Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Egg-rich! Chicken update

We are egg-rich! Currently we are getting 5-6 eggs/day from our lovely layers and are handing them to any friends who drop by for a visit. We are so proud of our hens, who have all learned to lay in the nest boxes over the past month (Aug 22 was our first egg). We have also been able to employ several friends as chicken-sitters, when we go away for a night or weekend trip. This is a must for any urban chicken keepers, as the birds do need to be fed and watered, as well as let out for a stretch several times a day.

The girls love to eat greens - as much as they can get, so we feed them bunches of it cut into small strips with their feed every day, as well as hanging bunches from strings along the fence of their enclosure so they can nibble all day. They especially love comfrey (which encourages laying), broccoli greens, kale, swiss chard, dandelion greens, and the latest, sorrel. We also give them grains such as buckwheat (especially kasha, which is roasted buckwheat and this is a real treat for them), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (which deter mites), oats, millet, quinoa, etc. Shredded carrot, and any kind of berries or fruit (grapes, raspberries, melon) - fresh or dry - is their absolute favourite, and they will go crazy for these snacks.

We are starting to prepare their winter house. We have not been able to find much information in books or on the internet regarding winter/northern chicken keeping. The main detail we've learned is that chickens can survive fairly cold weather, down to several degrees below zero, as long as they are out of the wind (so they don't get frostbite). It seems we could keep them in their coop over the winter, if we added a heat lamp or small heater, but this poses a slight fire hazard and also means running electricity for days on end. Our plan is to house them in our greenhouse, where we have planted fresh greens for them to eat, and they would have more space to roam. On sunny days we will let them stroll in the yard, or under the outdoor coldframes just to get some more exercise and fresh air.

We have been meeting various other people here in the city who also keep chickens. There seems to be a small underground urban chicken keeping movement, and so we are considering starting a urban chicken keepers alliance, so we can help create more of a network where we can support each other, as well as further the idea of chickens within urban agriculture/food security plans. If there are any other local urban chicken keepers out there reading this, please contact us if you have ideas or (in other cities) if have formed such networks and could give us advice from your experiences.

Affordable homemade wood-fired hot tub!

As a new feature for our homestead my partner is currently working on a wood-fired hottub. His design is based on a combination of cedar tubs from out West that are fired up with a chofu heater, ancient soaking tubs from Japan, and small Dutch wood-fired tubs ( The plan is to build an efficient, beautiful, and inexpensive tub, using materials we have on hand.

The basic idea is to start with the size of tub you want - either build one (from cob, cement, metal), retrofit an existing bathtub/clawfoot tub, or, in our case, buy a 150 gallon stock tank from the local farm store. Secondly, insulate the tub as necessary, to help hold in the heat of the water. Thirdly, find a way to heat your water. This can take many forms - either a woodburning stove with a water coil wrapped around, a chofu heater (* see note below), or solar-heated tank. I once lived on an organic farm near Nelson, BC that heated water for their outside shower and bathtub in a large black plastic barrel that was ontop of the shower structure. We took baths or showers at night if we wanted warm water (after the sun had warmed the tank all day long), or cool showers in the morning. This was a very simple design, that is easily manageable for the novice builder - but your property needs adequate access to sun.

In our case, we are hoping to buy an old woodstove, and use a coiled pipe wrapped around it to heat our water. Currently we are heating water in a very rustic way, by the kettle on our firepit which is located beside the tub. Once the main body of water is heated it's actually not that much effort to continue to heat water by the kettle to top up the tub, and have a cozy campfire burning beside us as we lounge in the tub under the stars! For our guests, the woodfired model would be more suitable.

The photo shows our tub, with two sitting benches inside, and the insulation layer. We have a large volume of old tongue&groove boards in our barn, and this is going to be the outer covering, followed by a wider platform on which to sit around the edge of the tub. More photos to come as this project unfolds...

* Note on the chofu: The chofu is a precision built wood-burning water heater designed specifically for hot tubs. It circulates water using the principal of thermosiphon (the pumping action created by rising hot water), eliminating the need for a circulating pump or electricity. This unique feature opens up a whole new range of possibilities for alternative hot tubs. Now you can have a basic soaking tub without pumps, chemicals, or high maintenance. With the chofu heater you can retrofit an existing tub or put together a low-cost soaking tub, using a wooden tub or stock tank (from