My topic is about back yard chickens and the who can or should raise them. It's a little unorthodox on topic for this contest, but maybe old time chicken folks don't realize the social stigma of this. Having chickens isn't all that PC... in the city that is.
To look at me you may not believe that just a year ago I was owned my own successful wine company, wore a business suite and heels along with make up, fake nails and fancy hair daily. I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. I live in the suburbs of Denver and am officially the "WEIRD FRIEND" now. Yep. I have a backyard oasis with a massive garden, a beehive, and now, backyard chickens. These pictures were taken the day we got our babies.
This is a photo of the 3 little chicks that really loved my husband, who was not too thrilled by the fact they showed up at first. I honestly think he has thought I've lost my ever-lovin' mind. Let's face it, we live in the middle of a city and the woman he married was a business exec for 20 yrs, turned business owner, turned urban farmer.
Why would you do this? I've been asked time and time again!
I swear I'm not nuts, but much likee many Americans, I'm dang sick of processed food that has hormones, chemicals and inhumane treatment of animals. Believe me, I take heat about this. I haven't lost any friends over my "strange" behavior but my parents think I've gone round the bend and so do most of my friends. My kids just think I'm super cool for "bucking" the "system". How better to fill my empty nest but with chickies? The heart of the matter for me is WHY am *I* weird because I want to have a few birds? Secretly I think most of my friends are jealous that I put my money where my mouth is. They all want to eat organic blah blah blah... but who's willing to actually DO the work?
Step 1... are chickens right for you?
how do you even know if you are a good fit for something like being a Chicken Mom/Dad? Well, do a little research. First off, are they "legal" in your city? And well, if not, do you have the energy/commitment to getting the laws changed? Or face being a hardened criminal if you fly under the radar with a coop?
Step 2...Are you willing to take care of your flock in a responsible manner? Will you clean the coop, feed and water the birds? For me it's not a matter of simply tossing up a $200 coop and feeding each day. I'm committed to making sure my birdies are happy and healthy. While urban homesteading is seeing a resurgence in the past few years, it's still not mainstream. Are you willing to research, talk to other chicken keepers, and learn how to manage your flock in a responsible and ethical manner?
Step 3....Ask yourself, what is your primary goal in having a flock?
Step 4....decide what breed is a good fit for you. Do you want eggs? Meat? Pets? all of the above? Personally I only have hens, first off, I live in the city, having a crowing roo isn't going to go over well with the neighbors. Second, I am not breeding and I am only interested in eggs & pets. These creatures are amazing to watch, so funny and adorable. You cant' help but be drawn in by their antics. So, if you DO want meat birds (I've given this thought) are you prepared to "do the deed"? I can say for myself, no. Next year I will be adding some Turkey's and I have bartered with my "hit-man" to raise his bird if he'll process them for me. He's a hunter. I know my limits. That's outside my scope, right now.
This picture is exactly why I can't kill my chix-chix... they are also my pets. So eggs for all, but no drumsticks!
Step 5... Once you make the decision to get the birds, can you financially sustain that? It's a legit question. You will need to feed them, invest in a coop, a watering system or container, bedding, and other essentials. What about a vet bill? Can you or are you willing to cover that? Are you invested enough to make sure your birds are disease free? I can tell you that when I first endeavored into this "hobby" I had NO idea what the cost would be. Well, so far I'm in for a good $500, and my girls are less than a year old. But I am ALSO in for a huge time commitment. Now, my ladies enjoy a compost heap of table scraps, (less some things I know they can't/shouldn't eat), and I also feed them chicken feed and when it was summer, they had the run of the garden. Now, that will change this upcoming year, they eat anything that's not nailed down! My lovely ladies are about 7 months old and I have YET to see an egg... I threaten to turn them into dinner all the time, of course, I never would.
Step 6...OK, you've decided to buy your birds, Eggs? Chicks? Juveniles? Breed? Lots to think about! I opted for 6 week old chicks from a fellow on Craig's list who had ordered a large lot of chicks, raised them and didn't want that many. I ended up with 3 black Austrolopes and 2 Americanas. I added a Silkie, unfortunately I had my first bitter taste of loss when she up and disappeared. To this day I have no clue what happened to her. Next one of our Americanas, "Starr" was attacked by a Jack Russel Terrier and had her neck broken. We are down to 4 girls and I'm actually OK with that. We may add a second coop next year with the run we are putting in, but I think it's going to be a turkey kind of year.
Step 7... Speaking of runs? Are you going to keep your chickens in a coop or let them range? What type of predators are there in your area? Even down to rodents, they get in the coop and eat your feed, steal eggs. Since we are in the suburbs of Denver, we have everything from Owls, Coyotes, foxes, hawks, raccoons and mice. We also have 2 dogs and 3 cats. A little pug who could care less about the chickens, the Rott is like, Hu... cool, Mom gives these birdies yogurt and when she's not looking I will eat it, so I'll leave them alone. The cats as you can see from the picture below, don't really mess with them. I figure it's because my girls have chased the cats up on the fence, they have wicked claws and beaks! My poor little cat didn't stand a chance when the almost full grown pullets chased him up the fence, wings a-flappin'. I obviously let my girls out during the day and they just go roost when it gets dark. I have had one of my girls fly over the fence, I had to retrieve her and after that I clipped their feathers on their wings. I actually thing these fatties are too big to fly that far now, but there are planter boxes that give them a boost, so better safe than sorry. We have only had one incident where a fox (fresh prints in the mud) tried to dig up under my coop. I moved my coop for the winter onto my deck, where nothing can dig under. Next year we're laying a pad for it.
These two pictures reflect the sort of relationship I have with my birds. If I forget to shut the back door, in they come! I've had all 4 girls in the kitchen snooping around before I shoo'd them out. Note.... chickens are not easily housebroken
Step 8...Wait. So, it's winter now, I've moved the coop to a nicely tucked area on the back deck where the girls are protected from the wind, get a nice bit of sun, is easy for me to access even in the snow or a storm, and if need be, I could bring them inside if it's that bad. I let them compost their own bedding and think they are warm enough it has only been down to the 20's here at night so far. If we get a forecast for super cold snap, which we often do in December, we may add in a heat lamp. I've opted not to add a light in my coop right now but I believe that I will be doing so in the next few days when my husband gets around to his honey-do list. We haven't had our first egg, so it's like a game right now. We take a lot of flack from friends about the Chicken coop and beehives. But I suspect that once my girls get rollin' all that will change. Since I am sitting on 5 gallons of pure golden honey and all the nay-sayers are begging for a jar. HA, fat chance. I'm certain once I have eggs a plenty we'll see those folks changing their minds.
Well, That's about really all I know about keeping chickens, making the leap into "yesterday". I'm really glad I did. I don't mind being the weird friend at all. I'm really enriched by having had the experience of not only raising chicks and bees, but having a garden and feeling the simple pleasures of a time gone by. People wonder "what's wrong with kids today", I say, they don't have responsibilities like feeding chickens, milking cows or being outside in the sunshine. They have replaced 4-H with X-box and I for one am blessed that my remaining 2 kids at home have had this experience. So, it's OK if my friends thinks I'm nuts for having chickens and bees. I know the truth that I'm the sane one.
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