Top Ten Things You Should Know Before Getting Chickens
1. They don't really stink if you have four or less even in the heat of summer.
2. You have to lock them up every night and let them out every morning. If you are on vacation someone has to do it for you.
3. They will die and if your kids (or you) can't handle the circle of life and possible carnage this may not be your cup of tea. Don't become too attached to them.
4. They stop laying eggs in the winter (or dramatically decrease production)
5. They don't lay for at least six months if you raise them from chicks
6. If you let them roam around your yard the poop will get everywhere and they will mess up your flower beds
7. They won't really save you any money, but if you sell the eggs you might break even.
8. It is easy to relax when you look outside and see chickens pecking around.
9. There is a big difference between eggs you buy at the store and eggs from your own chickens.
10. Don't spend a lot of money in the beginning. Try to do it on the cheap before making a real commitment.
Eleven years ago I told my husband I wanted chickens. My husband is not a gardener, a farmer, or a lot of other things for that matter. He is THE BEST dad, Blazer fan, teacher, and deal finder. Anyway, it took eight years of begging, but I finally convinced him to let me get some chickens. In fact one day he said, "Why don't we go get some chicks today?" I was in the car before he finished the sentence.
Three years ago we purchased our first batch of chicks. They were cute, cheep (haha), and not too much work. Here is the nitty gritty of chicken rearing:
The Purchase- We bought four chicks from a local farm store for $2.99 on April 2nd. I wanted Americaunas (they lay green and blue eggs). We kept them in the garage for the first month or so in a big Rubbermaid trough. We put wood pellets (the kind you use in pellet stoves) in the bottom of the trough. We also purchased a little chick feeder, waterer, chick food and a few other chick supplies. All told this part of the investment cost us about $40. They had to have a warming light for the first few weeks. The kids loved to hold them and play with them. They were angels. We cleaned the trough out about once a week (more often when they got a little bigger).
Moving Out- After about six weeks of living in our garage they got too big. We moved them outside to their first coop. I picked up a plastic Rubbermaid doghouse off of Craigslist for $10 and rigged a roosting bar inside. We placed the coop inside a cyclone dog kennel we had purchased for $50 on clearance at Fred Meyers. In hind sight I wish we would have purchased a taller one. The one we have is only four feet tall. We covered the top with corrugated metal I picked up off Craigslist. At first this worked out well, but lets just say bending down to get into the coop on a regular basis was a bit annoying. When my back wasn't feeling great it was a plain old hassle. The chicks grew quickly and by July we were looking for eggs. Guess what? They don't lay them for a good six months after they hatch. We waited and waited and waited. Finally, in mid-October they started laying. The eggs were delicious and the chickens were fun to watch and care for. We learned that cleaning out the coop once a week was fine, but we could go two weeks between really good cleanings. We also learned it was a pain to go on vacation because someone had to come over and let them out in the morning and put them away at night. Guess what? Not everyone is a fan of chickens.
We are blessed to have a half acre in a Suburban neighborhood. We also are lucky to have an in ground pool. This is kind of a big thing in Oregon where it rains A LOT. Soooo, in the summer we have a constant flow of visitors. When chickens run around they poop. When they poop on the grass it gets on your feet. When it gets on your feet it gets in the house, or the pool. As a result the chickens are cooped up in the summer and we let them "free range" in the fall, winter and spring. I enjoy watching them run around the yard. It is even better when I walk outside and they begin following me.
The First Winter- One morning after a big party I went outside to find carnage. I won't go into details, but lets just say I ran into the house screaming. My husband jumped out of bed and ran outside. He thought one of the kids had been killed or something. He soon figured it out and retrieved the bodies of two ladies and buried them. The first tough lesson is don't get too attached to your chickens. I had forgotten to lock the coop up and in the middle of the night two chickens left the coop (Maybe they heard a sound? We are still not sure) and were killed through the fence. I have never forgotten to lock the coop again. Fortunately our kids were spending the night at grandmas and didn't see the crime scene. After this I keep an emotional distance from the chickens.
Year Two- In March of this year I purchased a new wooden coop. I also moved my coop and kennel to a new location. I devised a better roofing system and area for the ladies. We knew now we were in this for the long haul. I guess that is sound advice. Don't spend a bunch of money at first; wait a year to see if chicken farming is really up your alley. After a year you will know and if you decide to invest more great. If not, you haven't spent a ton for kicks and giggles.
Here is the current location of the coop...
After the loss of two ladies we decided not to get chicks since they take so dang long to begin laying. Instead we bought two hens who had recently started laying. This time we bought an Australorp and a Plymouth Rock Barred. In May when we opened the pool for the year the hens were again cooped up much to their dismay.
Taking a dust bath next to the house...
They love my rose bed for some weird reason.
This year- We made it through last summer with three ladies. One of our original Americaunas, Irene, a Plymouth and a Rhode Island Red. This fall the Rhode Island started acting funny. She was holding out her wing and walking sideways. I researched and found a few different things it could be. All of the possible diagnosis were serious and in my opinion not much could be done for her. I wasn't going to pay my vet $35 for a visit to tell me that. A new laying hen costs $12. Do the math. I had my neighbor euthanize her and we buried her.
We made it through the winter with two ladies. Irene and Dottie. They stopped laying for three months (this is normal in the winter), but recently started up again. They have a bad habit of finding new places to lay eggs. Their current nest is under the deck in a pile of leaves. We are planning on getting two new ladies (maybe three) in a few weeks. My goal for this summer is to move the coop closer to house. I have realized in the winter it can be freezing at 6:45 when I go let them out of the coop. I want to build a new surround for the coop that is covered and safer. We go out of town on weekends a lot and this would make it easier while we are gone.
There is a lot I have left out. I can certainly address the day to day basics of chicken rearing. Is it easy? Yes. Is it money saving? Not really. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Feel free to shoot me questions. I love to talk chickens.