10 Top Tips for Keeping Backyard Chickens

Aloha everyone, it’s Geoff here again to share another chicken-related post with you fine folks! My top ten tips on how to raise backyard chickens.

The inquisitive mind of a chicken
The inquisitive mind of a chicken

Now, not all of this information may be applicable. We live in the tropics and don’t have any natural chicken predators. It’s also nice and hot all year round, so no weather issues to deal with! But sit back and enjoy…and go out there and get yourself a couple of chickens. You’ll wonder why you never had one in the first place.

1) The coop

Now, first things first…you are going to need a place for your little nuggets to live. There are plenty of chicken coops out there for you to buy ready-made. However, I suggest you try to build your own if you have at least a tiny bit of wood-working experience. We are on awesomeon20.com after all!

The most important things in the coop are the roost (somewhere for them to sleep) and the nestbox (somewhere for them to lay eggs). The dominant chickens always want to sleep above the lower-ranking birds so make sure you have a couple of levels for them to roost on. You will probably want one nest box for every three or four chickens.

We don’t have any predators of ADULT chickens here in Hawaii but the chicks can easily be taken by cats, mongoose, dogs, owls etc. Make sure that you don’t have any large spaces for these predators to get through or small spaces that your chicks can get out of! 

Homemade Chicken Coop
Homemade Chicken Coop

2) Collecting eggs

Your chickens are going to start laying eggs. If you want them to lay eggs in your nestbox then you need to show them. I recommend buying a set of ceramic “dummy” eggs. By placing these eggs in the nextbox and showing them to the chickens, they will start to lay in the correct place. We also had a problem where our nuggets started to eat their own eggs. This was also corrected by placing the ceramic eggs in the middle of the garden. When they would try to peck them, they didn’t break and they soon became bored. 

3) Pick them up

One of the most important aspects of keeping chickens is to get your girls used to being handled. Try to pick each of the nuggets up at least once a day. As well as giving you some awesome chicken-time, this desensitizes the girls to being picked up. You can check them for any scrapes or cuts and carry them around. The earlier you start this, the better. We raised two of our chickens from day-old chicks and they got used to being handled pretty quickly. Make the experience more appealing by giving them a treat as you pick them up! 

Chicken Handling 101 from Chaz
Chicken Handling 101 from Chaz

4) Chicken enrichment

We touched a little on chicken enrichment in a previous blog post, here. Chickens are actually pretty clever animals and they can easily become bored. Make sure that you have interesting things in the garden for them to peck at or climb on. Change things up as often as you can to keep their bird-brains active. Hang food in interesting places so they have to jump up to get it. Place shiny objects in the garden so they can check out their reflections . . . I mean, check out the other chicken staring back at them. I built a swing for our chickens but they didn’t seem too thrilled. Other chickens I’ve seen online seem to love their swings. Each chicken has her own personality, likes and dislikes!

5) Medicating

Every so often, you are going to have a sick chicken. I’m definitely not professing to being an expert in chicken health, and this should not be a substitute for taking your chickens to the vet, but I have a couple of handy tips that helped me.

The first brush with illness involved eye-worms. After an extensive Google search, I bought some medicine online, VetRX. This is a kind of Jack-of-all-trades medication that claims to help out with a variety of illnesses. Dropping the medicine into the chickens’ eyes was easy enough (although they didn’t talk to me for a while after that), but the bottle also called for swabbing the liquid on the inside of their upper beak. If you’ve ever tried to swab inside a chicken’s beak…you’ll know that it’s pretty difficult. I came up with the idea of coating a small chunk of bread in the liquid and getting them to swab their own beaks as they stuffed their faces…

Another harrowing illness involved having to tube-feed one of our chickens. We had gotten a quick lesson from the vet, however nothing prepared us for having to do it ourselves. Take it from me, this goes MUCH more smoothly if you have a helper. It takes one of you to hold the chicken down and another to hold the head and do the feeding! Watch out that you don’t pour food down her windpipe too . . . always aim your dropper down the side of the throat! 

A common problem with chickens is egg-binding, where an egg gets stuck inside the hen. We had a chicken who became egg-bound. One trick that can help her pass the egg is to give her a warm bath. Fill up a tub with warm water that reaches above her vent (chicken butt) and place the chicken in. She will probably not like this all too much. Gently massaging her abdomen towards her vent can sometimes help the egg out. Unfortunately this particular girl didn’t make it. She did perk up a little after I managed to get the egg out but we think that she had more underlying health issues!

Incidentally, handling your chickens regularly (see point #5) will help you to identify problems pretty early!

6) Feeder

Full instructions on how to build a super-easy automatic food dispenser can be found here. You will invariably attract a whole host of neighbourhood birds with your chickens’ food. We found that we were going through food at an astronomical rate when we first put out girls outside. I’d seen automatic feeders online that open when the chickens stand on them. This took wood-working skills and tools that I did not possess. After creating my own feeder, we didn’t waste so much food!

Chicken feeder 7) Molting

Molting is super scary! Your chicken basically loses all of her feathers and grows new ones. This usually happens with the shorter days in the Fall and she will most likely stop laying eggs while this happens. Make sure that you give them plenty of protein to help them produce new feathers. If you can get them some lovely juicy worms or jumping crickets they will love you forever. Try to avoid handling them during their molt as it can be quite painful for them, and try to avoid adding any extra stress into their lives.

8) Clipping their wings

Wing clipping can be traumatizing, both for the chickens and for you. If you don’t feel comfortable restraining a chicken whilst you clip off the ends of her flight feathers, then ask a friend to help. Our chickens told us that they needed their wings clipped after then got into the neighbour’s garden. The easiest way that I found for a stress-free clipping session was to wait until dusk. Sitting in the garden, stroking a sleepy chicken in your lap, gently stretch out one of her wings. You should probably watch a few videos on YouTube before attempting the ‘snip’. If you snip off too much, you will see blood…and potentially a dead chicken. Remember to only clip one wing. It’s not the shorter feathers that stops them flying, it’s the imbalance that this causes.

9) Neighbours

Your neighbours are going to crucial to you mental well-being whilst you are keeping chickens. They can complain to your landlord, or they can become your bestest buddy. If your garden backs on to a neighbours garden, make sure that you little nuggets can’t get into their vegetable patch! Chickens are voracious feeders and can decimate a patch of lettuce or cabbage or basil in minutes! They are also little poop machines. I’m sure that your neighbour doesn’t wasn’t to clean up chicken poop from their decking.

Chickens can and will make noise. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a rooster, your girl cackle and crow like the best of them. If our hen, Daenerys, notices that we haven’t gotten out of bed in time, she will proudly walk over to our window and crow like a rooster…well…kind of like a rooster being strangled! All this noise is bound to upset a light-sleeping neighbour. 

Keep the neighbours sweet by loading them up with fresh eggs! No one can stay mad at you for too long if they never have to buy eggs from the store again! Encourage the neighbours to give them treats and talk to the chickens as often as possible…you can’t stay mad at a fluffy ball of feathers that follows you around the garden! 

10) Plant pots

This may seem strange, but out chickens are terrified of plant pots. Maybe its the way they move? More likely it’s because a giant pile of plastic pots toppled over when our girls were just learning how to fly and they landed on it. We use this to our advantage by tying pots to anywhere that we don’t want the girls to go. We have some on our gate, some on top of the washer and some on the fence separating our garden from the neighbour’s garden. This now means that we don’t have to clip their wings anymore…they don’t even try to go near the pots! Now, I realize that this is a very specific thing to be scared of. Chances are your chickens won’t be petrified of plastic pots. Chances are they are scared of something though! Use this knowledge to sculpt your birds’ behaviour and make things a little easier for yourself. They are clever animals but they are also chicken sh*ts…

I hope that these tips have been helpful for any prospective or existing chicken owners. If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to leave them in the comments below! Until next time, friends…

Part of the family
Part of the family
DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

DIY Camera Bag

DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

You guys, I will never ever ever be crafty. It seems I will also never stop liking pretty things that I can’t afford like expensive trendy camera bags. At around $160 bucks at the low end, I won’t be a person who owns an Epiphanie bag any time soon. Those are meant for rich kids. 

But I still don’t want to walk around with the bag my camera came in. There’s nothing cute about that. It seems the only logical choice is to make my own camera bag. So I did. Sort of.

DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

I bought the actual bag. I chose a cute but cheap backpack from Amazon. We walk a lot, so I wanted something that was ultra functional. Then I bought some foam padding and some stick on velcro from the craft store. Finally, I picked up a yard of fun fabric at the fabric store and got to work.

If you’re good at crafting, you’ll probably carefully measure out your foam pieces and your fabric. You’ll do all that crafter geometry that I have no patience for. Basically, I used my existing camera bag as a template to cut out top and bottom pieces four sides, and an extra piece for the inside to separate the camera body from the extra lens from the foam. I had to trim them down a bit from my first pass, but basically, I eyeballed it.

Next, I used my horrible gift wrapping skills to cut out pieces of fabric to cover each foam triangle. I used a simple whip stitch to sew each piece on to the foam. I stuck some velcro on the covered foam to help the pieces stay in shape.

Finally, I found an old make up bag I received as a gift but never had a use for. I popped all the cords, lens covers, and other bits and bobs inside. 

Now my camera is well protected in a bag I’m not embarrassed to carry around. There are pockets for my phone and other necessities and plenty of space still left for whatever else I need to haul around.

DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

And in case you’re wondering, I spent less than $40 for all of this, half of which was the backpack itself. Sometimes we want things we can’t have. If you get creative, there’s a chance you can get what you want. Well, almost. Can’t buy it? Just make it yourself.

All the Cool Chicks

coolchicks Aloha, it’s Geoff here again! Renee asked me to write a guest post this week.

Unfortunately this post is not about hipster-chickens as the title and feature photo hints. Instead this is about how to cool down your chickens when the weather outside makes you beg for AC! We’ve been suffering with stifling temperatures and humidity over the past few days. If you’ve followed my instructions and made a DIY air-conditioner, you’ll probably be ok…but what about your pets?!

 You probably know by now that we have our own mini-flock of chickens living in our backyard. Like most pets, chickens can’t talk (in any human language anyway). When you see your chickens laying on the ground with their wings outstretched and their beaks open, you know it’s too hot for them. I’ve tried hosing them down with cold water, but surprisingly, they don’t particularly like that method.

Why don’t we have ducks instead?

I was going to have to fool them into cooperating. And what better way to get them to cooperate, than by giving them some food? 

Our chickens definitely think with their stomach, which can get them into some trouble at times. Only a couple of weeks ago, the three of them decided that they wanted to eat an amaryllis plant that had sat in our garden for a couple of years. Turns out that amaryllis is poisonous to chickens! After pulling up the amaryllis, I nursed the three stoodges back to health with spoonfuls of yogurt. Silly chickens!

Anyway, back to the point of this post.

What you’ll need is a large fruit of some kind (it can be a watermelon, pumpkin, grapefruit etc), some tasty treats (ham for example) and an ice cube tray!

  Tasty Treats

Just throw the fruit in the fridge or freezer (maybe not throw it in there…fruit tends to explode when thrown), put the tasty treats in the ice cube tray, top it up with water and pop that into the freezer too. Simple! Wait until the ice cubes have frozen and you then have chicken popsicles! 

The Three Stoodges

I could tell Daenerys was back to her old self because she was trying to guard ALL of the food and stop Godzilla and Rodan from having any.


Cool Chickens

It takes them a little while to peck away the ice to get at the ham. It’s fun to see their faces when they realize that there’s actually something super tasty inside. They will run around the garden with an ice cube hanging out of their beaks.

Mmm Watermelon

Afterwards, they’ll all have sticky beaks and faces from the watermelon so you might have to rinse them down after all! 

This doesn’t just apply to chickens. Dogs will love trying to get the ham out of the ice…I would say cats too but they probably wouldn’t want to get their paws cold!

I hope this inspires you to go out and do something awesome for your pets today.

Geoff out.

How to fix a torn moped seat for under $10

How to Fix a Torn Moped Seat for under $10

How to fix a torn moped seat for under $10

So you followed my advice and bought a moped. You’ve been zipping around town feeling awesome because you’re only spending $5 a week on gas while your insane car driving friends are spending ten times that. You’re wearing your helmet because it’s better to look like a dork than have your brains splattered on the pavement. After all, your brain is your most attractive asset. You’re feeling pretty rad. 

But then you get a  tear in your seat. It rains all winter and the water soaks into the cushion and you keep showing up to work with a wet butt. It costs at least fifty bucks to get it replaced, and that sucks. What’s a cheap girl to do? 

Duct tape! Duh. You can fix something broken, and personalize it for less than ten bucks. It’s just bursting with win.

I went to my local office supply warehouse (Fisher Hawaii in Kakaako) where they have about twenty different colors and patterns of duct tape. I bought one roll of black and one roll of a black lace pattern. Get whatever you think is awesome.

How to fix a torn moped seat for under $10

First, I covered the whole entire seat with the black duct tape. Just start on one end and pull the roll across. Use scissors to get a nice clean edge and tuck the ends up under the seat a bit to make sure you have full coverage. If you just have one tear, you may not want to do the whole thing. I thought it looked more uniform to cover the whole seat. I had a lot of damage.

I then added the lace tape in diagonal stripes just for fun. I think it looks pretty fun. You might also try a chevron pattern if you’re good at geometry. 

I’ve had the tape in place for a few weeks now, and it hasn’t started peeling off at all. I also noticed that it’s actually easier to dry off the seat now. The water just beads on the tape, and you can wipe it right off. It’s pretty genius. I also had plenty of tape left over for other duct tape type emergencies. 

How to fix a torn moped seat for under $10

Why spend money on new stuff when you can fix what you have with something cheap and make it even better? And now you’ll have money left over for cheese and chocolate. That’s what it’s all about.

DIY Wedding Cake from Awesome on 20

DIY Wedding Cake

DIY Wedding Cake from Awesome on 20

It’s already June, which I’m okay with since July means Emily is with us at last. They say June is wedding season, and I have to believe them since I’m so uncool I never get invited to any weddings. I did have a wedding a little over a year ago, though, and I definitely have some strong thoughts about the situation.

The amount of money people will spend on a wedding makes me want to cry. The average cost of a wedding in America is $20,000. People spend what, for some of us, is half a year’s pay on one party for one day. I realize your wedding is a very special day that you definitely want to remember, and I’m sure you want all those people you truly love to be with you. You want to treat them to a nice dinner and make sure they have a wonderful time. I totally get that. But half of your salary? That’s just insane.

DIY Wedding Cake from Awesome on 20

We spent about $2000 on our wedding, and comical series of disasters not withstanding, it was absolutely beautiful. How did we save so much money? For one thing, we kept it small. Rather than inviting everyone we’ve ever met, we kept the list to under 50 people. You can’t really make a meaningful connection with more than that number at a party anyway. Too many people and your wedding becomes theatre for an audience, not an expression of love. 

We also did just about everything ourselves. I prepared a majority of the food. We made our own decorations. The bridal party made their own bouquets (more on that later). I even made my own wedding cake.

DIY Wedding Cake from Awesome on 20

The average wedding cake is over $400. Those multi-tiered, fondant-covered confections take hours of detailed work. They’re absolutely beautiful. There’s also no way I’d be able to afford one. Besides, it’s just a cake, and cake is something I want to eat even more than I want to take a picture of. Also, fondant is gross.

If you have even the slightest baking experience, you can make a beautiful and delicious cake that everybody will actually be excited to eat. A great recipe, an abundance of vanilla frosting, and a few fresh flowers is all it takes to make your own wedding cake. Even if you splurge on a vanilla bean for your wedding day, you can make your wedding cake for under $50. 

DIY Wedding Cake from Awesome on 20

This recipe comes from cake genius, Sweetapolita. Bake the cake the night before, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it until you’re ready to decorate it in the morning. I used my offset spatula to create the swirls on top and the stripes up the side. Then I just bought some pretty carnations, rinsed them with cool water, and pressed them into the border. Use your favorite flowers. Just have fun and don’t take yourself to seriously. 

I just saved you $350. You’re welcome!

DIY Wedding Cake from Awesome on 20

On my wedding day, I wanted to be able to relax, enjoy my friends and family, and be overwhelmed with love. I wanted to show my guests I cared by making them food I knew they’d want to eat. This cake? You wont’ be able to stop eating it.

Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Frosting
Serves 12
The perfect white cake for a DIY wedding.
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
For the cake
  1. 5 egg whites
  2. 1 egg
  3. 1 cup whole milk
  4. 2-1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. 3 cups (345 grams) cake flour, sifted
  6. 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
  7. 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon baking powder
  8. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  9. 12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
For the frosting
  1. 3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (375 grams) butter, softened
  2. 3 cups (475 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
  3. 3 tablespoons milk
  4. 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  5. pinch of salt
For the cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter, line with bottom with parchment, and then flour two 9-inch round cake pans. You don't want to take any chances on this cake sticking.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of the milk, and the vanilla.
  3. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the dry ingredients. Whisk or use your stand mixer on stir to combine for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the butter bit by bit with the mixer running on low. Beat about 10 second after each piece. You'll have a crumbly texture like when you make biscuits. Add the remaining 3/4 cup milk and beat for five minutes on low.
  5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then begin to mix in the egg mixture on low. Add it in three stages and mix thoroughly between each. Scrape and fold the batter a few times to make sure everything is completely mixed.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between your two prepared pans. You can even weigh them to make sure they're even. Smooth out the batter with an offset spatula to help avoid a domed top.
  7. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick insert in the center comes out with a few small crumbs. Be careful not to overbake. Let the cakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes then cool, tops up on a rack until cooled completely. If you're working ahead, wrap your cake layers completely in plastic wrap and store in the fridge over night.
For the frosting
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for 8 minutes. This will make it very light and fluffy.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix on low speed until combined, then turn the speed back up to medium and beat for another 6 minutes. It will be fluffy and dreamy and beautiful.
To assemble
  1. Place the bottom layer of your cake onto a pretty board so you can transport it easily. You can fill your cake with your favorite flavor. I like raspberry jam or lemon curd. You could also just go with the frosting. That's awesome, too.
  2. Place the second layer on top of the bottom layer with the bottom of the cake up to ensure a flat surface. Scoop a good amount of frosting on top of the cake and spread evenly. Frost the side of your cake carefully. You're better off having too much frosting so you can take some away.
  3. To make the swirls on the top slowly rotate your cake while applying slight pressure with your small offset spatula or a butter knife, slowly bring the spatula toward the center of the cake in spiral. To make the stripes up the side, simply pull your offset spatula straight up all the way around. If you have a rotating cake stand or a lazy susan, this will be a lot easier.
  4. Cut the buds off of your favorite small flowers and press them into your still soft frosting all the way around the border of the cake. You can add a few flowers to the top as well. Just make sure they're clean.
  5. Pop everything into the fridge for a bit to set. Then go get married and have a beautiful day!
Adapted from Sweetapolita
Adapted from Sweetapolita
How to be Awesome on $20 a day http://awesomeon20.com/
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