Years of dreaming and months of planning have finally come together – we’ve brought home chickens!
We’ve been talking and dreaming about our eventual farm for years. The more we’ve learned and read about sustainable farming and gardening, the more we’ve realized that animals needed to be a part of our agricultural process. So much of our time is spent working on improvement of the soil, making it not only easier for plants to grow and to increase the yield but also to increase the healthiness of the plants themselves; we want plants dipped in microbiology and infused with minerals and vitamins soaked up from a nutrient-rich soil. Conventional farmers add fertilizers to their top soils, and not only does that not solve the problem, but it’s expensive and unsustainable. So how do I make the soil healthier?
In short – chickens! Chickens, ideally paired with larger pooping machines, like cows and goats, add wonderful, rich fertilizer to the ground through their waste matter. Chickens are also great walking composters – they dig and scratch and turn over the ground, working through vegetation and soil as they move. So in our plans for a diverse global network of herbs, vegetables, and fruits out back, we decided that chickens seemed like the logical next step.
That next step, however, came with some realizations. By buying chickens, I was consigning myself to a set schedule every day. Up around dawn to let the birds out and collect eggs, and back home at sunset to reverse the process. Being home later because of a meeting or hanging out with friends doesn’t just mean that the cats are hungrier for an extra hour, now it means that predators can start hunting my flock in the gathering dark. On top of that, chickens aren’t something many people are comfortable watching over for vacations – dog-sitting is one thing, but chicken-sitting? (It’s not unheard of, but certainly not the most straight-forward of jobs.)
Taking the leap into chickens meant giving up some of the independence away from home, but ultimately the benefits outweighed that negative for us. Free sources of healthy protein (eggs), a possible side gig selling extras, improved soil health, and giving some living animals a chance at a happy, fulfilling life spent foraging and eating truly healthy, organic food sounded so invigorating and exciting that we couldn’t help but finally say “yes.”
We are lucky enough to live in a city that allows chickens, goats, ducks, and bees, all within city expectations, of course. According to the square footage on our 1/4 acre lot, we could technically have 20 birds (whoa!). We decided to settle on 6 as a decent starting point, fully aware that we could lose a bird in the process or gain a few if we felt generous.
As you may know, a very traditional way of ordering birds is by having them shipped through post. At a day old, they have enough nutrients left over from the egg to last them 24-48 hours in the mail, provided conditions are kept just right. (And yes, all sorts of things go wrong this way – hence why I immediately crossed this off my list of possibilities for picking out birds.) Farm supply stores often get shipments of chicks, though they are not always healthy and don’t often have the heritage and unique breeds. (These, as another Facebook poster reminded me, are also often sent to the stores through the mail – hello, stress!)
So, I turned to Craiglist and Facebook, searching for hatcheries or other local farms who would have some chicks. I was lucky enough to find a hatchery only a couple of hours away and, better yet, they had a chick day scheduled at a feed supply store just north of town! I called ahead and ordered 8 Wyandotte girls – and yes, I sprung for 8, because when we started putting together the coop we felt like we could very comfortably put 8 birds inside.
If you haven’t seen a Wyandotte chicken, you absolutely must stop reading and Google search them! We ordered silver-laced Wyandottes and gold-laced Wyandottes, though I would have gladly taken some blue-laced if they were a variety that could be sexed at birth easily (city limits prohibit roosters here.) I will include some pictures of these beauties when mine are full grown so I don’t break any copyright usage from other chicken mommas. 🙂
And so the day came to pick up the baby girls – and naturally, we got there and couldn’t resist getting an extra two birds (plus, there was a discount to get at least 10). Evan and I thought this would be a gamble, but hey, sometimes things happen while they’re growing! What we didn’t expect was for the hatchery gentlemen to toss two extra birds into our box as a fail-safe in case sexing didn’t turn out correctly and we had some roos. My husband and I looked at each other like we had just been told we were having twins – we were bringing home TWELVE birds, not the six we had planned on?!
These squeaky, squirrelly girls have been a delight the first couple of weeks – we set them up in a round brooder that can accommodate additional panels as they grow older and a heater panel rather than a lamp to provide warmth as they grow. I liked the heating panel because it resembles a mother hen’s warming abilities – chicks scurry underneath to cuddle and then can emerge and explore as they are comfortable, and I can lower the temperature as well as raise the panel as they grow. Heat lamps do not have heat control and can overheat and start fires – no, thank you!
We did not choose to vaccinate or provide medicated food for the girls – but I have been putting apple cider vinegar in their water and providing grit and dust baths in addition to an organic feed. So far, out of 12 birds I have only had one issue with pasty butt (where a diarrhea-like fecal matter builds up on the feathers, dries, and blocks the vent so that the chicks cannot eliminate and can potentially die) but we cleared up immediately. That little one is definitely the smallest of the birds we brought home and I have affectionately named her “Squirt” (get it?).
Our adventures have only begun with these silly girls, and we are so excited to see them grow and blossom! Stay tuned, because I have so much more to share about their coop and their adventures as younglings.