Friday, August 17, 2018

WHAT WE'VE LEARNED ABOUT CHICKENS - PART ONE.


As most of you probably know (mostly because I post about them constantly) we got chickens in January.  J grew up with chickens + horses and begged me for years to get a few of our own.  After moving into @thelovelycottage, we were intentional about creating the perfect space to officially turn our 'french farmhouse' cottage into just that.  

Eight months later, we look back and realize that we had to learn a few things (the hard way) about raising chickens.  For starters, we live within city limits, so we're only allowed to have 6 chickens (hens) and no roosters.  (Which I'm fine with by the way - they are SO loud and I'm not trying to hatch chicks, ever. Too far.)  We have a small patch of woods behind our home, separating us from the neighbors behind us, as well as a few large trees beside and around our property.  Although our neighborhood is somewhat wooded, we are FAR from the country, so we never took into account the role wildlife would play in our chicken coop.  Inevitably, we've had a few ups and downs with our hens, but we're a lot wiser for it.  We started this process pretty naive and have since learned so much about how to best care for our babes.

Here are a few tips + tricks we've learned:

ONE. / SAFETY.
When we initially picked up our first four chickens from Charleston, we only had a small coop, a waterer, and a feeder.  Pretty basic, huh?  Although the coop was plenty big for four small hens, we planned on letting them free range during the day and locking them up at night.  About two months later, our first loss, my sweet Polish - Tammy Wynette, 'went to the wayside' (a country term I just learned that sounds a lot better than what actually happened) from a hawk.  Chickens make noise, we all know that.  What I didn't know is that those cute little clucking sounds they make throughout the day/night attract predators.  The very next day, we went to Home Depot and purchased three huge rolls of black chicken wire to secure the entire space from top to bottom.  Since then, we notice hawks flying around and circling our coop often, only now there's no way they can get to our girls.  The second predator we had to learn the hard way about was a raccoon.  Pardon my french, but the little shits are relentless.  Raccoons have thumbs (five fingers just like us) which means they can get in to almost anything.  Over the last six months, we've lost 3 of our chicks to raccoons during the night.  Although the coop is wired in from the top + all sides, predators can dig underground (in our case, underneath our privacy fence) and still get in.  Not only can they get in, but they can unlock hinges/locks, open doors, and even pull chickens right out of the coop.  (Trust me, I know this is somewhat graphic and hard to read, but the more you know ahead of time - the better!)  Since those three 'went to the wayside' (my sweet Zsa Zsa, Wynonna Judd, and Kitty Wells), we've lined the entire permitter with rocks, switched out the normal coop locks to locks using a tractor pin, and put the actual coop on concrete pavers.  That way, if a predator somehow gets in at night, at least they can't get into the locked coop, only the run.  All of that to say - don't wait until something happens to make your coop safe.  Each time we lost one of our girls, we would make their area safer and safer.  Knowing what I know now, I would've done all of this + more from the beginning.  No matter where you live, plan for the unexpected and be intentional about locking your chickens up at night - you'll be glad you did!

TWO. / INTRODUCTIONS
You know the saying 'rules the roost'?  Well, that couldn't be more true when it comes to chickens.  You'll almost always be able to spot your dominant chicken from the get go.  Ours was our largest girl, which I think is true a lot of the time, and she's still the most dominant today.  Throughout the process of loosing a few of our babes, we've had some practice with introducing new chickens to our coop.  We've learned to introduce the newbies right before sunset, giving the chicks enough time to get acquainted, but right before everyone calms down for the night.  Hens can be extremely terratorial and want to show the flock who's boss from the first moment, so we've learned that time of day seems to work really well.  Then in the morning, check on them early, feed everyone, and take a long a few treats.  Giving the chicks something to take their minds off of and something that brings them all together is a great way to start the day.  In our experience, it will take anywhere from one to two weeks for the chicks to make their own routines, actually like to be around one another, and begin to bond.  They're just like us actually - guarded at first, but form the best relationships gathering around a table to eat + drink! 

THREE. / LAYING.
So far, we've yet to bring a hen into our flock that's already laying.  Most of the time, we get them pretty young (around 2-3 months) and wait on them to develop + lay once they're old enough.  I'll never forget the day our first chicken (Dolly, who we still have) laid her first egg!  I've joked before that I'm a helicopter chicken mom (although it's not so much of a joke, more like sadly serious) and I was SO proud.  It immediately changed the experience of having chickens for me and became my favorite part of every day.  Once she started laying, the other 4 were shortly behind her and before we knew it, we were getting five eggs per day.  During that time, I picked up on a few things that seemed necessary for the chicks - they want a dry, private, cozy spot to lay, they (or the others) will cluck SO loudly the first time they lay an egg (aka an indicator they're about to lay), and you need to collect the eggs as soon after they lay them as possible (at least same day, unless you're trying to hatch an egg, obviously).  We made multiple spots for our girls to lay, but they all ended up laying where they sleep + feel the most comfortable - inside the coop, one at a time.  It was like they had shifts throughout the day of who would go up and when it was time for them to come down.  We nearly had the entire process down to a science, but after our unfortunate luck, we only had two girls left.  They're both still laying though and we've cherished each and every egg!  As I'm sure you're seen on instagram, we added four more babes to our flock this week.  We stopped by our favorite farm in Charleston and picked out four beauties - all different breeds, all young and not yet laying.  We're so excited to see how they adapt + add to our flock!  I already love them so much.

FOUR. / FOOD + TREATS.
We're still feeding our flock the same thing we always have - organic laying pellets.  They're non-GMO, gluten free, and have a lot of protein.  Since we eat the eggs, as well as give eggs to our friends + family, we've always been very intentional about what they eat.  That said, treats are by far their favorite thing!  Like any animal, it's also a great way to train + get them used to being around you.  After a few weeks, they'll gravitate towards you more and more until they eventually eat right out of your hand.  It doesn't take them long to become aware of who takes care of them!  As far as treats go, our girls love bread, corn, blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, and lettuce.  We haven't branched out much more than that, but anytime you give them something other than their regular food, they love it.  Also, this is our first Summer having chicks and we've loved giving them ice and ice treats.  It's so hot out and they so appreciate a cold drink, just like the rest of us.  Frozen corn treats are their favorite - simply fill a muffin pan with one can of (frozen or canned) organic corn, fill the rest of the way up with water, and freeze.  They'll love pecking at the ice on a hot day, eventually to get to the sweet corn as a treat!  I found that one and a few others on Pinterest and it's such an inexpensive, easy way to show your girls some love.  Our chicks also love mealworms.  I will say though, I have to buy them already dried out, because your girl here cannot do the real ones.  Ugh, makes me want to vomit just thinking about it.  However, some people can stomach the real ones and chicks love it, but either way, it's a very natural, great treat and they LOVE them!

FIVE. / ATTENTION.
J and I differ on this one a little bit, but I promise you, chickens are just like any other animal in that they need a lot of love.  We never wanted our girls to be skeptical or skittish around us, so we always made an effort to pick them up each day and get them used to our scent and being around us.  I will say, because I work from home, I probably check on ours too much, hence my overly obsessive/too-attached problem that causes heartbreak if God forbid anything ever happens to them.  HOWEVER, like I said before, chickens are very aware of who takes care of them.  Who checks on them, who cleans out their coop, and most definitely, who feeds them.  Our girls run to me whenever I open the gate and some have even sat on my feet/shoes while I'm back there with them.  Some breeds are definitely more affectionate than others, but for the most part, chickens are grateful for attention + care.  More often than not, I think chickens are viewed as a pretty self-sufficient animal, and while they definitely can be, they're temperament all depends on how much love they receive.  Basically, find a happy medium between me and J! :)

Over the last eight months, so many of you have asked for a post dedicated to chickens!  I wanted to start with what I thought to be the five most important lessons learned, although there are many more.  I will answer any questions + share a few more hot topics in PART TWO of this post in a few weeks! That said, if you have any questions - feel free to leave them below or DM us on instagram!

And for those of you who are here for EVERYTHING BUT the chickens, I'm sorry!!  Haha, they've quickly taken over our lives and we love having them + sharing them.  I'll be back soon with an outfit post JUST for you!!  XX.

M E G

3 comments:

  1. I love this post! I wish I could have chickens but our Borough doesn't allow it. If I had them I'd totally be out there with them all the time!

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  2. This post feeds me soul and brings so many memories to me from back in Bosnia on my grams and grampys farm. Thank you! Love this post and all your chicken life :)

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  3. I'm actually b sitting 10 chickens when we buy it next house and don't know the first thing about taking care of them so this post was super helpful! One question I do have is cleaning the chicken coop?! How do you do it!? I feel like it's gross and smelly? I'm a city girl who's never raised anything but cats and a bird and the poor bird never made it so I'm kind of nervous! Any tips you have would be great! Thank you!

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