We have renamed this idea “How To Raise Chickens in Your Back Yard”
Chickens Should Get More Respect
We think of them as commodity protein, but these are some amazing creatures.
Granted, many would die out long before they reached maturity without human help, but that is a product of over breeding by humans.
The better original breeds, left to their own devices, find their own food and water, work out the pecking order, learn to hide when the hawk’s around and call it a day at sunset.
We have learned from them the ideas of enough work and a little play.
My mom used to laugh that my grandmother “went to bed with the chickens”. When we first bought the farm we had no television or other entertainment because we were sneaking over here from Atlanta for 3 day weekends. After working and eating supper, going to bed seemed like the next great thing to do… even if it was 8:00 p.m.
Got a Teenager with “self-doubt issues?” Get them a “Top Hat”chicken. These marvelous creatures look like they lost a bet at a fashion show. Their legs are too long, their voices too high and their plumage looks like a really “bad hair day.” But they are spunky little fighters that don’t take bullying by the upper-classmen.
Here’s a bit of chicken trivia. Birds with white ear lobes lay white eggs.
The Americanas pictured above lay green eggs. The Rhode Island Reds lay brown eggs.
The eggs in the store have a “Best By” date that can be 45 days after the eggs were packaged. That doesn’t measure how long they were waiting to be packaged or re-packaged. So they may not be as fresh as you hope. Buy your eggs locally and ask how old they are.
How to Raise Chickens in Your Big Backyard
1). Stealth is the key to keeping dogs and nosy neighbors away from your chickens. If all you want is few eggs every day then you can get by with about 5 hens. Roosters are not required for hens to lay eggs, only fertilized eggs. You can find a small coop at places like Tractor Supply.
We keep our girls in a “Portable Poultry Palace.” This old hay wagon keeps up to 50 chickens and allows us to move it around the field to make sure the “calling cards” left by the chickens are not too concentrated in one area. It’s a piece of advertising just begging for some artwork, but for now it is functional.
Notice the white web fence. It’s electric. You can get a solar powered fence charger to go with it. Get young chickens and train them to be inside of the hot fence. After a few encounters, they will not challenge it again, unless frightened. The more adventurous will fly over it. Clip the feathers of the left wing only and they will fly in circles when trying to escape. You can get by without the charger, if the expense is too steep.
2). Get your birds in early Spring. Expect a few to die. You didn’t necessarily do anything wrong when one dies. We usually lose 5 out of fifty to smothering accidents, illness or predators. If you are starting out with 5 and are really attentive, then they could all make it.
We buy 25 to 50 and have the post office deliver them. Or, you can incubate your own.
Provide a source of heat for the young chicks. One heat lamp and the ability to get away from it will do the trick. We use a child’s wading pool as a young chick container. You may need some mesh netting over the top.
Many books tell you to keep the temperature in the area in the 90’s, but ours acclimate in the 80’s. Just make sure the young birds do not get wet. If they do, dry them off and warm them up. A chilled chick will die rather quickly. They also need space. Frightened chicks pile on top of each other and the ones on the bottom can get smothered.
3). Feed them NON-MEDICATED chick starter and plenty of water. The guys at the store will try to sell you medicated food, but you don’t want it. If a chicken is too weak to survive early chickhood diseases then let nature take its course. Selecting for healthy birds early on means that your survivors will be with you for several years. After about 6 weeks, introduce a multi-grain chicken scratch. If your yard is small, bring in earth worms and other protein forms. Dog food can work, but it may attract ants, if just left out. Chickens are omnivores. They love fresh grass, vegetables, table scraps and especially fruit. You should see the party that breaks out over a watermelon.
Early Spring birds may start laying by December. If they don’t, you can count on a step up in production after the Winter Equinox.
The Chicken Hokey Pokey
Here you can see a rooster “dancing” for the girls. It’s part of the mating ritual.
Our chickens have the run of the outside. Sure, they trash the flower beds and occasionally poop on the pump handle, but the entertainment is worth it.
Chicken sex happens faster than you can change channels. And it’s on all day. The females squawk about it, but I think that’s more because they got their feathers ruffled and maybe missed out on a tasty bug. The roosters could probably use support group… “Quickies are us”, or something.