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6 Months With 10 Chickens; A Few Things I've Learned
A little over six months ago, the rest of the family ganged up and talked me into getting 'a few' chickens. We drove about 45 miles away to a place that sold organically fed and cared for chickens, since that was an important criteria. As each of the 4 kids began to pick out their favorite little chick, we soon found ourselves with more chickens selected than previously planned. The lady pointed out that smaller chickens should have at least a couple others their same size, so they wouldn't get left out of the 'cluck', and before we knew it, we were heading back with a box of 10--hoping for at least a majority of layers.
I will probably write a few more detailed articles about some of the particulars of raising 10 backyard chickens, but as we cross the six month mark -- with 9 layers and 1 rooster -- I've found a few things to be true that I didn't really know before we got them. Here are some random thoughts in no particular order.
Chickens Need More Space Than One Might Think
When you have 10 cute chicks in a box, you may not realize exactly how much space they need. I had always seen these cute little chicken coops that looked more like a holly hobby dollhouse than a dorm for chickens and thought I would knock one of those suckers out in an afternoon. I was wrong. Turns out chickens need a MINIMUM of 4 square feet inside the chicken coop, per chicken. Additionally, they also need 6 square feet per chicken outside in the chicken run! I exchanged my expectations of putting together a simple box to keep a few chickens in, and began setting the foundation and framing up what I would later refer to as the Chicken Mahal. Turns out our feathered friends ended up with a nicer place than I stayed in my whole first year of college. I almost took my futon and laptop out there and called it a man cave instead!
Chickens Eat, And Eat, And Eat
I have no doubt they know what they are doing, but our birds like to eat. They go through a significant amount of proper feed, but additionally, they really like their snacks. Between our new compost pile and scraps that are ok for the chickens, we have reduced our garbage by almost half. One of our favorite afternoon activities during the summer was to grab a couple of cold beverages, go plant ourselves by the chicken run and drop a grape or cherry tomato in for the chickens into the run. The football game that ensues is better than being on the 50 at an NFL playoff match--those birds grapple of those little round fruits! And they love to graze about the yard, finding grass, bugs, worms and whatever else looks tempting to their discriminating palettes.
Chickens Are Hearty Birds
We live in the Northwest. As the winter approached, we had several nights where temperatures lowered to freezing. Each evening I would go close the access door to the run so that there would be less cold air entering the coop. I considered some sort of heating rig for the coop, but was discourage from doing so, since it would likely mess up the natural day and night schedule of a producing hen, and ultimately decided to let them 'tough it out' in the mostly closed in coop (there are screened vents all around the top.) One freezing night I realized I forgot to close up the side door that led to the run, and went out to close them up. Half of the birds had roosted on that window sill-half in and half out. If they were concerned with the cold, you wouldn't have known, and they would have slept there all night. As was pointed out to me, most birds exist outside in freezing temperatures without a heated coop to live in each night, and somehow they survive too.
Chickens Are Faithful Producers
I wasn't sure how the whole egg producing part of the deal would turn out with our chickens. For MONTHS they basically free-loaded off of us. I made several comments about being the chicken's sugar daddy, because all they did was get treated to free food all day long, and live in a really nice coop that was custom built for them. They were well protected from elements and the predatory animals in our area, and had everything needed to live the chicken high life. But after a few months I started wondering when they were going to offer up something for the effort. Before long, they did...just one for a few weeks. Then the next one started laying...then the next....and the next...and before too long, we would find 7-9 eggs every day. While the weather remained warmish, we were regularly hauling in an armful of eggs every day, and with 4 kids, and 3 of them teenagers, those eggs came in handy! The colder months, and a couple of broody hens have slowed down production, but we know it's just a momentary lull, and we still get 4-6 eggs every day.
If You Have Kids, They'll Get Attached To The Chickens
Ok, everyone in the house is attached to the chickens. I know on some farms where there are hundreds of chickens, it's harder to become attached to a particular group or any individual chicken. But when you have just under a dozen, and your kids helped pick them out, AND named them....they're going to get attached. Our kids said early on, "if we name the chickens we can't eat them." It was never our intention for the chickens to be food themselves; simply to provide some food with their eggs. We could agree to not eat OUR chickens, as long as they would continue to eat chicken in general. We reached a compromise. And when one of the smaller chickens turned up missing recently, you could feel the heaviness as we speculated whether it met a hawk or coyote, ran off to a neighboring field, or if even one of our own cats decided to take it down. You can imagine the relief on everyones face when we saw that little stinker sneak out from UNDER the small gap beneath the chicken coop!
I've learned much more than these simple thoughts, and will share more in some detailed how-to's and tips, but suffice to say, 6 months with 10 chickens has been an experience so far!