After I had committed to getting chickens, I had so many questions. How many chickens should we get? What kind of chickens? Where would I keep them? How do I get my little terrier not to pester or chase them?
In the end I decided to get 8 chickens. We are a family of four and we eat a good deal of eggs. I thought that six chickens would probably be enough. I estimated our eight chickens would provide about 35 eggs a week. This is certainly more than we would use but we did plan on giving some away. Also because I had never had chickens, I wanted to account for ‘spillage.’ I wasn’t sure they would all make it…
Choosing what kind of chickens was one of the most fun parts. I knew I wanted at least some colored eggs. And the rest brown eggs. I didn’t want white eggs. I needed to find chickens that could reasonably tolerate our climate (hot and humid summers, low teens in the winters), would tolerate children, and ideally not get too broody. In the end I decided on three barred rocks, three Rhode Island Reds and two Easter Eggers. I ordered them from My Pet Chicken I was also interested in heritage breeds but I didn’t find any readily available that met our other requirements.
I also decided to get one day old chicks. I had a neighbor who calls herself Chicken Mama who convinced me to go with baby chicks. She strongly recommended baby chicks because they really get to know you and get comfortable with you. They are so truly adorable as well. This meant more work up front, and more cost in getting a brooder set up. But given my high energy boys and my curious Westie, I decided this was the best way to start for us. My favorite book on what to expect and do in raising baby chicks is Chick Days by Jenna Woginrich.
The hardest part was finding a place for them to live. Chickens need a predator safe place to sleep at night, easy access to food and water, and a room to peck around and explore during the day. But here’s the thing. I really care about how my garden looks. Really. For example, when we added a second floor to our home, I was much more interested in how the addition to the house would look in the garden than on the finishes we chose for the inside of the house. So, it was important to me that not only did it meet the basic requirements but would be something I would be attractive in the garden. I eventually went with designing and building a bespoke coop and run that fit snugly into our fenced in garden. This site is partially shaded by our black cherry tree, and gets some sun. This is also where the compost area is. And because of the larger fenced in area, It provides space outside of the run but still contained for the girls to exercise in.
On April 18 my baby chicks arrived. Just not quite how I had expected. My post office certainly exceeded expectations. From everything I had researched and heard – including calling ahead to the post office – I had expected to be picking up my box’o’chix from the post office a day or two after the chicks were shipped. The box label had my cellphone number on it and when it arrived the post office would call me to come collect my new babies. They were shipped on Monday and when I checked the shipment tracker at 11 am on Tuesday I saw that my girls had arrived at the post office. But I hadn’t gotten a call from the post office requesting that I come collect them. So I called and asked if I should come and get them. They said no, I should wait for them to contact me. I had been working in my garden so I decided to make myself a bit more presentable thinking I would soon get a call. As I am cleaning up my little westie, Appa, scoots between my feet and lets out a few whimpers. Pretty unlike him. Not the scooting so much as the whimpering. So I think he wants to go outside – like now. I quickly take him to the front door and let him out. But what is that box next to the front door? I hear peeps coming from it! Wait a minute – those are my chicks! I scooped them up and ran them over to my makeshift brooder. And turned on the heat lamp- oops. That really should have been turned on already. And be hitting about 90 degrees. Next I needed to get them each to drink. Only thing was- they all looked pretty much the same.
Happily, a mere 30 minutes later, the heat lamp was heating pretty steadily, each girl seemed to have drunk some water and had eaten some chick feed and they were all mucking about and peeping contentedly.