Becoming a Backyard Farmer

This year I retired, becoming a backyard farmer, and I had chickens on my mind. We had already sustained a beautiful garden the last few years, rain barrels were placed in the yard, learned the art of composting, and now we would buy some chickens. There was only one problem, we were city slickers, and we knew nothing about ‘birthing no chickens.’ We did the next best thing we knew to do, we began to Google…and then we would Google some more. There was more than enough information to make us feel comfortable in buying our first chickens.

We decided on some Austrolorps. We read that they were gentle, social birds, and good layers. They are black and very beautiful chickens. My friend raised brown chickens and told us how gentle and sweet they were. We decided I would buy the three black ones and wait for my friend to hatch us three brown ones.

Building the Brooder

My husband is rather a good handyman and he made our brooder. This would be the chick’s home for at least 12 weeks. The brooder was made of plywood with a wire top, which could be opened and closed. It sat on legs like a table. For those of you who do not know what a brooder is, it is a home for the babies until they get some feathers and are able to live in the coop. We enjoyed watching them grow and before we knew it, they were flying to the top of the brooder. We lined it with newspaper and then laid wood shavings at the bottom, cleaning it at least once a week. We bought a small chicken feeder for water and food. We read that it was not wise to put a water bowl in the brooder as a small chick could fall into the water and drown. We placed a light at the top of the brooder that kept the temperature about 90 degrees. Each week we raised the light a little higher until it was a nice cozy 80 degrees. We used a red light. We also made a small roosting bar. At first, we had to pick them up and place them on the bar. It was rather comical to see them try to balance. Before long, they were hopping up and down like pros.

We had bought the three black chicks and were waiting on three more chicks to be hatched so there were about two or three weeks difference in age. We attempted at putting them together but the black ones were already pecking at the new ones, which is natural. We ended up putting a piece of wood to separate them so they could get used to each other’s noises. Soon we lifted the wood panel and they appeared to get along fine. The older black ones hung out together and the new brown ones stuck together. To this day, they still run in their original groups, roosting in their groups as well.

Pet and Chickens

We have a Beagle mixed dog: we were concerned if the chickens would be able to co-exist with Chrissy. We took our time introducing them. Believe me; she wanted to take a bite the first few times. We held the babies in our hands and let her sniff them. The first time she attempted to bite one, we tapped her nose. This may not deter another dog but it did her. The brooder sat in our dining area, so she heard them all the time, which almost drove her crazy. We then put the chicks under a basket in the back yard, stepped back and let Chrissy sniff around them outside. Lastly, we let the chicks run when they got older, with Chrissy on a leash. Finally, she got the message that she was not to eat the chickens. It was touch and go for a while, holding our breath that the training we gave her would stick, and it did. She now goes after Cheerio’s and hangs out the chickens. Just yesterday, she brought us an egg she had found out in the yard. I think Chrissy is our rooster.

The Coop

My husband then started on the outside coop. We looked at so many different plans, believe me; it can get quite overwhelming deciding which one is best. The main concern for us was easy cleaning. We made a large back door that could be opened up for easy cleaning. The coop must have nesting boxes that the chickens will lay their eggs. It also has to have a roosting bar above the nesting boxes. I have enclosed a picture of the coop. My husband made a door that we could open and close like a pulley. It is important that the chickens are safe at night from predators. We attached a wooden plank like ladder that the chicks could walk up and down into the coop. Our chickens live on an acre and free range all day in our fenced back yard. When the sun goes down they head back to the coop and go inside on their own. I found this truly amazing. While they are young, it is best to keep a look out for them as hawks can swoop down and take them. They now are a year old, very large, heavy birds, so I do not worry so much now.

Chicken Feed

We kept the chicks on a medicated chick feed in the beginning but then switched to regular chick feed. We only have six chickens so we were told it was not necessary. Once they began lying, which was around 8 months and this can vary, we switched to a hen laying feed and added oyster shell to the batch of feed to help the shells become stronger. I always give them fresh water and keep the feeder full. We also feed them fresh fruits and vegetables. I do not give them too many leftovers of processed foodstuffs and never meat or dairy. We do give them Cheerio for treats at times. I am not sure if this is bad or good but they love it and so far, we have had no problems. Once you start giving those treats, they will want to follow you all the time and expect treats. Our chickens are very social and love being around us, mostly because my husband spoils them. They can hear our voices, and they come running, of course, they want more treats. Since our chickens are free range, we have had a problem with them coming on the back deck so we clipped their wings and put a lattice around the deck. This helped somewhat. They do sometimes still fly up to say hello.

A Broody Hen

A hen can become broody which mean they will sit on the egg, thinking it will hatch. We have only had one hen so far that has become broody. She would not come out of the coop to eat or drink. We would physically have to pick her up and remove the egg. Twice a day we would pick her up and put her outside to eat and drink. This is very important as some broody hens can become ill. They are touchy but our hen was very gentle and did not make a fuss. Should you want a rooster, this will give you baby chicks and a protector for the chickens. We do not have a rooster, as we did not want any baby chicks. We have read pros and cons of owning a rooster. It must be an individual family’s decision.

The Eggs

There is nothing more rewarding, than finding your first egg. The eggs start out small and then get bigger. Each chicken will lay their eggs at different times and will share their nesting boxes. Sometimes we have found eggs somewhere else in the yard, so beware, if they appear not to be lying, they could be laying somewhere else. Some days they may not lay at all. With six chickens, we are getting about five eggs a day. The yolk is a bright yellow and very tasty.

I hope this article has answered some of your questions if you are thinking about getting some chickens. This may give you some key points to Google so that you may learn more about raising chickens. Wishing you the best should you decide to raise some chickens.

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