My five INCREDIBLE Ladies deserve an entire blog post dedicated to just them. The toughness and resilience of these birds definitely earns them a top place on the Homestead. As I am sitting in my warm house writing this blog post, it is -50 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now and my girls are nesting in their cozy coop with the brand new heat lamp I bought them before the cold hit earlier this week.
I decided to build a coop and get some chickens 2.5 years ago, and it has been a great learning experience for me. Not having known anything about chickens, I did research on good dual-purpose birds and read a book on different types of chicken coop structures.
After dumping my life savings into my first home, I didn't have much money to spend on a coop. Thankfully, my Father had a pile of scrap lumber and 99% of the coop was built from that resource. So the end result was this cute 8-chicken coop.
The building takes a lot of prep work, you need to consider many things, as I learned along the way. This coop taught me how to be a carpenter, and even though there were moments of dismantling walls because they didn't line up or cutting boards the wrong length and having to start over, I learned a ton of useful skills, and most importantly I learned patience.
One of the most important things to be a successful homesteader is to have the proper tools. Homesteading is a lot of work. It's rewarding and something to take pride in, but it makes for long days. Having the proper tools definitely makes life a lot easier. I have more tools and small motorized appliances than most grown men have! Some might say "a true homesteader would do it the old fashioned way and use a handsaw", but in this age of technology, I can be a modern homesteader and still keep the art alive while still being efficient.
After the coop was built, my next thoughts were feed, water, bedding, and how exactly this going to play out? Take a deep breath, it's a learning curve, but trying what works best for you is key. You can read blogs, forums, books, etc on how to raise birds, but it all boils down to what works best for you and your chickens. Weather, coop structure, feed, and many more factors play into how raising your birds is going to work.
For me? I decided to hang 2 waterers from the roof in the summer and 1 in the winter so I can swap them out morning and night so they don't have frozen water. I tried some fancy feed dispersal apparatuses and I ended up using a baking pan that I dump the feed in, because this is what worked best. For bedding, I first let the chickens scratch the ground and get the nutrients from it they needed, then I added sand, then wood shavings as the first winter set in.
I clean the coop out two times a year. Once in the spring, and once in the fall. All of the bedding/feces get tilled into the garden. As long as the nesting boxes stay clean (which they do), I don't need to clean the coop out any more than that.
Now for the birds, I went with Hyline Browns because they are weather hearty, and great dual purpose birds. Dual purpose means they have good quality meat and eggs, so I can still eat them if I choose to. My birds started laying at 19 weeks old. They lay brown eggs and sometimes they lay double and triple-yolk jumbo eggs.
In a few short weeks, when Austin and I move to our new farm, the chickies will be in a for an upgrade. The new coop is actually a small barn with an inside run around triple the size of their coop now, with a door to go outside whenever they want. I want my chickens to be free-range, because they are really good at keeping healthy soil. They scratch the ground which turns and aerates the soil, and their feces have high levels of nitrates which mix in with the soil. I am also planning to expand the flock so another blog post is on the horizon after they get all settled in.
Raising chickens is fun and pretty low maintenance for the most part. If you have a city backyard, or 100 acres, I highly recommend giving it a try. Eating farm-raised chicken eggs has spoiled me. I will never eat store-bought eggs again after living on my chicken's eggs for 2.5 years now and you definitely notice many differences between farm-raised and store-bought eggs.
Farm-raised eggs have thicker, more calcium rich shells which are good for grinding up and putting into plants or feeding to the dog. The yolks of my chicken's egg are a dark, rich orange color instead of the pale yellow you buy at the store (FYI, yolks are supposed to be more orange than yellow). Lastly, chickens are garbage disposals, they will eat ANYTHING. I do not believe in wasting food in my home, so food scraps go to the chickens, and they love them, especially jalapeno and other hot pepper guts and seeds. Chickens have no capsaicin receptors so they don't taste the heat!
If you want to see more of how the chickens are doing, check us out on Instagram @weberhollowhomestead.