Monday, August 23, 2010

Chickens and Answers to Common Questions

Why do I have chickens?  I was a farm girl.   My Nana (my grandmother, the only grandparent I knew) had chickens.  My family also had chickens.  And I have a treasured memories of gathering eggs as a young child.
I remember selecting a bird for that evening's dinner, and the head being chopped off and the bird running in circles sans head!  This didn't traumatize me as a child, it was just presented in a very matter-of-fact manner.  Later, I remember Nana cutting the bird open and showing me the internal parts.  That was fascinating! (I dare you to show me a kid who isn't interested in internal organs.)  I seem to remember the parts being different colors.   She showed me some things that she said were going to be eggs.  This has to be when I was about 3 years old.  It's an important memory for me, since I lost my Nana when I was 8.
Then there is also the story about the mean rooster that jumped up and scratched my face with his talons.  He didn't have those talons very long after that.  My Daddy fixed him.

So, it's all wrapped up in my childhood.   It's in my brain.  It's in my genes.  Just like having a larder (pantry) with enough food to survive a disaster,  I got it in the gene pool.

Some of my friends have asked me questions about keeping chickens, so here's what I know:  (and the following is my opinion only)
1.  Where do you get chickens?
You buy them as baby chicks at a feed store, in the Spring, beginning in March.  Then you need to keep them in a big box, inside,  with paper and pine shavings on the bottom, and with a clamp -on light above, for about 6 weeks.  In the garage is fine.
Blanche and Isabe
2.  Do you have to have rooster?
No, you don't have to have one.  I don't have one.  You only need a rooster if you want to raise chicks, or have fertilized eggs.  Otherwise, your hen will lay eggs anyway.
3.  Any advice about a coop?
Yes.  Keep the floor off the ground.  When it gets wet it gets stinky and we have more flies.  I have my coop up on pallets.  Put vinyl flooring down on the floor to make cleaning up easy.  Throw sawdust down on the flooring and sprinkle it with diatomaceous earth.   You only need to sweep it out and put down more sawdust and DE every couple of months.

4.  You said"flies".
Yes, I did.  Once or twice a summer I spray around the ground and in the coop with a permethrin solution and that takes care of the flies, for the most part.
5.  What do the chickens eat?
Of course they need chicken feed.  They get sunflower seeds and scratch feed as a special treat.  And kitchen scraps!  Anything fruit or vegetable is a great, but they will eat almost any leftovers.  I buy them corn on the cob when it's cheap.  They love cheese and pasta, bread and tortillas; I just don't give them meat.  And in the early spring, when the wild mustard weeds are all over the place, they loved, loved, loved that.  Whenever I went for a walk I brought back wild mustard and their egg yolks were so beautiful and dark golden.
Harriet plotting a way into the tomatoes
6.  Are they pets?
Yes, they run to me (it's very funny!) when I call them and they are very amenable to being picked up and petted, as long as you start when they are young.   They won't like it at first, but after a while they will squat down in front of you and want to be picked up.  It's pretty clear mine think it's special treatment.
7.  Are they  stupid?
Gertrude looking for bugs
No.  Not at all.  They pick up really quickly on a routine.  I "herd" mind back into the coop every evening and let them out in the morning, and they know all about it and expect it.  I take a broom with me and sort of "shoo" them into the pen and after the first few times, and they totally get it.  If I don't get outside in the afternoon, they know to get into their coop at nighttime.  When I'm at home I  like to protect them from neighborhood cats and varmints by making sure they are in the coop.  

8.  What are the other negatives?
Well, I paid $450 to have my coop made, which was a bargain.  Feed is about $12 every couple of months.  I buy 40 pound sacks at Walmart.   If the chickens get into my garden area, they dig up the ground and displace all the mulch, and they like to eat tomato plants, as well as tomatoes. I keep their wings clipped so they can't fly up really high.
9.  In the winter, are they cold out there?
My coop has an "enclosed" area with a  perch where they can get inside if the wind is cold.  I threw them in there a couple of times when the temps got really cold last winter, but they seemed to want to roost outside (in the coop) even in the coldest times.  Of course, we rarely get temps below freezing here, just a few times a year and only into the 20's a few weeks.  Chickens are very hardy and those feathers do a good job of insulating them. 
10.  How many eggs do you get?
Last fall I had 3 mature hens and I got 3 a day until this spring when they started to moult.  Then production dropped.  When it's really hot they don't lay every day, and I get about 2, sometimes 1, sometimes 3 a day.  When my three young hens start laying and the weather cools down I expect to get 5 or 6 a day.
11.Do they need a nesting box to lay eggs?
Yes, but a cat box (the kind with a top part) with straw in it will work.   You might need to get a wooden egg (Hobby Lobby) and put it in there to show them what to do. You need a nesting box for  every 3 hens.
12.  Do the dogs bother them?
Shady,  our big dog did kill some chicks.  I have to keep them separated until the chicks are a decent size, and then for some reason, she leaves them alone.   She was a farm dog and often killed dove and grackles on the farm, and didn't understand that she needed to differentiate birdies.
13.  Are you ever going to eat your hens?
Not unless we get into a situation that's really, really
dire.  Then yes, I probably would.  But that level of hungry seems awfully remote.
14.  Anything else?
Yes.  You can get tons of information from this website including some inspiring pictures of great coops.  It's lots of fun and just not that hard to do.  

1 comment:

Praneet said...

Thanks for sharing your valuable experience. I am studying up on self-sufficiency, since the economy is being imploded by Ben Bernanke and his bankster buddies. I think many Americans will need this knowledge in the up-coming years!!
Bless you.