Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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The Chickens Next Door

The moral of today’s post is that a major component of suburban/urban chicken keeping involves being a good neighbor… sweater or otherwise.


Let’s face it – not everyone thinks keeping chickens is a super idea, regardless of how many benefits there are to be had. Your neighbors might be some of those people. Whether your neighbors are obstinate, hesitant or exuberant about your flock, here are some considerate things you can do to keep their interests in mind without hampering your own.

Fencing

People like their privacy. In general, people also like control. When it comes to their own property, they have a right to control its use and appearance. While your neighbors don’t have a right to control the use and appearance of your property, good neighbors keep their neighbors interests in mind. Considering all of this, fencing is an important feature in a suburban homestead that includes chickens. Fences serve three purposes. First, they keep your chickens contained on your property or a portion thereof. Second, they help to keep predators away from your chickens. And third, they help to control views into and out of your property. Let’s talk briefly about each purpose.

Keeping Chickens In

Many ordinances require that suburban/urban chickens be contained by either completely enclosed arrangements (chicken run) or four foot high fencing. Besides being a matter of law, this is also a good idea. Keeping your chickens contained gives you more control over their access to portions of your property and keeps them from invading the neighbor’s yard.

Keeping Predators Out

You and I aren’t the only ones who like a plump, juicy chicken breast. Predators ranging from your neighbors dog to area raccoons and many things in between would like to make lunch out of your birds. While a fence won’t keep them all out, it will keep some of them out and possibly deter others. For ideas on good predator-proof fences, click here.

Controlling Views

View of trees lining a country road against blue skyIf your budget allows, a good way to ensure your neighbors won’t be offended by your homestead’s chickens is to install a beautiful (or maybe even standard) privacy fence around the whole of your property. This fence provides you with privacy but also keeps your avian-averse neighbors from seeing your chickens. This kind of fence (usually made of wood) can also serve to keep chickens in and predators out as we discussed above. However if your primary concern is controlling views, you can also plant a hedgerow (a living fence made of a line of shrubs or trees) that grows over time or grow vining flowers/fruits on fences. A hedgerow can provide benefits like nuts and berries (for you or the chickens!) depending on varieties you select. (even blueberry bushes can make a good hedge.) A hedgerow might also consist of tall ornamental grasses. Perennial vining plants may offer the benefit of beauty, attract pollinators like bees and/or provide other edibles like fruit and veggies. The benefit of using vining plants is that you can work with existing fences (especially chain link) for a nominal fee. In our garden, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and nasturtiums climb the chain link fence to partially obscure views from the east. This year we’ll also plant perennial berries on the west fence specifically to provide a more pleasant view to our neighbors (the chicken coop is on that side of the yard). We’ll also be planting climbing nasturtium and beans on the south side of the chicken paddock and evergreen underbrush throughout (such as variegated japanese sedge). These plants serve multiple purposes: Food, shelter and aesthetics for both us and the neighbors.

Smells

Some people say chickens are smelly. While this may seem like an unnecessary observation for me to make, let me just say that chickens aren’t smelly: Their poop is. If you were stuck in one spot for a long time and your poop accumulated in one spot without being moved, people would think you were smelly too. (I’m just saying…)

All the same, chickens do make waste and depending on your management method, it can pile up. Here are some good-neighbor ways to address smells.

Avoiding Coop-and-Pen Chicken Raising

The first tactic I recommend is to stay away from a chicken keeping method that involves your birds being confined to one place forever. In the typical coop and run management method, chickens live and eat in the same place where they make waste… and it all piles up. That’s where the ammonia smells affiliated with chickens comes from. For ideas on other ways to raise your chickens, check out this post.

Frequent Cleaning

Unless your birds are truly free range (which seems unlikely and unwise in an urban setting) you’ll have a coop for them. You could opt to clean their coop frequently (once or twice a week) to reduce odors, especially if you can’t avoid the coop and run method. The problems here are 1) that’s a lot of work 2) it’s expensive to replace bedding that often 3) that’s a lot of work 4) the waste you clean out has to go somewhere 5) that’s a lot of work and 6) every time you clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne. Also, it’s a lot of work.

lilac

Lilac flowers

Deep-Liter Method

To avoid having to continually clean your coop, try the deep liter method. Click here for a great article on how and why to use this method, but in a nutshell, you use a large amount of bedding and as the chickens scratch in it, the bedding and feces naturally compost and reduce pathogens. This method dramatically reduces odors and amounts to cleaning the coop much less often (between one and four times a year).

Fragrant Planting

If your birds have access to roam the yard (or an area of the yard) and you’re using the deep liter method, you’ve likely eliminated the bulk of any odors normally associated with chickens. If you want to take your quest for good neighborliness a step further, you could also add fragrant plantings to your landscape. According to the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom, the following plants are both durable and fragrant: Daphne, honeysuckle, lavender, lilac, roses, sweet box, viburnum and witch hazel. Fragrant plantings are best placed near the chicken coop, near property lines or both places.

Noises

Even the most docile of chickens will make some noise. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it won’t even compare to all of the barking dogs and squealing children. All the same, here are some things you can do to reduce the impact of chicken-noise on your neighbors.

No Roosters

I love sleep. I wouldn’t want to awoken at dawn by my own rooster and I can’t imagine how annoyed I’d be if that rooster belonged to my neighbor! Most backyard flocks exist for egg production – skip the rooster. You don’t need him. (Also many ordinances forbid roosters in urban/suburban settings).

Wind Chimes

Be careful. Depending on the sound of the chime, this could be just as or more annoying as hearing your chickens clucking. If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, ask them in advance what they think about wind chimes.

Bring on the Birds

Not chickens – song birds. Here’s a list of ways to attract songbirds to your property. But keep in mind – some of these birdies start singing in the morning just as early as a rooster!

robin

A Water Feature

If you’ve always wanted a pond with a mini waterfall, here’s your excuse. A well-designed waster feature may muffle chicken noises.

Melodious Plantings

According to Free-Range Chicken Gardens, the following plants will create a rustling sound in the wind that may help to muffle chicken noises: Bamboo, love-in-a-mist, maiden grass, quaking aspen and quaking grass.

Other Considerations

We’re fortunate to have great neighbors whom we talk with frequently. If you also have great relationships with your neighbors, let them know that you’re getting/you have chickens. Talk with them about your plans to keep chickens in a way that is respectful of the views and smells and sounds coming from your property. If your plan will take time to implement (as portions of ours will) it’s also important to share that with your neighbors. At a minimum, they’ll appreciate knowing that you have their interests in mind.

Picking a chicken breed that is docile and quiet is also a good move for suburban chicken owners. Click here and here for resources to help you pick the right breed.

Also, the appearance of your coop is important to your neighbors’ perception of chicken keeping. You’ll need to get creative, get resourceful or cough up some cash, but it’s in your long-term best interest to make sure your coop isn’t an eyesore. Other Mr. Rogersish things to do would be sharing eggs and teaching neighbor kids about the chickens (with their parents’ permission).

Being a good neighbor is an important part of urban/suburban chicken keeping. If you put these tips into practice, you’ll be doing your part to minimize complaints and concerns so that your neighbors can see the true value of a backyard flock rather than focusing on stereotypes or issues that might make them miss the good stuff.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Pastured Poultry in Paddocks

Though the iconic mental picture most of us get when it comes to raising chickens is the standard coop and run, there are many methods for raising chickens. Here’s a quick overview of your options:

  1. Coop and Run. A dwelling for the chickens with an attached, enclosed cage allowing the birds some outdoor space.
  2. Chicken Tractor. A small but moveable pen which is rotated around a pasture, usually every week.
  3. Truly Free Range. Allowing birds to find their own food, water and shelter on your property.
  4. Pastured Poultry in Pens. Similar to a chicken tractor but much larger and moved more often (i.e., twice daily).
  5. Pastured Poultry in Paddocks. Chickens rotate through several paddocks planted with food chickens can self-harvest.

About the Options

coop and run showing no vegetation

Typical run. Look mom – no grass!

Each of these methods have their pros and cons. To be completely transparent, I’m not here to tell you about all the pluses of each option – if you want to know the pros, you’ll want to do some extra research.I’m here to talk to you about the option we’re using: Pastured poultry in paddocks. However, to adequately tell you why I believe #5 is the best option, I have to talk a bit about the challenges of the first four so you’ll understand how using paddocks addresses the limitations of those other options. Brace yourself – the negativity is about to get a little deep for a paragraph or two here.

The Coop and Run method is first. The problem here mostly be summed up on one word I repeatedly tell my seven-year-old not to say at the dinner table: Poop. In a Coop and Run system, lots and lots of poop piles up in one location. The result is a stinky mess and a flock that lives (walks, sits, eats, drinks) in pathogens from their own feces. (Doesn’t that sound appetizing?) Even when chickens have access to the outdoors (the Run) there’s still a messy accumulation of poop. Also, the chickens completely obliterate any green vegetation that used to exist in the pen. So in essence, these birds live in a poop hole and a mud pit. This is not good. #drops the mic

chicken tractor

Typical chicken tractor

With all of that accumulation of yuck, at some point you’re going to have to clean it up. Which means either a) you’re constantly cleaning up after chickens or b) you hardly ever clean up after chickens but they live in filth. And as Paul Wheaton points out, when you do clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne for at least a little while.

Next let’s talk about Chicken Tractors. This is an improvement over the Coop and Run method because there is less accumulation of poo in one area. However, the tractor sizes tend to be on the small size (just because you can put birds in an area that small doesn’t mean you should). Also, the effectiveness of the method depends heavily on how often the tractor is moved. Here’s what Mr. Wheaton has to say about it:

“A few people will move a chicken tractor once or twice per day, such that the chickens will consume about 30% of what is growing in a spot before moving on.  This is an improvement over what most people will do which is to leave the chicken tractor in one spot until all vegetation is gone.  Or worse, beyond that point. Consider that in general, 40% of what grows on the ground is probably good for chickens to eat.  30% is slightly toxic and the rest is very toxic. If left in one spot for more than a few hours, the chickens end up eating their own poop that has fallen on their ‘food’.”

free range chickens in pear tree

Free-range chickens need a home

Our next option is truly free range chickens – as in no coop, no pen, no tractor, no nothing. The challenge here is that we’ve taken on the responsibility to care for these animals but left them vulnerable to predators and possibly lack of available food (depends on what your land is like). In addition, eggs will be laid all over the place and you’ll have no idea how old they are. Aaaand this romantic idea of letting chickens run free like they do in the wild will loose its appeal quickly when your patio furniture and car and lawn mower and dog house and back lawn and swing set and swimming pool are all slathered in chicken droppings.

Onward to Pastured Poultry in Pens. This is similar to a chicken tractor only the pen is larger and moved more often (2 times a day). Less waste accumulates in one spot, and (if you’re really on top of things) the chickens don’t decimate the ground cover before they move. The challenge here is that making it work requires you to move the pen twice day. I don’t even like to answer the phone twice a day, let alone move a big chicken pen around my yard.

Pastured Poultry in Paddocks

Now with all that negativity behind us (where did that sarcastic girl come from?!) let’s sweeten things up a bit! After much reading I have become convinced that using paddocks is the best way to raise chickens.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including the reasons paddocks are superior and tips on using them effectively.

 
 

10 Ways to Save Money on Food

pie chart

If your household is similar to ours, the grocery slice of the budget pie is sizable enough to get your attention. Most “experts” recommend budgeting 14-20% of your take home pay for food (groceries, lattes, eating at restaurants, etc.). A recent study shows however that Americans are spending less on average than ever before on groceries – 11% of income. That might sound like good news, but consider the story behind the numbers.

A separate study from 2012 shows that while prices – for meat in particular – have gone down, American consumption has in fact gone up or remained the same. What happened? The advent of the factory-farm has succeeded in pushing the price of meat way down. A 2012 article by Tom Philpott (The American Diet in 1 Chart) explains the phenomenon well:

“American eaters have gotten a windfall from the the era of cheap meat that dawned in the early ’80s. Meat prices tumbled as small farms shuttered, to be replaced by massive factory-scale farms that stuffed animals with cheap, subsidized corn and soy and kept them alive and growing to slaughter weight with daily doses of antibiotics. Regulators looked the other way as these gigantic facilities created messes they didn’t have to pay to clean up. Meanwhile, as Mother Jones’ Ted Genoways showed in his blockbuster piece last year on Hormel, corporate meatpackers managed to bust unions, speed up kill lines, and drive down employee wages. It all added up to bargain-priced meat.”

What America Spends On Groceries

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Consequently, our consumption of processed (read: cheap) food has skyrocketed. In 1982, 11.6% of a family’s budget was spent on processed food and sweets. Today processed food tops the budget break down at 22.9% of the budget, followed by meat (21.5%), fruits and veggies (14.6%), Grains and Baked goods (14.4%), beverages (11.1%) and dairy products (10.6%). So in layman’s terms, we spend less money on food now because the bulk of our diet is ‘food’ processed and engineered with more regard to its cost than its quality.

Save Money, Eat Healthy

So what do you do if you’re interested in saving money AND eating healthy? Don’t despair  – here are some tips.

Cook at Home

When you buy pre-packaged food or eat at a restaurant, you’re paying for more than just the ingredients you consume. (Someone has to pay to keep the lights on, right?) With practice, cooking at home can be just as delicious (sometimes more delicious!) than eating out. Eating at home can save you up to $2,600 a year! And with some savvy, budget-friendly tips (like the tips you’re about to read) you can save even more money! If you’ve never been much of a cook, don’t let that stop you. (Everyone has to start somewhere, right?) I recommend beginning your journey into homemade meals by using a crock pot. It’s so easy – I promise – and the great-tasting meals you produce will give you a boost of confidence to try something new!

Make a Plan

Like a lot of things in life, it’s hard to win without a plan. Your grocery plan starts long before you jump in the car to head to Meijer. Here are some tips. First, keep a pad of paper in an accessible area (on the side of the fridge?) so that you can keep track of grocery needs on an ongoing basis. Did you use the last of the olive oil? Write it down now so you don’t forget it later. The next two tips go hand-in-hand – make a menu and check for sales. Making a menu (meal planning) helps you make purchases that will form complete meals rather than buying a bunch of things that sound good but don’t add up to a complete meal. Having a pre-made meal plan saves time as well because you don’t have to figure out what to make each night. Planning a menu around what’s on sale will naturally save you money. The next tip is to take stock of what you already have so you don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. All of this should be complete by the night before you’re going shopping: Menu created (check!); Inventory taken (check!); List created (check!). Now when you get to the store, you’ll be able to stick to your list without worrying that you’ve forgotten something, and perhaps with a little more resolve to skip over impulse buys! (You can also decrease impulse purchases – like a candy bar at the checkout aisle – by having a small snack before you go shopping).

grocery bag

Buy (and Preserve) Produce In-Season

There are lots of great reasons to buy produce when it is in-season. First of all, the taste is so much better than out-of-season veggies that you may never want to go back! Second, buying in-season, local produce (check out your local farmers market) is great for your community and area farmers. And third of all, it costs less to buy food in-season than it does to buy it when it has to be grown hundreds of miles away and shipped to you through the snow. And if you team up with tip #9 below, you could save even more money at the farmer’s market; Many sellers are willing to give you a discount for buying large amounts of produce if you ask politely. Worried about what you’ll do with all those [fill in the blank here]? If you can’t eat it all now, preserve some of it! Can it, freeze it, dry it. Don’t be intimidated – you can find tons of how-to help on the web (or by asking your Grandma). Then in January when you want wholesome [fill in the blank here] you can skip the trucked-in-from-California produce section of your grocery store and turn to your pantry instead.

Use Sales and Coupons

I confess – I missed the Extreme Couponing movement. I’m not coupon-wielding expert, but I do know that the Sunday paper is full of coupons. As long as those coupons are for things you will actually use, you can save money by using them. Consider taking advantage of frequency type clubs for items you usually buy or places you usually shop (i.e. “buy 10 get the 11th free”). Meijer has a great website (and a great app for your mobile device) for looking up sales. Planning meals around what’s on sale can save you big bucks. If you can swing it, try keeping a “Sale Fund” set aside (perhaps $50 or $100) so that when a great sale comes up, you can stock up and fill your freezer. (Earlier this year we scored some unbelievable Buy One, Get Two type deals at Harding’s… our freezer has never been so full of meat!) Just remember – using a coupon to buy something you otherwise wouldn’t buy doesn’t save you money, even if you get 10% off.

Buy in Bulk

Our favorite place to buy in bulk is from Country Life Natural Foods in Pullman, MI. It’s quite a drive (about an hour) from our home in South Portage, but if you buy several things at once, the trip is worthwhile. We’ve saved money on organic Quinoa (a year’s supply for $30), a year’s worth of honey (1 gallon for $38.50) and 7 pounds of coconut oil ($12.90). They have practically everything you can think of and some of it is Michigan-made. Check out their catalog here. To save even more money, carpool with a friend (thanks Darci!) or take orders from each other and take turns doing the pick up. I’ve never tried it but apparently they also deliver for certain order sizes. We also now save money by buying our herbs and spices in bulk at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo.

Leftovers? What Leftovers?

A great way to save on food is to avoid wasting it. Plan your meals to make the most of leftovers. Here’s an example from our life: Every other Sunday we have a roasted chicken for dinner with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, onions or other in-season veggies. Monday I use the leftover chicken and veggies in a meal like chicken salad over spinach or a chicken pot pie. After that, I turn the chicken carcass into stock and make soup with it (sometimes using remaining veggies from Sunday’s roast). Even sour milk can be saved from going to waste! You can’t stretch everything that far, but there are lots of leftovers that would go great in an omelet, a salad or soup. If all else fails, send unwanted leftovers to the compost bin rather than the garbage can.

Brown Bag Lunch

lunch bag

A great way to bloat your food budget is to eat out for lunch every day. When my day job involved working from an office instead of working from my living room I discovered some tips to making the brown bag lunch work. I don’t know about you, but there were typically three reasons why I ate lunch at a restaurant instead of from a lunch bag. The biggest hurdle to jump is just remembering to bring a lunch. If you’re serious about saving money, taking a few minutes the night before to pack tomorrow’s lunch is key. Another issue: What’s in the bag just doesn’t sound appetizing. The simplest way to avoid that conundrum is to bring food you’ll look forward to eating! My main way of addressing this was to make fabulous dinners and make sure there were always leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.  The other reason I skipped a bagged lunch was because I just needed to get out of the office! In warm weather, you can accomplish the same thing by taking your lunch to a nearby park. In yucky weather, sometimes just sitting in your car provides enough peace and quiet to count as “getting away.” I also made sure to bring or keep healthy snacks at work to curb my desire to buy a little something in the afternoon. I always had something sweet (yogurt, a cucumber, dried fruit, etc.) and something salty (crackers, mixed nuts, etc.) on hand to keep my snacking healthy and cheap.You could save more money by stashing homemade snacks like granola.

Frozen and Dried

Frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are less expensive than fresh and in some cases contain the same amount of nutrients. Resealable packaging helps you avoid waste. For tips on how to store frozen vegetables so they keep as long as possible, click here.

Use Cheaper Protein

Meat is expensive. If beef and chicken are choking your budget, try getting your protein in other ways such as beans, eggs, quinoa or legumes. If you grow your own (including raising backyard chickens for eggs) think of all the money you could save by opting for non-meat alternatives. For fabulous egg recipes, click here.

Shop at Home

Overhead of Gardening Woman

Starting this spring, we hope to transition to a family that produces more of our food rather than buying it elsewhere. What if you could remove vegetables, fruit and herbs from your grocery list because you’re shopping in the backyard? Now think about what a difference it would make to take eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and maybe even meat off the list? We may not all be able to raise our own meat birds or raise goats for milk, but almost everyone (even apartment dwellers) can grow fresh herbs and vegetables. By using an intensive planting method (like Square Foot Gardening) you can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. Start small with a garden size you’ll be able to easily manage. I think you’ll be amazed at how much you get – and how much you’ll save!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 
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