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Raising Chickens

Raising Chickens

“I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday” – Henry IV

I have memories of birds as a child but never had I had the opportunity to work with raising chickens.  I had a duck when I was little.  My duck’s name was Feathers.  He was big and bad.  He attacked all those who came in his path, especially my step mother who’d tend to the flock daily.  My duck would chase her poodle around the yard.  We had one male and two females. I only visited Feathers in the summer and one summer he and his girls were gone.  I have memories of my tita and tito visiting my grandmother bringing along bounty from their garden and eggs from their chickens. I’ve raised parakeets throughout my childhood but that has been the extent of my exposure to birds throughout my life.  Never have I had hands on experience being around, working with, or raising chickens…

Shortly after having our son we started making the lifestyle shift towards back to basics.  During this time we kicked around the idea of raising chickens for eggs.  Unfortunately it was only an idea because of where we lived.  Our landlords would not allow us to have chickens despite my excellent care of their property.  After almost four years of talk, hoping, and wishing we’re finally able to take the step.  We’re raising chickens!

Part of our path to live a less dependent lifestyle is learning how to manage small livestock.  Chickens are the gateway! We are choosing to raise chickens for meat, for eggs, for compost, for pest control, for learning and responsibility, and for family fun!

When we first had the idea we wanted to purchase our chickens from a sustainable source that supported Heritage Breeds.

raising chickens

We still have this end goal in mind, in addition to hatching and raising our own, but we had to get started somewhere.  We have to learn, practice, fail, succeed, and learn some more.  Before we spent extra time and more importantly money, we looked to our local feed store for options.  The feed store had Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds.  The Rhode Island non industrial are on the list for the Heritage Breeds but I can’t confirm if the ones we’ve purchased are considered “industrial” or “non-industrial”.  We got 2 of each.  We were told that they were all girls but even the best of the best can be wrong in sexing a chicken.  Only time will tell.

Now the ideal setup would be you get your chickens home (if not already hatched at home) and straight to the brooder.  A brooder is the nursery chicken coop if you will; a non-drafty, warm, clean, secure area for the chicks to roam, and a place for their food and water.  Our ideal brooder will sit in a secure area outside next to an electrical source.  It will be protected from the elements but still allow for the birds to get natural light during the day and closed off and warm at night.

Here is an example of what we would like to have.  I envision ours on legs, high off the ground for me to be able to work from a standing position vs. kneeling.  I also would use a different heat source and have a risible roof for easy cleaning.  We have a cement slab next to our house in vicinity of my view as well as electrical source that would house a brooder nicely.

raising chickens

The heat source I would use would be an EcoGlow Chick Brooder.

raising chickens

Our end goal is to be able to raise our own chickens for both eggs and meat.  We would need a setup for our incubation, brooder, and a final home for the egg birds and the meat birds.  We plan to semi free range our birds.  I say semi because they will still have to be in an enclosed area because of predators.  We don’t have the option to have guardians (dogs) and electric fences. We will depend on large enclosures over pastured areas that allow them to roam, scratch, eat bugs, get sun and fresh air, and still be protected from predators.

For now, this is what we’re working with…

We don’t have a garage that could accommodate such a setup for a brooder and we’ve not yet built our ideal brooder to sit on the cement landing pad outside our house. When we brought our chickens’ home at 2 weeks old they went upstairs to my office.  Yes, I’ve had baby chickens in my office for the past month.  We did some minor research and gathered what little supplies we had at home and got the birds’ setup in my office.  On the surface this is a cute nice idea but in reality – they are dirty birds.  They scratch, they flap their wings, and they make lots and lots of dust.  Each day they get bigger is each day they make more of a mess.   They start to take flight.  They like to roost on the edge of things… poop goes everywhere.  In reality a 4 inch high container is not sufficient no matter how much protection you have on the floor.  Their food & water was always dirty, shavings were everywhere, and as I mentioned they like to roost.  They’d hang out on the edge of the container with their little fluffy butts facing the WRONG WAY… poop everywhere!

raising chickens

After a week of constant sweeping, scrubbing poop, and cleaning their food & water I said enough and purchased a large galvanized metal trough.  Our trough stands 4x4x2.  Resting on leftover cardboard boxes, the trough has been a lifesaver in keeping the birds clean, safe, as well as keeping my office clean.

raising chickens

We’re using a long square wooden dowel along the top of the trough that hangs the water and food.  This allows the birds room to roam but also keeps the food & water out of their poopy mess.  Remember, they love to scratch and flap their semi flightless wings which cause huge amounts of dust and kicks up poop.

If you’ve researched heat sources you’ve found the typical heating lamp that looks like this.raising chickens

During our research we’ve discovered that this heat source comes with several risks and challenges.  The risk is of fire.  These lamps get hot and if they get knocked over in anyway and fall, a fire is most likely the result.  The challenge is that despite it being a dim light it is still a light and can throw off a chicken’s natural balance.  When the sun goes down so should the chicken.  They aren’t humans.  They don’t run off of artificial light.  When the sun is up they are up and when the sun is down they are down.  The EcoGlow is perfect in both regards because it is fire safe and does not emit any light.

We’re raising chickens on a budget right now and getting started for us is using the very basics of what we have around the homestead.  We will scrimp and save to get the safe guards in place that will keep us successful in the future.  For now we will come up with a temporary fix for our housing and heating purposes but for future chicken raising we will invest in the EcoGlow and build a secure brooder that will go outside.

Our heating source was different but simple.  We took a terra cotta plate and on the plate we placed a porcelain light fixture equipped with a cord and 60 watt bulb.  We then placed a terra cotta pot over the top of the fixture and plate.  The plate and all of its contents then rest on top of a large mason brick that is wide enough to support the base of the plate.  There is no light that emits from the fixture.  Even unplugged the terra cotta retains the heat but never gets hot enough to start anything on fire or burn anything that rests upon it.

raising chickens

 

raising chickens

Keep in mind we live in California on the Central Coast.  It will never be Minnesota cold.  These birds are inside my office, free from draft, next to a sunny window in a tall secure trough.  They are cold hardy birds to begin with so this heat source works well in a pinch.  Now if you’re in a state with freezing temperatures, then no, a 60 watt bulb in a terra cotta pot will not be sufficient.  It works for us for now giving us minimal risk and challenge.

raising chickens

The birds huddle near it at night and away from it during the day… it has proven to provide the perfect amount of heat they’ve needed since living in doors.

Every morning I give them fresh water and food and every morning these little peepers greet me.  As they’re getting bigger and braver, they’re hopping up to the top of the tough as I prep their food and water.

The general rule of thumb for keeping your baby chicks warm is 95 degrees at birth and 5 degrees decrease every week till they depart for their new digs.  This age all depends on your chickens.  We’re in preparations now to get our birds outside and they are officially 6 weeks old.  When we first brought our chickens’ home we placed a cardboard box with the bottom open and a door cut out over the heat source.  During the day they’d roam around outside the box but at night they huddled inside the box next to the heat source.

Here are a couple images of our little girls wandering around outside the cardboard box, exploring their surroundings during the day.

raising chickens

Peek-a-boo I see you!

raising chickens

Here you see our lovely Elvis (we thought he was Elvira when we first brought them home… like I said, only time can truly tell) roosting on top of the cardboard box above the heat source.

raising chickens

As they got a little older we removed the cardboard box to allow for the heat to circulate more at night.

Here they will go once they transition outside.  They have a free roaming area to scratch, eat bugs, and roam.  They have nesting boxes and a coop to sleep in and rest at night.  Is this our ideal coop?  No.  We’d prefer our birds to have more room to roam but for now this will do as we learn.  Obviously this will only house a few birds, at most.  My goal is to have a dozen egg layers and roughly 15 to 20 meat birds in rotation.

raising chickens

Once they transition outside it’s not just a matter of placing them in the coop and that is that.  They won’t start laying eggs until roughly 4 to 5 months old.  That is a long way off while they transition to their new digs.  Until then, the nesting box is off limits.  As I’ve read, a sleeping hen is a pooping hen.  If they learn to poop in their nesting boxes then your fresh eggs will have more exposure to contamination.  We’ve secured a simple piece of plywood in the space between the nesting box and the coop.  This will be removed closer to the time they will start laying.

The coop will go in our back clearing, near the landing pad where the brooder will soon go.  They will have the company of our neighbors chicken’s whose very large coop is just up the hill from us.  At night we will place the coop over a hard surface to protect the birds from anything that may attempt to dig underneath.  During the day they will have access to grass, dirt, bugs, and fresh air and sun.

I mentioned earlier our birds are now 6 weeks old.  They’re clearly showing signs that they’re ready to move to the big leagues.  They no longer crowd around the heat source and they’re constantly roosting and attempting to fly the coop.  In preparation we’ve blocked off the nesting box and are putting in a larger more accommodating feeder & water source.  Here you see we are building our own waterer with chicken nipples and PVC tubing.  The nipples were $5 a pack at the local tractor supply and the PVC pipe was just a few bucks at the local hardware store.  We’ll have a similar setup for the feeder and both items will be secured to the sides of the coop to allow the birds to have plenty of room to roam.

raising chickens

This is all trial and error.  I by no means claim to be an expert and am always open to listen and learn from those who’ve experienced more.  We will make adjustments as we go and share those adjustments with you… but for now these fixes are all working well for us and our birds.

Elvis says “what, you have a backyard… then you should have chickens!!!”

Raising Chickens

We realize everyone’s situation is different.  Some are not allowed based on their city ordinances, or possibly they are renters and the landlords won’t allow it.  In those instances I encourage you to seek out local sources for eggs.  First and foremost chickens are NOT VEGETARIANS they eat bugs.  They need to roam and scratch.  They need to free range to be healthy and provide healthy meat and eggs.

Healthy chickens look like this…

raising chickens

Not like this…

raising chickens

If you have a backyard and an interest I highly recommend doing your research and getting started with the basics.  As I mentioned earlier we’re raising chickens for eggs because we eat eggs almost daily, for meat because we want to know where our meat source comes from and deserve a cleaner more sustainable option, for compost because their poop does wonders for our produce garden, for pest control because they eat BUGS, for responsibility because the kiddo has to learn, and for family fun because they are fun little critters that bring us lots of joy.

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