Thursday, January 5, 2012

Backyard Chickens ~ The Adventure Begins

I've been dying to tell you about this, but in all honesty I wasn't sure how it was going to end up, so I've been a little hesitant...

You see, I have always liked chickens.  I like the contented sounds they make, how colorful they can be, and that they can be helpful little gardeners/insect controllers.  On top of all that, they lay eggs, too.  How much better can it get?

This winter, I had done an insane amount of chicken research.  I believe at some point I had checked out every book about chickens and chicken coops from our local library.  We even attended "Chicken College" at our local farmers co-op.  I felt like there was nothing more I could learn without getting a few of my own.
One very important thing:  If you live in the city, like we do, call your city's planning/zoning department to find out if you can even have chickens in town.  Every city is different.  I was pleasantly surprised that we have no restrictions on the number of hens...just no roosters.

The co-op was expecting a shipment of chicks mid-March and by that time I had worn Tom down.  He had conceeded but told me that they were my responsibility.  I'm still not quite sure what that meant but I think it was his way of backing out just in case things got hairy (or in this case...feathery?).

The morning the chicks were available, the kids and I jumped into the truck, all excited to meet our new critters.  I had decided that I wanted (Plymouth) Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Golden-Laced Wyandottes (pronounced wy-an-dot...can you tell we were stumped?) and Americuanas.  The first three breeds I wanted out of practicality...they are good layers/meat* birds and have a docile disposition.  The Americuanas I wanted because they are known to lay blue/green eggs.
Prior to picking up our chicks, I had prepared their brooder.  (If you are new to chickens as I was, a brooder is just a warm, draft-free place for them to live in until they are old enough to thrive in the outdoor environment.)  I used a clear Rubbermaid tote I had.  In the bottom I put wood shavings covered with paper towel and then placed their chick starter-feed, water and a little box of sand for them.  (You want to cover the wood shavings with paper towel for the first couple of days so they learn to eat their food and not the shavings.  After that you can remove the paper towels.)  Oh, the piece of foil has a little chick feed on it so they get used to pecking...or so I was told.  Their heat lamp was on and the brooder was a toasty 95 degrees.  We were ready...
When we got to the co-op and saw all the chicks, my two kiddos fell in love.  They had never seen day-old chicks before and they were in awe of these soft, fluffy and way-too-cute little creatures.  I am so glad that we had decided on how many we were getting before our arrival.  I'm sure it would have have been far too easy to get caught up in the moment and left with more than we wanted!
When we got home, as we took each chick out of the box, we dipped her beak in the water so she knew where to get a drink.  As we were doing this, we noticed that one of the Barred Rocks had "pasty butt".  Pasty butt can be caused from stress during shipping and/or temperature changes.  Her little bottom had to be cleaned up with a warm, wet wash cloth so nothing was blocking her "output", so to say.  That condition could prove fatal if not addressed.  (That little chick is named Patsy and we are pleased to say that she is doing very well!)

Below is a picture of one of our Americuanas, Liberty (Libby).  The kids thought the Americanas should be named patriotic names :-).  The other is Betsy Ross.
Because we have two cats that are incredibly proficient hunters, leaving the brooder out in the garage where they could get to the chicks was out of the question.  We had yet to decide on a coop design, too, so our only option was to keep our little ladies in the house.  Although the veterinarian I was talking with said that is what she does with all her chicks, I do not recommend it.  It was great because we got to enjoy watching them grow and all their funny little antics, but as they develop their feathers they create a kind of powder to help lubricate that process.  This is VERY messy!!!  I don't think I have ever been more motivated to Spring Clean in my life!

*Earlier I mentioned getting chickens that were good meat birds, too.  There are breeds that you would specifically grow as a fryer/roaster that would not be laying hens.  At first I was a little concerned about culling one of our hens, and I have a feeling that it won't be an easy thing to do.  But I did hear that chickens were made by God for our use, and one of those uses is as food for us.  If we did not do that, we would not be honoring their life by allowing them to complete their purpose on this earth.  I'll be trying to remember that when the time comes.

Oh, by the way, I did learn that our local butcher will take care of the entire process for about $3 a bird.  I have to say that suits my sensibilities a whole lot more.
Have you ever raised chickens?  Do you have some funny stories or words of advice you'd like to share?  If so, please leave a comment! 

No comments:

Post a Comment