Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Keeping Backyard Chickens

I was poking around in my 43 Things list this morning and came across a write up I made on keeping chickens so thought I would share it here:

Raising Backyard Chickens

How I did it: First I read up on backyard chickens care/feeding/raising and then joined

When we relocated to Northern Illinois, we bought a house with a red barn/garden shed that had electricity wired in and a hatch flap that would allow them to get outside. We dug post holes and cemented in some 4x4x8 posts and stapled wire penning to them. We put shavings on the floor using the deep litter method, a nesting box, and some hay bales to make them little igloo garages for cold weather.

We put a roof over the pen because they loooove to fly over the wall and peck in the garden or examine the neighbor's shrubbery. They can definitely fly and I've seen ours get up to 7-8 feet off the ground.

Regular or organic feed is $10-20 for a big bag and they get fresh water every day. For them, I planted seed packets of mustard greens, kale, leaf lettuce; lots of extra rows of green in the garden last summer and just picked it and threw it into their pen. Very happy chickens and we got the nutrition value back in their eggs.

We started with 4 three month old pullets in October 2007. You can order chicks from Murray McMurray but I didn't want the added expense and equipment of hatching eggs or raising tiny chicks without a mother hen. I joined the forum on backyard chickens and looked for someone local who was parting with a small flock that had grown up together. Once we got them home initially, I just added a regular metal clip utility light overhead on a timer so they get 12 hrs of light per day (or else they don't lay eggs).

Recently, last August 2008 we received an email from the farmer saying he had new flocks. I wanted one or two new chicks but brought hubby and little one so we ended up with 4 more two week old chicks and they are just now 4 months and starting to lay. They have chick feed from birth to 3 months and then layer feed until they stop laying. Our remaining Buff Orpington is very broody and sits on her nest of laid eggs most of the time so we thought we'd give her some little girls to love. Didn't work out that way, she was aggressve towards them. So best laid plans and all that. However, the advantage to little chicks is that you can handle them excessively and make them tame to humans.

I was a bit worried about the little ones when cold weather set in but they are doing just fine. At 3-4 months old they are not so little any more, they are full grown now. In sub-zero weather we turn on two overhead heat lamps so they can warm up. On the coldest of cold below zero days I make them scrambled eggs. Without a rooster to fertilize them, their eggs are simply full of vitamins and a hot breakfast warms up their bellies.

The Auracana is currently the only little one laying but she produces the most beautiful tiny green eggs.

We lost one of the original Orpingtons to a respiratory wheeze and one of the new baby chicks went stir crazy when the snow arrived and forced her way outside in a snowstorm (poor thing-through the latched side flap).

These are pets and we don't intend to eat them. Hens lay eggs for about 1-2 years or more but they live for about 10 years.

We have 3 black sex links, 1 Buff Orpington, 1 Auracauna - sometimes called the Easter Egger or EE (lays blue/green eggs!), and one Rhode Island Red

Let them acclimate to cold weather, don't use the heat lamps too much. They don't like to be too warm and if you have a power outtage then you'll quickly have hensicles.

Alternately, they will cool off in the summer by flapping in the pine shavings or you can give them a wading pool of sand to "splash" in.

Compost the shavings for a great garden fertilizer. Once per year shovel out all of their shavings and replace it with new. Pine shavings preferably, not cedar as it can be damaging to them.

These eggs are more nutritional and have half of the cholesterol of store bought eggs. Backyard eggs have approximately twenty-five percent more vitamin E, seventy-five percent more beta carotene, and as much as twenty times the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids as do factory farmed eggs. Even the yolks are a super bright yellow. Store eggs can be 2 months old or worse.

Be careful of your zoning, most suburban areas do not allow roosters. Get sexed chicks or 3 month old pullets so you know that you are getting females. If you want to hatch your own eggs then have a plan for getting rid of the roos. We live in a rural area zoned agricultural but we still have lots of neighbors and the roo noise would have been pretty annoying.

The hardest thing about them is the infighting to determine the pecking order. Our littlest hen gets her butt pecked so much by the others that she has a permanently bare red posterior. And chickens are compelled to peck the color red so it's a vicious circle. Hubby calls her Red Butt. They can be brutal to each other; scratches, cuts, bullying, fighting. Just keep an eye on them but don't interfere too much. If you are introducing new birds to an established flock, please do some research because it's a difficult thing to do.

The best thing about them is I never again have to waste any sort of vegetable, fruit, or piece of bread. They are my little clucky garbage disposals. Great if we don't eat the bananas soon enough or if the lettuce goes a bit yellow in the vegetable bin.

I do resist showing them at fairs or picking up new cuties from the local poultry show because you just don't know if they're going to pick up a nasty virus or bacteria and bring it home. Plus the whole re-introduction to the flock for the one who got out for a field trip is something else to be avoided.

"Don't use fresh eggs for baking, use last week's or the week before." I don't know why but my elderly neighbor used to farm chickens and that's what she told me and I do what I'm told when it comes to people with more wisdom.

Recommended Reading: Still Life With Chickens (Starting Over In A House By The Sea) by Catherine Goldhammer
Non-fiction 2006: Catherine, freshly divorced and with a young daughter, decided to have a simpler life and built a pen and got a flock of backyard chickens. Her trials and tribulations with them. This is the book that stopped me just thinking about doing it and going out and making it happen.


  1. I love this post! Thank you :) I can't wait until we can have chickens. Right now, our backyard is the size of a postage stamp and we're in limbo.

  2. I so enjoyed my trip back in time through your story. We had a dozen chickens and our biggest problem was weasles. They dug under the coop and would come up underneath the chickens. We had four Plymouth Rocks and eight hybreds. We got a rooster to protct the chickens and he terrorized everyone. Our children never went into the henhouse unless they had a broomstick in their hands. That rooster became so agrressive that we had to give him away to a farm that said they needed an agressive rooster. That was 35 years ago.

  3. You're welcome jupitersinclair :O) I hear you, it's fun to plan while you're waiting. We're talking about moving to a bigger house so I've got to rethink what we're going to house them in if/when we move. Check out these little chicken eglu's too:

  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Doreen. Weasels! Oh that would be an adventure. We have a solid floor and I do worry but no troubles yet. Lots of raccoons around here I'm forever rechecking that their pen is secure. Sounds like you had quite a rooster, he did his job too well :O)

  5. How fantastic! As a city dweller Chickens are not in my near future but they have been a dream of mine. I love the Silkie Bantam it is so cute so they are the chicken I dream of owning on my dream farm. lol

  6. We had a bunch of chickens years ago. My dad still has about 10 but we had maybe 50 at one time. I love how sneaky they can get with hiding their eggs!

  7. Silkie Bantams are adorable, Laura! My dream farm has Frizzle Roos, they're fluffy and ruffled and look like they stuck a wing in a light socket.
    I love to hear of these chicken dreams - it makes me feel less weird for wanting them lol

  8. 50 chickens jeni, oh my. You are so right, they lay eggs in just the weirdest places. Minds of their own.

  9. Oooohhh thanks so much for posting this. We live in village city limits zoned residential 2 (some light industry) and I've found information on how far away from the road a fence has to be but have yet to see if we can have chickens. Goats no, but not sure about chickens. If we have a green light we get some too! If I've ever had a fresh egg I can't recall, so I appreciate your description of them, and the baking tip. Thanks! Cathy

  10. Hi there..welcome from a fellow chicken ownee...I'm also on BYC as Spotted Crow.

    Great rundown on your birdie adventures. Obelisk picks the wackedest placest to lay, like under the computer desk, on my DS's bed. Penny went broody (she was silkie/cochin mix so I got a double dose of broody) and wanted to sit on the back of the couch...not much you can do with a screaming pancake. LOL

  11. Good luck, Cathy! Hope the zoning goes your way. I wanted goats too but hubby drew the line. Jen

  12. Spotted Crow! I remember you from BYC Forum and your tales of Obelisk. I'm Jemjoop in there as well, but it's been awhile since I've posted.

    And you're on Etsy too, small world. Wasn't it funny yesterday to see a backyard chicken post in the Etsy forum. Jen ♥

  13. Hi,
    I love your chickens. We wish we could have chickens but they are not allowed where we live. My son (11 yrs) would go crazy for some chickens ! Your blog is so pretty I enjoyed looking at it. Have a great Day.

  14. Hi Sue, lovely to see you stopping by. Thank you for your kind words. Sorry that you guys can't have chickens right now, maybe someday you never know

  15. We had chickens for a brief time on our farm but between the copperheads burrowing under the pen, the raccoons, the skunks, possums and other critters, we lost them all! We may try again one of these days but despite two different types of wire, they were all taken.

    Mini Leaps and Bounds

  16. Hello!

    I´ve just love Your blog and your lovely pictures! Welcome to visit my site !
    HAve a nice day! Lena!

  17. Oh, I just love your place and your chickens - I was raised spending weekends and summers on my grandparent's farm. Lots of chickens just running around the yard, pecking in the flower beds - You porch looks so lovely, I would love to sit on it and have a cup of tea!! Cindy

  18. Wow! Glad I stumbled on your blog this morning! I saw your comment on the Winter Basics swpa.

    I love the post on chickens! I'm a member over at BYC, as well! I'm going to add you to my new chicken blog,

    There's nothing better than owning a few chickens! They are just wonderful!

  19. Wow, everything I ever wanted to know about chickens. I found it really interesting.Lucky you to have a supply of fresh eggs.

  20. Wonderful post. I have been wanting to raise chickens for awhile now but had no idea where to start. I am going to look into the sights and books you have listed here. Thank you so much!!!!