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Thoughts on chickens

Posted by joeabbott on May 31, 2010

IMG_0399 Yeah, who’da thunk I’d have an entry called “thoughts on chickens”? Then again, until last year, I never thought I’d own chickens. It hasn’t really been a driving passion or something in the family. Just what seemed like a whim Suzy had …and yet that turned into owning three hens.

These thoughts are off the top of my head and not the product of some longstanding cerebral exercise. They came to me as I have worked around the hens these past few days and especially this morning as I let them out into the pouring rain.

They’re here now and part of the family, so let’s talk about fowl.

Chickens and rain

When we took our Chickens 101 class, they told us that chickens hated getting wet, it could lead to health problems, and we needed to plan around this. Well, after building our coop with a big eaves and overhangs, I further labored to dig a French drain, install gutters, and fill the bottom with a couple hundred pounds of sand.

When we picked up our birds from the farmer who sold them to us they were congregating in three inches of muck under a sky sheltered only with a single ply of chicken wire. They had an “indoors” open to them but they preferred to stand in the mud under moderate rain. But, these were birds on a farm; once they see the great space we provided, they’d appreciate their dry environment.

So, every day we’re home and there’s sunlight, we let the birds out; like today. But today our weather is living up to the forecast: rain tapering off to showers (and it hasn’t started tapering yet). But, there the hens are, pecking at the earth in the open yard and for all the world ignoring the rain.

Now, they aren’t ducks, but I think their aversion to water was overstated.

Chickens and space

P1000160 While I smile at the title Chickens and space, this has nothing to do with birds with little oxygen packs, a tinted bubble helmet, or lunar roving gear; it’s a reference to general room.

When we built the coop, we gave the birds 4’x8’ of floor space … that’s 32 square feet for those who like simple math. Way more than the 1’-2’ we were encouraged to provide for them at a minimum and the 3’-4’ we were told they would enjoy. And yet, watching the birds move about the yard, it’s way too small.

Chickens like to move. They probably put on over a mile of trekking in a day they’re allowed to free-range in the yard. They’re in constant movement as a general rule and enjoy 20 minute naps in different areas around the yard.

To the left is a picture of our backyard from our home office. You can see the coop peeking out from the upper right, just behind the tree foliage. It’s hard to see unless you know where to look and what to look for, but we’ve fenced off the upper portion of the yard; the fence goes left-to-right just above the gravel area, and then it curves up to just below the coop when it comes to the path and raised bed area just below the coop. Anyhow, that’s the area our three hens have at their disposal and they use ALL of it.

I’m not arguing that chickens should have a coop that big, but it does call into question the “minimal space necessary” for them to be happy. Now, Suzy and I see the chickens as “pets” … pets we don’t pet, pets whose eggs we eat, and pets who live outside the home, but still animals we care for who live with us. So I’m sure we see things a little differently than some people, but, chickens like to roam.

Chickens and eats

Another myth we learned at our Chickens 101 class is that chickens won’t eat slugs; this being a treat reserved for waterfowl (ducks and geese). Well, perhaps our birds are more waterfowl than some because if there’s a slug to be skewered, pecked, or otherwise gobbled down, our hens want part of it.

Additionally, they eat what we might eat. That wilted and sour spinach … not really their thing. A slightly stale powdered sugar donut hole, now that’s the ticket! You’ll have to ask Suzy about that last one; I just showed up in time to wonder what all that “stuff” was that was stuck to one the face of one of our hens.

They will gobble meat scraps, not so keen on the broccoli bits, and if there aren’t treats in the daily food dish Suzy delivers up, they’d rather try to escape that be cooped up with average eats during the work day.

Thinking that “fats” are a great thing for an animal living outdoors, we tossed some of the fat cut-off from yesterday’s ham and tossed it into the dish. They were perplexed that we’d offer something like that. Didn’t look like they touched it.

So, for the most parts, chickens will eat grains and grasses but given a choice, they love worms, crawly things, and meat scraps we toss in. We’ve had a hard time adding chicken scraps to the mix, but they appear ambivalent to distinction: it’s all protein to them.

Chickens and upkeep

My job as early riser is to let them out. We used to only let them range on weekends but seeing how they like to roam, I let them out around 5:30 AM and Suzy coops them up before she leaves for work around 7:30 AM or so. On the weekends they get out when I get up; typically around 6 AM.

When I get home from work around 5 PM, I’ll let them out again for the evening run, check for eggs, and bring in the morning “treat dish”. Suzy’s job is to give the coop a daily cleaning and close them in after they’ve let themselves to bed around 8:30 PM.

With a floor that gets about 60# of new sand a week (it’s something like $3 a bag at Home Depot), Suzy just uses a small rake to scoop up the bird poop and then drops it into the compost bin. The shelter has a thick layer of wood chips for our layers and Suzy goes through the same routine keeping that area clean.

We’d built the shelter with a removable floor so we could pull it out and scrape it off. But, with the wood chips spread out on the bottom, it hasn’t been something we’ve needed to worry about. Just sweep up the pooped on chips and it’s done.

The hens aren’t making a lot of noise, with daily cleaning the coop doesn’t stink (sure, when you’re in there it smells like chickens but that’s their home, not ours), and the coop isn’t an eyesore so that’s not a worry. Overall, this is an easy venture.

Coda

That’s it for today: four short thoughts on our time with chickens. Later I’ll talk about the eggs but that’s for later.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts on chickens”

  1. Mom said

    Do I NEED to use tags? ‘Just want to say thanks for an interesting entry. However, it somehow feels real bad to think of feeding chicken (or eggs) to chickens…

  2. joeabbott said

    I agree but the books and articles that I have seen actually promote it. One woman says she tosses her chicken carcasses to the chickens! Yikes! And another source says that you should grind up the chicken egg shells and put that in the feed. Something about the nutrients and chemical composition being exactly what the bird needs.

    But, I know what you mean … seems yucky.

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