Monday, February 9, 2015

Backyard Chickens

Keeping chickens in your backyard is great, even though not everyone has a place to do it.  Chickens are very low maintenance, and I love just watching them.  I have five hens that live in a small coop next to my deck, and have a small fenced-in run to give them a safe place to get out in the fresh air during the day.  Their main requirement is access to fresh water and balanced chicken feed (non-medicated layer feed from a local feed store), and a safe place to roost at night.  A nesting box or two is also important to encourage them to lay their eggs someplace easy for you to find.

All my ladies have names and one of them allows me to pick her up (a real treat for little kids when they come to visit). I give them kitchen scraps, and every time they see me, they come running, expecting a treat.  I include meat and fish scraps - a lot of people do not know that chickens are omnivores and the extra nutrients are good for them.  I don't give them leftover chicken, but that is just because it freaks me out.  

I get an average of about 2 dozen eggs a week, which with the cost of chicken feed works out to about $1.39 a dozen.  When I buy eggs from the store, I only buy the premium ones which are usually at least $3+ a dozen, and I am quite aware that even then I really don't know what the hens are eating or how they are being kept.  I feel good that I know what my chickens eat and that they have a good life.  It is a bonus that my eggs have huge yolks that are deep orange and taste wonderful.  Yes, that's a real green egg in the picture below.  The color of the shell of the egg is determined by the breed of the hen (the only difference is the color of the shell - the inside of the egg is the same).  The white egg is the picture is a fake ceramic egg.  The hens tend to want to lay in the same place as all the others, so that is to encourage them all to lay in this one nest.

Every few days, I try to let my hens out to forage around my side yard.  It is very entertaining to watch them scurry around, scratching vigorously and making the dirt and leaves fly.  They eat any bugs, worms, grubs, seeds, etc. that they find and also nibble on various green leaves. Allowing them to eat a varied diet instead of just chicken feed makes their eggs naturally higher in Omega 3's without special supplements.  I wait until an hour or two before dark to let them out, because they always go back into the coop on their own to sleep.  They tend to stay pretty close, although one of them is determined to go into the neighbor's yard and I have to keep chasing her back where she belongs.

I also have a "chicken cat".  A stray feral kitten, probably only a couple of months old, showed up in my yard a few months ago and was always hanging out with the chickens.  I was determined not to give in and feed him, but after the first few days, he got wet in a rainstorm and it was obvious he was just skin and bones.  I gave in, of course, and now he is the chicken's constant companion.  (He just made a trip to the vet last week to be neutered and get basic shots.)  He has become quite tame and allows me to pet him occasionally.  Chicken feed tends to attract rodents, so the upside of having him around is to keep them from being a problem, as well as discouraging snakes (no rodents = no snakes).



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