from the Garden

Breakfast burritos: homemade salsa (heirloom tomatoes, jalapenos, hot banana peppers, onion, cilantro, a dash of lime juice and salt), roasted potatoes, sauteed bell peppers and red onions, scrambled eggs. Tortillas, salt and limes were the only ingredients not from the garden.

Chicks Jumping to the Beet

We like to give the ladies treats like beet greens and carrot tops to keep them occupied when they’re not free ranging. They enjoy a challenge!

Wet Chickens


Mother and Chica

Chica's crest

Close-up of Chica's waterlogged crest!