chickens

For the most part, plants only grow in the warmer months. But now our farm is graced with an addition that will provide us with home-grown food all winter long: chickens! Last August we became the proud owners of four day-old chicks, who grew quickly and after several months of supplying only entertainment gave us our first eggs in January. It turns out that chickens are pretty easy to take care of, and not too expensive—especially if you don't count their accommodation. Why doesn't everyone have some of their own; and why didn't we do this sooner?!

We ordered the chicks off the internet, and chose the Plymouth Rock breed for its good nature and cold-hardiness. All four chicks arrived healthy, and they took well to their brooder, a giant tupperware tub on the buffet in the dining room. They worked on growing while we built their coop outside; while it was under construction they enjoyed limited outings in their run to acclimate them to outside life and give them some exercise. By October they were ready to be outside full time, and they took to henhouse life like they knew what they were doing.

Because there are as yet only four of them in a coop designed for as many as ten, they don't put tremendous demands on their infrastructure. We don't regularly add bedding to their run, unless it is particularly damp. Inside the henhouse we use a thick layer of pine shavings that we stir up periodically and add to as needed; a couple times a year we'll pull it all out (great compost!) and replace it. We feed them regular non-organic layer ration (which is remarkably cheap compared to dog food!) and only need to refill their feeder a couple times a week—less if they get more time outside in the yard. The waterer situation is less optimal: in the winter it freezes so we need to dump all the water in the evening and refill it each morning. The hens also tend to foul their waterer and, if at all possible, spill it, muddying the ground in the run.

They very much enjoy being outside, but they aren't free range for a couple of reasons: they don't get along with Rascal, and they tend to stray under the fence into the neighbors' yard when left unsupervised for very long. But even a half-hour a day reduced the amount of store-bought feed they eat considerably. Even when they don't get to roam far, they still eat well. They get dried worm treats daily, as well as various bits of food waste and grubs and caterpillars out of the garden.

Each hen will lay about five eggs a week in the summer, so when days are long we can expect three or four eggs every day. Their laying is light-dependent, so in the winter the egg numbers are lower; we could boost them with artificial light in the henhouse, but since we're not sure what we're going to be doing with these girls at the end of their useful egg-producing life, we feel no need to hurry that day along.

So far we're getting enough eggs to supply our own needs, both for eating and baking. When we get our paperwork organized we're planning to expand our flock so that we'll have eggs to give away. Ask us for some next year... or just get your own hens and cut out the middleman! I highly recommend it.