So as most of you know, after months of planning and building, we got our very own chickens last month. I thought I’d introduce you to our newest residents, and give you a quick tour of their home. Fun, right?
We took home four red sex-link hens from my parents’ flock one evening a few weeks ago (on my birthday, incidentally. What a great birthday present!). We chose the breed because they’re consistent layers and generally pretty calm and friendly. My parents have about a hundred free-range chickens that they let roam on the field, and they’ve been letting us have free eggs for the past several years. So they didn’t even make us pay for the chickens. They just let us have the hens instead of continuing to give us free eggs. Amazing, right? The hens are already about a year old, and have been laying steadily.
A few people have asked them what the chickens’ names are. We’ve chosen not to name them, since they are likely to end up in the soup pot in a couple of years when they’re done laying. (Sorry, dear vegan friends! Jut the facts). I just don’t think I could stomach eating a chicken I knew by name.
Why Raise Our Own Chickens?
I just want to say up front that we’re aware that we’re totally not saving any money by raising our own egg-laying hens. Even if we’d been paying my parents for the eggs, it would take a loooong time to recoup the cost of building the shed and run and paying for feed. (Raising your own poultry rarely results in much money-savings.)
We mostly wanted to raise our own chickens for the learning experience. We already had access to fresh, pastured eggs before, which is important to us; but we wanted the chance to do it ourselves. We aim to be as self-sufficient as possible, for reasons of food security and also simply for the joy and satisfaction of it. It feels amazing to eat food from your own back yard! And we really, really strive to only eat meat, eggs and milk from animals who have had the chance to live happy, healthy lives. We want to know where our food comes from. And this way, we know exactly where our eggs come from!
Anyway. On to the tour!
We converted a part of our shed into their coop, and added the run. (Ben built the shed himself a few years ago. He’s pretty handy.)
The first thing he did was construct a wire-fence wall inside the shed to section off about a third of the building, and install a door. The rest of the shed will continue to be used for storage (gardening tools, bikes, etc). He then built a couple of nesting boxes out of scrap pine and a roost for them to sleep on (chickens prefer to sleep off the ground.) He also installed a window to let in sunlight and fresh air. Also, he cut a hole in the wall to give them outdoor access.
(Aside: don’t you just love Lydia’s gardening tools?)
And here are the nesting boxes from the back.
I love how Ben included little doors on the backs of the nesting boxes so we can take out the eggs without walking into the coop. I don’t need to put on shoes to collect eggs! And he made them with the same welded-wire fencing, so that we can see whether there’s a hen sitting inside without disturbing her.
(As you can see, the bedding is quite messy. Ben had to add a strip of wood at the base of the doors to make the frame go up higher so it doesn’t come out so easily.)
I read a suggestion to line the bottom of the nesting boxes with shelf liner to ensure a soft landing for the eggs if the bedding all gets kicked aside; but the hens kicked that stuff out of there the first night they were here. So Ben put down squares of old carpet, and that seems to be working just dandy.
We’ve also included pine shavings for the bedding (Ben makes plenty in his shop), both in the nesting boxes and on the floor of the coop, since chickens like to scratch around before laying, and it provides a soft landing on the floor when they jump out.
Yay eggs! (The purple one is a plastic Easter egg. Apparently chickens prefer laying in nests that already have eggs in them. So that one stays there.)
We had to make some adjustments to the roosts, since the chickens didn’t seem to like them at first, prefering to roost on the nesting box perch. (Which meant they would poop in the nesting boxes.) Ben lowered the nesting boxes (chickens prefer to roost on the highest available space) and made the roosts a little thinner, which they seem to find more comfortable.
(Roosting for the night at 8:15pm. Early to bed, early to rise. Aren’t they cute?)
But this gal still prefers to roost by the nesting boxes. Oh well.
Anyway, moving on to outside!
We gave them a nice big run outside where they can scratch around in the dirt, take dust baths, and get some exercise, fresh air, and sunshine. You know, all those things chickens need but don’t get in factory farms.
Ben constructed the run out of 1×1″ welded-wire fence, which is both stronger and (in my opinion) more attractive than chicken wire. It provides better protection against predators, which can be a problem even in the suburbs. The top is covered with this fencing, too. We often see hawks in our trees and don’t want anyone nabbing our hens.
We quickly decided we wanted to keep the food and water outside as well. It keeps the coop cleaner and drier, and it means we don’t have to walk into the cramped coop to feed/water them. We’ll see what we do in winter.
We just set the feed and water containers on tree stumps to raise them up off the ground so they don’t get dirt kicked into them. The thrifted Pyrex bowl is where we dump messier treats, as well as crushed eggshell for calcium. We also toss kitchen scraps into the run, and the chickens usually take care of it within minutes.
We’ve also been experimenting with letting the chickens roam free on our yard for a few hours here and there. I like for them to get a chance to run around, nibble on fresh grass, and catch a few more bugs (especially grubs! Please eat the grubs, dear chickens!!). It’s also quite shady in their run; this would allow them to catch some more sun. They always head back inside for night, so we don’t have to worry about chasing them back inside.
The only two downfalls to free-ranging on the yard are (a) poop — they poop everywhere, and it’s pretty messy; and (b) they like to kick the bark chips out of my flower beds. That’s annoying. So we’ll probably limit it to once a week or so.
There you have it! Our first foray into raising farm animals!