backyard chickens part I11:43 AM
^ two days old!! ^
^ Suzette, Vivi and Luna ^
Now that our feathery babies are six weeks old I thought I would share a little more about what the process of raising backyard chickens has been like and what led us to make the decision in the first place.
Growing up in Russia I had the luxury of eating the most "natural, free-range, cage free, organic, grass fed, bla... bla... bla..." eggs on the planet. In fact one of my favorite memories are the many summer mornings I spent riding my bike to our neighbor's house, basket swinging from my handlebars to pick up our order of eggs for the week. The still warm eggs would be lovingly placed in my basket and I would walk my bike back home. They were always delicious, always bright yellow and always free of any sort of hormones or antibiotics. I didn't even know how lucky I was at the time.
Now Kevin on the other hand grew up eating eggs from a carton and was never a big fan. That was until he got a job as a teacher at a farm/school in Virginia. We will always look back on that experience with fondness and it was downright life-changing for Kevin. Every day he was in charge of overseeing as well as helping with all the farm chores that included tending to cows, pigs, chickens and a sizable garden. He would often come home at the end of the day with a basket brimming with eggs, tomatoes and other goodies from the garden. In addition to that it showed both of us that homesteading depends more than anything on your ability to care for the animals and plants... no matter what. That was the single most important thing for sustaining the farm - doing the work, every day, rain or shine.
So it was back then that the first seed was planted. But over the next five years it was never quite the right time - we just had a baby, were moving, just had a baby again, were moving again... And so it went, the dream remained simply that. So when we purchased our first home it was the first thing that we were most looking forward to! We didn't have a newborn on our hands, no HOA, several of our neighbors already had chickens and we lived in the country more or less with decent access to feed stores and farms.
So one day I called up our local Tractor Supply Company and asked them if they had chicks that day. It turns out they did and as soon as Kevin got off work we headed there to pick up the newest members of our family! We had already purchased this coop and picked up the rest of the supplies at the store. We couldn't buy less than six but we had already prepared ourselves for the possibility of losing one or two. We got four Plymouth Rocks and two Bantams (though it seems like one of them is just a regular white rock). We transported them home on my lap in the container they gave us at the store but once home we transferred them to a steel tub that was lines with cardboard. We plugged in the heat lamp, gave them food and water and continued this process more or less for the next four weeks.
Now that we're six weeks into this backyard chicken thing we've both confessed to each other that we can't ever imagine going back. Taking care of livestock changes you in ways that are both surprising and lasting. Kevin learned this the first time around in Virginia and we're both re-learning this now. Caring for livestock erases any traces of selfishness you may have leftover after having kids. It's a different form of selflessness, as with children it comes naturally on an almost visceral level whereas with animals it takes self-determination and willpower. It doesn't matter if you're all dressed up for a date and it starts pouring - the chickens need food and water and maybe the heat lamp turned on. It doesn't matter if you're tired, sick or just not in the mood - the chickens need food and water twice a day. And it's not as easy as pouring dog food into the bowl, there's the act of having to go outside of cleaning up and whatever else may come up. But in time you start to love it.
I suppose I've always been the mothering type with oodles of dolls and playing "house" incessantly so to me there's something incredibly beautiful about other's depending on me. It's what brings me so much joy and satisfaction - to know that I can fill someone's tummy with food, tuck them in and make sure they're warm and safe and give hugs and affection to nurture them. I love nothing more than to see my feathery babies happily waddling around the coop. I love Belle's smile when we get home. I love the embrace of my children when I've been away for ten minutes or a ten hours. And I love the look on my husband's face when something I cooked went from a meal to a favorite. I live for that feeling. So to me these chickens are a lot more than a potential for delicious "cage-free" eggs, they're my family.
But back to the practical aspects. I am obviously no expert on chickens but in this day and age there are plenty out there. Here are some resources that I find incredibly helpful:
- I love, love, love Patera's Youtube channel. Her passion for homesteading gets me excited to one day expand our flock as well!
- Books: The Chicken Encyclopedia is just that! Any question you could ever have is answered here along with beautiful pictures. Also, as far as cookbooks I got this one years ago and I'm still loving it! I'm sure it will be even more helpful once the chickens start laying eggs.
And here are links for supplies that we got to get us started and some of which we are using still:
Here are some tips that got us through the first four weeks:
- You create the circadian rhythm for the chicks. The heat lamp does not count as a light source so if like us you are keeping them in the garage or a barn temporarily keep in mind that if you always keep the light on they will almost never sleep and if you keep it constantly dark they will sleep all the time. We would turn the lights on for them at around 8 or 9 in the morning and turn them off for the night about twelve hours later.
- There are differing opinions on how soon you can start babies on grit. I felt uncomfortable giving it to them where they were just days old but we did pay for it with some cases of poopy butt :(. It's not a huge deal as long as you stay on top of it. We just gave them warm little sitz baths (lol) for the first week and then started adding the grit in. Once you do that they are good to go!
- Adding a little bit of ACV to their water every day as well as feeding them a scrambled egg a day helps to ensure that they are growing and healthy and happy.
- As far as when to move them to the coop we moved ours at five weeks old. It's a little early but the garage just wasn't cutting it anymore. We would still set up the heat lamp for them at night and this set up seemed to work very well for them, especially since we live in such a warm climate. For a week before that (four weeks old) we started moving them to the coop during the day so that they could enjoy the outdoors and have some more space to run around. Now they're in the coop day and night and we let them roam around the yard for a few hours every day with close supervision since we haven't set up a fence yet.
The last thing I'll say is that one of the biggest joys of having chickens has been watching the kids interact with them. Teddy not so much as he doesn't understand the concept of being gentle and careful (be very careful with little kids as when the chicks are babies they are extremely fragile) but watching them always puts a hug smile on his face. Birdie however just dove right in. She helps with chores every day and got comfortable with holding them a few weeks ago and now loves toting them around as if they are her babies. Every morning she asks if we can go feed them and if they're roaming around she makes sure to keep a close eye on them. And every since we named them she goes out into the yard every day and yells "I love you Luna! I love you Vivi!! I love you Suzette!" Heart melting I tell ya!
*We actually didn't lose any, we still have the six we started with but we've only named three of them since the other three are hard to tell apart still :).