One of the ways our family has chosen to be frugal is to have chickens. Did I mention we Love chickens? Over the years we’ve raised them for meat, to supply us with eggs and just for aesthetic purposes. Our very first batch of chicks came through the mail. It was so exciting to get the call at 6:30 in the morning that the chicks had arrived. You could hear them peeping over the phone when the post office called. At the time we had one son who wasn’t even toddling yet. Those chickens were pets. I could go outside and sit on the porch and they would come up and sit in my lap! Once son number one got his legs under him the chickens would scatter. We moved to the city for a few years and so had a gap of about 17 years with no chickens. In the meantime we raised children- 6 to be exact. For the last 6 or 7 years we’ve had chickens again. However, this time we are down to two daughters, who love chickens as much or more than I do. Several batches have come from the local feed stores, and we’ve hatched a few in an incubator. But my favorite are the babies we have right now. One of our hens hatched three a few days ago and two survived. They are absolutely adorable.
You could spend a lot of money getting set up to raise chickens, but you certainly don’t have to. Our second son built our chicken house and utilized two sides of an existing fence. Craigslist or Freecycle are two places you can watch for chicken fencing and supplies. I’ve even seen chicken houses listed. They really only need food, water and shelter. Look for inexpensive options to feed them. We built a
self feeder out of PVC pipe this past summer. There are some fancy options out there in the way of automatic waterers and feeders if you are so inclined. We did invest in an automatic waterer this year. But you could certainly make your own! Here’s the waterer we bought and where you can order them.http://www.efowl.com/?Click=54415
If you start with chicks they will need a souce of heat. By changing the height of your heat lamp, you will wean them off of heat a little at a time. They seem to pick at one another less with a red light in your heat lamp. Even so, separate anyone who is being picked on. Chicks show no mercy and will pick at any visible blood till the victim is dead. Teach day old babies to drink by dipping their beaks in water. They will do the rest. Make sure you have lots of chick starter. They grow amazingly fast! By about 5 months or so they will start rewarding you with eggs.
Feed and Other Stuff
So chicks need starter and laying hens need lay mash or pellets. We have ventured into making our own with organic grains, but it was time consuming and costly. Our hens are mostly free range and we feed them tons of veggie scraps, so I’m happy to buy commercial feed. One tip, they are Very wasteful. This bothers hubby so we changed to pellets thinking that would help. It did somewhat, but just be aware that they Love to scratch, so food will be everywhere. Provide them with a calcium source, either ground osyter shell or crushed eggshells. They also love scratch, but it should be a treat and not their main food source. I’ve heard of people just feeding scratch to their hens and letting them forage, but that can lead to malnourished hens. One of my friends fixes warm mash for her hens. I’m not that attentive. 😉
Lest you think I forgot, let’s talk about roosters. A common misconception is that you have to have a rooster to get eggs. Not true! But if you want babies, a rooster is a must. We’ve had some aggressive roosters and some very calm ones. If you have two, they seem to be more aggressive, but not always. They will determine dominance and if your dominant rooster is calm you should have no problems. We have a very nice rooster right now and very handsome, but he didn’t start out that way. He was a little aggressive, so we put him on a tether for a few days and now he is super friendly. You probably see the cat collar we used for a leg brace. Roosters are the ultimate gentlemen. They will call the hens to food and actually wait till the hens are eating before they eat! Be patient when they are learning to crow. Until they get things figured out, they will crow at all hours of the day…….. and night. We’ve had a rooster or two that crowed off and on all day, but most of them only crow in the morning. Be sure and give them a place to roost! The hens will appreciate this too.
We’ve had several hens set, but only one successfully. Depending on the breed, mamas can be a little bird brained. 😉 If you have a good mama, she will be extremely protective of her eggs and eventually chicks. If not, you may need to help out by protecting her and the babies. Usually if you move a hen and her eggs, she won’t continue to sit. So resist that urge and just keep an eye on them till they hatch. Eggs will “synchronize” and hatch very near to the same time, so don’t worry if you have a weeks worth of eggs laid.If you happen to get a hen that successfully hatches babies, she will do all the work! You can just enjoy those irresistible fluff balls.
Chickens are a favorite pet at our house and the girls spend hours watching, feeding, holding and even dressing up our chickens. We highly recommend getting a few to raise. Oh, and the reason for the title? That’s how I call my chickens, and they come running. Please feel free to comment or ask questions below.