Season 4 was promised to be a new level. In this episode, Mat investigates the popularity of chickens. He talks first to a colleague Ryan Detwiler, who raises chickens, and then to Kristin White of Chicken Librarian, a homesteading service and new content partner. Why do people own chickens? Which should you pick? Can you do it in the city? And why does the word "chicken" mean coward? Open your ears and get ready to laugh and learn as the Chicken Librarian teaches you the "Egg Song."
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Episode 44. Chicken Run
Mat: There's no official count on the number of people in the United States who raise chickens. But according to happy chicken coop, my go to resource, the USTA predicted that 5% of America, 13 million people, would be raising their own backyard flocks by this year, it feels like a popular choice. Amazon alone has nearly a hundred listings just for prefabricated chicken coops searches on Amazon for baby chicks supplies were up by triple figures.
My Pet Chicken, a hatchery in Connecticut, reported that by the first week of March in 2020, sales were already at 98% of the previous year's figures. By the end of March, the number increased to more than five. Clearly the pandemic has spurred an interest in self-sufficiency. I feel it too, but there's also a trend about people wanting to know where their food comes from.
Now, I'm an English major, raised by an English major, son-in-law to an English professor, I can't help but get distracted by the word itself. If chickens are so great, why do we call a coward chicken? It seems like an injustice to an animal. I mean, they're an animal, right? That through its eggs and its ultimate sacrifice and provide such self-sufficiency.
I wanted to know why. So I went to that font of knowledge. No, not Wikipedia, but another one. I went to Quora. David Steers said this on Quora. Chickens can be skittish, he explained. Afraid of just about anything, survival awareness. They run, taking cover. Danielle Diju has raised chickens for years. And what she said about chickens, meaning cowardly, probably due to behavioral observation, she said. Once she put a decomposing buggy log in the chicken room, so her girls would have something to do. All five of the chickens though, hid in the coop for a week in terror of this new object. When they spook, she said they spook hard. Feathers flying chickens, exploding in every direction, noises like you wouldn't believe she reports. Some breeds do this more easily and with less provocation than others.
So really according to Danielle, chicken is associated with fear because they are comically and irrationally fearful animals sometimes.
So chickens.... A staple in our diet, a symbol of self-sufficiency, the spirit of spooked. Well, doesn't that sound like a good episode for Cidiot.
I'm Mat Zucker and this is Cidiot: Learning to live and love life in the Hudson Valley.
As you may know, Cidiot is a top five finalist for Chronogram magazine's best regional podcasts in the arts and entertainment category. Voting starts April 1st. Please do.
Now chickens are a big part of country life, nearly every big and small will have them that we know.
Plus my colleague Ryan had chickens in Chicago. Yup, in the city of Chicago. Then he and his husband Corey moved to Richmond, Virginia, where they now have chickens, sheep, Guinea hens, ducks, geese, Turkey, and rabbits. In our one-on-one interview, you'll hear Ryan's chicken advice. Why, how.... and which ones. And later in the episode, you'll also hear from our new content partner, Chicken Librarian, a service to help people homestead who will teach us all about the very unique "egg song." it's amazing.
Now the concept of being chicken I have to say plays right into the cidiot psyche. Brian and I were chicken to even think about spending a minute outside the city. Our travels were originally primarily to other cities. Then we started liking the idea of outside the city, but we were well chicken to make the decision.
So we first, as you might know, rented three summers in a row in three towns— you know, the 10-3-1 plan from an earlier episode. It was methodical. And what it did is it paced our ability to absorb the idea. Finding a place was nerve wracking shore, but it didn't stop us from acting. Then when we got here, I was suddenly chicken of everything, the plumbing system, going to the basement, changing the water filter every other month, car batteries freezing, putting the wrong bulb into a well, you know, the whole thing with the sockets. Over time, I've learned to do things more myself. Brian runs things on a seasonal schedule and we'll yeah, a few times a year we make up a big list and we call a handyman.
And chickens, chickens themselves. Never really afraid of them, but never really understood them. We love chicken and it's a staple. Every Friday night, we celebrate Shabbat with the four C's: candles, challah, cocktails, and a chicken. Our go-tos, our chicken from Sawkill Farm, which you've heard me talk about. And when we really a special treat: Applestone Meat Company. Have I chatted about them before? Applestone is primo - the founder of Fleischer's new business. Get this, you get their delicious meats— all their mates are amazing by the way— out of a wait for it, vending machine. Actually several vending machines. There's one for beef. One for poultry. One for pork. Applestone locations are open 24/7, which is really good for cidiots. They're actually three locations right now. There's one in Hudson, not far from us. There's one in Stone Ridge on the other side of the river. And most recently Applestone opened to location in Eastchester.
But what about taking chickens, this idea of it, further down the proverbial run. Let's go full free range with the idea. What about you? You, you cidiots having your own chickens. What would that be like? Should you even have them? We'll get started with. Who would know better than almost anyone. The first thing I asked him was why would people even have them?
Well, the answer it's more than you might think.
Ryan: There's a number of different reasons, I guess, depending on your circumstances, but most people want to know where their food comes from specifically eggs, so owning chickens, you know, you have no middlemen between you and your, and your eggs. It's also a companionship thing and it's a responsibility thing. If you have children, you know what I mean?
Mat: When you say companion, I mean, are they like a pet, or like a friend?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, most people who just have chickens, have them for eggs, they have no intention of eating the bird or, you know, like retiring it at any point. You know, they're in it for the long haul. And even after they stopped laying after like three years, they're gonna find a home for the chicken or whatever, keep it forever. And you know, they form a pet like bond with it and lots of people hold their chickens and they do have like chicken diapers and stuff. If you want to bring your birds indoors, I don't think that's really that common, but
Mat: Did you have chicken diapers??
Ryan: No, no, we, we, we had a very strict like female, all-female animals outside.
Mat: How many do you have?
Ryan: Currently or in Chicago?
Mat: In Chicago. And now
Ryan: in Chicago, we usually had about five chickens at any given time. Um, maybe, you know, if you last for a few more and people would bring us roosters quite, quite frequently, like more often than you would think. Because we lived in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. So a lot of people had them as pets, but they were renters and their landlords would find out and they would bring them to us. Cause they didn't know what to do. You know, they knew we were the, like people who had chickens that were white guys with chickens in the neighborhood. And we would just eat them. We would just slaughtered the roosters and, and off them. But at least it was out of their hands and, you know, those folks usually had children who were attached to their roosters and stuff. So it just, it was a nice, easy exit. But now in the country? We have 14 right now. So we have 11 hens and three roosters.
Mat: Do you name them?.
Ryan: No, I mean, like we have a lot of different breeds, you know, like I want like a Martha Stewart style, basket of eggs of all different colors, you know what I mean? So, most of them are, are different breeds. And we have a couple of payers or a couple of each, but. But no, and we don't name them. We have, we have a lot of breeds.
Mat: Are there a lot of different chicken breeds?
Ryan: Yeah. At least a hundred. Yeah. You can spend a lot of money on a chicken. Like we have we call them like our black metal chickens. They're called and they're a breed that was. Like bread in Norway. But they're all black, meaning their skin is black, their meat is black. Their eyes are black, their tongue is black. Like they're black all the way through. So they're beautiful birds, they're almost iridescent, but they're really like unique looking and they kind of have a very kind of independent personality and they're the two kind of like hop over the fence and run around in the woods and they do.
I think most of the time we have a rooster and a hen. So, so they all have different personalities in terms of the breeds and they all have different size, eggs, and different color eggs, and have different like, frequency of egg-laying. You know, there are some breeds that, that are really well known for laying that like most people have like red stars or I forget there's just like a couple of breeds that like, you know, if you go to the feed store, they're always going to have them, you know, as chicks ready, and those birds will lay an egg every day, but there's lots of breeds that people want because they're pretty, or they lay a green egg or a blue egg, or a chocolate brown egg, and those are going to lay like, you know, 50 eggs a year or something like that. But the eggs they do lay are like really special. The egg inside the shell, doesn't it doesn't differ at all. You know,
Mat: Do you have any advice for a first time chicken owner? If I convince Brian to get me chickens for Hanukkah. And what would, what is your advice for me?
Ryan: I would say like get, well, a couple of things. Like, it depends on if you want to like, get the full experience of like starting with a chick and getting it to, , you know, to the age where it lays an egg. , cause it can take like up to a year, you know what I mean? So it depends on like have the right expectations. If you want to like go buy a bird and have it laying an egg the next day. You need an adult bird who is ablating age, which is going to be significantly more expensive, but you know, there's less risk because, you know, obviously the birds more fragile if it's not mature yet. I would start with a hardy breed that is good for your weather conditions. Like some birds are better for colder conditions than others. If you're getting it for eggs, I would say go with one of like the standard... Preferred breeds for egg-laying like Rhode Island Reds or Red Stars or Ice Browns. Like those are all just like very run of the mill, like brown egg layers.
Mat: How many should I get for the first batch?
Ryan: Well, they're social animals. So you want more than one? Um, so two or three, you know, , it depends on how many eggs you eat too, because I mean, you can easily get in a situation where you have eggs piling up in your counter, you know? So either expect to give a lot of way, if you have a lot of chickens or be ready to, you know, really get creative with your egg dishes. But the one thing I would say this is when I lived in the city, the thing that I most often told people who would ask like, you know, should I get chickens? If they were in the city, especially, you know, people in apartments who know they can't have chickens and still want to experience some aspect of urban agriculture and, you know, have a way to get fresh eggs, I would say: get quails.
Nobody ever thinks of that. So we had quails in Chicago and we kept, it was a small cage, probably the biggest my desk right here, which could easily be kept in an apartment, you know, or, you know, a regular sized hamster cage. You could have a couple, paternics quail, which are Japanese quail, and then they lay an egg a day. Proportionally it's much bigger. Compared to the body size of the bird that a chicken egg is to a chicken. So they're actually much more efficient at converting food to, you know, edible material and they're cute and they don't really make a lot of noise. So I would say like, if you really want a starter bird , get a quail, specifically Japanese quail. They're super easy. They've been bred to be as docile as can be. And like, do they pop out an egg every day? And everybody likes little quails, the kind with the speckles did you get to the Japanese market?
Mat: So that's a great tip.
Mat: I know more about chickens than I ever did. Thank you, Ryan. Rhode Island reds, Red stars, the Dan Quayle's, the bird brands. I mean, breeds sound like sports teams. And if you're like me, you've already Googled chicken diapers. So now that we are two legs in , I've got a really special treat for you that I promised. Here from our new content partner, the Chicken Librarian, based just across the Delaware river in Pennsylvania. Kristin White is a fan and a new friend to Cidiot. She runs a homesteading service that provides hands-on educational opportunity to folks all around the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions with classes and all sorts of topics like pie, making chicken, keeping gardening, and sustainable living. Kristin moved to the region 20 years ago and often dreamt of being a chicken wrangler and homesteader, and is now realizing that dream by living and homesteading on 400 acres. OMG, I have two. At a fly fishing lodge on the banks of the Delaware river with their chicken flock, her rescue pup and kitties, and her husband. The husband runs the fishing lodge while she plays in the garden. Now turn up your volume for her, for her first lesson, the egg song.
Kristin: Hi, it's Kristen from chicken librarian. Do you know what that song is? If you have chickens, you might already know, but if you aren't sure it's the "Egg Song". If you have chickens and you haven't heard that song, then it's likely your chickens, aren't laying eggs. Did you know that it can take a chicken up to six months to lay their first egg?
And then just about the time they start laying, you'll notice some strange things. First. Did you notice a lot of feathers on the ground during the fall? I bet you thought somebody got your birds didn't you, or maybe you noticed your chicken stopped laying eggs. Maybe you thought there was something wrong with your chickens.
You're not alone. Chickens go through a molt each year during the fall, but can molt all winter. Molting can be a scary time for you, but what about your birds? They just reach maturity after going through the awkward teenage years, and now they're missing feathers and are practically naked and it's getting cold out too. What's the first time chicken keeper to do? Head on over to chickenlibrarian.com to find out.
Mat: Thank you, Kristin. Thank you, Ryan. And thank you for tuning into what was sure. Our Pulitzer prize winning new season of Cidiot. And you can help voting for Cidiot at Chronogram.com for best regional podcast in the arts and entertainment category. Please do you can also find great classes and lessons from the Chicken Librarian at chickenlibrarian.com. It makes a great gift for birthdays, anniversary, mother's day is coming up. So happy Easter, happy Passover if you celebrate either or both, chickens are best when they run free too.
I'm Mat Zucker and it's spring in the Hudson Valley. Brian's crocuses are popping through. Those are the purple ones. Get vaccinated and come visit.