on keeping backyard chickens and the lessons we’ve learned

emma2

Its been a bittersweet month here as I’ve worked through mixed emotions over finding our chickens and ducks suitable homes.  I am grateful that they all went to wonderful new owners who value them and who will care for them well.  Ping and Jemima in particular got an upgrade in their lodgings as they were adopted by a lovely couple who have other duck varieties and who have a six acre pond on their property.  They even feed their ducks watermelon every night!  Its duck heaven for sure.

Our decision was not an easy one.  Owning backyard poultry has been a pleasure.  Our feathered friends were constant entertainment and will always hold a sweet spot in my heart.  They also provided valuable lessons to our Sprouts with respect to responsibility and caring for animals.   However, as our kiddos are getting older and more involved in activities that require out of town travel,  we found that we were spending way too much dinero paying for animal care.  If we lived near family, perhaps it wouldn’t be an issue.  Or perhaps it would.  Who knows.  But, unfortunately in our case,  the neighborhood kids we found to care for our flock were irresponsible and the wonderful college student too expensive.  So, if you are weighing the pros and cons of backyard flock ownership, I’d strongly suggest taking into consideration how you’ll care for your flock if you travel often.

Over all, I think we did a lot of things right. We allowed the girls to free range often, but we had an adequately sized chicken yard in which to contain them.  This was especially important during the spring months when they could easily demolish tender plants in one afternoon.  Also, the chicken yard was fenced with no climb horse fencing buried six inches in the ground.  I think that is why we never had problems with predators despite the skunks and raccoons nearby.  We  also locked the ladies up at night for extra security.   Our converted rabbit hutches worked extremely well as a chicken coop for ten hens.  And, allowing them to partially free range, eat veggie scraps, munch on insects and feast on organic feed resulted in yummy fresh eggs that are hard to beat.  Who knows.  Maybe there will come a day when we can have another flock.  I wouldn’t think twice about it before making the leap!

Here is a quick check list to consider if you’re just starting out on your own poultry adventures:

  • build a chicken yard with a coop inside the chicken yard: this helps tremendously with general poultry management even if you are going to free range your flock. If you’re using wire fencing, go for no climb horse fencing and bury it at least 6 inches below ground to deter any digging predators.  Our yard was in the corner of our suburban backyard and had two walls of wooden fencing as well as a huge portion being the no-climb horse fencing.
  • research your coop options:  why settle for the factory made coop when you can really get creative and build an amazingly cool, one-of-a-kind abode?  Some great books that guided us along the way are:
    • Reinventing the Chicken Coop by Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe
    • The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow
    • How to Build Animal Housing by Carol Ekarius
    • Barnyard in Your Backyard also by Gail Damerow
  • if you’re free ranging your gals and have accessible vegetable gardens, flower beds, or nice landscaping that you don’t want demolished then come up with a plan on how and when you are going to let them free range (this is where that chicken yard is indispensable).  One book I loved when planning out how to allow our suburban yard and gardens exist in harmony with our flock was Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom. Besides being extremely insightful and chock full of knowledge only a landscape architect can dispense, its just a gorgeous book!
  • educate yourself: a great book for novices, especially if you’re doing this as a project with kiddos, is Chick Days: Raising Chickens From Hatchlings to Laying Hens by Jenna Woginrich.  She covers various breeds, housing ideas, and what to expect from week to week.  We could not have done without this one when we first started out.

What are your tips for backyard poultry care?

 

duck_heaven
Ping and Jemima quickly adapted to their new six acre pond….duck heaven!
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