We start this little adventure on March 17th, 2012. We had finally moved into an area of St. Louis that allowed residents to have some back yard chickens. We were pretty excited about the thought of fresh eggs. We had no idea how much fun chickens would be for our family. We had some things to learn though. And as we learned, we changed our plans and techniques of raising chickens. We also learned how beneficial chickens would be for our homestead. So sit back and enjoy this little tale.
We started with 6 chicks. 2 Rhode Island Reds, 2 Black Australops and 2 Light Sexlinks. Our yard was not ready for our farming adventure. The soil was rough. We decided to make a chicken tractor for the chicks. About twice a month we would move the tractor around the yard. The chickens would scratch the dirt and eat the grass. They would mix the left over food and chicken poop into the soil. From the beginning we realized how beneficial these chickens were going to be.
The entertainment started almost immediately. The chicks were so used to being handled from the beginning that they were very friendly. Pogo really liked going in the coop to clean up any left overs that the chickens had left behind.
The chickens proved to be pretty good gardeners. They cleaned around the edges of the garden beds like pros! Most of the time they did little to no damage to the garden beds. Every now and then they got a little carried away.
Stoney became our professional chicken catcher. It turned into a pretty great way for Stoney to get exercise and entertainment for the whole family. The chickens spent many evenings entertaining us. Between the games of “catch the chicken” and “chicken cornball” (Chicken cornball is where you throw one corn chip in the yard. One chicken would grab the chip and run away trying to keep it away from other chickens who were trying to steal it away from the chicken who had the chip), it had turned into our favorite way to spend the evening.
After having the chickens for about 5 months, we started getting eggs. It was pretty exciting! We were surprised to see that once one chicken started laying, they all started laying. It was really fun checking the nesting boxes to see how many eggs were waiting for us.
Chicken math had struck our homestead pretty hard. We were warned about chicken math. We were told it happens to everyone. We laughed at the nonsense that was being spewed at us. Then it happened. We just needed to get a few more chicks. We had the first batch of chickens for about a year and we were ready to bring some more home so we would have eggs all year round. Chickens usually slow down on laying eggs in the winter/darker months. We learned the first winter the hard way. Our girls just stopped laying eggs. It was so weird that we had to go to the store and buy eggs. Ehh… and the taste of the store bought eggs was depressing. Our girls lay the best eggs. The yolks are orange and full of flavor. So we decided to get a few more chicks.
It was time to build a bigger coop for our girls. We had lots of them by this point and we needed the yard for our garden beds. The garden was growing every year. So we started researching coops and figuring out a design for the chicken coop. We decided to build a chicken coop on the back of our garage. We were pretty lucky when hunting for supplies. My grandpa gave us the roof from his old porch covering after a tree fell on it destroying the framework. Some of the chicken wire was given to us but most of it came from leftovers from the tractor. We did buy the wood and concrete for the frame of the coop. The coop is roughly 8 feet by 16 feet and roughly 9ish feet tall. We decided also to do a deep litter for the flooring. The floor of the coop goes down about 12-18 inches deep. It started at about 10 inches deep but over the years of composting and using the deep litter method it has gotten about 18 inches deep. The deep litter method is fantastic for our homestead. We get wood chips for free from a local tree trimmer. It takes, roughly, 6 cubic yards of chips to fill the floor. Once the floor is full of chips, we scatter food and left overs from family members. The chickens pick through the food. They eat what they want then dig the rest into the wood chips. Mixing the food and poop into the chips makes a great compost pile. Every year we refill the chips. We move the old wood chips out to the compost bin and refill the floor of the coop with fresh chips. The compost is then used in our garden beds as fertilizer.
The chickens had to learn how to use a roost. We placed them on the roost and they eventually learned how to roost themselves every night. I love this picture. The chicken looks like she is snuggling her sisters with her wings.
We had to do some teaching when we got Peeves. He wanted to play with the chickens at first. But after a couple of stern talks, he realized that his job is to protect the chickens, not eat them. Once he figured out the rules, the homestead was running pretty smoothly.
We started getting different colored eggs. And the sizes varied as well. The last batch of chicks we had bought had a bunch of “Easter Eggers” or Americana Chicks. We got many different shades of blue and olive colored eggs. The brown eggs started to vary in color as well.
Not only did the last batch of chicks bring us different colored eggs, it also brought us a surprise rooster. The great debate started with “I think that one is a rooster!” and “Nope….just a big hen.” Well I was right. He turned into a rooster. But unfortunately, 1- we weren’t allowed roosters because they are too noisy and 2- he was a mean little thing. Tom was attacked at one point and turned him into soup. It is upsetting to some that we ate him; and at one point it would have been to me. But in all honesty, we didn’t waste him and we knew what he was fed and where he came from. It is a sad truth of the homestead, but one I am glad we are able to teach our kiddos where food comes from.
With the bigger chicken coop came MORE CHICKENS! This was our biggest purchase of chickens we had made. We decided to do some meat chickens in this batch as well so that is why there are so many. (That is a story for another time.) I tell ya, the chicken math myth is real. We started with 6, made our way up as high as 35 chickens, and are back down to 20. We lose track of how many we should have all the time with getting new chickens, butchering, and predators. Chicken math is something that really happens. You might as well embrace the truth and get more chickens! They came in a box in the mail. It was so funny looking at all of them stuffed into this box.
Over the years the chickens have brought us many joys. Fresh eggs, fantastic compost for the garden beds and loads of entertainment! If you are in an area where you can have chickens, I strongly suggest you give them a try. Just be careful of chicken math… it gets us all!