Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken farming, the beginning

I can't remember when I first thought about raising chickens but when new neighbors moved in with theirs, I guess it rekindled the thought.

Today I just wondering, what was I thinking?

I've been posting pictures of the chickens on facebook and if I can figure out how to on here, I will, but google has updated the blogger page and it looks completely different and not sure how to use it all yet.

For my birthday in February, my sister gave me a book on raising chickens and my niece painted a beautiful picture of a chicken, which got framed and hanging over my mantle.

In the meantime, my dad set about building himself a chicken coop.

This is no thrown together, recycled unit, this is the Cadillac of chicken coops, with different roosting stations, a front door, and sliding side door with ramp.

But the chicken coop set empty until spring break in March.

The plan was to go to my aunt's 90th birthday party in Paris, Texas, stop by the flea market, pick up some chickens and put them in Dad's coop.

Well the day of the party, the only way we could have brought home chickens was if the ark had been built because it rained so much, there was no flea market, and no where for chickens to ride. We didn't want to be accused of doing like Mitt Romney and tying them to the roof.

So on Monday, my sister calls and says be ready in 10 minutes. We are heading out to buy chickens.

So my dad, my sister, my daughters, my 2 nieces, and I climb into dad's truck and head for Terrell, Texas, actually to a place called Chickenville.

By now I was getting excited and considering the possibility of us adding chickens as well, even though I did not have a chicken coop ready.

At Chickenville, there is this big barn, sectioned into different "yards" full of chickens, scratching and pecking. Chickens of all colors and sizes but segregated by age, which has turned out to be a very important factor.

The pricing on the chickens was pretty simple - $1 per week of age. So a 14 week old chicken was $14. But to get a laying chicken, you need one that is at least 18 weeks old, as they will start laying between 18 - 24 weeks. So if you are trying to stick to a budget, then you think, hmmm, $28 will buy me 2 that are just 4 weeks shorts of laying, rather than $36 to get 2 that are. Only you get confused because there are so many chickens wandering around your feet and your kids love all of them and you are actually thinking days, not weeks, because 4 weeks is a long time of feeding and cleaning up poop before they ever earn their keep.

So Dad ends up buying 3 or 4 that are supposed to be laying and 3 or 4 younger ones.

We buy, 1 that is supposed to be laying and 2 that are supposed to be 14 weeks old, so I think I am getting a bargain at only $44 for 3 chickens. BUT then we went to see the babies, that were supposedly 4 - 6 weeks old, but somehow cost $6 each.

Here is where it got crazy. I had let each daughter pick out a chicken. Then I worried that my nieces didn't have a chicken, so I let them pick out a baby each. The box the Chickenville lady put them in was from the hatchery and the label noted that the chickens had hatched the date on the shipping label, which was 2/29, which actually made them 2 weeks old.

On our way home, names were heatedly deliberated, only taking a break to stop at the local farm store to buy our first bag of feed, needing a separate one for the babies, feeders, and hay. Quickly my cheap investment went beyond chicken feed.

With dog carriers full of chickens, we got back home to let Dad's out to their Cadillac Ranch Estate, while we scrambled to figure a way to contain 3 chickens in a backyard that needs to be accessed by our dogs. I was just sure our old dogs would not care about those chickens, but even with Ollie being blind, they both would love just a little taste.

We rigged a door with old window screens across one of our shop's double doors. We tried to contain them within the shop with other doors and screens, but soon realized these birds can fly, so they got the whole shop instead.

The babies on the other hand, were placed in a plastic storage container, lined with paper, and put in my bathtub, with Annabel's reading lamp poised on them, their own water container and food bowl.

For the next day we all strategized, which evidently is not a word, but best describes what we were doing, the best and easiest way to structure a fence that would still allow the chickens plenty of room but safe from predators, like the dogs, and easy to access.

Dad, of course, came up with the best plan, and sent me to Home Depot with a list of supplies.

He built a gate while I dug a hole for a post, then everyone pitched in on mixing concrete and setting the post.

Of course, those who are into home improvement projects already know the post has to set overnight, so we could not complete it until the next day.

Evidently I don't like to do things easy.

In the meantime, a friend in the neighborhood, who raises chickens, answered by much earlier email about buying some chickens from her.

The girls and I went to chicken them out.

So just to recap, at home we have 2 babies in my bathtub and 3 "older" ones, corralled in our shop with window screens.

At her house, they had 5 week old chickens, so they were $5 each. Well, shoot, I did what anyone would do and bought one for each girl, since I was holding a $20.

She explained that these would need to be kept separate from the others though.

No problem, we have dog crates just for that.

Again, the naming of the chickens commenced and we returned home to finish our chicken yard.

So now to recap, we have 3 that can be together outside, in the chicken yard, 4 that need to be inside, until it is at least 80 degrees, and 2 that must be under a heat lamp, all needing their own food containers and water and being reminded again, it is critical to keep water for them at all times.

The teenagers were moved to the back porch in the largest dog carrier, but pretty quickly, I decided it was warm enough for them to stay outside on the deck, in their dog carrier.

Next chapter.... too much poo!

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