Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reflections from Our First Year Owning Chickens

 
One year ago today, we began our adventure in chicken ownership. And apparently, it's also National Poultry Day! :) 
I've mentioned our chickens a handful of times, mostly in passing, so today I thought I'd dedicate some time to telling you a little about our feathered friends.


When we were looking to move out of our town home, we knew we wanted more land. Hubby is as outdoorsy as it gets - he would gladly give up his day job to run a farm or greenhouse - so even with our postage stamp lot, he spent much of the spring and summer planting and maintaining our gardens. He even created several extra flower beds, and a raised bed for our vegetables. You would be amazed at the amount of produce we yielded from that little backyard garden!

 

Our Laying Hens

Anyway, another reason we wanted the land was because we wanted to try our hand at keeping chickens. When we found our home on 1.5 acres, we knew it was perfect.  Hubby and I have fondly dubbed our little patch of land, "Little Bitty Farm." We purchased the home right before Thanksgiving and by April we had built a coop and bought six 20-week-old pullets (female chickens).

 
Here they are one year ago today, right after we brought them home. In a matter of months we were getting 5-6 eggs a day. Even in the middle of winter, we've never gotten less than four. (Until today, of course, when I only found 2 eggs. I guess four of them figured out that it's their national holiday and decided to take the day off - ha!)
I love having our chickens! We eat eggs every morning, and I bake a lot, so it's wonderful to always have a fresh supply of eggs.


Blessing Others

Even though we go through a lot of eggs, we usually end up with more than we can use. Hubby and I agreed from the beginning that we would not sell any extra eggs, but would give them to family, friends, and neighbors. It's been a wonderful opportunity to bless others, and it's given us a chance to know some of our neighbors better as well.

What's Involved

We've learned so much in the last year, but we're definitely not experts. If you're thinking of raising or keeping your own chickens, two of my favorite resources are Backyard Chickens and The Chicken Chick. We love having our chickens and have gotten their care down to a pretty good system. Here are a few basics for chicken-keeping:

  • The Coop: A general rule of thumb is at least 2-4 feet per chicken in the coop and at least 10 square foot in the run. Our coop is 6' x '4 and the run is 8' x10' so it fits our six hens pretty comfortably. 
Hubby and his dad made the coop. It's not the prettiest, but it works well for us. :)
  • Fencing: We covered the run with chicken wire on the sides and the top (to keep hawks and other predators away). We also covered part of the run with landscaping fabric to provide shade in the summer and some protection from the elements. We have a fenced backyard and try to let the chickens free-range a few afternoons a week, usually when we'll be home for the evening.

  • Roosting Bars: At night, chickens like to sleep off the ground, so it's important to have a few roosting bars in the coop for them to stand on at night. You generally should have about 8-10 inches of roosting space per hen, so Hubby set up two roosting bars inside running the width of the coop. The 8 feet of roosting space is more than enough for our 6 chickens. 
 
  • Nesting Boxes: Depending on who you ask, there should be one nesting box for anywhere from 2-4 chickens. Hubby built three simple open cubbies for our chickens out of scrap wood, but they all prefer to use the same box. :)
  • Coop Bedding: We have used everything from mulch (free to pick up from our township) to pine straw (free from neighbors) to store-bought straw (what we are currently using). You do need to clean up and change the bedding regularly. Hubby scoops the piles of poop under their roosting bars every morning and replaces the bedding about every other week.
  • Food: Laying hens can forage for some of their food, but to optimize their egg production, they really need a feed specifically for layers. Our 6 chickens go through 50 pounds of feed a month. We use a "natural" feed that costs about $16. We also supplement with oyster grit to prevent soft-shelled eggs and give our chickens lots of veggie scraps to provide some variety to their diet. (And I love that nothing goes to waste!)

Our Meat Chickens:

Last week, we started a new journey with meat chickens. If you asked me a decade ago if I would raise meat chickens, I probably would have said no. I'm an animal lover, and the thought of raising a chicken only to kill and eat it probably would have been too much for me.
But now... As I've read more about eating Real Food and some of the practices involved with raising and preparing commercial meat, I've turned around. In the meantime I'm buying meat from our grocery store, but I really feel a lot better knowing exactly how our chicken will be fed, raised, and handled before coming to our table. Plus, I have a husband who hunts and fishes. He can handle all the gory stuff. :)

Welcome, Babies!

We got our little day-old chicks last Tuesday, March 11, from the same local farm where we got our layers. They were so tiny!

I will say that keeping chickens is not for the feint of heart. Although we ordered 15, we received 16 in our carton. Apparently, chicks are very fragile and it's common to lose at least one. This was true for us. Unfortunately, several chicks cornered another and picked at his behind until it was bleeding. (I was so angry at the little cannibals!) I rescued and separated him, but he didn't make it far past the 24-hour mark. If we knew then what we know now (I'll spare you the details, but they caused serious damage), Hubby would have put him out of his misery. Poor thing.
We've also had to bathe a few chicks to remove poop from their behinds so it doesn't cause a blockage and ultimately death. This is called "pasty butt," and since we got our hens when they were much older, this is the first we've had to deal with it. Being parents, dealing with poop is something we're pretty used to, but it was still an unexpected, and rather unwelcome, experience.

But you didn't want to hear about all that. Quick! Let's look at some more cute chick pictures!

These little guys are just over a week old. They're looking a little awkward with their fluffy chick bodies and mature wing feathers. They've grown so much in the past week! We can even see the difference day-to-day!

In fact, they were getting so big that they out-grew the large rubbermaid-style tote we had them in. Yesterday, I taped some large moving boxes together and made a them a new home.
It's roughly 3.5 feet square, and hopefully it will be large enough to hold them until it's warm enough to move the little buggers outside. Hubby is finishing up their outdoor home, and as soon as it's complete I'll be sure to share with all of you!


P.S.: I'll share pictures of our chick babies on Facebook from time to time. Head on over and give me a "like" to stay up-to-date. :)



I'm linking up at Tater Tots and Jello, Six Sisters' Stuff, A Bowl Full of Lemons, Tip Junkie, and Just a Girl and Her Blog

6 comments:

  1. Kim this is fantastic!!! I want to raise chickens someday too :) Great to hear how much you've enjoyed it and how successful it has been.
    ~Jamie Hartz

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Jamie! We really do love our chickens. So worth it if you have the space. :)

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  2. Raising Chickens is the best.... mmmm fresh eggs. I think we'll stick with Rabbits for now, but hoping we get back to Chickens again sometime. Good luck with your Meat Chickens. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Exactly, Danie! I don't want to ever go back to store-bought eggs if we can help it. :)
      I'm not sure I could do it with rabbits like you. It took me a while to warm up to the idea of meat chickens. I'm excited to see what it's like, though. :)

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  3. You are so adventuresome, bet the little one loves to "help" with all the feeding and egg collecting. You are a good Mama! And I love that you are blessing others with the extra eggs, that is very nice.

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    1. He really does like to help, though he's a little scared that they'll peck at his finger. I warned him that if he stuck his finger through the fence, they'd think it was a worm! ;-)
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, friend!

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