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We have been keeping chickens for over a year now. They are a fun pet, especially for the children. We currently have six in our backyard coop. We use them solely for eggs although two of our birds are cross-breed birds (could be for eggs and meat). At present, we have three Sex links, two Buff Orpingtons and one Barred Rock.
Chickens are a low maintenance pet. We feed and water them once a day, and they eat most of the scraps from our kitchen except animal products. This supplements their laying feed which I purchase at my local Tractor Supply.
Children love the hens. Going to the egg box each day is a treat, there is always an argument over who gathers the eggs. We have learned all about scientific observation (signs of maturity in the bird, how to look for signs of illness, pack behaviors (pecking order monitoring). We discuss animal husbandry (how to rotate laying birds), chicken life cycle development, protection from predators. They’ve also taught some hard lessons when we had to bury two birds. This year my sons will do chicken growth in their first-grade class to include embryology (hatching chicks from eggs).
They are amusing and have a ton of funny antics. Like other pets, they can learn to come when called and are very affectionate. We’ve learned to problem solve (how do we stop the young birds from flying over our six-foot fence?) YouTube to the rescue! We learned to clip wings ( a straightforward and easy process that is harmless).
We’ve learned a lot in our year with them; these are the most salient points:
- Be sure that your run is secure. We didn’t have complete fencing all the way around. We lost a chicken to a stray cat. It was very upsetting. Our chicken area is now entirely fenced and secure. No run is 100% free of predators. If possible, give your chickens a place to hide if there is an attack. We build our coop slightly off the ground so the girls can hide underneath.It is also under a large tree which provides shade and some overwatch protection from hawks. We also have three times the run size needed for six chickens. It gives them plenty of room to roam and decrease aggressive behavior that you can see with crowding. If you have a garden, separate it from your run. Chickens defoliate faster than Agent Orange!
- I also recommend keeping your compost inside the chicken area. I dump the coop waste right into the composter (pallet structure below) and the birds fly into it and work the compost by scratching and digging. We have some of the most gorgeous compost for the garden and the chicken waste keeps it “hot” so it breaks down organic materials easily.
- Chicken houses don’t have to be fancy. If you want photogenic, there are thousands of impressive chicken runs on Pinterest. Our coop was a friend’s reptile house turned on its side with some additional fortifications. When I priced commercially built buildings, they ran into the hundreds. Ours was not. The only thing I spent a lot of money on was the solar door. It opens and closes automatically with light. It was a big purchase, but I am thankful for it every day.
- I live in the Northeast. People often ask me, “what do you do in winter?” There are not many changes. I add a heat lamp on a timer inside the coop. It adds supplemental light when the days are short and encourages laying during that time. I also use a heated dog water bowl for water. It was inexpensive and works well. When we have big snows, our first job is to clear the solar door. The birds don’t love big snow, but they adapt.
- We rotate our birds. We have only six (an edict set by my husband). Our first group was free on Craigslist. Two have died, (old age and cat) and one moved onto a farm as she had very sporadic egg production. We rely on the eggs, and I need birds that are younger and regular producers. Every Summer I get new birds, and the older birds will go to the Amish/Mennonite farms where they have big herds. That way I have a flock that is either producing or getting ready to lay. We are close to my little girls (the buffs and the rock) coming into season. The age staggering also allows for coverage when a bird is molting (typically egg production drops during a molt). Next summer when the Sex links are ready to go to Amish paradise, I’m hoping for some colored egg layers.
Here are some chicken resources if you have an interest in having some of your own:
My Pet Chicken: All types of chicken supplies to include birds
Backyard Chicken: A bevy of chicken related information