My Eggcellent Adventure Raising Chickens

Hey guys! A few weeks ago, I posted about all of the reasons why I became a crazy chicken lady. I talked about how chickens help me in the garden as well as how cute and hilarious they are. Now I’m going to tell you how I became a crazy chicken lady.  So, just in case I talked you into picking up a few fall chicks, I’m going to tell you how it has gone for me and how I take care of mine.

Breed Selection

My chicks were given to me, so I was lucky to get birds that are well suited for my setup. It is important to pick chickens that will thrive in the specific conditions in your yard and will suit your needs.

Details to consider

  • Climate. Does it get super hot or cold where you live? Summer is forever in Texas, so they had to be heat hardy.
  • Space. Are your chickens going to free range or are they going to stay inside a run? Do you live in town or on acreage? I’m on a quarter acre lot. But, it is fenced and I let them free range in the backyard most of the day.
  • Legality. Do your city ordinances allow you to raise chickens? Ours does as long as there are no more than six and they are kept in clean conditions. 
  • Utility. What would you like to get from your flock? Meat? Eggs? Feathers? A cool looking lawn ornament? We are in it for the eggs and entertainment.
  • Temperament. Do you want to have sweet, docile chickens that let you pet and hold them? We did, because we knew the kids were going to want to love on them. 

We got Barred Rocks and Welsummers. They are dual purpose (meaning they are good for meat and eggs) and really friendly. Since they are large breeds, they are too pudgy to fly over our fence. I’m sure my neighbors are relieved.

Chick Care

When I first got them, I wasn’t at all prepared. I hadn’t really planned to raise chickens, but I’m a sucker for most things that are cute and fluffy. Also, my husband really sold me on the gardening and culinary benefits of chicken ownership. The first thing I had to do was find something to house them in. 

They lived in a utility closet in a big plastic tote until I got the metal trough set up. I happened to find a metal trough and put it out on the screened in porch. Then I covered the bottom with a layer of large flake pine shavings. My oldest son and I made a screen with hardware cloth and covered part of it with a sheet of plywood. You can buy a brooder from the feed store if you prefer. I just like to reuse things as much as possible and save money whenever I can. Once they had their feathers and were roosting all over the porch, we moved them into the coop.

We used a heat lamp with a metal wire guard on it to keep them warm. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t keep accurate track of the temperature in there. I did, however, check on them often and adjust as needed. Trust me, they will let you know when they are uncomfortable. 

If it is too cold or drafty, they start yelling at you and crowd together as close to the lamp as they can get. When little chicks are kept in temperatures that are too low, they can smother each other while trying to keep warm. When they spread out avoiding the lamplight, they are getting hot. Other signs of overheating are panting and loss of appetite. If their enclosure is kept too warm, they can die. 

My oldest son loves animals in general and birds specifically, so he has been the one to take care of them most of the time. He made sure their enclosure was clean and the right temperature, kept their food and water full and fresh, checked for any signs of illness, and handled them daily to ensure they were used to human interaction. He did a great job, all of the chicks that we got are still alive and healthy.

The flock’s first egg

Feeding

Feeding was pretty easy. I just followed the instructions on the feed bags, pretty much. They ate chick starter for the first eight weeks or so, then we switched to the grower feed until they laid their first eggs. After that, we mainly feed them the layer pellets. We throw scratch to them as a treat and for training purposes, but that is about it. They forage in the yard and we throw fruit and vegetable scraps out to them. 

Of course we are terrible about remembering details around here (thanks loads, ADHD). So, we have to check online everytime we give them scraps to make sure we don’t unintentionally give them something toxic. I DO know that they love beans and rice, but make sure that they are cooked first. Also, apples are great, but only if you have removed the seeds. Kale is good for them, but they react to eating it the way my children do. With derision, if you were curious.

The other day, I went to retrieve eggs and found one that had the texture of a water balloon. I’m not kidding. It looked oddly transparent. I went to pick it up and it was all smooshie.  Ew. 

One of my fellow “chicken people” assured me that while it wasn’t a great sign, this was somewhat normal. My poor chicken hadn’t been abducted by aliens or cursed by a neighbor (that we know of). Most likely one of my big hearted sons has fed her too many treats, so she isn’t eating enough of her layer pellets to get the right balance of nutrients. That tracks, they’ve always been unrepentant animal spoilers. Their cat is the most spoiled rotten creature God ever put breath in. The parakeet is always having seed spray snacks snuck into his cage.

Housing

Well, this part was fun. Unless you have a shed that you are going to convert into a coop, understand that it is going to be stupid expensive. Even if you are a first class scavenge artist, like I am. Whether you buy it premade or make it yourself, be prepared to invest a lot of funds into their home. A LOT. 

I was working full time when this all started, so at first, I thought I should just buy one. I didn’t have time for a big build project and my husband is no carpenter. Nope. All of the chain store coops were not only prohibitively expensive, but teeny tiny and totally lacking in necessary features. Like a decent roost or nesting boxes. Having someone custom build one was outside my price range as well, though there are a lot of great builders in my area. 

So, I gathered as many cheap or free materials as I could. I knew I wanted the coop and run to be attached and easy to move around the yard. I had seen some chicken tractors on Pinterest and I was pretty sure that was the way to go. They get constant access to healthy vegetation and I don’t have to pay for a building permit because it isn’t a permanent structure. Win, win!

It was a pain in the butt because my impatience got the best of me. I had gotten overwhelmed and irritated with the whole project after I paid for all of the remaining materials. So instead of finding plans some smart person with experience was selling, I decided to wing it. I just took a pile of lumber, plywood, and decking screws out there and started piecing together a structure. 

I would love to tell you how I did it. I would love to say that it just sort of came together, but it absolutely did not. Because it is a “tractor” it needed to meet a certain criteria. It needed to be sturdy and predator proof, but due to it being mobile, it needed to be lightweight enough for my eleven year old to push around the yard. 

My husband helped me put it on skids because moving parts (like wheels) are a pain in the butt to deal with. Other than that, it was my project. I have no idea how it came together. After many cuss words, murder podcasts, caffeine rushes, and tools flying in every direction, my vision became a boxy, slightly smaller than I expected reality. I am going to build another so that everybody has enough room, BUT it seems to be working just fine and everyone is happy and healthy.

The finished product

Warnings

  • There are not a ton of chicken vets out there. When they get sick or injured, you are most likely going to have to deal with it yourself. If treating wounds or infections sounds like something you don’t want to deal with, chickens are not for you. Trust me.
  • They are prey animals. As much as I love my flock, I understand that just about every other animal wants to eat them. Anytime you are dealing with farm animals, your relationship with death gets interesting. 
  • ALWAYS compost their bedding and excrement. Throwing that stuff into your garden beds without having hot composted it will likely burn the heck out of your plants and probably contaminate your food. 
  • It is imperative that you keep their enclosures clean and wash your hands after interacting with them.

Conclusion

So that is how it is going so far. I have learned SO much in this process. I am much less panicky and handle birds a whole lot better than I did when I started. Even though it was not always easy nor has it been cheap, I feel like it has been worth it. 

Resources

If you think you want to learn more about raising backyard chickens I highly recommend you talk to the people at your local extension service. They are so helpful and know just about everything about it. Check out these books and sites as well.

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