backyard chickens part II1:48 PM
I've been meaning to write this post for a while and a year into raising chickens is a pretty good time for an update. Unfortunately, I wish I could tell you they were doing just dandy but I'm writing this post partially because we have some sad news to share... We lost all of our girls a few weeks ago due to a vicious nocturnal attack by a predator. We're still not sure what animal was responsible for the damage and we've been pretty broken hearted ever since. I hate looking outside and seeing the empty coop, I miss talking to them and picking up the eggs with Birdie.
We talked with Birdie about what happened and at four years old it's a pretty difficult concept to grasp. She cried a little and a few days later asked me "mama when I grow up can we go into the woods and look for our chickies?" It took everything in me not to dissolve into a pool of tears right there. She was such a good mama to them from the very start, always checking on them and so eager to help with anything that needed to be done. And even when one of the girls developed a nasty health problem she had no problem assisting with treating her. Something tells me this girl will grow up to do something related to the protection and care of animals.
So just to bring you up to speed - we started with six chicks, one them turned out to be rooster that we ended up having to re-home due to the fact that he became incredibly aggressive with the rest of the girls, we lost one due to a health issue and were left with four. The predator took our last four girls in one swoop. We always knew this was a possibility but we were feeling pretty confident since we made it through the coldest part of the winter (when predators normally strike) without any issues. It was February, the weather was getting milder and we thought we were in the clear. How wrong we were...
As much as we would love to simply get more chicks next month we have a lot of travel coming up in the next few months as well as this summer and we know we wouldn't have the adequate time that it takes to nurture these animals properly. We poured a lot of love and care into our girlies over the course of the year and we wouldn't want to do it again unless we were sure we could offer a new flock the same quality of life. But this is something that I truly think you never get out of your system and we are just biding our time until we can become chicken owners again!
But for those of you thinking about starting your own little flock here is what we learned over the course of a year that I hope you will find helpful (for my first post with more detailed information about chicks specifically go here):
- Read, read and read some more! This stuff is not common sense! I have quite a hefty stack of "chicken books" including this Chicken Encyclopedia that was invaluable!
- We are huge proponents of feeding our chickens organic feed. In my opinion there's not much of a point to the whole backyard chickens thing if you're still feeding them the same garbage they would at any chicken plant. And the difference in taste and color is unbelievable! We saw a change in the color of the yolks one week in!
- Out of all the water system we tried (and we tried about half a dozen!!) this was hands down the best. It never leaked, didn't fall apart, kept the water clean and was really easy to use.
- Make sure that wherever you live you have convenient access to a feed supply store. There were many a day where we didn't realize we were out of feed and needed to make a quick run for some. Having a Tractor Supply store just a few minutes away was a lifesaver.
- Install the coop in a place where you can see it easily from inside your home. Besides predators there are a million reasons it is important to always be checking in on your girls. I was constantly watching their behavior, checking their food and water levels and generally making sure that they looked happy and healthy. Sometimes they didn't and the fact that I could see it and intervene immediately was so important.
- So many of the blogs I read mentioned this and I wish we had taken it more seriously - have an exit strategy. Meaning - be prepared for the possibility of having to end the chicken's life. I think it's important to note this going into the experience. It's not all cuddling chickens and collecting eggs. There are a myriad of reasons it may become necessary to humanely end a chicken's life (most laying hens won't last past one to three years and will become very ill). In our case the hen was suffering greatly and putting her out of her misery was the humane thing to do. Thankfully Kevin had plenty of experience with this from his days of working on the farm.
- Do the math. Having backyard chickens is not as cheap as some may make it out to be. Between the feed (especially if you're buying organic), the hay (we replaced this constantly to keep the coop clean and disease free) and of course the bigger ticket items like the coop, feeding and watering supplies and fencing it will add up quick. I wouldn't look at it as a money saving exercise. For us it was about the act of interacting with the animals as well as knowing that we are getting the most natural and healthy eggs possible.
- Weigh whether or not this is something that makes sense with your schedule. In our case we weren't traveling a lot this past year, I was home with the kids and it just wasn't a big strain on our lifestyle to care for them. However, if your family is one that likes to travel often this may not be for you as chickens do requite a lot of supervision and care.
This sums up rather well the most important points that come to my mind when it comes to backyard chickens. If you have any further questions feel free to email me or ask me on instagram, I'm always happy to answer questions about backyard chickens!
We still miss our girls daily and I'm dreaming of the day that we can have a little flock again!