I’m so excited to introduce you to one of my dear real-life friends, Tabatha.
You may remember her from last fall when I posted about our cherry picking adventure.
Tab & I went to high school together. We met my freshman year, her sophomore year when we played on the jv volleyball team. We’ve been friends for literally half of our lives. We both married our high school sweethearts, so the four of us have a bit of history together, plus Tab & I wound up at the same college. Now we are both married mamas with a passion for living off the land, except she’s much better at it than I am.
Tab & her husband Jeff (who I have also known since high school) have the most adorable little boy, Kooper. I mean, seriously.
You might not know this about me, but I’ve been wanting chickens in the worst way. Like a little kid asking for a puppy. Please, I promise I’ll clean up all the poop. Please? Pretty please? Unfortunately, I keep getting vetoed. For now, I must live vicariously through our friends. I asked Tab & Jeff to do a Q & A for us in (not so secret) hopes that some of their answers might just convince Eddie that we soooo need chickens too.
Below is my interview with my favorite chicken farmers. 🙂
Do you have a rooster? Why or why not? Yes, but he’s mean. You only need a rooster if you plan to hatch chicks from fertile eggs. Roosters can also get spurs on the back of their legs that can harm children. An advantage is that they crow to warn about predators and they keep the hens from fighting amongst themselves.
Do you recommend hatching eggs so that children can see the entire life cycle of the chicken? If you go to a hatchery & order chicks you can get a straight run, which is a mix of chicks (about 50% male/female) about 2-3 days old. You can also order females only. For first timers, it is probably best to get baby chicks rather than try to hatch eggs because you’ll have a better success rate. We get ours from Meyer Hatchery. We’ve had 2 batches so far and both seemed to do well.
How many chickens do you keep? What breed do you prefer? We started with 11. We lost 2 to a predator and one died from an impacted crop. We currently have 1 rooster, 6 egg laying hens, and eight chicks. We prefer the heritage breeds. They are prettier and they lay for many more years, plus they are big enough to get meat from if that’s the route you want to take. They are also good for genetic diversity. They are kind of like potato chips, once you start you want to keep getting more. Our older ones are Plymouth Bar Rock, the chicks are Americanas or “Easter eggers” who will lay green eggs.
Where do you keep your chickens? An old shed converted to a coop with a fenced-in area around it. We use the deep litter method (described below) The fence is 6 feet high, but I had to put a roof on it because they were flying over it.
How often do you need to clean your coop? And how do you clean it? Do the chickens need baths? If I was doing it over, I would redeisgn the coop. Right now we do the deep litter method which is pine shavings on the floor of an old shed, every few weeks you add more shavings, then about every 6 months you clean the whole thing out. The other method is to put something under where the chickens sleep at night, that tends to be where they poop. Every few days, squirt it off with a hose. They don’t need baths, but when they are chicks you have to clean their butts with olive oil on a q-tip because they get backed up from the stress of moving and being shipped. The hens make a dust bath area for themselves which helps them git rid of mites.
How many eggs do you collect? Pretty much 1 per day per chicken, but it depends on the variety of chicken & the time of year. Ideally, they need 14 hours of sunlight to lay a maximum amount of eggs. Right now we get about 5 eggs a day.
How much room do they need? About 3 square feet of interior space and 5 of exterior space per bird.
How do you store the eggs & how long do they keep? A good reference is Mother Earth News. They’ve done studies about free range eggs. A damp, cool place like a basement, away from bright light and they can keep for up to two months. Just don’t wash off the protective coating. We usually take a pencil and write the date on the egg and use them within two weeks.
Have you ever had any complaints from neighbors? No, but the neighbor about a mile up the street has heard the rooster crow that far away. Actually, the neighbors say they like to hear the rooster, believe it or not.
Did you need to get a license or permission from a zoning board? The state asked us to register them on a website in case there was ever an outbreak of avian flu or something, but we didn’t need permission from the zoning board. (Check with your own area for ordinances)
What do you feed them? A 50 lb bag purchased for about $17 last us about a month. We get Purina (not the dog food company) from Tractor Supply Company, but sometimes local places are cheaper. The hens & rooster get a different feed than the chicks. They also need dirt & grit. They pick up little rocks to help them grind up food.
Do you need to get a chicken sitter if you go away overnight? They have a feeder that holds about 25 lb of feed and a 5-gallon water holder. They could easily stay inside for 24 hours. Some breeds do better in confinement than others.
How will I know if an egg is fertilized or not if I do have a rooster? Since we have the rooster, we have to assume all the eggs are fertilized. One rooster can keep about 10 hens. The fertilized eggs don’t taste any different. If the hens get broody and start sitting on the eggs, then we wouldn’t collect and eat those eggs. It takes 21 days of incubation for a fertilized egg to hatch into a chick. We are collecting them the first day, so they don’t grow.
How can they send chicks through the mail? New chicks don’t need any food or water for 3 days, because they have a yolk sack attached to them which gives them the nutrients they need.
Do you do anything special for the chickens in the winter? Look for breeds that are cold hearty. Ours weren’t affected at all by the winter. They were outside in the snow and they were fine.
Any other advice you’d have for first-time chicken owners? If I knew better I’d get a chicken tractor instead of a stationary coop. It’s the housing with the fenced in run, but it’s on wheels and you move it around your yard every couple of days. They get fresh grass and you hardly ever have to clean up after them. A good website for reference is backyardchickens.com
You should always have at least 3 chickens because they like the company. If one dies you want to have at least 1 more around.
If space is an issue, you can get bannie (bantam) chickens that are smaller full grown birds.
If you want to raise meat birds but don’t want to kill them yourself there are places that will process them for you for an average about $1.50 per bird.
(Jeff, who is really wanting to start raising meat birds) From the research I’ve done I think we could grow them for $1.10-$1.20 per pound, the equivalent organic free range chicken at Costco is $2.50 per pound.
If you have any other questions for Tab & Jeff please leave them in the comments.
You might also like: