Chicken keeping, part 1

Before we moved out here we knew we were going to have animals and that chickens were likely going to be our first adventure in keeping animals on the farm (besides the bees of course).

The beginning

In March of 2021 we ordered 26 chicks from Meyer Hatchery, two roosters, 23 hens and one “Meyer meal maker chick” (to be donated to the local community) with a delivery date around May 26th. Maybe that sounds like a lot of chicks for a first time chicken keeper (hint: it gets crazier..) but in order to get an earlier shipment date we added a few extras to the order.

Our order consisted of:

  • 2 male Swedish Flower Hen chicks
  • 3 female Swedish Flower Hen chicks
  • 6 female White Leghorn chicks
  • 15 female Assorted Rainbow chicks
  • 1 Meyer Meal Maker chick

This would give us 12 hens per rooster, which we figured would be enough that they would be able to live together without any major issues.

The chicks

In order to get ready for the chicks we set up a brooder area in the corner of the garage made out of cardboard left over from when we bought a refrigerator. We put in wood shavings on the bottom, a feeder, a waterer and a heat plate and we were ready for the chicks to arrive.

In the early morning of May 26th the post office called us to let us know that they had a box of chicks for us to pick up so off we went to pick them up.

Once safely home, we checked all the chicks to make sure they were doing ok, dipped each one of their beaks in the water and placed them in the brooder with the rest of their new flock.

We had one white leghorn chick that didn’t survive the trip and we lost a Swedish Flower Hen a few days later (after the hatchery guarantee had expired unfortunately) but the rest did really well.

The next couple of weeks we made sure they had food and water, we sat and watched them play in the brooder and we had to clean some “pasty butts”. “Pasty butt” is the condition in which a chick’s soft droppings stuck to the fine down around their vent and then harden and get stuck in the opening of the baby chick’s vent. All you have to do in order to fix it is a paper towel, some water and some time to sit down to clean them off.

The coop

Now that we had the chicks in the brooder there was no turning back, we would need the chicken coop to be done soon.

I spent many hours on research and many more on coming up with a design I liked and then I went to price the materials I would need. After the initial sticker shock (yay for crazy lumber prices..) I went back to the drawing board to come up with something more budget friendly.

I settled on a hoop house style coop, same thing that you would do if you were building a greenhouse but with solid walls and roof.

I ordered a hoop bender that I could use to bend the pipes that that you use as the top rail for chain-link fences in to a hoop that will create a 8 foot tall and 12 foot wide hoop. Once that came in I picked up some chain-link top rails from the hardware store and built the main structure for the hoop house.

Next I needed to put walls, roof and a door on it and again I tried to doing at cheaply as I could. I have some good friends that I have met through the beekeeping club and they were getting rid of some old roofing panels from an out building, those became the roof of the coop.

After that, then I needed walls for the coop. For that I used left-overs that the builders had left when building our house, with a few more pieces that I got from the hardware store to finish things off.

Lastly I needed a door to keep the chickens in and as I was planning how to build one from scratch, Andrea found someone on Craigslist that were selling some old screen doors from a porch and that is what we ended up using as a door.

The chicks were moved out in to the coop on June 20th.

The next step was to construct the run so that they would have somewhere to forage and get fresh air but have some protection from predators. I purchased a 164 foot electric poultry net and I set that up for them but quickly realized that they would soon be able to fly over that without much trouble. The solution I came up with was to build a taller fence using wooden posts and a 8 ft tall black plastic net. I would use the electric net on the bottom to keep the predators out and the taller net to keep the chickens in. One of the screen doors that we got from Craigslist made a good door for the run.

More chickens?

After reading the Meyer Hatchery website some more we realized that the ‘Assorted Rainbow Layers’ did not talk about the egg colors, but rather the way the chickens looked. Our goal from the start was to have a wide variety of egg colors when we sell them at the farmer’s market. We did some research and one of our friends recommended Cackle Hatchery and we started clicking away and adding chicks to the shopping cart. After going back and forth a lot we finally submitted an order for an additional 40 chicks.

The order included:

  • 10 female French Marans
  • 15 female Rainbow Assorted
  • 5 female Blue Eggers
  • 5 female Easter Eggers
  • 5 female Olive Eggers

The rationale was that we wanted the French Marans for the dark brown eggs, the blue/easter/olive eggers for their specific colors and then a mix of other random colors. This, we reasoned, would give us a wide range of colors for our eggs.

For those at home that are keeping up with the math that puts us at 65 chickens.. During the construction of the coop I had calculated, based on what I read online, that with 200 sq ft of coop space that i could house between 66 and 100 chickens and the run being 1,600 sq ft can support 160 chickens.

On July 13th I get a call from the post office saying they have a big box of rather noisy chicks that they would like for me to come pick up. We now start the whole process over again in the garage, with the food/water/pasty butt.

Fast forward to July 29th and after installing a partition so that the older chicks can’t harass the younger ones, we move the new chicks out to the chicken coop.

After that we settle in to the routine of socializing with them, making sure they have food and water and that they are closed up at night.

In part two of this series I will talk in more detail about what we have learned about keeping chickens and interacting with them and finally in part three I will show some of the statistics around how many eggs we are getting.

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