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Monday, March 11, 2013

Join the Chicken Club

Maybe you saw the pictures on Facebook - we just added 4 new pullets to our backyard flock (which had tragically dwindled to 1 solo hen). I know some of you are tempted by the idea of getting your own chickens, and Spring is a PERFECT time to do so. Here's a breakdown on the cost and time commitment from our (very limited) experience keeping chickens.


BIRDS - We purchased the original pair of hens (Hester and Charlotte) for $15 each through a fellow bird-lover on Craigslist. Alternatively you can buy day-old chicks for $1 apiece. They won't reach laying age until 4-6 months, but you will probably develop a close bond with your girls as you watch them grow up. Buying chicks intimidated me as it's a pretty high maintenance process to get them to the independent/outside stage (2 months old) Since buying the original girls, we've gotten all our new birds for free from various sources. 

COOP - We built a coop instead of purchasing one. Pre-built coops can range anywhere from $400 to well over $1000 and will definitely set you back on the whole break-even process. We built ours using scrap materials we had on hand, but still spent about $150 on supplies (chicken wire, cement blocks, plywood siding, a couple 2x4s, etc.) Our coop will easily house 6 hens. You can find blueprints to DIY your coop on many websites - but we just Googled around, found some good ideas to base ours off of and then B Daddy and my father-in-law tackled it. They're awesome like that. 

FOOD - We spend $13 each time we buy a 50lb bag of good quality chicken feed. I'd estimate it costs $5-$10/month to feed a few (2-3) chickens. You could easily reduce this cost by allowing your chickens to free range and scratch for their food. We aren't able to because of the hawks and coyotes in our area (you'd think we lived in the country or something). I collect our kitchen scraps (ends of carrots, tops of onions, eggshells, bread crusts) and supplement the chickens' feed with that when I can. 

You also need to provide clean water for your hens. We use a rain barrel to collect rainwater from our roof and fill their waterer up from that. Occasionally we'll to use the outside hose to fill it.

PINE SHAVINGS - Our coop floor is covered in a thick layer of pine shavings. We use the Deep Litter Method which keeps the coop warmer in the winter, requires less maintenance (see the time commitment section below) and provides us with awesome compost for our garden beds. A big bag of pine shavings costs about $8 and we only use a couple a year. 


FEEDING: We made "auto-feeders" from 5 gallon plastic buckets and plant saucers that save an enormous amount of time when it comes to daily care for the girls. We fill up the buckets, turn them over and generally don't have to re-fill them for two weeks. The water saucer we do clean up every few days as our chickens like to poop on top of the water bucket on occasion. If you invest up front in a nice waterer, you'll probably cut down significantly on your time here.

CLEANING: Once a week I'll pull out the nesting box we made, which is where the girls tend to poop, (they lay in a corner) and dump it in our compost bin.  We only "muck" out the coop a few times a year. Which means scooping out all the old pine shavings and piling new shavings in on the floor. Typically once a month I'll just add new pine shavings in on top of the old shavings. The coop NEVER SMELLS BAD. Either of these tasks takes me about 15 minutes tops. We have a compost bin right next to the coop and the dirty pine shavings go straight into it - ready for the garden. I think the compost bin is a great time-saver because you never have to haul the dirty shavings away and it composts down beautifully. 

EGG-GATHERING: Takes approximately 2 minutes each day. This is one of the kids' (and my) favorite things to do and the neighbor kiddos (and their parents I think) enjoy checking for eggs too.


Obviously the eggs are an immediate benefit of having laying hens. With 3 laying hens I was getting 2-3 eggs a day. We share the overage with friends and family and have incorporated a lot more egg-eating into our routine. Once the new arrivals start laying, I may offer up eggs for sale in the 'hood during the spring and summer when the girls are in over-drive.

Using the Deep Pile Method provides us with really nice compost for our garden. Instead of throwing kitchen scraps straight into a compost bin, giving them to the chickens basically speeds up the process a zillion times. What comes out of the chicken is pure gold for growing veggies. Even though my thumb is no where near green, I've worked the compost into the front bed for three years now and the soil there is much nicer compared to our other non-compost receiving beds.

I love that our kids connect eggs to animals and not just an aisle at the grocery store. Even though we don't have any plans to eat our pet chickens (at least not yet) Sweet B says "bok bok" when we serve chicken for dinner. It's probably going to scar her in some way.

I think watching the hens is pretty entertaining. They are like any social animal in that they all have different personalities and watching them interact is enjoyable. Our newest pullets have been handled a lot more than Hester and will come right up to us and let us carry them around. We all really enjoy watching them do their chicken-thang. 

I hope this was informative...we are still learning a lot about the chicken world and have a long way to go. But do send any questions you might have my way!

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