Our Journey to Backyard Chickens
We made the leap into backyard chickens!
We have floated the idea of having chickens for the better part of a year. We talked about the coop, the amount of effort it would take to maintain chickens, and even the benefits of having them for the kids. After talking about it A LOT, listing pros and cons, and after deciding this is probably not the best time, we added “Build Chicken Coop” to our summer project list.
My mom asked this very question of me when I first told her our plan. I knew my grandmother had chickens when my mom was a child, she mentioned a few times about refusing to eat dinner because she knew the dinner came from the backyard. I was not raised with chickens, in fact until I unloaded them into our new chicken coop, I had never even touched a live chicken.
If I’m being 100% honest, before moving to New Hampshire, the idea of owning chickens never crossed my mind. Nope. Never. Not even the teeniest of remote inklings. Yet, here I am, watching these funny little creatures run around outside my window as I type this.
If I was never interested chickens before then why now?
Our family uses a lot of eggs. For breakfast, in baking, making dinner or snacks. We can easily go through 2 dozen eggs each week. Because of all the eggs we eat, having a supply of fresh eggs on hand is very appealing.
We were interested in cruelty free chickens. There have been many recent stories that even cartons marked “cage free” and “free range” do not always mean cruelty free. Having backyard chickens mean we know where our eggs are coming from.
Chickens like to eat little bugs, especially ticks! Living in the middle of tick-nation, we are hoping the chickens will be a pesticide free way to keep our yard tick-free.
Education for all. As we are learning about taking care of the chickens, we are teaching our kids. Seriously is there any better way than hands on?
It didn’t take long for our toddler to learn how to check the nesting boxes for new eggs. Yes she has already broken an egg, that is ok, she learned not to clap her hands with an egg in each hand.
Soon there will be another little one checking for eggs. As they both get bigger they will be able to help feed, water, and clean the coop.
Getting started took a lot longer than planned, not because building a coop was complicated but because we had so many other projects and commitments to finish around the house.
At first we thought about carving out a place in the barn for the chickens. That was quickly nixed in favor of converting the shed into the chicken coop. The shed was in a good place in the yard, had doors, a lock, and is large enough to hold 20 birds.
You would think since the shed was already standing it would be quick to convert. Really it was a 3 month process. My husband tore up the old shed subfloor because it was stained with oil and replaced it with plywood from the barn.
He also made a ladder-like roost and nesting boxes. I laid down rolls of the cheapest vinyl flooring I could find. Several blogs recommended this to make coop cleaning easier. I’m hoping they are right!
We rearranged the inside of the coop until we got to our current set up. We added some vinyl to the top of the nesting boxes to prevent the chickens from hanging out up there. So far it is working.
Learning As We Go
The first couple of weeks we were learning something new everyday. Now we have settled into a routine with the chickens: feeding, watering, collecting eggs, taking care of the coop. We let them out in the morning, check their food and water levels, collect eggs, then at night after they have returned to the coop, we count them and lock them in for the night. Each day it takes about 10 minutes or so to take care of them. Every few days it takes a little longer if the coop litter needs to be turned or the water needs to be refreshed.
For coop maintenance we are using the deep litter method. Basically it is letting the chicken manure and bedding material to decompose inside the coop, only cleaning it out a couple of times a year. Some of the old timers recommended this as the “true farm way” of raising chickens. They also said it is easiest to maintain. Easy to maintain? DONE!
Next year we plan on adding some broiler birds to our flock, but for now we will just stick to our egg laying chickens. Our goal is sustainability.
We are free ranging the chickens, meaning letting them wander all over the yard without any fences. It was nerve wracking the first few days and we would panic when we couldn’t find them all. We are more calm now. Still, I’m not sure if we are going to continue giving them total access to the whole yard because of the poop. Ohh Emm GEE! Chickens poop EVERYWHERE! We left the garage door open one afternoon, next thing we know we are spraying and brushing chicken poop from it. Now the garage door is closed, but still. POOP!
One thing I never knew was how entertaining chickens are. I love watching them roam around the yard, scratching at the ground, bathing in dirt, and eating bugs. I love the way they squak and squabble with each other or dart from one side of the yard to the other. The phrase “pecking order” is so much clearer to me now that I get to witness an actual pecking order happen.
The toddler was curious but cautious at first. Now she feels more comfortable around the chickens. Sometimes she will run through the little flock and they will scatter. The chickens just scurry out of her way then resume their positions as she passes through. I’m not sure if this is behavior I should stop or not. Little Dude is still too little to collect eggs, but he keeps a VERY curious eye on the chickens.
Winter is Coming
LOL! Yes we are GoT fans, but right now it is also our life. The coop does not have electricity so I’m on forums and talking to the old timers about how to keep the chickens warm through winter. I have a lot of ideas and suggestions but only time will tell which will actually work.