We started off with two comets – Edith and Louise – about three years ago now. We bought them for $50 in a chicken tractor. It was a 4-H project that a little girl on a goat farm had done. We brought them home in a cat carrier and they were really unhappy to woke up when we got them home at about 10pm.
A month later we got a third hen, a little three month old Araucana who had been beat up by her current flock. We bought the three of them a cute little coop that had been made out of a dog house and let them free range.
Thus started the cascade. One year later we bought 8 Easter Egger chicks from the local hardware store. One turned out to be a rooster. Two never showed up one night for bed time. By winter we had a flock of nine hens and one roo. We renovated our old shed to a mini-barn and bought a new shed for everything else.
This spring brought trouble: we had a fox attack that took off one of our sweeter birds and injured another. A month later another attack took Louise, one of our pet birds that was going to live her life out here.(The bird that survived a racoon chasing her, a dog attack, and various battles with her sibling, Edith) In that second attack the roo was a bit ruffled up and fled, and Skee (our little rescue bird). The third attack was a coyote. It napped Skee and then kept trying to come back. I had to work outside for close to two hours before it wandered off.
In amongst all that we had to have our rooster dispatched. He became overly aggressive and was attacking us. I had to carry a stick around the yard with me. If it was just my husband and I, that would be one thing, but we have a young child. The roo had to go.
This summer we raised meat bird for the first time – all heritage breeds – and added four ladies back into our flock of layers. The three Rhode Island Reds and one Barred Rock have melded in nicely.
Right now we have 22 birds on the premise: 9 layers, 12 meat roos, and one roo that we’ll be keeping. In order to make a smoother transition for Jovi we’re trying to find a young hen to match him up with.
This year saw something new on the homestead: raising meat birds. For our first batch we went with Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks. While thy were technically layers, we wanted to get a batch that would help us fill in the void crated by the spring fox attacks. Out of the ten we raised, four were added to the coop and six were sent to the butcher’s. Sizes of the four were roughly the same: 2.5 lbs dressed. Not as large as what a Cornish X would turn out, but these birds were healthy, well cared for ladies that now taste just divine. Well worth the money in feed, care, and processing. Our only regret is that there weren’t able to free range at all due to our apprehension from the fox and coyotes running around. It might be out of guilt or annoyance, but we’re not as worried about it now. Hindsight’s 20/20, right?
Right now there are 13 roosters outside in the chicken tractors. Twelve will be going to the freezer and one will be staying as the new “man of the farm.” It’s been really interesting to see the interactions between the roosters compared to how the hens had interacted. Early on they were play fighting, chasing each other around, and just being cute little puffballs of terror. Now it’s even more interesting watching how they do get along, but how they also take turns trying to beat the snot out of each other. Who needs television when you have chickens? They’re awesome at entertaining you to the point that you forget what you’re supposed to be doing.
When all is said and done, we’ll end up with 18 chickens raised on and feeding this homestead. It’s amazing to think that this is doable and yet so few do it.
The long term game plan is to start hatching out our own chicks for meat and layer replacement. But we’ll see when that happens. One add on at a time.
This is our life now: the constant changes that the cycle of life brings.
This is the third chick we’ve lost this year; all three were white rocks. On came in DAO, one passed only two days later, and then this little one at roughly two weeks old. It’s hard to see their little bodies so lifeless. Even knowing that they will be meat birds, we still love them with all our hearts until judgement day comes for them.
It’s not just animals, either. Even the gardens have a cycle. Seeding, tending, weeding, watching, and enjoying the growth of the plants makes you grounded, connected to each little sprout. Losing them to heat, water, predators of the herbivore variety, and then the eventful harvest tugs at your heart strings.
Isn’t that life, though? The happiness, sadness, pain, and loss all intertwined. I would rather we live with this mixture of emotions while tending our own gardens, flocks, and land than walking through the automaton world of grocery stores any day.
Spring is always that amazing time of year where suddenly, when you turn your back for a minute, everything has changed. Things are growing at a tremendous pace throughout the state of Maine, and here is no different. The chicks are three weeks old, are down to 80F in the brooder, and are eating more than their fair share of the rent. While Jacks has been wonderful sharing his room with them, I know he’ll be glad to have the extra romping space back once they’re out of his room. (That poor, spoiled mini-rex.) All eight have lost their furr-ball fluff and have started getting in new patterns, making it almost impossible to tell them apart. As you can see in the photo, one definitely stands out as she has no orange on her whatsoever; the other seven are all orange and black. All of them are flighty little things and feeding them has become a modified game of whack-a-mole.
The seedlings are growing like mad. The tomatoes, celery, and bell peppers that I started all look like they’re itching to get in the ground, as do the broccoli, celery, and jalapeno plants that we got from Hoof ‘n’ Paw in New Sharon. It’s just a matter of waiting a couple more weeks and then figuring out row covers. With any luck, everything will transplant over wonderfully.
Speaking of “growing like weeds,” I felt it was time to give ya’ll an updated photo of Little Mister.
"Chicken with Old Truck" by John Harvey
For those of you that have been following the blog on a regular basis, you all know that there has been a goal for this family since getting our own home. That goal is to one day have laying hens to supply us with eggs for cooking, baking, and possibly selling. The only thing holding us back really, aside from money, is waiting to see how my cholesterol numbers look before we think about an egg-heavy life style.
That being said, one can hope for the best. In an attempt to educate myself (and possibly the husband, even though he grew up with them) about chickens and the various sorts, I introduce to you a series of posts entirely about chickens. This is in no way meant to be a tutorial on chicken husbandry. This is simply my way of sharing what research I find. By writing I increase the amount of knowledge I retain and have the added bonus of passing that knowledge on to others.
The articles in mind will look at the following:
- General chicken information (history of chicken raising, reasons, ability…)
- Small coop designs (for flocks of up to ten)
- Initial coop set up (including a cost break down)
- Ways to obtain chicks (Murry McMurry, local stores, local farms…)
- Bantams vs. standard size hens (pros, cons)
- The necessity of a rooster (to have or not to have)
- Posts on different species of chickens
- Chicken health (illnesses, immunizations, controversy)
- Chicken feed (natural, pellets, misc.)
If you have ideas, thoughts, and information about chicken raising, by all means, feel free to share!