Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Kristina's Coop - Virtual Tour (photo-heavy!)

Hi, I'm Kristina!
And this is my Urban Coop:
My husband built it to my design about 3 years ago. It is 12' wide, 6' deep, 6' tall in the back sloping up to 7' tall in front. It is framed with 2x8s which we got for free and sided with pine fence boards which we are allowing to weather naturally. It is quite large for an urban coop, but because my yard is unfenced and I knew my hens wouldn't be able to free-range that often, I wanted to make sure they had plenty of space in their enclosure. 

Here it is in the context of (a small portion of) my backyard, which is enormous and a huge landscaping-work-in-progress. 

Here are the hens who live here! Hazel is the buff Orpington; she is the only one remaining from our original flock 3 years ago. She is the boss and she still lays nearly everyday. There are 2 silver Ameracaunas, who I cannot tell apart and so I call them Patty and Selma (their eggs are a lovely pale blue). And on the right is a silver-laced Wyandotte named Wendy. 
They are happily dust-bathing in my yet-unplanted vegetable garden. I only let them range in the yard when I am either out with them or watching through the kitchen window. There are plenty of cats that also range my yard, but they've learned to steer clear of the chickens! A cat only needs to get pecked once to learn that lesson. 

Let's go see the coop! 

Here are some angles of the covered outdoor run portion of the coop. The floor is dirt sprinkled with pine shavings, which makes raking it out easier. I do that every few weeks. The feeding trough and waterer were purchased at Peavey Mart. We also have a heated waterer for freezing times, which made this last winter's chicken-chores much more bearable. There is a roosting bar in this front corner where the "boss" is frequently seen reigning over her subjects.

In the feeding trough I keep 2 little corningware dishes which I got at Salvation Army for 25 cents; one with grit, for digestion, and the other with oyster shell or crushed up eggshells, for calcium. 

In the portion of the run that is under the coop, there is another roosting bar and a hole they have dug for dusting. I toss a small scoop of diatomaceous earth powder in there every once in a while to help them prevent lice and mites. There is also a log that I move around every time I clean, which kind of freaks them out/keeps their minds occupied. 

Here they are again! 

Here are some angles of the east wall of the coop. I don't ever close their little door, even in winter - they always come out! There is a large ventilation hole near the top of this wall and another above the egg door. The window on this wall lets the low morning sunlight warm the inside of the coop in winter. (The window came from Habitat for Humanity and is a single-pane aluminum frame slider deal, from an old camper I think.) We can also open the window for more airflow in summer.

On the west side is my clean-out door, under a makeshift roof that we put up between the coop and the shed. The door itself is really heavy and a tight fit, which is great for insulation but makes it hard to open. This is one thing on my coop I'd like to change: I would love to have 2 doors that open from the centre here. It would make accessing the inside much easier. 

Inside, there's a 2x4 roosting bar on the left, which they all crowd onto adorably every night at dusk. You can see the ventilation above the window and the nesting boxes to the right. We put the slanted roof over the nesting boxes so that they wouldn't sit on it (one less surface to accumulate poop). On the floor, under the shavings, we have peel-and-stick linoleum tiles to make shovelling everything out so much easier. 

Above the nesting boxes you can see my "egg lights" - they're just outdoor twinkle lights connected to a timer on an extension cord from the house (which you can see fastened outside the door in one of the photos above). My winter egg production was unfortunately not improved by this lighting setup, so I'll have to tweak my timing with it next year, I think. 

The whole coop is insulated with foam insulation and then boarded inside with plywood. It's warm, even with those big ventilation holes. This unfortunately makes the doors very heavy, but we have included a shepherd's hook latch to hold the door up while I'm collecting the eggs. I might prefer to have the door open a different way. 

Inside the egg door is my favourite part! With a flock this small, you can see, you only really need one laying box. They'll all use the same spot. 

Next to the coop door, I keep an aluminum garbage can full of feed. You can also see the "herding sticks" (aka bamboo garden stakes) I use to corral them back into the coop when they've been ranging.

Inside the garbage can is organic layer's-ration chicken feed (which I buy from Alberta Feeds), and a few yogurt containers in which I keep extra grit, oyster shell, and sunflower seeds (for treats).

Between the shed and the coop I also have this storage locker thing, where I keep my big bags of supply refills and a bale of pine shavings. 

The coop's position next to the garden is perfect and lovely. I have a grape vine growing on that south-east corner which offers the chickens nice shade in the hottest part of the summer. Once my seedlings are established, I let the hens run up and down the rows eating slugs and weeds and, let's face it, a bunch of my lettuce too. 

Here's a shot from last summer, looking from the mid-garden toward the coop & house. 

And here's the reward! Delicious, organic, free-range eggs on the counter. 

Well, I hope you've enjoyed my tour! 
Feel free to ask me any questions you may have, here or on the CLUCK Red Deer Facebook page. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Call For Information

Hey CLUCKers!! I am doing some research on the community of Urban Hen Keepers here in Red Deer and would VERY MUCH appreciate some feedback from those of you who have hens here, now. 

You can leave the info as a comment to this thread.
You can e-mail it to me at

I will not be sharing personal information (I'll be putting answers into a spreadsheet without including personal/contact information, it will be anonymous), but feel free to reply with one-word answers or paragraphs -whatever you feel is important to express, or not at all if you are not comfortable with a particular question. This is completely voluntary and just some things that I am curious about.

What is your education and/or profession?
Do you have children at home? (How many, what ages?)
What neighbourhood are you in?
Have you ever lived on a farm?
What has been the most valuable tool for you to feel knowledgeable & confident about keeping your own flock?
If you had one point that you could get across to those opposed to urban hens in Red Deer, what would it be?
Do you have a suggestion for how CLUCK Red Deer could be a better voice for urban hen advocacy in our city?

I would like to share this information (once compiled) on our blog (WITHOUT names). If you do not want your information to be included, just let me know and I will omit it from the published list.

Thank you so much!! Warmer weather is on the horizon!!


Monday, November 4, 2013

We Are Still Around! And: NEWS!

I apologize whole-heartedly to those who use this blog as their primary source of Keeping Up With CLUCK Red Deer. The primary platform for contact is the Facebook page and I know some of you aren't on Facebook, but it's handy for many of us and getting stuff blogged (clearly) hasn't been a priority. Life happens! Anyhoo, things are winding down for me, personally, I will make an effort (no guarantees, though).

First of all, after a few months trying to wrangle a source for organic feed for those of us in Red Deer who prefer it, we were able to get a delivery from a producer near Calgary. It was, unfortunately, not able to keep up with our needs (though we were very grateful while it lasted), so I started hunting again. This time I was able to secure not only organic, but soy-free feed and to have it stocked in a feed store so we didn't have to try to arrange meet-ups and payments! I am so pleased to announce that Alberta Feed now keeps organic and soy-free layer kibble in stock -and organic scratch, as well. Not only is it handy (they are just west of the city of Red Deer, on HWY 11A, across from Dentoom's Greenhouse), it's bagged in 20kg quantities and very well priced (off the top of my head, it's ~$25, scratch is ~$20, I want to get this post done so I'm not looking up my notes on exact prices). YAY!

Second of all (?) and so very exciting to me: I am pleased to announce that we will have a Second Urban Hen Party!! Here's what I posted on Facebook:

Did you go to last year's Urban Hen Party? Do you even know what I'm talking about? WELL YOU CAN!! We are honored to be included in
Canadian Heritage Breeds' 2013 Peavey Mart Urban Farm Show and have a second Urban Hen Party! 

What does this mean? It means that we can enter our very own urban girls into a very informal and very fun show! I will draft up some lovely certificates for the various awards, last year's included such titles as Fluffiest Butt, Best Scratching Technique, Most Soothing Crooner.. and more! Just the other day I saw that Todd has his Adele's certificate for Prettiest Overall framed & hung in his dining room! 

It will cost you a mere $2 for each hen you wish to enter and they will be well taken care of in separate cages (no worries about fighting), indoors, fed and watered.
Drop off is on Friday evening (entry fee must be paid at that time, please have correct change) and pick up is Sunday at the end of the show (exact times will be updated once I know for sure).

THE BIG QUESTION: Why should you bother? There are many reasons:
1. I wasn't sure it was worth the time & effort last year, but I met several other Urban Hen Wranglers here in Red Deer that I'd only seen named on this page. It was wonderful to put faces to names and share some of the experiences we'd had keeping our own girls here in Red Deer. Some CLUCKers have become truly great friends.
2. We (CLUCK Red Deer) were able to answer questions that many people (urban and rural folk, alike) had about Red Deer's pilot project, the benefits of raising our own small flocks, debunking the worries of noise, smell, nuisance in the city and surprising some folk with how much we had learned from our own research & experience (city bumpkins, indeed!) 
3. Did I mention the awesome certificates I designed? They are awesome.
4. It breaks up our potentially bored hens' routines a bit. One of mine was broody and putting her in a completely new space snapped her out of it and broke up the doldrums of wintery stuck-in-the-coop/run days.
5. It helps the cause of Urban Hen-Keeping by displaying how healthy and happy our girls truly are in their urban environment.
6. If you stick around for the show, it's a great, great chance to tackle one of the local breeders and ask questions about their birds or help solve mystery maladies.
7. If nothing else, it's an excuse to bathe your chickens. (Oh yes.)

Take a look at CHB's page & the Urban Farm Show page for more info (links embedded above). I had such a hard time leaving last year, it was truly a lot of fun -way more than I anticipated hanging out in a huge room full of livestock!

If you scroll down this post, you can see some photos from last year's UHP.

SO, if you're interested, please send me an e-mail at and I'll get you the entry form. (You can enter more than one bird!)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Keeping Ourselves Busy!

Spring has sprung and all around us the snow is melting! Yay! My birds have been enjoying a little freedom in my back yard (with a lot of supervision) and I'm already sooo happy to see them scratching up the exposed garden beds, getting all of the early weedy leaves taken care of! I could leap for joy in anticipation of seeing my slugs turn into eggs!!

With the attention Urban Hens is getting in Central Alberta (thanks to the media sharing some of the details of our most excellent City Council's decision to extend the pilot project), there are events popping up everywhere that CLUCK Red Deer is happy and excited to be a part of!!

Here's some info:
Saturday April 6, 10am-5:30pm at the Red Deer College: -Red Deer EcoLiving Fair & Workshops (link down as of writing this, but Rene says it should be up very soon with the workshop schedule). Deborah will be hosting a brief workshop on Urban Hen-Keeping! We'll also have a table/booth/nook set up to answer questions and show off a couple of our beautiful urban hens.

Sunday April 21, 12-4pm (at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre): ReThink Red Deer, Waskasoo Environmental Education Society & City of Red Deer Earth Day Event (for more information, visit ReThink Red Deer). From the e-mail message I received:
From noon to 4:00 p.m. we will be celebrating Earth Day at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre with:
·         Tree planting
·         Nature walks & geo-caching
·         Rain barrel sale
·         Eco-crafts
·         Green building tours
·         And more!
This will be a free family event.

Sunday, May 5, 1-3pm (at All In One Pet Care Facility -4831 53 St, Red Deer):
Urban Chickens 101 Workshop. CLUCK Red Deer will host a 2-hour session covering some of the basics of keeping chickens in an  urban environment. We plan to speak for 90 minutes (with demonstration) and take questions for 30 minutes.
*NOTE* This event is being held in a pet-grooming facility, there may be potential allergens (including, but not limted to, demonstration hens), attendees are responsible for any possible reactions.
Space is limited, please e-mail for tickets.


Saturday May 25, 11am-3pm (at the Westerner Agri-Centre West): Peavey Mart Urban Farm Sale (link to event page on Facebook), hosted by Canadian Heritage Breeds. This will be a great opportunity to find locally raised hens to add to your urban flock, meet breeders and check out some great crafts, arts and just have fun! CLUCK Red Deer will have a table there with some of our birds, ready to answer questions and show you how to check your girls for signs of mites or lice. (Guess what... CHICKEN BUTT!!)

Friday July 26, 8:30am-12pm (at Olds College): Intro to Urban Chicken-Keeping at Olds College's Hort Week (find the course description under the Food Production Lectures & Workshops link on the left hand side). Deborah and I will be teaching this half-day course and cover as much as we possibly can (with pictures and demonstrations) to help you feel comfortable starting your own small flock of Urban Hens.

KEEP IN MIND: One of the conditions of the Red Deer City Council's decision to extend the pilot project for another 12 months was that they be able to more accurately gather information from existing coops. The information they gather will then allow the city's Inspections & Licensing department to draft a bylaw that will ensure the safety, health and happiness of Red Deer's urban hens, hen owners and neighbourhoods -AND THIS REQUIRES YOUR HELP. You *MUST* register your coop with the City.

You can pick up the registration form (and fill it out) at the I&L office on the 2nd floor of City Hall*. There is no charge to register and they do ask that you submit a photo (which can be e-mailed in separately if that's easier for you -it's what I did). Council has clearly indicated that they do not want to take our hens away from us. They are not going to use this information to hunt down our hens  and punish us (remember: it's not illegal to keep hens in the city). This is our chance to work with the City to keep Urban Hen-Keeping the fantastic, positive experience it already is. Registration deadline is June 17th. If you do not register by this time, you may not be counted as a part of the Pilot Project and it's unsure if/how the City will treat such cases. If you do not have hens by this time, we suggest you wait until the spring of 2014 when the final bylaw will be drafted. (Note that this is only a pilot project, NOT a full-out open call to urban hen keeping.)
*If you are unable to come in to City Hall during business hours, please contact me. I have a stack of forms at my house and you can pick one up from me: e-mail to get in touch.

ANNND as I keep promising.. but keep getting distracted... and STILL haven't done.. here are some of my favorite photos from the winter's Peavey Mart Urban Farm Show and the very, very fun Urban Hen Party:

We had over 20 girls show up for the Urban Hen Party!
Some beat up city construction signs helped show off our urban roots.
Frenchie is Arlee's Lavender Bantam D'Uccle. Isn't she gorgeous?

Adele is Todd's Bantam Mille Fleurs hen. She won the award for Prettiest Overall.
My Blue Cochin, Feezie, got a lot of attention, people love fluffy butts!

Todd gives Adele a pep-talk before the judging begins.
The CLUCK banner and a few of the items we had for sale.

City Councillor Lynn Mulder was our Honorary Judge!

Councillor Mulder had a hard time deciding... (and a lot of fun)!

Picking winners... it's not easy with so many pretty girls!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Flurry of Feathers!!

Wow. SOOO much going on, my head is spinning!

As I'd mentioned in the last post, Red Deer City Council met yesterday afternoon to discuss the Urban Hens Pilot Project -what happened over the last year, what kind of feedback they'd had and where to go from here.

After a brief presentation by Joyce in Inspections & Licensing (I&L) and some questions from several of the Councillors, I started to get excited: the overall impression was that they all (but one) realized that

But Council feels that it still needs work, and I do agree. The initial 12 month pilot was just too open-ended, "Let's have a pilot project!" and just leaving it at that wasn't enough for the City to be able to draft clearly defined rules. While CLUCK has had a pretty good idea of what works (based on our experiences and those of other municipalities who already allow & monitor Urban Hen operations), we just did not have enough people sign up to say for sure that Red Deer can do it, too.

I am, myself, guilty of being one of the hesitant, under-the-radar chicken wranglers, but that's going to change. I understand the underlying fear of registration, the questions:  What happens if it falls through? What is going to happen to my pets? How am I going to tell my children? These are good, valid questions and by no means are we at CLUCK lining everyone up to be targets for chicken-removal. I feel very confident not only that it's the right thing to do (in the best interest of the entire community) but also that my hens will be safe, and I'll happily tell you why.

Listening to each of the Councillors ask questions and then take a moment to express their concerns and opinions, I knew that they had our backs. That they do see that it's working and that, in the best interest of ensuring it continues to work, we just need to help them gather more data. Councilor Lynne Mulder (who was our Honorary Judge at the Urban Hens Party in December*
) brought up the fear issue herself, suggesting that perhaps those who are registered and have proven that they are responsible coop-managers be able to keep their coops in the event that Urban Hens get banned. Mayor Morris Flewwelling agreed that it's an idea that can be discussed when the issue is re-addressed in 2014 and a final decision is made regarding the bylaw. (But I don't think that it's going to be a problem.)

I cannot tell you how happy and relieved it made me to hear Councilor Mulder bring it up. Besides the fact that she's clearly in support of Urban Hens, she's acknowledging that we have each of us made investments into our coops and hens -money, time, energy, attention and love. Yes, love. These are our pets. I am no less attached to them as I am to my cat, or my beautiful dog that we had to let go just over a year ago.

Anyway, back to Urban Hens...

I&L also want to do coop visits. Joyce said that they would be done with notification (at a time determined agreeable to both City staff and the home owner -they will not be surprise visits!) and, again, Lynne Mulder addressed this, suggesting that perhaps a member of the CLUCK crew could also be present to ensure that someone with experience and knowledge about Urban Hen is there. I think this is a fantastic idea, it will enable those who work in I&L to learn what to look for (since they will not yet have had experience checking out coops) and give us the opportunity to answer any specific questions you may have.

I had to leave early to pick my son up from school so I wasn't present for the final voting, but Kristina texted me that they voted in favour of continuing the Pilot Project and registration. They also voted against initiating an Ipsos survey.

After I got home with my son, the media started calling! I had a photographer from the Advocate come within a few minutes (read the article here) and this morning I had an e-mail from Adrienne asking if I wanted to talk to a reporter from CTV Edmonton (I did, the segment is set to air tonight on CFRN). I had a phone call from the Calgary Herald, Kristina spoke to someone from the Advocate and tomorrow morning I am hosting a Shaw Red Deer crew. It's all a bit tummy-lurching for me, I'm an introvert, but I am also grateful for the opportunity to express the CLUCK point of view and how happy we are with Council's decision. (I'm also one of the few who are at home, so it's convenient for me to meet with the media during regular hours.)

I'm proud of Red Deer. I'm proud to be a citizen of Red Deer. I'm relieved that, at this point, it seems to be less a matter of Can We Allow Urban Hens and more a matter of Let's Make Sure We Do It Right.

SO. What's next? Register your hens, please! We will never give out your information ourselves, that is your business and decision to make, but I am confident that we do not need to be afraid. I&L indicated that they would have the registration forms ready today!

If you have ANY questions at all, PLEASE do not hesitate to leave a comment here or e-mail us

*In writing this, I realize I haven't yet posted all of the photos from the Urban Hen Party! Yikes!! I will make a point of finding the time within the next few days, promise!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

CLUCKing in the Media

Since my last post, we've had a bit of media attention. Adrienne was contacted by the Red Deer Advocate to see if a couple of us could meet with a reporter to answer some questions and get some photos. I was available, so on Saturday Adrienne popped over and shortly after, Murray Crawford came over. We sat in my living room, chatted a bit, then went out for some photos. 

I admit, I was expecting some tougher questions. It appeared that Murray hadn't read up on all of the past media CLUCK Red Deer had received -particularly the concerns after Kristina's initial open-coop and the decision by Council to initiate the pilot project. That said, he did ask us the questions that mattered -how many ways are we finding it a positive experience to be chicken-keepers.

You can read the on-line article here.

I'm not sure why the comments on the on-line version keep disappearing, but I want to be sure some assumptions are cleared up: I have only had my hens since October. My information has not been submitted to the City as a formal participant of the pilot program (for a few reasons, if it comes to a need for registration and/or licensing, my name will be way at the top of that list). Clearly, my involvement at this point indicates that I am not trying to be sneaky, hehe.

But most of all: I DO NOT HAVE A FARM. I know that the term 'Urban Farming' is a hot one right now, but a farm is a business. This is not a business for me. I am keeping hens (just as I am gardening) for my own family's use ONLY.

Anyhoo, Tuesday morning I received a call from CBC Radio in Calgary and was asked some great questions, then offered the opportunity to be interviewed live, on-air about the Urban Hens shenanigans!

You can hear the podcast here.

Council is scheduled to address the issue on Tuesday, session begins at 2pm. Inspections & Licensing is recommending that the pilot project be extended with greater enforcement of registration. Does the city need to do that? Do they need to spend the money on something that we can all see is already working? Can they not agree to accept it and go right to drafting up the bylaw with limits and rules so we can get our birds licensed and keep on CLUCKing along?

**Just for the sake of ensuring that readers know what it is that we recommend as parameters for maintaining safe, healthy, quiet, non-smelly flocks in an urban environment, it bears listing here:

1. NO ROOSTERS -not only are roosters noisy but they are smellier than hens
2. Quiet hens
-while hens are typically quiet, crooning or clucking in excitement when they see the snack-pail coming, some are just louder than others. Buying your hens from a reliable, small-scale heritage breeder ensures that the personality of each bird can be gauged and determined whether she's fit for urban life (or not).
3. Ensure that hens are older than 4 months old at time of purchase -prior to this age, it is often difficult to determine whether a chicken is a pullet (female, young hen) or a cockerel (male, young rooster). Chicks are super cute, but they have high mortality rates, it'd be terrible for your children to get attached to a fuzzball only to have it die.
4. No more than 6 hens per yard. Keeping things low-key requires some moderation.
5. Well-constructed coops -our winters can be HARSH. Hens are very good at keeping themselves warm under all those feathers but they can only do so if they are given a well-insulated, well-ventilated home (and have other hens to cozy up to). Coop size is also important -hens require 4 square feet of coop space EACH plus 10 square feet of run space. Any less than that can lead to overcrowding, which, in turn, leads to unwanted behaviour (excessive pecking, preening, fighting, &c).
6. Well-enclosed runs -while chickens are not the best flyers, they can fly well enough to save their own lives and will do so, if they see fit (or are bored). A well-secured and enclosed run will not only keep your hens contained, it will keep potential predators out. If you intend to let your hens range in your back yard, their wings MUST be clipped, your fence must be adequate to keep them enclosed and they must be supervised. 

7. Well-monitored flocks -regular (monthly, at least) check-ups by you to watch for parasites (see my previous post on parasites here), to gauge body weight (weight loss is a sign of illness), and ensure overall hen health.  
8. Regular coop-cleaning -even in our sometimes harsh winters, we get a warm spell every few weeks that enables us to get out and give the coop a cleaning. Removing soiled bedding ensures not only that your girls will be cleaner, it also reduces moisture build-up inside the coop. Moist air combined with cold temperatures can easily lead to respiratory infections in chickens. It also causes the much-feared Chicken Stink -which nobody wants. Bales of wood chips can be found at local stores (including Peavey Mart) for a very good price.
9. Speak to your neighbours -communication is the key to keeping everyone (including you and your birds) happy.