Chickens and Eggs (Open Thread)

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We recently knocked down an old, dilapidated shed in our backyard, and my husband is longing to fill that corner of the lot with something. (The man cannot abide a bare space in the yard.) He thinks we should build a coop and raise a flock of backyard chickens.

I’m not completely averse to the idea, but I suspect it’ll be a lot more of a hassle than we anticipate and that the drudgery involved will fall disproportionately on me. Actually, I think I have a much more realistic view of what it will entail than my city-boy spouse since I spent some of my childhood on a small farm with a flock of 30 or so chickens.

My memories of the chickens are mostly positive except for a couple of mean roosters. And also my father occasionally twisting one of the chicken’s heads off and making my sister and me pluck it for Sunday dinner. (We would both spend years as vegetarians thanks to that and an incident involving a cow we raised [Ferdinand] that was later converted into what my father referred to as “Ferdburgers.”)

Anyhoo, any chickens we purchase in the future will meet a happier fate than the chickens in my past, as we intend to add them to the mix strictly as egg producers and pets (and hens only, so no mean roosters). Still, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a good idea. In an effort to get me on board, my husband pointed out that we do something stupid every seven years, as if that were a convincing argument in the “pro” column.

We do something stupid far more often, of course, but he’s kind of right about the pattern of making possibly dumb decisions with far-reaching implications every seven years or so (getting married, reproducing, moving to the boonies, etc.).

So, does anyone have any experience with backyard chickens?

[H/T for photo: BuzzFeed]

Posted by Betty Cracker on 03/01/12 at 07:29 AM • Permalink

Categories: CrittersFood

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Friends, up here in PA, recently succumbed to “chicken fever.”  They are middle-aged newlyweds, and “nesting” so, I suppose it might be a natural outcome . . . They have acquired modest-sized flock—a few chickens (and ducks, for whatever reason) and despite their ready-made family of six, they have taken to gifting anyone they run into with the overabundant fruits of their flocks labors . . . For a while, this was swell, but lately many of us have been taking a pass due to mysterious digestive ailments loosely linked to the ingestion of said fruits.

Not pointing any fingers . . . just saying.  Poultry neophytes beware!

I don’t personally, but try to find a copy of “The Egg and I” by Betty MacDonald. One chapter is entitled “I Learn to Hate Even Baby Chickens.” I think it is hysterically funny, only a bit dated in some areas.

Betty was also way ahead of her time describing life as a divorced single mother in Seattle in the 1930s (after the chicken farm/being married didn’t work out).

So, does anyone have any experience with backyard chickens?

Not me, but I have a friend who raises them, does all the drudgerous parts herself, and it doesn’t cause her much trouble.

Then again, her experience may not be a useful data point because she’s one of those superhumans who is the matriarch of a largish extended family, has a ton of friends, has a successful etsy business etc. and it’s all stylish and effortless.

A friend has three small “decorative” chickens—they have the big fluffy feathers covering their legs.  They walk around eating bugs and like to be near you when you’re outside.  Around sunset they naturally go back into their coop.  They’re very pretty and actually help keep the mosquito population down.

Talk about yer chickens coming home to roost; Andrew Breitbart died of a heart attack last night, age 43.  I could have sworn he was older given his visage, but a bottomless well of hate will do that to a person. 

As for actual chickens, our little beer-makin’ berg allows them (up to 6), but no roosters; because of the crowing, not the general meanness.  The trick is getting a batch of chicks and hoping they are all female, or having to dine upon the unfortunately male later on.

Iffn’ you gets you some chickens, aren’t you puttin’ up a giant “Python Feeding Zone” sign? They already know where youse are livin’.

Also, too, chicken guard duty would cut into the boxers’ nap time.

Talk about yer chickens coming home to roost; Andrew Breitbart died of a heart attack last night, age 43.

I demand to see the long form death certificate!

The City Chicken is probably a good place to start your research on chicken raising.  From what I’ve heard, there are good laying breeds and good brooding breeds, and a combination of the two is good- the brooding hens will actually incubate eggs that they haven’t laid.

Comment by Big Bad Bald Bastard on 03/01/12 at 01:29 PM

My other half has three chickens.  I can’t remember what kind, they’re really fluffy lay heaps and enjoy eating weeds.  I’ll check with him what breed they are.

At least I know what to bring when I come visit, Betty

Comment by HumboldtBlue on 03/01/12 at 02:23 PM

I have a copy of “City Chicks” on my coffee table. Every time I pick it up to read the Mrs. says “no we aren’t.”

If your patch can accommodate it, chooks in a mobile pen can be great for ground-clearing, getting rid of tenacious weeds etc., and they fertilize the ground as they go.

Oh yeah, that mobile pen is called a “Chicken tractor” in the organic world; it is a seriously cool idea - it is mentioned in one of Michael Pollan’s books.  The birdies are safe from the wandering python, hawk, or dog (dogs will eat chickens, as my childhood miniature poodle did), and you can move them from place to place as your weeding and grub-eating needs dictate.

There is a local organic farm here that is exclusively using chicken tractors, and they can actually call their eggs “cage free” and not be seriously stretching the truth like most other producers are.  On most chicken farms, the door to the outside is locked until the chicks are older and not as subject to disease (from crowding, etc), then they open the door but being birdbrains they don’t go out it because it is not something they grew up with.  They have access though, so that counts as cage-free in advertising land.

My daughter kc is dying for us to get backyard chickens but there is no coop that would be a match for my big mutt, Larry, who would see the chickens as particularly delicious snacks.  Don’t know if boxers have similar tendencies but something to think about. ;-)  Otherwise I probably would get a couple - completely fresh eggs are a huge treat and if you just had two or three the output wouldn’t be overwhelming.

You can also get breeds that lay eggs with the shells already colored.  I think it is Araconna’s (sp?) that lay pale blue or pale green eggs.

@String - I think it’s Araucana.  Martha Stewart is big into them I believe (I’m sort of a closet fan of hers for the homemade stuff but not a big one due to the personality disorder stuff) mainly because of the pretty colored eggs I think.

Re your earlier comment about Andrew Breitbart, we had some backroom chat about whether it was worthwhile to post about him but in the bigger scheme of things Davy Jones had a much more positive impact on the world.

Buying eggs at the store is WAY cheaper than buying chicken feed. If you think chickens can survive on bugs and weeds, you’re in for a surprise!

Besides, they stink! They don’t call it chicken shit for nothing!

You can also get breeds that lay eggs with the shells already colored.

Oh yes, this picture is from my chicken-owning friend.

Comment by Xecky Gilchrist on 03/01/12 at 07:14 PM

This may have been mentioned already but I’m too lazy to read all the comments but if you are in an area with coyotes, foxes, etc - don’t forget a good fence

Thanks for the chicken input, y’all. I’m pretty sure I wont be able to talk the mister out of this. He already has plans to build a large, completely enclosed coop. We’ll be able to let them roam the yard when the dogs are inside. I definitely don’t trust either dog.

We’ll be able to let them roam the yard when the dogs are inside.

Don’t plan on growing anything, then!

Marindenver, I wholeheartedly agree; Davy Jones did a LOT more for happiness and good karma than a certain guy-who-shall-not-be-named ever did. 

I agree with you on the Martha perspective too; good info but oh Martha, really? 

When my geo-career was in the dumper I worked 2 summers for a friend who had a xeriscape (low water use) landscape design and installation company.  He also had a flock of chickens that we’d bring the bags of plant trimmings and discarded clayey soil to (with worms!).  It didn’t take more than 3 deliveriers before the chickens would start muttering in anticipation when we approached them with the daily bags O’ potential goodies.  He had a real variety of breeds; I really enjoyed being around them but yeah, chicken poo is a bit on the acrid side. 

Betty, consider getting plans for a chicken tractor (I’ll bet they are available online) especially if Mr. Cracker is already itching to build something; letting chickens loose is an invitation to the passing coyote, bad dog, etc.  The tractor keeps them safe, out of your garden, and easily moved around with a minimum of fuss.

we do something stupid every seven years

My motto is: drink coffee! Do stupid things faster with more energy! The trick is French Roast on a #8 grind.

One of our dogs was raised on a LRRS (Long Range Radar Site) at Cape Lisburne, AK and loved digging up parkey squirrels (what we call ground squirrels), so she’d love to chase her some chickens. Plus my husband feeds her bits of chicken seeds every weekend. But she’s not spoiled at all. Oh, no.

I’ve heard those birds with the mop tops are pretty cool, I don’t remember what they’re called.

“we do something stupid every seven years”

Happens here to.  Last week my daughter did all the research and had her heart set on a potbellied pig, which amazingly I was considering.  Until I came to my senses (kinda) and talked her into a puppy, which we’re getting this weekend.  So, now that my youngest is in school full-time, I had to add something to my plate to make my life more, er, crazy!

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm invented the chicken tractor.

http://www.archive.org/details/JoelSalatin-Universit yOfCalifornaBerkeley

Hey Betty - have you seen this?
http://boingboing.net/2012/03/02/betty-crockers-through -the-age.html

Comment by Lancelot Link on 03/02/12 at 04:57 PM
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