Saturday, March 14, 2009

Keeping Chickens

Spring must be closer than I think. Chicks arrived at my local feed store this week and it caught me totally off guard. Already? Never mind that it is still in the 20's every night! Soft, fluffy, and peeping every so often. How could I resist? I had already been planning to add to my current flock of hens, so I plunged right in and added 6 more. Too bad zoning ordinances in my area kept me from bringing home more!

This is our third year to raise chicks and keep hens and I often wonder why I waited so long. Besides acquiring the freshest organic eggs in town, I just get a lot of pleasure watching them as they do their chicken thing. It's very pastoral and calming for me. I've even been tempted to sell River Rock Cottage and move to another area in our mountain community that doesn't limit livestock. However, I love my home and keeping the flock small is probably what allows me to enjoy them so much. 

Chickens produce eggs and plenty of poop which is excellent for composting to make a great organic fertilizer. Why buy the stuff when you can make your own and know what's in it? You'll want to keep them in a run or you'll have poop everywhere, but if you don't mind, go for it.

Another great thing about chickens is their love for foraging and eating bugs. Grant it, they'll eat the good bugs, too, but you can always buy a few more lady bugs at the nursery. That's a lot safer than killing off the unwanted pests with pesticides.  I let my hens run most afternoons for 2-3 hours to forage, but I have to keep them out of the garden. I figure if they are working on the pests around the outer edges, less will make it into my vegetable plants. 

If you're just starting out, don't assume this is a cheap endeavor. Depending on what kind of hen house you construct, it could get quite expensive. However, in the long run, you should not only break even, but turn a very small profit. With and average of 5-6 hens at a time, we have enough eggs for our family and a few to share except during the coldest months of the year when we have just enough to keep us from running to the store. In fact, I don't think I've bought eggs for over two years! Organic feed is more expensive, but so are organic eggs! 

Soon I'll be talking about tips and ideas for building a brooder for new chicks. In the meantime, why don't you check out the hen cam over at Chicken Keeping. And if you're in the mood for reading about chickens, a couple of my favorite books to introduce you to the world of chicken life are Keep Chickens by Barbara Kilarski and Living with Chickens by Jay Rossier.  And if you decide to take the plunge and raise chickens, you'll need a more comprehensive book such as Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.


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