Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Let's talk Chicken

So I just realized that I never really shared about the coop and chickens here.
Our first foray into farming and I've been remiss in giving it its proper place here.

Sometimes we've been known to do things a bit backwards.
Like buying chickens before we have a farm.
Or even a coop to put them in.

Lucky for us, my parents didn't mind chicken sitting until we got things squared away.

It all started with a box from Meyer Hatchery.
A box containing sixteen of the cutest little Dominque pullets (a chick that is a hen) you ever did see.
Now, we didn't take all sixteen to live in my parents basement (that's where our brooder was). Nope, we split the purchase 50/50 with my brother (who already had a coop but not enough room for all those chicks.)

Why Dominiques
A few very good reasons, they are a rare heritage breed and we like the idea of helping to keep this breed alive. This breed was one of the first breeds established in America. Dominiques are heat and cold tolerant (perfect for Michigan's weather) and very sweet birds. They're also great egg layers, staying pretty consistent to daily laying (except during molting). 
Our Ladies, as we affectionately call them, quickly became like pets to the family. The kids took to holding and snuggling them right away, so the ladies have always been a friendly bunch.
We also gave them names: Beulah, Bernie, Dixie, Gertrude, Louise, Mabel, Omelet and Sunny. And the kids each quickly found a favorite chicken. Lu's favorite is Beulah, who just so happens to be the bossy leader of the group (go figure). Mads took to Dixie who is just the sweetest of the sweet, just like our Mads. And The Boy, well, he can't just settle for one, so Omelet and Louise found themselves being carted around and looked after quite often. They tolerate him very well.

The ladies have been great layers for us as we averaged 7 eggs a day that first year (I know, someone's not laying but we've never really figured out who).
Once we moved here we began free ranging them for periods during the day and putting them to roost in the coop at night. They love to follow us around when we're outside and if you're weeding in the garden, they'll fight over who can be closest to you and get the grubs, worms and bugs.

Chickens do their best laying the first year and then begin to taper off. From our chicken research, we found hens lay well for the first two to three years and you should be purchasing your next set of layers during the 2nd year so you're never without hens producing eggs. Our original plan was to buy 8 more Dominiques in February of 2015.

About a month before we moved to the farm we purchased six more chickens. Our local Tractor Supply Company Store (TSC) was having a sale on the very last day they were selling chicks. A buck a piece. The Mister and The Boy had to stop and check them out. Had. To. The chicks were straight run (which means you don't know if you're getting hens or roosters) and The Boy picked three Barred Rocks and three Welsummers with great anticipation.
And a couple months later we found out we had 3 hens and 3 roosters.
Three LOUD roosters.
But also 3 very beautiful roosters. Two Barred Rocks named Silas and Seamus and the most gorgeous Welsummer named Benedict by Lu (who as thinking Benedict Cumberbatch and Eggs Benedict. Win, win in her book).
The girls were named Esmerelda, Beatrice and Henrietta. Bea is Mads' favorite and Hettie has all of The Boy's affection. Hettie is a Barred Rock; Ezzie & Bea are the most lovely Welsummers.
We have become completely smitten with the Welsummer breed. They lay the most beautiful, speckled dark brown eggs and love to forage in the yard. [I believe these two are responsible for the ruination of two of our pumpkins while we were gone on a day trip last fall.] Welsummers are also a rare breed but not a heritage breed as they are a considered relatively new breed introduction to North America. The breed is most well known for the rooster, which is the mascot on the Kellogg's Cornflake cereal box.

All three breeds get along well together. Well, I should say all three breeds of hens get along. We had to remove Silas and Seamus to a makeshift coop of their own as they didn't get on well with Benedict and were always picking fights with each other as well.
And we don't need three roosters.
We don't even really need one rooster at this point since we aren't planning on hatching our own eggs at this point. 

Benedict and Esmeralda 
Barred Rocks are considered a dual purpose breed, raised for both eggs and meat. So Silas and Seamus had their days numbered from the get-go. Late last fall we also discerned that three of our Dominiques were not laying anymore and we were fed up with Benedict's shenanigans (even if he was gorgeous). So we took all three roosters and the three Dominique hens to a local processor for butchering. I gotta say the Mister and I were pretty geeked to bring home our first farm raised meat. AND the butchering cost was low. Just under $17 for six chickens. [We chose whole chicken butchering. It would have been a bit more money if we wanted the meat in pieces.]

This next week we'll be putting in our order for a new batch of Dominiques that will eventually (this summer) replace our first batch of layers. The kiddos have also talked us into ordering three "fun" chicks. One for each of them. Sammer wants what he calls an "afro" chicken- known to most others as the Polish breed. Mads wants an Easter Egger and Lu hasn't made up her mind yet. She's still pouring over the catalog and making notes.

We asked each kiddo to research their chicken breed to make sure they were cold and heat tolerant, behave nicely, lay medium to large eggs on a regular basis and get along well with other breeds.

The Mister and my Boy are already making plans to scoop up a few more chicks on the last sale day at our local farm store, probably around the end of April. They just can't help themselves. So plans are also underway to build a small chicken tractor that we can move around the yard this summer and fall to help with fertilizing and to help give us more room for chickens until we butcher again.

In hindsight, we should have built our original coop bigger.... and now I have a better understanding as to why farmers always say, pick the size you want to build and double it

Gonna remember that one-- because a lean-to for cows is next on our build list.


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