Our plan has always been to get chickens, but knowing nothing, we spent the winter months carefully researching and planning. There seemed so much to know that it often felt overwhelming, but I kept telling myself that people all over the world keep chickens (and have for thousands of years), so we should be able to figure this out. I highly recommend, Keeping Chickens by Ashley English. It is a simply laid out book with beautiful photography. (A high picture-to-print ratio makes any subject seem less daunting.) And like most things, once you begin actually doing, and you have a framework of understanding to hang your knowledge from, things begin making sense.
Wilco farm store in Stayton receives chicks every Thursday and put out a calendar of which breeds they would be receiving when. We researched the breeds and made our decision based on the amount of eggs they lay (we want heavy layers) as well as if they are good meat birds (called dual-purpose). People seem surprised (i.e. masking horror) when I say this. A hen’s laying decreases significantly after 2-3 years, and there comes a time when the cost of feed will be greater than her production. Currently, there is an urban-area epidemic of people who jumped on the chicken bandwagon and then, when the eggs run out, abandon their chickens to animal shelters or “release” them to roam free. This is not humane. Culling a hen who has served her purpose (after a very wonderful chicken life, as our girls undoubtably will have) and using her to feed our family, fully utilizes the blessing of what God has provided for us. (Of course, I am saying this very theoretically and have not yet spent three years gathering eggs from a chicken that I am fond of. We will see if I can follow through.)
We have already had a family chicken-butchering experience so we are not completely foreign to the process. One Saturday morning last May, several families came together to butcher 75 meat chickens. We came home with seven for our freezer, although we ate one that very night – Best. Chicken. Ever. (I was on break from blogging at the time so here are a few pictures to commemorate the event.)
|My dear husband who was tasked (along
with our friend Steve, also in the picture)
of slitting the throats of 75 chickens.
|Britton and his best friend Elise carrying
a chicken to the gallows.
|Caleb helping Elisabeth dip a chicken in hot
water before sending it to the de-featherer.
I valued this experience because all of us (most-assuredly myself) became more comfortable with the natural process of raising animals for the specific purpose of consumption. My kids learned that the meat we eat does not originate in the refrigerated aisle of the supermarket. And above all, we came home with delicious, humanely-raised, nutritious meat. Now that’s Home Education, folks! But I digress and jump ahead all at the same time! Let’s get back to baby chicks.
|Our first batch of chicks
(Sadly, one of the yellow ones didn’t make it.)
We purchased eight, day-old chicks and after one died, went back the next week for five more, (I thought we should have a few spares) for a total of twelve. We have seven different breeds because we wanted to experiment with traits and temperaments. On the way home from Wilco, Elisabeth said with enthusiasm, “We’re real farmers now!” And it does feel a bit more like that.
The only supplies we needed were a heat lamp, bedding material, a waterer and feed container, plus the feed. One of the nice things about this property is we have lots of rooms, buildings, and spaces. One could take up any number of hobbies or activities and dedicate a room to it. The “chick room” as we now call it, is a room in our shop that was used for grooming goats, back when this property was a Pygora Goat farm. It happened to have a large enclosed pen which we built a small box within. As they grew, we simply took down the small pen and let them roam the whole larger one.
|Six-week old chicks (Notice their little “beginner” roost.)|
We knew that at about 10-12 weeks they would be ready for “The Big House”, so Caleb spent the next two months designing and building the coop.
|The storage shed|
Our property had a rather large storage shed that backs up to a small section of pasture. Caleb had the (brilliant) vision to retrofit it as a chicken coop with an enclosed run off the back and then free-range access from there into the pasture. It is luxuriously large for twelve chickens, but it was what we already had, so we used it, and now have room to expand our flock, if we ever desire to.
What a coop must include:
* a roost because like most birds, chickens feel most secure when they are sleeping up off the ground.
* nesting boxes for laying eggs; one box per four chickens, so we built three, but have room to expand, if needed.
*food and water system
*ventilation: Caleb bought two old wood windows and a charming screen door from the Habitat for Humanity thrift store. He added the windows to each end of the coop for airflow, with chicken wire behind them to keep predators out.
* An easily cleanable floor: we installed linoleum with a very thick layer of bedding material over it. When we change the bedding we can give the floor a hose-down with water and bleach.
ELAPSED TIME: 2 MONTHS
|Getting the coop ready for move-in day|
|Our juvenile girls in their new digs|
Six VERY dedicated readers, I might add, who eagerly await each delightful installment. This was informative as well as entertaining. Your philosophy is certainly that of a life-long agrarian. I think Wendell Berry would approve this message! (And I hope we can participate in another joint chicken-butchering venture together sometime!)