Backyard Chickens – A Beginner’s Story

I dream about a day when we can have our own small flock of backyard chickens, but for now I will just enjoy all the pictures and stories I find on Facebook. That said, I realize many of you have questions about raising your own chickens so I asked the girls over at Fantastic Frugal Family to share their experience. Here it is!

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Nicole:

For the last year I have wanted chickens, I begged and pleaded with my husband. I researched and researched and finally I made one last plead and he caved. Why in the world did I want chickens? The simple answer is Eggs, but also for something that reminds me of a simpler time.

My husband went to the local feed store and picked out two chickens (Bacon and Eggs), not bothering to ask what breed they were. We got a simple animal cage for a brooder, some pine chips, chick starter, feeder, waterer and a heat lamp. Was this really enough? What were we thinking?!

We got the chicks home and set up the brooder, then a thought crosses my mind…What breed are these chicks? We tried to figure it out on our own but honestly to a newb all chicks look alike, it was yellow, puffy, and cheeped.

Nearly two weeks later I broke down and called the feed store back, they had a ledger that held all the info on the chicks they had on certain days and with a simple description of my birds (extra toes, brownish orange feathers) they were able to tell me I had Salmon Favorelles.

My husband started the task of building the coop, we made our own plans and decided to build it as a family project, after a week of construction we were close to completion and he had to make a run to the store for supplies. He came home with all the supplies they needed and a chick. WHAT??? A chick? Yes, we now had another chick, a silver laced Wyandotte we called Waffles, he said it was the last one left in the tiny tub at the feed store. Now we had to figure out how to care for a chick that was substantially smaller than our other girls.

Unfortunately we learned there must have been a reason that the little Waffles was the last one left, she was weak and passed on the third day we had her, but somehow while my husband was at the store getting electrolytes for her he decided it would be a good idea to bring home another chick, a barred rock we call Biscuit.

Now we have three beautiful ladies that are growing quickly, and a completed coop. Bacon and Eggs have graduated to the coop and poor Biscuit is waiting for her size to catch up to the older birds so she can join them.

There is plenty I can say I have learned from this first 6 weeks of backyard chickens but I would boil it down to the important points. If a chick is slow and lethargic at the feed store it likely isn’t in good health, going to the feed store can cause you to want to buy more chickens (I hear this is called chicken math), building a coop to save money can cost you nearly as much as buying one outright. Our money saving coop cost us over $100 and took almost two weeks to build.

I would recommend reading up on chickens before diving in, and become a member to a forum to get quick advice if you need it. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, ALWAYS check your city ordinances for if they allow or prohibit chickens, you don’t want to spend a fortune getting set up just to have to give them up or relocate.

Paula:

On a whim, I told my fiancé that if Nicole got chickens, so should I. We NEEDED them. But I will back up and say that this was a discussion that has been ongoing for the better part of a year. Our small city has very frustrating and confusing ordinances that delayed our Chicken Acquisition ™. But without fail, every few months we would discuss how awesome it would be to have chickens. In terms of benefits, as a family of 5 (with all three children being boys), we go through a SERIOUS amount of eggs. We can plow through a dozen eggs in one day, no problem. There is also the meat of a chicken, the learning and responsibility of caring for chickens that the children will learn, having them for fun pets, and even a bonus fertilizer for our garden.

On my own, I’ve been quietly researching. As spring edged closer, the talks of chickens became more serious. And then Nicole’s husband surprised her with chickens, so I smiled sweetly (bwahahhaha) and reminded Jack of his promise to me.

About a month later, I got my chickens alright. SIX OF THEM. Six small little Golden Comet pullets. They’re a sex-link variety, which means that they are basically a hybrid (and shouldn’t be bred). They are great for egg production as they put out about 300 eggs a year EACH. That’s 1800 eggs. Think of the money I’ll save!! Goldens are also good for eating, so should we decide to lessen our flock, that’s an option. Although I’m not so sure I want to do that. I do love my chickies!

My very first piece of advice: Don’t make it so complicated. As a newbie, I was full of ideas and tips on the “perfect” way to raise chicks, until Jack came home with a box full of them and we were staring into this box wondering what the heck to do next. Our brooder is nothing more than a giant rubbermaid tub. Yup, that’s it. We hooked up a lamp to a desk, slid the tub under it, filled it with wood shavings, and voila. Instant (free) brooder. Luckily Jack had also picked up an enormous bag of feed, and we had dishes to use.

We were in chickie heaven. Until about 10 minutes later when my 2 year old shrieked with joy and climbed into the brooder. Oh, boy. This will be FUN.

We involve the kids in the chicken care as much as possible. Right now it’s just feeding/watering a few times a day (chickies eat a LOT!), and changing their bedding every other day. However, we also do lots of chicken snuggles. I also use the chickens as a teaching tool. We are all learning about the growing process of chickens as we track their feathering progress. We talked about their eating habits and how when they are older the chickens will help keep bugs out in the yard to a minimum. And next week I think we’re going to start discussing different parts of a chicken. Chicken anatomy, who knew?!

The chicks are about three weeks old, and triple their starting size I’d say. They love to be hand-fed, and are even getting used to the bombardment of the toddler as he runs screaming into the back room to loom over the brooder and declare, “CHICKENS, I FOUND YOU!!!” (as if they were lost on some expedition or something.)

Oh, which reminds me, chicks are still chickens. Which means they scratch and peck a lot. And this makes dust. And if you’re brooding them inside, you should probably take that into account. I invariably have to clean their area at least once a day, because the dust is just everywhere. But seeing their clucky little bodies pecking around anticipating some hand time from me is totally worth it.

I really cannot wait to start giving them treats, but I need to get some grit first to help them with digestion. Chickens don’t have teeth, so they need help with that. They store the grit in their gizzard (so THAT’s what that is for!).

In two weeks we have plans of coop creation, along with some sort of run for the chickens so they aren’t stuck in a box all day long. After all, one of my main points of having chickens was that I wanted them for their personalities, and so that we could enjoy them as pets. I want them to feel like they’re wanted for more than just egg production. Does this make me a weird chicken lady? Oh well! :)

Nicole's Coop

Nicole’s Coop

 

Nicole and Paula are the owners of Fantastic Frugal Family where they write about natural living, frugal ideas, and the happy chaos of raising their families of boys! Be sure to check out all they have to say!

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2 Responses to Backyard Chickens – A Beginner’s Story

  1. How fun! I’ve always loved fancy chickens, there are so many cool and beautiful varieties. Paula, sounds like you are having so much fun with your chickens and your boys! My city does not allow backyard chickens on my size of lot (boo) so the best I was able to do was to raise chicks for my friend and give them back to her when they got older. We loved it!
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    • Britni says:

      Our subdivision doesn’t allow any livestock (although I don’t think anyone would notice). I would love to have a small flock at our next home. :)

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