Sunday, December 07, 2008

Another chicken post

All right, I get the point, I haven't posted in a while. And since the person who poked me and told me to post again is the same person who asked me forever ago for my advice about chickens, I'll just take care of both responsibilities at the same time (kill two birds with one stone? Only if they're guinea fowl).

Ok, so, you asked about breeds. I have Rhode Island Reds, and I love them. They're friendly and gentle, they're good egg layers, and they're a heavy breed so they do well in the winter. Perhaps you would want a light breed like a leghorn, since where you live it's significantly warmer, and since (I'm guessing) you won't be slaughtering these birds? Heavy breeds are good if you plan to use them for meat birds as well as layers, but I somehow doubt that you're planning to have them as meat birds. McMurray Hatchery has lots of info on the different breeds, and the reviews are helpful for finding out what breeds really are the gentlest, and won't attack your kid when he toddles out into the yard.

In the spring, I'm planning to get some Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, and Brahmas. I also really really want some crested birds, because OH MY GOSH they're so funny, but I'm afraid for their chances of survival, given that the poofs on top of their heads obscure so much of their vision.

I had a couple of bantams this spring (who died, and broke my heart), and I loved loved loved loved loved them. Since you're in the city and don't have a whole lot of chicken predators around, I'd really recommend them. You might be able to have more per your square footage since they're smaller - you should find out if your county has separate rules for bantam birds.

About the coop. Mine is a big elaborate contraption that came with the house. It can probably house about a hundred birds. I'm only using it to house about 35 birds right now, and most of my guineas sleep outside anyway. (Side note: guineas are LOUD and OBNOXIOUS and STUPID, and not an acceptable substitute for chickens. Not that you were planning on getting any anyway.) You said you were thinking of getting what, two hens? I'd say, just build a little shed, basically like a little doghouse on stilts, with nesting boxes and roosting bars. Or, if you're following the Garden Girl's plan for movable chickens, her design seems pretty good. Keep in mind that chickens (like most livestock) can handle cold, but not drafts or dampness. Make sure you have a way to keep the winter wind from getting them, and that their bedding is dry. And most importantly, make sure your coop will keep predators out! Racoons and possums will still get to your chickens in the city, even if bigger animals like coyotes won't.

About feeders: I have a lot of birds, so I have big hanging feeders and waterers, and my birds probably go through a bag of layer feed and a bag of scratch feed in a week and a half. My neighbor recently upgrated from two birds to all of five, and she has a little bowl with a jug of water sitting next to it which she refills whenever it's dry, and she keeps grain in a bucket (with a lid, of course) in the coop and drops it on the ground to feed them, about a handful per bird. I think your setup will probably be closer to hers than mine. Don't believe the feed store or the websites when they tell you you need expensive feeding and watering equipment - you don't. Chickens are smart enough to drink out of a bowl. Baby chicks are not smart enough not to fall into the bowl and drown, so you'll need a quart-sized chick waterer, which should cost you all of two dollars at the feed store. If you do want to use a regular waterer, the gallon sizes are still really not all that expensive. I've seen wall-mounted rabbit waterers for chickens advertised, but I still don't understand the point. Sure, they keep the water clean, but you have to go out there every day to fill up their water, so why not just rinse out the bowl then and keep it clean for much cheaper? And as far as feeders go, chickens prefer to scratch on the ground anyway, so if you have few enough to make it practical to just put the feed on the ground, why buy a feeder? Just make sure to feed them on bare dirt (which they will create in abundance around their coop - chicken manure is so nitrogenous that nothing grows immediately around a chicken coop) and not in their hay or pine shavings or whatever you're using for bedding, or else you'll just end up with bedding lined on the bottom with chicken grain, and hungry chickens.

One last point: Rhode Island Reds are super super active. You may or may not want active birds - I love them, but this year they did eat everything my garden produced except the corn (which they couldn't reach) and the cucumber (which they just didn't like). They ate an entire PUMPKIN, and picked at the other one so that I had to harvest it when it was still green, just to save some of it. And they didn't wait for my tomatoes to ripen - they liked the green ones just fine. My friend David babysat them when I went down to Dallas for graduation - they were still chicks - and kept them in his brooder, where he was putting his meat birds that had leg problems: he said they scratched in the bedding and buried the feeder, the waterer, the thermometer, and several of his lame Cornish Cross birds. Apparently, his poor sad birds' heads were sticking out of the bedding, and he had to dig them out and rescue them. The positive side to having active birds is that they're always doing something funny. My roosters like to stand on the porch rail and survey all their territory, and flap their wings and crow. They're such big strong men.

In other news, I danced on my birthday till my feet bled (I turned 21 again).


X said...

Oh my gosh this is amazing! I feel like I need to take notes on all your amazing experience. I need to map how far away you are, because I think I need to see this in person.

Uck, hubby's job is closing down all operations for two weeks around Christmas to cut out everyone's vacations time. It's a Fortune 500 company, so they have hundreds of thousands of employees. In accounting terms, not having the liability of vacation time will make their end-of-year balance sheets much sweeter for end of quarter reporting to shareholders and Wall Street... but for us, that means that we have NEGATIVE vacation time for 2009. So we won't be able to go visit people as we had wanted. One day we'll see your chickens!

Have you gotten to take any pictures on those rolls?

L Fabjanska said...


X said...

MC I am so happy to think I'm about a week from getting hens! I still haven't decided on breeds. We'll have to see what the feed store has available next week. Also, I can't believe how much feed you go through! You're feeding an army! So do you all sell the eggs somewhere, or do you have someone who does for you?

In the outdoor area in their run, do I need to put down any type of material, or are leaves from raking ok? Or just bare swept ground? I haven't decided on exactly how I want to feed them yet... I guess that'll have to play into it. But what does the ground look like where you let yours roam?