Going Chicken Crazy for an Outdoor Habit In Your Own Backyard (Tove Danovich, author, journalist, chicken enthusiast)

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Tove Danovich Humans Outside podcast

It might also be trendy, but backyard chicken keeping isn’t just a delightful way to source a parade of fresh eggs and endless chicken entertainment, it’s also the perfect lure for getting outside regularly right where you are. And while, yes, keeping any outdoor animal provides the obligatory outdoor chore list, a backyard coop can also draw you into nature in ways that don’t include coop cleaning or flock feeding, says podcast guest Tove Danovich.

A journalist and author of the new book “Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them,” Tove has an insider perspective on all the ways keeping a parade of chickens can connect you with your own nearby nature, too. Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[3:16] Tove Danovich’s favorite outdoor space
[4:23] How Tove became someone who likes to go outside
[6:42] Tove’s chicken story
[8:45] Chicken math
[11:02] Is there such a thing as too many chickens?
[14:40] How chickens help Tove get outside
[18:00] Warning warning she might a birder
[22:30] Rooster problems
[23:53] Why it matters that the chickens don’t need her
[29:05] The inside scoop on chicken culture
[32:17] What people should know about chickens that the books don’t really say
[37:00] Keeping chickens from becoming a chore
[42:47] Tove’s favorite outdoor moment

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go, heading outside even for a few minutes is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and here at Humans Outside, we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while hearing from fascinating outdoor minded. As a journalist for 19 years, I’ve let curiosity be my guide. After my husband’s injuries from military service, we started looking for a better way to live. That’s why we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if an outdoor focused life was the answer. Since September, 2017, I’ve personally spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

Tove Danovich is obsessed. Okay, well, we’re all a little obsessed with something, but Tove is obsessed with something that has become way more than a hobby for many people. It’s a lifestyle. Chickens. Tove is obsessed with chickens. Unlike many of the people around the US who found their home chicken obsession during Covid or who might have found themselves prepping coops thanks to the recent egg shortage and national chicken drama, Tove has been obsessed for a while, a food and travel writer and journalists, not unlike. Her chicekn love is now the subject of her new book Under the Henfluence which I think is a perfect title.

In this delightful read, she goes through all the facets of chicken ownership, it’s history, and its current cultural place, pivoting off her own backyard chicken experience from her home in Oregon. A small digression if you’ll allow it. While I am not chicken connected human, my husband Luke, used to be what I fondly refer to as the Chicken King. I had to ask him for the real title ahead of recording this. But I just still, I say Chicken King because in our hall hangs a photo of young Luke proudly holding a chicken under his arm.

And if he hadn’t gone into the army, he likes to say, he would’ve become a chicken farmer. Digression over. Now you probably already know this, but chickens are usually outside and so like many other hobbies, getting into them has the wonderful side effect of also getting you outside a lot. Today, Tove is going to talk to us about how chickens have connected her to nature while being under the Henfluence, if you will, is a good thing and how you can get into the chicken life too.

Tove, welcome to Humans Outside.

Tove Danovich: Thank you so much for having me and I wish I had been a chicken queen as a child, but alas, I came to this late so.

Amy Bushatz: You too can put a photo in your hallway holding a chicken wearing a white shirt, not the chicken in the white shirt, you and the white shirt in case there’s any confusion. You can do this.

Tove Danovich: Yeah. Yeah, that would be great. .I’ll look into it. Just get some photoshop going.

Amy Bushatz: Alright. We start our episodes with our guests imagining ourselves in their favorite outdoor space, like we’re hanging out, having a chat with you somewhere you like outside. Where are we with you today?

Tove Danovich: Okay. I don’t actually have to go very far for this though I’m going to switch to a different time of year. We have this lovely little corner of our yard where we’ve built a patio. It’s got like an L-shaped sectional with nice pillows on it. There’s one of those giant umbrellas on top and a big hazelnut tree that goes over it. So it’s just in the summer. I’m there all of the time because it’s shady. We have rose bushes, so it smells delightful. You get like squirrels in the trees and birds outside, and sometimes I let the chickens out and coax them up to this part of the yard with treats so I can kind of keep an eye on them in between work and reading. So that’s my favorite spot. Warm with a cool breeze. It’s just the best.

Amy Bushatz: Love it. Glad we’re there with you. And I fully support picking a different time of year because on this fine day of our recording, it is five degrees outside my window right now. And I’d pick a different time of year too. Too cold to sit outside. Too cold. So yeah, I like it. So.

Tove Danovich: Yeah not pleasant.

Amy Bushatz: No not good at all. Tell us, if you don’t mind, how did you become someone who likes to go outside to this beautiful spot in your yard?

Tove Danovich: Yeah. As a kid, I spent a lot of time outside in the way that kids do, having little adventures with my friends and stuff.

I went to what I refer to as hippie private schools, so I was a Waldorf kid. And a lot of the curriculum is very like, nature focused and you’re outside for hours a day and you’re looking at plants and you’re, I don’t know, sniffing dead leaves. It’s very nature focused. So there was always a lot of that.

However, I don’t come from one of those camping, outdoorsy families. I went camping exactly once and it was with some friends of mine. We did have a tent, which I would set up in the backyard sometimes for sleepovers, but we weren’t camping, we weren’t hiking. And so as an adult it’s been kind of hard to figure out my relationship to the outdoors. Because I think in my heart I’m an outdoorsy person. I love nature. I like to be outside and pay attention to outside. But yeah, the thought of planning for a backpacking trip really far away, there’s too much gear and too much logistics and I didn’t grow up doing it.

So I kind of had to realize that while we think of outdoorsy people, those ones who are doing rock climbing and snowshoeing and intense adventures, that there is this whole wonderful subset of us where you can just have a nice quiet time looking at the world around you, however far away from home that might be. So that’s, that’s my relationship to the outdoors.

Amy Bushatz: No, and I think that’s a really important point because you’re absolutely right. It’s really easy to pigeon ourselves, hold ourselves into this idea of outdoorsy means X, Y, and z. when being outdoorsy could just mean you really enjoy your coffee on your porch outside. And that’s 1000% okay. In fact, that’s sometimes better than the whole to-do about going and finding the rocks to climb, right? Because it’s accessible. It’s more frequent, it’s cheaper. Rock climbing gets pretty pricey for all the rocks being free. It’s kind of amazing how much that adds up. So, no, I think it’s really important to talk about that and to embrace it.

Liking being outside in your yard and being that subset type of person and liking chickens are two different things. So what is your chicken story?

Tove Danovich: Yeah. You know, I think my chicken story is, probably similar to a lot of people’s, at least backyard chicken stories where I mean, in my case I was a food writer so I was very interested in getting a source of eggs that came from animals where I knew how they were treated. I wanted the eggs and fancy colors, cuz that seemed exciting. But really they were going to be, a pet who paid their rent. And then I got them and I brought them home and they were these tiny little baby chicks that you get in the mail and they were so adorable. And I just found myself spending so much time watching every single little thing they do which is the cutest thing because of course they’re a cute baby animal. And as I was spending more time with them, I started, wondering about them and why are they doing this thing that they’re doing. Can anyone tell me about this? And I was reading a lot of books about chickens because I like to read about any new subject that I’m learning about.

And while there are 10 million amazing how-to books for raising chickens, there just wasn’t really anything that talked about them as a species very much or much about our relationship to them throughout history besides their role as a food animal. So very quickly on, in my chicken keeping journey, I was like, I guess I have to write a book about chickens.

So , I started paying a lot of attention to them then, and the questions I had about them. Um, So they, they really became an obsession, um. My reasonable three chicks that I started with. I currently have eight and that’s fluctuated up and down, so, the chicken presence in my life just gets ever stronger as time goes on.

Amy Bushatz: And you talk about some of these unfortunate fluctuations in your book, but what are reasons, just for the people listening to this, what are reasons that chicken fluctuate up and down, other than obvious disease, but what would be some other reasons that you have more of those chickens on any given day?

Tove Danovich: Chickens are funny because they’re simultaneously so tough. I mean, they can get over injuries that you are just amazed that they can survive. Um, But on the other hand, everything wants to eat them. And they do get sick with a lot of different issues. So egg for backyard hens, egg-laying issues are a very common cause of death. But I think more commonly, what people come to discover is that, you know, a raccoon can get in your coop, a stray dog can get in your coop, bears can get in your coop, coyotes. So predator proofing is very important. And for me, I found that we’re in a suburban area. Our yard is fully fenced, but hawks are a real issue here. So I no longer can let my chickens outside without being out at the same time to supervise them because they will and have once gotten eaten. So.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. It’s we have a chicken bear here. Where I live. And he seems to have gone to bed for the winter, as it were. That hasn’t been a problem in a while, but it, it was in, it was a bear in a location people don’t usually see bear very often, I mean, It’s Alaska, you see bear all around, right? But there are neighborhoods where you kind of get used to not having that problem. And this bear was knocking over chicken coops. That’s what he was doing. It was like the bear had figured out that this was a quick meal, and it would be like if a person was just robbing banks, this bear was robbing chicken coops. And it became like kind of, kind of infamous in, not unlike the way that like, if these infamous bank robbers of the 1920s became the talk of the town, let me tell you. But you know, it, I mean, on the human level, the bear was eating people’s pets and backyard chicken flocks, and that’s, kind of uncool. Also, it’s not great to know that there’s just like a bear rampaging outside your house while you’re asleep. Yeah. It’s not a good feeling. So . Yeah, . Hopefully you don’t have,

Tove Danovich: It’s nice to keep the bears a little far away.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah that’s right. Hopefully you don’t have, you don’t have that problem.

Is there such a thing as too many chickens or enough chickens, which I think are two differnt things?

Tove Danovich: Yeah. I, it’s so hard to say. There’s this phrase I love that if you get into the world of chickens, you just hear left and right, which is chicken math. And it basically refers to the fact that no matter how many chickens you think you want, you definitely want more chickens than that.

I like to compare them to Pringles where, you open the can and then you suddenly the can is gone. You can’t stop eating them. You need more

Amy Bushatz: Relatable yes.

Tove Danovich: Um, they’re, They’re very addictive in a weird way. And I’m always, very conscious of not wanting to become like a chicken hoarder. But the, there’s so many shapes and sizes and every breed is so different. Um, almost all of my chickens right now, my eight, are each different breeds and I can tell who is who because they all have a slightly different voice and they have different, like whines they used to complain when they want treats. And so you just, start looking into this world of chickens once you get into it. Most people kind of have that, like they’re white, they’re red, they’re black and white. That’s it. And then you’re like, wait, there is like a zoo of chickens to choose from. This is amazing. I want them that lay this color eggs. I want them to be giant or tiny. So it can get out of hand quickly. So I don’t know if in my heart I can ever have enough chickens, but I will say for me, I think the number is probably like 15 is enough realistically.

Amy Bushatz: Is that also too much?

Tove Danovich: I think. Yeah it might also be too much. I mean, we, it’s my husband and I and our dogs and chickens and we already have way more eggs than two people can eat. So we make a lot of friends by giving eggs away. When I go to someone’s house for a party, I bring them a nice little carton of eggs with me as a house warming gift. But yeah, I think 15 feels nice. I haven’t reached it yet. So then we’ll see. But you know, you can still get to know each of them on an individual level at 15 yeah that’s, that’s my hope. Fingers crossed. We’ll let you know.

Amy Bushatz: That’s the plan. 15. So if 15 is enough, that means 16, too many so.

Tove Danovich: Yes. Yeah. But you never know. My husband was just out of town a couple weeks ago and someone posted that there was a stray chicken in front of her house. Um, And no one else had claimed her. And I was like, I’ll go get her. So he’s been gone for, five hours and I send him this picture of me out in the dark holding a chicken. Which we did find the owner. I had to give the chicken back, but you never know when it comes to me .

Amy Bushatz: Uh, this is how people in Alaska who do dog mushing feel about dog yards, by the way that they, that there’s it’s hard to find the number of too many versus enough sled dogs. Because they are very similar concept. Right. They serve a purpose in your life other than just being a pet, although they also are pets in a way. And it is very difficult to not have more . So, , yeah. Yeah. So same, same kind of same kind of thing. That’s, That’s what occurred to me while I was uh, while I was reading about chicken uh, number quandary .

Tove Danovich: Yeah it’s a good, it’s a very philosophical question. Yes. That, I think we should all ask ourselves.

Amy Bushatz: Fair enough. Fair enough. Okay. So I wanna start with something that might be obvious to some, but I think there’s more here than just like, I have to go out and feed them that’s how they bring me outside. How do chickens help you get outside?

Tove Danovich: Yeah. So I mentioned, you know, our, our Hawk issue earlier but you know, for the first couple of years we would just kind of let them out and then they were out for the day. They would come up to the door and peck on it and say hello, and then, wander off doing chicken things. But once hawks were an issue and I had to supervise them, you know, chickens are the happiest if they’re free ranging. And I’m also a little bit happier because it means less cleaning the coop when they’re not in the coop all the time. So I really felt bad keeping them cooped up. And found that on nice days I was like, well, I’m obligated to let the chickens out for at least an hour and then suddenly it’s two hours cuz the weather’s really nice and I’ve started a gardening project.

And I like the outside, but there are always things inside that can capture your attention and, screens on every floor, just waiting for you to look at them and having this reason to kind of go outside just for a little bit. Even really upped the time that I then wanted to be outdoors. And they’re really nice company for being outside too. We have. Half an acre, which for the suburbs is very large yard, even though it’s, it’s not that big for other places, but there’s always a lot of yard work to do, and most of it is not very fun. But when I have the chickens out with me, they’re like a cute little team and they like to follow me around when weeding and, scratching the dirt behind me and look at all the soil I’ve just uncovered to dig around for worms. So it feels like I have company when I’m doing things outside and then they’re just so personable and entertaining. Some people have referred to to watching chickens as like chicken tv or that feeling you get when you sit on the beach and watch the ocean where it’s very calming.

But there’s something going on constantly. So it’s a really nice way to be outside. And as I started being outside with them more, I started noticing everything else that was happening in our small yard too. So, we have all of the normal backyard birds like everyone else has. But then there are bats that are around, there are owls at night. There are all these different species of insects in the yard that I just wasn’t there being quiet long enough to notice just how much is happening around me, even in a pretty urban environment. So I think it’s really changed my relationship to our yard outside to like the bigger world of urban nature, especially outside. And it’s taught me a lot about bird behavior too, in a funny way because, they are a domesticated animal, but chickens are birds and they have a lot of behavior in common with wild birds. So like we had this crazy heat wave a year or two years ago and I saw how all the crows in the neighborhood were like holding their wings out and I’m like, oh, they’re trying to stay cool. That’s the same thing that the chickens do. So yeah it’s really funny the connections that you can start making. And I feel like I, I understand wild bird behavior so much better because I understand chicken behavior now too.

Amy Bushatz: Are you at risk of becoming a birder?

Tove Danovich: Probably. I’m like, I don’t know if too lazy is the right way. I love all birds. And I like looking at birds, but I don’t really want to travel around just to get a checklist of birds. Though I did do the christmas bird count for Audubon this year for the first time. And that was really delightful just to see how many birds are like in my neighborhood in this 10 block radius.

Amy Bushatz: This is this the, that’s the danger close on ramp right there.

Tove Danovich: The gateway. I know yeah. We’ll again, we’ll see. Fingers crossed. But there’s this great book that just came out called Slow Birding by Joan Strassman. And I really like the way she approaches it because she talks about really getting to know the seasonal fluctuations of birds, like in your backyard, in your community, in places you return to all the time. And I think that’s much more my speed is learning about the birds around me. There’s just so many birds and so, so much memorizing and I have other things to do.

Amy Bushatz: Like take care of your chickens.

Tove Danovich: Yeah, I know. I have eight chickens. I can’t become a birder.

Amy Bushatz: So, no. Yeah. Well, I, but I hear you about this idea of it bringing like I joke, a gateway, but almost like a on ramp to these other interests outside, because that’s one of the, I think you could call it a side effect, but you could also call it a benefit of going outside, that it opens up your view to the things that are also possibilities out there. And you consider yourself not outdoorsy one day, and before you know it, you are the person who’s rock climbing because you started following, following that curiosity, like, oh, I wonder what that is like. And I’ve seen that in, in my own life. When I started this challenge of just going outside just 20 minutes a day, every day, I set the time that benchmark because I was worried about hitting it. I thought now there’s gonna be days that I don’t really wanna be outside for 20 minutes, so I better have a standard over her or I’m gonna go back in after five, especially on a day like, like this one that we’re recording this on where it’s very cold outside.

But because I’ve been doing this now for more than five years, I’m looking outside. I know that it is five degrees outside and that in 2017, I probably wouldn’t have made it more than the 20 minutes cuz I just didn’t want to, but because I’ve done this over and over again. I also know that the sun is, dec- is very bright and the air temperature is cold, but man, it might feel pretty good in that sunshine, even though it’s only five degrees outside. And if I go for that 60 minute run, even though it’s five degrees and my nose hairs are definitely going to freeze, I’ll feel pretty good afterwards. Right? Like I know all these things because I’ve experienced them over time, incrementally , and had the chance to learn about it instead of just like chucking myself out there and being like, you’re outdoorsy now.

Good luck. Uh, Because that doesn’t work well for me. That might work well for other people, but it definitely doesn’t work well for me. So I completely hear you. You know, you’re out there and all of a sudden you are lingering over the gardening a little bit because you enjoy it in a way that you did not enjoy it before, for whatever reason.

Whether that be the ladies following you around the yard , or it’s actual, the digging in the dirt has become cathartic in a way that previously it was just annoying. .

Tove Danovich: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I mean, as Scandinavians are very fond of saying there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. So once you figure out the clothing side, yes, you’re ready for anything

Amy Bushatz: I know, but they have not made anything I have found that lets you breathe and also have non frozen nose hairs. It’s a real pickle for me. .

Tove Danovich: Yeah. Yeah. Nose. Nose is tough. Maybe just a face heater. Yeah. Someone needs to make that.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I think that’s called coming back inside for a minute.

Hey humans, just a quick break to remind you that if you wanna build your own outdoor habit, the Humans Outside 365 challenge is a great way to get started. Cool and exclusive challenge swag, including a finisher, metal, and decal is waiting for you. All you need to do is visit humansoutside.com/challenge. Don’t get left out. Go to humansoutside.com/challenge to learn more now. Okay, back to the show.

Now, in your book you talk about the trouble of roosters. For people who don’t know, people uh, it is tricky to have a rooster because they’re loud and many homeowners’ associations and neighborhoods don’t want you to have roosters because they might be loud, and so then you have a rooster accidentally and you have to figure out what to do with this. Since you’ve written the book, have you ended up with the rooster that you had to do something with?

Tove Danovich: There is one that I talk about in the book who was re-homed. But that has been it.

Amy Bushatz: No rooster updates,

Tove Danovich: Fingers crossed. No rooster update. No. So yeah we haven’t gotten more chicks in a while. And that’s, that’s when it all happens. Yeah. So ,

Amy Bushatz: Yeah the inevitability. You noted something towards the end of the book that I actually thought was really profound. And it’s that you understand that while you enjoy being with your chickens and that you think they enjoy being with you if only because you bring the treats and that’s wonderful.

They don’t really need you. You know, they like, they don’t need you. Yeah. I’m wondering why that matters to your experience of having chickens um, and being maybe a little chicken obsessed. What factor does that me add on there? Yeah.

Tove Danovich: There are so many demands on our time, on, on everyone’s time. Like no matter what your life situation is, people and the world always wants more from you than you probably have energy to give. We have these two wonderful dogs. They’re the best. I love them very much, but just this morning, one of them between breakfast, she kept coming up to me and whimpering because she wanted a pet every time. She like took a couple bites of food and then would go back to food and then whimpered for more pets. And I was just like, I cannot with you right now. Um, And I think that’s the case with a lot, our cats and dogs very much like they, they need us. They rely on us for interaction. The chickens are really happy to just do chicken stuff as long as they have what they need.

And so the choice to go out and spend time with them or not, other than the fact that now they don’t get to free range unless I’m outside with them, it’s really just up to me and if I feel like it. And so there’s so much freedom in that I don’t feel bad when I go away from home. We have lovely chicken sitters who fill in as, as the treat lady. Just, perfectly, the chickens don’t even notice that they’re not there. I’m pretty sure. So I think it’s really nice to have something that I can devote myself to exactly as much as I want to, but doesn’t really require anything from me besides, the basics of what you would do to keep any animal, happy and alive. So that’s really nice to kind of, I don’t know if I would call it a one-sided relationship but certainly the emotional side like they, they don’t require anything emotionally from me. And that’s, it’s just really nice. It’s relaxing.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. It occurred to me that’s not terribly unlike a lot of the things that we find outside when we go adventure or whatnot. That I get to take advantage of something and and myself as a human feel an emotional connection to an inanimate object in many ways other than the fact that it’s, you know, living, breathing in the way that trees are, or the way that the ground is, and in and in this case, the way of chickens.

But unlike a dog, right, like you’re talking about, the dog has this what se would seem to be a more human-like connection, although there’s lots of things to talk about around that, but , totally different subject. But , I can go outside and feel a connection with a tree or feel a connection with a river or feel a connection with a mountain or a trail, and none of those things need me. None of them. They’re just there and they’ve been there and they will be there. And I get to be there too, and I can have that connection with the with those things. And I think you’re right, it is very liberating in a way because it feels again yeah like you said, you don’t wanna say one sided relationship, but that’s kind of what it feels like, right? Like, I get what I need from that. And it doesn’t expect anything from me. And it is extraordinarily liberating to have that in your life that you can just go there and, mm-hmm. and receive, you know, and you can feel good about yourself by doing something in return, I’ll just, I’ll trim up these weeds so the tree can breathe a little bit or whatever, right., or I’ll maintain this trail. Or I’ll leave no trace. All of those things are wonderful. Some of them are more needed than others, but they don’t need you. So, I don’t know, maybe that’s kind of a bummer.

Tove Danovich: Me specifically, Yeah, sometimes I, like there is part of me of course that’s like, I wish they, they like, loved me as much as I loved them. But then it’s like, yeah, once they do, then I feel bad when I’m away from home. I feel bad if I haven’t spent the perfect amount of attention with every single one of them. I can just kind of hang out almost like I’m part of the flock and they’re like, oh, hey, it’s you again. It’s fine, you can hang with us.

Amy Bushatz: And because chickens don’t imprint on humans the way other baby bird animals do or am I wrong on that?

Tove Danovich: Not I think to an extent, but they’re not like Gosling.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Like maybe I’ve watched Fly Away Home one too many times. Like that definitely has happened, but yeah.

Tove Danovich: Yeah. I think people can maybe have a slightly closer relationship with them if you have hatched them at home. But even then, there’s such flock animals that like they, they recognize each other as fellow chickens. I think before they recognize you as something that I guess they’ll allow to be part of the flock, even though you look really weird. So yeah, they, they don’t imprint they do get friendlier the more you handle them and spend time with them, but they’re, they’re very much still chickens.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So, yeah. Speaking of the flock, you noticed that chickens have a culture of their own, like chicken culture, which when I think of those words, I think people who have a lot of chicken stuff in their house, but that’s not what you mean. You mean like culture amongst chickens? So tell us about that. What is chicken culture in this context?

Tove Danovich: Yeah. That was one of the favorite things that I found when I was doing this research and you know, there’s kind of minimal research on chicken behavior compared to just the wealth we have about, how do you tweak X vitamin to make them lay more eggs or have more meat and all of that.

But you know, people have studied the way that chickens interact with each other. And they do learn from each other. And if chickens have, a hen that teaches them one food is good and the other is bad, they will grow up thinking that bad food is bad. I think the way that most chicken people see it in, in our flocks is in the form of the egg song which is not quite as melodious as, as it might sound from that term.

It’s kind of like in a discordant symphony, I guess. It’s funny to listen to, but it’s all of them just kind of squawking and they do it together after someone lays an egg. No one knows why. If anyone figures it out, please call me . Um, But we don’t seem to have answers. But what we do know is that flocks of chickens where they don’t sing the egg song, birds that come into that flock will also not sing the egg song. And new chicks that integrate into that flock later on will also not sing the egg song and so on. We have a very loud choir of chickens in our house, so everyone learns, learns to do it. But I think it’s really fascinating and it, it really brings up questions for me about the fact you know, the way we raise most chickens, we take the eggs away and incubate them separately, and so they’re kind of motherless I mean every generation starts over from scratch. And it really makes me wonder, what weird things they would develop doing if they were allowed to kind of continue on with their chicken culture, whatever that looks like rather than starting from zero all the time. So.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah it, it makes me wonder, like if you had somebody who has, who is hatching their own in raising like a large free range group I don’t know, flock, that’s probably a better word. Yeah. What you would find what you would find among there.

Okay. So you’ve talked to us about how chickens help you spend more time outside in, in, not necessarily chicken ways, and about the value of knowing that spending time with your chickens iis a perhaps slightly one-sided thing with lots and lots of benefits. There are lots of, tons of books, as you mentioned earlier, about how-tos of setting up chickens or practical chicken life or whatever, you know, I’m sure they all have very similar titles. I’m wondering if you can instead give people three or four takeaways for chicken life that aren’t necessarily in the front of those books. Things that you tell people about establishing a backyard chicken enterprise. I don’t know what else I don’t know the right words a back, what is the right word for this, but establishing backyard chicken coop. Yeah. What do you want people to know? What, What should they know about this?

Tove Danovich: Um, Listeners may not be surprised given what I was talking about earlier with predators, but I think the thing that can really make or break your chicken keeping journey is having.

a solid predator proof coop. You can buy a coop anywhere. There are tons of them for sale online. Most of them are garbage. Um, there are a couple that I think are good and well made, but a lot of them, if they aren’t made out of bulsa wood, it feels like they are. We bought one of them once and our chicks were in there for two days in a raccoon, like tried to get in and that was the end of that. So we found someone on Craigslist who like made chicken coops locally and it really wasn’t even that much more expensive than just buying one from a store. But you know, you really want it made out of plywood and two by fours so nothing is going to get in and you want to cover the bottom in galvanized wire with very small usually the half inch squares is what I say, because rats are everywhere. Unless you are in, I think, Alberta, Canada as the one place without rats, everywhere else there are rats. You just may not know about them. And if you’ve had chickens for long enough, they will find you eventually and you will be so happy that you made your coop more resistant to rats, just tunneling right underneath there. But yeah, having a rat infestation, having your flock killed overnight by a raccoon, like those things will not make chickens exciting.

Amy Bushatz: The chicken bear –beware.

Tove Danovich: So starting off, yeah the chicken bear get an electric fence, I think is what many people have Alaska do for bear proofing.

Amy Bushatz: I seen t hey have like a, like there’s children’s domes,right. Except like a climbing dome, except it’s, the opposite of fun because it’s electrocuted. Yeah.

Tove Danovich: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So know what you are protecting against and protect against it, because yeah, the less you have to make chickens about like chores, which there are some. . But you know, you don’t wanna be constantly like reinforcing your coup, constantly worrying is something going to get in overnight. So the fewer headaches you make for yourself, the better.

Leave more room for chickens than you think you need in the beginning for reasons that I also alluded to earlier.

Amy Bushatz: Could it be that someday you’ll find you have more chickens than you intended.

Tove Danovich: Yeah. Suddenly they’re just more chickens. And who knows where they came from? They just appeared overnight. So, yeah, a strong coop that has extra room. Even if somehow you are a self-control master and you stay with only three chickens. It just means less, less cleaning of the chicken coop when there are fewer in a bigger space. So I think those are things that will really set you up for success. I think the other thing people don’t talk about a lot in these books is what to do with those roosters when you inevitably wind up having them. Which, unless you buy started pullets or someone else is getting rid of a flock of chickens. So you know, they’re all hens when you take them home, there is a chance you will get a rooster and eventually it will happen. And this has become a real big problem as backyard chickens have taken off because there are only so many rescues that can take roosters. And because they are illegal in many places, they can’t really adopt them out. And people consider them pets, so they don’t want to eat them, which is fine. But you can’t just dump them on a sanctuary and you can’t just abandon them in the wild to die slowly thinking you’re somehow giving them a chance because you’re not. So you really have to have a plan to take care of your animals long term. And I always recomend anywhere you live will have a chicken Facebook group and there are people who are always looking for more chickens and even roosters. Um, So that’s a great place to go and rehome someone and in a similar vein, after three or so years, your hens will slow down their egg laying. And for me our girls are pets, so they eventually we’ll be running a retirement home for chickens out here.

But other people, you know, it is important that the birds stay productive and you have to have a plan for what you’re going to do with them. Again, there are a lot of people on these Facebook groups that are happy to take in an older hen. Um, But they are your animals. They are your responsibility and you should be prepared to, treat them humanely as long as they are in your care and re-home them responsibly if you can’t keep them.

Amy Bushatz: The, the things you’ve identified seem to me to be categorized under stress reduction. And I think that’s a really important point because when I tell people about my outdoor habit, often, people will, some people will respond something to the effect of, oh, I go outside every day, I have to feed the animals.

And my, you know, I’m sitting here like, oh, I’ve done this magnificent thing where I go outside every day. And to me it’s like a treat most of the time. Right. And their response is, what are you talking about? Like, that’s just part of my life. I do that every day. This is nothing special. But the difference between these two things is I’m trying to create for myself and and for people who take a part in this challenge a viewpoint that this isn’t a chore most of the time. Sometimes it’s a chore. Sometimes when it’s very cold outside, it’s a chore, and I could have chores that I also do with it, but I want most of what I’m doing as part of this purposeful habit to be not a chore. And that’s a mindset shift. So I’m not saying that if you’re outside because you have chores that doesn’t count or whatever, counting means, right? But like, it’s a mindset. And so if you are starting a new hobby or pursuit, such as keeping chickens as a means of getting yourself outside more. . I think it’s not unlike having a, like buying a dog so that you can go on more walks. Is there a point where walking the dog becomes the thing you really don’t wanna do and now you have to because you’ve got this stupid dog and now you have to go walk the dog every day right? And I would I, you know, poor dog doesn’t deserve to be seen in such a negative light so, I don’t know. I think that those are really important points that people maybe don’t think about because just like when a dog, it’s like, oh, mom, you know, mom, I’ll clean up after it that Yeah. Right. And everybody knows that’s like a cultural trope. Of course, we think about that, but when it comes to chickens, maybe the chore part of it isn’t necessarily top of mind, just the delightful in these egg egg questionable times parade of never ending , egg supply

Tove Danovich: It’s really nice. They’ve just started again after their winter break and every time I go to the coop, there are like these beautiful little rosy cream eggs and big, blue eggs and it’s just such a delight. What will I find today? Um, Yeah, I definitely relate to that chores being chores um, that you were talking about because i, because of rats that I mentioned, we put the food away at night in our current coop, they’re about to be moving to an upgrade because we did not build quite a large enough coop. It turns out, uh, five years ago. Um, So right now I go, first thing in the morning, I’m in my fuzzy purple robe and I’m walking down the driveway to the coop to put out their food, and then I put it away at night. And sometimes it’s annoying. We had a big storm, so I was like slipping on ice doing it the last couple of days, which isn’t very fun. But I wouldn’t usually go outside at seven in the morning and it’s really beautiful. And every morning I’m kind of listening to what birds am I hearing? Like what colors are in the sky right now? When it’s in the evening, especially in the summer, it’s late enough that we already have bats around by the time I’m doing it. So I think if you really give yourself the chance to look around while you are maybe stuck outside doing something you may not really want to do, it can make the thing itself still feel special and be like you get that refreshment from being outside instead of just like, ugh, had to put on my boots and coat today.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. But I mean, I think any commitment to doing anything, whether it’s simply, I’m gonna go outside every day or I have to go outside because I’ve got these chickens to take care of. can be like that. And it is about, it is about perspective, but I also think acknowledging it upfront is super helpful. And, and preparing preparing against the day when it becomes so with, a daily habit that might be what we mentioned earlier, which is no bad weather, just bad clothing where you prepare against the day by buying the big jacket. Which, was something that took me way too long to learn. Way too long. and, and borrowing my.

Tove Danovich: Put your hat on so your ears aren’t cold.

Amy Bushatz: Yes. Come on, Amy. And borrowing my husband’s jacket by happenstance one day and being like, what is this magic and looking at him like, I cannot believe that you own two of these and haven’t bought me one. What is the deal, right? It took this moment of try of learning that to get to that point, but also like having the perspective to be able to say, if I gave myself this perspective tool, right, this change in attitude, I would see this as a benefit and a different thing.

And now when I go out on a cold day, like the one we have, where we’re recording, I’m looking for the benefits instead of being shoved out the door to say, I’m gonna do this thing. And I said I was gonna do it, and fine, I’ll do it. Even if I don’t have any nose hairs by the time I get home, you know, I’m out there and I’m seeing the other benefits. So I just, I think that’s a really important thing just to keep in mind. So I really appreciate you bringing that up.

As a final thing I’m hoping that you would walk us out of our episode describing maybe a favorite outdoor moment, maybe with chickens, maybe not. Who can say that you have, that you just like to remember, remember back to is a, it’s a pleasant memory and hoping you describe that for us.

Tove Danovich: Yeah. Well, so I mentioned that I’ve been paying more attention to the animals in our yard and for a very long time I was kind of haunted by some mystery bird that was making noises at night. And it took me a really long time to figure out that we had little tiny screech owls in our yard. And so in 2020 we put up some screech owl boxes and they promptly moved in, which was amazing while we were stuck at home, we would go outside and sit every night at dusk and the screech owls would like come out of the box. And so we’d watch them going back and forth and eventually we had the little baby owls who would stick their faces in the hole and like, look outside and just look around.

So we did that then that, they went away um, And this last spring we put up a new owl box cuz they won’t nest in the same place, which was rude but fine. And we were actually there to see the baby owls take their first flight, which was just the most amazing thing. We had kind of seen them for a few days where they’re sticking their little heads, like farther and farther out of the owl box, and one of them was kind of sitting on the edge and he was doing this thing where it, it almost looked like he was bouncing up and down and because I spend too much time perhaps with my chickens, I was like, that’s exactly what our chickens look like when they’re thinking about jumping to something that’s really high up. Like they’re trying to get their fear is out of the way and like psych themselves up for this jump.

So this owl was doing this little bounce up and down and then he jumped out of the nest and into this branch. And it was so delightful to see that happen for the first time and happen in our yard of all places. So that is probably one of my most memorable outside moments.

Amy Bushatz: I have to tell you — danger information. It sounds like you’re a birder, but it’s fine. Tove thank you.

Tove Danovich: No, I won’t admit it. Yeah,

Amy Bushatz: I think so. Tove thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. I sure appreciate your time.

Tove Danovich: Yeah, thank you. I hope some more people find more excuses to get outside and get some chicken.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. Help me out by leaving a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It really does help other listeners find the podcast too. Now go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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