Posts Tagged ‘how to raise chickens’

Raising Backyard Chickens: The First Week

Posted on April 24th, 2012 by Tonia 5 Comments

These are the “baby pictures” I took of our chickies on the day they arrived in the mail. They made quick work of drinking their fill of water and then hunkering down under the hot bulb as soon as I introduced them to their new home.

A week later, they’re twice as big, ten times more lively, and still just as cute. In addition to their regular chick feed, they love a treat of cooked quinoa mixed with a little bit of plain yogurt {thanks to my friend Jen for showing me this yummy and nutritious snack for my babies!}

The meat birds {the light yellow ones} are really starting to surpass the others in size. We may have to separate them soon, so they don’t keep our layers from getting enough to eat.

Mike spent the weekend building the chickens and turkeys new, bigger, fancier homes. I can’t believe how fast they outgrew their cardboard boxes! The new digs have nice chicken-wire tops that lift off so I can feed and water them easily.

The turkeys like to fly out as soon as I open it, because they get all excited when they see me. They may be teenagers now, but they still love their mama. ;)

Backyard Chicken Farm: Coops and Supplies

Posted on July 12th, 2011 by Tonia 4 Comments

Our favorite chicken lady Beth is back with another post about backyard chicken farming! Thank you for sharing your experience, knowledge, and witty humor with us, Beth! Read her previous post on the subject right here. And check out the Chicken FAQ page she put together to answer more of your chickeny questions, too!

Chickens, they need coops. As we see it, coops serve two main purposes: protection at night and a place for your hens to lay eggs.

There are many ways to design and build your coop, so here are a few questions you can ask yourself to narrow down your choices:

Question 1: Am I going to let them out in my yard?
Chickens instinctively return to the same place to roost every night, but they will range freely over large areas if allowed. If you live in a densely populated area, letting your chickens wander around is probably not ideal unless you have tall fences. But if you have a large, secluded or otherwise enviable property, this might work well.

There are advantages:
•    Free-ranging chickens are pretty fun to watch. They chase bugs, they take dirt baths, eat green weedy things and generally enjoy life in a way that’s pretty great to see every day out your window.
•    They also will need less food if they’re able to find wild greens and bugs to supplement their diet, and exercise is great for them too. The flavor and nutritional profile of your eggs or meat will be improved as well.

…and disadvantages:
•    Chickens, as you may know, are extremely delicious. Raccoons know this. Coyotes and foxes both know this. Whatever skulks around your neighborhood knocking over trashcans at night definitely knows this. And if you have a smaller breed or are raising babies out in the open, you can add cats and birds of prey to the list.
•    Chickens love to eat plants, and they’re really good at picking out the good-looking and expensive ones. Forget about letting them in your vegetable garden—five of them can make a cabbage disappear in about ten minutes, piranha-style.
•    They fly. Kind of. If you’re planning on keeping them enclosed, and the fence is shorter than 6 feet or so, some will fly over unless you clip their wings. It’s not hard to do and it doesn’t hurt the chicken, but still, it’s a consideration.

At our house, we have an enclosed indoor/outdoor area for chickens that they live in most of the time, and then we sometimes let a few of them out onto the lawn for an hour or two. I keep my eye on them to make sure they don’t wander into the veggie garden, and they spend their time taking dust baths in my rose garden, scratching dirt all over my nice clean paths, chasing bugs, eating grass and just generally enjoying themselves. For us, this was a great compromise.

Question 2: Do you want a portable coop, or a fixed one?
While portable coops are more rare than fixed ones, they do have a couple of advantages. A portable coop (maybe obviously?) can be wheeled from one place to another in your yard. Check this one out—you wait until the hens are inside for the evening, lift it like the world’s least aerodynamic trailer, and move it to the next spot, caravan style. Freedom! Mobility! And the amazing ability to have chicken-y fertilizer anywhere in your yard at a moment’s notice!

There are some disadvantages too: Besides having to move it around every few days (left longer, your birds will eat down to bare dirt), portable coops are generally smaller than fixed ones, and you’ll probably be limiting the size of your flock.

Question 3: How big should your coop be?

If even part of your yard is okay for chickens to scratch around in, then a small coop is all you really need. Chickens don’t really hang out in the coop during the daylight hours, so all you’d really need is space for sleeping and egg-laying. Here’s a great example of a smaller coop, or this one if you’re the type.

For indoor space (provided they have somewhere to go outside, Tyson) you only need a few square feet per chicken. Bill’s rule of thumb: Don’t stack chickens. Just have enough perch area so they all can sleep next to each other comfortably at night. When in doubt, start small and work you way up. Better to find out you can go out and buy more adorable babies than learn you have to build them a spare bedroom.

If you don’t want your chickens out and about in your yard, build a chicken run into your coop plans. Here’s what it looks like for a flock of five or six, and here’s what it looks like at our house:

I hear 10 square feet per bird is fair, more if you’re feeling magnanimous, less if you’re going to be letting them out a lot. Our run has a roof to add extra protection from birds and dexterous beasts, and it has the added advantage of being secure enough that we don’t have to lock up the coop every night. No shutting them every evening, no letting them out every morning. It’s kind of brilliant.

Other things to think about:
Once you’ve made up your mind about the type of coop you want, there are a handful of other things you should think about when planning your coop.

Security: Whether you’re rural, suburban, or urban, it’s fair to assume something is going to try to get into your chicken coop at night. While you can’t possibly be prepared for everything, there are some precautions everyone should take. Your coop should have four strong walls and a strong roof. If you use wire, make sure it’s a safe distance from the sleeping and laying areas: raccoons can reach their creepy little hands through wire fencing and I’m not telling you what happens next. And don’t forget digging beasties: we dug trenches and filled them with rocks and gravel to be extra safe.

Protection from weather extremes: Trees, shrubs, and overhangs are great for this—they provide shade in the summer and rain, wind and snow protection in the winter.

Fresh air: Your indoor area should have good ventilation. This keeps things fresh and fights dampness in wet seasons.

Cleanability: Coops need to be swept out regularly to get rid of dirt and manure. When building yours, think about how easy it will be for you to do this. Many smaller coops have a whole wall that opens to allow for easy access.

Other supplies: Food is key, as is a clean, rodent-safe, watertight place to store it. We like mini trashcans with lids. Your local feed store will carry chicken food (organic feed is available, but you sometimes have to look for it) and corn scratch. What chickens love, however, are kitchen scraps. We’ll talk about it more later, but they kind of think you’re crazy for putting all that delicious stuff into the compost every day.

Chicken waterers, while a non-word for sure, are widely available at feed and farming supply stores. Access to fresh water is very important, so you may even plan on having more than one. A low-effort alternate is a horse waterer. My dad installed one (at ground level) in his coop, and it automatically refills any water that’s consumed by his birds. He goes in with a sponge to sweep out any debris after a day or two, but it frees him from having to be on hand to refill the water daily.

Show us your coops!

Have chickens? Tell us about where they live, what you like about it, or what you would change. If you have pictures, we totally want to see them.

Don’t have chickens? Get up and get going! Because next up is baby chicks, and stories of the men and women who can’t stop buying them by the dozen (ahem….that’s us).

chickeny things to come

Posted on July 11th, 2011 by Tonia 1 Comment

A while back, Beth wrote a guest post about raising chickens at home. Well, tomorrow she’s back over here to expand on the subject and answer some questions that people have emailed in.

It’s going to be great! See you then!

Photo taken by our neighbor Bob of our friend Travis wooing the chickens with soothing banjo sounds.


Lessons in Incubation

Posted on May 17th, 2011 by Tonia 1 Comment

{Alternate title: The Chicks That Weren’t}

I teased you a couple weeks ago with the promise of an exciting event: baby chicks hatching right here in our living room. Sadly…that much-anticipated event never took place. Here’s the story:

Currently there are three chickens living at our house. They belong to the awesome folks renting the cottage on our property. They {the folks} let us collect eight eggs from the two hens to try and hatch some chicks! We were hoping to hatch about three chicks from this number of eggs {we set the bar low, being that this was our first time attempting to hatch eggs, so we were not very confident that they’d all survive…and although he, um, practices a lot, we were not totally sure that the rooster was getting the job done every time…ahem…so in other words, we figured that not all eight of the eggs were fertilized.}

Meet the gals:

Sylvia is a white and black Araucana, lays large blue/green eggs.

Emmaline is a Barred Rock “checkered” hen, lays brown eggs.

Meet the man of the coop:

Chris is an Araucana rooster, lays no eggs.

A note from their “mother” {AKA Sarah who lives in our cottage}: Chris used to be Christabel until he started crowing and well, promptly became just Chris. They are named after the Pankhurst suffragists, mother Emmaline, daughters Sylvia and Christabel. I found naming laying hens that just happen to live in a pink coop after suffragists deliciously ironic. :)

These three have a very interesting polygamous relationship going on…Sylvia is glued to Chris’s side at all times, is very easily flustered, and is always nagging him about something or other. Emmaline is very laid back and independent, sometimes wandering off alone to scratch and peck in peace. It’s so much fun to watch them, and I sometimes a lot of times snap out of it and realize I’ve been staring at them and making up chicken-conversations in my mind for whole minutes whole hours at a time, and I really should go do something productive…

Anyway, we made an incubator out of a plastic bucket, a light bulb, some wire mesh, a fan, and a thermometer. We researched online about incubating, and talked to a few experienced chicken-people about the process. We thought we had it all under control, and we were very hopeful and excited.

We waited….and we waited….and we waited the full 21 days it takes to grow a chicken. We gently turned the eggs every 8 hours. We obsessively monitored their temp and humidity. We lovingly sang them songs. At 21 days, there was a buzz of excitement around the house as we got ready for the babies to enter the world……..and slowly that excitement dwindled and gave way to grumpy shuffling around the house. It became clear by the 25th day that there would be no baby chicks hatching from these eggs.

Mike warily cracked them open over our compost heap, and examined the yolks for blood {the sign that they had been fertilized}. Only a few of them had been, and none of them had developed past a tiny, slimy gray blob in the center of the yolk.

It was a sad moment as we stared at the eggs we had cared for for 25 days laying cracked and lifeless among moldy pieces of bread and rotting squash. Life is a miracle not to be taken for granted, and death is a part of life- a big part of life on a farm.

Did we wait too long before putting them in the incubator? Was our temp too variable? We just don’t really know, but we intend to find out and give it another go. Stay tuned.