Avocado Pit Turned Fake Egg

It was a dark and stormy winter….and my hens were bored. Here in the Pacific Northwest, our hen yards can get pretty mucky and the chickens tend to turn to deviant eating behaviors, like, well, eating their own eggs. There, I said it. Gross! That’s like….oh, never mind. We can’t allow this to happen, because the purpose of backyard chickens is their yummy eggs, a critical part of our family’s mostly vegetarian diet. (Our hens do produce other products for us, like amazing compost.) But no, we won’t be allowin’ them hens to eat their eggers.

I found a great solution to deter an egg-eater, right in my compost bucket: An avocado pit!

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An avocado pit works beautifully as a dummy egg. © Liesl Clark

For years, I’ve used dummy wooden eggs, plastic easter eggs, egg-shaped stones, golf balls and pingpong balls as dummy eggs, to deter the little peckers (egg-eaters) from pecking apart their eggs. Dummy eggs are just that, fake eggs that chickens think are real (think, bird brain.) They peck ’em and realize they can’t break ’em and therefore we stop the deviant eating  disorder in its tracks. Problem solved.

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One of these things is not like the other. © Liesl Clark

So, don’t go and buy fake eggs. Please. Just use an avocado pit in your nest box. Deploy 5 of them if you’d like, and your egg-eater will get frustrated when the avocado pits won’t crack and produce an egg-licious mess in your laying box.

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© Liesl Clark

Enjoy your guacamole knowing your avocado pits can be put to use!

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New use for an avocado pit. © Liesl Clark

33 Eggshell Reuses

33 Eggselent uses for your eggshells. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the heart of the summer, our chickens lay a dozen eggs for us a day. For a family of 4 with 14 hens, we go through a lot of eggs. Here are a few reuses for those hardy shells.

1) Garden Fertilizer/Compost: Throw your shells in your compost or yard waste bin if your municipal recyclers allow kitchen scraps in there. Try to crumble them as they’ll decompose more easily if you do. They add calcium and other minerals to your garden soil. I use a stone mortar and pestle by the composter to crush them. Some people even put them in the blender.

2) Worm Food: Our worm bin worms love egg shells. Truly. I find their eggs inside eggshell clusters.

3) Garden Pest Deterrent: Crush and spread them around your favorite plants. Some slugs, snails and cutworms just don’t like them so they won’t “cross the line.”

4) Pot Drainage: Crumble them up and add them to the bottom of potted plants that need drainage. Tomatoes and eggplants will love the added calcium to deter end rot.

5) Chicken Egg Hardener: If your chickens are laying eggs with soft shells feed them some…..eggshells. I know that sounds gross, but it helps give them a dose of calcium and the girls love it. Be sure to crush the shells. Chickens go on the shape of things for foraging so if they get used to eating egg-shaped goodies they’ll start eating their (gasp) own eggs.

6) Eggshell Candles: Yes! They’re beautiful and easy to make.

7) Homemade Space Geodes: These are really cool to make with the kids and they even glow in the dark.

8) Spring Flower Vase: These look quite beautiful with hyacinths held in an egg cup. I only have one chicken that lays white eggs, but seeing these makes me want to save all those white shells.

9) Organic Seedling Starter Pots: Just plant your seeds inside the shell (with potting soil too, of course you dummy), put the shell inside your cardboard egg carton, fill all the other egg carton cups up and you can plant the whole thing in your garden.

10) Egg Shell Succulent Planters: Make a lovely mini succulent garden using your egg shells and the carton, too.

11) Sidewalk Chalk: Big sticks of sidewalk chalk are easy to make and you can use a toilet paper tube roll as your mold and just peel it off.

12) Science Eggsperiments: Here are 10 cool science-y experiments for your child to try with eggs. Fun!

13) Calcium Supplement: Skip the pills and simply bake your shells at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Let them cool and grind them to a fine powder. Add your supplement (a teaspoon or less) to your favorite smoothie or juice once a day.

14) Pet Calcium Supplement: Do the same as above but just add the powder to their food.

15) Egg Shell Mosaics: You can make beautiful mosaics with Easter egg shells or from ones you dye just for this project.

16) Drain Cleaner: Occasionally send a few crushed-up egg shells down the drain. They can help keep it unclogged by their abrasive action.

17) Egg Shell Decor: Getting in the Easter spirit? Try this idea of hanging your egg shells from a tree as a pretty accent.

18) Instant Bandaid: This one’s my favorite. Technically, you’re using the inner membrane of the shell. Tear a bandaid-size piece of it from your egg shell and place it over your ow-ie. By overlapping the 2 ends together, they stick and will stop the bleeding, too. Love it.

19) Vanilla Custard Pots: Serve up your vanilla custard in natural egg shells.

20) Egg Shell Frame: Make a cool modpodge picture frame with egg shells.

21) Christmas Ornaments: If you blow your eggs out you can turn the shells into pretty ornaments.

22) Abrasive Cleaner: Crush them to a coarse texture and use them to scrub down your pots.

23) De-Bitter Your Coffee: If your coffee is too bitter, add finely crushed egg shell powder to your coffee filter and your joe will taste smoother and sweeter.

24) Bird Food: Add some crushed shells to your bird seed mix. The birds need calcium, too.

25) Garbage Disposal Drain Cleaner: Feed some to your garbage disposal. They are an eggsellent cleaner and sharpener for it.

26) Soup Stock Booster: Add egg shells to your soup stock when boiling it. The nutrients can’t hurt.

27) Garden Walkway Addition: I add crushed shells to a garden path made of white gravel and sea shells. The egg shells just blend right in and hopefully deter the slugs, feed the birds, amend the soil, etc, etc. I guess I like walking on egg shells.

28) Stain Remover: According to Apartment Therapy crushed egg shells can help remove stains in your sink, on your tea pot and from other kitchen or household items.

29) Laundry Whitener: Some say that if you toss some shells in a mesh bag in your laundry, the gray tint to your whites will disappear.

30) Sensory Play: Egg shells make great sensory play items for your toddler.

31) Eggshell Toothpaste: That just about says it all — follow the directions in the link. My daughter and I are going to make some this weekend.

32) Cute Halloween Ghost Decoration: They hang like wind chimes but look like little ghosts on the breeze.

33) Try the Walking on Eggs Experiment: Want to make eggs into eggshells fast? Try this! No, seriously, this experiment conducted by a 6-year-old is a pictorial essay worth checking out.

Now that you’ve reused your egg shells so nicely, what to do with those egg cartons?!

In Praise of Dried Grass

Sometimes a thing you need is hiding right there in plain sight. For 8 years we’ve had chickens, 14 girls a-layin’ in a coop my resourceful husband, Pete, made of salvaged materials. For bedding, on the floor of the coop to absorb their droppings, we’ve used pine chips, sold in bales wrapped in plastic. It’s clean and dry and when the bedding becomes soiled with excessive chicken droppings, we shovel it out of the coop, into the compost pile and lay down new chips …  Until we discovered the shredded paper method.

Through our local Buy Nothing group, I now procure shredded paper for use as chicken bedding and it works beautifully in both the coop and the compost, breaking down even faster than the pine chips in the heat of the composter. It’s free, and we make sure we only get shredded paper. No plastic bits please.

The nest boxes require straw for soft egg-laying. Again, for years we’ve used straw sweepings we get for a few dollars at our local feed store. And then I saw what looked like straw laying on the side of our road. Two or 3 times a summer, our island road maintenance crew cuts the tall grass on the roadsides, leaving the “hay” to dry in the sun. It remains there until the next batch of grass is cut and laid on top of it. Last week, we took a basket down the road and filled it with the beautifully dried hay and brought it home for the chickens. Our guinea pig loves the hay, too!  Nothing better than freshly cut and dried nest box material right at the end of the driveway.

My dear friend, Yangin Sherpa, is my inspiration. She spends long summer days in her region of Nepal, Solu Khumbu, hiking up mountainsides in the jungle, searching for tall grasses to cut and then take home to dry in the sun. She later sells the grass to yak and dzopkyo owners for winter feed. She sells 40 kilos of hay (carried on her back) for about $60. Not a bad price for rural Nepal.

For Yangin, seeing the free cut dried grass here by the road, no one collecting it for their animals, is a waste of a great resource. It’s just a few hundred yards off our property, so we’ve collected 2 loads of hay for the coop that should last us through the winter.

We lay it out on our lawn to dry further in the sun and when it’s dry, Yangin separates the hay and knots it into easy-to-grab bundles. We hang it up in our carport in an old hammock (destined for the landfill because it had a hole in it) for easy retrieval.

Yangin knots them into easily transportable bundles. Once again, an age-old technique that has served cultures well for thousands of years, so simple and practical, brings us closer to the rhythms of the natural world around us. Yet we’ve somehow lost this connection and knowledge over the years, no longer utilizing the resources hiding in plain sight.

Putting Chickens To Work As Compost Sifters

All of our animals have jobs that we feel they have to do to contribute toward the success of our little homestead. Sailor, our dog, keeps the deer and raccoons away. The cat, Willa, is our mouser. The bees pollinate our crops and produce honey. The worms produce beautiful fertilizer. Even the guinea pig, Gusteau, provides pellets that can go directly into our garden.

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Sailor the water dog works hard to tree coons and send the deer bounding away from our gardens.

But it’s the chickens who are the true workhorses on our property. Of course, their eggs are a staple in our diet. But we use their chicken yard as a closed loop composting system where our weeds go in, the scratch them up, add their own fertilizer, and we excavate the yard throughout the year for the beautiful fertilized compost they provide. But here’s one more thing they do for us: The produce a perfectly-sifted specialty compost that we can scatter around our lawns and gardens that rivals any commercial compost out there.

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Here’s how it works. Their yard is penned in by 2-inch chicken wire, and it’s placed up on a hill where the backside of the hen yard has a 3-foot slope behind it. The chickens, daily, dig and scratch near the fence, constructing their dust baths and looking for tasty bits to peck at in the yard materials we throw inside.

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As their scratching activity breaks down the organic matter we throw inside their yard, their scratching serves to sift and push the small composted materials through the wire fence, which acts like a sieve. On the outside of the hen yard, we have a slope of pure black, composted and perfectly-sifted humus fertilizer, ready for the gardens and lawns.

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All I have to do is show up with a bucket every few days, and collect the fluffy sifted compost to use around the property. Thank you, girls, for your hard work! We appreciate your efforts and contribution toward making the world’s most beautiful sifted compost there is.

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Chickens Love Pond Algae

We have a pond. Starting in the early spring, the algae on the surface blooms and spreads its bright green color around the pond, stunning us with iridescence. But at mid-point in the summer we decide to slow down that spread of green and harvest the algae for our compost and chickens. This spring we’ve taken some algae earlier, and the chickens are thrilled.

They just love it, and it’s excellent green-matter, apparently full of nitrogen, for the compost.

It’s a good day for the chickens when we feed them algae. At first they hesitate, not so sure about all the tiny “leaves” connected together by tiny filaments. But then the algae is consumed en mass, every last morsel ingested by our egg-layers.

The more we feed our chickens the fruits from our land, the less we spend on the pricey organic soy-free whole grain layer mash they’d otherwise consume. What special foods do your hens consume?

 

Shredded Paper Chicken Bedding

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It’s simple. Just ask your friends and neighbors for their shredded paper. Don’t buy wood shavings! You really don’t need to. Since shredded paper can’t be recycled in most municipalities, and your friends will be happy to give you theirs. Or, hit up your office, or friends who work in an office setting. All I can say is, this stuff is great as chicken bedding in a coop.

Shredded Paper Bedding Photo © Liesl Clark

When it’s time to clean out your chicken coop. Put the paper and chicken droppings in your compost bin. It’ll get that bin cooking, adding much-needed nitrogen to your organic waste. My compost bins are a red-worm mega-composting colonies. It doesn’t take long for the dropping-laden shredded paper to turn into this:

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And when you take that beautiful compost out to the garden and dress your veggie beds with it, you’ll get this:

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Corn Mache in January. It grows in the early winter here in the Northwest. Great for salads.

What do you use for chicken bedding? Please let us know!

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Chicken Yard = World’s Best Composter

Our chicken yard serves 2 purposes: It’s the playground for our feathered friends but it’s also a great source of beautiful compost for our gardens. We don’t allow our girls to roam free because of the challenge of predators nearby like bald eagles, red tail hawks, raccoons, and mink. We’ve provided the chickens with enough space to run around, have dust baths, and roost. And since we can’t let them roam about the yard, we bring the yard to them!

If you can't free range your yard birds, bring the yard to them. Grass clippings and leaves line our chicken run. Photo © Liesl Clark

This little chicken farming trick is the best trash hack we’ve brought to our hen yard. Much like the practices of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, mimicking natural patterns on a domestic scale, we believe our chickens should work for us in producing the best organic matter for our crops and vice versa.

Full circle: Garden waste --> chicken yard --> garden again. Photo © Liesl Clark

When we mow the lawn, the waste from that effort, the grass clippings, are dumped in there for the girls to munch. When we rake the fall leaves, the waste from that practice is thrown in by the wheelbarrowload. Even our garden clippings and weeds go in the hen run. It’s salad for them. The level of the hen yard, after a few months of this is raised significantly, but the endless scratching, pooping, and pecking breaks the organics down at a remarkably fast rate. And the end-product? After only a few weeks of being in the yard, we have the best compost I’ve ever seen. Waste to gold that’ll go on our veggie beds and back on the lawn to be put back to use again. It’s a truly closed loop practice and I revel in the circles I move in daily around the property, completing this life and food-giving cycle of the natural world.

Perfect chicken-generated compost from our coop yard. Photo © Liesl Clark

By the bucketful, we shovel compost out of the hen zone and into the garden, thankful for the girls’ help in turning our yard and garden back into gold. The little bugs and slugs on the backsides of leaves give them endless treats to find as they scratch for them around their yard. They’re just as excited about getting a load of leaves as they are a bucket of school lunch leftovers or algea from our pond. It reduces our chicken feed expenses, too.

Happy girls in their yard full of yard clippings. Photo © Liesl Clark

 

But probably the greatest benefit to bringing the free range to the hens is the quality of the eggs. Our yolks are a fiery orange, pretty similar to what you’d see on a chart for pastured hens, because we’re bringing the greens and proteins right into their yard. The slugs, bugs, snails, and larvae that come with the deep weedy greens we toss in there. Along with our non-GMO organic soy-free feed, these eggs are as healthy as we can get ’em.

Yet another benefit of this practice is that the rainy season chicken yard mud is offset by the mounds of leaves we throw in there. By providing new leaves on the floor of their yard, the mud-factor is reduced greatly and our eggs therefore don’t get soiled. Anyone in the Pacific Northwest will know what I’m talking about.

Happy feet. No mud in the mud season when you can throw grass and leaves in there. Photo © Liesl Clark

Last spring, our newly-transplanted rhubarb amidst daffodils were as glorious as ever, just popping out, thanks to the girls’ gold.

Compost from the composting chicken yard helping newly transplanted rhubarb. Photo © Liesl Clark

And our winter garden has produced greens for months due to the rich infusion they get from our chicken yard.

Homesteaders' dream garden in the middle of winter, thanks to our composting chick yard. Photo © Liesl Clark

What do you throw in your chicken yard? And do you then take the resulting “waste” out into your garden or compost? Please share in the comments below.