11, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO
Mulvihill of Green Apple Recommends
forget: the books mentioned below are available
at 20% off for tablehopper readers for two weeks
following this mention at Green
Apple Books—simply use the code "tablehopper" at
checkout (either at the store or online) for your
If you're just looking for a book to read, this month's
Bookworm column may not be of much help to you (though
we have thousands, of course, at the store). But if
you're thinking of keeping chickens, read on. (Are
those crickets I hear?)
This spring, my wife and I shamelessly jumped on the
"urban homestead" bandwagon. We were inspired by the
usual factors: Michael
Pollan, these thrifty times, neighbors who
keep bees. We also wanted to show our city kids where
food comes from. So when my wife's office (Sunset magazine) got
chickens, we toyed with the idea of getting
ourselves a few laying hens. We hemmed and hawed, not
wanting any more responsibilities in life, but curious.
City and Sunset magazine's experiences,
we realized just how easy it is to keep chickens. So
in mid-April, we pulled the trigger and bought four
chicks: two barred Plymouth Rocks and two Cuckoo Marans.
we got The
Joy of Keeping Chickens by Jennifer
chick was five days old and, at $4.50 each at Half
Moon Bay Feed and Fuel, seemed like a good
deal for two–three years of eggs. Of course, we also
bought about $100 worth of stuff: cage, heat lamp,
waterer, and feed. While the chicks grew surprisingly
quickly atop our dryer, we threw together a coop and
run with recycled lumber from Builder's Resources for
about $40, plus another $100 or so at hardware stores
for plastic roofing, chicken wire, etc. At about eight
weeks, the pullets moved outside.
we waited for eggs, one chicken gradually showed
his true colors: he was a little more aggressive,
had a bigger comb, and eventually started the day
(his last) with a pure "cock-a-doodle-doo." Once
we realized we had a rooster on our hands, action
had to be taken. So we consulted The
Joy of Keeping Chickens (and YouTube), then
we slaughtered, plucked, cooked and ate "Tillie." S/he
made a nice pozole, albeit an expensive one. And while
I would have preferred another laying hen to a hearty
pozole, that process was ultimately a rewarding byproduct
of our urban homesteading experiment.
And finally, last week, 22 weeks and $333 later, we
first egg. And it was deliciously rich and
rewarding. Even now, a week later, we're giddy when
we open the little door to the laying box and find
a light brown treat.
As for the book, it has everything you need and more—it
even covers raising birds for meat, which is just not
practical or cost-effective in San Francisco. It's
well organized, clearly written, nicely put together,
colorful, and very respectful, even loving.
FAQs: we sold our chick "starter kit" to another family
for $50, so that reduced our costs. Plus, our picky-eater
preschoolers provide many scraps for the chickens,
and our local produce market saves trimmings from aging
greens for the hens—both of these things keep our feed
can leave your hens untended for days on end, so
it's much easier than owning a cat or dog (though
it's best to ask a neighbor to collect your eggs
every day or so—since that task has its own reward,
it should be pretty easy). In San Francisco, you
can have up to four animals (e.g. if you have a dog,
you can only have three chickens). No roosters. I
have no idea about other cities.
Inspired? Feel free to email
me or ask for me when you're in the store.
Or see my wife's blog: with this
link, you'll see the chicken entries only
(in reverse chronological order, so start at the
Next month: a review of egg recipe books perhaps.
Thanks for reading.