Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chickens!


My sister-in-law's family is moving from the country into a housing development, and their chickens are not allowed.  So we are adopting them!

Drawback: we don't get to have cute, chirpy little balls of fluff.
Advantage: they are laying eggs like crazy, so we get to start enjoying them right away!

Now, here is where my over-analytical side takes over.  I do not feel comfortable having 6 animals (even chickens!) placed in my care with no idea how to care for them.  So I've got some serious reading-up to do.  I know they are supposed to be easy, but questions abound.  Ready?  Yes, these questions will display my total chicken-ignorance.  But I know many of you dear readers have chickens and other animals, and I'd love to hear what you have to say.


  • If I give them store-bought chicken feed, will their eggs still be healthier than factory-raised conventional chickens, just because they're running around out in the sunshine doing their chicken thing?  Or should I be hand-mixing organic grains in exact proportions and making sure they each get to eat 17.3 bugs per day in order to make their eggs uber-healthy?  Or something in between?  
  • What does "free-range" look like in a large-ish backyard?  I have heard about chickens who just live in their enclosure all the time and do fine, and I've heard about chickens who roam the yard, eat bugs out of the garden, and snuggle with the family dog.  Do they have to be socialized well with other animals as young chicks to get along well in the yard with the family?  I'm not thinking free-reign to run around all the time, which doesn't seem safe for them, just some supervised "get out and stretch your chicken legs in the yard" time.
  • When your hens stop laying well, do you eat them?  If this is the case, do you give them names?  The kids would love (okay, really, I would love) to have cute names for our little hens, but will it be emotionally devastating for us to eat Henny Penny?  Or if some kind of wild critter gets into their heavily-reinforced enclosure, will we feel worse if they have names?
Clearly, I have no experience with farm-animal relations.  My only animal experience is with pets, and our dog is very much part of the family.  So the very idea of having animals that are kept for a practical purpose instead of a companionship one is new.  We will see how it goes.

Posted at Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFLGINSFight Back Friday at Food Renegade, and Fresh, Clean, and Pure Friday at la bella vita

25 comments:

  1. Chickens are fun (and pretty easy too!)- you will do great! We got our first flock as adults as well- it was really nice to have instant eggs.
    In my humble opinion, I think that home raised chickens that are allowed to be outside eating weeds/bugs, still produced healthier eggs than the store, even if you are feeding a commercial feed. Of course, organic, home-mixed feed is best, but I haven't figured that part out yet either... Our area is lacking in sources for all the grains, etc.

    We gave our old hens away for free on Craigslist, but we would have just eaten them- but my husband can't eat poultry. So, I guess that is a personal choice! ;)

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  2. Thanks, Jill! I agree that life outside has to be way better than factory life, no matter what their feed is. We are really excited, it just seems like there is a lot to learn!

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  3. Hi there Danielle,

    I am going to talk about your third point on naming them. I am sure this is different for everyone but we name each and everyone. I as well have never gotten ours from chicks, we have received them free on craigslist, paid a few dollars each for 5-6 month old chickens, or just been given to us.
    We have never eaten anything but their eggs....we have talked about it but just can't! Plus we live out near woods and our chickens do not always have a long life, some make it to a year...year and a half and either a racoon or something gets them. Sadly! :(

    Last year we had a banty that went broody, and our neighbor gave us some fertile eggs for her to sit on, we let her be in charge of them, she hatched about 5-6 chicks and today only one has lived. She is very skiddish and shy but she loves our dog, how cute is that! :)

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  4. 1. the reason we shy away from commercial chicken feed from say, Fleet Farm, is because they tend to use animal byproducts and have lots of corn and soy in them which means lots of GMOs. We buy a bag of: minerals, whole flax, barley, oats, and wheat. We also feed them alfalfa hay for some extra green along with all of our food scraps. They have access to crushed oyster shells for calcium. We also feed them back crushed egg shells but make sure they are crushed or they could start eating their eggs. I can ask my hubby the exact ratios of each grain if you like. They free range all summer, we rarely give them anything else but kitchen scraps but they also have 2.5 acres to run on.
    2. how big is a large-ish backyard. they will destroy the grass b/c of their pecking and scratching so it may be a good idea to take 1/3 of the yard and split it into three sections and move them from section to section to make sure the grass gets a break. After you move them, rake out the chicken poop, throw down a little rye grass seed and water.
    3.The kids named the first group of hens we had and we did eat them. They understand the fundamental basics that they are farm animals and we take care of them so that they can in return nourish our bodies. We now have way to many to name(60 something). A few have names, like our roosters and a few special hens that stand out in the crowd. I am starting to think we are crazy b/c we just order another 50 chickens, 4 geese, and 6 ducks.

    Chickens are pretty easy and fun! Sorry this got so long, I think I just wrote a blog post, lol.

    http://www.greenerpasturesfarm.com/ChickenFeedRecipe.html

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  5. Wow! How exciting! I would love having my own eggs. I would totally name the chickens, too. But...I wouldn't eat them! I hope you guys have a great experience!

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  6. Marie, I a so glad to hear that one of your chickens loves your dog! I have idyllic visions of our chickens, dog, and kiddos playing together outside. :)
    Megan, wow, you are an expert! 110 chickens sounds like quite a handful! Our yard is large-ish compared to a suburban backyard (so not that big) and quite wooded, so grass doesn't grow terrifically anyway. I don't think it'll sustain them like yours, just give them some extra room to run around. I'll be checking out your feed recipe - thank you!
    Stacia, I think we will name the chickens, and just see where it goes from there. Thanks for the kind wishes. :)

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  7. Chickens are so fabulous and you are definitely lucky to jump right into the production stage! I will say before you have any high expectations of doggy/chicken friendship you should take extreme caution with the introduction. I had a very traumatic experience with my first chickens.
    There are two sad stories on my blog involving dogs and chickens and our quick realization that free-range out in the boonies is not an option. However, free-range is always the best for your healthiest eggs. One of the greatest aspects of having your own chickens is also knowing that no matter what you feed them you are eating FRESH eggs. Nothing like eating the egg a couple hours after it is produced. Crazy!

    Chickens can also lay eggs for around 10 years. They will inevitably slow down production during the winter but this too can be avoided with artificial light. Good luck friend!

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  8. We got ours older also about 8 months ago. We didn't choose to go the route of store bought feed because of the GMO's and other additives. We mix our own feed with the calcium also and food grade diatomaceous earth to help with parasites. The eggs are awesome and you can make amazing mayo from scratch. I have always eaten a lot of eggs and my cholesterol dropped a lot after about 6 months of eating fresh eggs. They are so good for you. We had 2 dogs one would play fetch with the chickens the other would have preferred to fetch a chicken so we kept them apart. We also have a small lot and have fenced off a section of our yard for them and made it dog proof by putting chicken wire along the bottom of the fence somewhat under ground to keep other neighbors dogs out.
    We named them all and have already decided to give them away at eating time. Just can't do it.
    Good Luck!

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  9. Yay! Chickens! :) you know how I feel about chickens ;) Fun fun fun ~ I look forward to reading about your chicken adventures....

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  10. Amanda, I had no idea you were a chicken expert! :) I will be careful with the dog. He's a big lazy softy, so he might be more scared of them, but we'll go slowly! I look forward to checking out your blog and reading your stories.
    Scrapper, the GMO's and other undesirable ingredients in store-bought feed sound like a good reason to mix our own feed. I am so looking forward to homemade mayo!
    Hoveland Family, yes, we are joining you in chicken adventures!

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  11. I don't have chicken wisdom to share... but I wanted to say congratulations on the adoption!

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  12. We've had a flock of chickens for 2 years now. First, I don't feed commercial layer feed. Unless you get organic it's all GMO. As organic is impossible to find and super expensive to ship in our area I have done two things. I used to mix my own whole grain feed, but now I just buy huge bags of Black Oil Sunflower Seed at the feed store. That is all I feed them but they free range, so they get tons of their nutrition from that, even in the winter (i'm in alabama and winters are fairly mild most of the time).

    Also, the more chicken layer feed they eat the lower quality the egg will be in terms of color and taste. It WILL be better than the store no matter what. Light years better. But the more they free range and eat bugs, grasses and whatever they find the better your eggs will taste. Mixing whole grain feed will also produce great tasting eggs, better than layer feed. I have fed corn and wheat alternately before and had good results (and the free ranged).

    I also have two worm farms i feed them from too sometimes. That is an easy way to get good compost and chicken food at the same time.

    We don't eat our laying hens, they tend to be scrawny anyways. We don't name then either. We name the roosters and a few of the girls get names usually related to some distinct feature they have, but it's not a formal name. We do raise chickens for meat and we don't name those either.

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  13. We use a scratch feed (whole millet and wheat with cracked corn... but not organic) rather than a layer pellets (ground and extruded grains plus chemicals, animal bi-products, etc.) but then our chickens have a lot of yard (about a third of an acre for one flock, much less for the retired girls). They also get many, many kitchen scraps. And of course grit and shell.

    No doubt backyard chickens fed conventional layer pellets will be healthier than their factory raised counter parts. Not only do they get exercise and eat bugs and plants but they're not highly stressed nor are they wallowing in/inhaling their own feces as in a confinement operation.

    As for eating them, we don't but if we had a ton of them we would have to. It just isn't practical to retire 50 or 100 laying hens. That's a lot of feed and space for birds who aren't contributing much. At the moment we have 10 girls in retirement plus the rooster. The retired girls are producing about 7 eggs a day right now but that's only because it's spring and they didn't lay anything for the past 3 months. In a few weeks they'll go back to laying 2 or 3 a day. Our new flock, which should start laying any day now, has 17 hens in it.

    The dog had to be trained at first not to attack the chickens. This didn't take long and now she mostly ignores them except she looooves to eat their fresh poo. It's totally gross and she's not normally in the same area with them but when she is, she'll sometimes follow them around sniffing their bottoms until they poo a snack. Ick. The chickens pretty much ignore her too although if she gets too close they'll sometimes squawk and run away. Also, the dog gets scared if she ends up inside the flock (i.e. totally surrounded by chickens). And once in a blue moon, when she's very bored, the dog will provoke the chickens into running and squawking just for fun. She runs at them from across the yard and skids to a stop right in front of them. This normally provokes an amusing reaction although sometimes the hens aren't in the mood and they attack her instead :-)

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  14. Calling by from Italy via Fresh Friday/Seasonal Saturday to visit another participant. We used to keep chickens when we lived in the Uk, you have been given plenty of advice already so no need for me to add anything really. Just you will notice fresh eggs taste better.

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  15. Thank you so much, Annie (and Anonymous), for your feeding and care-taking advice. I think I'll be doing something besides layer feed for sure. Also, the worms sound like a brilliant addition - I have heard about them for compost, but never really thought about their nutritional benefit!
    Thanks, too, LindyLouMac. We are very excited!

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  16. Hope you and my grandbabies have lots of fun playing farmer! Really, it sounds like fun. Can't wait to come visit someday and see your little farm.

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  17. Hi, Mom, we are very excited for the chickens. At least us grown-ups are. The little ones don't know what we're getting ourselves into, but they will enjoy watching them play and enjoy the eggs too!
    Come visit anytime. Except the 27th. :)

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  18. We used to have chickens in our former place; haven't gotten them here yet. I loved them and miss them. They always ate scarps right up! :) We never ate our laying hens: my husband said they weren't worth the work for scrawny tought meat. We raised meat chickens for ourselves and just let them get big enough for a couple months and then butchered. They do tear up anything in their path: will destroy any flower gardens you have. I would keep mine penned but maybe a movable pen would be nice. My sister-in-law found a place that sells organic feed; that sounds great! Did you know they put rat poison in chicken feed now to prevent salmonella. That's what my husband told me anyhow. How terrible!!! Anyhow, chickens are fun!! Hope you enjoy your adventure: I sure did!!! And thanks also for your comments on my blog! :)

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  19. Hi, Farmer's Wyfe, Thank you for the advice! It increasingly sounds like eating layers isn't really worth it! I will be careful with the garden too. They seem like they could be pretty destructive! I hope you can have chickens at your new place soon! Thanks for stopping by.

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  20. HI Danielle, what a fabulous post that you shared last week on Fresh Clean and Pure Friday.....it is so great and perfect for something new in your life that you shared with your readers, that I chose to feature your post for this week's get-together. I'm also now your newest follower too. Thank you again and I hope you find time to visit again in between visits with the new chickens! Roz at la bella vita

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  21. So happy I stumbled on your blog. We are thinking about raising chickens. Can't wait to read!!

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  22. Roz, thank you so much! I am honored to be featured this week! Glad you enjoyed the post. Debbie, I hope your chicken adventures go well! Thanks for stopping by.

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  23. So glad to have found this post. We got our chicks today! Woo Hoo! I look forward to hearing more about your chicken adventures and expertise.

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  24. Messy Mom, I don't know if expertise is the right word... but definitely adventures! Good luck with your new little critters!

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I'd prefer a great discussion to this one-sided pontification any day. Help a girl out. Please leave a comment.

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