I was delighted when Red Stick Moms Blog asked me to write a guest post on our experience with our backyard chickens. I discussed initial points to consider if you’re interested in having your own hens, and I wanted to share them here with you if you’ve been following along on our adventure. It’s quite bittersweet thinking back to when I was considering it myself. We’ll soon find our girls a new home because of our upcoming move overseas. Here’s a few things I’ve learned over the past year while we’ve had the chance to have them…
The Coop: We converted an old dog pen (4′x12′) and a dog house inside of it to be our coop. The actual coop is about 6 feet tall and the ‘hen house’ is raised off the ground inside of it. This is where the girls roost at night. There are smaller options available, including mobile tractor coops that you can move to different areas of your yard. Whatever route you take, it is so very important that you make sure it is completely built before you purchase the chickens. You want your chicken adventure to be fun, and having to finish putting their home together once you already have chickens will be a headache. Not to mention, you could lose your entire flock in one night if its not complete. Predators are your worst enemy!
The Breeds: Who knew there were so many options of chicken breeds out there?! And the breed determines more than I realized, such as the number of eggs you’ll get in a week and the colors and sizes of the eggs. I’m a creative person so things like color of both the birds and their eggs matter to me. After doing some research, I decided to get our chicks from a lady in Ethel, Louisiana. I liked the idea of meeting the farmer and seeing the environment where our chicks came from. We have a silver-laced wyandotte, blue-laced-red wyandotte, and a lavendar ameracauna bantam. The wyandottes lay light brown and pink eggs, and the ameracauna lays little sea foam blue eggs.
To Free-Range or Not to Free-Range: This somewhat depends on your coop and on your preference. My girls free-range, which means I let them out of the coop in the morning, they range around the yard openly throughout the day, and they put themselves to roost at night. I then go lock up the coop and repeat the process the next day. Sadly, we lost our first hen just last week from a hawk while I was gone from the house. We mourned her loss (she had just started laying eggs a few days earlier) but the fact remains that all my girls have been free-range for nearly 10 months and this was the first problem we’ve had. I’m more cautious about it now, but I’m continuing to let them do so because that’s part of the reason we got them in the first place…to have fresh eggs from free-range yard chickens.)
Predators: As mentioned above they can be a deadly problem. At some point, you’ll lose a chicken, and it’ll be a very sad day. The best way to prevent this is by making sure your coop is very well-secured. Who knew that raccoons can figure out a lock that isn’t securely fastened? I have read horror stories about night predators taking out an entire flock. If you choose to free-range by day, be sure that you have a securely gated area for them where neighborhood dogs or other animals can’t get in easily. Other things to keep an eye out for in our area are hawks and foxes.
Fruits of Your Labor…Eggs!: There are several factors that determine when your hens will start laying eggs…the specific breed, the weather, the amount of sunlight in a day, their diet, etc. Don’t set an expectation that you’ll have eggs right away. It takes a few months. I got our chicks in early June of last year, which put them at prime laying season just when the weather was getting cold. This meant we had a winter with very few eggs (only one of my girls was laying before winter because she was a little older). But they do indeed start to lay! We now average 3 eggs a day, and it is the most rewarding prize after several months of care. The egg colors and the rich, deep gold yolks speak for themselves. They are absolutely beautiful and so very delicious. And Remy loves when we go out to collect the eggs each day (although I don’t let him carry them quite yet otherwise I don’t think they’d make it into the kitchen;)
What are your thoughts on having chickens of your own? Have you considered it yet?