Saturday, January 9, 2016

Flighty Chickens & Human Anxiety

According to a report in the Psychiatric Advisor, researchers at the University of Sweden may have identified the genes that cause some people to be more anxious than others by studying chickens. Yup, chickens!

As all chicken owners know, some chicken breeds are considered docile and others more flighty. The Swedish research team studied anxiety by crossbreeding domesticated Leghorns (less flighty) with wild Jungle Fowl (more flighty).

Red Jungle Fowl - Photo by Jason Thompson

The team then placed the resulting hybrid offspring into a field trial where the birds were introduced to an unfamiliar environment and observed their behavior.  More anxious birds tended to remain frozen with fear or darted about wildly while less anxious birds tended to explore their environment at a more measured pace. By then studying the genes of these birds they were able to identify 10 genes that appear to control anxiety in chickens. Three of the same genes in humans have been linked to schizophrenia, a disease that often overlaps with other anxiety disorders.

I suspect that the researchers chose Leghorns for the study because they are widely available and are less anxious than wild Jungle Fowl. However, it does appear an odd choice to us backyard chicken owners because Leghorns tend to be one of the more flighty of the domestic breeds.  I would have thought an Orpington or Delaware to be a better choice based on their reputations as docile birds. 

Delaware - Photo by Steven Walling

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Chicken's Christmas Carol

A Chicken's Christmas Carol Video

Saturday, November 7, 2015

unny 1 Bedroom Apt with Chickens

"Sunny 1 Bedroom Apt with Chickens!" 

This is a real Craigslist posting for a rental apartment. Only

in Berkeley, California could someone promote fast Wi-Fi

and use of a chicken coop together as features of a rental


Here's the Listing.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Why Chickens Lay Fewer Eggs In Winter

If you've had chickens for more than one season, you already know that egg production declines dramatically in Fall and Winter.  Many backyard flock owners assume that this is in response to lower temperatures but, in reality, it's a response to lower levels of light. 

In addition to their eyes, chicken's sense light thorough a gland in their brains that lies behind a thin area of bone on their skulls. The gland produces a hormone in response to light and this hormone controls egg production. 

Normally, chickens begin laying eggs in the spring when light levels exceed 14 hours per day. Producing more eggs in spring is a survival strategy; baby chicks are more likely to thrive in Spring and Summer when food is plentiful. Conversely, egg laying slows or ceases when light levels fall since this is a harbinger of leaner times to come. 

The difference in light levels between Winter and Summer will be most pronounced in northern latitudes where daylight hours vary the most.  The difference is due to the tilt of the Earth's axis.  (For a detailed explanation of how the Earth's axis impacts hours of daylight, check out the video at the end of this post.)

Below are the number of daylight hours in December and June for three cities that represent northern (Boston), central (Nashville) and southern (Austin) latitudes in the United States. As you can see, in Boston there's a 7 hour variation between Winter and Summer hours of daylight. In Austin, this variation is only 3 hours. What this means is that flock owners in the South will see a less severe change in egg production in the Fall and Winter than those who live in the North.

Man Made Sunshine For More Eggs

If you want to boost egg production in Winter, the answer is to create a little artificial sunshine to increase the total amount of daylight hours. A chicken's photo-receptors don't distinguish between the sun and and a light bulb, so running a fluorescent or incandescent light inside the coop can re-start egg laying during the winter months.

To do this, increase the total daylight hours by turning on the light in the morning so that the there are 16 hours daylight and 8 hours of darkness in any given day.

Using an incandescent light provides an additional benefit as these lights also throw off quite a bit of heat. A 40 watt bulb placed inside the coop can keep the temperature of the coop above freezing.  If you have a BriteTap poultry waterer or other chicken waterer that can freeze in the Winter, placing the waterer inside a coop with a light will also keep the waterer from freezing up.  More eggs and no frozen waterer is a double plus in our book.

The Earth's Axis & The Impact on Daylight Hours

Halloween Chicken Pumpkin Template

Every year, we carve a unique pumpkin for Halloween. In the past, we've carved zombies, spiders, dragons and all manner of ghostly and ghoulish things. Never, have we done a chicken pumpkin. So this year, we're getting our priorities right and celebrating the flock with a chicken pumpkin.

This particular design is quite easy since  you only have to carve out four relatively large sized pieces to complete the design. 

If you'd would like to carve this design, you can download a PDF of the template and print it out on your home printer. The template will measure about 8" across so you should buy a large sized pumpkin to carve. The best ones will have smooth skin and shallow or no ribs.

Total project time is about 30 minutes.


  • Thin serrated blade knife or pumpkin carving kit (see below)
  • Duct tape or masking tape
  • Large pumpkin
  • Metal spoon
  • pumpkin template

Carving Instructions:

1. Print out the template from:

2. Clean out the center of the pumpkin as you would with any Jack-o-lantern -- cut open the top and scoop out the inside with a metal spoon.

3. Tape the template to the pumpkin using masking or duct tape. This will allow you to more easily transfer the design to the surface of the pumpkin. To do this, trim off the excess paper that is outside of the boundaries of the design and make some slits on the template so you can get it to conform to the overall shape of the pumpkin.

4. Trace over the outline using a ballpoint pen. Press down hard so that the pen penetrates the paper and leaves a mark on the pumpkin skin. Some sections will show ink and other will only show an indentation where the pen embossed a line into the pumpkin's skin. 

5. Remove the template and draw over the embossed lines so that the whole design is fully inked and the lines are easy to see. 

6. Mark four "X" on the pumpkin in the four sections of the design that are black on the template. These are the parts you want to cut out.

7. Carefully cut out the four marked sections. 

This pumpkin is fairly easy to do. Below are some other designs we've carved in the past if you're looking for inspiration and don't want to do a chicken Jack-o-lantern. 

Please note that these other designs are far more difficult to execute, so if you decide make something like this, set aside a few hours for the project. 

Other Examples

Graves with family names on gravestones

Hangman & Tree

Grim Reaper & Coffin




Friday, October 9, 2015

How To Plant Garlic

In The Garden: Our monthly column on growing vegetables, herbs and fruit in your backyard.

Garlic For Strength

There's something about the strong smell and taste of garlic that historically has encouraged people to ascribe special powers to it. For example, everyone knows that garlic is said to have the power to ward off blood-thirsty vampires. If you eat garlic, and have not been bitten recently, you too can attest to garlic's amazing power.

That said, I'm not sure Dracula aficionados are aware that the Vikings revered garlic and fortified themselves by eating large quantities of it prior to departing on plundering raids.

A scary thought, eh? A horde of axe wielding Norsemen roll into town, burn the houses and steal the gold. Then, to add insult to injury, they celebrate with a banquet of garlic-laden bruschetta and stink the place up. No wonder people feared Erik the Red.

Well whether you're preparing to pillage your neighbors house or just making Sunday dinner, garlic can add a lot of flavor to you food. And the good news is that it's very easy to grow. Here's what you need to know to choose and grow garlic:

Hardneck & Softneck Garlic

Garlic is divided into two broad categories with different characteristics:

Softneck varieties have many cloves of varying sizes. Most supermarket garlic is of the softneck variety because it is easier to harvest mechanically and stores better than hardneck varieties. Softneck garlic also matures more quickly and can be grown in places where the winters are mild such as the Southern U.S. and California. 

Hardneck varieties have fewer cloves of more uniform size. These grow around a central stalk. This type of garlic does better where winters are cold. They are more diverse in their flavor profile and are easier to peel than their softneck cousins.

Both hardneck and softneck garlics varieties can vary widely with regard to size, flavor, aftertaste, and storage capabilities. If you haven't really considered garlic before, I think you'll be surprised at the number of choices you have.

To get a sense for the range, I recommend wandering over to the Territorial Seed web site where you'll see over 50 varieties including: Chinese Pink, Belarus, Music, Spanish Roja, Duganski and German Red. For the Fall season 2015, I'm growing a new variety for me called Music. It's supposed to produce very high yields so I thought I'd give it a try. In the past I've and also grown Inchelium Red and Purple Glazer. 

Below are a few descriptions of garlic that I'm reprinting from the Territorial Seed web site to give you a sense for the range of what's available:

Chinese Pink

Very early season. Garlic lovers rejoice! When fall planted, this extra-early-maturing variety will put fresh garlic back into your favorite recipes a whopping 4 to 6 weeks ahead of almost all others. You will be harvesting Chinese Pink late May to early June. All your garlic-loving friends will be green with envy. This fine quality softneck has cloves arranged in two layers, which makes most of the cloves of usable size. It has white outer skins, pinkish-purple inner skins, and pink clove wrappers; stores for 4-5 months. Chinese Pink has a nice mellow flavor that everyone can enjoy.

Inchelium Red Garlic
Mid-season. Inchelium Red is a national taste-test winner in the softneck division. This mild flavored garlic is great baked and blended with mashed potatoes. This large, top-quality softneck was discovered on the Colville Indian Reservation in northern Washington. Stores very well for 6-9 months.

Purple Glazer Garlic
Mid-season. You won't believe your eyes when you see the satiny clove wrappers of Purple Glazer. A vivid, royal purple tinged with shiny gold and/or silver hues makes this one of the most attractive garlics. As a sub-variety of Purple Stripe, a group known for being the "best baked garlic", Purple Glazer has a strong lasting flavor, but not hot and no aftertaste. Its texture is very palatable, like the consistency of cooked carrots. Very easy to peel.

Planting & Harvesting

Growing garlic is very easy. Just break the head of garlic into individual cloves and then plant these cloves in well drained soil about 6" apart and 2 inches deep in mild climates (3-4 inches deep in cold climates). When you plant the cloves, you want the pointed top of the garlic to face towards the sky.

The general advice is to plant garlic about a month before the ground freezes in your area. The easiest way to determine the right date, is to just do a Google search for "Garlic planting" and the name of your state.

Garlic planted in the Fall can be harvested in April/May in warmer climates and July/August in cooler climates. You'll know when to harvest because the leaves will turn brown. It's best to first harvest a few heads to make sure that they are of good size before harvesting the rest of the crop. You should also stop watering garlic about 2 weeks prior to harvest in order to help dry down the garlic heads.