Keeping Chickens

There’s nothing like fresh eggs. Who knew the added bonus would be how fun they are to hang out with?! They’re basically small, feathered dinosaurs who like to gossip about the snacks they’re digging up in the yard and what shoes you’re wearing today…

Choosing How You Start Your Flock

I like to get baby chicks, in part because A) they’re adorable and B) they will be more bonded to you and are easier to handle later in life when you need to check them out for issues or just to snuggle. They’ll be more willing to let you pick them up and you can train them from early on to a call (in our house it’s “LAAAADIEEESSSS”) or that you are the treat lady so that they are easier to entice to the coop at the end of a play in the yard afternoon. This also means there is less crazy, chicken chasing comedy time (trust me, in my 40s chasing chickens around the coop is not something I’m really built for anymore, LOL). you can, by all means, get coop ready birds, or Pullets, which are basically teenagers in all their awkward glory, but they are often skittish and since I have a small flock and want to hang with them and hug them regularly it takes work to tame them enough that they don’t start acting like you’re about to murder them if you pick them up. Again with the chasing chickens in the coop, not my favorite activity, so the extra time it takes to raise them up from babies and the 6 month or so wait for them to start laying is worth the time in my opinion.

There is always the risk with baby chicks that you may get a rooster, no matter what the supplier says, unless they’re a sex-link one that has a distinctive, different color tied to the sex of the chick. You’ll have to make a decision about how to address that if it happens. Roosters are noisy dudes who feel compelled to tell you every single thought that comes into their heads at any time a thought occurs. I swear they make up for the lack of depth in thought with volume of thoughts, commenting on every damned thing like a goldfish who’s still surprised about the little castle in their bowl. Because of this, they’re illegal in the area I live in, hens are fine and since we are zoned for them, when we get roosters, since we eat meat, we eat them while they’re still pullets. If this is your plan, keep in mind, testosterone makes the meat stringy and tough and the roosters become aggressive in their teen months so once they are large enough to have some meat on them you should harvest them. We don’t intend to raise meat birds, but there are honestly, not a lot of good options for rehoming roosters here in LA, sometimes the supplier will take them back, but honestly, it’s important to plan for how you will handle it before you get the babies. It finally made more sense to me that they should have a good life and a kind death rather than being cast off, we felt this was the most responsible choice in our situation. We do our best to request hens but always end up with one or two roos.

Since I’m based in LA this means I have a few options, the one I’ve used most recently is Dare 2 Dream Farms they actually do LA delivery runs, so they come to you, and they are incredibly helpful, lovely people. They’re based in Lompoc so they’re not close by but there’s a lot to be said for knowing who raised them and how. This does mean you have a more limited list of breeds to choose from so if you’re looking for a specific breed, you may still need to find a supplier like McMurray Hatchery who will ship you a cheeping little box of day old fluff.

The Brooder

When we get baby chicks I set up a brooder for them. It’s a phenomenal mess, the last few times I’ve raised them we did it indoors because it’s easier to control the temperature and keep them protected but it meant there was a fine coating of dust on everything in the room they were in that took what felt like forever to clear out once they graduated to the coop. This year I’m working out a way to set up a brooder on the porch so I can hose it off when they are ready to move out.

There are tons of commercial types of brooders, as simple as a cardboard ring or as elaborate as you can dream up. The main thing is to create an enclosed space that will keep the chicks protected from predators, warm, dry, and out of the wind. If you’re into up cycling things there are some amazing brooders on Pinterest made out of old dressers and various types of cabinets. Because we only use ours every couple of years a key component for ours is for it to be able to be stored flat so that we don’t have to waste the materials and can use them again for the next round of babies.

Chickens can live anywhere from 8 – 12 years depending on general health and exposure to predators. We’ve had some issues with raccoons getting to out girls over the past several years so the plan is to add another layer of access protection and an additional run to ensure that they get plenty of exercise while still being protected. We generally try to stagger the batches of babies a year or two apart since depending on the breed they tend to only really lay regularly for two to three years before production tapers off so if your goal is to have a fairly stable level of egg production staggering the chicks coming in will help ensure the span of laying overlaps. Our goal is to ideally not buy eggs and also have some to sell/share with friends so we try to plan this out with that in mind.

The Coop

That’s the corner of the coop on the left

We originally built our coop around a tree to ensure they were in the shade assuming that we’d let them out to play in the sun. The raccoons have put a crimp in that plan. The next step is to build out a protected run in the sun this year so that the ladies can hang in the sun in safety.