January 25, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Chickens (From a Beginner)

I live in the City of Los Angeles. I often blog about fashion, crafts, and trends. It's true that I've only lived in big cities my entire life, but I'd like to think there's a bit of a country girl lurking under the surface. Case in point- I have chickens. Bock bock, crossed the road, egg laying chickens. And guess what... 
I love it!

My lovely ladies are Henrietta and Penny (super original, I know). Henrietta is the fluffy one with black feathers around her neck, and Penny is the copper colored hen. Back in September I "bought" my girls (in quotes because I feel that I rescued them from bad conditions and impending death) from an egg and meat facility a few miles down the road from where I live. The landlord said it was okay, my backyard is big enough to follow local ordinances, and I bought a coop and two $12 hens (and since then have learned A LOT). 

First off I'll start with the good so I don't scare you away. 
1. Fresh Eggs
I think that right there is reason enough to have chickens. Have you ever tasted an egg that's less than a day old? There is no comparison. My chickens are able to roam, scratch, enjoy the sun, and take part in all of the natural behaviors they were intended to. Because of this, the egg quality is amazing. It's also nice knowing where my food is coming from. They are fed non-GMO, organic, corn and soy free feed. Honestly, I can't even eat store bought eggs anymore!
2. Chickens are Hilarious
They have serious personalities. If I run in circles, the chickens are sure to follow because they know I've got the treats! They can be brave (like when Penny chased away a mourning dove today that was totally all up in her business), scared (they don't like the unfamiliar), needy (they crave attention), and bratty (like when they plowed down my garden or how they constantly fly over the gate I put up to keep them from drinking out of the pond). Each one is completely different! Many chicken owners say it's like having a "chicken tv" because you can't not watch and laugh at their antics. Oh, and they'll do almost anything for treats! Below is a video of them dust bathing (not a seizure!). 
video
3. Generally Speaking, Chickens are Low Maintenance 
Once everything is set up and predator proofed, and as long as you leave enough food and water, they can be left alone for a few days. I don't do this often (and also wasting eggs makes me cringe), but I do have the ability to go away for the weekend if I want knowing that they are just fine. On average, I spend about 5-15 minutes a day cleaning their coop, feeding, and changing the water. 


And now to the nitty gritty...
1. Set Up Costs Outweigh the Money Saved on Not Buying Eggs
I paid around $300 for the coop, coop extension, and initial supplies. Beyond that I spend around $45 for pine shavings and food every month-and-a-half to two months. I get around 12-14 eggs a week... When you do the math that would cost on the high end around $5 a week for a dozen organic, pasture raised, non-GMO, farm fresh eggs.... which would only add up to about $20 a month. You either have to have a few more hens (which means more work and more food for them) to break even, or just genuinely really like them. 
2. Chickens Have No Natural Defenses and Tons of Predators
The coop must be completely predator proofed! Chicken wire will not keep out predators. It needs hardware cloth with openings 1/2" or smaller so that nothing can fit through. Additionally, it needs to be buried in the ground because many animals can dig through. In the area I'm in I only have to worry about possums and hawks, so my girls are mostly safe and I keep an eye on them when they're roaming, but in many other areas many more defenses need to be put up to keep out bears, foxes, raccoons, cougars, weasels, dogs, and many other predators. At night they can't see, and even in the daytime they have no way of protecting themselves other than hiding. 
3. Disease, Disease, Disease
Just how chickens are vulnerable to predator attacks, they are also vulnerable to many diseases. Wild birds can carry lice, mites, viruses, etc... nothing that you want your chickens to get. On top of that, just roaming around and eating bugs (which they love and is generally good for them) can give them worms and parasites. When I first got my chickens they had lice (but don't worry- it's not the human kind and it is only on birds), were possibly malnourished, and Henrietta had a nasty infection that almost took her life twice. Many respiratory diseases makes them carriers for life and it can spread to any new birds. On the flip side, if you are going to introduce new birds to the flock you must quarantine them (somewhere where the wind can't spread anything between them) for at least 30 days. One sick bird can kill an entire flock. 
Back When Henrietta Had to Be Quarantined
Brooklyn Decided She Likes Her!
4. The Scoop on Poop
Chickens poop all day and all night. They can't control it and it gets everywhere. The upside is you can make great compost with it. The downside is it's messy and pretty gross! If you really want to get grosses out, google "cecal poop". They do that a few times each day and it SMELLS to high heavens. 
5. Life and Egg Cycle
Chickens are born with as many eggs as they will lay. They way chickens have been bred today, they lay almost every day. At this rate, they only lay for 2-3 years (sometimes longer but their production slows down dramatically). Around 24-28 weeks is when they start laying, at 18 months they go through a molt (where they lose all their feathers and stop laying for around 2-3 months), and if the daylight hours during the winter are too short, they may stop laying for a while. Chickens live for around 7 to 12 years, although some have reported theirs living around 15 to 20! If you only want chickens for eggs, don't make it a pet and prepare to have it be stew after only two or three years. As for me, I love my feathered friends and I'm going to let them live out a long and happy life after their laying cycle comes to an end. 


Here's some general advice I've learned...
-Keep a specific pair of shoes (preferably muck boots) to go in the area where the chickens are... you don't want to carry in or out any diseases and I'm sure you don't want to spread chicken poop everywhere!
-Supplementing their diet with garlic and oregano can have health benefits, but supplementing with calcium and grit. These should be in a separate feeder so they can eat it as they see fit. Lack of calcium can lead to sad, weird eggs.
-Join backyardchickens.com! It's a great community where you can find an answer for anything. I also follow Fresh Eggs Daily and The Chicken Chick. They know their stuff. 
-Do your research first! You don't want your birds to suffer from something that could've been prevented. 


And here are some of my favorite chicken related products!
And with that, we're outta here! 
Where are my chicken lovers at?!
Anything that I missed or that you want to add? Any questions? Let me know!

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