The Dark Side of Keeping Chickens

Overall,  I’m amazed at how easy chickens are to take care of. But sometimes the whole situation reminds me of breastfeeding. Everyone’s so busy talking it up and saying how great it is that they forget to mention that there are moments when it truly sucks.

For instance:

1. Culling

Sometimes a chicken that was supposed to be a girl turns out to be a boy. In fact, I think it happens about 1 out of 10 times since chicks are so difficult to sex. After about a month of non-stop crowing for a half hour every morning, something had to be done (see above photo). What we thought was a butch hen was quickly becoming a rooster with a capital ‘R’.

Turns out there isn’t a drive-through slaughter house in our area catering to wimpy wannabe farmers. Even though we were fond of Miss Rooster, the rest of world saw her/him as a disposable entity that we needed to deal with ourselves. Gulp.

Apparently there will be more culling in two to three years when our hens are past their prime. They can live for several years, but if you’re in it for the eggs like we are it doesn’t make sense to keep them around. I’m not looking forward to it.

2. Start up costs

We found our little blue coop on craigslist, but it was still $500. I’ve seen fancy new coops for $1500. Then you have to build a yard around it. We used a healthy amount of hardware cloth to build ours so the yard cost somewhere between $100 – $200 more. Then there’s the food and the bedding. I don’t even want to do the math to figure out how many eggs our hens would need to lay to make up the costs. And I really don’t understand how farmers manage to make any money off of this kind of stuff.

The good news is that the chicks cost next to nothing.

3. Maintaince

Chickens poop a lot. So far it hasn’t gotten too smelly. But I’ve heard it can be a real stinkfest.

So all in all, I’ve discovered that keeping chickens is not always a pastoral love fest. But then when you’re cleaning out the coop for the millionth time, you find one of these:

I’m still a newbie, so it still feels better than Christmas morning to find a little egg hanging out in the nest box. It’s a miracle. I wonder if it will ever get old.

Thank you little hens.

We Have Egg!

It arrived a month late, but all is forgiven now that we’ve finally had our first egg from our hens.

I think I was feeding the hens too many of our kitchen scraps and they weren’t getting enough protein to produce eggs. A few weeks ago I cut the scraps way down. But I had still pretty much given up hope. The days are getting shorter here and supposedly output usually decreases during the winter.

But enough with the boring details….we have a hen that laid an egg! We’ve been feeding and tending these birds for months and months. The egg’s arrival feels miraculous.

No word from the hens (we’re down to only two from the original six – long story) yet as to which one of them finally stepped up to the plate. Regardless, one of them gave us a lovely egg. My taste buds were most likely clouded by the fact that the egg was from hens we had raised, but I’ve gotta say it was mighty tasty. (Don’t think I’m terrible and didn’t share it with my family, we all had a bite.)

The shell was thick which is nice. Thin shells bother me. It was a bit speckled which I’m chalking up to first time jitters. The yolk wasn’t as dark as I’d like. I’ll try throwing them some fresh parsley and see if that does the trick.

If you’ve got any other tips for me, please share them in the comments below. As you can probably already tell, I need all the help I can get.

Chicken update: 10 weeks old

 

I’m very happy to report that the chickens are still among the living. Sometime in the past couple weeks they passed from the realm of baby to full-fledged chickendom.  While I occasionally found myself wishing they had an older chicken to show them the ropes, they are adjusting well to life in their new home.

A couple of the chickens are actually friendly and the other four want nothing to do with us. My kids have been enjoying them a lot more since we opened the door to the coop and allowed them to roam in the hen yard. I never have to ask twice if they’d like to bring some table scraps out for the chickens to feast on.

I’m a really big fan of the chicken’s hind feathers. They are as soft as they look.

I’m also fascinated by their feet. Scared might be a better word than fascinated. Luckily, they appear to be completely unaware that they’re walking around on a set of potentail weapons.

If all continues to go well, the egg factory will swing into gear sometime in the middle of September.

Chicks Update: 3 Weeks Old

The chicks are growing each day and their feathers are coming in in a hurry. They’re about of 3 weeks old now. I’ve doubled their living space by taping two boxes together and unintentionally provided them with a hurdle/roost to play around with. Aside from changing out their food and water twice a day and keeping their bedding clean, they require very little thought these days which is nice.

Chicks!

Well, we were supposed to be waiting until next year…

But you know how that goes. Hopefully, I’ll have more willpower when it comes to getting a dog. 

We have six Rhode Island Red chicks who are growing like wild fire. Here they are (above) at one week old fresh from the Tractor Supply Store.

And here they are at two weeks (above). Notice the wing and tail feathers already coming in!

Here are the reference books I’m using as guides.

But I still have very little idea what I’m doing. Anyone know of a rad website/blog that details raising chicks?? Right now I’m wondering how long they are going to be happy in a big box. They’re growing so quickly I just can’t picture them fitting in it a couple weeks from now.

But, luckily, so far, so good. If you’re thinking of raising some chicks, be warned that they produce a great deal of poop! It’s giving me flash backs to the days my kids were in diapers. I could share other details, but I’m such a novice I think I’ll just keep quiet for now. Fingers crossed.