Monday, October 6, 2014

Thoughts on Chicken Keeping, Six Months In

Wow - I can't believe we've had our chickens for six months now!  Crazy!

Painting the lattice fence Seth built on one side of run.
If I never have to paint lattice again I will be happy.
Anyway, here are some thoughts on our experience so far:

1. A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt has been my go-to guide to keeping chickens.  I read another book that, while it did have a few helpful tips, mostly just seemed to talk about all the things that could go wrong, and how you have to know what you're doing to keep chickens.  That is NOT the kind of book you want to read!  A Chicken in Every Yard is easy to read, practical, and encouraging.  It makes chicken-keeping actually feel doable, and I appreciate that!  The authors of the book own a urban farm store, and I actually called the store when we had a question about our run, and that was helpful, too!
2. This blog post was very helpful as well - so nice to get information from a regular person who has chickens.
3. It was very fun and convenient to have our chicks in the house for the first several weeks, but next time we get chicks I'll be keeping them in the garage.  There was so much dust!  They are constantly scratching and digging in their litter, and dust flies everywhere.  After realizing this, we used sheets to cover stuff up, but I still spent a whole day cleaning the office once we got the chickens moved outside.

4.  Chicken keeping, like most things, can sound complicated and daunting when reading about it.  But once you do it, you discover that it's much simpler than it sounds.  I was a bit nervous about getting chickens, but really they just require the same care as any other living thing: food, water, and to be kept warm and dry.
5.  Gathering your own fresh eggs is the best!  Seriously, the best!  I love going outside and bringing in eggs from my backyard.  And I love knowing exactly everything that has gone into them!

6.  I am very happy with our coop design.  We designed it ourselves based on different ones we had seen, and it has proved to be a good decision.  My favorite design elements are the large door on the back, which makes cleaning out the coop a breeze, and the smaller built-in enclosed run.  The chickens are free to use their large run most of the time, but the smaller, more secure run has been great for the few times we went camping this summer.  We simply locked them in the small run, and left the coop door open, and then they were free to put themselves to bed and come out in the morning, and we didn't have to worry about something getting to them while we were gone.
7.  Chicken care is, really, very minimal.  I probably spend 10 minutes a day, tops, taking care of them.  I bring them their food and let them out of the coop in the morning.  Once a week or so, I also have to refill their water bucket.  Then in the evening, I close up their coop and gather eggs, if I didn't already gather them sometime earlier in the day, which I often do, just because it's fun!  A couple of weeks ago I spent half an hour or so cleaning out their coop, which was the first time I had done so since they moved out there a few months ago.  Once every couple of weeks I spend ten minutes spreading out some new pine shavings and hay to their coop and run.  That's it.  I'm sure there will be times now that a cold and rainy winter is coming up, when I really won't feel like having to go outside and take care of them.  So it's nice to know that I will be done in just a couple of minutes.

8.  Getting started was expensive.  We estimate we spent $500 - $600 all total, and that was even with building everything ourselves and using a few things we already had.  We could have saved some if we had skipped the the smaller run element, as the hardwire cloth we used is pricy, but as I've said, we have found that to be helpful, so it was worth it.  Some people get creative and reuse dog houses, or get things off of Craigslist.  Aesthetics was important to me, so overall I'm happy with what we did.  Still, I didn't realize we would have to spend quite so much money getting going.
9.  As much as I would love them to be more free-range, it really isn't practical.  Although we have let them out in the backyard a few times and it's fun to watch them wander around, the mess and destruction they leave behind means it won't happen a lot.  With a baby crawling around in the grass, I don't really want chicken poop everywhere, and since chickens eat everything and scratch everywhere, I pretty much have to keep them out of the yard when I have flowers and a garden growing.  Because of all that, I am thankful that we have a fairly large area that we have been able to dedicate to the chickens.

10.  The thought of clipping their wings makes me really nervous, even though I've heard over and over that it's no big deal.  So far we've avoided it, though.  When one of the chickens almost escaped, we bought some bird netting and strung it over the run, and that seems to be doing the trick, plus it helps keep them safe from any hawks or eagles that might be flying around (rare around here, but it happens occasionally, apparently).
11.  Chickens are fun.  The kids love to pet them and visit them.  Toby always wants to look out the window at them, and when we're outside, he'll crawl over to their run and sit nearby, just watching them.  Whenever we're near their fence, they run over to see us.  They really are fun to watch and they make great pets.

So, overall, my opinion is that it is so worth it to get chickens!  We absolutely love having them!

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