Our First Summer with Backyard Chickens :
what we did right & what we did wrong
I have always been an over-planner. I had read a dozen chicken books, obtained a livestock permit, done weeks of research, picked a coop from the catalog then stalked it until it went on sale, and so on. I had not, however, checked with our local farm store regarding their rules for purchasing chicks.
They had a 6 chick minimum. We had planned on 4 – but what’s 2 extra chickens? We got our 4 Isa Browns that I had wanted and I threw in 2 Leghorns. After all, Leghorns are the classic American chicken. Now the Leghorns were not sexed – meaning there was a 50/50 shot at them being female. No big deal, we have to buy 6 anyways (only $2 each) and we can always give them to a farm if they are roosters (since it’s illegal to have a rooster in our county). Sounds like a great plan.
We did some things wrong… But we did some things right. And just 3 months and 25 days after the chicks came home, we got an egg!
What we did right
Bought a prefab coop on sale with a mini run attached
Coops, especially prebuilt coops can be very expensive and building one with all the bells and whistles I wanted would have been pricey, super time consuming and really difficult. Running saws and drills is tough with an 18 month old holding your leg. This coop took about 15 minutes to screw the sides together and attach the ramp. It has a slide-out floor to clean, multiple sliding screen doors for air and built-in nesting boxes with an egg retrieval door. All for $200. Boom
We now have a fully enclosed run secured to the coop giving them about ten times more foraging space.
Fully fenced backyard
Our yard has a lot of space and is fully fenced. This was surprisingly important since our chickens escaped their portable run daily for several months, no matter what we did. For a while we just let them free range the yard all day until they figured out how to hop the lowest section of fencing and started having day trips through the neighborhood. Then we broke down and Kody bought real fencing and bird netting to fully enclose a set space for them.
Mainly our fence is great because it reduces our predator threat. It’s an extra barrier to raccoons and occasional foxes in the area and we’ve never had a dog or cat in the yard. Luckily we have few other predators since we are in a neighborhood besides owls and hawks. Our coop sits against a very tall fence and the extended run is covered partially by a tree and partially by bird netting, so stop anything from swooping in.
That’s about it for what we did right.
What we did wrong
We got baby chicks
I decided that I wanted chicks, not pullets, to reduce the risk of getting scared / mean birds or sick birds. Well, chicks are delicate and we don’t have power outside so they had to stay indoors until they feathered.
Chicks smell. And are surprisingly loud. And the heat lamps they need are bright and hot. So don’t keep them in your bedroom because you won’t sleep. I won’t tell you how I know this.
Our house is very small – as in my vacuum can reach the whole house without ever unplugging it small. There was NO WHERE to put them. So in the bathtub their crate went. It was not a fun month.
We had boys. Not 1. Not even 2. We got 3. BOTH Leghorns and even one of our ‘female’ Isa Browns were roosters. Now this isn’t necessarily a huge problem except we couldn’t legally keep them and both Leghorns (which were from the same batch) turned out to have genetic health problems and we couldn’t even give them away. So my husband had to kill them and we couldn’t eat them. He didn’t feel bad about killing them since they were disfigured and obviously extremely sick, but he was frustrated that we paid for high quality food for several months and got no return at all.
Chicks are expensive. It takes months and months of feeding these guys before you get an egg or a chicken dinner. Getting day old chicks for $2 a piece is great but buying half a dozen bags of chicken feed for $25 can be frustrating.
We didn’t have a mentor
Our Isa Brown seemed to turn into a rooster overnight. The Leghorns looked like Godzilla with pretty tails within 2 months but not all roosters are that distinctive. He didn’t look that different!
The Leghorns practiced crowing for a while but were culled before they found their voice. Mr. Brown woke up on the 4th of July a full grown man, trying to mount everyone and suddenly crowed loudly every time a firework went off.
He would have gone into our freezer, except we didn’t know how to butcher a chicken! We were starting with egg birds so we hadn’t done any research. And I had no one to call. No one I knew raised meat birds.
Once they crow they must leave city limits or you can loose your whole flock. I offered him up for free but we had no takers – and finally we just had to kill him.
We weren’t set up to butcher, had no supplies to do it and had only seen it done on YouTube. We just weren’t comfortable butchering and eating a chicken when we didn’t really know what we were doing. That one upset my husband a lot. He felt like it was truly a waste, and it was.
Go into any farm store and you will see hundreds of little 6 inch disks that fits a mason jar or plastic jug on top to water your chickens. They are the perfect size. Except they sit on the ground and get dirt in them in 10 seconds. And they are every chicken’s favorite place to sit – letting them poop right in the water. Oh and they are so top heavy that just thinking about wind knocks them over.
So we got to refill them 8 times a day.
What we learned
aka what you should do the first time
- Never buy mixed run (unsexed) chickens unless you WANT roosters. Because you will get one.
- Chickens are dumb as bricks but can get out of ANYTHING. If you aren’t going to clip their wings, they have to be totally enclosed.
- Build an enclosed run. Make it huge if you want. But free-range does NOT have to mean free-for-all.
- Get hanging or large waterers and feeders that stay clean and can’t be knocked over.
- Find a chicken resource in your area that you can visit if you think you may be butchering chickens.
- Consider buying hens that are close to laying age instead of chicks
IT’S WORTH IT
My toddler is in LOVE with the chickens. She isn’t allowed to touch them, but she stands at their coop and talks to them and helps bring water and food everyday.
She had eggs for breakfast this morning and I still have a full dozen on my counter for this week. Even with just 3 girls laying we are STOCKED with eggs. We get 3 new eggs every single day.