So far in this homesteading series we have covered growing crops, finding land, and deciding between country and city homesteading. So, now let’s talk about the quintessential dream of a homestead; chickens! They make an ordinary house in the city feel like a farm. They provide lots of colorful eggs and they replace cable television. All you need is a lawn chair and a drink in the evenings and watch them run and dirt bathe. It’s hilarious.
Now, I can be pretty sassy when I think I am right. (Aren’t I always right?) But I will be the first to admit when I am wrong. And I was wrong. Let me swallow my pride right quick. Ahem, okay, well, I have been a vegetarian/vegan for the better part of thirty-three years and have been pretty adamant and downright pushy about the health benefits and a utopia society. I realize that every culture since the beginning of time has consumed animal protein. I realize that cultures without access to animal protein usually have nutritional deficiencies. I realize that the environmental impacts of animal husbandry and our own health are caused by factory farms, not the small, local ranch or fishing hole. Getting soy fed hamburger from New Zealand and salmon from farms is a really great way of screwing up the earth and body’s health. Trucking in out of season produce and processed soy products aren’t so great either. I recognize that keeping meat chickens so long on a perfect urban farm was to cause pain and suffering to them. Death is quick and is not necessarily a negative to the party affected. Five ten pound chickens came back to me without pain. The rooster no longer crying in the corner of the coop with broken legs. My daughter was overjoyed to receive one for food. It will feed her family for a week! They are sweet and dopey and then they are food. I get that now. Now on to chicken husbandry!
Chickens- You can keep laying hens and get close to 300 eggs a year from one. They produce eggs for two years pretty good and then start to decline. They produce a certain amount of eggs and there is no tricking them into having more. I haven’t had a chicken live longer than three years, though I have heard they can. You can keep meat chickens and keep them for ten weeks then send them to camp. They can all be kept together.
Home- They need a sturdy house. A shed or designed coop works great with a sturdy fenced in yard. Everyone (dogs, raccoons, hawks, skunks, coyotes) loves chicken dinner, so you must close the door to the coop each and every night! The girls put themselves to bed at dusk.
Yard- Forget the Country Living cover photos of chickens in the kitchen (they poop) or luxuriating amongst plants (they will eat every one of them), they just need some good foraging space to dust bathe and eat bugs and what greenery they haven’t already eaten.
Food- Free feed them organic chicken feed and every day give them a few scoops of organic scratch for treats. They love slightly off veggies and fruit and leftovers. Feed them back their own eggs shells crushed for calcium. Give them oyster shells if they need stronger shells. Always keep fresh water available.
Chicks- When you bring home your peeping box of joy, place them into a plastic bin with a little shredded newspaper or straw, a little feeder of organic chick starter, and another one of water. Have the heat lamp on the edge of the box. They should be at a cozy 95 degrees. If they hover in the far corner away from the lamp, they are too hot, if they huddle under it, they are too cold. You want to adjust the heat lamp so they are running freely and pile up wherever. Dip their beaks into the water to teach them to drink. Raise the heat lamp a little each week, lowering the temperature ten degrees a week until it matches the outdoor temps. By then they will be jumping out looking for food and fun.
I have been writing and speaking about chickens for over six years now. You can read through any of my articles under Animals/Chickens for laughs and info. This article was published in the newspaper some years ago. You may be surprised at some of the chicken facts! 13 Things the Ladies Want You To Know