Celebrating the Mighty Chicken

Celebrating the Mighty Chicken

This week we interrupt our usual garden-related article series with a celebration of one of the stalwarts of the world’s agriculture systems: the mighty Chicken.

Why are we celebrating chickens?

Well locally, the Hillsborough County Commission has, as of Thursday 09/24/2020, unanimously and without argument, passed an ordinance allowing chickens to be raised on residential properties in unincorporated areas of Hillsborough County.  


With a few caveats (of course – it is government!) the freedom to raise these magnificent birds for eggs and meat has been returned to the people of our county.  It is the first step of many that are needed.

Hillsborough County residents in unincorporated areas where there is no HOA or deed restrictions can now legally own chickens WITHOUT being zoned agricultural.

Friends, this is TRULY EXCITING. Why? Because it is one step closer to erasing the constrictions on your ability to be self-sustainable on your own property where you work, live, play, and raise your family. This is an eradication of a government restriction that took away your ability to pursue your freedom to raise your own food on land that you paid for.  It is the relaxation of a stranglehold that has been present for decades, which was based on the (quite misplaced) assumption that our mass production food infrastructure could handle ANYTHING that happened.

Well, COVID-19 showed a lot of cracks in that facade, don’t you think?

Human History is Closely Tied to Chickens

For a couple of centuries in the US, and for millenia in Europe and Asia, chickens have been kept in order to help keep people and families fed.  During the World Wars, having gardens and chickens was considered our patriotic duty to help feed ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation.  Citizens felt the responsibility to feed themselves and created their lives around their homesteads, even in the cities and towns.

War posters urging people to keep laying hens

War posters urging people to keep laying hens – “Food Will Win The War” was a slogan often heard.

As urban sprawl happened, the mass-production of processed foods and the increased ability of fresh goods to be trucked and flown all over the nation and the world, decreased the desire to provide for ourselves.  It was much easier to go to a store and get what you wanted – no matter if it was from the farmer down the road, or in another country.  With the wars and that military experience revolutionizing the way goods were manufactured and transported into each home, we as a nation began to rely more heavily on stores to bring us food, instead of raising it ourselves.  We began the journey to where we are today – a society of Convenience as King.  It became “unpopular” to be a farmer.  Why get dirty and deal with the mess of animals when you could go to a supermarket to get food and not even break a sweat?

The Smallest Thing Can Drastically Change Everything

This year, our distribution system was struck down by a tiny virus, and the few farms that still operate couldn’t sell their products.  Workers were laid off because the ability to truck their crops to distant lands was terminated, crops rotted in the fields, grocery store shelves were bare, and there was nothing anyone could do.  Families went hungry, or only ate boxed and canned goods.  No milk, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes. No produce at all.

Empty Product Shelves

Empty Produce Shelves during COVID-19, while crops rotted in the fields.

Unless you were one of the people who had a garden.  And chickens.  You could eat what you grew, and you had a source of protein, of meat, of vegetables, and if you had too much you could trade others for the other things you needed.

It didn’t seem to take too long for some of the distribution to heal itself.  So the shelves weren’t barren for too long.  BUT…I believe for many people, this year was a wake up call.  And for those who heard that call, the message was clear: Be Prepared to Care for You and Yours On Your Own.  

There’s a shorter word for that message: Self-Sustainability.

Sustainability is the only viable future

 Man brings caged chickens to his backyard for some free-ranging time

Chickens come out for some free-ranging time in this man’s back yard. “Coop-kept” doesn’t mean they can’t roam in your yard. They just have to be kept cooped at night for their protection.

Sustainability has many aspects.  To individuals like those reading this right now, it means: Returning to the land.  Growing what you eat.  Knowing where your food comes from, and teaching your children about that, and about being responsible for the well-being of themselves, their family, their garden, and their flock, and the neighborhood and community outside themselves. Harvesting what you grow that afternoon and eating it that night.  Being in control of your health and nutrition.  Getting the fresh air, exercise, movement, and sunshine our bodies need to thrive.  Knowing that if grocery store shelves go bare again, you can make due with what you have.

Sustainability is our message too here at Shell’s. We know a thing or two about being sustainable.  Next year, 2021, will mark 60 years that we’ve had the privilege of serving our wonderful Tampa Bay communities.  The way we will continue onward is by providing to the best of our abilities the goods you need to be self-sustaining, and to back that up with knowledge, education and other resources to help you succeed in your projects centered around backyard farming, gardening, pets, and more.  We truly are here to help.

Model for Sustainability and all the factors that should be considered.

Sustainability Model where all the factors that affect humanity as a whole are considered when making policies and decisions around sustainable models of productivity and growth.

In the coming months, you’ll see some great changes at our store.  They’ll be subtle at first.  But, our goal is important: building a wonderful local community of gardeners, farmers, and other sustainability-minded people, and growing our product selection to support those of you who want to join in on the fun, the sense of accomplishment, AND the freedom that is Growing Your Own.

If you don’t have your own land to start your own movement towards sustainability for your family, it’s OK.  There are MANY community gardens already in place (and more springing up) all over Tampa Bay where you can apply your hard work and reap the rewards, and share with others who feel the same way.

If this sounds like an adventure you want to start, or if you’re already on that path, we’re here for you.  Stop in and see us.

I’ll leave you with this thought as you leap into October:

Today, we celebrate the mighty chicken.  Tomorrow, we build a more sustainable world.

Until next time,

Keep Growing!


Simple Sustainability to Declare Your Independence

Simple Sustainability to Declare Your Independence

If this Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted one thing for me, it is how dependent our society has become on the grocery store food and supply distribution system, and how that system is not built with sustainability in mind. Seeing the empty shelves and the panic (accompanied by much bad behavior, I must say!), it made me think for a moment, “What if I could get the majority of my food from my yard?”

It’s not a new thought for me. As you may know from other of my writings or a class I’ve taught, my Dad was a subsistence farmer. He grew what he could year round and traded for what he could get – which was pork, chicken, eggs, and manure to compost for the garden, all from his neighbor. He also fished and sold fishing & composting worms. That is mostly how he stayed fed.  He and Mema (his mom) canned veggies and made pickles for when things didn’t grow so well, or just to enjoy.

He lived in a very rural area with more land than I’ve ever owned.  So, years ago I asked myself, could I grow my own food here in the city on a small plot of land? My answer was yes. While I still have a lot to learn (you never stop learning when you’re a gardener), over the years I’ve made it so that I can get a lot of nutrition out of the land I farm. 

sustainability of your garden

This bounty is possible, and more flavorful, when you do it yourself.

I imagine many people interested in gardening for food ask themselves that quite often, when they’re scheming and planning to make their yards into places where beautiful and edible things grow. Trust me…you can do it.

I decided to ask some local folks who REALLY know about growing your own, sustainably, just to give you some inspiration and more resources to check out.

Amongst our customers and friends of Shell’s, we have quite a few who practice sustainability and eat mostly what they grow.  From massive Earthbox gardens to food forests to backyard nurseries and front yard landscapes full of edibles, aka “yardens”, there are members of our community right here in Tampa Bay who do this kind of food growing.  I think this is a great opportunity to pick their brains – in the hopes that their stories will inspire others to Declare Independence from Mass Food Distribution in a time where the question of where our food comes from has a shaky and indefinite answer.

Empty shelves in the produce section - modern food supply does not have sustainability

Empty Produce shelves at the grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic. Look Familiar? Photo credit: Travis Wise

I asked what it means to them and their family to know that they could sustain themselves if the food distribution system was suddenly no longer there, and what Sustainability means to them.  Because the concept of sustainability is more than just growing your own food, it’s about replenishing the soil nutrients you use to grow your food and maintaining as much as possible the natural balance of the land so that you can continually grow more food and not strip the environment.

Here’s what they had to say. Also, I’ve linked you up with how to get in contact with them so that we can all expand our community, hear the voices, and see the inspiration of these local gardening/farming influencers.

Amanda Streets – Clearwater

Living Roots Eco Design - focused on sustainability

A heavy focus on native plants for pollinators and growing your own food, Amanda helps people design their own Yardens with a focus on building healthy soil for a healthy life!

“I grew up on a working farm, so gardening and a pantry full of home-canned goodies is just the way it is. Food growing in abundance in our urban “yarden” carries on my family’s long tradition of farming, even though we don’t have fields to plow. It is important to pass these skills on to my child. Our family is busy – there’s not always time for a quick trip to the grocery store. Dashing out to the garden to harvest fruit for lunches or greens for a salad is the norm – and even better now that our child is able to take on that responsibility. Knowing where our food comes from is important. I know how it’s been grown, what has been applied, and whether it was picked ripe or green. We also know that it is there. When the store shelves were empty in March and April, that was a little scary. Whether or not there is going to be a food shortage in my lifetime, I know that I have the skills and capacity to grow a good amount of fresh, nutrient dense food for my family.”  –Amanda Streets, local Clearwater “Yardener” and nurseryperson, owner of Living Roots Eco Design (https://livingrootsecodesign.com) – and the magical force behind the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance (https://PinellasCommunityCompost.com)

Kenny Gil – Tampa

Kenny Gil's Instagram feed @lig_ynnek - he's all about sustainability

A look at the first six entries on Kenny Gil’s (@lig_ynnek) Instagram feed: instagram.com/lig_ynnek

“Being able to produce as much as we can for our family on our micro-homestead means I get to connect with friends, neighbors and community members, encouraging and teaching them to break away from the mega farms that don’t have the environment, biodiversity, freshness, nutrition and flavor as top priority.”  –Kenny Gil, local Tampa homesteader, growing his own massive variety of fruits and vegetables (https://www.instagram.com/lig_ynnek

Susan Roghair – Tampa

Susan Roghair's Earthbox Garden - sustainability in a box

Images from Susan’s EarthBox Garden, she created a garden from a concrete pad with EarthBox. Shows you can garden ANYWHERE.

“I love to cook! Everything I make is organic, not processed or frozen. I cook only with fresh produce and make everything completely from scratch. I’ve been a vegan for thirty years and my husband, Dan, for over fifty years! One of the things I love about having an EarthBox garden is the accessibility to fresh produce right outside my kitchen door.  There is nothing more fun than harvesting a bunch of veggies and them being on the dinner table minutes later.  You can’t beat that for freshness or convenience!” –Susan Roghair, local Tampa EarthBox enthusiast with (at last count) 24 Earthboxes, and our Earthbox Simple Success Secrets class instructor at Shell’s! (quote is from an article on Earthbox.com: https://blog.earthbox.com/earthbox-get-to-know-a-grower-series-4. Find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/771889789977465/)

John Steele – Tampa

John Steel's Family Homestead Farm - building family food sustainability

Several pictures from John Steele’s Homestead – urban farming in the heart of the city. He has no website or Instagram, but if you want to talk to him, he’s at Shell’s (shellsfeed.com), so stop in and see him.

“Being able to walk through my property and harvest my own food that I have grown or raised has copious amounts of beneficial aspects to it. Some of the most predominant being: Less waste in the form of unsustainable packaging, the gratification and reward of growing, raising, and harvesting your own meals, creating a space for yourself and family to learn and grow together, independence from the grocery store and large retailers, and one of the most (if not the most) important in my family being financial ease and independence. It is hard work to run a fully functional homestead but it is well worth it. I encourage anyone and everyone to give it a shot even if only on a small scale, see what homesteading can do for you and your family. 

Currently on my property we have a small flock of chicken & quail hens that are for the sole purpose of being of layers, along with a few males that play the role of broilers if ever needed. We have a 1000 gallon rainwater collection system in the works as a priority. Numerous fruits and vegetables both established and seedlings.A cleaning station for fish and wild game we catch/hunt and process ourselves, as well as a deep freezer to store it along with a generator large enough to sustain its needs for electricity throughout the hurricane season. In addition to our current resources we are adding our own shade cloth greenhouse, bee hives, and a vermiculture tower in the weeks to come.”  –John Steele, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply Employee, local Tampa homesteader/urban farmer

Tanja Vidovic – Safety Harbor

Tanja Vidovic's Home Garden - A Sustainability Warrior in Tampa Bay!

Pictures from Tanja’s homestead – it’s bananas! Making soap savers out of home-grown loofahs, hubby & the kids, and bat houses mounted on the house! Find her here: www.wmnf.org/sustainableliving and https://www.facebook.com/groups/TampaGardening/

“Sustainability and the ability to grow food on my own property means the difference between food independence and dependability. I feel that if something were to happen to our food system, that me and my family would still survive. Having a food garden in my yard provides us with exercise and needed skills to live without being completely dependent on a broken system. You learn about what it takes to make a healthy soil, healthy plants, and a healthy ecosystem. I was happy to see that this past year, in Florida we approved the right to have front yard gardens. People need to be able to grow their own food, especially in food deserts were the only option may be unhealthy food. Gardening, permaculture, sustainability are all things that most schools should be teaching our younger generation.” –Tanja Vidovic, Safety Harbor homesteader and influencer, Sustainability Radio Show Host on WMNF 88.5FM, and local Environmental Activist, Also, Facebook Group “Tampa Gardening Swap” Creator with nearly 13,000 followers, and prior candidate for Safety Harbor Mayor!

Kenny Coogan – Tampa

Kenny Coogan's City of Tampa Homestead - the picture of self-sustainability

Kenny with pumpkins from his homestead, and one of the stars of the How to Raise Chickens video series, Morticia the Transylvanian Naked Neck Chicken. The Video series is a collaboration between Kenny and Shell’s and this week our 9th episode will premiere on Saturday! Check out #TheChickenChannel. Also, click the picture above to get Kenny’s book, 99 ½ Homesteading Poems, a charming (and poetic) look at homestead life. Includes recipes!

“As a current Global Sustainability grad student at USF, I think a lot about being able to sustain myself from my land. Sustainability has three pillars: social, economic, and environmental. In 2019 I started documenting every egg, fruit and vegetable I produced from my 1 acre home in Tampa. January 2020, I reflected on my year’s harvest and was surprised by how little I grew and ate. Now in 2020 I am focusing on what grows copiously without a lot of work to get my numbers up. I grow a ton of true yams, passionfruit, katuk, moringa, Chaya, chayote squash and Seminole pumpkin. Currently I am growing a lot of okra. Even though I don’t love some of these crops I use them to help the society around me by bartering, trading or selling my surplus. I also focus a lot of my attention on food waste. I jam, pickle or freeze a lot more now to save what I grow. This year I jammed several jars of Surinam cherries – not because I love them – but because they grew abundantly. Combined with strawberries the jam tastes great. Preserving your own food and reducing food waste helps your wallet. Growing as much food as possible and not wasting it helps with the environment as well. It cuts down your food miles and saves on fossil fuels needed to grow and transport the crops. Growing food that is well suited for your ecosystem limits your need for fertilizers, are more resistant to pests and offer flavor profiles that you can’t find at the grocery store.” –Kenny Coogan, local Tampa Homesteader, Chicken Keeper, Nurseryperson, Agriculture Educator, and Global Sustainability Grad Student.

Georgea Snyder, Sustainable Living Project – Tampa

The Sustainable Living Project in Tampa, Florida - educating others in sustainability

The Sustainable Living Project is a place for community, education, and learning sustainable growing practices. I encourage you to check them out!

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the Sustainable Living Project, run by the wonderful Georgea Snyder (who doesn’t know I’m doing this…), a long-time customer of our store and someone who is doing an excellent job at the hard work to run a garden that exists because of the efforts of the volunteers she “recruits” and coordinates. 

Their mission is: “to affect positive change in the community towards becoming more sustainable and healthy in our everyday lives. Using sustainable living on our urban farm and education center as a model to serve, educate, and build community through example, hands-on experiences, and education.  We describe SLP as a place where people can be immersed in the world of sustainability and community. We implement innovative and traditional technologies that help reduce our impact on the environment. Our 1 acre plot houses 34 grow beds (10 of which are dedicated to Veteran volunteers & programming, 3 sheds, a water catchment system, patio with solar panels, a greenhouse with aquaponics, a chicken coop, bee hives, a biodigester, and a 12 stall compost station. All of these elements play a part in our exploration of what it means for our bodies, communities and planet to be healthy.”

Well, I hope seeing these amazing folks doing stellar sustainability things has inspired you to work on your family’s sustainable food sources.  There’s so many aspects to help sustainability, and ways to grow your own food, it can be overwhelming.  But don’t panic!  We’re here to help.

Fall gardening season is coming up – Fall Garden Seed Planting STARTS IN AUGUST! – so when you have questions, when you need supplies…we’re here.  We’ve got free Garden Guides in the store that we publish to use as a reference tool.  We’ve got classes too, great for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.  

We’re here to help, just a short drive away to see us in Tampa.  Check out the buy online and pickup in store – we call it “Buy & Fly” – at shellsfeed.com/shop.  Call us if you don’t see what you’re looking for – not every one of our approximately 5000 items we carry is online.

Until next time…Keep Growing!


We Are Grateful For YOU

As today is Thanksgiving, we focus on what we are grateful for.

If you were to ask me my favorite part of our business, without hesitation I would say it’s getting to interact with our local community in a real grass-roots kind of way.

Today’s blog happens to fall on Thanksgiving – and so I wanted to take the opportunity to express the gratitude of Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply on behalf of our staff family (because really, we are a family too).

Being Grateful is Uplifting

I hope you’ve seen our #21DaysOfGratitude Challenge that we’ve been doing since November 8 – 21 days to get into the habit of being grateful for what we have. It’s something I started last year, and wanted to continue. I never want to forget to take a moment to be appreciative, and that’s what this article is about today – We at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply are grateful for YOU, our customers.

We are a local family-owned business that has been around nearly 60 years – no small feat when you really think about it – and we attribute our success to the service we provide to our customers.

But without customers to service – we wouldn’t be here at all.

We are grateful you support local businesses

Our store in the late 60s/early 70s, approximately

So, every time you come in and purchase something at Shell’s, you are supporting a local family business, all the families of the people we employ, AND keeping your money local (like your tax dollars) so that you support your community, just by shopping with us. We think that’s important.

We also realize how important having you walk through OUR doors really is, and that is why we work so hard to make it a pleasant experience, each and every time. You chose us, and we don’t take that lightly.

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply as it stands today.

From picking up some food for your dog, taking care of a pesky pest problem, to bringing home a new flock of chickens, we’ll make sure you have everything you need to accomplish your goals. If there’s something we don’t carry, we don’t mind referring you to our neighbors for certain things, as our neighbors send us people when they don’t have something you need.

“I like all the treats by the register, Mom – so much to sniff!”

We are grateful for the opportunity to help you problem-solve

We take the time to learn about what you’re trying to do, if you’re willing to share it with us. If there’s other products that might do it better, we’ll tell you. If you’re wanting to use something that won’t do what you are wanting it to do, we’ll tell you. And if you have a handful of things you bring to the register to fix a problem and you only really need one of them, we’ll tell you.

Why do we take the time to do that? Because we’re here to help. We want you to remember us the next time you need help with something, and come back. More importantly we want you to tell all your friends and family about us so they will come see us too.

See, that’s why YOU are so important to us. We want to help you accomplish what you need to get done as simply as possible, so that you’ll tell others that you had a great experience.

We are grateful for our longevity in the community

We are so much more than a farm feed store, which was our humble beginnings nearly 60 years ago. Garden supplies are huge source of enjoyment for us, especially live plants, the Earthbox line, and growing soils like Happy Frog Potting Soil (it’s so awesome).

Earthbox Standard with staking system growing tomatoes.

Our variety of pet supplies is pretty massive, too, not just the supplies for dogs and cats but all the exotics (like chinchillas, sugar gliders), rodents (like hamsters, guinea pigs), birds (like finches, parrots), wild birds, even some fish and reptile supplies too.

And don’t forget that we have live chickens and rabbits, and stuff for farm animals. We love it when people bring their kids to see the fuzzy wiggle nosed bunnies and the fluffy little peepers.

Stop in to see our live chickens & rabbits!

We are grateful for your friendship & patronage

We appreciate it when you stop in for supplies, or just to say hello to our friendly staff. We love it when you trust us for our knowledge to help you out, and we love being able to help you out to your car with your heavy items. It’s what we do, because we are thankful that you chose us. Carrying a heavy load to your car is the least we can do.

So, while we are closed today, Thanksgiving Day, so that we can be with our families – and we hope you are with yours too – we’ll be here for you when you’re ready to come in for your next dog food order, bale of hay, some veggie plants, or that one thing you need that no one else carries.

We are grateful for your support

We are truly grateful for you. Because of you we can continue to serve this community, and Tampa Bay at large. And that’s just the way we like it.

If you’re thankful for us too, please pay us the greatest compliment by telling the people you know about us. Your referral is the best gift we can ever receive from our customers. For those of you who already do that – thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

We’ll see you soon!



5 Fun Facts About Chickens

shells feed garden supply chickens chicken keeping fresh eggs daily poultry feathered friends pets cute fluffy
Chickens love to play in the back yard.

Raising chickens is one of the main ways that we produce food for ourselves. But chickens don’t just have to be a means to nourish our bodies. The fact is that chickens are intelligent, very social birds with individual distinct personalities. They act just as any other pet would – you can train them to come when you call, they like to snuggle, they are silly and like to play. Chickens are also a great way to teach children how to care for animals and how to grow their own food, so they can learn where their food comes from and gain a deeper sense of connection to the world around them.

In honor of chickens everywhere, in celebration of National Pet Month (#NationalPetMonth), and to remind our readers of our upcoming Chickens for Beginners class on Saturday May 11, 10 am, at the store, I wanted to write a fun article about our feathered friends.

Fun Fact #1: Chickens are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Yep, you read that right. It’s not iguanas, or anole lizards…it’s chickens. Modern-day birds evolved from dinosaurs, as one of the cross-over species, the flying reptile with feathers called the Archaeopteryx, shows us. Additionally, some new fossils out of China show definite dinosaur skeletons with feather plumage!

Fossil of the Archaeopteryx. Do you see the feathers, the tail, and the shape of the head? Looks like a lizard-bird to me!

There are LOTS of articles about the comparison of some collagen protein found preserved inside the femur of a 68-million-year-old T. Rex skeleton in Montana and several modern animal species which asserts that Chickens and Ostriches are the closest living relatives to this class of dinosaur. There is also some similarities with Alligator proteins (not surprising…as they are another class of dinosaur themselves!). Read that article here if you like.

Want to know more? Here’s an interesting article from Scientific American about the evolution of Therapods (the group of dinosaurs that include the Velociraptor and T. Rex) into birds which tells you more, if you’re interested. Of course, science is always making new discoveries, and there’s still a LOT of gaps to fill before we have the full story. Isn’t science fascinating?

Fun Fact #2: There are smaller versions of most chicken breeds called Bantams.

You may have heard the word “Bantam chicken” tossed about in your research of chickens (because, who doesn’t like to read about them?). If you were a little confused on what that means, I can help you out.

A Bantam Chicken simply means “smaller chicken.” Bantam varieties have one of two origins. A True Bantam is a naturally smaller chicken. Most of the major breeds have a Bantam counterpart that is a fraction of the size. Then there are Miniature chickens which are bred to be smaller in size and weight, but have larger heads, tails, and eggs than true bantams. These Miniatures are often called Bantams as well. It’s generally accepted that either kind of bird is a Bantam.

Standard size hen (right) and a Bantam size hen (left).

Bantam breeds are fantastic if you want to have chickens, but don’t have a lot of space. Yes, they lay smaller eggs than standard chickens, but they also don’t eat as much or take up as much room! They are definitely a good choice for people with small city properties.

Fun Fact #3: Chickens See & Dream in Full Color, & are Highly Attracted to Red

Chickens have amazing eyesight – they see all the colors of the rainbow. Hens especially like the color red, and roosters take advantage of that attraction by sporting bright red combs and wattles for their mating dances, which are called “tidbitting”.

Here’s another visionary tidbit: You may not have known this, but chickens can dream, too. In full color. So the things they see in their world when they are awake, they might possibly see again when they sleep. I like to think that they dream of soaring like a frigate bird! Chickens have a phase of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement), just like we do. That’s when we humans dream too.

Who knew “Enter Sandman” was actually about sleeping chickens? (just kidding…sorta)

If you own chickens, you might observe another phase of their sleep patterns that we don’t share with our fluffy friends, and it’s called USWS, or Unihemispheric Slow Wave Sleep. If you’ve ever heard the term “sleeping with one eye open” – well, chickens can. It’s how they watch for predators while they catch some Zzz’s.

It’s actually one of the traits that has kept many bird species, like chickens, alive and thriving for so long. Did you know that there are 25 BILLION CHICKENS on the planet – nearly 4 times more than humans? They are by far the most prevalent bird in the world.

Fun Fact #4: A Hen Eats About 4 Pounds of Feed to Make 1 Dozen Eggs

This is an approximation, of course, for standard chicken breeds. Bantams eat way less. But it shows the importance of eating the right quantities of food to get the best egg production.

Broody hen sitting on eggs in a nest.

Chickens lay, on average, about one egg every 36-48 hours, except in times of stress, the molting period (when a chicken sheds feathers and makes new ones), or when a chicken goes “broody”.

A broody hen is a chicken dreaming of being a mom, like maternal instinct on overload. She turns the eggs about 300 times per day, and she talks to the eggs too – as they mature the chicks inside the shells chirp back to her (assuming the eggs are fertilized). During this time, a broody hen barely gets up to eat or drink. She’s dedicated!

Most egg farmers have to discourage the broody behavior to get the hens back to laying eggs, assuming there is no fertilized eggs for her to care for. But, if you have a rooster and want to hatch some chicks, a broody hen can be a great thing! Just put other fertilized eggs under her and she’ll take care of them too! Then the rest of your flock can continue to make breakfast for you while one works to hatch babies! By the way, they take about 21 days to hatch.

Fun Fact #5: The Color Eggs a Hen Lays Can Be Determined by the Color of the Earlobes

Hens are pretty predictable in their egg color if you know one simple trick:

Red Earlobes on a hen means she lays brown eggs. Some examples of brown-egg layers are: Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock

White Earlobes on a hen means she lays white and/or cream colored eggs. Some examples of white egg layers are: Leghorns and Polish. Cream colored egg layers are: Wyandottes and Silkies.

Blue/Green Earlobes on a hen means she is most likely an Easter egger and can lay Blue, Green, Rose, Lavender, or any of the other colors of eggs. Easter egg-colored egg layers are: Ameracaunas and Araucanas (both lay blue eggs), also mixed breeds called “Easter Eggers” who lay the other colors of eggs. The different colors are made when whites, browns, and blues are mixed together in the “shelling” process – this is a product of the mixed breeding.

This earlobe “rule” is a guideline only, so of course there are exceptions. But generally the above statements are true.

There are so many more fun facts about chickens. Why don’t you come learn how to keep and raise chickens with us? Our Chickens for Beginners class is Saturday, May 11, at 10 am. It will be about 90 minutes long, and you can have all your questions answered by me and our co-presenter, Kenny Coogan of Critter Companions!! Here’s the Facebook Event page for Chickens for Beginners workshop some more information.

It’s going to be an awesome class, I hope you’ll come join us!

Do you have your own fun facts about chickens? Add them in the comments below! Oh, and before I forget, you can always see what we have in stock in the Chicken Report that I post each Saturday.

See you again soon! Until then…


2019: Resolutions For You and More

2019: Resolutions For You and More
By Marissa

As we jump head first into 2019, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions and why we make them at the beginning of the year.  My hope is to inspire you with some history and maybe a slightly different perspective.

I also am sneaking a peek ahead to things that are coming up for all of you here at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply.  We’re excited to be adding or expanding upon some new things that we know you’ll enjoy, and that will help you. I also wanted to highlight some of the great resources we already offer you, in case you haven’t discovered them yet.

But first:

Speaking of traditions, are you making Hoppin’ John to eat on 1/1/19? That simple tasty dish of black-eyed peas is said to bring you good fortune all year if eaten New Year’s Day.  I know I’ll be making some.

What other New Year’s traditions do you have in your family?

Resolutions:  Why do we make them?

The practice of resolutions is taken from the concept that the year represents the span of one lifetime of “Father Time” – he is a baby on New Year’s Day, and an Old Man on December 31st, who passes on at Midnight to be replaced by the New Year Babe. Each year is the lifetime of the “Brothers of Time”, as the years are all “related”, in a sense.  Considering that, could you imagine having 2,018 brothers? Fun to think about.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day is a tradition passed from our pagan ancestors, who made material offerings to the god Janus for a prosperous and healthy year.  The month of January is named after this ancient deity. 

On New Year’s Day, think of your life as being renewed, like a newborn baby.  Being newly born means that you have your whole life ahead of you, and you can make anything happen during the time that we have on this Earth from here forward.  The concept, really this frame of mind, allows you a new chance to define yourself, be “resolved” to change things about yourself that you want to be better about, and to release the bonds that hold you back from anything you want to accomplish.  At the New Year you can decide to shed your past, shrug off grief and malaise, take a deep breath, and truly walk forward again, in full control of your own destiny.

How cool is that?

People joke about resolutions, and how nobody actually achieves them, they’re just a way for advertisers to make money off of your vulnerability at the passage of time. I think that if you are determined, and really put your mind to it, nothing can stop the human spirit. And I love nothing more than rising above the status quo and popular opinion. Being average isn’t any fun.

Another tick on the date calendar reminds us of how fast time goes by rather pointedly, and poignantly, this time of year.  But really, the creation of resolutions are based on a kind of magic from our pagan ancestors who believed in the inner power of themselves and their spirit relationships to the earth, elements, and sky. So when you achieve something you resolved to do, you are, by proxy, a magical being! (OK, maybe I’m stretching a bit – but I’ve always wanted to have a bit of magic working for me…haven’t you?)

My point is, I know I have never underestimated the power of a determined child.  As it is a new year, and you are “reborn,” you now have another chance to be that determined child and follow your own path.

I’ll share my resolutions with you, and I hope you’ll share yours with me.  My path this year – aside from doing work for the store and making us better equipped for the digital age, is for me to actively spend time creating things that I love.  Sewing, crochet, and crafting is one way I do that, writing is another. I really enjoy making something useful out of the materials around me.

Also this year I’m going to do more of something that I shared with my father, who passed on many years ago.  I want to spend significant time doing the work to grow food to provide for my family and share with my friends.  If you’ve read my blog from the beginning, you know that my father was a subsistence farmer in North Florida, grew what he ate and ate what he grew, traded the rest to a neighbor who raised pigs and chickens for meat, eggs, and composted manure. He also raised worms and fished the plentiful lakes up there. So I will be making efforts to spend time in the dirt every day, doing what needs to be done to have a garden flourish.  I’m excited and anticipate having lots to share with you, I hope you’ll share your adventures with me too.

Join me in growing something of your own – even if it’s just one tomato plant, or one sunflower.  Growing something yourself has a sense of satisfaction that is hard to find anywhere else. It acknowledges the beauty of new life and the cycle of living things as it sprouts, grows, matures, fruits, and eventually is spent and returns to the Earth to start the cycle all over again.

Just like Father Time on New Year’s Eve night.

So let’s look at some resources we have for you right now that can help you on your own journeys through this next year, especially if you have resolutions to garden, raise chickens, or take better care of your pets.

The Chicken Report

I post the chickens we get in each week on our website.  The post is made on Saturday mornings because we usually don’t get our chickens until Thursday or Friday during the week.  The link is: shellsfeed.com/chicken-report.  Make sure to bookmark it and check every week to see what’s new!  I also post a reminder message on social media about the list update – usually with a cute picture of chickens – first thing Saturday morning. Make sure you join us on Social media so you don’t miss an announcement!


Garden Guides

We publish garden guides in-store throughout most of the year that tell you what to grow when, as well as what maintenance and feeding need to be done to maintain your lawn, landscape, and gardens.  They are based on information from UF/IFAS and county extension offices for the areas we serve as well as the USDA Agricultural Zone (which we serve areas considered 9a, 9b, 10a). Our next one comes out in Spring, but we still have copies available for previous months.  They’re great to have for your garden notebook to refer to when you’re planning your garden. They are a free resource, ask for them when you come in.


Free Community Seed Swaps

We took a break for the Winter, but the free Community Seed Swaps will be back, starting in February.  We started doing these in August of 2018, and the community really responded! Bring something to trade – seeds, cuttings, seedlings, potted plants – whatever grows! – and leave with new goodies that you trade with other gardeners.  We hold it on a Saturday morning from 8:30am – 10:30am once a month. Keep a lookout for flyers in the store, online social media messages, and join our Facebook group for the swappers so that we can all talk to each other! More information about how a seed swap works is here:  https://shellsfeed.com/monthly-community-seed-swap/ They are a great place to meet with your friends and neighbors who garden, you can get advice, swap stories, and have coffee and treats too.


Shell’s Workshop Series

Also in August, we started offering workshops at the store for various things.  I want to bring you great content that you’ll be interested in, and engage with.  Our most successful class was the How To Plant an Earthbox class, and it was wonderful.  We plan on doing another one in February, so don’t miss that! Stay tuned for dates. Everyone had a fabulous time – our teacher, Susan, is a real hoot!  More details to come soon for the Spring 2019 class, and other classes to come.

The Learning Center

I created this area on our website quite awhile ago, and it’s constantly “under construction” because really, when do we ever stop learning? There’s some useful stuff in here, so check it out!  The Learning Center



Buy Online, Pick Up In Store

We are working to add all of our inventory to our online store so that you can order and have it waiting for you to pick up.  Currently our selection in the webstore is limited, but by the end of January my goal is to have all inventory appear there, along with an upgrade to our webstore payment system.  Initially, all products will only be available as a “buy online pickup in store” option, which can be super helpful – you can place an order on your lunch break and swing by on your way home to pick up!

I’ll be posting a bit about my adventures here on the blog throughout the year, so I’ll update you as progress happens with that.  In the meantime, tell me what you’re looking for from us in terms of learning opportunities, workshops, etc., that we can do for you!  I’m listening.

Thanks, and Happy New Year to all of you!  We are entering our 58th year serving Tampa, and we couldn’t have made it this far without you!






Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 

The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!

Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.


Our Top 5 Winter Gardening Ideas

Our Top 5 Winter Gardening Ideas
By Marissa

Many people leave the garden completely alone in the winter. Especially up north that’s just fine, because it is covered in snow! Down here in Florida, winter can be another productive and pleasant growing season, albeit a bit colder. It can also be a time to get ready for spring planting.

What can we do in the Winter? Here are a few ideas:

1. Grow Winter Crops

‌Believe it or not, there are some great garden crops that prefer cooler weather. Some of your favorite plants can barely survive the July heat anyways, so why not grow it in the winter? Many veggies will tolerate the mild freezes we get pretty well. While you might get some superficial leaf damage the plants will usually survive and continue producing when they warm up again.

Some great winter crops are:

  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Parsnips
  • Onions
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Celery
  • Greens, like turnip, mustard, collards
  • Celeriac
  • Rutabaga
  • Strawberries
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Cauliflower
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks
  • Chard
  • Broccoli and broccoli raab

For tips on helping your garden recover from a freeze,
check out this article. For more information on what to plant, when – come into the store and pick up our Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply Garden Guides. It’s a great tool for knowing what to do and when!

2. Clean, Repair, & Replace Garden Tools

‌During the winter, your urgent garden tasks slow down a bit. It’s a great time to take stock of your tools and supplies and ensure that everything you need is clean and in good working order.

A solution of 10% bleach and water is a perfect all-purpose cleaner for tools and pots alike, and a drop of detergent goes miles to foam dirt out of textured surfaces and cracks. A bristly scrub brush is a perfect sidekick to loosen up dry dirt before washing.

Wash your gardening gloves and look for holes, and oil up mechanisms for clippers and moving parts to have all of your equipment ready for the spring when it arrives.

If there is a tool you are missing or one that you have been eyeballing for a while, shop around a bit and see if you can find what you like for a price you want to pay. Depending on your priorities you may prefer online shopping for deals, or going to a store to get a sense of what you’re buying. Coming into our store can help you determine if you like the weight and feel of the tool before purchasing – and pick up some great knowledge from our staff on the way.

3. Build New Structures

‌In my opinion, there is nothing worse than trying to build something large for the garden when it is 99 degrees outside with 100% humidity. Take advantage of the cool weather and build those garden structures now during the winter weekends. Want a new raised bed? Put it together and place it where it’s going to go, with the soil and compost too. Water deep, then cover it with black plastic so weeds don’t grow, and so the soil stays warm from the decomposition of the composted organic materials.

How about a pole bean tower or teepee? A greenhouse? A compost bin made from old pallets and chicken wire? A new trellis system for cucumbers and peas? Install hoops over your raspberries/blackberries to attach bird netting on to keep birds and squirrels out. Repair your fence around the garden to keep the dogs out. There’s so much that can be done, I can’t even list all the possibilities! Don’t get overwhelmed. Pick a priority project and pick a weekend to dedicate to it.

4. Plan Your Spring Planting‌

Spring will be here before you know it. I pass the coldest days of the year dreaming up the next season’s spring garden – complete with fresh-picked organic tomatoes and squash to be planted. When I’m planning up my spring garden I like to draw it out on graph paper and make my wish list for what I want to be growing in the spring. Next comes the balancing act of trying to make it all fit – do you need another bed or more containers? Or do some of the items on my list not make the cut?

Planning lets you optimistically dream up the next season during the cold and miserable days of winter. It also means accounting for all the supplies your grand plans for spring will need. Don’t forget the starter pots, soil, fertilizer, perlite, and transplant pots!

5. Chicken Projects

‌Do the chicken projects ever end? Not really. But it’s a labor of love. Are you thinking of expanding your flock? You might need to add on to the coop or add another coop altogether. Speaking of coops, did you know Shell’s Feed has coops that are already put together for you? Just place and play! Maybe it’s just time for a good coop scrub, repair, and re-paint. Whatever you decide to do, Winter is a good time to get those labor-intensive projects done for your fluffy-butts. It’s all so that you can play with them more when it’s warm!

I am quite sure you can find more to do in the garden than this. But if you were looking for suggestions, these are what I’ll be working on during the winter. What are you going to get up to? Tell us in the comments below. Thanks, Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 

The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!

Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.


Oh My, Where Are Her Feathers? The Molting Hen

Oh My, Where Are Her Feathers? The Molting Hen
By Marissa

It’s Fall, and daylight hours are getting shorter and shorter. One morning you have your coffee, and walk outside to collect eggs like you always do… and one of your hens is naked.

Big patches of feathers are missing, and clumps of them are scattered about. She’s not bleeding, and doesn’t seem stressed, she’s just letting it all air out like nothing’s different. Not only is she looking a bit disheveled, she also didn’t lay any eggs. A couple of days later, another couple of hens are missing feathers, and only 1 egg from all of them combined.

It’s ok! We promise, it’s nothing you did! You’re not a bad chicken parent!

What’s Up with the Naked Chickens?

The temporary loss of feathers is called molting. Don’t panic! It’s very normal, especially in the Fall. For chickens, the molt is a time when their bodies shift from making eggs to making new feathers, which are really important for the coming cold weather to keep them dry and warm.

When the molt is completed, chickens have begun a new ‘egg cycle’. Their reproductive systems get a chance to rejuvenate while their feathers get some new life too.

The first drastic molt usually happens at about 18 months from hatching (give or take) and then annually after that. The initial transitions from baby ‘fluff’ to feathers are also technically molting cycles, but they do not have the drastic ‘naked’ appearance.

What Causes Molting?

Molting is usually triggered by changes in daylight. If you have a hen raising baby chicks, they will usually start the molt after they finish raising the chickens. Raising children can make you all kinds of worn out, and the hen will need new clothes and a vacation after all that work!

#ProTip: You can artificially extend your chicken’s day by having lights in their coop on timers to mimic a long summer day. Don’t leave the light on all the time though! Eventually they will need to molt.

During this feather-replacement time, they usually don’t lay any, or very few, eggs. It takes protein to make an egg, and all their dietary protein is being used to make feathers when they are molting. Your chickens might all molt around the same time, decreasing your egg production for a little while. But it’s ok! When they grow their feathers back, they will be renewed and the egg production will start up again.

How Can I Help My Chickens?

Even though you didn’t have anything to do with the fact that your chickens are molting, you can indeed help them through the process so their molting ends faster and they can get back to the good stuff – laying eggs.

Here’s a few things you can do:

1. Switch to a high-protein feed. We recommend Purina Flock Raiser during their molt to help them get the protein needed to make beautiful new feathers quickly. This feed is meant for meat birds, so it has more protein than the food for laying hens. This can only be done for a short period of time – during the molt and a few days after. Constant high-protein diets can cause health problems for your eggers, so don’t do it!

2. Add a little more protein treats to their routine every few days, but only by about 5 percent, or 2 Tablespoons per chicken. Mealworms are a great protein supplement that chickens LOVE, as well as options like black-oil sunflower seeds and tuna fish (in water, low sodium). Overall, treats of any kind should never be more than 10% of their diet.

SIDE NOTE: Some places say you can feed them cat food while molting, but I don’t recommend it. It can cause unpleasant and even dangerous deficiencies in your chickens. 

3. Keep plenty of clean water available. Growing feathers is thirsty work!

4. Vitamin and mineral supplements are very helpful, as are probiotics.

5. Don’t change anything drastically in their environment, such as moving them, or introducing new birds to the flock. It can wait. They don’t need the extra stress.

6. Don’t handle a molting bird unless absolutely necessary. The emerging feathers are very sensitive, quite painful, and can break, causing a lot of bleeding. In the case of a breakage, clean them up with Vetericyn to prevent infection and separate the bird from the flock for their own safety until they are healed.

#DidYouKnow #DYK #FunFact: Chickens that get through the molt the fastest are almost always your best egg layers!

Molting is a natural process of feather replacement, and a chance for the chicken’s reproductive organs to rest. Most of the time you get bigger, better eggs after a molt is complete, and your chickens will look fabulous in their new clothes! Take good care of them and they will take good care of you.

Thanks for reading!

Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

I’m an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 

The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener.” Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they’re delicious!)  Thanks for reading!

Special thank you to Abby’s Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.


Backyard Chickens? Oh YES!

backyard chickens fresh eggsIn August of 2013, the City of Tampa, Florida enacted what I refer to as the “Backyard Chickens Act” and city chicken lovers did a happy dance. This law changed the classification of chickens from “livestock” to “pets” and that change is what allows chickens in city yards.

The Ybor City and West neighborhoods of Tampa have been home to wild free-range chickens that are descendants of the chickens kept there since the area was settled. They are protected as icons of Tampa.  Now, anyone in city of Tampa can have chickens.

City of Tampa has a few rules that you have to follow, but they’re not terrible, promise! We want to assure you that you can easily have a small flock to help feed your family, AND have adorable feathered pets too!

The Rules for Chickens in Tampa:

backyard chickens fresh eggs

Here’s the rules:

  1. You must have a single-family home.  Chickens not allowed in apartment or condo spaces.
  2. You can have 1 chicken per 1000 sq ft of lot space. This means typical city lots can have 4 or 5 chickens.
  3. Must have a coop. The coop must be no more than 6′ tall and 125 sq. ft.  Most coops are smaller.
  4. No roosters. This is due to noise issues.

That’s pretty much it! Told you it was nothing to worry about.

For Hillsborough County, the restrictions are much more loose.

  1. Not more than 50 birds per acre if uncaged, maximum 200 birds.
  2. Not more than 100 birds per acre if always cages, maximum 200 birds.

Update as of 10/16/17: I received a response from one of the County Commissioner’s offices in regards to Hillsborough County Chicken Keeping.  It very much differs from what I was told by the Extension Office.  

“The County’s LDC <Land Development Code> defines a chicken as a Farm Animal.  As such, the keeping of a chicken is only allowed in agricultural zoning districts.  There is an option to consider ownership on a case-by-case basis, and in that regard, you should contact Joe Moreda, Director of Planning & Zoning.  His phone is 813.276.8379 and his email is [email protected].”

I will say that when two authorities differ in information, it makes it very confusing for potential chicken owners!

According to State of Florida law, and again for Agricultural-Zoned property per the above, if you want to move further and sell your eggs or processed chickens, you would then be considered a Limited Poultry & Egg Farm Operation and there are rules surrounding that as well (very generous allowances, in my opinion).  You can sell up to 30 dozen eggs and 384 processed poultry per week (<–Click there for more info)! Here’s more information on this kind of farm operation from the Hillsborough County Extension Office’s Small Farms group: Limited Poultry & Egg Farm Operation FAQPlease research fully with the Extension Office, State of Florida guidelines and/or your local Code Enforcement to ensure that you are not breaking any rules before you take on this endeavor!

If you’re looking for rules for an even larger operation, we suggest contacting the Hillsborough County Extension Office.

New to Chickens? That’s OK!

So, you’ve never had chickens before? That’s ok. There is nothing to worry about! We here at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc., have all the knowledge and supplies you need. We can get you started now with little peepers here in the Fall, and come Spring you can have lots of cluckin’ eggs!  We have a great FAQ for you right here about baby chicks as well.

backyard chickens fresh eggsIn between purchasing baby chicks and getting eggs, great fluffy-butt moments await you watching your chicks grow into chickens.  If you have kids, even better! Teaching them responsibility for animals and where their food comes from are lessons they will appreciate, share with their friends, and most likely continue for their families.

We hope all of this sounds good to you, because we love to spread the love when it comes to chickens. Whether you want to collect fresh eggs for your family, start a family business selling eggs, or just have a new set of feathered friends, they are a wonderful addition to any family.



Special Announcement: 

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply is looking for a carpenter/woodworker, to build City of Tampa code-compliant coops for our customers to purchase.  Sell-able in-store display pieces would be built by you based on our price point and size needs.  Serious inquiries only. Must be reliable and able to deliver on a deadline, as well as willing to collaborate with us so we can offer a quality product at a reasonable price.  

backyard chickens fresh eggsDo you fit these criteria? Leave a comment below to let us know you are interested!

(Do yourself a favor, put your email address in the format of:  janedoe at gmail dot com, then it won’t be picked up by spambots).  


Marissa, Director of Communications

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.