Adventures in Gardening: The Chicken Chronicles

Our baby chicks are here.  We are chicken keepers. Official-Grade A-Chicken Keepers. And everyone around us thinks we are crazy. In the front of that line is my own Honey-Do. Luckily for us, he is (reluctantly–kicking and screaming) giving this a try.  I am okay with that. You see I have come to the conclusion that people just aren’t comfortable with things they don’t understand. And chickens seem to be high on that list. Very high.  This is all new to me too.  I didn’t grow up with chickens in my backyard. No, this will be an adventure in itself. One my girls (and hopefully Honey-Do) will enjoy, grow with, and learn from.

Maybe today I can put everyone’s mind at ease? Or just maybe answer the dozen or so questions that we (mainly Honey-Do) get asked every time our chicken discussion comes up.  So here goes my Chicken 101. I disclose that most of this information is based on my research (Ashley English’s Keeping Chickens, My Pet Chicken, The Chicken Whisperer, and any other google hits that come up). I am just starting out on my chicken adventure so I will gladly admit if I am wrong on any of these if and when the time comes. And any expert who is reading this, feel free to point out my mistakes.:)

Why are on earth are you doing this? Why couldn’t you just buy a dog?

I am doing this for many reasons.  Numero uno reason  is for my girls. We spend a lot of time outside playing in our backyard and tending to our garden. This is just another reason for us to be outdoors together. I think it is going to be a great learning experience for them. To learn how to care for an animal. I know they will love it.

As far as the dog thing goes– Honey-Do is allergic to just about every critter in the animal kingdom. So we couldn’t have any animals in the house. What animal can I have outside?  This was my solution. Yes the chickens are our new pets–Lizzie, Lola, Mabel, and Mustard. Albeit a pet with benefits. Real benefits.  A functional pet.  A-know-where-your-food-comes-from pet.

Or maybe it’s this crazy homesteading need that has come over me. I have said it many times. If I had the opportunity, I would live on acres of land and be in the most self-sustaining environment possible. Maybe this just satisfies a bit of that overwhelming desire?  Who knows? If it doesn’t, then Honey-Do is in trouble because the next animal will be a cow or a goat.:)

Won’t your chickens make too much noise?  You are going to hate that when it happens.

Just like humans, chickens are male and female.  Roosters are male chickens. Hens are female chickens. Roosters make a lot of noise first thing in the morning by crowing. We don’t have roosters. We have hens. Hens make very little noise and mainly a “bok” when they lay an egg. I promise you all that my hens will be quieter than the dog down the street who barks at all hours of the night and day. Or the dozen or so lawn mowers/leaf blowers that go off on a daily basis from all of the yard maintenance guys in our neighborhood.

How do you know if they are hens?

Chickens don’t reveal their sex until around 6-8 weeks so there is a 50/50 shot that you could get one or another. There are a number of ways to tell but the most prominent is when they start crowing.

A solution–we had our baby chicks “sexed“. Basically there is a technique that determines if your baby chicks are female or male. It is only a 90% succesfull technique so if learning that we fall in that 10 error rate, we will trade our rooster chick in or adopt it out.

When do the chickens (hens) start laying eggs? How long do they lay for? What happens when they stop laying?

Most hens start laying around 4 months of age. Give or take a few weeks. They usually lay for a period of 3-5 years. They are first and foremost our pets so when they stop laying they will continue to be our pets. Some can live for up to 10 years. I have no plans to get rid of them just because they are not providing us with fresh eggs.

How many eggs do you get?

The breeds we chose lay about 200-250 eggs a year.

Are the eggs baby chicks that didn’t hatch? Or how do the chickens lay without a rooster?

Haha, these were a couple of my biggest questions when doing my research. No, hens produce eggs, just like a woman ovulates each month. Hens need a rooster to fertilize the eggs just like a woman needs her man.  So, we are eating eggs just like the ones you buy in the grocery store. Unfertilized Grade A Eggs.  Except 100 times better.  Organic fed, free-ranged, happily cared for birds.

Do fresh eggs taste different?

I don’t know. I haven’t tried one. I have only eaten grocery store eggs, but I hope so.

Do the chickens come inside? What happens in the winter?

Absolutely not, they are barnyard animals. Right now they are in our garage in a little brood under a heat lamp. At about 5 weeks they will transition outside.  They will be treated as pets but they will only live outside in their chicken coop. My Pet Chicken has a great tool when ordering your baby chicks. They help you find the right match for your environment. And since we live in a cold weather area, we chose breeds that are cold weather hearty. We also chose breeds that are good egg layers and that are docile and will be easy going around our 2 girls.

How many chickens will you have?

We currently have 4 baby chicks but we only plan on keeping 2. The hatchery can only ship in this amount for the safety of the chicks. We have already found a chicken keeper who will adopt out 2 of our hens. I plan on keeping them until they have established themselves  and are comfortable in our backyard. In case we lose any to attrition I don’t want to have to order another 4. My plan is that we will start out with 2 and as they decrease their egg production then we can add to the flock. This way we always have “some” layers in our hen house.  But I will tell you that I am very attached to the hens. I will have a hard time picking 2 to give away.

What do you do with their poop, won’t it be difficult to clean?

As with any animal, you have to maintain them. Keep their habitat clean. Luckily our little coop has a built in tray that slides out. That tray will be dumped into our compost bin.  Every so often I will take the water hose and spray the whole coop down. I didnt’ get my reputation as the “anal gardener” for nothing. The chickens and their coop will be no different.

Do they fly? Will they get out?

From what I have read, they jump and flap a decent height. If that becomes a problem, I will clip their wings. But we have a pretty tall fence. They have their little coop and a nice run. They will only be outside in the backyard free-ranging when I am in the backyard. So they will be supervised. I have no intention of letting the hens run a muck on the neighbors’ or even my own backyard.

Will you still eat chicken now that you have pet chickens? How will you explain it to the girls?

Yes, we are meat eaters. Although I could easily move to the vegetarian route.  But until then, we plan on continuing to eat chicken. The girls are still young enough not to understand. I am not sure how I will deal with that when they do start putting 2 and 2 together. Any advice?

Where do you buy your chicks/supplies? What breeds did you get?

All of my resources and supplies for my baby chicks were purchased through My Pet Chicken. We have 4 different breeds. An Easter Egger, Rhode Island Red, a Partridge Plymouth Rock, and an Australorp.  They get shipped via the Post Office. I think so far my investment is around $500.

Is your town okay with this?

Yes, as long as we don’t violate any ordinances, we are golden.

What do your neighbors think?

We only discussed it with one neighbor so far. And I am absolutely certain they think we are out of our minds and I am pretty sure they are terrified of the prospect of chickens getting in their backyard and drowning in their pool.  I hope my fresh eggs will be a peace offering to them.  Hopefully if they read this post it will make them feel a bit better too.

Why are the chickens in your Gardening Posts?

I am glad you asked. Because they are an intricate part of our garden. Our hens will provide us food just like our garden provides us food, in the form of fresh eggs. Our hens will also provide food for our gardens. You see chicken poop can be wonderful addition to our compost bin; which after it’s turned and churned will be added to our garden for fertilizer. Does this all make sense? Or are you so grossed out that you will never accept a zucchini from me again? Hopefully you see it my way.

These aren’t crazy questions. I had to learn about them too. I had many of the same preconceived notions myself.  I hope this post answers some of your questions if not all.  Have more? Ask away.

You see, I didn’t just show up somewhere and bring home baby chicks. I have given this some considerable and careful thought. I am really looking forward to our new adventure in Backyard Chicken Keeping! I hope you enjoy it too.

(Disclosure:  None of the companies listed are sponsors of this blog, although if they would like to be, they can let me know!)

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Backyard Discovery: Oasis Garden Review

This is my first review.  I was fortunate enough to receive this garden bed from Backyard Discovery recently. In return I would need to review it, photograph, and blog about it.  I was (still am) a little nervous about doing a review of anything. How does it work? What if I don’t like it?  Do I still tell people what I really feel? I mean I am totally grateful for the trade, but what if it stinks? I don’t want to be misleading.

Well lucky for me it doesn’t stink.

First of all, I was getting ready to purchase this bed, it actually worked out well that I was lucky enough to review it. But I was definitely ready to spend the cash.  I had my eye on this last year but thought for the first year of gardening, I wasn’t sure I needed this much space. So we ended up building our own up against the side of our house.

This year I was adamant about expanding my vegetable growing space. But I also needed to make sure Honey-Do was okay with it. I mean he has been totally supportive of all of my new obsessions but he also is usually a little big skeptical too. Was I going to dig up our yard?  How was it going to look?  Is it going to be in the right space? Take up too much of the kid’s area?  This garden was my solution.

It is the perfect size and tidy enough not to overwhelm Honey-Do and it fits nicely in the space alloted.

-LET ME SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS-

I am head-over-heels IN LOVE with my new garden bed and let me tell you why!

It looks good. Don’t judge us. I know the important thing is that we are growing our own food.   But we adore our backyard, we spend a lot of time there. And we want it to look good. And it does!

It coordinates perfectly with all of our other things in the yard: swingset, playhouse, chicken coop, etc.

It’s easy to put together.  It was a bit intimidating to read that it would take 2 people up to 8 hours to build but my Honey-Do built it by himself in less time than that.  He started on it late in the day and then worked on it in a 3 part phase.

Anyone who is handy with a drill can put this thing together.

Plus they have a great video tutorial if you get stuck.

It’s a raised bed. It’s a really high raised bed. It’s perfect for not breaking your back. It’s perfect for anyone who would need wheelchair/handicap access to the garden. It’s perfect for little toddlers.

It is predator proof.

It has a nice gate to keep out the critters and some wandering-I-like-to-harvest-early-little munchkins.

It has small trellises on the front and sides and a very large trellis in the back.

I ended up planting tomatoes next to them.

It holds a ton of vegetables. I will share my full garden layout soon.

It comes with an automatic drip system; very easy to control and work.  My dad came out for a visit and helped me setup the drip system. We wanted to link it to my first garden. Now my garden grows itself.

Thanks Dad. Love you for that.

It does require a lot of fill/dirt. But I think that this is a plus. I prefer a deep garden bed.

I used the same mix I used in my first garden; Mel’s Mix.

It is affordable. Now I know some people might not agree with me on this.  I am sure there are many people who could figure out a better plan for their yard for a much more affordable cost. But with this garden you get what you pay for.

A great design and an easy to put together raised garden bed.

Here is my complaint.  Yes, I have one.

Last year when I was looking into with this garden there was a wonderful blog about what they planted and where. They even had a breakdown of how much they harvested based on costs at the local grocery store.  They really showed how this garden pays for itself.  Well, that blog has been deleted. I am not sure why.

I am bummed. I hope they bring it back.

I did manage to find their old flickr photos which you can check out here.

Thank you Backyard Discovery for giving me my first review. I adore my new bed. I look forward to a bountiful summer’s harvest and sharing it all with my friends and family.

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Celebrating Teens

It is “Celebrating Teens” week at i heart faces. Here is my entry.  Go check out the other amazing ones here.

Congratulations to Em and all of her friends from the Class of 2010.

I recently went back to California to visit my family and to attend my niece’s graduation. While I was there I met up with an old friend who took me out and gave me some amazing photography tips, tricks, and equipment advice. He and I doubled up to do a friendship/graduation photo shoot for my niece and 7 of her friends.

There were so many great pictures to choose from but I decided on this one from my camera.

I love how comfortable they are together. They were such a great group. I am so proud of all of them.

I will share a full post of pictures from this session as well as what my friend captured. His shots are simply beautiful.

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