Homestead Chickens

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.

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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!

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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.

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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 

 

 

 

The Very Bad Farmgirl (and does anyone want goats?)

I research everything that I do, I just don’t always fully prepare.  While reading about what happens to meat chickens when you let them live past their designated eight weeks, I learned that they can just drop dead, have heart attacks, and their own legs can break under their immense weight.  “Oh, that sounds terrible,” I said.

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I think Bob broke his leg.  Maybe it’s his toes.  Either way, his giant body is hobbling slow and painfully.  He looks like an old pirate with a peg leg.  He waits for me in the coop so that I will carry him to the water.

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This is a very docile, sweet breed, so it is hard not to get attached.  I know I am not being very humane right now.  I could splint his leg (I once made a neck brace for a very injured chicken and I have healed broken legs in my work as an herbalist in the past.) but I am unsure as to what is actually broken.  Vets aren’t really trained in chicken care and I don’t have hundreds of dollars to see one anyway.  I could load them all up and take them to be slaughtered, which would honestly be the sensitive and sensible thing to do.  But I just can’t.  Nor can I wield an ax and do it myself.

This makes me a very poor farmgirl.  Or maybe a very bad rancher.  Either way, I lack that certain spirit of nonchalance and steel that would make Bob’s pain be swiftly dealt with.

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Does anyone want goats?

I was asked yesterday via text if I knew anyone who wanted the goats.  I am in the city, so I know I can’t.  I actually am not sure if I do know anyone that is at a place to take four (maybe more) goats.  “Why?” I responded.  Because they are going to grow hemp and they don’t want the goats eating it.  Profit.  Farm finance.  The trend.  Goats are out.

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“We will just process them if we can’t sell them.”

Besides the fact that I doubt five year old goat tastes very good, this really zinged me because I hand raised those goats.  Bottle fed them every two hours.  Ran a veritable goat nursery while they had their house built.  Those were my goats.

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This makes me a very bad farmgirl.  A fact that makes my living in the city seem reasonable even though we want to get back on a farm.  We are not good at trimming hooves, or dealing with death, or causing the death.  We are also not good at being 100% vegan, which then makes us hypocritical and yet, I somehow do not have that filter to be a proper farmgirl.  Maybe because I was raised in the city.  Maybe because I was never around the in’s and out’s of a farm growing up.

But I will need to make a decision regarding Bob.

The Life of Cornish Cross Chickens (on our farm)

I think my husband thought I was crazy as we stood outside in our pajamas, me with a walking stick, at 2:00 am.  This morning, I even googled the sound a raccoon makes just to make sure I wasn’t actually hearing a cat fight.  But I have lived in the country, I know what raccoons sound like and they were definitely outside my window.  But they were long gone by the time we adrenaline rushed it outside, thanks to Gandalf.

The raccoons surely heard about the amazing buffet we were putting on.  I don’t bother closing the chicken door at night because Gandalf is outside.  But, he is not in the chicken yard so the raccoons could have braved up and had quite a feast.  The Cornish girls and their Basset hound-sized boyfriend can’t get up on to the shelves so they are just sitting there in a clump waiting to be chicken a’ la gross.

Last week I went out to the coop and found Dixie.  She was the smallest of the Cornish cross chickens we rescued.  She had somehow died on her back.  Bob (the rooster) sat sweetly next to her.  She had no trauma, she was just dead.  Her vent was clogged, so she probably died of toxicity.  There was no rigor mortis yet, but I still was barely able to pull her from under the shelf because of how heavy she was.  Her legs wouldn’t touch, so I couldn’t use them to help me move her into a bag.  The glamour of a farm wife, I tell you.

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Cornish Cross chickens were developed to be broilers.  At five to eight weeks old, they are processed and become the adorable Cornish hens one might find in the grocery store.  I seem to have imagined that Cornish hens were some type of miniature breed.  Well, now the chickens are five months old.  They are grossly huge.  Their legs are splayed so when they run, they wobble.  They can’t reach their backsides to preen, so we may lose others in the vent-clogged battle.  They don’t seem to have any natural chicken behaviors, like scratching, dust bathing, or running.  I have moved their water thirty feet from the coop to encourage walking.  They are a sad lot.  It is terrible that we humans have done this to a really cool species.

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Bob is a handsome fellow.  His chest is body builder ginormous and shaped like a heart.  He tries to chase the ladies but he can’t catch them.  My hen (honest to God) was crowing one morning trying to teach the young lad but alas, he only croaks and seems to be too tired to crow.

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I am astounded at the difference between my laying hens and the meat chickens.  Perhaps it wasn’t kind to keep them alive after all, but they do enjoy the sunshine and they got a pass.  Living as one of my chickens isn’t too bad of a life.  They bark like dogs and are the size of turkeys.  They have very sweet temperaments.

I will probably stick to the petite laying hens from here forward.  It’s too sad to see these giants trying to be chickens.  But there is still nothing better than sitting out in a lawn chair on a warm evening with a drink watching the comedy show.  Chickens are nothing if not hilarious.