When I became interested in chickens a few months ago I did a lot of reading. My husband calls me, "a one track mind." I like to think I am a good researcher. Either way, one of my favorite sources of information was to read blogs from other women who also took the leap into raising chicken. I think it is easy enough to say that backyard chicken keeping has become more then just one aspect of the urban agriculture movement. It has become part of many different movements involving regular people who want to know where their food comes from, and to be in control of some aspect of it. In a lot of cases, people who are passionate about the local food movement have started growing small gardens and raising chickens as a way to become greater involved. We support a local organic farmer through a CSA each summer, but being able to supplement this food with our own homegrown vegetables, herbs and eggs makes me feel not only part of a movement, but part of a push toward social change.
I can't tell you how many people, after finding out that we are raising chickens, will ask questions such as, "Are you going to eat the eggs?" I think we have become so far removed from what we are consuming that most people really don't even know how the items they are purchasing, get to the grocery store. When did we stop associating eggs in pretty plastic containers to the chickens that are actually laying them. Why should our children view chickens as animals they see in a zoo, instead of a pet that will give them a healthy daily reward for the food, water and nice clean home given in return. This is one of the reasons I want to continue writing about my experience raising chickens. If it weren't for the many other bloggers and website resources that wrote about their experiences, I might have continued thinking it was impossible to raise chickens in my own small backyard.
Over and over again you will find that the ladies who started My Pet Chicken, created one of the greatest resources for backyard chicken keepers around. That is where our girls came from and where we purchased our backyard coop. We got the "All-American Coop" which allows you to decorate and paint it however you like. Once my coop was all set up and ready I took a picture to share with the people at My Pet Chicken. Traci, the CEO and co-founder of the company, liked it so much she called me one day to see if they could use the picture on their site to inspire others. In return she was nice enough to send me a signed copy of her book and some treats for our girls. I can't say enough nice things about this company and it seems that many other people feel the same way, even our Martha! One of the first things I learned about chickens is that they all have their own personalities. I'll admit that I always thought of chickens as dumb animals that functioned instinctively the same way. On their first day home I quickly learned this is not the case. They are fun and interesting animals that have the ability to show affection like any other pet. The next three pictures are of our Weird Sisters who are easter eggers. In a few months we will get to see what color eggs they will lay and all our hard work will pay off in the form of organic, free-range, GMO and soy free eggs. Pretty nice, right?!
This is Phoebe who seems to be growing at a slower rate then the others. She is the smallest but definitely the loudest and most daring of the bunch. She spends all her time digging for bugs or exploring behind bushes away from the others. She will loudly proclaim that she doesn't like being held and is the only chicken that looks like she is wearing some heavy "date-night" makeup.
This is Luna and she is sweet, showy and sassy. Always has her tale feathers up and struts around as if she is in a pair of heels with a drink in hand. She is a great forager and loves to eat greens. She prefers the protection of her older sister Cara, and follows along with her wherever she goes.
This is Seline and she is quiet, calm and wise. She prefers to take the lookout role. She will watch the sky while the other girls forage and eat. Every so often when something bothers her she will give a little purr and the others will stop and look up until they determine everything is safe. We think her coloring makes her look like a hawk more then a chicken. She definitely has the quiet grace of a hawk.
And here is Sunny and Cara the two Red Stars. They have even more personality then the easter eggers and they are more likely to approach me. They will either climb up on my legs if I am sitting down, or sit on my shoulder for a better view. They put up with my boys more then the others, allowing them to pick them up and give them hugs. They are a week older then the easter eggers and will most likely start laying eggs much sooner.
I decided to put the girls outside because the weather has been warming up and their little brooder box became way too small and stinky. My kitchen and dinning room smelled like chickens so I decided it was time. The first night I tried, but brought them back inside because they looked cold. But the second night they were all sleeping soundly next to each other. As much as I loved them as baby chicks, I am so much happier they are outside. Every morning I head out to change their water and fill up their food dish. They get free-range time every afternoon and they are hysterical to watch. Our coop sits next to our garage so from my side window I can see what is going on without walking outside. A little feature I'm sure I will love in the winter time.
Here are a few things I have learned about chicks so far:
- They can EAT. In fact they can put a college boy to shame. I had to order 60 pounds of chick feed for the five of them for the recommended first eight weeks. They seem to be going through less of it now that they are outside and eating weeds and bugs, but they can sure eat. While they were in the brooder they would waste a ton of food by knocking in onto the floor. Now that they are older I have noticed less wasted food. You also have to provide them with properly sized grit when they start eating food other then the chick feed.
- Sometimes when chicks sleep they look like they are dead. Yes baby chicks actually lay on the floor, sort of like a dog does. They will stretch out their legs, little wings and have a floppy little head that will make them look like they are dead. They are also narcoleptic when they are little. They will be bouncing along cheeping and then the next minute you'll find them taking a nose dive to the floor and they will sleep standing up. At first I thought something was wrong but quickly learned this is just one of the reasons chicks are so much fun to watch.
- They smell. A lot. They smell like chickens and their poop smells worse. Making sure they have fresh bedding takes care of this, but I really didn't realize how much they smell. If you are not into cleaning up really stinky poop I suggest staying clear of chickens. Or small humans for that matter, but at least they will use a potty one day. Still waiting on my youngest to reduce the amount of poop I come in contact with each day.
- They get bored so making sure they have time outside their cage each day is essential. If they can't come out because of the weather you can provide them with treats to keep them entertained and happy.
- They move faster then a toddler on gummy bears. That action mode on your camera is a must. Those heads and feet are constantly moving and pecking. So if you want good pictures take a whole bunch so you have plenty to choose from.
- Their care is really only slightly more involved then caring for rabbits (I have two rabbits by the way). If I needed to I could leave them for a weekend with plenty of fresh water and food and not have to worry. For long trips I will need to find someone to check on them, refresh water, let them out to free-range and collect eggs. But I will see how that whole process goes when we get to that point. Right now since they are little and have plenty of room in their coop, I could easily see leaving them for a quick weekend trip.
I can just see a little Cara thought bubble saying, "What are fresh eggs?"
Did you also know that chickens need to take dust baths to keep their skin and feathers healthy and free of bugs. And it seem to be a communal thing, like the Romans. Dust baths are so much fun to watch. They lay on the ground and push the dust up into their feathers and then shake their bodies to get it all over. Then they rub their heads on the ground just like a dog rubbing his face in the grass. So much fun to watch and they seem to do it almost every day. They also take lots of time to clean and arrange their feathers throughout the day. I'm guessing that I am not the only person that has a fascination with watching animals clean themselves.
So that is as much as I have learned so far. I'll let you know how it goes and of course I'll be sharing those first egg pictures. The amount of effort that goes in to raising chickens is really quite easy. There is definitely a lot to learn, but after you have the basics down it becomes lots of fun. In my mind they are a "pet with benefits" and I would recommend anyone raising their own if they are interested. You don't need to have a whole farm to get enough eggs to feed your family. I'll be sure to let you know if these five will provide enough for my family of four each week, which I'm sure they will. Backyard chicken keeping is something everyone can do if you want to give it the time and effort. And I can tell you that my experience so far has been worth it (and we don't even get eggs yet!).