The Eugene Backyard Farmer

Backyard Farming. Urban Homesteading Sustainablity
The Eugene Backyard Farmer

Managing rodents and predators in your urban farm.


For as long as there have been cities, there have been rodents and predators present. Rats, mice, raccoons, and opossums need a safe place to live and a food source. If you are not managing your urban farm properly, you could be providing a habitat for pests and predators to flourish. But a few simple steps will help you keep pests away.

If you have a chicken coop, you could be feeding not only your hens but also all the neighborhood rodents. Once the rodents have a steady food supply, they begin to burrow tunnels around your coop and then they will reproduce at a rapid rate. It is a good practice to walk your coop each day and if you see tunnels being burrowed, fill them in with quick set concrete. It is common among chicken keepers to toss kitchen and table scraps to the hens. This is a great practice but it is also important to collect all uneaten scraps and add them to your compost.


The chicken feed itself can also be a tasty meal for area rodents. Most urban predators and rodents are nocturnal and do most of their scavaging at night. But chickens sleep all night and as a result, do not need access to feed. A best practice is to either use a rodent-proof feeder or move the feeder into a galvanized container with locking lid. This will remove their food source which will reduce their populations and they will eventually leave or die off.

It is also a good idea to walk your entire yard and search for places a rodent might live. This includes a woodpile, inside a blackberry thicket, under a shed or in a compost bin. Removing their habitat is the single best thing you can do to keep rodents from visiting in the first place.

Speaking of compost, most gardeners compost for the many obvious benefits. The most affordable composting method is an enclosed container made either of wood or plastic. But pilling both kitchen scraps and garden and chicken leftovers can create a perfect rodent habitat. Compost piles can get pretty warm and it is not uncommon for a rat to chew through the compost bin and then burrow into the middle of the pile. The best way to avoid this is to turn the compost as much as possible, and at least once a week. But can be time-consuming and not fun to do in the dead of winter. Instead, try a closed dynamic compost system. A composter made of high-density plastic that sits on a base with coasters is easier to turn and as a result, you are not providing a convenient place for rodents to live. Plus buy spinning the composter more often, you are getting a compost that can go into your garden much faster.

Of course, if your property has already been infested with rodents, you may have to resort to baiting and killing. Many people will react quickly to a rat population by introducing poison. But once a rat dies of poisoning, the carcass can still be poison to neighborhood cats and dogs, as well as urban wildlife. A better option would be to either set traps or use a bait that is toxic only to rodents. All the items mentioned in this blog post are available at The Eugene Backyard Farmer.

People do urban farming for so many reasons and the benefits are great. But just like any other undertaking, urban farming must be done in a responsible and respectful way to be a benefit to the community.

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Raising Ducks in Your Backyard

IMG_1173Few species are more helpful in creating a thriving, biodynamic urban farm than the domestic duck. Like chickens, many duck breeds are prolific layers of large, high-protein eggs, but unlike chickens ducks are easy on crops; ducks love nothing more than an afternoon in the garden, dodging established plants while helping you with your weeding and taking care of that slug problem before it starts. Duck manure is high in nitrogen but not as hot as chicken manure, so you won’t have to worry about it burning your plants. Duck eggs are nearly twice the size of most chicken eggs, and are excellent for baking. Duck eggs are also high in protein and Omega-3 vitamins and some people who are allergic to chicken eggs can still eat duck eggs. Duck eggshells can range in color from pale blue or green to bone white and even black. While breeds like Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell often take the prize for most prolific layer, Cayuga, Blue Swedish, Buff, Welsh Harlequin and many others produce a respectable number of eggs in a season and can add interest to a flock.

Ducks and chickens can happily coexist in the same coop and run, but ducks do have some special requirements. Ducks naturally prefer to sleep out in the open, preferably on the water, so they won’t head to the coop at dusk as your chickens might. However, domestic ducks are even more vulnerable to predator attacks than chickens, so they need to be kept in a secure enclosure at night. Luckily, ducks love routine and are easy to herd into the coop.

While you don’t need a pond to raise happy ducks, you will need to provide some source of clean water for your waterfowl to
bathe, play, and drink. Ducks go through a lot of water each day, so plan for your chosen container to have a drain: we like stock tanks with built in
drains toward the bottom. To get the most out of having ducks, attach a hose to the drain so those valuable duck effluents can water your squash hills or berry bushes.

Ducks can also be a great source of flavorful, healthy meat raised no farther away than your backyard. Many of the duck breeds we sell are dual-purpose, meaning that they are great egg layers but also great table birds. Watch for breeds like Khaki Campbell, Blue Swedish, Buff, Muscovy or Rouen if you’re interested in raising your own duck meat.

One of the biggest joys of keeping ducks is taking home ducklings! Like chicks, ducklings need to stay inside under a heat lamp until true feathers replace their down. Ducklings eat chick starter (non-medicated only) for the same duration as chicks; start transitioning your ducklings to a grower pellet between 4-6 weeks of age. Ducklings need a larger waterer than chicks because even when they are newly hatched they need to wash their tiny bills after eating.  A standard 1-gal. chicken waterer will do just fine.

Because ducklings go through so much water and love to splash and play, we recommend brooding your chicks and ducklings separately. Once they are both feathered out, however, they can share the same housing.

Ducklings can easily get cold and love to make a mess of their bedding, so try to clean the brooder as needed to make sure your babies have somewhere dry to sleep. While your ducklings are under a week old, make sure to only provide lukewarm water–cold water can shock their system and can be fatal.

We hope you try your hand at raising a flock of ducks this year! We will carry several breeds of ducklings over the course of the season, so be sure to check in and ask about the differences between the breeds. As always, we are happy to try to answer any questions that might arise as you explore adding ducks to your urban farm.

For a list of expected ducklings and chicks follow the link below to get to the calendar tab of our web site. Be sure to click on the date to get a drop down box of all expected arrivals.
http://eugenebackyardfarmer.com/calendar/

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Soil Preparation or Winter Garden?

By now our tomato plants are winding down and we have already pulled our summer squash. Winter squash is still a couple weeks away from harvest but the peppers should be ready by the end of next week. Now it’s time to decide what to do with all this garden space.

webmail.eugenebackyardfarmerWe live in a climate that allows for plenty of winter gardening opportunities, and we have plenty of cole crop starts available now with more on the way. Most Brassica crops, such as kale, broccoli, or cauliflower, will do well with little fall and winter maintenance. Just a plant cover should protect them from freezing on extremely cold nights.

Fall is also the perfect time to plant garlic, onions, and shallots. These plants require a freeze so you want to get them in the ground by mid-October so that they can develop enough of a root system to withstand winter temperatures. Our new favorite trick is to plant them along the perimeter of the garden space for pest control (find details at https://www.369bugs.com/pest-control/), and so they won’t take up valuable spring planting space before they are ready to harvest. We have some onion starts available now and garlic, onion sets, and shallots should be available early next week.

But if you don’t want to tend a winter garden, there are still things you can do this fall to help your garden rest for a few months. If you have chickens, consider giving them access to your garden. They will scratch and turn the soil and will leave some fertilizer behind.

If you don’t have chickens but need to restore your garden space over the winter, we have a fresh batch of fertilizer and many soil amendments in stock, including our custom Indigenous Micro Organism blend. These IMOs are cultured and grown at the store and make a great soil amendment or compost accelerator. Turn these amendments into the soil then lay down some newspaper or cardboard and cover the area with leaves or straw.

We also like to plant low-maintenance cover crops by mid-October to fix nitrogen into the soil during the off season. We sell buckwheat, crimson clover, and winter pea by the pound. When you’re ready to turn over your soil or till in your cover crop, remember that we do rent a broadfork to make a tough job so much easier.

While so many of us look forward to spring as the time to garden, the fall offers just another reason to go out and play in the dirt.

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Bee Swarms

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A swarm of bees can be a most powerful thing to witness. Seeing thousands of bees flying in unison and then landing on a tree branch can certainly be considered an awesome experience. It is such an amazing thing so it is understandable how some people can become afraid or intimidated by their presence. But we want to help get these swarms into a safe and welcoming environment and you can help.

A swarm is a sign of a healthy and thriving bee colony. When an active hive becomes too large to be sustainable it will make a new queen and the old queen will take half of the established colony and go out in search of a new home. A swarm could land on a tree branch or the side of a building and they have even been known to land on a locked bike, mail box or any other stationary object. When bees swarm they have no hive, honey, or brood to protect and are for the most part very gentle and rarely sting.

A swarm consists of a few thousand bees with the queen in the middle and will be about the size of a basketball. Just a bunch of bees flying does not make a swarm. Once the bees are in a temporary location, they will then send scout bees in search of a new home. The scout bees can fly up to five miles and when they think they have found a suitable home, they will share that location with other scout bees. This is a highly democratic process as the bees compare all their available options in search of their perfect home. A swarm can stay in this temporary location for as little as five minutes and for as long as two weeks.

When the scout bees have all decided upon a perfect new home, the swarm will move en masse to the new location. Their chosen location could be a vacant hive or a hollow tree but the bees could also move into a place like a shed or a wall where they are not welcome. For this reason, we want to capture the swarms and introduce them to a welcoming and safe vacant hive around town. Capturing a swarm is normally a very easy process assuming it is low to the ground (under 12 feet is ideal).

Most swarms happen between April and early June. If you see a swarm around town, please call our store or a beekeeper friend so that we can reduce the time the bees are exposed and transfer them to a safe place. A honeybee swarm is in a vulnerable state. Considering the plight of the honeybee, we want to everything we can to help them along.

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Raising Turkeys in an Urban Setting

The more involved we are with urban farming, the more we want to try new things. In addition to our ever changing gardening landscape, we have hens, broilers, ducks, and beehives as well as composting systems to support these activities. Our next goal is to learn how to raise turkeys so we took a few turkey poults from our July hatch and raised them for store use. Here are some of the things we learned.

IMG_1282First check with your local regulations to see if turkeys are allowed. Raising domestic turkeys in the city of Eugene is illegal. We did so anyway not out of disrespect to the city but rather to learn how turkeys behave in an urban setting.

When you talk to large-scale or rural farmers you will find they rarely raise chickens and turkeys together. Indeed both the USDA and ODA recommend raising them separately. Blackhead, a nasty and fatal disease that chickens can pass on to turkeys, is the main reason for separating the species. Of course, urban and small-scale farming is entirely different from rural and large-scale farming and as a result we do not always have the same issues. We raised our two turkeys with three broilers with no ill effects. The broilers were butchered a few days ago and their internal organs looked healthy. Back at the store, our turkeys continue to look healthy and active. Of course the “it worked for us so it isn’t a problem” is a poor argument. If you do raise the two together, do so with caution and monitor for illness.

Turkeys eat a lot and the end product could be a very expensive bird. We started feeding this flock of five a 50-pound bag of turkey starter. When that was finished they were moved outside and they ate another 50-pound bag. We then switched them to a GMO-free turkey grower, then a 5o-pound bag of organic grower. Now that we are down to just two turkeys we will be able to get a better sense of how much they eat. What we do know at this point is this isn’t going to result in some cheap grocery store bird, but isn’t that the point.

In addition to eating a lot, turkeys will eat most anything. Ours gobbled up all the extra tomatoes from the garden as well as most anything else we would toss in for them. For example, we had a couple hybrid volunteer squash on the property. Half of one squash went to the hens and the other half  to the turkeys. The chickens barely touched theirs but the turkeys ate their half down to the stem. The other squash was taken home and baked into what turned out to be a nasty soup. Again the chickens barely touched their serving. The turkeys, however, not only ate the whole serving, they even ate the paper bowl. And since they eat so much, they leave ample droppings. We found ourselves picking up after them twice a day and the compost bin filled up rapidly.

Turkey poults are not sexed so you could end up with toms or hens. We ended up with one of each and were amazed to learn how quiet they are. They rarely made much noise and when they did “gobble” it was at the same level as a person’s normal talking voice. Indeed our turkeys were much quieter then some chickens we have known. Our tom started to strut his feathers at about three and a half months old. It could be that if you get two toms then they might get loud and start to fight at this point. But at this point you would have a good sized bird so you could butcher one tom early and save the other for a Thanksgiving butcher.

We have heard of people using less then flattering words to describe a turkey’s intelligence. We have no evidence to suggest that they are any more or less smart than other poultry. We will say however that they can be rather charming. They came running whenever we delivered treats. Their combs and waddles would turn bright red when they were happy and when the broilers went away one day, they seemed to be sad for a few days.

This being said, we are not looking forward to the butchering process. We do not name our poultry but we do feed them high quality feed and interact with them on a regular basis. As a result they have kind of grown on us and the butchering process could be emotionally difficult. We have embraced urban farming because we feel our food system is broken. Even those expensive turkeys you buy at the natural food store are fed cheap grains and live in less than ideal conditions. Just like veggies, fruit, eggs, and honey, if you want clean fresh food you need to either grow it yourself or know your farmer.

While urban farming is different from traditional farming, there are still some similarities. Butchering poultry is not fun but the rewards are great. This has been a good experience and we will most likely do it again next year. Or next year we might have a vegetarian nut loaf for Thanksgiving instead.

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The cost of backyard eggs.

A July 7th NBC article discussed the down side to backyard chickens.  The quote that stood out to us was, “some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive. ”  You can hear our response here.

For over a year, we have been keeping detailed records to see how cost effective backyard chickens can be. We were pleasantly surprised by the results.

From July 2012 through June 213 we collected 119 dozen eggs. The flock at the store varied from six to 11 and during part of that time frame, not all chickens were to laying age.  The flock ate $315 in feed, $43 in scratch, $15 in calcium, and used $24 in bedding.

This means that a dozen high quality eggs cost $3.34.

We have not done the math to factor in coop, feeder and start up costs.  Yet it is clear that keeping backyard chickens can be affordable.  Of course if you keep backyard hens, you know there are non egg related benefits.  Our chickens provide us with plenty of high quality fertilizer and they are often worth keeping just for the entertainment value.

Need another reason to keep backyard hens?  For every dozen eggs they produce, you are not supporting an industry that is not always kind to chickens.

The store is down to six hens since April and we are planning on keeping that number.  Then next March, we will have another full year of data.  By then we will also have figured out amortization and can factor in the costs of feeders and the coop.

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The Nesting Place: A Luxury Chicken Hotel Now Open.

Urban farmers differ from traditional and rural farmers in a number of respects.  Traditional farmers often do so to make a living where urban farmers usually do so to put healthy food on their table. Traditional farmers wait until after harvest before taking a vacation where urban farmers often take vacation in the summer.
And while tending for a backyard flock takes little effort, it still does require daily attention.
So what do you do with your flock if you want to go on vacation? The best option is to get a neighbor to feed, water and collect eggs.  This way they get to see how easy it is and will perhaps want to start their own backyard flock.  In larger cities you can even hire a chicken sitter to come twice a day and do the chores.  We tried this for a while but found it to be a large drain of time and since we commute by bike, it became impractical.

So if you can’t get a neighbor to watch your hens, why not check them into a hotel?  The Nesting Place is a luxury chicken hotel located right here at the store.
The Blue Andalusian Suite and the Golden Campine Suite both include a safe place to sleep, eat and lay eggs as well as an extended yard in which to scratch around.

Basic service is $2 per hen per day and includes fresh feed, water, some scratch and a daily coop cleaning.  Deluxe service is $3 per hen per day and includes the above as well as chopped organic veggies and turn down service.  With the deluxe service we will even text you photos of your hens.

Future suites will be added if this becomes as popular as we think it will. But until then space is limited so if you have a vacation coming up and nobody to watch your flock, feel free to give us a call.

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Help, my hen is loosing her feathers.

We start getting the calls this time of year.  “I went out to the henhouse this morning and there were feathers everywhere. What is wrong with my hens?”  Another popular observation is “My hens look terrible. They are missing feathers and I think they might be dying.”   Most likely your chickens are just going through a molt.

Just like other birds, chickens know when winter is coming.  Usually in the fall of their second year they shed feathers and grow a new coat for winter. Most molting occurs in the fall but we have seen hens go through a full-blown molt in the dead of winter.  Sometimes the molt is so mild and consists of just a hand full of feathers.  Other times it looks like there was a pillow fight in the hen house and your chickens look like they have hen pattern baldness.  Regardless, molting is natural and generally nothing to worry about.  There are still things you can do to help.

If they are loosing their feathers already, this might be a great time to inspect their bodies.  Since it is now easy to see the skin you can use molting time to look for signs of mites or other body parasites.  This also might be a great time to do a semi-annual coop cleaning. You can remove all bedding, spray a 10% diluted bleach in the corners, sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth in the corners, and add fresh bedding.  This will make the coop nice and comfortable for the winter.

Hens will not lay eggs while molting.  Since they need to grow new feathers before cold weather arrives, they put all their energy into that task.  Chickens need extra protein to help them grow new feathers.  The faster they feather out, the faster they will get back to looking good and hopefully laying a few more eggs.  There are a number of poultry supplements that can be added to their feed. Most of these have 30% of more protein which will help them re-feather.  When the hens at our store go through their molt we add dried cat food, meal worms, tofu or beef liver.

A molt can be over within a week or it can last several months.  The longer the molt, the harder it is to keep your refrigerator stocked with eggs.  There is no need to add artificial heat to their coop. We tend to recommend avoiding this so as to not create a fire hazard.  Don’t worry about your chicken’s comfort level. They know more about how to be a chicken then you do.  Just increase their protein intake and they should be back to beautiful backyard chickens before too long.

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Broody Hens

We get the phone call all the time.  “What is wrong with my hen?  She has been staying in the nest box and she won’t move.  I go to pick her up and she fluffs up, makes dinosaur noises, and even tries to peck me.”  You most likely have a broody hen.

Broodiness is a condition where a hen’s maternal clock goes off and she sets to hatch eggs.  Most hens never go broody but some go broody often.  As an urban farmer, you probably collect the eggs daily.  And the fact that you likely do not have a rooster and thus do not have fertilized eggs is of little concern to the broody hen.  Even when you remove any inspiration eggs from the nest, a broody hen will still create a clutch of eggs in her head and try to hatch nothing.  It is both frustrating as well as beautiful and poetic.

Here are a couple thoughts on how to deal with broody hens.  First, you may want to add an additional nest box so the other hens still have a place to lay.  A broody hen will not lay eggs but she will occupy the box.  The other hens are usually cool with it but you might as well try to smooth things out.

If you want to just let nature run it’s course you can just let the hen set.  It takes about 21 days for eggs to hatch so ideally after 21 days she will give up.  It wouldn’t hurt to pick her up once in while and put her in front of her food.  Broody hens usually do not starve themselves, but you are welcome to force her to eat once in a while.

You can also try to break her of her broodiness. To do this, build a cage with a wire bottom and place her in the cage.  The cage can be elevated on some bricks so that there is plenty of air flowing under her.  Give her only food and water and no bedding material.  The cold air will drop her body temperature and she will usually snap out of it in 72 hours.  We have had success placing a broody hen on a concrete pad with a cage over her and only food and water.  It may sound harsh but it usually works.

Another option is to slip some newly hatched chicks (or fertilized eggs) under her.  For the urban farmer it is pretty easy to get newly hatched chicks from your local feed store.  Once you have established that the hen is indeed broody (she has not moved for at least a week), you can take your newly hatched chicks and slip them under her wing.  If you do this early in the morning and when it is still dark, the hen very likely will think that she was successful and will do all the hard work of raising the chicks.  Breed of chick does not seem to be an issue.  The photo above is of a Salmon Faverolle hen with her two different colored Ameraucanas.  She couldn’t be more proud of the work she has done so far and is doing a great job of protecting the chicks from the elements as well as the coop mates.  Keep some chick starter and water near the nest box and before long you will have your next generation of hens.
Tricking a broody hen to take hatch-lings does not always work.  Just because a hen wants to be a mommy doesn’t mean that she will make a good mommy.  Be sure to have a back-up plan.

Urban farming is still farming and dealing with a broody hen is just part of the adventure.  Embrace this time to learn more about your backyard flock and enjoy the satisfaction of urban homesteading.

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How to introduce new chicks to the flock.

It’s Spring and baby chicks are here. Many urban farmers have a peaceful flock in various degrees of laying.  Some add new chickens every year so that there is not a lag in egg production.  Others add more chicks each year because it is so fun.  And while having multiple generations in a backyard flock can be tricky, if you follow a few steps you can keep the pecking order at a manageable level.

Ideally you have a broody hen that will take to some new chicks.  Just slide them under her and let her do the work.  However you can’t force broodiness and even if she is broody, she may not make a good mommy.  In which case expect to raise your new chicks indoors for awhile.

By the time they are three or four weeks old they are nearly feathered out.  Slowly introduce them to the flock by having a separate run for them.  This run can be as simple as some wire or a large cage in the corner of the overall run.  They can stay outside during the day, then bring them in at night.  Be sure they have access to food and water in their separate run.  Also be sure their run can be accessed by the older hens.  They will scratch and cluck around the pullets but will not be able to peck them.

In a week or two, they should be used to each other.  By now they are five or six weeks old and you are ready to take the plunge.  Pick an evening when the nighttime temperatures will not be too cold and wait for the hens to go to bed.  Once it is completely dark, take the pullets to the coop and place them on the roost next to the older girls.  do it quickly and make sure they are all on the perch.  Then close the door and walk away.

Chickens don’t see well in the dark so the chickens will spend the night smelling each other, clucking to each other, and getting used to each other.  Come sunrise, the chickens will ideally act as if they have always been a big happy family.  But just like any family, fights are bound to break out.   Remember that establishing a pecking order needs to happen and it is generally a dynamic process.  A couple of pecks and squawks are perfectly fine but even this should subside after a few days.

Over the next few nights go out to the coop at night to be sure the pullets are sleeping on the roost.   You might have to help them up for a few nights until they learn the routine from the older gals.  Keep the young girls out of the nesting boxes to avoid soiled eggs.  Now give them plenty of fresh water and high quality feed.  Before long you will have plenty of eggs for friends and neighbors.

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