It’s almost been a year since we picked up our spring chicks- Henrietta and Dixie. In all honesty, we did have four Spring chicks but our dog Durgen, killed two of them (Fluffy and Lois). It was devastating to say the least. We decided that two was our lucky number. Having chickens has been such an adventure. When you first get them as chicks they do require to be under a heat lamp for about 2-3 weeks until they get bigger and can face the temperature variations outside. They require a little heat, food (medicated), water, your attention and love. Just before they get bigger you want to teach them to perch so that they are accustomed to doing so when moved into the coop. All you need to do is add a piece of wood inside the box you’re using to house them; elevate it so that they learn to jump up and perch. It’s really that simple.
My husband built the coop and we reused as much material as we could to get it up. For instance, the door was leftover fencing material and some of the wood was from older jobs that didn’t require as much wood as expected. Building the coop didn’t take much time and before we knew it the chickens had there own place to live and roam. Besides the coop they need a nesting box which is where they’ll lay their eggs. Add straw to the nesting box and make it nice and comfy. Some people will put in a golf ball or alabaster eggs in the box so that the chickens get the idea that they should lay the eggs inside the box. We did not do this. Our chickens learned on their own. It took them a few weeks but they figured it out.
We let them out on a daily basis so that they can cluck around and be hens. We want them to feel like part of the family and enjoy nature as much as possible and besides we don’t want them to be caged all their life. They need to be hens and do what they do- which is cluck, peck, scratch, cackle, find worms, eat grass/weeds and run around to stretch their legs. They cackle a lot when they’re laying and sometimes in the later part of the afternoon. Other than that, they aren’t noisy at all.
Our hens are Rhode Island Reds. They’re beautiful and friendly. If you hold them while they’re chicks they learn to love you and aren’t afraid of you as they get older. They will eat just about anything. We usually pulverize any food we give them just so it’s easier for them to eat it. They love any food sort of food scraps. You want to stay away from giving them greasy food or citrus peels. They also don’t like watermelon rinds or potato peels. They love, love lawn clippings, grapes and oyster shell. They also eat corn kernels, grains and plenty more. We buy a bag of chicken scratch and a bag of lay crumbles for $26.00 dollars about every other month. We also buy oyster shell is about $15 a bag which lasts about 6 months to a year. Your chickens will eat it the oyster shell when necessary as it provides them with calcium. Crushed eggs shells work for calcium benefits also but the risk of giving them egg shells is that they’ll start eating the eggs. So, if you decide to do so then make sure you crush the egg shells up pretty good and rinse off before giving it to your hens.
Make sure they have plenty of drinking water and that they’re coop is always cleaned. A dirty coop or water that is not fresh can cause the chickens to get sick. In the autumn months, chickens will go into moult. Which is sh
ed their feathers and they’ll stop laying. They look a little odd and at first you think they’re sick but it’s just a natural process they’ll go through every year of loosing old feathers and growing back new ones. They will also stop laying eggs, their combs and wattles will lose color and shrink. Henrietta laid eggs as normal after the moult process but Dixie didn’t start to lay again until it started to warm up which was about the beginning of February.
Chickens also need to be protected from weather elements. If it gets too cold they could die. So they need better shelter and heat if this is the case. Where we are we don’t get much snow and when it did happen to snow this past year we protected them and checked on them a lot. They’re coop is always covered on one side for shade and so they’ll stay dry in case it rains and the run part of the coop is not covered so that they can get plenty of sunlight (except in the summer months we add more cover. We live in the desert and it gets hot here.
Our son has watched Henrietta and Dixie grow from chicks to hens. He absolutely loves them and enjoys feeding them on a daily basis. It’s part of our morning routine. He likes to collect the eggs and eat them too. This year we’ll be using brown eggs again to dye for Easter. I did it last year using what I had on hand it worked out well. Can’t wait to try out the other options.
Having hens is not costly at all. In addition, your saving money by not having to purchase eggs from the store that could be up to two weeks old. There’s nothing better than fresh eggs. We make all kinds of egg dishes to use them including frittatas, and casseroles. Since eggs are so versatile we cook them up every way you can imagine. Poached, scrambled, fried, hard boiled etc. It’s been a journey this past year but well worth our efforts. On top of that- it’s a step in the sustainable living direction. Next year we’re hoping to get a milking goat.
[This post was written by Leslie Quigley.]