Chickens

“Nine Chickens and a Baby”… If I ever wrote a book about raising chickens, that’s what I’d call it.  It was the last weekend of June back in 2008. We were converting the dog pen into a coop for our first ever batch of chickens and I was very very pregnant.  I had already decided to quit my job, I was just waiting for Julian and the chickens to arrive, which they did he same very weekend.  We had the pen converted, Paul purchased the nine young chickens from a vegetarian friend as a favor and brought them home in our spare dog kennel. Seven Speckled Sussex cockerels (young roosters) and two pullets (young hens) arrived, and were released into their new home.  Although Julian was due until August 1oth,  that very same day my water broke while eating dinner! We didn’t even have a bag packed!

"Lucky" Our Speckled Sussex Rooster

"Lucky" Our Speckled Sussex Rooster

Julian was taking his time getting all the way into this world, and I spend a little more than a day at hospital waiting for labor to start, wondering how my baby chickens were doing.  In the wee hours of the morning on July 1st, he was finally born!  He was almost six pounds, and doing well, considering he was several weeks early. He spend his first 11 days in the NICU before we could bring him home, but I knew all would be well when he pulled out the feeding tube the first day. It’s very hard work, pumping milk in the middle of the night, driving to the hospital for two to three feedings every day, and soothing an anxious older brother who was only allowed once into the NICU once to see his new brother!

The Layer Coop

The Layer Coop

But back to the chickens… we were all home together soon enough, and Julian and I spend warm mornings together in the shade, watching the chickens forage. They were quite timid at first, but they soon began to associate us with food. The fastest way to a chicken’s heart is with food!  I’ve never been around live chickens before, so it was very amusing to watch them forage and hunt for bugs, like a miniature pack of dinosaurs.  When we dug the garden, we would call them over and toss them grubs over the fence.  It’s very much true that Chickens are attracted to the color red. They would inspect the car seat and peck at the red plastic parts, but they never pecked him. Of course I never gave them the chance.  One morning I was startled by a big fat hairy brown spider climbing on my chair. I jumped up out of the chair, and then called the chickens over and they gobbled him up!

We decided not to name the Chickens, but they have such personality we had to.  Crooked Foot had one mangled foot, either a birth defect or injury right after birth. He would walk and run, but perching was a little hard for him. He was the head honcho of the roosters, but since he was not prime breeding stock, we decided to keep Lucky as our Big Daddy, instead.  The hens were Hina and Henrietta.  When Summer turned to Fall, we built another coop, one with roosts and nest boxes and moved them over.  We also decided to butcher six of the roosters, because our poor hens were being over mated, so we were down to three.  My friend Matt also gifted me with 24 fertile Leghorn eggs in September, and silly me I hatched them in an incubator.  I had to turn them every day, and on the morning of November 1st, they were rocking around, peeping and zipping! Vincent and I were so excited! These were our first hand raised yellow fuzzy cute chicks!  Since it was winter, we put set them up in the bath tub, and there they lived for about 2 months.  I will admit, having them in the house got old very quickly. We moved them out with the rest of hens in January and put up some lights for heat.

And then we got our first eggs!! The two speckled Sussex hens that we started with began to lay little tiny eggs! It was

Nine Week Old Chicks

Nine Week Old Chicks

just two a day, so not enough for breakfast, but I saved them up all week and have them for a big Saturday morning feast! I began to save up the shells to feed back to the chickens for calcium and I got Vincent involved with that process.  I wash them, and dry them, and he crushes them with a potato masher and take it outside for the hens to eat.  You do have to be careful though, because if they realize they are eating egg shells, they can go canabalistic and eat their own egg!!  When the leghorns started laying in the spring, we  had enough eggs to share on occasion. I picked up an egg cook book at Goodwill and I began cooking all kinds of things with eggs, from quiche to rice pudding.

Vincent Doing His Chores

Vincent Doing His Chores

We butchered our leghorn roosters once we realized they weren’t going to get any bigger. They are quite scrawny, as they are an egg layer breed. This time we cut them into parts to make them fit in the freezer better.  Our meat processing capabilities are limited by freezer space.  If we ever did do a meat flock, we would need another refrigerator.  Instead we decided to get some Rhode Island Reds, and we found a local farmer who was selling 9 week old chicks and we bought 10 for $40. The best part is that they were old enough to sex, and out of the 10, 9 were hens!

We have had a few losses due to natural causes, and our neighbor’s dog ate several hens this past fall, so we had to stop letting the Chickens free range. We decided to connect the two coops together to give them more space, but ultimately we plan on building a “Chicken Tractor” which is a enclosed coop that you move every morning to a new patch of green grass. This way they can still forage and eat greens, but they are less likely to get eaten by my neighbor’s dog. It’s also better for the yard, as chickens kept in one spot will destroy the grass eventually, and as they are moved every day they leave behind just the right amount of chicken manure to keep the yard healthy.  With the additional Rhode Island Reds we have plenty of eggs!! Now Vincent collects the eggs using a golf ball basket that we purchased at a yard sale this past spring!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Hey, Liz-

    Love your site! I did research chicken tractors. I have plenty of room to build a permanent coop. Are the hens happier when they can change the view? I plan to get a coop or tractor built in the next few weeks. Can you help me get a few hens to get started? I remember you mentioning that you were breeding new chicks? I’m totally new at raising eggs, so I have a lot to learn yet!

    Diana (from UU)

    Reply

    • Chicken tractors have the advantage of providing pasture to the chickens. They eat grass and bugs, but if you leave them in one spot for long, they will kill all the grass. Plus, moving them around the property will fertilize it, and keep the parasite load down to a minimum. It’s just plain healthier for them. I only plan on using the CT in the spring, summer and fall, and then in the winter they go into the stationary coop, where there is electricity to keep the lights on and the water heated. I’ll let you know how the hatch goes, and your best bets art to get a copy of “Storey’s Guide to Chickens” and ask questions at http://www.backyardchickens.com . Thanks for visiting my blog! See you at church!
      QH

      Reply

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