Homesteading 101: Backyard Chickens

One of the best ways to become self-sufficient and to get back to basics is to start up a flock of backyard chickens. While maintaining a backyard flock isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, it’s certainly one of the most rewarding.

About a year ago, I was 7.5 months pregnant and surfing the net for information about backyard chickens. We had a terrible problem with ticks and my husband assured me that chickens would eat the little buggers up. Plus, they lay eggs. So, I started researching backyard chickens to find out if it’s something we could do.

It turns out, it WAS something we could do! Our town allows us to keep a small flock in our yard, and according to the internet, all I needed was a coop, some feed, a water dish, and of course – chickens. Perfect.

As if by magic, someone posted a coop on the local yard sale site for FREE. It needed a little TLC, but I felt confident that we could handle it.

We brought the coop home, painted it red, added stilts to get it off the ground and put a floor in the middle portion along with a trap door and a little set of stairs to the bottom. We added the entrance ramp and put shingles on it to keep rain water from getting in (the shingles aren’t shown in this picture).

coop

Next, we started looking for places to buy chicks. We knew we wanted a mixed flock, so that ruled out most of the big stores like Agway or Feed ‘N Needs since they required you to get 5 or 6 chicks of the same breed. We found a little chicken supplier nearby that offers chicks in the spring and set out to pick our favorites.

We wound up getting 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Easter Eggers and 2 Barred Rocks. After several weeks in our homemade brooder (made from a heat lamp, the door to the coop and the plastic tote shown under the ramp), they were ready to go to the coop. One chicken, a Buff Orpington, wound up being a male, so our little flock was complete with a rooster. The first hens to lay were the barred rocks. We got our chicks in the beginning of May and the barred rocks began laying in late October. Next up was the Buff Orpington in November, followed by an Easter Egger in December. The last Easter Egger started laying in early January.

Then tragedy struck. In February, we returned home from running errands to find a hawk on the fence. There was 4 feet of snow on the ground and the hawk apparently thought our hens would make a tasty meal. It killed, but did not eat, my favorite bird. An Easter Egger that looked like it was part salmon favorelle.

So now we are down to 4 hens and 2 of them are not laying due to the cold (the barred rocks). We still get 1 to 2 eggs a day, which is enough for us if we don’t bake and don’t use them for cooking during the week.

To prevent further deaths, we are setting up owl decoys on the fence near the coop. That should help deter hawks and keep our flock safe. Keeping chickens is a learning experience, but it’s certainly a lot of fun.

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