As many of you know, Roger and I’ve added to our family: four baby chickens. And while I had nine months to figure out what to do with a human baby (and still messed up on many of the details for that) I had about nine minutes to figure out what to do with these baby chicks.
Fortunately, I had my own collection of chicken godmothers to help me through bringing our babies home (and everything that comes afterward.)
Let me introduce you to the Chicken Godmother, Angela Roberge. A seasoned chicken raiser (and a seasoned chicken consumer), I asked her to share some of her favorite tips to make feathered mom-ing a little less daunting.
If you’ve ever wondered if you could raise chicks, here’s everything you need to know to not run a fowl in your chicken attempts.
Poultry in the Time of COVID
Hey, all you cool chicks and chickens.
Greetings from isolation.
In between cutting your own hair, baking your own bread and growing your own toilet paper, it behooves us all to get a step or two closer to the Keep-Calm-and-Homestead-On life of yesteryear.
Some of my self-imposed, old-timey projects were one-and-done (ain’t nobody got time to render one’s own lard) and some stuck. Chickens, as it turns out, are very sticky. They provide, not only eggs, but hours of ChickTV™, and, if you’ve the stomach for it, a pretty kick-ass soup.
Here are a few things to get you started on your next obsession:
1 – Chickens need a minimum of 4 square feet of indoor space if they’re to be cooped up (hehe) for any length of time. As a Canadian, whose winters range from 27 months to 6.5 years, this means a twelve bird flock needs a 6’ x 8’ shed.
2 – Food matters. Did you know diet determines yolk color? Battery hens (the sad birds shown in PETA videos) fed bottom of the barrel layer mash will have pasty yellow yolks,. whilst happy, free-ranging hens, scavenging bugs, worms, and frogs, fed high-quality food, will have a more Home Depot orange hue.
There is nothing more smug smirk inducing than when your friends marvel at the difference between their normal, tepid fare and your rock star offering.
3 – Roosters are much like dishwashers. They’re not a necessity, but they’re handy to have around. They’ll ensure you’ve a supply of fertile eggs, scout out the best foraging places, and will go toe-to-toe with a coyote to protect his harem. They can be obnoxiously loud, however, at all times of day, so if you’ve got cranky neighbors, maybe reconsider.
4 – You’re familiar with the term “livestock,” right? Welp, if you allow livestock into your life, you’ll likely have to make room for her butthole cousin, Deadstock. Basically, “Life is fragile, yo.” Expect and prepare for illness, predation, and accidents. I suggest going half-pharaoh and harden that heart. Love your chickens, just don’t LOVE your chickens.
5 – Chickens, like my rubbish taste in music, are super diverse. There are breeds that lay white, brown, even blue or green eggs. There are breeds that are adapted to particular climates, lay more eggs, are more likely to fly the proverbial coop, make noise, or be great moms. Do your research and pick the breed that’s right for you.
Honestly, though? Even with the deepest of research, chickens have habits and personalities all their own. Your chickens might hide eggs, or dig up your garden, or follow you around, or try to attack you whilst your back is turned. For the latter, I recommend soup for dinner.
6 – Good news: If properly cared for, chickens can live a decade. Bad news: They only lay for about three of those years. You’ve either got to be cool with feeding these freeloaders for a millennia after they’ve stopped paying their way, or comfortable shuffling off their mortal coil.
7 – Like any pet, chickens are a commitment. They’ll need to be fed and watered even if it’s cold and rainy and you’ve got a sniffle. They make vacationing interesting, as your best friend might be okay feeding your cat while you’re away, but is decidedly less cool with 50 starving hens charging her and the grain bin. Start cultivating disposable friendships now.
8 – Daylight plays a large part in egg-laying. Chickens need 12-16 hours of light per day to keep them happily pooping your breakfast. So, when winter comes, or the sun explodes, you’ll either need to supplement with coop lighting or let them take a break for a few months.
This break is the best option for the health of your flock. It’s like chickens store up their Sabbaths, remembering them and keeping them holy for 16 solid weeks.
9 – Chicken math – much like The Northern Lights, and narwhals, and children who LISTEN THE FIRST TIME – is a mystical but real phenomenon. You start out with your small coop, and a promise to your husband “not to worry, you’ll only get a couple, and it won’t be much work, and won’t it be fun to have fresh eggs for breakfast?” and suddenly, you’ve got a contractor over, planning your Chicken Palace because your flock now numbers 45, and you’re selling your contraband eggs out the back of your Cheerio-encrusted minivan, because FOUR DOZEN FRESH EGGS DAILY. ::cough::
10 – You are not the only one that finds chicken delicious. The humble hen is on the bottom-most rung of the ladder. Plan to protect them from everything from mink to foxes to raccoons to neighborhood dogs. Fences, well-sealed coops, and even a 24/7 radio will be beneficial.
There’s no more helpless feeling than seeing your favorite hen hanging limp in the jaws of a coyote. While I’d never admit to flinging a garden fork at one, javelin style, I won’t *not* admit it, either.
Have I scared you off? Made you consider turning that coop into an Airbnb? I hope not.
Chickens aren’t for the faint of heart, but they’re honestly one of my favorite parts of homesteading. There’s nothing quite like paying $20 for a bag of food that your flock will convert into eggs you could purchase at No Frills for $1.99.
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