Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Backyard Chicken farming: What you need to know and why you should do it!

The colors come from the breed.  They all are the same inside. 
Something amazing happened last night.  I came home to a dozen fresh laid eggs.  This might not seem fascinating to everyone but you are just plain WRONG!  This is wonderful!  We have 19 hens currently ready or almost ready to lay eggs.   We won't get more than 1 egg every day to 2 days from them.  To have 12 eggs in one day is AWESOME!  So I thought I would give you some idea of what it is like to be a backyard chicken farmer.

Some of our newest Babies 
These are our youngest chicks.  The White Leghorns above, were just released to the "wild" last week.  My husband calls them the Wild Indians because they are not super friendly.  They are however, not afraid of any Rooster or Hen we have.  Bravehearts! 
Our youngest.  
These are our youngest and they are just a tad bigger than this photo now.  They moved outside last night to outdoor brooder because we are trying to acclimate them to the rest of the flock.   What you have to understand is that chickens really do have a pecking order.

My Roo Charlie and hen Beltre

For example, Charlie above is second in command.  Rooster Rex is the boss.  I named him Rex because roosters are the closest living relative to the T-Rex.   When I first read this (Yes, I read about chickens, a lot!)  I thought how funny.  Chickens are so little.  When we started raising them and I started to watch them, the way they move, the way they behave, I could see it.  They really do have some sort of ancient and wonderful quality about them.  
My Roo Rex, too worried about food to pose. 
Rex is totally the boss.  We got them a week apart and I was worried.  I had read all these horrible things about roosters.  Either we just got really lucky or roosters get a bad rap.  My roosters spent all of 5 minutes jumping over one another and chest bumping (Yes, Roos Chest bump.  No it is not a celebration of a touchdown or some awesome male bonding moment) to determine who was boss. After Rex established himself as the king of the jungle, so to speak, that was it.  They have a lot of hens to pick from and they go about their rooster business of crowing and foraging and watching the flock.   They often are seen sitting on the fence posts next to one another taking turns singing.  Neither of them are terribly noisy.   Now let me say this, Charlie came to us because he is a good crowing Roo.  He isn't terribly loud but I am sure our friends, who live in a subdivision, felt like he was a problem.  This is what happens to a lot of roosters, sadly.   Charlie is just happy as can be on our little acre plus and he doesn't bother anyone.  Both our roosters came from family/friends.  Both adopted quickly to our flock.   Actually, they took a grand total of 1 day to completely feel at home.  That is 1 day between them.  In fact....Charlie and Rex have made friends with the neighbors little bantam rooster.

Neighbors Ducks and chickens 
Actually, truth be told, our neighbors rooster has stayed over night the last two nights and he spends his entire day in our yard so I don't know if our neighbor thinks we chicken napped him or what.  In fact, his ducks come over and spend most of their day in our yard as well.   Come to think of it, so do his hens.   My husband laughs at me because when I get home at night to go collect eggs, chickens come running.  Even if the chickens are in the neighbors yard collecting bugs they see/hear me and come running at full chicken speed.

Alright, so here are a few things you should know about raising chickens and me being totally bias, thinks everyone should have at least 2-3 chickens.  They are amazing creatures, fun to watch, and they give you eggs!  We don't go to movies often, and baseball season is over, so until my husband can get back to the land to hunt, all we do is watch our chickens and laugh.

Here we go:

-You are never going to get rich chicken farming out of your backyard.  Yes, we do sometimes sell our extra eggs.  No we don't charge outrageous prices for the.  We basically look at the price as offsetting the chicken feed slightly.   We aren't trying to make money, just get a little extra to buy more chicken treats. :)

-Chickens are fairly easy to keep once you have some things set up.   You need a brooder (a place to keep baby chicks until they are fully feathered), a coop area, and then you have a decision to make.   If you are in a city and you can keep chickens (many cities now let you, btw),  then you need some place safe for them to roam.   Chickens need some freedom to be happy hens. You need water bowls and feeders.   We had a low cost set-up because my husband was able to get his hands on some free wood so most of what we bought were the hinges and the framing  wood.   You can buy prefab kits for your hens and make one of those fancy coops with chandeliers but you should be aware you are doing that for you.  Our chickens don't care about the coop lighting or paint color.  They know it is a safe place to sleep.  They spend most of the day under our patio deck.  I on the other hand, do care about the coop signs so I have decorated their coop area with a few of my hand painted signs.

-Chickens need a different food as babies than a 6 month old chicken.   Similar to children and puppies, our baby chicks get a fortified feed to protect them.  Once they are about 5-6 months old they will be at the egg laying stage and should have moved off baby chick food and onto layer pellets.

-Chickens have a natural instinct to go home.  Charlie and Rex both figured out where home was the first night.  They went into the coop without any training.   Our first group of chickens took about 2-3 days to figure it out and after that they bedded themselves.  The white leghorns above?  The first day we let them out, they followed the bigger hens and the roosters into the coop.   For the record, they go back to the coop when the light starts to go down.

-Chickens do not subscribe to Daylight Saving Time.  Do you remember that stuff you learned way back when in school about DST being for the farmers so they could get extra time to farm in daylight?  Bunk!  There are no farm animals on this earth who spring forward and fall back.  My chickens have been mad at me the last two days because we fell back and they didn't and they aren't happy waiting for me to let them out an hour later than normal!   You have never seen anything more frightening  amusing than a flock of angry chickens, anxious to get out and forage the yard, coming at your head at 6:45 am.  (I hate DST for the record.  So much so that I actually looked up why we do it and there is honestly not one good reason why.  This sent me off on a Facebook and Twitter tirade yesterday and I refuse to fall back with any clock at the house except my husband's alarm and my coffee pot.   I mean, I need my coffee pot right!)

-Different breeds of chickens, along with laying different colored eggs, will exhibit different personality traits.  Some breeds are calm and friendly and some are...not.   We have a couple of hens that will just jump on our laps now and wait for us to feed them.  Shoot, Red, one of our Rhode Island Reds, doesn't even wait.  She will grab the bread off the table or out of my hand and feed herself.  She is very funny.  Most of our hens actually wait for us to give them the food although pretty much all the hens and even sometimes the roos will eat out of our hand.

Most people have dogs so let me explain it this way,  I have 2 Dachshunds.  Riesling is a Longhair and Sadie is a Wirehair.   When I first got them, I read about traits of the dog. I thought they were crazy telling me different hair lengths made a difference.    Longhair Dachsies tend to be anxious, whine, and get separation anxiety.   I got Ries anyway because who believes that mess?   Then she started to exhibit all those traits.  I took her with me on a stay over with a friend and we went out shopping.  She waited by the door whining for 3 hours...non-stop.   She chewed through electrical cords when I wasn't home.  She tore things up.   So I got Sadie to keep her company.   Now, Wirehair Dachsies are something else.  They are mixed with terriers usually to get the beard effect.  This makes them incredibly hyper and very good hunters.  Sadie is the best little tracker ever.  Unfortunately, it took us months and 3 baby chicks, to get her to understand she can't track the chickens in the backyard because they are not her prey.   (She doesn't get left alone to this day although she pretty much has been taught to ignore them now.)  Ries on the other hand couldn't care less about the chickens because she wants to eat the feed. My dogs are very much typical of their breed and hair length.  

-You will lose some chickens eventually to predators unless you have them completely caged off outside ground to sky.   Chickens have a lot of natural predators including Sadie. Dogs, coyotes, fox, chicken hawks and a number of digging creatures who can tunnel under a fence (the reason I said you have to enclose them top to bottom, floor to sky) will want to eat your chickens.   We know this.  I hate it.  In fact that little rooster of our neighbors that I told you has basically adopted us?  He was almost taken by a chicken hawk a few weeks ago out of our backyard.  My husband had to go out there and yell for 10 minutes to make sure the thing was scared off.   The same neighbor lost a chicken earlier this past summer to a coyote.   Like it or not, and I don't, it is part of the cycle of life.

-Pasture raised chicken eggs, what you get when you let your chickens free-range all day, are the most amazing eggs.   They are richer, creamier, and the yokes are so dark they are nearly orange.   You will want every egg you make to be over easy so you can enjoy those yokes!

-The FDA doesn't really define the designer egg qualities so if you are paying extra for cage free don't kid yourself that you are getting eggs from happy chickens who roam around.  They are most likely sitting in a barn area with little space and it is not a happy place.  Free Range are better but there is no real qualification of how long they have to be outside so most may get left out for an hour or two and may have no access to green grass and space.  What you should buy if you are going to spend that extra money is Pasture Raised.  They have access to the outside all day and they are free...truly free.

-The last thing you should know about chicken raising is that you may feel guilty when you make a winner, winner chicken dinner.   I swear to you every time I fry chicken I look at hubs and kid and say..."Now don't let the chickens see you eating this.  I don't want them to worry."  We won't eat our chickens.  That isn't what we are raising them for.   Some people do "cull" their flock.  I can't do it.  My chickens will live until they don't live and that is that.  I love my feathered babies and I can't imagine sitting down to dinner and looking at a plate full of Cinderella, Katniss, or Snow White.

But SERIOUSLY, my fried chicken, my husband's favorite livers, mashed potatoes, and gravy are stinking good.

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