hi everyone! haven't started yet, but been reading a lot online. i'm sure some of these plans will change, as all things do when you actually start doing them, but here are the thoughts i've got so far...
i've got a quarter acre property (minus the space my house takes up) and planning to keep just enough hens to provide our eggs, two adults and hoping to add a baby soon (i'm thinking 4-6 hens?). and i would consider maybe raising some new young hens each year just so we can eat our own fresh chickens a few times a year, maybe get a cycle going eventually where each year we're eating the oldest birds? not sure if this is feasible, as i don't want a ton of birds back there, but i guess we'll see... maybe just one or two each year for a holiday meal? i think it'll be important to expose the kid to the concept that if you're going to eat meat, you need to accept that it involves killing an animal. if you can't make peace with that idea, you have no business eating meat, that's my thought process. but i also believe that all animals deserve to live fulfilling and enjoyable lives while they are alive, so i avoid factory-farmed animal products of all kinds (i eat plenty of meat and dairy, i just go to great pains to source really high quality versions).
i want to do heritage breeds that will meet a lot of their nutritional needs through foraging for bugs and worms and greenery, and supplement with foods that will create eggs that are not only higher in omega-3, but lower in omega-6. i won't be feeding them soy or corn or wheat or any of the common food items where the kernels have grown in size so dramatically due to selective breeding over the years. i'm interested in providing non-grain protein sources (i've been reading about worms, fishmeal & bugs). i'll probably feed them table scraps, but i eat a whole-foods diet with very little grain. rice is about the only grain i eat. i'm also curious if they can get their carb needs met through rice, tubers (incl tapioca pearls), and for variety, some seeds like millet, pepitas, sesame, quinoa, sunflower/safflower, flax, hemp, nyjer. i'm hoping since i won't have very many birds, this won't be too expensive, and that they'll eat their supplemental food at a slow rate because they're so satisfied with the forage (as many have reported). and i want as much as possible to use organic ingredients for their feed.
i have a large, gentle dog, who is good with small critters, and she will be their protector most of the time (and when she passes, i will replace her with another dog of similar temperament). i want to get one of those "ladies first" automatic door openers, though, so i don't have to wake up super early to let them out. i won't be making a run, since they'll be allowed to go wherever they want; the door will open right out into the yard. i don't want to clip their wings to diminish their flight, and will only do this if i get complaints from neighbors that they're flying over the fence and that bothers them. i will try not to stress too much about occasionally losing a hen to a raccoon or coyote, and just replace it. lost my cat recently (presumably) to a wild animal, and it was sad, but i am fully at peace with my decision to let that particular cat live primarily outdoors since that was what made him happy all 8 years of his life (my other two cats aren't allowed out but they don't really mind).
i want to grow red wigglers in a worm compost bin and feed those to my hens, and may look into those black soldier flies, too. i am NOT interested in the rotting-animal-carcass-for-maggots thing. i really hate flies and don't want any more of them on my property. i don't get many flies in the house, and would like to keep it that way. but any wormy/buggy things i can cultivate on my property for the chickens seems like it'll be a good way to give them natural protein. we also get a lot of earwigs, so i hope the chickens really enjoy those (and fewer of them come under our back door once we've got chickens). we do have a lot of teeny tiny mice in the area, which my mostly-outdoor cat used to bring me (almost daily). i'm wondering what i'll need to do to make sure the coop isn't infested with them, whether i can get another outdoors-loving male cat who will get along with the chickens but hunt the mice... hmm...
i think i'll probably add a light (just run an extension cord, & have it on a timer) in the winter to keep them laying, because i'd rather produce all my own eggs rather than buy them from the store, even though the ones i buy are pasture-raised, from a small local flock.
i like the idea of running some PVC pipe from my plumbing over to the coop so i can have an automatic waterer that never needs cleaning. i ran PVC extensively for the front yard drip irrigation system, so i feel like this will be easy by comparison. on the topic of ease, i'd like to have a coop setup that has a removable plywood floor so i can slide it out to remove all the droppings (every few weeks?), and hopefully can put the droppings and (mulch? pine chips?) mixture right into the worm bin or perhaps an intermediate compost pile (?). i want the nesting boxes underneath one of those lift-up lids so i don't have to crawl inside the thing which will almost certainly become heavily inhabited by spiders, as do all things around here (though, hopefully, the chickens will eat some of them!).
i live in los angeles where it never gets very cold, so it's nice i don't have to worry about that. but that also means i don't have any stores like Tractor Supply nearby, so i'm going to have to figure out where i'll buy bulk quantities of food items (planning to mix my own supplemental feed, but won't be using commercial feeds)
my hope is to have so few chickens in my huge backyard that i never have to clean any poop up except in the small coop i make for them. i don't clean up any dog poop (one large, one small dog); it just disintegrates into dirt eventually and there's not much odor; i hope for the same with the chickens.
i've looked at this site a lot, and have ordered some books, including one about creating an attractive garden that is compatible with free-ranging chickens, so both things to grow that they won't touch and things to grow that they'll love to eat. it would be nice to be able to have the backyard still be able to be attractive with drought-tolerant plants, but have drip lines set up for some of the greenery the chickens will want to munch on. i wonder if they'll demolish succulents, or if i can count on those to be safe permanent landscaping spots? i wonder if i include some hardscaping out there one day (a little brick-paved area on one of the gently terraced hills for having tea) if they'll poop all over it or whether i can keep enough areas of the yard *more* exciting to them that they don't feel the need to climb and poop on things we want to sit on. there are lots of trees for them to enjoy, if they want to get up high, so hopefully that will make them happy?
i'm interested in hearing about how you guys have problem-solved and planned the types of things i have in mind. and i'm super especially interested to hear from fellow auto-immune disease sufferers who, like me, avoid medication by choosing an anti-inflammatory diet low in omega-6, grains, and added sugar. and anyone who lives in a place with similar conditions to mine, what you've done. and how it's working out for you, folks with small coops only for laying/sleeping and no run, just free access to the property. and, yeah, any thoughts at all about any of the things i brought up! :D