Chickens from Scratch (part 3)

To follow our chicken journey, here are part 1 and part 2.

I haven’t updated on the chickens lately. My chicken raising has had some heartbreaking setbacks. But I guess this is the life of farming and homesteading. First, our Jack Russell dug out of our fence and squeezed her way into the chicken coop. My son arrived right after she got in, but it was too late. She had already wounded one chicken and killed another (actually, she wasn’t completely dead, so my husband had to finish the job–I think this is the hardest part of owning animals). The worst part of it was that our six year old was there when it happened and came running into the house screaming that the dog was killing her chickens.

She recovered from the incident. We brought our chickens with us to Texas. The five that were left fit nicely in a large pet carrier and rode all the way from Kansas in the back of the van. We stop to give them some water and left over buns from our burgers. I think they enjoyed the air conditioning cause they didn’t make a peep the entire trip.

Once we got here, my husband set up their coop. There are lots of critters here, so he made sure to put a ply board under it so that nothing could dig into the coop at night. He took our dogs back to Kansas with him, so I haven’t been quite as worried about them. During the day, I have been letting them loose in the corral (it is fenced in), then at night I cage them up.

We have only been here a little over a week. Two days ago we went to town to buy groceries. When we returned, I noticed something was in the road in front of our house. When we drove closer, I realized it was a dead chicken. I left the kids in the van and walked out to the corral. The gate had been pushed open and there were feathers everywhere. Three of our chickens were torn to pieces. It just made me sick. The neighbors dog had gotten them. She came over and offered to pay for them. I tried to be friendly, after all, we just moved here and I didn’t want to start things off badly. I just kept thinking, though, how much more our chickens mean to us than the few dollars we paid for them three months ago.

So, we are down to two chickens, I *think* a hen and a rooster. I am debating our next homesteading move. I thought about buying some grown layers from a nearby farm, but I really want ours to be gentle. I had read that the more you handle them the more gentle they become. Ours were definitely friendly fellers. If I bought some from another flock I don’t know if they would be as used to people, especially kids.

We may be back at square one. If so, I think I will mail order some chicks next time. If I do that I am also going to order some guineas. I read that they are good at keeping the fire ants at bay (as well as ticks).

Here are some pictures of our “coop”. We had an old playhouse that we set up on a frame. We bolted a Rubbermaid tub to one of the windows. We covered all doors and windows with wire netting (using screws and fender washers to hold it down).

Will keep you posted when we decide where to go from here…

Chickens from Scratch (part 2)

If you missed our humble beginnings, make sure and check out Chickens from Scratch (part 1).

It seems to be getting harder to blog about homesteading as we begin to practice homesteading.  It does additional time during our days to learn about and care for our flock.  I get impatient sometimes, wanting to have a complete homestead right now.  This has been a great lesson on taking it one step at a time.  There is a learning curve, and by growing our homestead slowly we can learn without getting overwhelmed and burnt out.

Housing

The chickens have been growing fast and quickly out grew their rubbermaid tub home.  We had a large wooden crate/box from our move, so I turned it into a chick box.  Because it wasn’t very tall, I put chicken wire over the top to keep them from jumping out (I didn’t realize how high they could jump!).

We kept the heating lamp on them until they were about 1 month old and had plenty of real feathers.  Our nights have been pretty mild lately and they are now kept in the garage, so it has been warm enough to remove the lamp.

We continue to change out the shavings/bedding as needed, making sure it stays dry.

Feeding

We are continuing to feed the chicks the same growth feed that we bought when we got the chicks.  We have also began to feed them scraps such as veggie peelings, left over cornbread, etc.  The girls have been so excited to find grasshoppers to bring to the chicks.  All the chicks flutter and fight for the little critters.

We had to nail a small piece of wood across the box to hang up the water.  The chicks are scratching more, kicking up the shavings into the water container.  Keeping it off the floor has helped it stay cleaner, longer.

Training

We have been taking them out for a bit each day, letting them peck and scratch and look for bugs.  They seem to enjoy it, but I now know where the term “chicken” comes from.  They get scared at the slightest things and all huddle up together.  If one of them gets separated from the group, you can hear her calling out to the other chicks with a “crying” chirp.  She frantically looks for the group and they look for her.  Once they are reunited, all is well.

Up Next

We have been working on a real chicken coop, so I will keep you posted on how we did it!

 

Chickens from Scratch (part 1)


We have been planning on getting chickens for a while now, but for some reason I just kept holding out.  I guess I was a bit nervous.  It is one thing to have a dream and a plan, but actually putting the plan in motion is a different story.

It all started with a harmless trip to the Tractor Supply store.  It was a rainy day and I thought it would be fun to just take a look at what they had.  We were doing good as we stop at the chicken supply aisle.  We checked out the different items and I looked at the different feeders.  Then I heard one of the girls squeal, “Look at the baby chickens!”

That was it.  I was struck with chicken fever.  They were all so fuzzy and yellow and you just wanted to squeeze them they were so cute.

I have never had chickens before (although our landlord did have them in Spain..they weren’t my responsibility though, I just reaped the benefits of them).  And even though I have several “homesteading” books and have read through them many times, when the time came to actually  get the chickens my brain started going fuzzy.

What do we need?  What types of chickens to we want?  Layers?  Pullets?  Sexed?  Too much information, too quickly!  I really needed a checklist!

Here is the crash course on buying baby chickens.  Please note that this information will only take you through the first few weeks of owning baby chicks (we haven’t gotten any further than that).

What You Will Need to Buy (or make or get from craigslist)

  • a box (or something to put the chicks in) – We chose a rubbermaid tub, but it wasn’t the best choice for 2 reasons: 1) We had to be very careful and make sure the heating lamp didn’t melt the tub, and 2) The chicks quickly outgrew it.  We then found a wooden box outside that is working much better.
  • chicken wire – Depending on the depth of the box, you may need some chicken wire to keep the little guys in.
  • bedding – We are using pine shavings for our bedding, but I have read that you can also use newspapers.
  • food and water dispensers – Make sure you have ones that are meant for chicks.  They can drown in larger water containers.
  • heating lamp – Little chicks need to be kept very warm (95 degrees the first week).  We still have our lamp on around the clock at 3 weeks old.  Their box is large enough that they can get under the lamp if they need to, or move to a cooler part of the box if they get too warm.
  • thermometer – Like I said before, young chicks need to be kept at 95 degrees the first week.  Each week of their lives they heat can be reduced by 5 degrees.  I just set the thermometer inside the box near the heating lamp, since this is the warmest area.
  • chicken feed – So far just bought a bag of chick feed specifically for chicks.  At some point I know we should change feed, but I haven’t gotten that far ahead yet.

Care Routine

  • change bedding daily – If the bedding gets wet or very yucky, you can change it more often.  You want to make sure the chickens have plenty of dry bedding to scratch around in.
  • change water daily – Wash out the water container with soap and hot water each day to help prevent bacterial growth and sickness.  Also, check the water throughout the day.  Our little guys kick up the pine shavings into the water.  I have to take a stick and clean it out so that the water will be available to them.
  • feed – We have self feeders, so I just make sure there is plenty available.

Our chicks are now 3 weeks old and we are starting to see their color change a bit.  We have taken them out in the grass some, but watch over them carefully (I feel like a mother hen).  The girls have caught several small grasshoppers and the chicks go crazy over them.  I can’t tell you how much fun we have had with them.  What a wonder is God’s creation!

Here is a quick video to chronicle our learning.  I am hoping to post more as we learn.