Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Backyard Chickens

Sorry for the late post, we just got some very exciting news! Stay tuned for later in the week to hear all about it.

Chickens. Those wonderful creatures that lay golden eggs, a breakfast staple. Gorgeous, quick protein, easy lunch eggs. Scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, eggs in Oopsie rolls, eggs...and bacon!  


Ok, back on track. Chickens are wonderful, easy to care for critters that can be kept in your backyard. Many cities are allowing urban chickens and they don't require acres to be happy and healthy. Backyard eggs are so much tastier than store-bought from caged hens, not to mention higher in nutrients, like Vitamin E, Omega-3, and beta carotene. And, since you know what your birds ate and how they were raised, you can be sure that you are getting the healthiest eggs possible.

But chickens are great not just for eggs. In fact, eggs are just the icing on the cake. What chickens are really good at is waste disposal. Nearly all the kitchen scraps (yep, meat scraps too) can go to the chickens. They will gobble them up and convert the scraps into  wonderful fertilizer for the garden. Toss that fertilizer on your compost pile, let it age and you've got your garden food for the year.

But why wait? They are also great at making compost. As the chickens scratch and turn over their bedding (I use straw), poop on it, flip it again, eat any lurking seeds, poop some more, and scratch some more it breaks down into fluffy, brown, rich, compost. Check out what North West Edible Life got out of her chicken run! Perfect FREE compost!

Got a bug, snail, or slug problem? Not with chickens around. They are also useful in the garden for eating weeds (and occasionally the plants you don't want them to touch-you have to watch them a little here), help teach responsibility to kids, and are just fun to watch. 

So, why am I telling y'all this? Cause its time to start thinking about chicks! If you are new to raising chickens be sure to read up so you are prepared. Backyard Poultry magazine is a great place to find information, while Backyard Chickens is a great forum to ask questions and chat with other chicken enthusiasts.  Urban Chickens is another great resouce (I especially like their 101 sections).

About now most feed stores and hatcheries are starting to take orders. Its a good idea to get yours in early if you are wanting a specific breed (they can sell out). Not sure what breed you want? Check out this link for a few ideas on breeds, or take this quiz (in the left-hand column) to find out what breed might best fit your lifestyle.

Get all your gear (coop, feeders, etc) in place BEFORE you get your birds. (I recommend the chicken nipple watering system.) Trust me, even if you get chicks and they have to stay in the house where its warm for another month or two its best to have everything prepared ahead of time. Once you get your fluffy fuzzballs you'll be so busy with them you'll forget that they get bigger and will have to go outside...to their half-completed coop...soon. They always grow faster than you think. BE PREPARED.

I personally have Australorps and White Brahmas. I chose the Australorps for their awesome laying power (nearly an egg a day, even in winter), and the Brahmas because they are pretty, quiet, and laid back. The Brahmas don't lay as well (about an egg every other day) but they make up for it by being total pets (they let Munchkin cuddle them and don't mind her unable-to-hold-still toddlerness). Both breeds also do well in the cold and are fairly quiet (for chickens).

(CC) Big Dubya
We got our coop off of Craigslist, as well as our birds. Since I wanted older birds that could go straight to the coop we waited till later in the year, then bought them from a 4-H kid. If you don't want to mess with chicks this is the best way to do it. You help out a younger farmer and don't have to mess with chick poo in the bathtub.

Determine how many adult chickens you can have/want (many urban areas only allow three per household, double check your city's regulations), what type of design you would like, and your budget. A search for coop designs online will bring up several pages worth of blueprints for the DIY people. For those who want a ready-made check out your local feed store, Craigslist, or do a search online. There are many carpenters and builders who offer unique designs, or will build to suit your needs.

Chickens are a lot of fun. They take a little work (and expense-mostly for the coop) to get started but they more than make up for it in healthy, delicious eggs and rich compost. And nothing can bring on a big belly laugh than watching a hen chase a grasshopper all over the yard!

Our coop is not the fanciest but it does what it needs to.

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