When we first moved to our first and only home 23 years ago the first thing we did was plant a garden. We always loved to grow things and as time went by the garden expanded, but something was still missing. One day while visiting a friend, we realized what was missing. He had a beautiful flock of laying hens free ranging in his yard. As we talked with him they scratched and ate, he even gave us a few eggs to take home and try. When we cracked them open for breakfast the next morning,and saw the beautiful yolks, we knew it was time for us to take the leap into chickens and homesteading.
Laying hens are an inexpensive and easy way to raise your own food, even in a small space. We converted part of our shed into a coop, and built a run made of wire that we salvaged from a friends junk pile. The inside of the coop was 4’x8′ which was plenty of room for 6 birds, nesting boxes and a roost. The run was 8’x8′. Predators are always an issue so we were sure to bury a few boards along the edge of the run. Now comes the fun part, ordering chicks!!! We chose various breeds that were all good brown egg layers. We ordered them through our local feed store, this limited our variety, but saved us on shipping, which can run as high as 35 dollars. Ordering straight run chicks is like playing craps so be sure to order chicks that are already sexed, so you do not end up with roosters. When the chicks arrive they will need to be put in a brooder, which is really just an enclosed space with a heat lamp. When you pick up your chicks the bonding will begin immediately.
We found ourselves spending lots of time with them. Sometimes we would even hold them while we watched T.V. We put our first set of chicks in a brooder in our sons room to keep them safe. This was a huge mistake, although they were safe they began to smell, and made a lot of dust . This was not our best parenting moment, we knew when our son started sleeping on the couch that it was time for them to go to the garage. After about 8 weeks, we moved them to the coop with a heat lamp. It takes 20 weeks for most hens to start laying eggs, which is an eternity when you are a new homesteader. We would run out and check for eggs every morning like kids on Easter morning. Finally we were rewarded with one tiny egg, and then another, and another. Soon our whole flock was laying and we were now raising our own protein for the first time.
In the beginning we ate egg after egg, but over time we couldn’t keep up with our girls . So we started giving eggs to family and friends. Our chickens provided us with so many lessons and adventures. One sunny summer afternoon we finally let the ladies out to free range under our watchful eyes, and with a glass or two of wine we watched them scratch and eat bugs just as we had always wanted. As the sun set the girls put themselves to bed. I remember Tracy calling me at work to say the chickens were in the garden. I came home to her in a pair of welding gloves trying to pick up chickens. Or when we decided to have a rooster and she was fighting it off with a rake. (if you read her previous blog, “Adventures in Homesteading, a not-so-country girl’s perspective, you learned that she is not a bird person!)
From this simple beginning our homestead grew and we eventually built the girls a new coop, that was a beautiful addition to our yard.
They say chickens are a gateway animal, and they are right. Most birds are similar to raise and soon after the chickens we ventured into ducks. If watching chickens is like reading a good book, then watching ducks is like tuning into a NASCAR race. They are so full of sounds and energy. They lay more eggs than a chicken. We love to herd the ducks back into the coop at night, its as if they share one brain and move more like a school of fish than a flock of ducks. Plus who doesn’t love a “duckface” selfie.
After ducks the next logical step was turkeys. How could we resist raising our own thanksgiving dinner? We raised the turkeys separate from the chicken, but it wasn’t long before we realized that even the fattest turkey can fly.
The turkeys loved to escape and feed with the chickens. Seeing a 20 lb bird walking in your yard can only make you smile. Tucking a turkey under your arm is a little different than doing the same with a chicken, whether you have welding gloves on or not. Raising birds has so many benefits eggs, meat, entertainment, tick control, and don’t forget all that manure for the garden. We couldn’t imagine our homestead without the birds and their noises. Our homestead adventure started with a simple visit to a friends house. Who knows where yours will start, but when it does don’t forget the birds.