posted on Apr, 7 2018 @ 11:07 AM
I have chickens roaming free-range in my yard. It seems every time I mention them in a thread, someone wants to know more about them, so in order to
not derail other threads, I thought I would post what I know about them here. Hopefully others will chime in with their knowledge as well, and of
course all questions about raising birds are welcome.
My process for raising chickens has developed through trial and error. I had a pet rooster as a kid, but I never really got into the day-to-day
raising of chickens for eggs and meat. So when we had this massive tick infestation some years back, after poison, burning areas off, spraying, and
everything else we could think of to control the little pests, all to no avail, I decided maybe it was time to look to nature.
Our local Tractor Supply sells chickens and ducks every spring. My thought process was that chickens eat bugs, and ticks are bugs... chickens also lay
eggs, and I like eggs almost as much as I hate ticks. So I bought us six Rhode Island Red straight run chicks and a bag of chick starter, total cost
about $30. I chose Rhode Island Reds because the information I found on them said they were good meat and egg birds. That information was correct.
My first issue was where to put them. Obviously, living at the edge of a wooded mountain range, just letting chicks loose in the yard is little more
than a good way to feed the possums, skunks, and coons. Since that was not my intention, we got a large cardboard box and set it in the corner of our
bedroom with a 60W incandescent light in a portable clamp fixture to keep them warm and two small bowls... one for water and one for food.
My first discovery was that chickens stink.
So I began working on a way to keep them safe outside. I finally settled on building a 4' x 8' coop, 30" high, with a hinged top. I used
pressure-treated 2x4s around the bottom and top, with corner posts made out of angled 2x4s in the corners and simple 2x4 verticals every 24". I then
wrapped the whole thing in chicken wire and buried the bottom 2x4s in the ground about an inch. The top panels, each 4' square, were made out of some
old 5/4" x 6 decking lumber I had left over from building a porch and covered with more chicken wire. As soon as the weather warmed up some and the
chicks got bigger, we moved that stinky box outside and put the chickens in the coop.
Baby chicks are very susceptible to cold weather, we found out. My wife wanted some ducks, so I bought 4 of them and put them in with the chicks. Big
mistake! The ducklings love water from birth, and their splashing drenched the chicks. One cool morning, we found one chick still alive, but
unresponsive. My wife grabbed some towels, dried it off, and huddled with it to her chest wrapped in the towels for a few hours until it perked back
up. I was meanwhile busy getting another box set up with another light and moving the ducklings into it.
Once they got bigger, there was no problem putting the ducks and chickens together... they got along fine. But ten birds in a 48 square foot cage is
just a little too crowded. They did fine until they got almost full size, then we lost a chicken... a few days later we lost another one. Since they
had been healthy the day before we found them, we realized the coop was too small. We released the chickens and ducks into the yard, hoping that they
wouldn't run off, that they wouldn't get eaten, and that the dog wouldn't attack them. We had no choice, because I simply didn't have time (or
money) to fence an area in.
In my yard was a large stack of concrete block I had been using to lay a foundation for an add-on... it became a roost. Chickens will find a place
high off the ground if possible to roost at night. They do not fly well, so they will need their roost to be accessible in short hops. Ducks do not
roost in high places; I'm not sure where they stayed at night, but they apparently were able to find a good place. Both stayed close to the coop,
although neither wanted back in it. They had become accustomed to their new home and didn't want to leave it, which was a good thing for us. The dog
had accepted them while they were in the coop, so he became a guard dog for the birds.
Once we let the chickens and ducks out, the smell began to fade. If they have enough room to roam freely, chickens do not stink. The smell comes from
their manure, which is a very powerful natural fertilizer. It is so powerful that adding fresh chicken manure to a garden will kill it. The manure has
to sit for a year or so to be usable... except that in a large enough area, it is spread out enough so it does not damage the yard... it actually
Chickens and ducks are both voracious eaters, too. They had the tick problem under control within a month... three months later and ticks were barely
existent at all. They also trimmed back the spider population, the cricket population, the worm population, pretty much every type of bug we had here
was controlled. I am of the opinion that chickens are the single most effective pest control available.
I took a sheet of exterior grade plywood and made a laying house. It's small, with two 16" square nesting boxes and a 8" 'porch' in front of
them. I mounted it on a 4x4 post and set it next to our porch, with a small piece of plywood connecting the two. I glued some 1/8" x 1/2" strips of
wood across it every 8" to give the chickens a better walkway, and my wife filled the boxes with fresh grass. The hens found it quickly enough and
started laying eggs in it. Strangely enough, they all picked one of the laying boxes and all laid eggs in it. They would actually gather on our porch
and wait turns rather than use the other side.
The ducks would not use the henhouse; they built their nests in grassy areas.
We wound up having 2 hens and 2 roosters, 2 drakes and 2 duck hens. We found out that you really don't want more than one rooster, because one of the
roosters got tired of fighting and wandered off. The alpha rooster and his two hens stayed, and we still have "Big Red" today. He is getting old and
lazy, though. He spends most of his time laying on the porch.
Most people think roosters are aggressive, and they are. Rhode Island Reds are especially aggressive as far as normal chickens go. Red has 2" spurs
on the back of his legs, and when he was younger he began to "bow up" at us. My wife and I took turns kicking him across the yard whenever he did,
and we soon had him broke from it. That sounds pretty bad, I know, but roosters are tough birds. A good swift kick will not damage them normally, but
it will cause them to back off. Just be careful to stay clear of those spurs, because they can do some damage. I hear guinea chickens and bantam
chickens are even more aggressive; I have never raised either.
Anyway, bear in mind that you don't need a rooster to get eggs. You only need a rooster to get baby chicks. Pullets (baby females) are often
available if all you want is eggs. I personally like having a rooster around, because the rooster itself is protection for the hens and will act as an
anchor to keep the hens around. Just be sure not to have more than one.
~ to be continued ~