Friday, November 17, 2017

A Beginners Guide to Raising Chickens

April 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Raising Chickens


Raising Chickens is Not for the Squeamish

I took it into my head a few weeks ago to maybe get myself a couple chickens so that I could have a constant supply of eggs. Not that eggs are particularly expensive or anything, its just that since I have a couple

acres, I thought I’d get into country life and get a couple chickens and maybe, if that went well, I’d expand into a goat or even a pig!

But, being an anal sort of person who always does her research first, yesterday, I trotted my butt on up to talk to an acquaintance who happens to have about 10 chickens.

ME: I want to raise a couple chickens, can you give me some pointers…. What kind of chickens to get, how many, what to feed them… stuff like that?

HER: You want to raise chickens? How well do you like eggs?

ME: I love eggs!

HER: Then don’t raise chickens.

Hmmmm. Not exactly what I was expecting to hear.

ME: Oh, come on, how hard can it be?

HER: Its not hard at all. But you’re, no offense intended, kinda finicky. Are you sure you can stand the nitty-gritty of it all. Ya gotta feed em, take care of em, gather the eggs, clean up after em and probably get pecked by em. Can you handle that?

Well, now, that sounded like a challenge to me! She obviously thinks I’m a hoity toity girl who doesn’t want to get her hands dirty. But, give me a challenge and I’m up for it! I assured her that, of course, I can handle it.

So, we sat at her kitchen table as I asked questions and took notes.

Her chickens, she told me, are Rhode Island Reds, which lay a light brown egg. Having eaten eggs from her chickens, I can attest to their tastiness, and that’s good enough for me.

Since a baby chicken, a peep, takes about 6 months to get big enough to lay eggs, I decided to get grown chickens to start.

Asked where I plan on keeping them, I had to confess that I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but I had assumed that they just roam all over the place as I have seen chickens do. She informed me with a smirk that they roam around, but that they have a coop where they spend the night and lay their eggs.

She said chickens like a stress free safe place to lay their eggs. It doesn’t have to be big for just a couple chickens. But it has to be big enough that if I add more to my flock, they all have plenty of room because if they get too crowded, they will “stress peck” each other. Since we do have animals in our hills, she said it’d be best to build a real coop that can be shut up securely at night. In the coop I am to put “nesting boxes” where they will lay their eggs and “roosts” for them to perch on at night.

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Also, since our winters get cold, I am to insulate the coop and put a heat lamp in to keep their water from freezing. But, also, there is to be ventilation in the coop for fresh air, even in winter. And, if I’m planning on keeping the chickens in a coop and a fenced yard, I have to put wire over the top of the fenced area or the chickens will flutter out. They can’t actually fly, she said, but their wings will allow them to flutter up over a fence.

Hmmm. This is going to require talking my husband into building the coop. These better be some good eggs!

Next, we talked about feed. Chicken feed is readily available at the local feed store, she said. Its called Layer feed and is made up of ground grains.

I was surprised to find out that chickens don’t have teeth and therefore, don’t chew. Because of that, their stomachs need some help in grinding up and digesting their food. The help is provided with something called “Grit”, which is very small stones. If the chickens are going to be free ranging, roaming all over, they will get grit themselves as they forage for food on the ground, but if they are not going to be free ranging, the grit needs to be put in their feed.

Also, a very important thing, she said, is to put oyster shells, also available at the feed store, in their feed. She said that this provides calcium and makes the egg shells harder. That made me wonder where the pioneers got oyster shells.

Also, I’m to remember to feed them corn in the winter as corn helps them produce body heat and then remember to not give them corn in the summer for the same reason.

This was all news to me. I’ve seen chickens roaming all over the place around here and I always thought they were feeding themselves! It’s a good thing I came here, I thought, or my chickens might have starved!

I asked if I had to have one rooster for each hen or if one rooster would do for all the hens. Much to my disgruntlement, she laughed. She asked if I wanted eggs to eat or eggs to hatch more chickens. I wouldn’t want more chickens, I said, just eggs to eat.

Then no roosters are needed, she informed me. Again, I was surprised. I thought you had to have a hen and a rooster to make an egg. Not so. Laying hens will lay eggs whether there is a rooster there or not. If a rooster impregnates the hen, the eggs will be fertilized and turn into chicks, or peeps, but if no rooster is there, the eggs will just be eggs.

Since I had already showed my ignorance, I was almost afraid to ask how many eggs a hen will lay a day, but I swallowed my pride and asked it anyway. Usually just one egg a day, she told me, as long as they are safe, healthy and happy.

Having exhausted my questions, she took me to the chicken coop. All the chickens were outside, pecking away at the ground.

ME: Wow, do all your chickens have diaharea? They all seem to be going to the bathroom.

Her: (laughing hard) Yep, that’s all chickens do all day long. They lay an egg, usually in the morning, go outside, eat and poop, eat and poop, eat and poop. Then they do it all over again the next day.

We inspected the coop which had straw in the nesting boxes and on the floor and tree branches for roosts, although by now, I was losing some of my enthusiasm for raising chickens. That daily routine of “eat and poop” had gotten to me.

On the way to my car, she talked on, telling me of her chickens antics, but I was only half listening because I was busy watching that I didn’t step in the poop.

Then she said something that really got my attention. She said that the egg comes out of the same hole that the poop comes out of!!!!!!!

WHAT????

My look of shock and disbelief must have told her the horror that revelation gave me.

HER (laughing): I told you if you love eggs, don’t raise chickens!

ME: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I was too horrified to even think of a retort.)

HER: Oh, come on. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Its not as bad as it sounds. Its not like the eggs are covered with poop. They come out the same hole, but the egg track and the poop track are two different tracks. They just use the same hole.

Well, that was too much information for me. Way more than I bargained for. I raced home to get on the internet to find out if what she said was true and if I was ever going to be able to eat another egg.

I found out that, yes, it is true that the egg and the poop come out the same hole, but the eggs are in no way contaminated by the poop. When the egg is ready, there is a lining that turns inside out at the opening of the hole (actually called the vent) and the intestine is closed off so that no poop can get to the opening and the egg is able to emerge from a clean environment.

All I can say is thank goodness for that! What a relief. Now I’ll be able to go on eating eggs, knowing that they are uncontaminated.

But after everything I learned, the eggs that I’ll be eating will be coming from someone else’s chickens!

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Raise Your Own Chickens

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