Paul & I had tossed around the idea of getting chickens for some time. Paul is passionate about raising our family’s food & was all for it. I was reluctant only because I had no idea how much work/trouble/mess/aggravation would be involved.
But I have, for years, been bothered by big factory farm practices. I have no issue with using an animal…for its meat, eggs, fur, milk, etc. But I feel that we really do have a responsibility to provide that animal with a decent life & humane death. Chickens, for instance, need so little. Access to fresh food & water, shelter, a bit of land to scratch around on, & other chickens to bicker & snuggle with. It’s so simple, & it saddens me that so many of these very simple creatures must live a life of such stress & misery. Okay, off my soapbox…
We decided to give it a try. We thought that if we enjoyed raising chickens, we would eventually have eggs; if we didn’t enjoy raising chickens…we would eventually have fried chicken!
I did my research, found a lot of useful info on mypetchicken.com & backyardchickens.com. After I had learned all things chicken, we bought five un-sexed chicks from a local farmer. We kept them in a box in the coat closet, cozy under a heat light for their first few weeks. Oh my, how cute are baby chicks! The little peep peeps, fluffy sweetness, tiny tiny beaks…we were all smitten. We held them everyday, the kids learned gentle hands, it was very little bother & lots of fun!
Initially, we did not build them a coop. We converted our shed into a coop of sorts when we moved them outside. They free ranged in the backyard all day everyday, & put themselves away in the shed at night. They were gentle & curious & no bother at all. I have found that chickens are not adventurous creatures, they were content & never left the backyard.
Well, eventually four of our five un-sexed chicks began looking like roosters. Our one & only hen was promptly killed by a hawk. And then the crowing began…four roosters crowing…all.day.long. And the chicken poop on my patio was driving me nuts. And they were scratching up the whole yard, turning it into a big mud puddle. This wasn’t fun anymore.
We had fried chicken & started over. We bought eight sexed chicks. I have to admit I was happy to raise baby chicks again…they just feel like springtime. When it was time for them to move outside, Paul built a fabulous coop with an outdoor run.
They began laying at five months old, & gave us six to eight eggs a day thru the summer. Happy hens lay delicious eggs! We allow them to free range in the yard only a couple of days each week, much less patio poop & yard destruction. They are not at all flighty, only friendly & gentle; the kids pet them & hand feed them. They mostly ignore us unless we have food, then they beg like puppies. They are a pleasure.
Couple of lessons learned:
- If you buy un-sexed chicks, buy twice as many. Don’t feel bad when you cull the roosters later. Your roosters lived a happy, peaceful backyard life for a couple of seasons & provided your family with food. That’s a pretty good deal for a rooster! Better by far than a hatchery, where day old males are tossed into a grinder…150,000 a day.
- Spend the time/money to provide your hens with a proper shelter & include an outdoor run. Full time free range chickens can destroy a backyard. They are easy prey; if you cannot provide protection from predators & weather, don’t get chickens.
I don’t suppose we will ever not have hens. I like to share with others how much less work it is than I had imagined. The journey has been a great learning experience for my whole family. I love that my children can see where their food comes from, can participate in the process. That Paul & I can feed our family safe, local goodness. That we are part of a community that gets it…so many families are now choosing to grow/raise/hunt their own food because it’s the right thing to do.
I hope that our story might inspire others to get some hens for their family!