As you may have heard through the Facebook page, I adopted a pair of chickens on Wednesday. As little as a week ago, the plan had been to hold off on chickens until next spring to give us time to finalize our mini-orchard and the gobs of other things around the ol’ homestead.
And then we found out Nick’s job wasn’t as secure as we had assumed and then my sister and brother-in-law said we could have their coop and enclosed run and all the feeder/waterer stuff for free because they weren’t doing chickens this year.
Suddenly squeezing chickens onto this springs To Do List seemed to make more sense. We were contemplating what chicks to get (Buff Orpingtons were our frontrunners) and had ordered our copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens (The Chicken Bible, we were told repeatedly) in anticipation of a gradual, book-assisted learning curve that would result in cute fuzzy chicklets sometime in late April.
And then my friend Fruit Lady came over with her latest find: a Craigslist ad for a 10 month old Buff Orpington hen from a guy who was downsizing his flock. While I deferred and hesitated, Stacy just called the chicken owner and handed the phone off to me. I got the details, and talked him into parting with another chicken, an older but still laying Barred Rock, because I didn’t want the Buff to get lonely.
We were in the car within the hour on our Great Chicken Adventure.
The guy who sold me the hens was incredible. He keeps a small chicken flock and rabbits. Check out what he has built, it looks like a petting zoo:
Here’s his coop. The roosting poles inside are birch branches. Chicken palace! And it was so clean – no smell at all.
Here I am with my new Buff!
We brought the Barred Rock and the Buff home in the old cat carrier. They looked cozy in there but seemed just fine for the ride. Hey, if they were factory birds we’d have crammed 4 more of them in the cage!
Stacy helped me with a mad-dash conversion of the greenhouse into a temporary chicken holding area. I had 20 minutes before I had to pick up my daughter off the bus and get to work, so we worked with found objects around the yard. The girls seemed very happy with the weeds and frisee in the greenhouse beds.
They settled in just fine. My daughter has named the Buff ‘Cheddarball’ and the Barred Rock ‘Zebra’.
And the next morning when I went out to change their water, look what I found! There was another one, too, actually, but it was cracked and the shell was really thin. I got them both out of there asap, the first for me to have for breakfast and the second so the chickens couldn’t try it for breakfast.
Nom, nom, nom! That white basically didn’t spread. Now that’s a fresh egg.
Ok, I love my chickens. They’ve already rid my greenhouse of grubs and weeds. They’ve already given me breakfast. They seems pretty easy going, though the Buff is kind of a bagawker whenever I come around to check on them. I’m hoping that settles down as she gets settled in her new home and gets used to us.
But since I’m new to chickens, I would love some reader advice on how to keep them happy and healthy.
Do you have chickens? Talk to me about breed, temperament and egg production. Although we initially really wanted the Buff Orpington and got the Barred Rock basically to keep the Buff company, I’ve totally fallen for Zebra. She’s mellow and gorgeous! She even lets us pet her.
I would also love coop advice: I am thrilled to be getting the free coop, but most of the designs I see have the coop portion elevated with a run underneath. How would you modify the above coop and run to best suit chickens? Keep in mind we don’t want to spend a huge amount this year. I’m thinking maybe I can elevate the coop over the run and build a separate cantilevered nesting box deal out one side of the coop, so the chickens have more dedicated roosting and nesting areas. Thoughts?
Anything else I should know about chickens? I know about BackyardChickens.com. Any other great sites or resources you guys recommend?
I’m so excited about my chickens! Can you tell?
Arg! My comment! Don't know what happened to it?!?
Anyway, basically what I said is congrats on your beautiful girls. Our coop is off the ground. You could probably cut some 4×4 posts and attach them to the bottom of the dog/hen house then modify the run.
Our coop never smells bad – we use a deep litter method in there with dried leaves as the base. As they poop, we add more layers of leaves. We clean the coop out 2-4 times per year and the poop is pretty broken down (and dusty) but totally ready for the compost pile. We found out recently that we're unusual in this around here – most people do other things, so experiment. I don't think there's a wrong way. And this has worked for us and our five hens. 🙂
Congrats again and have fun!
Kris Mo says
Wow – congratulations! I can't offer advice, as I'm planning to try chickens for the first time this season. I look forward to hearing all about your girls as you settle into chicken parenthood. Awesome!
I am new to chickens as well so don't have much advice. The coop/run I got does have the coop off the ground. The chickens can go under it during the day, which they do a lot. You can see a picture here if it helps: http://urban-homesteading.com/animals/backyard-chickens.html. I have just one laying at the moment, as they were young when I got most of them. The laying one is older as the guy swapped her out for a rooster I had.
Congrats on the new feathered members of the family – they are beautiful! Let's see, advice…make everything bigger than you originally intend because chicken keeping is addictive 🙂 The folks at BYC have just about every bit of knowledge you will ever need, but take it all with a grain of salt – there are so many different ways to house/raise/feed chickens that what is gospel for one person is completely crazy for someone else. I always read at three threads on any topic I'm looking for info on and then go from there LOL! Most of all – Enjoy them! We call it chicken TV here and have been known to sit outside with a glass of wine and just watch them being birds for an hour or two – I swear it is a stress reliever!
Great work! As I said on FB, those breeds are in our very small flock as well, though I went the chick method. My advice is to read all you can, Chickens for Dummies is good too. As for the thin shell, it's likely stress from the move, but could be a calcium deficiency. Oyster shell dust is a good commercial way to get them more calcium, though getting them on layer feed will help too. I'm also told you can crush the egg shells and bake them. Then you can give them to the birds. Any calcium supplement should be in their coop at all times as free choice.
As for the broken egg, if you could have slavaged it, you could have cooked it up for the girls. They love eggs, and if they're scrambled, they don't recognize them as what they lay. That's the beauty of ominivors.
Lastly, as you know, I'm book smart and otherwise ignorant. Enjoy the experience! Congrats!
My 3 hens (a Black Australorp, a red sex-link, and an amber six-link) were hatched a year ago today!! They're as much pets as egg-producers, and we enjoy them so much. I built our coop from a small Rubbermaid shed — it's on a plywood platform 2 feet high, but I never enclosed it because they love foraging all over our (fenced) back yard all day. I included a slide-out "poop board" under their nighttime roost, which I scrape off every day right into the compost heap. That collects a large proportion of their "output", and most of the rest is spread out over the lawn and planting beds. We still get a physical newspaper, so I shred it and use that for bedding on the floor of the coop. I put in a 6-inch layer of it back in June, and it's been there ever since, and there's almost no odor (you have to actually stick your head inside the coop to smell anything at all). A couple of times we've had a Kansas thunderstorm that blew some rain inside and soaked some of the newspaper, so I just scooped it out , added it to the compost, and threw in some new shreds. It couldn't be easier! I was going to make them an actual nest box to lay in, but they started laying before I got to it — now they just lay in one corner of the coop in a little hollow they made in the newspaper shreds, and all I had to do was add a door in the side of the coop above their "spot" to reach in and get the eggs. Brenda is absolutely right about BYC and how to use it — and also about Chicken TV!
April Alexander says
Congrats! We just got our chicks about 3 weeks ago, so I'm a total newbie or I would offer advice. In fact, I just heard their "distress call" and went in to find they are out of food. Off to the feed store!
Another great book is Alanna Moore Backyard Poultry Naturally – has all organic, herbal, home made recipes for keeping chooks healthy and happy.
Roasted Garlicious says
when we had the 'girls' we gave them oystershell.. u can buy it in bulk in feedstores usually, it's not that expensive, they seem to know just how much to eat and they're eggshells are much better… just toss some on the ground where they peck, they'll do the rest… i love hearing about ppl with chickies 😀 i do miss them a lot.. one day one day!!
Cute chickens! We have put off getting chickens until we get more of the gardens sorted out too, but am secretly hoping we'd be forced into doing it by some sort of circumstances like this!
heather w says
I don't have chickens and recently realized I am stressed enough finding a catsitter when I go away — finding care for chickens would be too much. Until such time as I have a partner (who doesn't travel?) or housemates, no chickens for me. Anyway, I just saw this entry on Lyanda Lynn Haupt's blog about Buff Orpingtons: http://thetanglednest.com/2011/03/buff-orpington-our-favorite-bakcyard-chicken-breed/
Green Bean says
Congratulations!! We have a Buff Orpington and a Barred Rock too. Also, a Welsummer and two Cochins. The rock is our friendliest and smartest chicken. We adore her.
For the thin shell, put oyster shells in with the girls. It will help harden up the eggshells. Black oil sunflower seeds and scratch are fun special treats and of course we pass most of our scraps through the chickens. Have fun with your girls.
Oh, Oh, Oh! Come over! I'd love to talk chickens any time! You can bring the kids too!
Hm…I agree with Brenda. Since chickens tend to lay 6 eggs every 7 days, figure out how many eggs you roughly need a day, how many chickens you'd need for that amount, and DOUBLE IT! Same for chicken coop size and run. Chickens are so addictive it should be illegal. I've had chickens for three years now, and when we started my husband said 8 chickens max. No ifs, ands or buts. Well, he's now in the process of enlarging our run so we can accomidate 16 birds, which is the max we can fit into our chicken coop. (Granted, we have a couple of acres to play with, so I'm sure that in a suburban setting you guys wont be able to get too out of control.)
If you let your girls forage around your yard, they will eat lots of bugs and slugs for you, but they will also eat plants that you really don't want them to. Make sure you section off those parts of your garden to keep them out. Do let them have access to your orchard. They are supposed to eat bugs that want to eat your trees. Good luck with them!
The Mom says
I agree with whoever said that they are addicting. I started with 6 Buff Orpingtons that I was sharing with neighbors. They've now moved and I have 4 left. I just ordered 4 Rhode Island Reds and I'm expanding my coop set up.
I didn't get a book, but got most of my info off the internet. It's great for when you go out and see a weird problem that needs to be addressed. One of my best tips is to add real ACV to their water. It helps with keeping them healthy and keeps the bad tummy bugs at bay.
We have two Barred Rocks, one Ameraucana, and two Black Australorps (as well as two Cayuga ducks)in the Bay Area. As far as I'm concerned, you can't do any better than Australorps for egg production, heartiness, and personality. They are so sweet and friendly and personable!
I hope you love your chickens – I know I could never again be without them!
Be careful if you decide to get babies to add to your flock later, as the adults will peck them. You can wait until one of your layer hens goes broody and get fertilized eggs for her to sit, or raise the babies separately until they are big enough to take care of themselves.
Yay for chickens! Congratulations!
Earth Mama says
We had a small flock of chickens a couple years ago. Unfortunately we had to battle our township over it, lost, and had to rehome them. We had an Auraucauna, 2 Delawares, 1 Plymouth Barred Rock, and 2 Buff Orphingtons…out of the lot, our Barred Rock, named Charcoal, was hands down my favorite chicken. She was so sweet and loved to be cuddled by my kids, and would follow us around. I would definitely get another Barred Rock once we live somewhere where we can have chickens again. Happy chickening!
Want Less says
Backyardchickens.com is an excellent (err.. eggs-cellent?) site for endless info, advice, and answers to any question you can conjure up to toss around in the forum. If you like podcasts, The Chicken Whisperer is quite famous in the chicken world for those. (He's also recently published a book)
In addition to the book you mentioned, I also enjoyed Keep Chickens! by Barbara Kilarski, which I found in my local library. Chickens for Dummies is supposed to be good (I havent seen it in person yet) but it was done by some of the people at BYC and is pretty popular.
We have Black Copper Marans, Ameraucanas, Rhode Island Reds and Black Sex Links and they are definitely pets (who give us lots of eggs)! We've learned a lot through reading blogs and just jumping in and trying things… your chickens will end up teaching you just as much as any other source 😉
Beware, though. Chicken math will soon take over. If you don't know what that is yet, you will eventually… (*giggle*)
Ann Wurden says
I loved having my flock of girls, but currently do not have any as I've recently moved to a house in "town" and need to really evaluate how to go about it. Accourding to regs I can have 6 maximum.
I've had several breeds and do have favorites, but for my next small flock I think I might go with banties… I've been reading lately about them.
They are smaller, less mess, eat less, etc. two eggs equal one in recipes. I'm thinking this would be great for a small space.
also, have you seen a chicken tractor? a great way to get your girls out eating bugs and grubs but keep them contained in certain areas so they don't wipe out your garden areas.
You will find out any week spots in your coop and run if you have raccoons… be aware of that, they are nasty and strong preditors.
Have fun with your chickies, they do tend to become pets.
Calamity Jane says
hey, just wanted to make sure you found Harvey Ussary's wonderful site http://www.themodernhomestead.us/ which has lots of fantastic chicken info, much more "alternative" than the Storrey book, which is fine for basics, but very conventional. looks like he's got a book of his own coming soon.
Deep bedding won't be possible in your new coop, which is a shame. Saves lots of work. You might think about how to incorporate it in your next coop, after the chicken bug really bites and you realize you need to expand your flock to 25, like i'm planning to do when we move back….