Sunday, May 22, 2011

So...You Want to be a Chicken Farmer

It all started with a dream...well, not really. It actually started with an email. David received an email advertising plans for a chicken coop. Now, I don't know about you, but we usually ignore most of the emails that junk up our inboxes, but for some reason, this one caught David's attention. Coincidentally, I had seen a chicken coop for sale on the side of the road the same day my husband got that fateful email. The streams crossed, and our lives exploded into a world of chickeness.

Our initial reactions to the idea of "backyard chickens," as they are called by those in the know, ranged from, "Would this work?", "Is this even possible?", to "Are we completely nuts?" As it turns out, yes, yes, and probably. Although we live somewhat in the country--you do have to pass two farms to get to our house--we definitely don't live ON a farm. I mean, we live in a neighborhood, with neighbors and everything. We weren't even sure that this was legal where we live (it is). However, our extensive research showed us that not only could we have chickens in our backyard and in our neighborhood, but that keeping backyard chickens is its own growing culture.

We initially decided to buy 6 or 7 one-day-old chicks from an online hatchery and then let them stay in a brooder in our living room for 4-6 weeks, until they were old enough to live in a coop. I know what you are thinking..."What is a brooder?" A brooder is basically a big box with food, water, and a heat lamp--this setup keeps the chickens warm and dry while they grow. We have gained a whole arsenal of new words since we started this process. Brooder, scratch, chicken tractor (not what it sounds like), and nesting box are now part of our vocabulary. Anyway, back to the story. Like I was saying, we were going to get the chicks from an online hatchery, but after finding out the shipping costs, we decided to try to buy them locally.

David and Sarah made the trek to two different feed stores and bought not 6, but 12 chicks of 6 different breeds: two Buff Orpingtons, two Ameraucanas, two Barred Plymouth Rock, two white Plymouth Rock, two Wyandottes, and two Rhode Island Reds. The chicks ranged from 2-4 weeks old, not the one-day-olds that we originally wanted, but that turned out to be a good thing--more on that later. They promptly put them in the brooder, turned on the heat lamp, and gave them food and water. Of course, the most important task, according to the kids, was naming them. (Yes, all 12 chickens have names, and yes, we can tell them apart). It had begun...we were now newbie chicken farmers.

At first the chicks mostly huddled in a pile out of shock, but they finally started running around and acting "chickeny". The chickens were cute, very cute, which kept me from killing them a few weeks later. They seemed really healthy, but there was one chick, Talitha, that we were afraid we were going to lose. She didn't move much, and she had a limp. We gave her special treatment--treats, medicated water, and her own little section of the brooder so she wouldn't get trampled. Just to put your mind at ease, she did not die, and now she is bigger than her "sister" and is very affectionate.

The first few days, the first week even, of caring for them, watching them, and listening to their sweet "peeps" was actually enjoyable. After that, not so much. The pine shavings that we put on the floor of their brooder to catch ummm...stuff was not working as well at masking the smell as it was at first. I also think that I developed an allergy to either the pine or the chicken dander, because I spent several weeks severely congested. Finally, the constant "peeps" that were once so sweet began to wear on my nerves. It was like water torture...peep, peep, peep...drip, drip, drip. There was hardly ever a quiet moment in our house. I was ready to get them out!

Finally after several weeks and a lot of backbreaking work on David's part, the coop was finished and we moved all the chickens out. I don't know who was happier, the chickens or me. Now, caring for them is enjoyable again. The girls have loved coming home from school everyday to check on them and give them treats. They can't wait until the chickens start laying eggs, which will probably be around September. All in all, even though it has been more money, time, and work to get this chicken train moving than we thought it would be, I have so far enjoyed the journey (most of it anyway) and am glad we did it.

Our finished coop and run

Inside of the coop complete with roosts, nesting boxes, and original artwork!


  1. I call it Hotel Chicken cause that is the fanciest chicken coop i have seen and i love the art work in it, david did a great job.

  2. Thanks, Caleb! David worked really hard on it!

  3. A chicken palace compared to the set up my dad had when I was the girl's age. Yes I come from a chicken culture family. We had chickens, quail and partridge in suburban Little Rock. It was a great experiance for a kid. At least until I hand raise a goose which I did not know was to became Chirstmas dinner. Not so good after that. Say hello to the grand-chickens for me.

  4. Hopefully we will be able to purchase Hardgrave's Organic eggs in September!!!! Can't wait!

  5. That is amazing!! I love the artwork. These are chickens that live in a gated community, I see!!