Last May we got chickens.
We had just passed one year of home ownership (March 2017), and I was inspired after visiting Chris’ family in Colorado (they have chickens).
I picked out two chicks, a Buff Orpington and a Speckled Sussex, and named them Merry and Pippin. They were too cute, and too afraid of me!
Chicks need to live inside, where their environment can be controlled, especially the temperature. My gracious, chicken keeping, neighbor let me borrow a tank, chicken feeder, waterer, and heat lamp.
After reading more about chickens, I deduced that I needed a third chicken. They are social creatures, and to be alone is depressing for them. Three would ensure if one of the chicks didn’t make it to adulthood, that there would still be a pair of remaining chicks that can keep one another company. Queue Chris picking out Adrian (he also picked the name).
Addie was bigger than Merry and Pip, and even more afraid of me! She is an easter egger, AKA a mutt chicken breed that is supposed to lay green or blue eggs.
While the girls smelled up our guest bedroom, we designed and built them a coop with a run. Chicken advice says they need 3 square feet per bird, and 1 foot of roost space, per bird. For every 3-4 birds, you need a nest box. So I gave the girls a 9 square foot coop, with a 3 foot roost, and three nesting boxes. Chicken advice also says the more roaming space they get, the more flexible the coop dimensions.
It was important that their coop and run be very secure to protect the flock against predators like raccoons, foxes, skunks, and hawks. We used the wire from our split rail fence to encompass their space, and thankfully had two ‘guard’ dogs who happened to roam the property. There’s one in the corner of the right photograph.
The girls didn’t get to move in when it was done, because they were still small and needed temperature regulation. They did get to explore their run, and the coop, and finally moved in after about 4-5 weeks in their tank.
The dogs and chickens. Not as hard as I thought! We had Baron, our mutt, and Juniper, our hound. They came at the chickens like they come at life – with total opposite behavior. Baron was immediately well behaved, and easy to direct. Leave the girls alone, they are not chew toys! Juniper was immediately curious, and had Addie in her mouth! Thankfully, there was no harm done, and we then charged into chicken-training our coonhound. Juniper is really a star, and learns so well. Within the month she was behaving, and soon after, allowed unsupervised time with the girls. We kept the dogs outside with the chickens as much as possible, as they served as great watch dogs, barking at any bird flying overhead. We later learned these birds were vultures, not hawks, but encouraged their behavior all the same.
We got a fourth chicken. In October, our girls were bigger, but not laying eggs, and I purchased another chicken, who was already laying and was also so darn beautiful. I loved her blue coloring (that’s what this coloring is called in chickens). We got our “first” eggs, from her (cream colored), which was kind of cheating, but still exciting!
In this picture, Sam (to go with Merry and Pippin), is in chicken quarantine, where she has to be separated from our flock for up to four weeks upon her arrival. This is to ensure she’s not carrying any illnesses from her flock and transferring them to ours. It also helps with flock adjustment, as usually chickens are not so accepting of strangers invading their homes. At this point, none of the girls were fond of us, yet, and it was difficult to touch one, much less catch one!
We had a sick chicken. I relied on internet message board advice, though facebook and chicken blogs, to treat her. It is unusual to find a vet that treats chickens, did you know? We separated her from the flock, and put her in a dog crate in the basement, where she could be left alone, treated, and rest. We set up our baby cam (bought to keep an eye on the dogs, at one time), and I watched her, dutifully. She was given electrolytes in her water, fed high protein treats (scrambled eggs), treated for coccidiosis, and dewormed. Thankfully, something I did worked, and after about a week we had a healthy chicken, again. It was very scary when she was at her worst, though. Chickens’ instincts do not allow them to show symptoms of illness until it’s really bad. I thought we may lose her! I’m so glad she pulled through, and that my handy chicken First Aid kit (self-assembled) and the local Tractor Supply came in very useful.
The girls finally started getting along, as well as maturing. From our original three, Merry started to lay in November (2017). She lays brown eggs, so it was easy to tell there was a second layer in the flock! Once she had matured to lay, Merry became very docile. She loves people. She RUNS to greet Chris and/or myself when we come out. She lets me pick her up and hold her, which I just love. She perfectly defines what I want chicken keeping to be like. Pippin finally started to lay in December. It was hard to tell there was a third layer, since her eggs were a similar shade to Sammie’s. I was finally convinced when I found three eggs in the nest box! Pippin, too, has become more accommodating in personality, however she’d still rather I not bother her much. We’re still waiting on Addie to give us the prized eggs: green or blue in shade! Lately, she has been acting more compliant, but it’s still a waiting game.
We winterized. When winter came, I was eager to know how to protect my girls from the seasonal changes. Mostly, what I found out was: do nothing. What?? Well, as long as you don’t have an exotic breed, generally chooks are ready to withstand the seasons. The best advice is to reduce wind in the coop and keep clean water available always (that’s all year). I did have to check their feeder more often, as they seem to be eating more.
We made some changes to prepare, like getting a heated water dish, blocking their mesh windows from wind, and doing coop cleanings more often. You can’t close off their coops completely, because the ammonia from their poop needs to vent out. Collected ammonia can kill them. The enemy of chicken keeping in the winter is moisture (which can then freeze). Chicken droppings = moisture. Did you know chickens don’t pee? They dispose of their waste in one form of excrement, which is a moist feces swirl.
Also, I have been keeping tabs on their combs, as Merry got a mild case of frost bite this winter. We got a remote digital thermometer for the coop, and I put Vaseline on her comb when it’s very cold (internet chicken advice). The Vaseline is supposed to keep moisture from clinging to their combs, which would then freeze and escalate the frostbite. I feel very guilty for letting my chicken succumb to this infliction, but at least it is a mild case, and we are working to combat it now.
We lost a chicken. Not to illness, but to a predator. Chris came home from work one day in January (2018) and let Juniper out into the backyard. Juniper promptly charged a hawk that was hunched over our poor Sammie, right at the end of our porch stairs. We do let our girls free range in our back yard, every day, and this was nature’s consequence. I only hope her passing was swift, as she did not deserve to suffer.
I have since purchased a dummy owl and hawk to post on our fence, and some shiny tape, as shiny items are supposed to deter birds of prey. We kept the girls in their coop for about a week after the incident, in case the hawk thought he could come back for another meal!
All in all, having chooks has been so fun and rewarding. We sold our first dozen eggs the other day, and have given countless away to friends and neighbors. It turns out, even with a steady supply, Chris and I just don’t eat too many eggs. The girls are really more pets than providers to me, and I so enjoy watching them and spending time with them. Every Saturday morning is chicken chores time, where I maintenance their coop, refill their feed, and replace their water. They are extremely easy pets to have, and costs are extremely low (after the coop). A 50 lb bag of feed is $14 if you catch it on sale (they always are)! My goal with the girls is to one day sell enough eggs to buy their feed (one bag every few months).