So I thought about starting this blog for a while, a series of blogs dedicated to those who want to reap the benefits of fresh produce but do not want to be tied to the land and never be able to vacation again.
So lets start with the gateway of homestead animals, that is Chickens!
We briefly looked around for a cheap coop but it didn’t take us long to realise those don’t actually exist! Even extremely run down chicken houses run into the hundreds. So we went about designing and making our own chicken coop. It took approximately 3 weeks and $200 but we had built a cute little tractor style chicken coop (one that has wheels and can move around) and would house around 4-6 chickens.
For those of you literally just at the starting out point. Be aware that chickens will destroy a patch of grass in around a week, and by that, I mean eat it all till there is just brown, hard, soil left. So you will either have to live with that, or build/buy a tractor coop so you can move it around often. We actually ended up free-ranging so the coop doesn’t get moved around much these days, but it was a good starting point.
So anyway, chicken house built, next step, find some chickens. We joined various local Facebook groups for this, everyone told us to go to auctions etc, but I have no idea how that works (and still don’t) but I was pretty used to buying and selling junk on facebook groups, so it seemed the logical step. Not long to wait until someone posted up about 8 White Brahma Hens, of laying age (7 months) were available at $12 per hen. I asked the guy to hold 4 of them and drove out that afternoon to collect them. We purchased layer pellets from Tractor supply and some pine shavings and we were good to go. I honestly had no idea how much chickens poop though! My goodness, every other day I had to clean out the coop, it became a real chore. So, me and my husband decided to completely secure the field they were in and let them be able to free range in that field. It was a fair size, 40ft by 20ft approx. It was a lot of work but we secured the run and started to let them out, this helped lower the poop output in the coop by a lot! However we didn’t factor in a roof, we just secured the sides, and one of my facebook groups reported that afternoon that hawks were out in force. Doh!
Introducing Norman… after a quick bit of research it seemed a rooster was the logical thing to buy next as they protect he flock from Hawks and other predators. (Husband wasn’t keen on the idea of netting the roof as it was under trees) So a local lady was giving away some Silver Laced Wyandotte Roosters and I jumped at the chance. Just so you know Roosters can be pretty nasty, so have a look at different breeds and try and get them young so you can handle them often. Roosters will often be given away for free as you can only have one per flock and not many people want them, especially if you live in more urban areas. So anyway, we picked up Norman and added him to the flock. I wont go into detail on this as there are plenty of blogs out there on introducing new chickens. In the meantime one of my hens had come down with sour crop, so she was quarantined. No more than a week later a 2nd hen came down with a respiratory infection. Some cheap antibiotics fixed her, but then Norman came down sick too. Antibiotics fixed them all, and we had a good few weeks until one morning I went out and one hen was laying paralyzed on the floor in the coop. I pulled her out and it seemed her legs just weren’t working. So we quarantined her and did a bit of research, a few common problems arose, and some more serious. We were at a complete loss. She started to deteriorate rapidly, we fed her water and food every day, every hour, but she was very sick. The problem was I didn’t want to just kill her if it was a broken leg? But I also didn’t want to pay $40 to see a vet about a $12 chicken. And if I am really honest, neither me or my husband actually wanted to do the ‘deed’ either.
So I kept her alive probably longer than I should have, but we struck gold when a friend of a friend who was a vet offered to pop over and see her, free of charge. It was quickly diagnosed as Mareks disease (again, a quick google will tell you all you need to know) something that unvaccinated Hens can contract, a disease that spreads through the entire flock and will either kill your chickens or they may never show symptoms. Either way, I knew the whole flock had it due to the respiratory infections and sour crop. My vet did not advise to cull all the hens, but we put Sage down and I am to keep a close eye on the others and only to buy vaccinated hens from here on out. So I highly suggest when you are starting out that you do NOT buy from a stranger online and you go to a licensed hatchery and make sure your hens are vaccinated!
Its been 2 months since this episode and I am happy to report that the remaining hens, and Norman, are all healthy and ok. They have all learnt to jump the 5ft fence we built for them and regularly go off foraging down the pastures so we don’t bother closing the gates anymore and we just let them roam. I figured they might die tomorrow thanks to this awful disease, they may as well enjoy each day as it comes! As for Norman, he is growing into a pretty useless Rooster, ha ha, he leaves his ladies often and runs away when a squirrel walks past, but there is still time, he is only 9 months old now, his spurs are just starting to come in and he may make a strong warrior yet!
We are looking to build a bigger/walk in coop this year and order some chicks from McMurray Hatchery as they have a great reputation and strong flocks. Will keep you updated on our progress!