Welcome to My Backyard Chickens Page!
We are in south-central Arizona, in the desert, aka The Valley of the Sun. Winters are short and mild and snow and slush are non-existent. Summers reach a daytime high of 115 degrees F, although they say it feels 10 degrees cooler because of the dry air. Winters reach a low of about 37 degrees F overnight. This (extreme) cold only lasts about six weeks. The fruit trees need protection from the frost for a short time overnight. Large clear Christmas tree lights suffice nicely around the perimeter of the bottom of the trees to prevent them from frostbite or loss. A timer means we don't have to guess which nights might dip low enough to cause damage - the lights come on when they dip below the specified temperature. Winter protection for the trees has become routine, as it will for the chickens, but it is an easy routine and requires little time to set up. It is all very much worth it, as we have a full selection of fruit trees - Naval Orange, Arizona Sweets Orange, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Pomegranates, Santa Rosa Plum and, a large Black Mission Fig. that tripled or quadrupled in size in the first year. Those who don't or won't bother protecting their trees, have lost a tree on occasion and, perhaps, have lost a chicken. I say lost with some hesitation because, although some might consider it "losing" a chicken, I consider it more like "animal cruelty". -The chicken isn't actually lost when it dies from the cold. Protect the trees, feed and water them and, they give back. Protect the chickens, feed and water them (and give them a bit of loving) and, they give back.
I suppose I am somewhat of a nature lover, definitely an animal lover, possibly a country girl at heart. One never would have guessed it the way I used to live. I grew up in Willowdale, Ontario, a northern suberb of Toronto, a fast-paced city, with a (Metropolitan Toronto) population of about 4.5 million. I took the subway to and from work and listened to my Walkman or read a book on the way (it was adviseable to be occupied with something so that one did not have to communicate or even make eye contact with a fellow subway rider who might turn out to be a murderor or some other type of creepy nutcase). That was about 25 years ago. Nobody had chickens and I never knew anyone with chickens. If someone were to have asked me if I would ever own chickens, I would have found myself looking dumbfounded. The thought of owning chickens back then would have been as foreign as the thought of seeing a cat on the moon.
We have had chickens since July 2011 and I absolutely love them. In the first couple of weeks, I think I read just about every web page in cyberspace regarding chickens. Our initial six were chosen by my husband and he basically bought them on the word of the seller, who was losing his home and had 30 to 40 Ameraucana and Sussex pullets to get rid of in a week, or so he said. All were apparently five to six months old and about to lay and, there were two roosters in the lot. (or so he said). My husband paid for them and a small coop in advance. That evening, we went to pick out our chickens and the seller was a no show. We waited 45 minutes and then left a note. My husband also called and set another appointment for a couple of evenings later. Again, we waited, this time almost an hour, until it was almost dark. I had no interest in returning yet a third time and playing this man's stupid game so, we went around to the back of his house and picked out our chickens.
We could see the colors and patterns of the chickens but, barely by that time. As we put our last chicken in a box, the seller showed up, drunk - and he had driven home. Yikes! I didn't realize at first that he was drunk and I asked him to look in the boxes to see if we had any Sussex chickens because I wanted to be sure I had some of those. He looked in one of the two boxes and said "there are a couple in there". Then he announced he needed to go inside, right to bed.
It later became apparent that none were Ameraucana nor Sussex. All were Easter Eggers. Just over a month later, one started to cock-a-doodle-doo. How adorable except, our community does not allow roosters. The following week, one at a time, three of the others also started to cock-a-doodle do. Based on my research and their appearance, I believed only one was a pullet, Annabelle. She was the last chicken I chose and I picked her because she was different from the others. She was almost a solid black compared to the more colorful chickens, which were multi-colored, speckled or with golden rings around the necks. We kept her but, sadly and promptly, sold our five roos.
My Turn to Choose the Chickens:
I must have spent at least a solid week and hours of researching the breeds to find the best egg layers. I was thrilled to find Rhode Island Reds (Heidi & Leah), a Black Australorp (Daisy), two White Crested Blue Polish (or Poland) (Haley & Holly) and, a Barred Plymouth Rock (Hannah), all ranging from about two months old to one year. All are tame including Annabelle and, I am confident that all are pullets. With my selection, we will also have eggs of every color, Blue, Blue/Green, and an occasional pink from Annabelle, Medium Brown from the RIRs and Tinted or Light to Medium Brown from Daisy, Pure White from the Polish. and Medium Brown from Hannah. Worth noting: Some Polish hens are excellent layers while others, qualify as only fair layers. I purchased the Polish purely for their appearance so I didn't bother to ask about their genetic strain as it was not important to me. We'll have plenty of eggs with the others but, I believe my Polish will lay just as well. What I would have liked to include in the group is a Red Sex Link, a Wheaten Marans and a Black Copper Marans but, these were not available. and we have limited space for potential future chickens. We may add one or two later.
Update: It would appear that Hannah, our Barred Rock is a Dominique, as she has a rose comb. I'm learning that some people don't know what they have, assume something based on ignorance or, perhaps, they were sold fertile eggs supposedly of one breed but were sent eggs of another breed. In this case, I was not familiar with the Dominique breed and assumed I was sold what she was advertised as - a Barred Rock. The pullet was also young, making it more difficult to identify. As she grew and as the comb grew, it became clear that she is a Dominique. Regardless, she's a sweetheart and will be almost as good a layer.
Holly (White Crested Blue Polish)
Haley (White Crested Blue Polish)
Leah (Rhode Island Red) Heidi (Rhode Island Red)
Daisy (Australorp) Annabelle (Easter Egger)
The Coop / Hen House:
We purchased this chicken coop through Craigs List. The roof and one side were painted a dark grey. The paint was well worn and flaking. Spiders were the current residents including, one Black Widow. spider After a good cleaning, I painted the entire exterior blue and the inside, ivory, leaving the roost unpainted. We installed one more double nesting box. Holly, our smallest, bravest and, most independent chicken, often uses the lower nesting box but, when she chooses to share a nesting box, the lower box remains empty. It has since become the favored spot for laying. Heidi began laying on November 5th, Leah on December 1st and, Daisy on December 5th. Both Heidi and Leah have so far laid for 10 days straight. I believe Haley and Annabelle will begin to lay very shortly. Contrary to what I have read online, my chickens lay anytime from from 8:30 a.m. through 3:25 p.m., each day laying a little later than the previous day. After a mid-afternoon lay, the routine begins again.
I plan to install another roost on the right side, of the coop, from the front, leading to the top nesting box at the back of the coop. It will be only about two feet long but will give them more space. We also have a lower 4 inch roost at the front of the coop, running lengthwise. I painted that one blue. It is essentially a place for them to relax, outside of the nesting boxes, while they wait to be let out in the morning. They also use it to fly up to the upper roost.
In the Winter, we have tarps covering the sides of the coop. They fall loosely for air circulation. A heavy sun shade loosely covers the front of the coop to about one foot from the ground. We also installed a light for extra warmth and frost protection.
The first layer of flooring is 1/4 inch landscape rock. On top of that is a good thick bedding of fine sand, 350 lbs. worth. On top of that is straw. I find it nearly impossible to keep the floor level and covered with straw because the chickens love to take evening dust baths in the coop, especially Holly.
My final plan for the coop is to install a poop board, although it willbe Spring before this is completed. It should be easy to brace with small pieces of wood screwed into the sides. Hopefully, I will be able to find a remnant piece of formica as I have read that it makes a great poop board because it is very easy to clean. Also stirring in my head is the idea to modify the later nesting box so that it sits on the outside of the coop, with access from the inside. That will allow them more space inside. This is not absolutely necessary because they forage all day in the yard. It is not as though they are stuck in their coop all day. However, I am open to the possibility and, as time goes by, I will have a better idea as to whether such a modification would be worth the time and effort.
Our yard has a series of gardens which, I figured would supply the chickens with bugs and worms. I cannot tell how many worms they have found and eaten but, they seem happy enough and they keep pecking. When we recently turned over the large garden, they seemed to instinctively know that worms would appear. The red wigglers and earthworms were both prolific. Some of the chickens waited patiently by my side and ate them as they appeared. Others felt like they had to sneak them, suddenly appearing as they spied one from nearby and then running off with their prize. The worms tend to stay well below the surface so they were, indeed, a rare prize.
I didn't learn much from local chicken owners or from an owner of a local feed store. The person who sold us our first lot of chickens (5 roos and one pullet) fed his chickens only scratch. He told us that is all they need. However, in hindsight, I tend to believe that he ate his chickens. Laying hens have totally different requirements and, he made a comment that I have since thought about to come to my conclusion. This was not his first lot of chickens (what could have happened to them to require a continual purchasing of chickens?). The owner of a local feed store also suggested only scratch for feed, despite that I told her that our chickens were for laying eggs and that we did not have a farm but a regular house and yard with landscape rock. She never suggested layer pellets and I wasn't impressed with her standoffish behavior, especially for a vendor of merchandise. She was most unpleasant and would have preferred to stay back in her little room instead of having to come out and serve a customer (me). She was arguing with someone as we walked in but, she should have had the sense to leave it in the back room and resume the argument (and her miserable mood) once we had left. We made the visit short as a result. I bought layer pellets anyway, taking advice from the numerous people online who have raised chickens for many years. I have since purchased layer crumble and the chickens prefer that to the pellets.
They love the scratch. The chickens also receive a huge bowl of ground veggies two or three times a day, in addition to what they pick in the garden. They have been picking from our large garden so much so that our peppers are not nearly in abundance as they have been in the past few years. Some of their favorite foods are zucchini, bell and hot pepper leaves, Thai basil and marigolds. They also pick at the lower leaves of the banana plants. I don't mind this at all because they don't strip them completely. Instead, they only shorten the blades along the full length of each lower leaf, leaving a good three inches of leaf from the central vein. Whatever keeps them happy!
Pellets/crumble and fresh water are in the coop at all times. I find a 5 gallon galvanized hanging feeder and water fountain the most suitable for us. A galvanized slidetop feeder and a wooden planter in the yard give them a choice for eating crumble. We plan to install an automatic waterer in the coop when the weather is warm again. The 5 gallon waterer is rather difficult to refresh every three days and the "chicken keeping" is my job. Another small galvanized feeder remains under one of our fruit trees, where they regularly dine for breakfast and a ceramic waterer (loaf pan) is nearby the hose and food for ease of refreshing. When they are hungry or thirsty, they do not have to travel far for a quick bite (or peck).
Dogs & Chickens:
It took a bit of work to train our dogs to not chase the chickens. Initially, they went wild with excitement over them. I realized I needed to curb their enthusiasm rather quickly, as I did not want to find a dead chicken in the yard, nor live with a murderous dog. Introductions didn't help and either did making the chickens part of the family, one by one in the house. So, for the first month or two, I supervised the outings, one dog at a time. I also warned them beforehand "leave the chickens alone". In addition, my female needed "stay out of the garden" warnings, as she reverted back to her puppy days when she felt nothing was off limits. She delighted being naughty all over again. The training wasn't working very well and I could not continue to be outside with them all the time.
When we got our second lot of chickens, things were different. I picked up my Polish chickens and noticed that the woman's dog was amongst the chickens yet, ignored them. I asked her how she trained her dog to not chase them. She told me she didn't train him. A rooster beat the crap out of him. That is all it took. So, I figured, I don't have a rooster so I will have to beat the crap out of the dogs myself. A strong warning just wasn't enough. I had never hit my dogs but, you can't get eggs from a dead chicken and I didn't want the chickens terrorized either. I was going to have to be strong. I began with the same warning but, with a whip in hand. I smacked it against something so they could hear the hard smacking and it was a lot more effective than just a verbal warning. I had to use the strap outside a few times when they were naughty. One smack on the behind, not hard enough to make them yelp but, hard enough that they didn't like it one bit. King Arthur accepted his fate when he was bad. He came when he was called and took it like a man. Madeleine ran about as far away from me as she could get and stayed away. I could chase her around the yard all day and never catch her so I didn't bother trying. If I was outside with the hose in hand, a squirt of water worked just as well. The training only lasted for about a month, if that. Both dogs go out together all the time now and are fine amongst the chickens. I still warn them verbally before they go outside but, usually with just a "be good or behave". King Arthur likes to sit 3'or 4' away and just watch them. Sometimes, Holly walks up to him and they stare at each other for a minute or so, two inches away - beak to nose. King Arthur does not move when she decides to wonder off and find something else to do. Madeleine ignores them most of the time, preferring to play with her ball. However, she is playful and, occasionally, she noses one of them and then runs away, while I am watching. The intrigue is cute to watch but, usually, they just leave them alone.
King Arthur II (White Standard Poodle)
Madeleine (Standard Parti Poodle)
My Hard Work & Patience Paid Off.
For "Egg Colors & More", please see Page 2.
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