Our Chickens

In January 2010, we experienced The Chickening. That is to say, we brought home twenty peeping fuzzballs that had been hatched four days earlier and introduced them into their new home, a brooder house that we built in our basement. They’ve grown considerably in the following weeks, and have been outside in their coop since about four weeks of age, as they had run out of wing room in the brooder.

We have six Buff Orpingtons, six Welsummers, six White Plymouth Rocks, and two Rhode Island Reds. We chose the breeds because they are all very cold hardy, and here in Michigan, that’s an important consideration if you want your feathered friends to survive through the winter!  Their coop has a fenced yard, and once the weather is warm enough, they’ll have time to free range outdoors during the days.

This first batch should start laying their first little pullet eggs around May-June 2010 , and we should have full size eggs from them by midsummer. We’re really looking forward to our own farm-fresh eggs. If you haven’t experienced those for yourself, it’s highly recommended that you find yourself a local source this weekend! (Blatant self-promotion: if you are in our area, please keep us in mind come June-July, as we will be offering them for sale.) The difference between factory farm eggs you get at the grocery store and those laid by chickens who have real access to pasture isn’t just taste, either. There are nutritional distinctions, as well.  Farm-fresh eggs really are healthier for us.

We are also going to be venturing into hatching some of our own chicks come mid-April, as we are on a waiting list for some Black Copper Maran eggs.  Maran eggs are reputed to be the best tasting eggs available, and the breed itself is beautiful. They are not easy to come by, and if a hatchery sells the chicks (not many do), they are more often out of stock than they are available. We are hoping to have good success with our hatching efforts.

We are using the deep litter method and are looking forward to the resulting compost, which is reported to be excellent for the garden. Being able to beneficially re-purpose something that would otherwise simply be wasted is something that we really strive to do around here.

I took a few shots of the little cluckers tonight when I refilled their water fountain. (It’s called a fountain, but it’s not what you are probably imagining – just a simple gravity fed jug/tray system, nothing fancy.) Here they are:

I took these shots prior to cleaning their litter, and in retrospect, I probably should have given consideration to that. But hey, this gives you an idea of what prolific poopers chickens are – but remember, that’s going to make some amazing compost for the garden, so it’s just future fertilizer. That third shot makes the Buff Orp in it look fairly darn evil (like the froo-its of the dev-ill), but the reality is that they are pretty friendly little birds. That particular one was just pretty curious/suspicious about the camera. We’ll call it Skepti-Chick.

I picked up some food grade diatomaceous earth today, which will be added into their bedding and feed as a pest control. DE is the fossilized remains of diatoms, a hard-shelled algae, and it is ground into a fine powder that will kill pests such as fleas, ticks, mites, and digestive worms by desiccation – it basically breaks them open and dries them out. Using DE should allow us to avoid using any chemical controls to worm the chicks and help keep the insect pests in their coop under control. It was no small task actually finding a local source for the stuff, but I finally did at Flushing Lawn & Garden, and I’d highly recommend them or their other store in Troy, Michigan, to anyone in the area trying to track some down. It can also be used in the garden to kill the baddies there!

Chickens are part of our overall plan of working toward more self-reliant ways of living, and we are really pleased to have them as a part of our life. I’m going to share our Chickening experiences here and hopefully provide some helpful information to anyone else considering keeping them. I’ve also added a link to the Backyard Chickens community – if you keep chickens or are thinking you might like to, I’d really recommend that site!

So, any readers keeping chickens of their own? Please add your thoughts in the comments!

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