Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Little Chicken Scratch...

Right now, the animals on our homestead consist of chickens and 2 awnry coonhounds. I know, not real impressive, right? We have spent the last year remodeling the inside of our house and trying to create garden space, so the only thing we've been able to find time for is raising some chickens.

We bought our chicks as day old poults from Welp Hatchery. It is so much fun when they come in the mail and we are always surprised at how tiny the box is! You'd be amazed how many chicks they can squeeze into a space about half the size of an adult shoebox!

For those of you with no experience with chicks, they do this so that they stay warm during the journey from the hatchery to your front door. Day old chicks can survive the first couple of days without food. When they arrive, you are supposed to dip their beaks in some sugar water, then in their food bowl (so they know where it is), and then let them loose in their cage...or wherever you are keeping them. Some folks use a cardboard box, or a garden cart, or whatever they can find for temporary use...it doesn't have to be fancy! We actually used an old parrot cage this last time that the previous owner of our home left behind. We kept it in the front of our house with a large piece of cardboard under it to catch the droppings. It worked beautifully!

We had purchased chicks from Welp Hatchery once before and all 25 had been healthy and vibrant. We only raised our first batch for about 6 weeks before we decided to move back east from Utah so we had to sell every one of them to a local family who was just starting their own homestead. This time we ordered 25 brown egg layers, a standard run, which means we would get about an even mix of males and females. This works for us, because it gives us plenty of males to stick in the freezer and plenty of females for eggs.

This time, however, I lost five of the chicks in the first 24 hours. I called the hatchery to get some advice and she asked me if I put sugar in their water. I was so sad when she said this because I realized I had forgotten to do that this time and I was probably the reason we had lost so many!

I immediately made up the sugar water and from then on the rest of the chicks were healthy. They stayed inside for about 3 weeks before I was ready for them to move outside...they start to get a little stinky at that point! My parents were visiting from Florida at the time, so my dad helped Ryan build a chicken coop using one side of an existing pole barn on our property. It made a great home for the chickens and it's probably one of the most luxury chicken houses in all of WV! We were going to make a simple structure using scrap materials, but my dad doesn't do anything "simple", so we ended up with a luxury chicken "condo"! THANKS, DAD!

Here's what they looked like the first night in their new home...MUCH more space than the old parrot cage! Boy, were they ever happy!

We started out keeping them in a fenced-in yard that connected to the coop.

This kept the big ones in, but our little banties kept flying out. When we saw how healthy they looked from free-ranging on the property, we decided to take down the fence entirely. Now, we only put our 3 large hens inside the coop at night to protect them from prowlers (and to give them a break from the roosters who just will not leave them alone). Trust me, there is way too much testosterone in the chicken yard than three little hens can handle!

Here are some more recent pictures...all grown up!

This last one is Deitrich...he's my favorite and seems to be the "protector" of the hens, so he will not be gracing the inside of my freezer anytime soon!

One of our roosters disappeared and we never found any sign of what happened to him. In fact, we're not even sure when it happened, except that one day we only counted 19 instead of 20. Then, last week I found one of my hens under a pile of wood with her neck broke...how sad! I cried...then I pulled myself together and realized it's just a chicken. I got over it. We think that the roosters were chasing her and she tried to take shelter, but when they went after her the wood fell on her.

We get eggs now and then. One of the large hens lays in the nesting box a few days a week. Another has established a nest under the house and we get one from there about 5 times a week. The small hens are laying out in the woods somewhere and we have yet to find any of their nests. I guess one day we'll have a bunch of little banty babies running around.

The time has come that we need to start "processing" the roosters. I found a bad spot on the back of one my hens where they have been holding her down and pecking at her. Poor thing...I think Thursday will be "the day". We've never done this before...we should charge admission.

All kidding aside, we have studied up on how to do this in the most humane way possible. We've taken quite a few tips from Herrick Kimball over at The Deliberate Agrarian. We will be taking care of the 4 small roosters first. They are "fighting" roosters and they are pretty aggressive. They come after the kids when they are outside and it's gotten a bit frightening. Benjamin carries a big stick with him wherever he goes to defend himself from the little guys.

Having animals is truly an education in and of itself. Once we master chickens, we'll be moving on to goats. We'd like to raise them for their milk and to help with clearing some acreage here at the homeplace. And then perhaps a hog and a beef cow...

I'm sure I will have many more future tales to tell!

'Til next time...

P.S. If any of you are chicken experts, could you tell me what breeds my chickens are? I'd love to know! :0)

1 comment:

Haley said...

You are too funny :)

<3 Haley