Friday, January 6, 2012


I really like chickens. Chickens are sociable, personable, inquisitive and have a happy disposition. Chickens on the homestead provide eggs and/or meat. Being vegetarians, Sunshine wonders why I am so interested in Chickens at all! I do eat an occasional egg white, but have tended to avoid the yolk not wanting extra cholesterol in my diet. One thing is sure, if you are going to eat meat, dairy or eggs, raise it yourself! I know exactly what has gone into the diet and environment of our birds, and I enjoy giving them greens and clean kitchen scraps to augment their vegetarian feed diet.

All of our chickens absolutely love kale. There is a load of calcium and minerals in kale, and these birds are smart enough to devour it before anything else. They also enjoyed the corn on the cob we gave them. One of our really bright birds would stand right beside me as I shucked the corn cobs, ever ready to spy a worm at the corn tip. It was as if we were working together as a team. She was talking the entire time, looking and always eager to inspect each ear as I opened it!

You should hear the chickens call and sing as any of us approach their coup. They are excited to have us as their guests, and always want to see what we have brought them.

Getting started

We started with Chickens in the spring of 2011, with the purchase of 7 pullets. Six have survived to laying maturity. We purchased the seventh, just in case we had a rooster, as we had wanted 6 layers. We purchased our as sexed female pullets (90+% female rather than 50% "free run") and kept them under a heat lamp to avoid chilling. They need to be able to move closer or farther away from the heat to regulate their body temperature. Reduce the temperature by 5 degrees per week until the supplemental heat is no longer needed. Pullet food is the "stratch" or "crumbles" feed, and an available supply of water is needed.

Decide what you want the birds for, and purchase a breed that fits that goal. Since we do not eat flesh, our goal was egg laying production, predominantly for sale. In our experience Isa Browns are good egg layers. We tried three varieties, and the Isa's are tops. They do not have a large body for meat production, but seem very efficient at laying. The blue eggs from the Americanas are just a bit smaller, but we find our customers really like the variety of natural egg color, and some even prefer the blue eggs.

Chickens grow up quickly, and before we had the coup finished, we were ready for them to be out of our house. They stir up a lot of dust.

We have raccoon, coyotes and weasels on our land, so we had to build the coup like Fort Knox. Our wire mesh is hardware cloth with 1/2 inch squares. Predators can enter through the ground, roof or any crack larger than 1/2 inch. Our design seems to work well for a small flock. The coup is elevated off the ground to give them more space to run, and we suspend food and heated water under the coup dangling above the ground. Chickens should have 2-3 square foot of enclosed coup space, and 4-5 square foot open run space, per bird.

Following is our chicken calendar for 2011

May 4        We purchased 7 pullets from a local farm supply. (1 day old)
May 10      Chickens have doubled in size, some hopping flights
July 8         Working (feverishly) on the chicken coup.
July 14       Chickens move into the coup.
Sept 27      First egg laid by a Isa Brown.
Nov 9        One chicken dies
Dec           Steady egg production of 4-6 per day.

Our boys are selling our surplus to neighbors. The demand is so great we are increasing our flock in 2012. There is a demand for both local food, knowing where it has come from, and that the birds are treated humanely. This is important for us as well. In actuality, our birds are treated a bit too much like pets! But people who purchase from us know how we care for our birds; how we treat them and feed them, and give them supervised free range time. We do not medicate our birds, nor stimulate them artificially with lights or chemicals. Our customers seek us out, knowing that these eggs are not the result of a hens life spent in a 1x1 foot prison, never touching the grass or any semblance of natural life, as I fear is the case with mass production hen houses.

I think eggs would be an easy item to add to a CSA. The eggs keep well, and you could easily give some each week or every other week depending on your customers interest, and the size of your flock.

On egg laying, a friend told me that when they first started with chickens, their chickens were not laying. They put in a plastic egg in their nest box, and that get them "going" and production started. I could not really see how this related to when the chickens would start laying, but we gave it a try. I tease you not in this story! On the morning of Sept 27 our boys put in a plastic egg into the nest box, and within a few hours, they presented Sunshine with a very real chicken egg. I don't know if this is some kind of chicken mind game or what, but it worked for us just like what we were told. The very same day! I wonder if the chicken was thankful, like, "wow, I sure am glad they showed me where to put that thing!"

We have been told that chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter. We get 4-6 eggs a day, and we have not had any drop off yet because of winter. The weather is starting to get colder, so we will see how they respond to that stress. I have read that the egg production drops off because of the daylight being shorter, which means they have less time to eat for egg production. But we have not seen any egg quantity change so far with the shorter day length, and actually, our day length is now getting longer. We do not use lights on the chickens at night. Our chickens are getting a lot of nutrient rich greens, so perhaps that is a factor in their not having to slow down production. I will return to this paragraph with more analysis in the spring, to see if we had any decline and if so what we could attribute it toward.

We have not had any real problems with the Chickens to date. We do not heat their living space, but shield them from the cold winds and drifting snow with clear plastic attached to the outside of the framing members. It looks a bit more like a green house right now. There are two schools of thought related to coup temperature. One is to provide heat, and the other is to provide more fresh air, no matter the temperature. We follow the fresh air thought, and our birds do not seem to suffer in the cold. The coup is more protected than the run, but even on cold days, our birds spend most of their day "outside" in the run. It is important to keep their feet dry. In the night, they need a roost where they can grab the roost beam, and cover their toes with their feathers to protect their toes. With that allowance, we find no need to heat their coup.

We have a electric water warmer which is very important during the winter to keep it from freezing over. Chickens need water, not a lot, but when they need it, they need it. We have been told that a thirsty chicken can have impaired egg production for life. We always have water available to them. My ideal would be to have them free range all the time, but I am sure we would loose them from predation over time.

In summary, our experience has been thumbs up! Join us and get some chickens this spring.


There is an air sack within the egg. Water can pass through the egg shell. As the water in the egg slowly evaporates, the air sack becomes larger. You can tell a fresh egg from an older egg by looking at the comparative size of the air sack. These samples are hard boiled. Can you see which egg is 2 week older than the other?


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