Be Prepared–Raising Chickens

With the current food uncertainty, a garden is essential. But if you’ve already got your garden in, you might want to think about a little light animal husbandry as well. There are lots of options along these lines, but if you’re tender-hearted like me, there’s only one real choice–chickens.

And when I say chickens, I really mean hens. Sex complicates your life, even if you’re not the one having it. I don’t need to deal with possibly aggressive roosters. Also, while many cities now allow small backyard hen coops, they still draw the line at cock-a-doodle-doers.

chicks

If you want hens, that usually means you start with chicks. I bought mine at the local feed store just before following the stay-at-home directive, but believe it or not, you can still get them by mail. One place that I know of is Murray McMurray Hatchery, which can ship you not only chicks, but ducks, turkeys, and quail.

The little fluffballs are absolutely adorable, but they grow fast. Trust me when I say that’s a good thing. I love my six, but as they get more active, they become a bathroom apocalypse. Young chicks need a 90 degree environment for their first week, although it can be dropped by five degrees for each week that follows. Since I lack a heated brooder in my garage, into the tub my little chickies went.

chicks 1 month old

These are mine, at one month old. Starting on the left, they are: Jenny, Marguerita, Nellie, Rosita, Anne, and Penny. The yellow ones are Buff Orpingtons, and the brown ones are Rhode Island Reds. Marguerita, the largest RIR, is the bravest, and she, Rosita, and Penny are the most affectionate. Jenny and Anne, the two biggest yellow hens, are too busy deciding who’s going to be the boss chicken, and Nellie is too nervous to be petted very much.

I’ve had parakeets before, which turned out to be surprisingly useful. Basically, I treat my chickens like large budgies. I press my hand against their chest to get them to step on it, and then I stroke their back feathers gently. They’ve gotten to the point that they sometimes vie for the attention. They’re really cute, and I’m very fond of them, but they’re also outgrowing their tub.

chicken coop

Fortunately, we’ve just finished their coop. It’s actually a chicken tractor, which is an odd name. It brings up a mental picture of chickens pulling a plow. But it’s really a mobile coop, so you can combine the advantages of free-ranging with the safety of an enclosure. Having built one, I’d say that like all compromises, it has limitations. Mine is 9 1/2 ft by 4 ft, so I could use ten-foot long pieces of two-by-four for the handle supports. My friend and I built it to be very sturdy, to discourage the many predators in our area (coyotes, raccoons, and hawks, among others). This also makes it very heavy. I’m going to be able to move it only on flat ground. Also, I wouldn’t build one for a flock bigger than my six. They’ve got 38 ft of run plus 16 feet of coop above, plus a little vertical space in the middle which has a perch, a swing, and a ramp. Maybe almost 60 ft of usable space, what with flying from the ramp to perches. That’s kind of a minimum for six chickens.

On the other hand, six chickens should be enough for most families, unless they’re very large. That should be two dozen eggs a week. : )

But as soon as I finish getting my garden in, I’ll need to also build them a more permanent coop. I need a perimeter that animals can’t dig under. Right now my little hens still spend the night in the tub, but later, predators may dig underneath to get into the run. As long as my chickies are locked in their coop, which has a solid wooden floor and walls, they’ll be safe. Still, that ties me into being home by sunset every day to close their door, which is okay for now, but not long-term. If I still lived in the suburbs, I’d just build a small permanent coop and run.

If you’re interested in learning more about chickens from someone who knows more than I do, I recommend Becky’s Homestead, on YouTube. Much of what I know I learned from her.

But raising chickens isn’t that difficult. They need access to food and water, as well as sunlight and shade. They need a safe place to roost at night, but they’ll go into it by themselves. All you have to do is close the door. They need diatomaceous earth added to their feed to keep down worms, and some grit to help them digest their corn. They’ll also need a nesting box to lay their eggs in and a run to get some exercise. That’s about it. Other than cleaning out the coop once a month or so, a lot of people spend maybe ten minutes a day with them. If you really want to automate, you can set it up with a door opener on a timer, and feeders and waterers that will allow you to leave for a week or so at a time. Dogs and cats are more time intensive.

I like birds generally, but one additional thing that attracted me to chickens is that they make a complete ecological circle if you have a garden. Chickens happily eat all the garden stuff you don’t want–carrot tops, the insides of bell peppers that you usually throw away, lettuce leaves that bugs have munched on, even weeds. And in return, they make terrific fertilizer for the plants.

And the timing is right–chickens hatch in the spring. If you’ve ever wanted chickens, now would be a good time to consider starting a small backyard flock. : )

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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13 comments on “Be Prepared–Raising Chickens
  1. Adele Marie says:

    Good luck with all the little ones, or not so little now. They all have their own personalities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like you’re doing what my sister is. Her chicks are in the garage until they grow enough to move into the coop. What fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great idea, Cathleen. I appreciate all the details and your mobile coop is perfect. When we make the move to Spokane next year, we will have room to raise chickens!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re always on top of things, Cathleen! 🙂 A great post for sharing… A neighbor raises hens. Nothing like fresh eggs and of course the chickens (I call them Ladies) are cute and curious at any age. Back in the day (1970s & 80s) when Dan and I arrived in Maine as “back to the landers,” we were into living the good life from the ground up. We had Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks and Bantams (all loved and named). Blondie and I were besties… Enjoy your “Girls”!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ann Coleman says:

    Good for you for getting your own chickens! That’s becoming more popular now, as it’s both fun and practical. My niece and nephew have chickens, and she loves them too. Especially the steady supply of fresh eggs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m looking forward to the eggs, of course, but I’m also really enjoying my hens now. I was hesitant about doing this, actually, as I worried that an additional responsibility would pressure me into being marginally functional, and that’s not something I can afford right now. But they’ve turned out to be a marvelous distraction. : )

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ha ha. Your girls look so funny in your bathroom, Cathleen. We considered chickens for eggs, but our neighbors are always giving us eggs, so we decided to let them keep it up. We still hope someday to travel (???). Once there’s a vaccine? Great post with lots of good how-to advice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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