“You’ve Got to be Kidding Me!”
(Somewhere around 2010)
That was my first response when my wife suggested getting chickens a few years ago. The city we lived by had just approved having chickens – if there were no roosters and they were fenced in. We are just outside of town with a little acreage, but … chickens?
My wife had some good reasons. We could get eggs without hormones and antibiotics. The eggs are much better (especially if you can throw in a little free ranging for them). We had been buying organic “free-range” and/or “cage free” eggs, but had found out that these terms can be easily abused. “Cage free” can mean a little 4 x 6 area outside a building holding thousands of chickens. We had even seen some of the places selling “natural” eggs from a fenced pen that had been pecked down to bare dirt. Maybe…???…better than commercial eggs but we wanted something better than that.
However, chickens are not the cute little furry things kittens are. They don’t play with you like dogs. I had seen a friend pick up one of their chickens and pet it. I couldn’t even picture petting a chicken.
Then…we got chickens!
Well, this is a health, nutrition and being well site so we made the big move to get some chickens a few years ago. We decided to wait until reporting about them until we had enough experience to see how it all worked out. If positive, we would start sharing our experiences with chickens on the website.
Bottom line: It has been one of the most pleasant
experiences we have had with animals!
As a result, we are going to begin to share our experiences, as they happen, about what we have and are learning about raising chickens. Our raising chickens is for much better quality eggs, not meat production. We’re not sure what we will do when our current egg producers stop laying. We are not vegitarians but I suspect we are going to just let them enjoy ‘retirement’. There’s no way we could eat Olivia, Fluffy Butt or any of the others.
We are not chicken experts and there are much better sites and books available that are focused on chickens only. We’ll share the ones we have found later on. Right now, we simply want to encourage you to consider the possibility, if possible, for your particular situation.
Well, we made the mistake of going down to the nearest farm store just to check out what’s involved in raising chickens. They knew what they were doing. They had several open bins with heat lamps, sawdust on the bottom – and different little chicks in each one of the bins that we could pick up and hold. Definitely unfair business ethics! They even had books where you could read about the egg production and personality type of each breed. “Personality type?” In a chicken?
It didn’t take us long to decide that high egg production (leghorns) wasn’t as important as “friendly”, “non-aggressive”, “able to free-range”, etc. We also decided that different colored eggs would be fun. Before we knew it, we were headed home with a dozen 5 day old chicks and all the things needed to go along with them. (The store was very helpful in making sure we had everything needed.)
Stores typically bring in chicks in the Feb-Mar months and they have to get bigger, and the weather warmer, to go outside. So the only place we could think of was the upstairs bathtub. We laid down plastic, pellets, heat lamp (as per the book they sold us) food and water and began to enjoy our chicks. And they were fun!
As they grew, I found myself bringing up grass clippings, building a perch 3″ off the floor, adding a foot high piece of cardboard on the bathtub, and then a 2 ft high cardboard. Finally, I walked by one morning and saw one of the chicks standing on top of the cardboard. Well, we didn’t want chickens running through the house so it was time to introduce them to Oregon May weather.
The Chicken Coop and Yard
Fortunately, during the few months the chicks were in the tub, I had time to build a coop and fenced yard (more work than I thought it would be). Some people have pretty fancy coops but I’m more of a functional person. Plus, we’re in the country. So, the coop I built is fairly large, very functional but not too fancy – except for a stained glass window my wife had left over from another project. The only chicken coop I know of with a stained glass window.
The fence I did want secure from critters and hawks. We bent a 4 ft 1×2 welded wire roll into a ‘L’ shape with about 16″ flat on the ground, 3 ft upward around the yard (20′ x 40′). This keeps any digging critter out. Then we put 2″ chicken wire up to 6′ and, then, over the top as a roof against hawks. We used 2×2’s in a ‘T’ shape to prop up the roof and sewed the 12′ sections together with baling twine. This made a very secure fenced area that they could go in and out of from the coop any time they wanted and still be safe.
I made a wire door in the fence so I could let them out to free range. However, we soon learned that free ranging didn’t work well in the garden and flower garden when we were planting and up until fall (they can dig up small plants and eat things you don’t want them to). So, I built a second 6′ high fenced extended grazing area of about 60’x150′. This is without a roof but I let them out into it during the day. Oct though May they can free range. This is more area than most chickens need but we had the room. I’ll give more detail in another article.
Fun in the Sun
Did I mention how much fun chickens can be? They would crack us up watching them learn to chase bugs and play. If we feed them some kitchen scraps and a chicken picked out a piece they thought was a prize, it would run away with it. Then the others thought it had something good and would chase it around.
One day in June, about 75 and sunny, my wife and I decided it would be fun to take a break. The grass was all green so we took two lawn chairs, some bread and refreshments and went and set up inside the coop yard to watch and feed the chickens. A neighbor a ways away saw us and came over. He’s a pharmacist and it turns out he raised chickens to help pay for college. Great fun and conversation! After a few hours, we went back to the house and I looked at Kathy and said, “My gosh. Are we old enough that a great night out now is going and sitting in a chicken coop?” We laughed (but it was fun)!
We have 2 grandkids (little girls) who love to come and feed and hold the chickens. One of the chickens, ‘Lucy’, turned out to be a rooster and became ‘Lucky’. Unfortunately, Lucky was too aggressive for the kids and we had to give him away. We lost a few more during the course of the year to a dog and hawks but solved those issues. The next year we added some more chicks (same basic process) for a total of 15 now. Two of them also turned out to be roosters. We had picked mild breeds again and haven’t had any problems yet. However, there is no need to have a rooster and their actions towards the hens and kids will take precedence over them staying.
I can’t believe how fun it is to be sitting in the office or out on the deck and have a group of chickens go by. They are active lookers for bugs and slugs (plenty in the Pacific NW). I know it will cause doubts about my sanity but it is even fun to see them scratch. There is also another noticable step up in the color and firmness of the yolks when they have more ground to cover. They always head back to the coop to lay or bed for the night.
Free-ranging is not necessary but certainly good if there are conditions that allow it.