Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Backyard Chickens

No doubt ancient people ate eggs when they could find them. They are a healthy high protein food source. Since "going primal" our family easts around 3 dozen eggs/week. In our quest to eat more whole foods, we decided to get some backyard chickens last April.

We have five hens, 2 Black Australorps named Cinderella and Omelette, 2 Americaunas named Mrs. Peepers and Chicky-poo (they lay green eggs), and a Rhode Island Red named BBQ.

My girls absolutely love them. We got them as 2 day old chicks and have had a lot of fun raising them. I bought them from a local hatchery for $2/piece (they were pre-sexed).

My husband built a really cool chicken tractor for a total cost of about $100 in materials (free to us because we had a Lowe's gift card). We can move it around the yard so that they can constantly have access to fresh grass and bugs. The top has a flap that we can open up to give them food, water, and collect eggs. Our neighbors have never complianed. I think most of our neighbors don't even know we have them (they are pretty quiet and their coop looks more like a small shed). Feeding them is relatively inexpensive as well. We spend around $15/month on feed and scratch.

Until recently, they were very easy to take care of. We moved them around the yard every couple of days, and they stayed warm and dry in the top part at night. I changed their pine shavings every other week and got them fresh food and water daily. Up until about 3 weeks ago we were getting about 15-20 eggs/week (this is good for pullets less than 1 year old!).

Now the problem has been the winter. They love to scratch in the dirt, and now that our grass isn't growing in the cold, they dig BIG trenches in our yard. We also can't move them around as much because we want them close to the house so we can plug in a heater for their coop. Adam bought a little snake rock that you plug in so that they can stay warm. They spend a lot more time in the top part of the coop in the cold, which means a lot more poop, which means a lot more bedding changes. Also, their water freezes in this weather, so I am constantly having to chip it out of the bowl and get them fresh water (which freezes just a couple of hours later!). It can be very frustrating. Also, they have stopped laying eggs in this cold. I heard it's because of the decrease in lighting. Adam and I are trying to figure out ways to artificially light the coop. Right now I only get one or two eggs every couple of days.

I still love having them- it's been great to have the fresh eggs and the girls are learning a lot about where food comes from and how to care for animals. They get so excited to help me gather the eggs. I am so ready for Spring to come so that they will be "easy" pets again! Some day I hope we have enough land to be able to have about 20 free range hens.


  1. Hi! I saw your comment on Mark's Daily Apple and thought I'd check out your post. I raise chickens and have for a number of years. I also live where there is lots of snow and cold. In the winter I plug in a light bulb on an automatic timer. They need 14 hours of light to lay eggs and a heat bulb is recommended also for when it is freezing. Mine will generally lay as long as it isn't freezing without the heat lamp. As far as water I actually bought heated bowls. It isn't the cleanest, but keeps the water from freezing. I just dump it each day and refill it. They also make a heater specifically for a chicken waterer, but it is much more expensive. Hope those ideas are some help and enjoy your birds.

  2. Hi - i too caught you on Marks - we just put a CFL on a timer extending their light day about 3-4 hours - our laying slows a bit but the keep it up - we try to supplement with fresh greens and kitchen scraps -
    don't worry about their heating too much - best to give them a cozy insulated space to crawl into at night and their body collective body heat keeps the well - course when it gets below 10F probably good to toss a blanket or 2 over their bedroom-

    enjoy! the fresh eggs are incomparable!
    Discoveries for a Full Life

  3. Thank you for the suggestions!

  4. Hi Sonya. Saw your before/after Whole30 photos on MDA and have been poking around on your blog. A coworker of mine has chickens, and he says they LOVE fruit scraps -- particularly watermelon rinds. Love your coop! I don't have chickens yet, but hope to as soon as I get out of this apartment and into my own home.

  5. P.S. One of his hens is called "Church Lady" because she is so nosy and in everybody's business (like that character on SNL). He says that anytime one of the hens lays an egg, she has to go run and tell. (They are free range in his back yard, so she will come right up to the back door and start tattling.) Too funny!!