I followed my friends around incessantly last spring. Like a four year old I kept asking, “What is that?’ “Why are they doing that?” “How do I do that?” “What do chickens eat?” “Where do chickens sleep?” Though I thought I knew the answer to that one, in their nests, silly. Geez. Wrong. My friends graciously answered my questions but after a while started just saying, “It’s easy. There is nothing to it.” And, really, it is very easy!
I am on a mission to inspire as many people as I can to get chickens. I am amazed at the ease of this endeavor and the pets that they have become. Like I have said before, in cities and counties all across the country (including Denver where you can have eight chickens!), people are being allowed the simple right to raise chickens. Even though we don’t eat our chickens (or any other chickens for that matter), the eggs have made an exceptional addition to our diet. The bright orange yolks and delicious whites of the egg brighten any recipe and since I don’t buy factory farm eggs, these eggs are like little gifts of gold each day! I am that much closer to my homesteading goals of self sufficiency and I do save money by having my own eggs and selling the excess.
Choose Chickens– In a few weeks it is time to go to the nearest feed store and pick out your girls and place them on order. You could do mail order as well but since I have a feed store a few blocks away, I’ll let them order the babies for me. This year I am getting Aracaunas, Marans, and Buff Orpingtons. Like expecting parents, we are very excited! Aracaunas lay Easter eggs, Marans lay dark chocolate eggs, and Buffs are lovey and cute and good layers. When we went to visit my friend who has an alpaca farm (that post is this Friday), she showed me her Marans. She let me hold and keep the most beautiful dark chocolate egg. I cradled it and stared at it in awe until Doug wryly said, “It’s not real chocolate!”
Chicken Motel– Now you need a house for the chickies. You could build one, there are many great plans out there, (thank goodness there was already one here!) or you can buy a ready made one. The girls just need the house to lay eggs in and to sleep in. It’s been so terribly cold here, I do feel sorry for the chickens down the block. They have a house that is three foot by one foot and it seems a little small when the ladies are inside more because of the cold. Ours is 10×10 and for only five chickens, it’s a mansion. My friends use their shed as a coop. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to house the girls. Just make sure they are safe, nothing can dig under or get through the door at night, and you are all set.
Chicken Beds and Nests– Apparently chickens do not sleep in their nests as cartoons falsely led me to believe. They sleep up higher in the coop. There is a shelf my girls sleep on, all huddled up together. I have seen some that use 2x4s to create little perches across the coop. I put down old, vintage vegetable crates for their nests. Carefully I designed their coop so they could lay eggs in style. They all lay in one corner, in between all of the cute boxes!
Chicken Food- We borrowed a feeder that you pour the feed in the top and it pours down into their tray. We still use that, it works well. I buy organic feed. No use feeding the girls genetically modified corn and who know what else. It will transfer through the eggs to me and organic feed will keep the ladies and my family healthier. It is only a couple bucks more. A $25 a bag will last me about a month and a half. My piggy cats and dogs cost a lot more than that and they don’t lay eggs!
Chicken Water- We borrowed a waterer that you fill upside down, then clumsily fasten on the bottom that serves as the water bowl, quickly turn it upside down as the water comes streaming into the ravine, curse as it wasn’t really fastened and the water is all over your shoes, and carry the ton back to the chicken coop. I now use a mixing bowl. Yes, a mixing bowl. I keep it under their light so that the water doesn’t freeze.
Chicken Bedding- I learned some very interesting things when I went to see Joel Salatin. One, I could not phantom why my coop smelled like cat boxes that hadn’t been scooped in two weeks. Ammonia is not my favorite smell. Turns out that using straw creates this lovely aroma. That is all I had ever heard of or read about using! Pine shavings were recommended. They are cheap and a bag covers the whole coop floor. Now, instead of cleaning out the coop every few weeks as I was doing, one is supposed to leave it over the winter. Just keep adding on layers. The heat from the future compost helps keep the coop snug and the layers begin to break down so that by spring, when you dig out all the layers, you will have wonderful compost! Since the pine shavings would make my pile too acidic, I have now started layering, one month straw, the next month pine, and so forth. This will create a nice blend of nitrogen for my compost pile in the spring. On particularly cold days, the chickens will burrow into the bedding to keep warm.
Chicken Playground- The chickens have a fenced in area to keep them safe from predators. It is made from t-posts and chicken wire with bird netting on top when the snow isn’t knocking it down. I think the best fencing if one can afford it is dog kennel fence. If a large dog can’t get out of it, a large coyote can’t get in! The girls need to wallow in the dirt. When I first saw this spectacle I thought Ethel was having a seizure. Apparently not, they just enjoy a good roll in the dirt. It gets the bugs off of them and gets them to lower areas of soil to find their favorite snack, bugs!
Now that you have a basic concept of how easy it would be to add chickens to your household and I have now helped you avoid annoying all your friends with rapid fire questioning, you are free to start finding chicken breeds! Next week we’ll talk about bringing babies home and how to care for them in infancy. Cute little buggers, you’re going to love them!