Mail Call: September/October 2010

1 / 6
We call it, "Kirché's Lil Chicken Coop."
2 / 6
My dad, Norman Ford.
3 / 6
Gathering eggs can be something of an adventure.
4 / 6
Kirché Taylor and her little Golden Comet, Ruby.
5 / 6
Bi-colored corns such as Providence and Incredible are just that, incredible.
6 / 6
Fresh produce from your own garden tastes great and can save you money.

I recently purchased your magazine in an attempt to gain more knowledge on poultry. Our local newspaper ran an editorial last summer about the city ordinance on keeping chickens in the city. I have to say the newspaper article caught my interest. I love to garden and grow my own produce on a small scale, but the thought of actually being able to collect eggs from my backyard made me giddy.

I researched possible coop kits, but the more roomy models were out of my budget. Sometimes we need not look further than right in front of us. You see, my dad, Norman Ford, is an awesome carpenter. When my oldest son was 18 months old, Dad took a Little Tikes playhouse, elevated it from the ground, and built a deck, railing and stairs. That was about 10 years ago, and the boys have since outgrown this house. After making a few modifications by adding nest boxes to the house, building a 12-by-8-foot enclosure with roofing, adding vinyl flooring to the deck and house floor, and adding a reinforced fancy vinyl door, I present to you the chicken mansion. We like to call it “Kirché’s Lil Chicken Coop.”

Next we faced the challenge of finding young chickens from a trustworthy source. We did not want tiny babies, but rather 4- to 5-month-old chickens that were ready for the outdoors. Our first hen was from not-so-great conditions at a flea market. “Ruby,” the Golden Comet I am holding in the photograph below, was from an Amish farm. We have no idea how old Ruby is, but she was not producing enough for her previous owner. Ruby sleeps in the playhouse sink in the evenings. She presents me with one egg a day, and waits for me to bring her treats. As far as I am concerned, Ruby can live out her days here with me. I like to think I saved her from a certain demise.

Our other three baby girls — Velma the White Leghorn, Lady the Black Australorp and Macy the Dominique — were found by chance. My mom, Janice Ford, and I were lost on the highway looking for what turned out to be another bad poultry source and stopped at a truck stop for directions. My mom asked if they knew of anyone with chickens, and the attendant said if we left our number, there was a gentleman, an organic chicken farmer,  who came in every day like clockwork. We took a leap of faith and left our number. The farmer called that afternoon. His babies were just what we needed. He also gave us great advice on “keeping it simple.” The Internet is a great source of information, but it can also be confusing to new backyard chicken farmers. If you read or ask 10 different people a question, you could get that many answers.

I just wanted to share our experience with starting up a backyard chicken farm. Sometimes the best options are closer than you realize. I look forward to reading future issues of your publication.

Kirché Taylor
Louisville, Kentucky

More on Chickens

I can truly relate to Jerry Schleicher’s run-ins with chickens (“Adventures in Chicken Keeping,” July/August 2009). Being a “city girl,” my aunt would always have farm chores for me to do when we came to visit.

She thought she was entertaining me by letting me go out into the garden to look for peanuts. I checked all over those vines, but could not find the first peanut. When I came back inside and announced that the vines were bare, they laughed at me so hard they were holding their sides. No one said they were underground.

Then she thought I would be thrilled to gather the eggs. I had been horrified by my mother’s tales of roosters “spurring” her legs. I thought all chickens could spur you. I’d go out to the hen house and take a big stick to prod the hens off their nests so I could gather the eggs. If that didn’t work, I would “womp” them until they flew out of the hen house.

One day, my aunt snuck up on me after I had to “womp” some chickens. She just laughed at me and said, “I wondered why the hens would stop laying for two or three days after you came to visit.” I never had to gather eggs again.

Now I’ve seen all these cute little chickens on television, and I would love to have fresh eggs. So I think I will gather my courage and order a dozen or so chickens. Who knows, I may not be afraid of chickens that I know personally.

Barbara Ridge
Memphis, Tennessee

As was the case when you were fetching eggs as a youngster, Barbara, “Courage is being scared and saddling up anyway!” And we hope the new chickens don’t require any womping. – Editors

Gardening Expenses

I really enjoy Grit, and I found Paul Gardener’s “Gardening: Good for the Soul and the Wallet” interesting (July/August).

For a few years I put in a garden. I tried various gardening methods including paying to have straw hauled in for a Ruth Stout “no-work” garden. I had dismal results. Finally it occurred to me that, for me anyway, it was cheaper to buy vegetables than it was to continue gardening. Mr. Gardener’s article only confirmed my conclusion. For example, he says he harvested 810 pounds, which he valued at $1,550, or $1.91 per pound.

I can almost always buy frozen vege-tables on sale for $1 per pound. Frequently I can find them for 50 cents per pound. Sometimes I can get them for as low as 7 cents per pound if they’re on sale and I have a coupon that gets doubled. And these are vegetables I know will be available when I buy them – they’re not vegetables that may or may not make it to harvest.

I don’t doubt that Mr. Gardener finds gardening good for the soul. I’ve turned mine over to wildflowers, and I enjoy the bees and butterflies it attracts. I do think it’s hard to make the argument that homegrown is best for the wallet.

Larry Roth
Kansas City, Missouri

No doubt, frozen vegetables are cheaper at the store than any other vegetable one can find. However, Paul’s comparison was with fresh produce at the grocery store, and though his crops were organic, Paul calculated prices with less expensive, non-organic veggies. – Editors

Two Can’t-Miss Corns

I read your article, “Ears to Corn,” in the May/June issue of Grit. The article reminded us of our trip last year to a farmers’ market in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

We were looking for a few ears of corn and got into a conversation with an Amish farmer. We told him we froze 150 ears (cut off the cob) of Silver Queen corn each year.

The farmer said that we were getting “Model-A corn,” when we could be buying “Cadillac” bi-colored corn called Providence. We took him at his word and bought some Providence corn. Another farmer was selling a bi-colored corn called Incredible. We also purchased some of that, and it was equally as good as Providence.

These farmers knew what they were talking about because there was no comparison between the taste of these two bi-colored types of corn and Silver Queen. We also shared some of the corn with friends, and they agreed that the Providence and Incredible ears of corn were the best they had ever tasted. We are going back to the same market this year to purchase the same type of corn again. Thank you for the article.

Darrell Crotts
Newport News, Virginia 

Take Action for Your Acreage

I read the letter from a person upset at people trying to move into their community and then trying to take the “country” out of it (“Constricting Urban Sprawl,” July/August Mail Call).

The best reaction is to be proactive. Get your people on the county board of supervisors or whatever it’s called where you live. Don’t let them establish a planning and zoning commission, which is just the way some folks use to try and tell others how they must live and use their property.

If there is an effort to try and establish one of those “rural life” subdivisions (“get away from the city and live the quiet life in the country”), don’t be afraid to put up signs about smells and warnings about horse droppings on the roads, for example. Try and discourage developers before they start such a project.

We have all heard stories about people from the city moving in, then suing over the hog lot and filing endless lawsuits about hurting water quality, etc.

My advice is cut them off before they get established. Just take proactive measures, but, most importantly, do something, don’t just stand there and wait for the troubles to start.

Edward E. Smith
Clark, Missouri 

A True Country Woman

I enjoyed the May/June issue of GRIT. The article on chickens (“How Do Your Eggs Stack Up?”) took me back to my days on the farm in western Oklahoma. My mother raised Plymouth Rocks, White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. We enjoyed fried chicken (I still do) during the summer months, and eggs were sold to buy groceries.

We drank milk right from the cows and used a cream separator to get cream, which we also sold.

In “Good Things to Know,” you mentioned “Tons of Tornadoes” (Page 9). Living in Oklahoma, I spent many hours in the cellar until they had passed.

Bernadine Wells
Spokane Valley, Washington

You are an inspiration, Bernadine. Thanks for reading. – Editors

Gardening Site Correction

In “Garden in a Barrel,” Page 17 of the July/August issue, the website listed at the bottom of the article is incorrect. The URL should read