Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dealing with Chickens

I don't often write about "a city girl's perspective on living in the country" which was the original slant on my blog when I started it before Felicity died. Well, some of you have made comments about the chickens and so I thought I'd do an in depth look at owning chickens. And by in-depth I mean, sharing the little I know about chickens. If you're friends with me on Facebook, you know that our chicken ownership has not been trouble-free.

We got our chickens in early May of this year. They were full-grown, hand-me-downs from my brother-in-law who had too many to feed keep track of. We originally were given one rooster and three hens, if my pregnant memory serves me correctly. Our goal was that they would be "free-range," eating bugs and such during the day and then roosting in the coop my hubby and BIL constructed at night. We, I mean Paul, would lock them up every night to keep them from being eaten by coyotes, foxes, etc. Because we wanted to have the healthiest eggs possible, we bought them organic feed. (They need their free-range diet supplemented with feed to ensure their health, and thus their egg laying ability.)

To accomplish their returning to the coop each night, we had to start out by keeping them
in the coop for a few days so their little chicken brains would associate the coop with home sweet home.

This worked for awhile until one night Paul reported that our rooster, Peter Drumstick, was not in the coop when he locked them in. We made the safe assumption that he had been eaten though we couldn't find any evidence of this. Then the following night, guess who was back in the coop? This continued for awhile, with Peter home for a night, then gone for two, then home again. We didn't know what to make of it, until we noticed him at our neighbor's place. They also have chickens. Finally Peter chose to defect to the neighbors permanently. We figure their hens must be cuter or nag less.

After a few weeks of owning the chickens, we had quickly learn their quirks and by quirks, I mean all the annoying things they do. First of all, they poop EVERYWHERE! We could no longer leave the garage doors open for any period of time because sure enough, every time we did, they'd leave a messy surprise for us. And let me tell you, chicken poop is not little! It's like owning multiple cats that never make it to the litter box and who've eaten something that didn't agree with their digestive system. Is that too descriptive? They even poop on our front step!!!

Secondly, they dig EVERYWHERE!!! We have 10 acres, but they like to dig in our new landscaping the most! I can't tell you how many times I've waddled down the steps and out the front door because I've spotted them digging up the mulch all around the edges of the landscaping. When we first found them doing this, Paul moved their coop into the garden as our veggies had since froze been harvested. We thought the chicken wire fencing around the garden (originally meant to keep them out) would keep them in. But no! We soon learned that the rooster (our replacement rooster) can fly out and then crows at the hens until they fly over too. So Paul electrified the landscaped area with some 6 inch tall fencing and they still get in there and dig it up. Nothing like having your front entryway covered with ankle high electric fencing (and chicken poo). Sure makes for a humorous blog post though!

I'll even admit to chasing them with a hoe one time and throwing tomatoes at them after they'd pecked holes in ones I'd just picked. And no, it wasn't pretty. Originally we told the boys "not to chase the chickens." Now they have free reign to terrorize the chickens. In fact when the boys and I harvested all the pumpkins and acorn squash left in the garden after a night of freezing temps, one boy helped carry them to the garage, while the other chased the chickens so they couldn't peck the squash we had just picked.

Thirdly, we learned immediately that roosters crow ALL THE TIME! While Peter Drumstick only graced us with his presence for a short time, we have since received another rooster from my BIL. (We didn't bother to give him a nice name, he's known only as "Stupid," "Dumb Chicken" or "Gimpy" because he walks funny.) The hens can be pretty noisy too. They go under our deck and made bizarre noises like they're being strangled.

On the 4th of July, I actually saw a couple of coyotes take one of our hens. My BIL brought us more and then we lost another to the elements. We currently have 1 rooster and 4 hens.

Originally our hens were each laying an egg a day. This production rate was pleasing to us and Paul was even able to take some of our extra "organic/free-range eggs" to work and sell them for $3/dozen. This helped cover the cost of some of the organic feed. (A 50lb. bag costs about $17 which last maybe 6 weeks.) Now we're only getting 1-2 eggs per day. Paul even rigged up a heat lamp and extra lights for them, as light and heat determine their egg production. But we're not seeing much improvement. We don't know what's going to happen next but Paul's thinking, "Off with their heads!" I'm okay with that, as long as I don't have to help in any way. Sorry Babe!

We would love to have chickens again next year, but have no clue what our plan of action will be. As you've noticed, I've done very little to no work when it comes to the chickens and I don't think I'm going to have much free time next year to dedicate to raising chicks. So we'll see. It's nice to start off with ones that are already laying. We had three cows in '08 and while I didn't do any of the work there either, it was WAY less work (for Paul) and money than the chickens have been. You just don't get the daily benefit of eggs from beef cows.

I'll keep you all posted on the developing chicken saga. And Paul, thanks for all you do around here. I don't thank you often enough for how hard you work, at work and at home! I'm dedicating this post to you, Babe!


Heidi said...

Tim is so going to be reading this post later!

He is always going on and on about how we need to have chickens and yada yada. Our neighbors have some. Honestly, in town? How can you really get away with it, but they do!

Sharleen said...

I never realized how much work chickens are. I love your chicken stories, Rachel...hilarious! Paul, you rock!

Rachael said...

Thanks so much for the dish rags Rachel, I love them, they rock!

The Three 22nds said...

LOL! Who knew chickens were so much work? Funny post.