Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Friend and her First Chicken Disaster

I was getting ready to start a new article about the pros and cons of using a chicken tractor based on my own experience, but I felt the need to share with you this story concerning a friend of mine who has been yearning to raise backyard chickens.  This is a true story which took place this past Saturday.
Three years ago when we started this whole chicken hobby, my girlfriend remarked how cool it was to have fresh eggs everyday without having to travel to the store.  She knew the value of the fresh egg.  Not the monetary value, but rather the nutritional value.  We can talk more about that later.  Every time we saw each other she would ask about the chickens and how we were managing.  I would tell her how they would follow us around the yard and how some would even come when called by name.  I shared what kind of bugs they were eating in the yard as well as egg recipes.  She would always say that she wanted to raise chickens but wasn’t sure how to go about it.  The conversation went on like this until last week when by surprise she blurted that she ordered a chicken coop from  I was so happy for her and couldn’t wait to help her get started.

I arrived at her home Saturday morning to help put the coop together.  She had most of it complete.  Based on the picture from the internet I was expecting this coop was going to be very large and bulky.  It was a nice size coop designed to hold 4 – 6 chickens.  Personally, I think 4 chickens and maybe 2 bantams.  I knew based on my experience that she was going to have to make some modifications to it in order to keep it secure from other animals that would try to get in.  The hardware fabric that came with the coop was not a very good quality and the thickness of the mesh was not sturdy.  She knew it would need to be reinforced and this would be easy to do.  This was my only major concern with the coop design.  Everything else would work out fine.

So excited to move forward with this project we decided to make some phone calls to see if there were any feed stores in the area that would either have any chicks or be ordering any soon.  No such luck!  Springtime is when the majority of places order chicks.  Within a matter of minutes of checking some places out, she received a phone call to check out a local farm that may have them.  We got in the car and drove over to see what was there.  Luckily the farm had some baby chicks along with hundreds of full grown hens and roosters and turkeys and ducks and rabbits and guinea pigs!  (You get the picture?)  They were everywhere we looked as we walked toward the back of the property to check out the chicks.  The further we walked back the eerier things looked.  There was a rooster walking around with bumble foot.  There was a pen filled with hens that had been de beaked.  Boy did we see enough!  Let’s get the chicks and split is what we were thinking.  The owner took us to a trailer that housed doves or pigeons, I can’t be sure it was dark inside and she brought out the chicks in a small wired cage.  They had NO water!  My friend and I looked at each other and questioned the owner about the age of the birds.  She said they were about 4 weeks old.  Honestly, they looked around 2 to 3 weeks old and one was the size of my fist.  She couldn’t tell us what hatchery they came from, only that they were hens and dropped off to her farm.  You may be thinking this is the worst of this story, but wait, there is more.

Our heads were spinning!  We purchased, (rescued) 3 of the chicks and headed out.  We waited until we got in the car before speaking of the conditions we had just witnessed.  So, we got that out of our systems and then rejoiced over the fact that my friend was finally starting her chicken hobby!  She couldn’t wait to get them to their new home where they would be living a spoiled life.  On the way back to her house she was throwing out names for each of them.  Before we knew it we were back and the girls were in the coop.  So much better then a small wire cage.  They were checking out their new surroundings and rolling in the Koop Kleen.  The family’s dogs came out to check them out and smell them and see what all the fuss was in the yard.  The chicks just kept on rolling.  They were so happy in their new surroundings.  We stood there and watched and everything was ok. 

It was a long day and we decided to grab a bite to eat at the local tavern.  The food there is the best!  My friend locked up the dogs and we headed out.  We were there for about ten minutes and she decided to go back home to make sure the dogs were secure and couldn’t get out through the doggie door.  She came back and said all was well.  The next day I telephoned her to let her know that I would be stopping by to drop off a book on raising backyard chickens.  That’s when she told me that one of the dogs escaped its confines and headed to the backyard to investigate further the feathery little creatures she would be sharing her yard with.  The dog is about lab coon hound mix but relative in size to the lab.  She apparently put her paw through the very fine hardware fabric making an opening.  I think you can figure out the rest.

So upset but still determined to raise hens she got a little smarter.  Even though she introduced the chicks to the dogs, the curiosity was just too much for one of them to handle.  The first thing she did was visit the local hardware store and she purchased a heavy duty wire fabric and immediately installed it on the coop.  The second thing was she secured the entire coop to a thick piece of plywood.  This would also protect the coop from any predators that would try to burrow under the coop and make entry that way.  So far so good!  She again got on the phone and made some more phone calls to find more chicks.  We would not be returning to the other farm because of its condition.  She was able to locate a reputable chicken farm and was able to purchase 4 chicks at age 3 months.  The third thing she did was she worked with the dog and slowly introduced her to the new yard pets.  So far, everything was going well.  We did not want a repeat of the previous tragedy.

All in all I thought she was going to give up, but she didn’t.  There is a saying that says, “you don’t know, what you don’t know” and this situation was not anticipated.  This incident in my opinion may have been prevented if the manufacturer of the coop used stronger material.  It’s a tough lesson what happened but, I assured her that on her pet chicken journey she will discover ways of raising her hens that will work while others will not.  She is ready for the challenge.  Now she has a beautiful secure coop with 4 healthy happy hens in it and at this point, the dog is accepting the new hens and her curiosity is subsiding.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Against my Will, I Think

There's nothing worse than a child begging you for a pet. Better yet, a pet Chicken!  Make that plural.  Chickens.  For weeks I had to listen to all the reasons why it would be good to own chickens; from fresh eggs to joining 4-H and showing them to eating all the bugs in the yard.  Honestly, all I could envision was the amount of work that would be involved on my part.  Between my two kids and my husband, they had a plan and they convinced me to get on board.

I should mention when I was younger, (way younger) I worked on a horse farm and was involved with the daily chores of the horses, cows, goats, chickens, ducks. . . . (allot of work!)  I did own a hen that was a Rhode Island Red that the farm allowed me to keep there.  Her name was Madam.  She was pretty smart.  I could call her name from anywhere on the property and she would come running to me.  She roamed the farm with all the other chickens.

So, after all the begging and hounding I caved.  One Saturday my husband and I went chicken tractor shopping.  Yup, that’s right, no traditional barn here.  Our girls had to have the latest chicken housing craze out there.  Basically, it’s a henhouse on wheels with a run attached.  Attached to the run section are wheelbarrow handles which allow you to move the tractor anywhere in the yard.  I will talk more later about that experience.  I felt like we were purchasing a new car.  We looked at styles, sizes, colors, roof types, run sizes, electric, no electric, window types. . .   You get the picture.

We all had different thoughts on chicken breeds.  Here’s what we did.  We figured that since we are a family of four, each member would choose two from a breed of their choice.  That meant that we would be raising eight hens.  We had to make sure that our Chicken Tractor could hold eight.  Looking back, we should have bought a little bit bigger.

Winter was coming to an end and the local feed store was taking orders for baby chicks.  We placed our order and waited for the girls to be delivered.  When we picked them up they were only a day old.  We had a place to keep them inside the house until they were old enough to be on there own in the tractor.  I should mention to you that from the time they started out in the house to the time we let them in the tractor, one of my family members decided this chicken raising wasn’t for her.  That would be my eldest daughter, Conner Rose.  She said they were cute until they got older.  My husband also hung on the sidelines. I began to see where this was going.   It was me along with my youngest daughter, Jerri Marie who took over the responsibilities of raising these girls.  We have great adventures with them.

With three years behind us now, it is our hope to use this blog as a means to learn from other backyard chicken hobbyists.  We can share advice on raising chickens, talk about coop types, feed, recipes, craft ideas, things that work and things that don’t. So, Welcome to ChickenShticken!  Let's get started.