Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Living with Chickens (part 1)

There are so many topics that I'm excited to write about, but I'm going to go ahead and start with our chickens.  We have Buff Orpingtons.  We chose this breed because they are a docile, dual-purpose breed.  A friend recommended these also.  Oh, side note, if you are vegetarian, I totally respect ANY reason for your personal choice, please respect our decision to raise our own poultry with the intention of eating eggs and meat.  Ok, so Buff Orpingtons are an English breed.  They are a beautiful golden color, and the males and females are both solid gold with red combs and waddles.

We got our chicks in March of 2011 right after we returned from our Costa Rican honeymoon.  I picked up a dozen chicks from a local feed store.  All they sell are females, pullets.  So finding a rooster was our next objective.  Aren't they cute?

My wonderful husband built a coup.  We tried to use as much supplies that we already had on hand, but we ended up going to a salvage yard for the white board walls.  There was still minimal money spent.

We used an old dog pen, reinforced with bird wire, for the run.  All of our chickies didn't make it.  Two died the next day and two got sick later and died.  I chose to buy non-medicated feed for them, I don't know if that would have made a difference in their health or not.  I know they looked at me like I was crazy at the feed store.  But we wanted no antibiotics or hormones or whatever in our birds.  And then one day my husband came home early, went around back to check on the chicks and there was a big fat snake with 2 lumps in its belly in the run.  That's a good story, maybe for another day.  That snake is not a threat anymore, I'll just say that.  That thinned our flock down to six.

When they got big enough we let them out of the run in the morning and they all come back at dusk and pile in the coup. All we have to do is shut the door behind them.

This one thinks a mole on my leg is something edible, perhaps a tick.
I spent several weeks, searching for a Buff rooster.  I called the feed store and they gave me some names and numbers, but none of them had a Buff roo.  Finally, I found one on Craig's List.  I believe this is the only thing I have purchased off Craig's List.  I drove to a town, about 45 minutes away, to meet a man with a bird.  That was actually pretty cool.  He shows chickens and was very proud to show me all of his favorite birds.  He was selling roosters to get money to build more chicken pens.  I think he asked me $7 for the bird, and asked if that was ok or if it was too much.  I happily gave him $7 for a fine specimen (although his tail feathers were not quite what I had expected).  I put the rooster in a cat carrier and brought him home to meet his new ladies.  

hello new addition!

There he is!  
It's funny, when we just had the girls they strictly stayed in the backyard.  We literally had backyard chickens.  When we released Big Ed the next day, he checked out the WHOLE yard.  He learned every square foot of the yard, the fenced in area that is.  The next day the ladies started following him around and then they too had a much bigger world to explore.

For some reason I thought the chickens would stay in the fenced in area.  Nope! Hoping a fence is nothing.  As I was leaving one day I saw them at the bottom of the property and decided to go down and herd them into the fence.  I did this twice and realized it was a waste of time.  Probably hilarious to watch, and totaly not necessary.

Big Ed and the girls
I'm not really sure how I came up with "Big Ed" but it just seemed fitting.

Eventually our girls started laying eggs. Usually they laid them in the coup, but sometimes we found eggs in strange places like behind the doghouse, and under wheelbarrows.

A lovely egg basket my Dad sent me.

eggs behind a doghouse

This was me taking eggs from under a hen on Thanksgiving day. 
On average we got about  12-18 eggs a week.  Which is perfect for us.  Enough for us to eat, and when we are sick of eggs, there's enough to give to our friends.

Well, we had a hen go broody, hehe, I hoped I would say that some day.  And eventually we had more chicks.  For some reason, this miracle of life amazed me.  Then again, since I became a momma, a lot more things amaze me.  Life is amazing.  Ok, yeah, so these chickens are multiplying now!  So cool.  We had 7 hatch.

 Aren't they sweet?  We had to wait to see if they were male or female.  There's a way to sex chicks.  I'm not sure I'm ready to do that, besides, it doesn't matter what they are, we are going to let them grow up anyways.  And they grew so quickly!  I swear they grew faster and quicker than the first batch did.  While momma and chicks were in the coup, we kept the door to the run closed during the day so that the little babies weren't out in the yard.  We had an incidence or two with the cats chasing the chicks.  There are enough natural predators out there besides our cats, that we thought it would just be safer for these chicks to stay locked inside until they were big enough to recognize a predator and run or hide.  But having the coup unaccessable to the other hens, we started missing out on eggs.  Sometimes they would lay close to the house, but eventually started laying in the woods or neighbors property.

Turns out we had 4 males and 3 females.  That's not good.  That's not good on the hens.  I'll save the rest of this story for tomorrow.  I know I could pull out several more chicken stories, I just tried to sum up about a year and a half so we can get caught up and I can blog about the next phase of raising chickens.

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