Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Trials and Tribulations of Backyard Chicken Farming

Ok. I have to be honest, there really haven't been any, other than having to give Rose away. Rose was the cutest of the chicks but about a month ago she crowed at 6:30 a.m. Rose was, in fact, Rusty and therefore he had to find a new home. Other than that if you don't mind a little chicken poo (it's not so bad, I promise) and a tiny bit of added responsibility, the promise of fresh eggs and great organic fertilizer is well worth starting your own backyard flock. My goal was to raise the chicks from as early of an age as possible. I got Rose and Sophia from the same place but soon realized that neither of their breeds were known for good egg-laying so a week later I added Blanche and Dorothy, both of who's breeds are known for record egg production (yeah baby).
For the first two months they lived inside with us. I created a brooder to keep them safe and warm in a back room. At a young age they are susceptible to a great deal of predators included but not limited to dogs, cats, hawks, snakes, raccoons, etc. We made sure to introduce Duke and Fin to them but never unattended. Fin could have cared less. Duke loves stuffed animal toys and therefore instantly started giving the chicks the eye as if they were bred to be his next toy. We knew from then on we would need to establish boundaries to ensure the chicks did not suffer that particular fate. For the first two months my job as a chicken mom was to make sure they were safe, warm, well feed and hydrated. I changed the bedding in the brooder regularly because we are a clean, smell free home and wanted to keep it that way. As the weeks went on the girls feathers started to replace the fuzzy down and I knew it was time to get moving on the coop.
Ryan and I did a great deal of research on the girls future home. We wanted something that was mobile and attractive but as we looked online, the coops and tractors we were attracted to were extremely expensive. After a conversation with a family friend who happened to own a lumber yard, we decided we would let Ryan put his building skills to use and build our own coop with the help of my dad and the family friend.We referenced pictures from the Internet, Ryan did drawings and within a  couple of weekends, the wood working and painting paid off and we had our custom chicken tractor.
 I was nervous about putting the girls out there. I had read stories about critters getting into coops. I read that it was best to lock them in the coop at sundown to avoid a snatching. And so for the first couple of weeks I made sure as soon as the sun went down they were safe and sound. At first I had to herd them into the enclosed part of the coop. But as the days went on they just automatically went right in there. Animal instincts are a powerful force. Now I am much more laid back about it and don't stress as much about locking the coop right a sun down.
I wanted my girls to be friendly and get to know humans, so I handled the chicks as much as possible and had the neighbors kids come to visit and hold them when they were young. When they moved outside I tried to keep up with handling them but they were not coming to me as I had hoped. Instead Rose/Rusty would approach me in defense and the others would hang back letting their "alpha" protect them. This is when I started to think that Rose was a boy. As I researched more, it became evident that Rosie, was indeed, a rooster. He confirmed it with his first cock-a-doodle doo. After Rusty went to his new home, I noticed an instant positive change in my interaction with the girls. Blanche (black with pretty green and blue tones to her feathers) is super friendly and quick to approach me when I am outside. She is the most curious and what I would consider the "alpha" of the flock. Sophia (feathered feet) is the most timid, she is also the smallest so it makes sense. Dorothy (burnt orange with black tones) is inquisitive but more likely to follow Blanche's lead as opposed to creating her own path.
People often ask me if chickens make a great deal of noise. The sounds they make would not be considered noise to me. Their dialog consists of lovely cooing sounds. I think most would agree, it is less intrusive than any wild bird. They stay inside their tractor during the day while I am at work and then I let them out as soon as I get home until dark, unless it's raining. We do our best to maintain a balance with the dogs and chickens in the yard by cooping the chickens when the dogs are out. While I know that Duke and Fin would never intentionally hurt/kill the girls, I also realize that it is a natural instinct for a dog, no matter how domestic, to chase/play with birds and feel it would be unfair to put them in a situation where they may accidentally kill a chicken.
I give the girls an organic developer fed along with lots of treats such as sprouts, watermelon, mango and scrambled eggs (yes, I know this seems weird but it is good for them). I make sure they have clean water every couple of days. They seem to be very happy with their lives and in great health but the true test will be in September when they are old enough to start laying eggs. They say a happy hen shows it with her egg production. We are anxious for these eggs but for now we continue to enjoy watching the girls run around the yard as chickens are extremely entertaining!


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