Prelude to Chickens

I’ve been busying myself this winter with preparing to finally get chickens in the spring. I’ve wanted chickens for a while, but have been focused on establishing my garden  and navigating a detente with my wife over the issue of poultry. The garden will be entering its third year this spring, and my wife seems to have accepted the fruitlessness of her opposition, so full speed ahead!

I know nothing about raising chickens, so to that end I’ve been reading ‘Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.’ This book has been helpful in describing all manner of chicken keeping, from different breeds, coop construction, common chicken ailments, chicken biology, right down to how to slaughter and butcher your chickens.

I’ve also found some helpful info online, particularly at the Backyard Chicken Forum and also the creatively-named Chicken Forum. Like any forum populated by people who are overly enthusiastic about a particular subject, you can find great over analysis of pretty much anything related to chickens, which is helpful to someone like me who is just getting into chickens and probably over thinking every aspect of the process.

One area I’ve had trouble with is finding info in either English or Japanese about chickens in Japan. The problem is that the readily-available, most popular breeds here (the ones I can order from my local home center) don’t seem to be present in America or other English-speaking countries, so it’s hard to learn much about them. Even searching in Japanese, the fact that chickens aren’t as popular here for regular people means that there isn’t a ravenous online community providing information a la the Backyard Chicken folks.

But I have been able to glean some info here and there, and my neighbor actually started keeping chickens last year, so talking to her helped shed some light on a few of the breeds I was considering.

I’ll be placing my order next month, and the chicks will be ready in April. I’ve more or less decided on what to order, which will be 3 of a breed called Okazaki Ouhan. These are a hybrid in two ways — they are bred for both meat and eggs, and they are also a cross between Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock chickens — two popular breeds in the States. From what I’ve gathered, these chickens will produce a good amount of eggs for 2 or 3 years before they start slowing down, at which point I can eat them or put up with their declining production. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I also want to get 2 Silkie chickens, called Ukokkei in Japanese. These don’t lay as well as other breeds, and their eggs are smaller, but I’ve grown enchanted after researching since they are supposed to have great personalities. I’m viewing these animals as family pets in addition to their utilitarian function, so something about having a chickens I can connect with is appealing.

The other thing I’ve been obsessing over is the design of my chicken coop. I’ll get into that in another post, but the first order of business was to decide where to put it. I had long considered putting it here:

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It’s a sheltered part of the yard, and putting a chicken coop there would also serve to obscure a portion of my neighbors hideous concrete retaining wall. But I realized the design I was thinking of would be a tight fit, and seeing that that area tends to get pretty wet when it rains, I decided on the other side of the house.

This strip of land is about 6 feet wide, and I’ve been hesitant to plant anything there since there are a bunch of water and drainage pipes running about a foot under the surface that tree and shrub roots interfere with (not sure if it’s a legitimate concern or not). So I had settled on raised beds…until the chicken coop came along. One major advantage of this spot is that one whole side is 6 feet off the ground, so I know the neighborhood fox won’t be getting in that way, at least.

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The way the fence ends so abruptly at this point is something that bugs me. Originally there was a length of fence running directly to the house, which I had built to pen in my young children and keep them from plunging face first onto the sidewalk below. I removed that section a while ago once the kids got better motor control/common sense, and it’s been eating me up inside ever since!

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I decided to spell my enthusiasm about building the chicken coop by adding a low section of fence to add at least a little more aesthetic continuity. It has no chicken-related function whatsoever, but once the chicken coup is in place the fence will look even better!

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Relocating the small raised bed was simple; the large one will remain.

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Ahem…couldn’t get my CAD software working, so Paint it was for a simple rendition of the future coop. I’ll also build an attached run so the chickens have somewhere to mingle when they aren’t working in the garden.

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Street view!

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I’ll be on vacation in a few days, and all I want to do is build a chicken coop. Stay tuned.

Forest Garden Year 2

Happy new year! Unfortunately for you, ‘blogging more’ is not one of my resolutions, at least if you are someone who frequently checks this blog only to be disappointed, but I will endeavor to be a bit more, ahem, regular, around here. I was busy for a the few months cramming my brain full of kanji and Japanese grammar in preparation for a Japanese test at the beginning of December, and these pesky kids take up so much time, and of course it’s winter, or supposed to be at least, so there isn’t much going on garden wise. So here’s a rundown of where things stood in the fall of the second year of my young forest garden.

I planted a pretty modest winter garden this year, with only a few each of broccoli, Chinese cabbage (hakusai), regular cabbage, daikon, and some leftover kale seeds I had. I’ve planted too much in the past, so this year I aimed for ‘just right,’ but my aim was off in terms of when to plant. I planted everything late, which means here in January, when things are hardly growing, I have yet to harvest anything.

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On the up side, there are no bugs/slugs this year. I used a bit of experimental compost made from pine needles that I picked up (more on that in the future) that, in addition to filling your veggies with vitality, is supposed to deter insect. So it could be that, or it could just be a down year for bugs and slugs. The jury is out.

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I decided to plant garlic in one of my raised beds. I’m thinking this might of been a mistake as well, since it’ll be taking up space into summer when I could probably already be harvesting the salad greens I should have planted there again. In the future I think I’ll just disperse garlic all throughout the forest garden where it won’t be taking up valuable annual space and may even be help deter unwanted insects around fruit trees and shrubs.

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I harvested quite a few small, tart mikan from the tree I just planted in the spring. It produces quite a few fruit but is hardly able to support their weight.

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And some fruit from my strawberry tree. I didn’t really know what to expect from this evergreen, but this custardy little berry-fruits are pretty nice.

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I got a decent harvest of ginger and turmeric, most of which I used to concoct some ‘fire cider’ that is meant to ward of colds and other winter ailments.

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I’ve hinted at the extremely mild winter we’ve had so far, but the one snow we did have managed to take down my beloved acacia tree. I think this thing was doomed from the start, too pot bound and fast growing to every spread roots capable of sustaining its major top-heaviness. I’ve stressed about it tipping over constantly, and even had a bunch ropes set up to support it during heavy winds and snow, but forgot to lash it down before we received a meager 3-4 inches of snow. When I woke up in the morning and casually looked out the window, it was flopped on the ground. I was almost relieved. I’m looking around for something nitrogen fixing to replace it with in the spring, probably another acacia.

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I also planted some additional perennial things in the fall — a ‘bikkuri gumi,’ an almond tree, a sugar prune and yellow cherry tree, as well as a few more raspberry bushes because I’ve realized you can never have too many raspberries.

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I’ve got my eyes on shoehorning in a few more things in the spring, but my main focus in on chickens, which I’m really looking forward to getting in a few months. I’m currently figure out which breeds to get and how to design a coop. I want egg layers, and in Japan the main breeds seem to be Nagoya Cochin, Boris Brown, Okazaki Ohan. I can order all of those from my local home center, as well as Ukkei, which are called Silkie in America I think, and I’m kind of taken by those fluffy things. If you’re reading and have any input on anything chicken related, please comment.

So forest garden year two? Everything grew, one thing fell down, most of the major installments are still pretty small and not productive…but things are getting established, and that’s exciting!