Meet the Ladies

February 4th, 2009 - filed under: The Farm » Fauna

In the coming weeks and months I’ll probably be writing a lot about chickens – why I love them, why they’re awesome additions to any [veg*n] backyard farm, and why I could never imagine eating them, ever again.

But before all that, I wanted to take a moment and introduce you all to my two little beauties: Miss Petunia Blue, and Miss Princess SweetPea.


Petunia Blue was our first little darling.  I got her during a feverish fit of ‘nesting-mode’ madness – an unexpected side affect of quitting smoking.  Something had to be done, and it was either getting my hands on a chick, or it was time to consider getting pregnant.  Luckily, I chose the former, and we brought home baby Petunia.  Although I know better now, and would never again support the poultry industry, she sure was a fun little wee one.  She was 1 week old:


Petunia (or ‘tunes, as we call her) is a Leghorn, that classic and quintessential American chicken.  She is small and white, slender with good wingspan and proud tail feathers, with a mighty scarlet-colored crown and waddle.  Of course, she didn’t look like that when she was just few weeks old.  This is her trademark bugeye glare:


Leghorns are also a particularly chatty breed (her nickname is very appropriate), so we were quite relieved when it was time to move Camp Chicken out of the bathroom and into the backyard.  ‘Tunes was a few months old in this picture, and having a blast exploring the new world of the great big outdoors:


That was in late spring, and it was right around that time that we brought home Princess SweetPea.  Princess is a furry-footed Light Brahma, an Asiatic breed that is closely related to Indian Jungle Fowl.  We rescued her off Craigslist from a family that was paring down its flock.  Apparently, the father had decided that he would become a producer of the perfect fancy chicken, and was on a quest to manipulate the ideal breed.  Poor Sweet Pea was one of the many byproducts of his experimentations.  She was half of Petunia’s age and weighed nearly twice as much: 


These days the girls rule the backyard, where they reside in their little red henhouse.  At night they roost in ‘trees’ made of old lumbar, safe in their enclosed run.  By day, they free range the backyard, much to the dismay of neighborhood cats (who are equal their size and can’t do anything but stare) and pesky garden slugs.  They fertilize our plants, they mow our lawn, but most of all, they are just plain fabulous friends.  


Chickens are delightful, independent, unique, and sassy creatures, and I look forward to sharing my adoration and understanding of them, as this project unfolds.



  • Sam

    I can’t wait to meet the ladies this spring!

  • Sayward

    @Sam – The ladies are most eager to make your acquaintance!

  • damian

    Actually the ladies are most eager to eat slugs and stuff.

  • Co

    They’re beautiful! I’ve been really excited about chickens for a while. Do they grow and socialize ok without having a mother around to show them how?

  • Sayward

    @ Co – In my experience they’re fine without ‘older chicken’ guidance. However, I would never keep a single hen – they are social creatures and need at least one friend to ‘flock’ with. Also, I’d look into adoption as a great way to acquire hens. The poultry industry in general is really, really terrible, and buying a chick is playing right into that (I wish I’d known before I bought Petunia). It’s just like buying a puppy from a pet store – bad news! So yeah, in my [never humble] opinion, adoption from a sanctuary, shelter, or Craigslist, is the best way to go about starting a backyard flock.

    Good luck! They really are the most delightful creatures. =)

  • Crystal

    did you know about this?

  • Sayward

    @ Crystal – Yes, Peaceful Prairie is awesome, as are all the farm animal rescues. I’ve been meaning to make a trip to the Oregon one to do some volunteer work. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Angela

    A friend shared your blog with me today and I’ll definitely be back. I am now an addict. I love your girls! I got my own four ladies from a local farmer at a makeshift farm and garden show which was more like a swapmeet with chickens, ducks, goats, bunnies and such. They are the best addition to my yard and soon to be Victory Garden. You can see my lovelies here:

  • Sayward

    @ Angela – Welcome! And congrats on the additions to your family. =) Chickens are absolutely amazing creatures, each one so unique and spunky and full of quirks. You’ll have so much fun with them. Your girls are beautiful.

    Hope to see you around the site!

  • http://facebook Angela S-S

    Oh I love chickens! One day I plan to care for rescued hens, some goats, and a couple of llamas! I have to wait until we have property in the country though. I would love to meet your girls sometime.

  • Sayward

    @ Angela S-S – I love goats! And llamas are amazing. One of my dreams is to open a farm sanctuary – I’d love to be surrounded by, and care for, those beautiful beasts, all the time. It’s funny to me that most people are into ‘exotic’ animals, but I just have such an affinity for ‘farm’ animals! Well, and capybaras . . . =)

    Perhaps you will meet the girls!

  • Leah

    I know this is super late, but what kind of coop do you have for them for winter?

    With an ex, I had three backyard chickens for a couple of years. We built our coop from lumber, along with a “run” (because we had trouble with raccoons) but it was a massive amount of work to do, and an even more massive amount of work to dismantle when (yes, unfortunately) we broke up and moved out of the house.

    I’d love to have chickens again in the future, though, and would love to hear about your chicken housing. Where did you get the idea for your tree roosts? How do you keep them warm in winter?

    Urban chickens are the best!

  • Leah

    Oh, and we gave the chickens to another farmer when we moved away, so no worries.

  • Sayward

    @ Leah – Damina built an extra small coop that we call ‘the Winter Box’, althoug it will probably remain their primary nesting box year round. We have a whole fenced in run along the side of the house which keeps predators out, so our girls prefer to roost under the stars whenever the weather permits. =)

    The idea for the ‘trees’ just came from reading that wild chickens roost in trees and that’s what makes them feel safest. We had hacked apart a giant bush in out front yard so we just used the trunk of that to build a series of roosts at the far end of the chicken run. They love it!

    The Winter Box is a small box, maybe 2 ft by 2 ft, on stilts. It has a hinged roof for our access, which is sloped for rain run-off. It has a hinged door for chicken access with a small ‘front porch’. Inside the box is a raised area for feed and their water. And lots of hay!

    They like it okay but prefer to 1) roost in their ‘trees’ and 2) lay eggs in the nook underneath (created by the stilts base). It’s pretty funny how they make their own plans, ya know? =D

    I’ll post pictures and a write-up this spring. It’s on the list!

  • Ingrid

    Love your blog! Came upon it by way of your unclog-the-sink post. I’ve had the joy of working with a variety of birds, both wild and domestic (rescue and rehab). And even though we don’t yet have space for chickens, I couldn’t agree more about the disposition of these wonderful feathered characters. So glad these two have an incredible family.

  • Sayward

    @ Ingrid – Yay for fellow chicken lovers! Glad I’m not the only one who appreciates the awesome quirk of these wonderful little beasts. =)

  • Jshan

    Hi Sayward, I’m new to your site, and am really enjoying it!

    I love chickens too : ) was raised with chicks and hens (lucky me huh?)

    The hens we had when I was a kid ate the vegetarian scraps from our kitchen. They also ate growing greens. Dad had planted a Comfrey plant for them just outside their big cage area. This allowed them to peck all the tips off as the plant continually grew, but since it was outside did not allow them to gobble the plant until it was destroyed (which I understand they would have).

    That’s what leads me to my question:

    Don’t the ladies eat your garden?

  • Melissa

    how wonderful it must be to let them roam! I have family who farm chickens and I have always wanted to go abduct one from the houses and give it a reprieve. One day, I will, her name shall be Sayward!

  • Sayward

    @ Jshan – Yes! The ladies absolutely destroyed my fall garden last year. We actually had to build a fence, so our yard is now sequestered into ‘animal area’ and ‘garden area’. I don’t think chickens and garden could coexist in the same space.

    @ Melissa – Oh, that would be such an honor! Seriously, I would love to have a chicken named after me. =)

  • Jshan

    So great to get a response Sayward – thanks! I’m relieved to hear that even in your little paradise, the laws of nature still apply. I would’ve been too jealous otherwise ; )

  • Sayward

    @ Jshan – Ahh yes, they still apply, as much as I may try to defy them . . . ;-)

  • Krisann

    We have chickens too and love them to pieces (5 hens and an “accidental” rooster). I have to ask, what do you do with all the eggs?

  • Sayward

    @ Krisann – We feed them right back to the hens! They adore them and I figure the eggs are theirs anyways. =)

  • Jshan

    Sayward, have you posted yet about all the costs and labor involved in starting your flock of hens? I’ve heard people say things like ‘by the time you get everything bought and setup, the cost of your first egg is about $300 US’.

    So,QUESTION: Will you tell us about all the planning gathering and labor you did to get setup, and what your total costs were?

  • Sayward

    @ Jshan – I haven’t written about the actual cost break down, but I did do this little feature about their set-up.

    I’ll have to think about an article like that. The thing is, I don’t advocate people buying hens as a means of getting eggs (like I wouldn’t encourage someone to buy a dog just to act as a guard dog). I’d love to see people adopting rescue hens and giving them homes for the same reasons that people adopt dogs and cats – because they are awesome animals and they deserve to live happy, healthy lives!

    It may seem like a minor distinction, but to me the framing is very important. Thinking in terms of ‘cost for eggs’ is just not the perspective that I come from. Does that make sense?

  • Jshan

    Sayward, yes of course it makes sense, esp. coming from you, that cost is an objective of yours which falls below your ecology-oriented and compassion-based intentions . My reason for asking about costs is this: for those who want to invite hens into their lives (me included) it’s helpful to have some idea of what-all might be required. Costs are one of those basic matters that can make it a go-go or a no-go. If I knew I could afford it – I would be one step closer! Glad you’ll think about it!

  • Sayward

    @ Jshan – That makes a lot of sense! Especially since we did it for very, very little ($300 is crazy!). I guess sharing my experience of how to do it cheaply-but-efficiently could help make it seem more possible for those who want to adopt but feel like it’s a huge endeavor. Great food for thought, thanks for bringing this up. =)

  • Ingrid

    Sayward wrote: “I’d love to see people adopting rescue hens and giving them homes for the same reasons that people adopt dogs and cats – because they are awesome animals and they deserve to live happy, healthy lives!”
    Sayward, I love this. Speaking as someone who helps with bird rescue in the SF Bay Area, there are never, ever enough homes for rescued birds, whether they’re chickens, king pigeons (raised for squab), or quail. Thanks for advocating on behalf of these guys. :)

  • Nerdfins

    You chickens are so cute! I can’t wait to move somewhere where I have my own backyard so I can raise some of my own.

  • Courtney Jane Brown

    I’m dying to read more about them!


    I have had a lot of pet chickens in my life. I LOVE THEM! It’s so fun to see other people enjoying them as pets and not food. I adore your pictures. xox

  • Leah Shofstahl

    My family isn’t vegan (I was for a year but I’m back to omni now) but we have 11 hens. The amount of money we put into them is way more than what eggs from the market would cost and it’s worth every penny. They are so much more than egg producers to us, we raised them from tiny chicks to the 3 yr old hens they are now (except two older hens we adopted) and we love them all dearly. Last month we even had Joyce, one of our two Leghorns, living in a box in the extra bathroom as we nursed her back from near death from a mystery illness. She is healthy and happy in the backyard again! I never knew chickens could have such charming and unique personalities but all our girls are awesome, even the cranky ones, hahaha.