Saturday, August 24, 2013

Q&A e-mail on city Chickens

I got a mini list of questions via e-mail related to the city coop chickens and thought a copy and paste was in order in case it would be helpful to anyone. :)

The questions:

1 - Better to start with chicks or grown hens?  Is it hard to hatch the chicks?  Because that looked like an amazing experience.
2 - Where do they live?  Do you have a little house for them?  Where'd you get it or did you build it?
3 - How many do you have and do you think it's a good number?
4 - Love the idea of kids taking care of them - so that is a totally doable thing?  I've been looking for more tasks for my boys to learn responsibility.


1-We didn't think it was hard to hatch them and Willem broke one of the eggs while incubating…so it's not like we had a perfect set up and controlled environment.  We used a mini incubator I got off of Amazon.  That being said, I have a homeschool friend that tried to hatch eggs and said none of them hatched… :/  That would be a bummer for the kids for sure.  Baby chicks are super cute for kids to experience and are really cheap at farm stores if you don't want to hatch them.  They start laying eggs at about 5-6 months old, so you have a time frame without the benefit of fresh eggs doing it that way.  If you get a mature hen off of craigslist or something…it's probably a year or so old and will begin to slow down in egg production after one year since they only lay eggs really well for two years (meaning every day or every other).  I loved hatching chicks…but it might not be for everyone and they need rotated twice a day, so you'll need to be around for 21 days, though it wasn't hard to flip them over, just another thing to remember. :)

2-They are off our deck in a little hen house I got from Wal-mart's website.  It's upped in price since we got one and is currently listed for $350 :( here's the link.  It would be cheaper (and dare I say fun) to build one and there are plans online for free.  The one we got needed to be put together anyway, so it's hard getting around using some tools unless you buy a used one.  We have a heat lamp for cold months and will set up a light on a timer this winter so they keep laying eggs.  They are light sensitive and will stop laying eggs through the shorter day seasons if you don't do that.  Some people let the chickens have a break over the winter months…but we feed the girls well on organic feed and will keep them warm with a heat lamp, so I don't feel like it will be cruel to keep them laying eggs year round :)

3- We have three.  Its all the little hen house is rated for and I think it's a good number.  Each hen will lay about an egg a day…so hopefully about 21 eggs a week when they all start laying eggs.  We've gotten one every day from the hen that just started.  She's a Golden Comet breed and they lay really well and are really friendly.  The Easter Egger hen we have (and hatched) hasn't started laying yet even though she's the same age as the golden one.  They are a more rare breed and lay pretty blue eggs…but I'm not sure she will lay as many as the golden one…so watch which breeds you choose to buy or hatch.  Some birds are really pretty or lay pretty eggs, but may not lay as well.

4-The boys get the eggs and do all the watering and feeding.  I help them clean the hen house about once every month or two because that's harder to do.  Though, I don't think it's that hard,  there is a tray that pulls out for the main closed in area on ours and then nest boxes we line with paper grocery bags to make it easier.  The rest I spray out with a garden hose (I've only done that once for a deep clean) and let it dry in the sun.  We let the birds out too…the boys love that.  They wonder around pecking at everything and eating bugs they find.   We have freeze dried worms to lure them back to the cage if they aren't cooperating…but the boys catch them pretty easily to get them back in.  I, on the other hand, have had a hard time with one of the hens on one particular afternoon I will choose to forgive her for.  She went out front and I think got really confused…so I had to chase her around for way longer than my liking.

In the end…we figured if we only have them for 2-4 years, that's fine and we'll let it fizzle out.  Maybe use the coop for bunny rabbits and then go back to chickens...who knows.  So far, it's been great and our neighbor took care of them last week while we were away with no trouble.  It's not like a dog or cat that's needs social interaction.  They are very low maintenance as far as pets go, and that's a good thing (beneficial for me mostly, because I'm busy nurturing a baby...but the kids shower them with attention that they probably don't really "need" anyway :).  I expect we'll have chickens around for a while at the Schafer home.  :)

Cost wise…we see them as a pet with benefits and buy more expensive feed…so in the long run it would probably be cheaper to buy cheep eggs.  But it's a money saving venture when comparing purchased organic eggs as those are closer to $5 a dozen when pasture raised.

Don't buy a bunch of expensive brooding stuff for your chicks…we put ours in a storage tub with a lamp…that's it.  We used those dog training mats in the bottom for the first few weeks then pine chip bedding later in a moving box until they were big enough to move outside at around six weeks.  We added a chick that was only a week or so old to the outside cage in early spring and she did fine with the heat lamp (we didn't want to keep her inside alone and set up a brooder again, she was a chick we traded one of our roosters for-Craigslist is your friend if you hatch some boy chicks :).

If you think of any other questions, let me know!



Aubrey said...

Thanks again for all the advice you passed on! We are seriously considering this venture - may need to wait till spring for chicks (?) but it is on our to-do list! Kids can't wait!

L, Ann and boys said...

yay- I hope it's as fun and enriching as you hope next spring. I think it will be. :)

emilykate said...

Collecting fresh eggs is appealing...the other parts, not so much. Maybe when I have a few more boys. ;) Cool post!

Bryce and Erin said...

How helpful to hear about your experiences! We hope to have chickens soon ourselves. :)