Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chickens for Beginners

What came first, the chicken or the egg? For us: the chickens.

Today is our first full day with three chickens and a chicken tractor!! My mom sent me a link to a chicken tractor for sale in Gilmanton, NH that would include three already laying Rhode Island Reds with the purchase (and after asking - some feed, straw and wood shavings). My Dad and I picked it up last night in his truck while Joel fenced in the garden.

These are pictures from the people who made the tractor.

I really love this and can't wait to see what comes of this long term!

Our first experiences with the chickens and chicken tractor:

Our first egg on the right.

one of the ladies

Seeing the chickens come out the door!

The first chicken he saw!

He loved them!!

 I'm thinking that someday, we might make a second tractor with a little different design, and then get some more chickens that we raised as chicks. I already know that we'll probably raise this tractor a few feet, net in the bottom, add a ramp and some wheels, so that they can have double the grass space. We are ecstatic with what we already have, but can see how we can use this all as a springboard to grow in how we raise chickens and eventually expand!

What an experienced chicken farmer might not bother to tell you and might laugh at when I explain (because it is stupid and not that important to raising chickens):

  • Water is free, so it doesn't really mater, but they drink a lot of water! I don't know how much these ladies will drink because I still have to see, but I've read (after wondering why the water was already empty) that our three could go through a gallon a day or more.
  • They don't smell bad themselves, but their poop smells really bad! Duh! But it still surprised me the first time I smelled it. And if you get it on your clothes at all (like on my rain coat) you'll be frantically trying to figure out why you smell so bad.
  • And more about poop: Their poops are big and soft - bigger than our cat's! (I'm a Mom, I'm told I'm alowed to talk about poop.)
  • Multiple chickens use the same nesting box. I just never knew that.
  • They like the rain.
  • They can be friendly if you handle them from the beginning.
None of these things are deal breakers, but it was funny to encounter each one of these and realize how surprised I was!

My "bright idea" on what I think is a cool family project

Earlier this year, I wanted to get chickens, but after all the reading and asking about how to make a coop or chicken tractor, the food, raising the chicks, the heat lamp, where to get everything... we fell out of the planning stage and pretty much resigned to not having chickens so that we could focus on the other things (garden, home renovations, baby!). The time we would put into planning, making the tractor, and raising the chicks wasn't possible this year. 

We already knew:
  • We wanted some variation of a chicken tractor (so that we could give them fresh grass and so that they didn't focus on one area of the yard and peck it to death)
  • We wanted organic feed (and might eventually switch to making our own)
  • We wanted our own fresh eggs - duh!
  • We didn't have the space, necessary equipment, or knowledge (yet) to raise the chicks this year :-(
  • We didn't have the time to decided on a chicken tractor, or make it :-(
  • We didn't have a lot of money to spread between the equipment, materials, chicks, etc.

I think what this family did was pretty cool and was probably the only way that we would have started having chickens this year. If families who have chickens are handy and have the gumption to do it, it seems like this whole idea would be a great family project every once in a while and a great way to help another family get started on something that is totally foreign to them.

My Dad made the suggestion that such a tractor could be made and sold on the side and it got my wheels turning as to why I found this tractor and these chickens so attractive.  So, experienced chicken people out there - here is a newbie's bright idea:

"Chickens for Beginners"

  • full grown chickens that are already laying and have been well handled (friendly)
  • housing - chicken tractor/ark or permanent
  • a 50lb bag of feed
  • wood shavings for house (or other)
  • straw in the nesting box
  • feeders
  • where to get all the supplies when you run out
  • advise and help (phone)

With this "Chickens for Beginners" idea, an experienced person/family (even better if it can be a family or father-son project like the one we got) provides everything a newbie would need to know, and everything they need to get started so that they can either follow right in the foot steps of their chicken mentor, or get started and adapt their own style as time goes on. It could be nice if the chickens come from a family that didn't need to get rid of the chickens so that they can offer to take them back if there are problems (I never thought of this before, but noticed this offer on another chicken sale that was unrelated to the chickens we just got - basically the family cared if the chickens were well cared for and wanted to offer a way out if the new owner had problems). Settle on one price for it all and know you are paying for the time this person is putting into the project and the time they are saving you because they are doing everything based on experience. Family friends could do this for each other and it would be easier.

Families use to pass knowledge down from generation to generation about raising livestock and the generations had experience seeing it in action, most people don't have that opportunity and most people have to learn from the many opinions online or from friends. There are so many ways to go about it that it is hard to wade through it all and come up with one plan. Having one person who made your first tractor or coop, gave you a few chickens to start with, and who is willing to help you when you have questions is awesome!

I still think the newbie should learn as much as they can so that they know basic care and some basic preferences like stationary or portable housing, organic feed or not, free on the property or in a fenced in area, protection against predators, specific bread or any etc. If they can do everything themselves, that would be even better and could be its own family project and learning opportunity. The garden was our big learning opportunity this year, and we needed the jump start we got from this cool chicken tractor and chicken sale idea.

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