A year of learning. About chickens and eggs and what goes with them.
What came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, at my house that is an easy question to answer. The chickens came first. It was a year ago to be exact! One year ago this week I went and brought my first flock to live with me on the farm I lived on out in Applegate.
I caught the chicken bug the first month or so of 2012. I had been told where I had been living that I was going to have to wait at least until spring of 2013 before my desire would come to fruition. Then, the end of the summer of 2012, I moved. I no longer had any constraints to keep me from getting the object(S) that my heart desired. My landlord gave me the thumbs up and I went to work cleaning out and renovating an old coop that was next to my barn apartment.
It was my first time doing any construction of any kind. Fortunately I had a friend who came to help. He brought his tools and his strength and his knowledge, but the ideas were all mine and I did my fair share of measuring and cutting and hammering and setting screws. Of course I had cleaned the coop out before we started renovations. There was old straw and chicken poop all over that needed to be shucked out and scrubbed down and disinfected. That’s right. I learned you need to disinfect the coop when you are going to be bringing in a new flock. So…it was sprayed down with Basic G from Shaklee and I let that dry for a couple of days before adding bedding. I decided to do the deep litter method using straw on the bottom and pine shavings in their nesting boxes. Every so often I would add more straw and also some shavings to the floor. I had no smell and didn’t have to clean the coop from October to May.
I had never even held a chicken before the day I went to pick them up. The gal I bought them from was going through some really rough times and needed to move her kids to California and couldn’t take the girls. She was so sad about it and I did the best I could to reassure her that they were going to be loved and loved and loved. And they were.
So, things I had learned before I even retrieved my girls was that they needed to have a place where they were safe from predators, especially at night. They needed their coop to be dry and not have chilling drafts. They needed food specific to their age and calling in life (mine were on Layer Pellets) and fresh drinking water. I had read they needed to have roosts and laying boxes and ladders to get up in the boxes and special treats and lots of other things. I quickly found out they don’t. The will find anywhere to roost or sleep if they feel safe and the same can be said with laying eggs. But I made sure my coop had plenty of laying baskets and they had plenty of roosting space and a locked coop for night-time.
I had decided I wanted my Layers to be free ranged. That means that they were free to roam as far as they chose to. Since we lived on a 13 acre piece of property they had quite a wide expanse of territory. They mostly stayed in the 3 acres close to my barn apartment and the main house. While letting them free range during the day does increase their risk of being struck by a predator, I felt it was a more natural and kinder life for them. I did loose one of my hens to a hawk about three months after getting them. RIP Grace. I realized that was part of the deal. Life and death.
So, the chicken came before the egg, but once the eggs started….woah Nellie did I have eggs! It only took a few days from their relocation before I think each Layer had laid at least one egg. They do not lay an egg EVERY day. Each breed has an approximate number of eggs they will lay in a lifetime. Most of them lay an egg about every 24-30 hours during their peak laying years. So with a Bakers Dozen girls I would get about 5 dozen eggs a week when they were all in prime laying. I have learned that their laying habits can vary based on many things. When they molt (lose their old feathers and grow new ones which occurs once a year) they generally don’t lay. Some chickens have a hard molt and they look pretty rough. Miss Donna, my Golden Laced Polish hen, hardly looks any different during her molt, but she hasn’t given me any eggs during her molt. I’ve also learned that stress will decrease egg production. Decreased light will also cause low productions. Over the hardest part of the winter I was only getting one egg every other day per hen. Also, this summer when we were having so much smoke from our fire season and the temperatures were soaring above 90 degrees and into the low 100’s for weeks on end, I did not have good production. Moving them stresses them. Adding new chickens to the flock is stressful. Essentially I have learned that hens like things to be constant and the same and not to be upset if you want to have good output.
My girls and their eggs have brought so many new and wonderful things to my life. I started my community Facebook page and have met so many interesting and knowledgeable people who enjoy chickens and sustainable living and healthy eating and many things I enjoy also. I started doing this blog and the Layers and Littles, or their eggs, had a star role often. I sold some of my eggs, which led me to meet others who sold eggs and had chickens. And of course…with all those eggs…I did a LOT of egg cooking. I made stuff for myself and for others. The eggs became the basis for my Barter Basket that was my payment for my physical therapy once a week.
About 4 months after becoming known as “that crazy chicken lady” by my friends, I bought some day old chicks. I decided I wanted to start from scratch. My first batch was 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes (SLW) and a Welsummer. The following week in February I bought a pair of Speckled Sussex (SS). My landlord bought 35 babies and let me tell you..that many babies makes a real racket and a stench if you don’t keep up on them. My five Little’s were kept up in my apartment with me until they were 5 weeks old. I just used a clear plastic tub and had their food and water and a heat lamp hanging above it. You have to help keep them warm, so a heat lamp is the easiest and least expensive way to do it. From the first week of having the SS chicks I knew they were different. From each other that is. There was just something about them. Low and behold, about June, the one that had a bit larger comb began to crow! I had a pair that I could breed and I was excited to think about hatching eggs. I had a rooster! And what a handsome cocky boy he was.
I started introducing the Littles to my Layers when they were about 6 weeks old. I would take them outdoors and have them in a pen where the big girls could get a look, but not get at them. Then when they were about 12 weeks old I moved them to the coop, but kept them sequestered in an area of the coop to themselves and only let them out when I was in attendance. I did this for about a week and then one evening after they had all been outdoors for the late afternoon, I let them all go in to find their spots at bedtime and they all just were together after that.
Then life changed and I needed to move. To town. I knew I couldn’t bring a rooster to town and so I relocated Pumpkin and 5 of my older Layers with someone out in the country. I packed up the 4 Littles and Miss Donna and Sweetie (she’s an Austrolop) and brought them to town and they joined my boyfriends motley crew of 14 hens. We ended up rehoming 8 of his and were back down to just a dozen. They haven’t been as happy here and our production as been down. They have to be in an enclosed chicken yard and I don’t think they like that as much as running free.
I have learned that chickens LOVE treats. In the winter I would give them warm oats with apples or raisins in them. Sometimes I would add some scrambled eggs for extra protein. Some people think you shouldn’t give chickens eggs or chicken meat. My girls love both! They have yet to show any signs of cannibalism, but they love having some warm scrambled eggs on a cold morning. I also started growing and giving them sprouts when they weren’t getting out to free range. They also like scratch, sunflower seeds and fruit and veggie scraps. My girls get a wide variety of diet with their base being Organic Layer Pellets from the Grange. I love using the bags to decorate their coop as well as I used them to line planter boxes this summer!
A few other things I’ve learned this year about raising chickens. Sometimes you forget that you’ve put an egg in your pocket and it gets squashed. Sometimes they don’t have “fluffy butts” but rather have nasty butts and need to get a good washing! I wasn’t sure, but I found out that they will go out in the snow. And they LOVE to take dust baths. Those are just a few things I learned just by watching and enjoying my girls.
We inherited two new pullets a month ago. My boyfriend’s cousin raises Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes and we are hoping when we are able to move back out to the country that we can start breeding them. They are a beautifully marked bird and I have read about many people who are trying to fine tune the breed so it can be added to the American Breed Standard.
So, while the chicken did come first for me, the eggs will be coming for quite some time. And what does that do for me the most??? It makes me smile. I love my chickens. They fill so many areas of my life. They give me food. They are one of the things I do in my life towards being self-sufficient. They are a wonderful conversation topic. They have brought me new friends which has opened doors for many other new things.
My next post will explain why I need them. You see…production is at an all time low for me. And I’m not talking about eggs. Check back soon and see what I mean about low production! Thanks for reading friends. Now go pet a chicken or eat an egg! It will improve your day…trust me…I know it for a fact!