… and then there were two…


It was bound to happen eventually. Something got one of the chicks yesterday afternoon. We didn’t notice it yesterday, the birds went into the coop last night on their own accord, we came out and closed things up like normal – albeit a little later than normal as I didn’t realize Shannon had let the chickens out, so they didn’t get closed up until almost 9:00… This morning when she opened up the door – out comes mama, but only two chicks followed. Shannon looked all over the place… there’s no sign of feathers, or anything else that might indicate a struggle of some variety, it’s just gone. No peeping, no noise, no way anything could have gotten it last night while they were roosting…

We’re leaning in the direction of a hawk or something, yesterday sometime… just ‘pluck’ and gone… There were no peeps from random places in the yard, so it’s definitely gone… it’s a bummer though, and you can’t help but feel a smidgen of failure as their protector. Granted… I’m not their mother, I’m not even a chicken… but I still feel some responsibility for these little babies, yet in a broad stroke of irony, I am also ultimately responsible for putting them in the stew pot when their usefulness is past…

It’s interesting the dichotomy between caretaker and butcher… feelings on one hand, apathy and cold-heartedness on the other. I’m finding it’s a somewhat difficult line to walk…

You Are What What you Eat Eats…


You are what what you eat eats. – Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food)

Here at the Little House on 17th Street, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the above quote after finding the neon red honey in our hive in the past couple of weeks.

We’ve come to realize that this urban homesteading experiment we’ve embarked upon – however noble – has the potential to unravel before our very eyes with certain factors that are outside of our control, and frankly, that is somewhat unnerving.

You Are What You Eat

The age old adage is certainly true, you are what you eat… We began this renovation of our home and yard in an attempt to get the adulterants out of our food supply. We weren’t interested in eating food-like substances chock full of all of the preservatives, chemicals and genetically modified components they can cram into them. All of that can be mitigated by simply growing your own and purchasing intelligently. The problem with that concept however is when the surrounding environment – in our case, suburbia – decides to slowly interfere with your plans…

You Are What What You Eat Eats:

The truth is, when you live on an urban homestead – you have no control of what is being done beyond your fence. You don’t know if the flowers that your bees are visiting have been sprayed with insecticide, you don’t know if they’re visiting trees treated with Safari, whether they’re invading the local cannery and drinking long and deep at the vats of HFCS and Red 40. You have no control of where the roots of your plants go – if they leave the boundaries of your fences, and absorb glyphosate from individuals attempting to keep their weeds down in their little corner of manicured suburbia. For that matter, you don’t really know what the previous homeowner did in the soil… you have no idea whether your chickens are eating bugs that have been sprayed at the neighbors house and simply immigrated across the border to our homestead to die…

…things are truly outside of your control.

It’s a strange irony that at the times when you try to control for all these variables by raising your own chickens and growing your own foods, that the foundation you have built your homestead upon can erode so easily with the coming or going of food chain elements, or the past sins and indiscretions of the homeowner… in all honesty it makes you feel particularly vulnerable.

It has also got us thinking – what is truly organic? Can every little variable be controlled for and guaranteed that what you’re buying in the store that is labelled organic is truly organic? Don’t get me wrong – it’s got to be significantly better than what is being done conventionally – it’s not being sprayed directly, it’s not GMO, the list goes on – but it’s kind of scary to think that even if you do wish to opt-out of the conventional industrial farming model – that it may not be possible to keep it completely unadulterated due to the actions of those who don’t wish to opt-out…

Food for thought. You are what what you eat eats…

Our little scratch addicts…

It always makes me chuckle a little when I throw out the chicken’s scratch, and how they practically dive onto the ground and peck up as much as they can cram in their beaks. Kind of a “Mine, Mine, Mine! Get away! Mine!” It’s like chicken crack. 

I guess that makes me a scratch dealer… well, the first one’s always free.


Look at them looking at me like, where’s some more? Where’s the rest?! They’re always comin’ back for dat Heisenberg.


Shut the Door!

An unusual thing happened this morning. I got out of bed before 6 am.

Thing 3 had just gone back to sleep in her crib, and Ben had the coffee on so I figured I might as well stay up and take a cup out back to enjoy a rare moment of peace and quiet.

The opossum peeking at me from the back corner of the garden, however, was enough to throw off that thought process.  Little pointy head. All teeth. Little waddling “run”.  Ugh.  So that’s what is chewing on my little pumpkins and pooping all over the garden. I had strongly suspected raccoon, but that little guy indicated otherwise.

Ben joined me and we got to talking about opossums and what strategies we might try to convince them to head elsewhere. I pointed out a gap in our bamboo “fencing” rigged up around the garden where it looked like something possibly climbed it and caused the cross-pieces to pull downward.  While we were looking at that, the girls started getting stirred up inside the coop and clucking. A rat came tearing out from the eave of the coop roof, scrambled down the siding and dove out of sight. So much for a quiet and relaxing morning in the garden.

I spent the rest off the morning inside researching how to identify opossum and raccoon poop and reading Internet horror stories of opossums getting inside people’s houses.

The neighbor kid came over later that to play with Thing 1 and Thing 2.  I promptly kicked the three boys outside and decided to try and throw together a batch of granola bars despite Thing 3’s insistence at attaching herself to both my legs and crying (brothers woke her from both nap attempts this morning–might seriously be time to get Project Third Bedroom started. . .).

Thing 3 finally contented herself emptying my cupboards, the granola bars were mixed and in process of  getting smoothed out into the pans when next thing I know, three boys come bursting through the kitchen door from outside, all yelling and hollering something that sounds like, “GET IT! IT’S IN THE HOUSE, GET IT!!”

Something big, sleek and black streaked past the corner of my eye, toenails scrabbling to keep traction as it hit the hardwood floor.  Three boot clad boys pounded the floor right behind it.  It rounded the corner and fled into my bedroom.

My first thought after the morning I had: “WHAT kind of rodent did THOSE BOYS just chase into my house?!?”

As the boys and I collided around the corner–Thing 3 scooting on her butt right behind us–the animal began to squawk and bock and flop and flap back and forth across my unmade bed, three sets of grubby little hands reaching and diving after it.  Chicken Nugget, you stupid chicken, don’t you dare poop on my bed!!  (And yes, of all the chickens, it would be Chicken Nugget to end up in the house.)

Thing 3 thought the whole fiasco pretty entertaining until Chicken Nugget found the bedroom window and started flapping her wings in a desperate attempt to escape.  The flapping wings hitting the window freaked her out and she began shrieking.  The boys continued trying to corner the chicken which only resulted in more flapping against the window and more shrieking baby on the floor.


The boys vanished.  Three faces soon appeared at the outside of my bedroom window (though the  look on those faces when the chicken hit the window again gave me something to laugh about later).  Chicken Nugget tried to squeeze under a chair in the bedroom.  At that point I easily grabbed her and tucked her under my arm.  (“Yay!  My Mom got her!” I could hear through the window.)  Out went the chicken.  Baby got scooped up and snuggled until she had calmed enough to stop trembling.  Granola Bars went into the oven.

Lesson learned?  Don’t get up before 6 am. Oh, and when baking Granola Bars, shut the back door.  One simple step to keep life that much more sane.

Curious about the recipe?  Like most of the recipes I use, I originally found it on allrecipes.com. . . but have changed it a bit since.

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This is the version I used today:

4 ½ cups rolled oats

¼ cup wheat germ

¾ cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup coconut oil

½ cup maple syrup

1 cup applesauce

2 cups assorted chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and unsweetened shredded coconut

First, make sure the back door if firmly shut.  Then go ahead and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease one 9 x 13-inch pan.  In a large mixing bowl combine oats, wheat germ, flour, coconut oil, maple syrup, and applesauce.  Stir in the chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and unsweetened coconut.  It takes a bit to mix and make sure all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into the liquid ingredients.

Lightly press mixture into the prepared pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes then cut into bars.  Let bars cool completely in pan before removing or serving.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

… well, because she was flung there when the tractor-trailer that was carrying her and hundreds of her sisters rolled over in the middle of downtown Salem.


No, really. An entire semi-truck full of Foster Farms chickens tipped over in the middle of Salem today, and chickens (and chicken manure) were everywhere.

The driver was fine – but about half of the chickens on the trailer weren’t so fortunate. Other photos that were provided by the Statesman Journal (www.statesmanjournal.com) showed the aftermath and the cleanup effort which lasted well into the afternoon hours even though the crash occurred early this morning.

Apparently, speed may have been a factor in the accident and the load seems to have shifted, causing the truck to tip onto its side – sending the cages that the chickens were being carried in tumbling across the road – breaking open scattering live chickens and corpses everywhere.

All photos credit Zach Urness (Statesman Journal)

Foster Farms issued the following statement:


This morning, a Foster Farms contracted trailer truck transporting chickens was involved in an accident on Commercial Street in downtown Salem, Ore. The driver is in good condition but was transported to a local hospital as a precaution. No other people were involved in the accident. The driver works for a hauling company contracted by Foster Farms, she is not a Foster Farms employee. We are cooperating fully with local police as they investigate the accident. The birds are being hand-collected and per USDA regulation, any fatalities are disposed of and do not enter the food supply.

We are committed to the safety of live poultry during transport and have maintained an exemplary safety record. We regret that the accident occurred and promptly took steps to rectify the situation.

I don’t know this for certain, but it seems they were likely shipping chickens from their Canby, Oregon production plant and I can only assume that these birds were on their way to becoming Corn Dogs in the Corvallis, Oregon Corndog processing plant.

The people of Salem have been quick to jump on the “EWW!! LOOK AT THAT! How could you show pictures of dead chickens?!?” bandwagon on the Statesman Journal’s comments section, like they don’t have a clue that that small piece of Foster Farms chicken breast that they have with their health conscious lunch – once looked like one of those white birds in the streets of Salem. (Granted – likely less contorted and lying in the middle of the street…)

We have taught Thing 1 and Thing 2 from early on where their food comes from. I fish, I hunt, we keep chickens – and it’s important to me that they understand that when we have meat, in order for them to eat, something else had to die, and not to take that for granted, and not to be wasteful.

Sadly – this was horribly wasteful, and yet another reason why I would desperately like to see us utilize less large scale agriculture, and switch over to more numerous family farms, backyard flocks to sustain the family, or at least use sustainable agricultural practices such at those at Polyface Farms and the numerous echoes of their strategy to produce for these large scale operations.

At the same time – we have to put our money where our wishes lie. This goes right back to what we talked about with Monsanto. We are getting what we pay for. Every time I give in and buy a corn dog – I’m voting with my dollars to continue this type of large scale agricultural practice… we as consumers have to be willing to stand up for what we believe in not just in words but in actions.

So why did the chicken cross the road – it seems that she didn’t really have much of a choice…

… Good thing we do.

May 2013 Update

A quick Jaunt around the backyard as May draws to a close – garden is coming along nicely. Chickens are in, more projects on the horizon are keeping us very bzzzzy..

Things are good. 🙂

Got a really cool comment in the Guest Book of the Little Free Library today – a gentlemen from several streets over came by, and borrowed one of the books. On the Guestbook he wrote, “Borrowed Huck Finn. I’m 64 – never read it.”

That absolutely made my day! Made the whole project worth it right there. My wife told me, that a teenager came by today as well, dropped off one book, and took another with him… loving that it’s actually getting used!

The Garden is coming along nicely. Very excited to see it all finally coming together – Shannon has been busting it getting things planted and in and there’s still a little left to do after this sloppy Memorial Day. Will be getting some things planted this week and in before the beginning of June. But we’re in that stage where we get to sit back a bit and enjoy our labors as they grow.

Love that stage.

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Hope whatever stage you’re at – that all is well. 11 more days till summer break!!

Our journey into the world of Chickens…

When my wife came to me and suggested that we get chickens… initially – I thought she had kind of lost it. We’re in the middle of the city, I hadn’t taken the red pill of Urban Homesteading just yet, but at that time, there was a massive push by a local citizens alliance, “Chickens in the Yard” or C.I.T.Y. for short to get backyard hens legalized in the City of Salem. Shannon became very interested, we even attended a couple of the city council meetings… it was quite the battle, and the citizen alliance won out, but unfortunately, in the all encompassing wisdom of the Salem City Council, the first iteration of the ordinance involved a significant permit fee ($150), a bunch of legal hoops, semi-yearly coop inspections… all for 3 backyard hens. Realistically – the conditions were too onerous for the average citizen. Your die hard chicken keepers would keep chickens for that kind of money, but the average citizen would say no thanks. (which I think was kind of what the City of Salem actually wanted…)

Thankfully cooler minds prevailed, and the Salem City Council relaxed many of their outrageous expectations, and adopted a far more balanced approach. $40 dollar application for permit, a structural Coop Inspection prior to getting the chickens, then 5 birds. No complaints, no problem. Potential of fines if there are valid complaints.

Being that this was far more reasonable, Shannon wanted birds. Bad. We finally bit the bullet and started the project this past November once we made the decision to stay put and make this place our home.

For those of you who have been reading this blog since we started it, I have mentioned numerous times that we were in the process of going through the beginning steps, and getting it built. Due to many things: Scheduling, Weather, Material Acquisition, other projects that popped up, etc… it took significantly longer than we expected.

… Not to mention, the coop itself quickly became the flagship of our homestead, and as such – it became more of a precision project than a “slap it together and let’s get chickens” sort of deal. My brother-in-law is an incredible carpenter, and very giving person. So he agreed to help us out – and we are very thankful for that.

I’m happy to say that we built the entire coop save a couple of items from reclaimed materials. The only items we purchased for the coop itself were the fasteners to hold it together, the glass in the windows, the ring on the door pull, and the poultry netting. Everything else is recycled materials from torn down buildings, old fences, salvage parts from various places… all either donated, or salvaged ourselves.

I’m very proud of the work that we put into it, and the final product is truly beautiful.

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The process it took us to get there was exhausting, and took quite some time – some of you will look at it and go, “Oh, that’s nice.” Others of you are like me, and will want to see the process we underwent.  This will be a long post, but in case you don’t want to read the whole thing to get to the finished product, the TL;DR is above “Hey look we got chickens, and here’s where they live.” If you want to see more, keep reading…

With no further ado – here is our journey into the world of Chickens.

Just like real estate, with chickens its all about location, location, location… but no. Really it is. At least with the regulations we have in Salem. The coop has to be a certain distance from all neighboring buildings, fence lines, etc.. but thankfully we had this large patch of grass and junk next to our shed that used to be the home of an old gnarly diseased plum tree that we removed the first year we moved in. We tried various things there, but nothing really did well. Except of course… Grass and kids toys. They multiplied plentifully… perfect place for chickens. Centrally located, easily accessible… perfecto.


Once we had made the call to put the chickens there, we chewed up all the grass with the weedeater and laid down straw to choke out the grass, which worked remarkably well.  In future photos, that straw is what you will see piled in the middle of the lawn, in later photos, that is the reason for the large dead patch right smack dab in the middle of the back lawn. Ooops. 🙂


I began the process by digging out and leveling the ground, and setting foundation blocks along the footprint of the coop (Yes the one closest to the camera is wonky… whoops). The initial design gave us a coop that was 6 feet wide and 10 feet long. We didn’t want an exterior “run” being that we’re in Salem and it rains buckets, frequently sideways. So we wanted to enclose everything, giving them an internal run with roost space, nestboxes, etc.. figured 60 square feet was modest digs for 5 birds. The problem was – we had no materials whatsoever to build from this point. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on the coop, and I desperately wanted to use recycled materials. (I’d love to tell you it was all because I wanted to save the planet, but its more that I’m a total cheapskate… saving the planet was a close second though…)

My brother-in-law Matt worked for a construction company here in town owned by another friend of ours, and I told him what we were doing, and asked if he could keep me in mind if they had any demo that needed to get done – I figured I’d go in at night and tear stuff out to save the studs and materials and save a little here, little there. He said – we’ve got a house down right now, and it hasn’t gone in the dumpster yet… lemme call my boss and see if we can go and get it. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

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It was cold and wet, hence the fog on the camera lens, but we ended up with an entire truckload of old rough cut lumber…  (Which was CHOCK full of nails… there was much de-nailing to be done – but the coop building could commence!!)

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With the process just starting, our energy levels were high, (Of course we were downing energy drinks – so that may have helped), but we were excited, and worked HARD for a couple weeks to knock it out.

Walls went up.

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Beer was drank.




The roof went on – we cantilevered it out over the end closest to the house to shelter the nest box area from the driving rain of the Salem area.

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Old rustic looking cedar fence (complete with Sureno graffiti) became the exterior siding…

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At this point, there was a somewhat large break in time between the work, the weather got cold, rainy and nasty. Our schedules got busy, we ended up getting distracted with front yard projects and a bunch of other stuff. When we got back after it, much less pictures were taken – it was just focus and get things done. We trimmed out the windows and door, and cut in the chicken door, and built the 3 nestboxes. (Each nestbox is 12 inches high at the shortest point x 14 inches wide x 16 inches deep –plenty of space.)

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It came to the point it was time to get the windows done. We had some old windows – but they were covered in old flaky lead paint and kind of falling apart. I decided I didn’t want to mess with getting all the lead paint off of them, and shoring them up for use, so we built our own out of our leftover rough cut. I’m very pleased with how they turned out.


For the floor, we have relatively unique flooring. Pergo. Yes. You read that correctly, we dumpster dove at a local business in Salem that chucked a bunch of boxes of Pergo flooring, and we salvaged it. We managed to get enough to cover the 60 square feet, so we had an easily cleanable floor in the coop. (We are using sand and spot clean as we go, like a big old litterbox)

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We framed in the door, and put the remainder of the windows in. We had to add the flowerboxes as well… only the absolute necessities. 🙂


With the primary shell in place – we paid our fees and had the coop inspected – passing with no problems. Then it was time to finish outfitting the coop (feeder and waterer), add the ladder roost (which clips in place on the ceiling when you want to clean under it) and the poultry netting around the windows, sand substrate in – and of course getting our girls from their surrogate parents.

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The girls (Lady Gray, Java, Bekah, Arugala and Chicken Nugget) moved in during the first part of May. They’re total mutts, so it’s hard to nail down exactly what they are, but one or two look like they’re crossed with jungle fowl, the rest maybe English Game, one’s got some Ameracauna, the rest maybe Barnvelder, they might even have some Silkie in em… who knows. If it walks like a chicken, clucks like a chicken… it’s a chicken. 🙂

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… and of course the fruits of our labors.



We’ll get into more on the chickens as time goes on, I’m sure – but for now – we’re happy with where we are. We’re learning a lot in the process, and it’s really too soon to do a ‘Here’s what I would have done differently” analysis. For now, we’re getting eggs, the chickens are happy, the kids are happy, most importantly my fabulous wife is happy… therefore I’m happy. 🙂