A HOME FOR ROOSTING Q: What are the basics of raising chickens? I would like to put a coop in my backyard so that my family has fresh eggs on hand. A: Besides being a lot of fun, keeping chickens means fresh eggs every day — a wonderful addition to any household. Before you get started, check local regulations. Some towns ban roosters (which aren’t needed for egg production) or outlaw chickens altogether.
Then decide which chicken breeds you will raise. There are many to choose from. Some are prodigious layers. For example, the Leghorn and Rhode Island Red produce a large egg each day during peak times (the first one or two years of a chicken’s life). Many have beautiful, unusual plumage. And don’t forget Araucana chickens, which lay eggs in pastel shades of green and blue.
Buy chicks in early to midspring; that way, their feathers will have time to grow in before winter. Choose birds that are the same age and that will be about the same size, even if they are different breeds. “You’ve heard the term ‘pecking order’ — the dominant ones will literally peck at the others,” says Bud Wood, co-owner of Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, one of several companies that ship chicks. (They also are sold at feed stores; consult your local Cooperative Extension service for sources.)
When choosing a coop, allow 2 square feet per chicken, and set up an enclosed outdoor space (called a run). Place an egg laying box inside the coop — a 12-inch cube will accommodate from two to four hens. Add wood shavings or straw to fill the boxes. A flock of five hens will lay as many as four eggs a day during peak laying time. Wood recommends keeping just two or three hens; one will get lonely, but too many can be overwhelming.
Make sure there is ample fresh water dispensed through a waterer. And if you live in a cold climate, use a small heater to prevent the water from turning to ice; heated waterers are also available. Provide commercial feed (preferably organic) and give the birds vegetable scraps from the kitchen — they love greens. Once you grow accustomed to cooking with fresh eggs, you won’t be able to imagine life without them. Until you have your own coop, visit some very happy chickens at themarthablog.com.
CLEANING AN OUTDOOR SHOWER Q: What is the best way to clean an outdoor shower? A: Outdoor showers usually are constructed of low-maintenance materials, such as cedar or a composite polyvinyl chloride, PVC, material. If the structure is well ventilated (with an opening along the bottom) and can dry thoroughly between uses, it shouldn’t require much upkeep.
Sometimes green algae will grow on PVC. To remove it, use a soft-bristle brush and a weak chlorine bleach solution, followed by a good hosing down. Wood is less likely to attract algae but may develop a dark film that can be removed with a pressure-washer, says Chris Peeples, owner of Vixen Hill Manufacturing, a company that makes outdoor showers. Spritz wood periodically with a weak bleach solution to kill any bacteria or mold growing in the wood.
A note about plumbing fixtures in outdoor showers: Sea air will erode some metals. Nothing can stop chrome from pitting and brass from oxidizing with all that salt around. Your best bet is to accept the rugged look as part of the shower’s charm, or choose stainless steel or nickel; these hold up better in sea air.
Questions should be addressed to Living, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Include name and daytime telephone number. Questions also may be sent by e-mail to: email@example.com.