Saturday, January 29, 2011

Year of the Chickens

So we've had our chickens for about a year now and I think it's time to fill everyone in on the process.

Isderf made us a great, raccoon proof (so far), chicken coop out of the same cedar we bought for our gardens. Raccoon proof is very important, as our neighbor has lost almost a dozen pheasants - the local bandit would reach in and grab them through the chain link, breaking their necks. This "one day" project - Isderf's words - turned into approximately two weeks of evenings and weekends, but that's okay because it's sturdy. It weighs a ton and there isn't much getting into this coop. The coop has a flap door that latches. The side opens up completely for cleaning, and the roof over the nesting box is hinged for easy egg retrieval.

We originally placed the coop up against the back of the garage, which is a bad place for it. After dealing with chicken poop all over my patio and chickens thinking they should roost on my back step, we lugged that thing out against the back fence. This worked really well during the summer. Once winter, and the cold, hit, those damn chickens were right back on my patio pooping all over the place.

Just a quick note: If you like clean, poop free backyards - don't get chickens. They poop more than a dog and smell worse. A plus is that you can put their feces in the compost bin, as long as you mix it with enough vegetation to break down. The bad part is that you won't ever have the same amount of compost as you've had in the past, as chickens eat through it and fling it everywhere!

The chickens and I would have arguments and I would run them off my patio, just for them to show up again when I left. Our poor dog won't even lay on the back step anymore - it's too gross. And I can just hear the smart asses now, "why don't you clean it." I do! During the summer I clean off the patio almost daily so that the kids don't smear it around and bring it into the house. The winter sees less cleaning, but it still gets done at least weekly.

Okay, enough about the mess. How about how fragile chickens are, especially with kids. We've been the proud owners of seven chickens - even though we only have 3, and we're legally only allowed to have three within the city limits. How do we do this you ask! Well, we have kids, so let's see if you can keep up with how this worked out.

-Purchased chicks 1, 2, 3 for Easter.

-Chick 3 died. I'm not a coroner, but I think it was due to strangulation.

-Replacement chick 4 arrives.

-Chick 4 has an extra leg hanging down its back side and no place to defecate from. How did we miss this you ask, well, we weren't exactly looking there!

-Chick 4 gets replaced with chick 5.

-Chick 1, 2, & 5 live happily together and get to go out into the great outdoors.

-One day, chicken 2 is found dead in the raspberries.

-We've also discovered that chicken 1 is a rooster. Luckily he's a young rooster and although he does crow, it sounds like a teenager dealing with his voice breaking! So rooster 1 gets prepped for the freezer and we're down to one chicken.

-This is when we call up a local chicken farm and buy two approximately the same age as the one we have left, thus arrives chicken 6 & 7.

Surprisingly, our kids took to butchering very well. They even wanted to see it's brain, which we're still not sure we found! I did make them go to the neighbors when we cut its throat and let it drain, after that it was a family affair. The poor rooster was young and gangly and went into our stock pot with our Thanksgiving turkey carcass to make stock.

Our chickens have been great for the kids and they are good with the kids too. One of them lets our kids catch it regularly and haul it around. Although she isn't as good about that since our daughter, J, hauled it up their play set and pushed it down the slide. You haven't seen anything until you see a chicken trying to run/fly down a slide - probably wished we hadn't clipped those wings.

So on to the eggs. Our chickens started laying eggs around August. As long as they get about 12-14 hours of sunlight a day, we get an egg a day from each of them. Now, if your chickens stop laying, there are a few reasons this might be.

1 - Not enough calcium in their diet, supplement with oyster shell.

2 - They're molting.

3 - Not getting enough sunlight, add a light to their coop.


You think I'm being funny. Our chickens are picky. If we keep taking their damn eggs, they'll hide them were we can't find them. It took us about two months of playing 'Find the Eggs' with our chickens before someone recommended putting a golf ball in their nesting boxes and leaving them there. The chickens can't tell the difference and they think the eggs are safe.

We found eggs in bushes and eggs in pine boughs left out after trimming. We went 8 days without finding an egg from one of our chickens, until I was weeding around one of our window wells and found them. The chicken had gotten into the window well and laid her eggs there, all 9 of them. I'm glad I found them before they completely rotted and broke!

We've got Pavlovian trained chickens. Every time I open the back door, they come running, trying to beat the dog to whatever leftovers we're throwing out! They're all pretty competitive and the dog does well with them, he only growls occasionally and the few times he's snapped at them they've moved fast!

They are entertaining to watch. Everything from chasing off squirrels that get too close to their feed to fighting over scraps with the dog. Watching them chasing after me when its time to pick raspberries and they peck at my shoes waiting for a handout to seeing them figuring out that they could jump and catch the raspberries usually out of their reach. Our whole family has enjoyed them and the process involved with raising them and collecting their leavings, all of them.

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