Monday, November 2, 2009

Chickens? Delicious Eggs? Yes, this is where your food comes from.

For starters, I am far from an expert in housing any livestock or most animals for that matter. But gosh, I do love learning! If there is one barnyard animal to have, it's chickens.

This summer my wife and I received 4 chickens from a co-worker. Since I learn as I go, there were a few things I didn't think about.

How to protect against raccoons and possums?
How do I protect against hawks?
This chicken isn't looking so good, oh, they molt?
Does this feces indicate they are properly fed?
They do indeed where is this little chicken laying her eggs in my yard?
What is brooding?

The most helpful advice I have read or heard was "As soon as you understand that the chickens are dependent on you for protection, it gets easier." Hopefully this posting can help sway you in a direction you want to go with regards to chickens.

Without further ado here are our chickens,
They love tomatoes.

How do I house my chickens?I had a chicken coop that I did not lock up every night. After one early morning, 5 raccoons, pants that were on backwards, buying a hatchet and 2 gallons of milk from the grocery store at 5am (creeper!), I would recommend getting/building a chicken coop that can be locked up at night. This will help guard against raccoons and possums. It's easy to let them out in the morning and the chickens go to bed by themselves. Just remember to go out and lock them up.

How do I guard against hawks?Keep your chickens under a mesh or chicken wire. If you don't (like me) this one is tough and one that requires experimenting. Currently I have numerous CD's hung from a tree in their pen and an owl decoy I bought from Gander Mountain on discount for $10 because one eye was missing. I move the decoy every day and it kinda freaks out the chickens, but it has worked for a month now.

How many eggs do I get a day?
We get 1 or 2 a day. We have one chicken that is molting, one that is laying, and one that lays her eggs somewhere else. I randomly happen across a pile of eggs from the little one. For a family of two, this is perfect. We eat them during the week and cook a big breakfast on Saturdays with them. You will have to wash the eggs off and they may look weird at times. Part of seeing where my food comes from has included coming to terms with some funny situations. Chickens lay eggs through the same place they defecate. This means your eggs may have poo on them. This is no different from store bought eggs, just wash them off and enjoy.

My chicken is acting funny, is this normal?
I thought one of the chickens was sick for a week. Turns out she was brooding. She was in a daze, rarely ate and drank, and just sat in the coop like she was sitting on eggs. We just had to take her out of the coop from time to time so she would eat. In about a week or two she snapped out of it.

Will the city allow chickens?
I am lucky to live in a city that has an ordinance against "nuisance animals" and not chickens. This means no roosters. We have all hens. Talk to your neighbors beforehand, and offer them fresh eggs when you think they may be getting fed up with chickens making noise. Luckily my neighbor used to raise chickens as well, so they like them next door. They only really make noise when they lay an egg. I probably would too.

How much does the feed cost?
Layers mash, which last a few months costs $16 for a large bag. Oyster shells last forever and they are $6. Grit lasts a long a time and it's $7. I am sure there are cheaper solutions, but thats what I get. Our chickens are also let out a lot while we do yard work, so they eat plenty of bugs and grass. This is nice because bugs and grass are free. I like free.

Will I save money on eggs by having my own chickens?
No. You won't. You will however, be able to tell people that your chickens are properly cared for and give you eggs. The coop costs money. If you have free range chickens (like us), the fence costs money. The feed costs money. The feed and water containers cost money. Owl decoys cost money. Chances are you will break even eventually.

Overall, I don't regret getting 4 chickens. I was hesitant at first and spent a while talking with my wife about it. They are really easy to take care of and I love seeing where my food comes from. After watching how chickens are treated on farms, I love having fresh eggs that I know come from chickens that aren't abused.

P.S. If you throw tomatoes in the chicken pen from a distance, don't think your chickens will be smart enough to not run directly into the path of it.

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