We thought we might start raising chickens this time last year, which was pretty much delusional thinking. Instead we moved into a non-quite-done new house, mulched thousands of new trees, cleared tons of dead brush, planted more stuff, battled back an ever-advancing line of invasive shrubs and ground cover that must have seemed like a good idea at the time these things were introduced into our landscape (#mulitflorarose, #garlicmustard, #seemedlikeagoodideatthetime).
Chickens would have to wait. By mid-winter we started telling people we would be getting chickens this year. At about the same time we realized how busy we would be with other farm stuff, for example plants, and we started to get cold feet. Before long the late winter sun must have warmed our feet and we planned for the next farming milestone. We listened to podcasts, studied books, attended lectures and watched far too many YouTube videos. “Chickens are easy,” said our flockster friends.
We got our first-ever chickens the last week of April. Kelly went to pick them up at the hatchery about an hour’s drive away. The chicks were a day old when she took possession of a hand-bag-sized cheeping box that contained our first livestock that could not be trained to sit, shake and stay. That’s not counting the thousands of red wiggler composting worms now free ranging our farmstead.
Three barred rocks, three reds, two buff orpingtons and three ameracaunas would comprise our flock. A few days before the big day, future-daughter-in-law, Bailey, asked, “Where do you pick up chicks?”
“At the mall,” I joked. Too easy to resist. (For the record, I never did that.)
By the way, easy is relative. Most things are easy if you understand them, and the easiest concepts can be daunting if you don’t. We wanted to get it right, so we studied hard. We found a great book by Harvey Ussery. At least we think it’s great. Ussery’s common-sense approach to poultry definitely appeals to us.
We built a brooder in the corner of the tractor garage. I vastly over thought the design of the warming light, revised it, scaled it down, then discarded it in favor of a very simple setup that could have saved me hours of learning. A 250 watt heat lamp is really hot by the way. Ussery says the chicks need the temperature to be 90ish at first, then a little less warm as the days go by. Question: Does it mess them up to have it light all the time, or is the heat worth it?
Tomorrow our chickens are three weeks old (written last week). Tonight is there first night without light (also written last week). They have tripled in size. They look happy, or at least well engaged in the day-to-day routine of being chickens, which mostly means making a huge mess everywhere, for example, pine shavings kicked into their water dispenser on a daily basis.
We decided to buy organic feed, which isn’t cheap, but good stuff sometimes isn’t. They also get natural feed several times daily. They are especially fond of dandelion leaves and the are crazed when we give them grubs or centipedes. I also cut up green plants and heap them on a plate. I call that chicken salad. A spider made the error of spinning a web on one wall of the brooder. I just happened to be watching when a chick jumped up to snatch it. Oddly, the chicks won’t eat worms yet, and we have an unlimited supply. What kind of bird doesn't eat worms???
I am building a chicken coop because it seems like the right thing to do. We could have bought a similar coop for about $1800. I haven’t added everything up, but I think our DIY coop will come in under $500. Even if we add in my new table saw and a Kreg pocket hole jig it won’t come close to $1800. And who doesn’t like free tools?
Kelly wanted it finished before we got the chickens, but I convinced her that I need the pressure to get it done. I could not find plans I liked, so I adapted our coop from several models, meaning I was working from a couple rough sketches and engineering the rest as I built. Lots of JUFFIO (just f’n figure it out) and lots of blank staring in that process. It’s almost done. The entire frame including doors is built. I got the wheels on today. Yes it’s movable, but I think when it’s finished it will weigh only a little less than a Boeing 767. But it will be sturdy.
Roof goes on tomorrow. Then the hardware cloth (½-inch metal screen) and windows and a couple more latches and some poles for roosting and some laying boxes and probably a few things I forgot.
To be continued . . .
I wasn’t lying about to be continued. The coop is done. If you multiply the hours it took me to build it by the hourly rate of an anesthesiologist it cost about $47,000. So don’t do that. Use the farmer hourly rate instead and you will find it quite economical. Our ever fattening flock lives there now. This is their second night out of the brooder, which we moved out of the garage with just two people. I have long tolerated dandelions. Now they are an important resource. Dust bath ritual (see photo above) is hilarious.
To be continued . . .