The First Mow

Last weekend’s sunny, warm weather beckoned me out to work in the chicken yard. The first order of business: mowing the chicken lawn. And while the neighbors can’t see this patch of the backyard, it’s actually not the best thing to let the grass grow tall. Especially where the chickens free range since long pieces of grass and weeds are much more likely to get stuck in a crop and compact it than the shorter, trimmed variety. (Thankfully this has never happened to me. Even on winter-turning-to-spring season when I’m slow to get moving.)

Lawn mowing day is a spectacular event in the chicken yard. The chickens LOVE it. They come running when they hear the lawn mower start up. And follow behind me as I cut the wieldy grass down. Oh the glee of it! One never knows what lurks underneath all that grass!

They scour the rows of cut stubble….


They play queen of the grass mound….


And when they’ve had their fill (I mean, look at this girl’s cleavage! I don’t think one more blade of grass would fit inside her)….


…they humor me with chicken selfies…


Oh, how I love spring and the promise of the coming summer. The fat and sassy chickens love it, too. All is good with the world on the first mow of spring.

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Baby Bunnies, Baby Chicks and Baby Ducks

One day old Peep. Who could resist?

One day old Peep. Who could resist?

What’s more irresistible than a baby chick, duckling or bunny? Especially as Easter approaches and parents think about how cute it would be to plop a live animal in the middle of the Easter celebration.

I’m ALL for chick, duckling and bunny ownership… (I am, after all, a chicken addict and want everyone to join me in the vice!)…as long as it’s done right. If you’re considering first time live-baby-animal-cuteness for Easter, please do your research and know what you’re getting into. It can be an awesome experience if you go in educated and prepared.

Should your family hop into the live ‘Easter’ animal ownership? Maybe.

Jordan with some of 'her' chicks that later became MINE.

Jordan with some of ‘her’ chicks that later became MINE.

But first ask yourself these questions:

Are you prepared to take care of the animal(s) for up to 15 years?

Are you prepared for the cost of these animals (which includes housing, food, bedding, food and water containers, first aid, and misc. other (often unexpected) expenses)?

Are you prepared for taking care of the animals yourself if your kids lose interest? (Ultimately YOU are the one responsible anyway so it’s best to think of this as your pet (at least in your own mind) right off the bat.)

Do you have time to adequately care for and (when applicable) train these animals?

Do you have space to adequately house and care for these animals, 365 days a year, rain or shine, sickness or vacation?(Chickens need a MINIMUM of 4 square feet of chicken coop space and the same of chicken run space—and those are just very minimal requirements—they  do better with much more. And they don’t go away when you go on a 2 week family vacation.)

Will you be okay if the animal doesn’t preform like a dog or cat? (Although I ADORE my hens and they’re personable and tame and some even sit in my lap, they are NOT like my cat and I don’t have the same expectations of them—but children might if they don’t understand the difference.)

Do you have the time and ability to train children on the proper care and handling of these baby animals (which are fragile)?

Do you have a warm, indoor space for these babies while they’re too young to live outside?

Are there zoning laws in your town/city that will prevent you from having these animals? Check first before bringing any animals home.

Baby Eve. Awwwwww.

Shelters in places like Chicago have actually talked some pet stores into NOT selling bunnies until AFTER EASTER, just to sidestep the trendy notion that these animals are like any other Easter toy found in the Easter basket. They suggest, also, that if you’re looking for bunnies to wait a few weeks AFTER Easter and adopt through a shelter that has begun taking them in by droves after the reality of bunny ownership has set in.

I Got My First Duckling At Easter

And I don’t mean to be a downer. I got my first adorable duckling as a kid for Easter. We already had chickens and horses and a set up (and an understanding) of what duck ownership would entail. My ducks lived a happy life on our mini-farm. It all worked out great.

When I got my first chicks as an adult, part of the flock was Easter gifts for nieces and nephews, who cooed over them and held them endless hours when they were tiny, fluffy and cute. They each named their own chick (all of which were different breeds to tell them apart). Once chicks moved out to the coop, the whole chicken thing was pretty much over for the kids. I suspected as much, and actually, planned for it. I wanted the flock all to myself anyway and in the meantime, the birds were super tamed as chicks and are now happy, friendly adults. And they’re all mine.

Lots of baby Easter animals don’t fare as well, however. Baby animals are living creatures (that grow up and aren’t as cute).  I know this seems an obvious statement, but shelters complain that the flux of animal abandonments and deaths post-Easter is staggering.  According to some of the statistics, as many as 30% of those cute Easter animals die within the first few weeks and another 50-70% are abandoned or turned in to shelters. Many of those turned in are euthanized simply because of the volume of animals they must deal with.

If you’ve carefully considered the realities of ‘Easter Pet’ ownership, GO FOR IT!! Having chickens is one of the best things in my life. I love it and don’t regret a single moment of it. And it can be that way for you, too.

Here are some sources to help you glean more information on the animals you might be considering for Easter (or, considering just because you want them!):

Raising Chicks

20+ Reasons Why You Should Raise Chickens

Raising and Caring for Ducklings

House Rabbit Society (a non-profit rabbit rescue that has lots of info to get started with bunnies)

My two websites offer lots of practical information for getting started:

City Girl Chickens

City Girl Farming

And if you’ve already taken the plunge, or have Easter animal stories to tell, please share them with us!

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What is Diatomaceous Earth? (And Seven Reasons to Use It)

 Photo credit:

Diatomaceous Earth magnified a TON Photo credit:

Diatomaceous Earth, often referred to simply as D.E., is not much more than a bunch of ground up, fossilized marine phytoplankton (to the tune of about 400,000 shells per cubic inch). Its white-ish, silky powder reminds me of baby talc powder, or fine baking flour.  The neighbor kids like to run their fingers through it, enamored by the soft, powdery texture.

The first pile of these tangled tiny skeletons was discovered around 1836 and was thought to be limestone.  It was eventually incorporated into a variety of  different products, many that you probably use today. (Things such as toothpaste and face scrub, kitty litter, swimming pool filters, filler in plastics, and absorbent materials to clean up messes like oil spills.)

But what’s the big deal about a bunch of crunchy bug parts? And why should you care? Well, for starters, D.E. is a great non-toxic solution for many urban farming woes.

Here are a few reasons why FOOD GRADE Diatomaceous Earth*** might become one of your best friends:

It kills bugs in the garden. Dust the plants with D.E. to help protect them. There are two theories why this works: one is that the sharp shells that make up the powder cut insects up. The other is that D.E. absorbs the waxy coat off insects, dehydrating them and causing them to die. Either way, it’s a win/win for a gardener looking for a non-toxic solution to save their plants.

D.E. mixed in to the dirt where the girls bathe.

D.E. mixed in to the dirt where the girls bathe.

(I stick my D.E. in a shaky cheese container and use it that way. I’ve also heard of people dumping it into a nylon stocking and shaking it out that way. If you have breathing problems, use a mask or cover face–the tiny particles won’t hurt you if you swallow them, but they might irritate you some.)

D.E. only works when DRY, so reapply after it rains (or if it’s still in place after the rain, allow it to dry back out and it will work again).

It kills slugs. Use same as above…but being in the rain belt like I am, I thought slugs needed their own category (another great slug solution is crushed egg shells for much of the same reason).

It kills bugs in the coop and chicken run. When I clean out the coop, I sprinkle a layer of D.E. in the coop before I add wood chips. I also sprinkle it into the dirt in the run, and in areas around the yard where the hens will dust bathe. And don’t forget the nesting boxes!

It kills worms inside your hens (and other farm animals such as goats and cows). I sprinkle a bit of D.E. into the feed when I feed the chickens. When the hens eat the D.E., it will help kill any internal bugs.

(Just side note here, MEDICAL GRADE D.E. has been used on humans to de-worm them as well….plus, many companies mix D.E. in with their grain because it acts as an anti-caking agent while killing bugs, so you’ve probably eaten it in your bread. The guy at my local feed store says he drinks it in his coffee…I personally haven’t been brave enough to try that!)

It kills ants and other bugs inside the house. Again, it’s a toxic free alternative to ant, flea, bed bugs, dust mites and other household insects.

It’s inexpensive and doesn’t go bad (as long as you keep it dry). The best deal is to buy it by the 50 lb bag (a bag this size lasts me several years). The first time I bought it, I shared it with a friend, but now I just keep the bag and use it until it’s gone.

It’s safe to use and non-toxic. Although, one caution is to cover mouth/nose when using it to prevent irritation to the throat. You can apply to your plants and even pick them immediately. You can also use around other animals and people.

As with all things, pay attention to your gardens and flocks and other animals. Some people swear by D.E. as the only thing they’ve ever needed. Some say it’s great, but it’s only a deterrent and doesn’t always 100% work.

I really like the stuff, but my philosophy is: don’t stop checking for bugs, assuming they’re gone. Err on the side of caution, and never assume you won’t have a problem again. Nothing is ever certain. Worst case scenario, you’ll cut your issues down to a minimum, best case, D.E. will be the only thing you will ever need. Expect the first, hope for the last.

And if there are things you use D.E. on, let us know. It’s always great to share the wealth of information with everyone.

****IMPORTANT NOTE: Use FOOD GRADE ONLY. This is a D.E. solution that contains LESS THAN 1% silica. There are many grades of D.E., used for a variety of things. Paying attention to this important factor will save you and your animals from harm.****

PS In full disclosure: the link above to Amazon is an affiliate link (however the link below IS NOT). If you click on the above link and buy something, it helps pay for chicken food.

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Getting Started: Chick Check List and Resources

If you haven’t taken the backyard chicken plunge yet, let me warn you: Chickens are addictive! You’ll never be the same.

Before I dove in, I was a bit nervous. It’s one thing to grow up in the country and have chickens where my parents kept things running smoothly and I just had to scoop poo from time to time, but it’s totally different to be in charge of them without any adult experience (or so I thought). Back in the day, chickens were considered a food source. They weren’t named (well, except Phyllis Diller, a Polish with wild feathers sticking up on top her head). They weren’t pets. And I wasn’t solely responsible for them.

Yet, as an adult living in the city, I wanted more control over my food, even if just a little. I didn’t see my city chickens (i.e.: pets with names and personalities) as a complete food source themselves, but I did see them as a way to have fresh eggs delivered daily from the back yard.

Some of my first girls the day I brought them home.

Harriet with her first batch of hatched darlings

And, I have to say bringing those first cute chicks home was one of the best decisions I’ve made as an adult. I love ‘my girls’ and what they’ve brought to my life—which is much more than free-range eggs I expected (which would have been enough).

Spring is the kick off of chick season. So if you’re ready to jump into the movement of keeping chickens in your backyard, there are a few things you need to know first:

  1. Check to make sure you can have chickens were you live. If your city allows chickens, that doesn’t mean your H.O.A. will, so make sure you cover all the bases.  Even if your city allow hens, they probably won’t allow roosters (which you don’t need for eggs and your hens will be fine without one), and most will also have a limit on the number of chickens you can have…three, five, eight, etc. as well as guidelines about where your coop can be placed. Doing a little research up front can save you potential problems later on.
  2. Do some reading. Learn about chicken care and breeds. There are over 250 kinds of chickens with unique characteristics. Decide which of those characteristics are most important. Do you want docile birds because you have children? Do you want good egg layers because you’re most concerned about quantity? Do you want a specific egg color (white, light brown, speckled, dark brown, green, blue, etc.)? You can see my favorites lists here, and the reasons why, and how to pick the best ones for your situation.
  3. After you’ve chosen your breeds of choice, find out where you can get them. With the rise in chicken popularity, you have a good chance to get at least some of what you want locally, but if not, there are several mail-order chick companies that can send them to you (fresh hatched chicks don’t need to eat or drink for a couple of days because they’re still living off the yolk they just hatched from so new hatched chicks are shipped off quickly before the food and drink issue becomes a problem).
  4. If you want to start with chicks, you’ll need a brooder. Set one up before you bring your chicks home. Here’s information on how to set up a brooder. It’s not hard and doesn’t need to cost a ton.
  5. If you don’t have a coop, build or buy one BEFORE you bring chicks home—even BEFORE you go look at those cute fluffy things that you won’t be able to resist. Trust me on this one. The 6-8 weeks the babies need to stay indoors flies by at crazy speed and before you know it you’ll have a flock of chickens, ahem, with no place to live. Like I said, trust me on this one. Here’s my coop-building story (learn from my mistakes!!). And here are a few coops to fuel your inspiration.

    My chicken coop

Many cities have inexpensive chicken 101 classes you can attend before becoming new chick parents. I highly suggest taking one of those if you’ve never had chickens before, however, don’t worry if you can’t make one. They’ve got lots of great books out there, too, that cover all the bases. Here are some of my favorites:

Raising Chickens For Dummies
by Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow
This is a great guide for anyone wanting to get into chickens. It’s pretty comprehensive and easy to read. This book does a good job at covering all the bases in chicken raising. Because of that, it’s my favorite go-to chicken resource.

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flockbook  
There are a few things I love about this chicken book. One, it’s beautiful. The layout, the pictures, all of it. It’s just pleasing to look at. But this book is more than a picture book. It’s filled with everything you  need to know to get started with chickens, including supply lists and plans to build your own coops and chicken nest boxes. There’s also a great section on chicken breeds, along with full-color photos to help you decide which breeds will be the best fit for you. And there’s even egg recipes included!

Just A Couple Of Chickens: Raising Poultry and a Family in Hard Times
by Corinne Tippett
This isn’t a handbook for raising chickens, but it’s a great true-life chicken raising experinence. It’s worth the read because: 1. It’s very funny. 2. If you’re wanting to raise poultry of any kind, you can learn from someone else’s experience 3. There’s a section in the back filled with practical information and resources for you to get started with a flock of your own–whether that’s chickens, quail, pheasants or more.

Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock
by Judy Pangman
This book is a WONDERFUL resource for gleaning ideas in making your own backyard coop. There’s many great coops in the book with pictures and plans to get your juices flowing.

And don’t forget online chicken information. There’s our website, City Girl Chickens, filled with good information. And Backyard Chicken has a great forum to ask questions and interact with other chicken owners.

Oh, and don’t forget the resource of talking to other chicken owners! From my experience, they’re all about as enthusiastic as I am about raising chickens and will be able to help you with your first-time-parent jitters as well as share some enduringly great stories with you.

Since becoming a chicken owner, I haven’t ever had a single regret. Aside maybe waiting so long to do it. And because of that, I’ve become a chicken ‘pusher’…I think everyone should enjoy the benefits of owning chickens! It would make the world a happier place. jordan-feeds-chickens-small

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Baby it’s COLD Outside!


Winter has been a doozy this year so far, hasn’t it? Here in the Pacific NW, we’ve had less rain and more blue skies than normal along with a few stretches of colder than normal temps followed by warmer than normal temps. It’s been crazy. And all the while much of the rest of the nation has suffered under abnormal amounts of snow.

Just last week, as I was out walking in a hoodie, I took a video with my phone to send to one of my sisters who is buried in snow in Minnesota, bragging about our spring-like temps. A few days later, I’m eating my words….

Three days of snow (a rarity here) followed by a day of freezing rain and we’re encrusted in an icy winter wonderland around these parts. Lovely to look at. Not too lovely to live in. And the animals? Well, they’re just not having it!

atWindow CharletteSilhouette Truman

During the three day flurry, the winter winds blew from a the wrong direction (I only cover one side of the run, leaving the other open since the wind usually only blows from the east) so mounds of  snow drifted into chicken run. The hens refused to come out of the coop the first day. Not even cracked corn would convince them otherwise.

I worked on making the chicken run a bit less windy and snowy by covering the bottom half of the exposed wall with feed sacks strung together (I couldn’t get out of the driveway to go buy a tarp, so I had to get creative. It’s working perfectly.)feedbags

The girls eventually gave in and came down to the run, and are slowly adjusting to the climate. They still refuse to venture out into the snow, however. But I don’t blame them.chickens

Since most of the words coming out of my mouth these days sound like Brrrrr….I thought I’d just leave you with a few photos from the less than balmy Pacific NW.  Enjoy. And stay warm.


The view through my window…not so good with the freezing rain!


Thyme Popsicle anyone?

Trees helicopterTree coop chickenWire Blueberries

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Egg Shells (for Calcium)

Chicken with SignDon’t throw those egg shells away. Recycle them back into your chickens. Yep, feed them to your hens. In one end, out the other…or I guess it would be out one end and into the other…uhm…well, yes.


Egg shells are a great source of calcium for chickens. If you’re raising layers, you’ve probably got them on a layer food (if you don’t, it would be a good idea to switch to one) and that layer food is specially formulated to give hens what they need during their laying years. But extra calcium still needs to be offered to the flock. This can be in the form of oyster shells (which you can buy already ground up at the feed store). Or you can use egg shells. I actually use both oyster shell and egg shells. But hands down (or would that be beaks?), my hens way, way, WAY prefer the egg shells (personally I would too…they’re prettier and smell better).

It’s easy to prepare egg shells for the chickens. Here’s how:

1. Save a bunch of egg shells Shells-on-sheet

2. After you have enough to spread out on a cookie sheet, stick them in a 225 degree oven for about 30 minutes. (This kills all the germs, etc. that might be lurking and also keeps girls from realizing they’re eating eggs–you don’t want to encourage that kind of behavior).

3. After the shells have baked, dump them in a bag and roll over them with a rolling pin a bunch. You want them crushed up pretty fine. RollingPin

4. Always give extra calcium to your flock as a free choice (put it in a container separate from the feed). They know when they need it and they will get it themselves. EatingShells

I’ve heard some say that feeding egg shells to chickens is a bad idea because it will start your hens pecking on their fresh laid eggs. I’ve been doing this for years, however, and I’ve never had an egg pecking out break because of it. I don’t think they realize that those baked bits of shell are the leftovers from an egg they laid before.

I often mix the egg shells in with oyster shells because the girls love the egg shells so much they see it as another food group and consume it in large quantities, which probably isn’t the best thing. Mixing it with oyster shells extends the ‘coop life’ of those shells significantly.

If you have egg shells coming out your ears, besides being a good source of calcium for your flock, here’s several more ideas of what you can do with them. Egg shells are amazing! I can’t imagine why people might think they are trash! My girls wouldn’t understand that either. They come running when they see a bag of freshly baked and crushed shells in my hand. Mmmm. Mmmm. Eat up!

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What’s Stalking Your Flock (and How to Protect Them)

chicken predators in action

This pair was caught on the camera, but not before five hens were killed.

Lately I’ve been hearing about people losing their entire flock in a night by a variety of different predators.  Some of these people have been raising chickens for a very long time, so it’s not just some kind of newbie mistake. (One of the hens lost recently was nine years old!) One family I know has been raising chickens in the same location for over 20 years without a single problem, and then lost their whole flock in one night. Another friend lost six hens during the day, while she was home, when some coyotes came into the yard and hauled her chickens off.

I’m not trying to scare you. Not really (only sort of). But predators do pose a serious threat, even in the city. There are all sorts of animals (wild and domestic), many of whom you’ve probably never noticed or given thought to, that would love to have a nice, fresh chicken dinner from your yard.

If you’d rather not be the local animal diner, there are ways to help keep your hens safe. And most of them aren’t even very hard to put into place. While there are a host of animals that pose a threat to chickens, I’m going to focus mainly on the ones more commonly found in the areas where urban flocks live. Many of the precautions are general and work for all predators, but some animals have specific things that will deter them better, so I’ll talk in generals as well as specifics.

Here are some general guidelines:

Secure the Coop and Run

Use hardware cloth on your coop and run. Although it’s more expensive than chicken wire, it’s worth the added expense. (Chicken wire basically only helps keep chickens in. It’s not strong enough to do a very good job of keeping other animals out. (Even little animals like rats can chew through it.) Attaching the hardware cloth to your coop and run using washers and screws also helps keep the hardware cloth from being pulled off the coop/run walls. Don’t forget to cover the coop windows as a window screen is essentially useless.

When adding hardware cloth, bury it about a foot deep, down around the chicken run. This will help discourage animals from tunneling down under to get inside your coop. You can also fill this trench up with concrete for added re-enforcement.

(I built my coop and run on top of an old RV pad—I added dirt into the chicken run for padding for the girls, but it has kept animals from digging down under the walls because the asphalt stops them.) A similar kind of thing would be to use pavers under the walls of the chicken run, to help keep digging in check.

Adding a metal or wood apron around the bottom part of the run will help secure the most vulnerable part of the chicken run. Some animals won’t try to dig under with an apron in place because they need to be able to see their prey as they dig. Providing a visual barrier helps deter them.

Cover the chicken run with wire or a roof or both. Netting will keep birds out from above, but other animals can easily rip through netting and climb inside.

A backyard fence is a good deterrent for stray neighborhood dogs (which is one of the biggest killers of urban chickens). It also helps keep your free ranging chickens in the areas you want them in and away from other areas.

Keep the Chicken Area Clean

Dirty, cluttered, food strewn places attract all the wrong things. Rodents love to live and hide in piled up wood, bricks, brush, etc. and are drawn to dirty coops. All animals are attracted to food and scraps. Keeping the chicken coop, run and yard area picked up and less attractive to animals will cut the traffic down.

(I learned the hard way with my compost bin that having non-enclosed bins will attract rats in a big way. And rats multiply at astonishing rates. In every short order, we had a full blown issue that took professional services to eradicate. It was a big mess!)

Don’t forget picking up fruit as it falls off the trees. Think like an animal needing to forage for their next meal when looking around your yard. What would attract you if you were hungry? Get rid of it or lock it up so they can’t get to it.

In the same way, picking up extra feed at night (or covering it with a rodent guard) helps keep rodents at bay.

Add Safe Places

If you have free range birds, adding shrubs or strategically placed branches, etc. will give hens a place to run under to gain protection, especially from airborne predators.  (This also gives them shade protection in the summer heat, so it’s an added bonus.)

My hens adore a scruffy rhododendron bush in the chicken yard. I’d actually love to cut the sad thing down, but I don’t have the heart to do it because it’s my girls favored place to hang.  And I’ve seen it in action as a protection as a hawk as stalked them from above. So, sigh. It will stay, eye sore or not.

All of these general security measures will help keep your flock safer, as well making your property less attractive to hang in. But there are other, specific things you can do when you know which kinds of animals you’re dealing with.

Here are some animal specific guidelines:

So cute, but so dangerous to the flock!

So cute, but so dangerous to the flock!

(The following are ideas to use in addition to the ones above, not instead of.)

Raccoons: They’re very smart animals that can open latches, dig tunnels, climb over gates and up walls, and even reach into a run (even a run they can’t break into) and grab chickens. Adding latches that are raccoon proof is a good idea. This means, a latch that takes more than ONE step to open (or adding a padlock to the latch).

Possums:  They don’t like noise and light. Wind chimes, Christmas lights, strobe lights, turning on a radio, etc. are all things that can help keep them away. (And now you have a legitimate reason for keeping your Christmas lights up year round!)

Hawks, owls and other birds:  Many of the same things used for possums work also for birds. Add to that, metallic ribbons and CD’s hanging by a string (they glisten in the sunshine). Owls are smart, though. If you just use lights, they’ll eventually figure it out. Keep them guessing.

Rats, mice, squirrels and other tiny rodents:  Collect your eggs regularly as these types of animals are more likely to feast on eggs than chickens (although they also like chicks and could occasionally take on a smaller hen). Some people set up squirrel feeders on the opposite side of the property to give squirrels a reason to congregate in areas away from the coop.

Coyotes and dogs: They love dog food and garbage. Keep those both picked up. A high fence might help, but some could still jump over. Adding 18-24” of wire, flat on the ground (buried a bit) all around the run can help discourage digging. If the dog belongs to you, make sure he is ‘chicken safe’ before allowing him to be with your flock unsupervised. Some dogs are great with chickens, even protecting them. Others see them as a distraction from boredom and attack them.

Snakes: Keep the yard mowed and hiding places removed as snakes don’t like to be out in the open.

Other hens:  Yes, sometimes the flock needs to be protected from each other, or from things (illness, mites, etc.) that infest them. This, however, is a topic unto itself. Read more about that here.

Of course, taking every precaution available doesn’t guarantee 100% safety for your hens. However, if you put some simple things into practice, both you and your girls should sleep better at night. And that keeps everyone happy (except for the wild animals having to look elsewhere for their next meal).

Everyone is into selfies these days...cats can potentially cause threat to a flock, but generally only to chicks. I've never had a problem with the many cats that come in and out of my backyard.

Everyone is into selfies these days…cats can potentially cause threat to a flock, but generally only to chicks. I’ve never had a problem with the many cats that come in and out of my backyard.

PS Thanks to my brother, CJ, who captured these pictures outside his coop up in central Washington and let me borrow them for this post.

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