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Raising Backyard Chickens
Meet My Chickens
Backyard chickens are becoming popular among city folks. My family decided to raise chickens in the backyard because we wanted fresh eggs. We also considered the hens to be an investment; if our income suddenly plummeted in today's bad economy, we would at least have a source of protein in our backyard.
I am not sure I could eat any of my hens, but some people do. It would probably be easier to eat them if I had not named them, or if I had bought all the same breed so that I could not identify individual birds.
In addiition to providing us with plenty of nutritious eggs to eat, sell, trade or give away, the hens will help keep weeds and insects down, and produce nitrogen-rich manure to compost and put on the garden.
We got our baby chicks at Metzger's Country Store the first week of April 2011. We started with just four. We bought two Australorps, Blanche and Maud, because they are excellent layers, friendly and calm, and bear confinement well. I also chose two Aracaunas on a bit of a whim, because they lay colorful eggs and were remarkably cute! The Aracauna chicks themselves are colorful, so these two girls are named Goldie and Hazel.
Our city allows five hens plus one rooster. All of our chicks are female. Roosters are a liability in the city. They make a lot of noise and disturb the neighbors. We got all females and decided to substitute an extra hen for the rooster. We will not be able to hatch more baby chicks, but we will have plenty of eggs from our rooster-free flock of hens.
After we had had our pullets for one week, I realized I wanted to go ahead and fill out the flock. I learned it might be difficult to add more birds to the existing flock once the girls were adults. When chickens are babies they accept new individuals into the flock, but adults will often reject and fight newcomers. So we returned to the feed store and bought another Australorp, Alma, and a Columbia Rock, Hilda, who immediately began ruling the roost.
Our chickens are now just over a month old and almost fully feathered. They still have down on their heads. They have been living in a plastic tote in the bathroom, and we are very ready to move them outside to their chicken tractor. They are also eager to move to bigger quarters. They are getting quite crowded in their bathroom tote.
We got our chicken tractor last year through Freecycle. It needed some repairs, and ill needs a secure roof, which I hope to have completed this weekend. It will be too small when the hens are grown, but for now it is fine for my pullets. I am working on ideas for a chicken coop and run. I think the girls are going to need a chicken house by fall.
It is probably a better idea to build or buy your chicken house before you get your baby chicks. I did it backwards, so now I have a problem to solve. I have some money, but not enough to buy a ready-made chicken coop for six hens. I do not have a lot of carpentry skills, so I am not confident in my ability to build one. I am hoping I can find a nice coop on Craigslist that I can move to my backyard.
The girls and I are glad you could join us in our backyard chicken adventure!
Chicken Tractor - My Freecycle Score
Last year I scored this great little chicken tractor from Freecycle. Here I have it set up so my chickens can help me get the weeds out of my garden bed. In an afternoon the girls get most of the weeds out of their spot, and they loosen the soil with their scratching. You can see I have been hard at work pulling all the weeds out of this overgrown bed, and the chicks pull up a lot of sprouts, so they are a help.
A lady in my city had three hens in her backyard, but decided over the winter not to keep them. In the spring she decided to list her chicken tractor on Freecycle and I was the only one who responded. Hard to imagine, but not as many people were getting into chickens last year.
The tractor needed some work. It is handmade from recycled materials, and I thought it needed to have some security upgrades.
The first thing I did was to remove all the chicken wire on the tractor. Chicken wire is too flimsy to provide good security. Raccoons can actually reach in through the chicken wire and grab the birds. This is a gruesome way for your chicks to die. They cannot pull the entire chicken out through the hole in the chicken wire, so they tear the bird apart piece by piece. Goodbye, chicken wire; hello, hardware cloth. The entire chicken tractor is now covered with 1/2-inch hardware cloth. This will provide a much safer environment for my birds.
Now I need to address the roof. I thought the roof was okay, but when I got ready to put it on I discovered it was falling apart. Raccoons are strong and can pry apart loose boards and attachments. So, I am not using the original roof and need to replace it. That is my goal for this weekend. I will probably use a piece of plywood and attach it with hinges on one side and some good hooks on the other three sides.
Right now my chickens go outside in the tractor on nice days. I am using the lid to my daughter's sandbox as a roof while the chicks are out during the day. The main daytime predator in my neighborhood, besides dogs, is a Cooper's hawk that regularly visits my yard. He is not going to try to get the roof off. As long as the top is covered, my birds are safe from the hawk. This improvised roof would not be safe at night.
From Old Metal Shed to Trendy Chicken Coop
I have been letting the chickens free range in the backyard in the evenings when I go out to weed the garden. I usually let them out about an hour before sunset. They are happy to be free and some of them will fly around. They do not fly very high off the ground, about three feet is as high as they go.
They seem to prefer to stay near brush or close to me. Since I am in the garden, they come to the garden, and this is not really a good thing. First they discovered the lettuce. I did not mind so much if they just pecked off part of a leaf here or there. But, Hilda got excited and jumped into the middle of the lettuce bed and started scratching with her big old feet, pulling some of the plants out of the ground.
A few nights later, they discovered the tomatoes and by the time I noticed it, had pecked away a big hole in the side of one of the green orbs. I was not happy.
My plan is to fence off the garden and let them out whenever I can be with them. I do not feel comfortable letting them free range alone, due to the fact we have a hawk in the neighborhood. I have also recently seen an opossum in the backyard in the afternoon hours. It is unusual for an opossum to be out in the neighborhood during daylight hours, and I cannot explain why he was. I am sure he would love to catch one of my birds though, so I am protecting them.
We had a heat wave a couple of weeks ago, and it got close to 100 degrees in the chicken coop, but the girls were fine. I gave them treats of frozen bananas. They loved that! I also put a lid from a Rubbermaid tote in their coop and put about an inch of water in it. They could go in there to cool off a bit. I never saw anyone panting, although they did complain quite a bit and fussed at me whenever I would go outside. All in all, they are fine and healthy, and continue to grow and eat a lot.
Chicken Stuff You Can Use
Here are some items you might want to have on hand when you are raising backyard chickens.
Backyard Chicken Poll
Tell us how many backyard chickens you have. Please leave a comment telling us more about your chickens!
How many chickens do you have in your backyard?
Fried Skillet -- An egg recipe for breakfast or supper
When my girls are full grown, I expect them to lay between four and six eggs per day during their peak laying season. This will provide us with eggs to share, sell or barter, as well as plenty for our own consumption.
This easy recipe is good for breakfast or dinner. It is very flexible, allowing you to use what you have on hand. You can add additional ingredients, such as fresh or leftover vegetables, beans, rice, or cooked meat. It is very good with browned sausage mixed in.
Serve with fresh fruit or applesauce, and muffins or warm toast.
Fried skillet is one of our favorite egg recipes. It is very tasty and flexible, as well as being nutritious, economical and satisfying.
- 2 T. extra virgin olive oil (or substitute your favorite oil or shortening)
- 6 shredded diced or sliced potatoes (may substitute 1/2 pkg. frozen hashbrowns if desired)
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar colby or monterey jack seem to wok best)
- Optional: chopped or sliced onions
- Optional: mushrooms
- Optional: green pepper.
- Optional: cooked meat such as sausage or ground beef
- 1. In a heavy skillet, brown potatoes in oil over medium-high heat until they are cooked through, soft and some of them are browned. If using additional vegetables (onion, mushrooms, green peppers) add them at this point and cook them with the potatoes.
- 2. Break eggs into a small mixing bowl and scramble slightly with a fork or whisk.
- 3. Move potatoes over to one side of the pan and pour eggs into the other side of the pan. Stir the eggs constantly while cooking. Some of the potatoes will mix with the eggs and that is fine.
- 4. When eggs are almost completely cooked, stir the potatoes and eggs together and finish cooking as a mixture.
- 5. Just before serving, add the shredded cheese to the top and mix in slightly.
- 6. Serve immediately.
Here are some books you might want to read and have on hand when raising backyard chickens.
Beware of Risks When Raising Backyard Chickens
This article came to my attention recently. It discusses the risks of salmonella when raising backyard chickens. Apparenlty a batch of baby chicks from a hatchery were infected with salmonella, which spread to their new owners. Be sure to use good hygiene and sanitation practices when caring for your chickens, and handle all eggs safely regardless of their source.
- Salmonella Risk in Backyard Chickens
Do backyard chickens carry a risk of salmonella? Click here to find out!
Tell me about your experiences with chickens, or leave a question about chickens.