Chicken Diapers? Urban Farming Spawns Accessory Lines

by MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF

Clucking all the way to the bank: A hen models a polka-dot diaper from MyPetChicken.com, a multimillion-dollar business that sells everything from chicken caviar treats to day-old birds.

Courtesy of MyPetChicken.com

There’s free range and then there’s free rein — around your house.

When Julie Baker’s backyard birds started spending more time inside, it was tough to keep them clean. So she got innovative.

She sewed up a cloth diaper — chicken-sized, of course — added a few buttons and strapped it onto her little lady.

One thing led to another, and eventually, a business was born.

“A lot of my customers use them as dresses,” Julie Baker, of Claremont, N.H., says about the poultry diapers she sells online. “They want their chickens to look really cute.”

Courtesy of WMUR.com

Now Baker’s Pampered Poultry ships out about 50 to 100 diapers a week to urban farmers around the country. The store also sells saddles.

Wait a minute. Saddles? Who’s riding chickens?

“The roosters,” Baker says. “They’re busy boys.”

“Saddles are almost more useful than the diaper, quite frankly,” she tells The Salt. “A rooster isn’t particularly kind to a hen when they mate. He grabs her by the back and pulls her feathers out.”

“The hen ends up with a completely bare back. It gets raw and bleeds a little bit,” she says.

So Baker started selling saddles to protect the hens’ tail feathers.

And she’s not the only one.

A quick Google search finds several other shops offering custom-sized diapers and leash-ready saddles.

Husband and wife team Derek Sasaki and Traci Torres have even turned the avian accessory business into a multimillion-dollar venture: MyPetChicken.com.

Diapers are a small part of the website’s annual sales, most of which come from selling baby birds, Sasaki says.

Hello, big guy: Hen lingerie like this “saddle” adds a twist to the phrase “safe sex.”

Courtesy of Julie Baker

But “our chicken treats are popular,” he tells The Salt. These include chicken caviar and “chicken crack” — a mixture of organic grains, organic seeds, dried meal worms and dried river shrimp.

Much has been made in the past few years about the rising popularity of backyard poultry farming.

About 0.8 percent of households in Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City owned chickens in 2010, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What’s more, nearly 4 percent of residents in these cities say they plan to pick up a chick in the next few years.

“Chickens are a symbol of urban nirvana,” The New York Timeswrote last year, “their coops backyard shrines to a locavore movement that has city dwellers moving ever closer to their food.”

Perhaps the “poultry Pampers” and hen lingerie point to the next phase of the urban chicken trend: home invasion.

Ryan Slabaugh thinks so. He’s the editor of Backyard Poultry magazine, which touts tens of thousands of subscribers.

More people are keeping chickens as pets instead of as farm animals, Slabaugh says. “I bet close to 50 percent of our readers have chickens around for companionship rather than for any real agricultural purposes,” he tells The Salt.

“There are many breeds of chickens that are good to look at but don’t lay very good eggs,” he says — and they’re still popular with urban farmers.

“I got a call the other day from a lady in Idaho because her chicken had a problem with its foot,” he says. “She called it a ‘lap chicken.’ It crawled up in her lap, just like any other pet.”

But Torres of MyPetChicken.com says this might be more the exception than the norm.

There are a few die-hard poultry people who keep the birds in their homes 24/7, she says. They have decked-out chicken condos that can be outlandish.

“But usually what happens is that a bird will get injured and someone might bring it inside to recuperate,” she says. “The diaper makes cleanup much, much easier.”

After the rehabilitation, it can be tough to send the bird back to the yard, Torres says.

And voila — a lap chicken is created.

Backyard Chickens, Part 1 – Yes You CAN!

IMAG0385In May of 2012, we visited a neighbor two blocks away in our quiet Mar Vista neighborhood and heard an odd sound emanating from her backyard. Upon further probing, we discovered, much to our pleasure, that she had four egg laying hens tucked into a coop, producing one egg apiece each day for her and her family to enjoy. In addition, the hens provided an easy way for her to compost leftover kitchen scraps, which she threw in each morning for the hens to happily devour. Surprisingly, there was no bad odor coming from the coop, which we found odd, and she went on to explain that, on occasion, she let them out to rummage around the entire yard and play with her three kids. We left intrigued to say the least, and the thought of raising our own backyard chickens took hold and we passed the idea around to a few friends to get additional information.

Coincidentally, two weeks later, we received a call from some fellow parents at our son’s elementary school (Beethoven Elementary) who had a pair of young hens that needed a home and would we be interested in adopting their two birds. They had apparently gotten them to somehow keep their duck alive and the experiment had failed, resulting in two unwanted chicks and one deceased mallard. Cautiously, we invited them over to meet said fowl and 24 hours later we were presented with two adorable six week old chicks in a plastic nesting crate. One was a white Delaware hen, the other an Araucana brown, both very friendly and well-known for their reliable egg production and easy going personalities. In fact, the Delaware is actually kind of rare, listed at “threatened” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. We were instantly smitten, though not completely ready to take the leap to welcome them into our home without further research. However, after a quick discussion between ourselves, we couldn’t resist and Extra Crispy and Original became part of our household the next day.

Building A Coop

IMAG0412Obviously, we couldn’t keep them in a small plastic box forever, so the matter of building an appropriate chicken coop became priority number one. Being only slightly handy, we decided to construct a basic wooden structure out of 3/4″ plywood and 2×4’s, raised up on concrete footers to enable easier cleaning and maintenance. We wanted to give them a small outdoor “run,” which would require posts and chicken wire, so we added those materials to our list and headed off to Home Depot in Culver City. The total cost of materials: three 4’x8′ sheets of plywood, six 8′ length 2×4’s, four concrete footers, a box of 3-1/2″ deck screws, and a roll of chicken wire set us back approximately $85.00. Luckily, we already had all the necessary tools, such as chop and circular saws, impact drill/screwdriver, wire cutter, level, and tape measure, so no additional expenses were incurred in that area.

Our original idea was to construct our coop to resemble the Jawa’s Sand Crawler from “Star Wars – A New Hope,” so we cut the plywood sides at 20 degree angles, which would resemble the vehicle and also allow rain water to easily run off the roof. The bottom of the coop was covered with thick plastic, which we cut from an office chair carpet mat we found in a nearby alley. We then drilled holes at two different heights for perches, made from closet dowels we no longer needed, securing them into place with screws. Because we have possums and raccoon roaming our neighborhood yards at night, we fashioned a heavy sliding door with which to seal the hen house each night at dusk. This was done by taking scrap molding we got from a neighbor’s old carpeting project and making a channel in which the door could slide up and down, attaching a rope threaded through a pulley for easy lifting. Finally, we cut our 2×4’s into 4×4 foot lengths and screwed together a frame, stapling the chicken wire to the outside and attaching to the front of the coop for our chickens to have a safe outdoor place to roam and forage.

2013-05-01 14.03.52Inside the coop, in addition to the perches, we stacked a few bricks, placing a plastic waterer and feeding mash dispenser on top so they could easily eat and drink to their hearts’ content. The rest of the floor was covered with a thick layer of pine shavings, acquired in bulk at the local pet supply warehouse (Centinela Feed – $14.00), and we sprinkled in FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth ($8.95 per pound), which we were told would help compost the droppings and reduce the need to clean the coop often. The last step before introducing our hens to their new home was stocking up on basic feed, so we visited Malibu Feed Bin, an LA institution since the 1960’s located on Pacific Coast Highway, and purchased 25 pound bags of mash and scratch ($40.00), two necessities for proper protein and digestion suggested by their helpful staff. We couldn’t resist a tub of dried meal worms ($14.00), either, as we were told that chickens will do almost anything for these tasty treats. All the feed is stored in two, 5 gallon airtight storage containers we found at Costco for around $25.00 apiece.

Now, with the coop ready to go and possessing everything necessary to keep our new house guests happy, we opened the door of their new home and released them into their cozy environment…

Next up: A destroyed backyard, welcoming McNugget, and waiting for eggs.

Meet Our Chickens at the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase on April 20th!

April 20th is the date to mark to come to our neighborhood and see all the amazing gardens our fellow neighbors are cultivating. It’s the 5th annual Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, which includes approximately 100 gardens all over Mar Vista showcasing vegetables, plants, flowers, chickens, rainwater reuse, sustainable practices of all kinds, and more! Here’s a video of Ian and his chickens, one of the many stops along the way and featuring an “egg-stra” special treat for those stopping by…