11 weeks ago, we started on a new venture…
After studying the various breeds for many months, their needs, expected production, housing needs, and their strengths/weaknesses, then comparing that with our goals, we selected two breeds to start with.
What were we looking for in our starter flock?
Well, since we live in Southern Utah, high desert, we figured right off the bat that they would need to be heat tolerant. On the other hand, we are over 6500’ elevation and winters here can get quite cold, so, they also need to be cold tolerant.
Next, we wanted to get dual purpose birds that we could get a goodly amount of eggs from (brown, yes, I know, there supposedly isn’t any taste or nutritional difference with the different colors of eggs except based on their diet, but I like brown eggs, and so do most of the people around here who might want to occasionally buy eggs from me) and also have good meat on the ones we aren’t going to keep (think extra roosters and aged hens).
We also hope to have the birds do a fair amount of foraging – when the ground isn’t covered with snow and ice. Apparently, some breeds have pretty well lost the instincts for foraging. Probably a good thing for the factory farmers, but not at all what we want!
We want birds that will be relatively friendly, not attacking any humans that come near. My sweetheart tells of a rooster in his past that attacked anyone and anything that moved, and NEVER gave up! He said the kids regularly kicked it over the fence only to have it come back meaner and more feisty than ever. None of my mom’s chickens were ever mean in the slightest so I can’t even imagine such a thing, on more than one level.
We want birds that will self-propagate and keep the flock going so we don’t have to buy new ones every couple of years. That means the hens have to get broody and be good mothers. Again, I was surprised to learn that broodiness has been pretty well bred out of many of the chicken lines. Humph. Okay, another one that’s good for the factory farmers, but not for us!
Self-propagating also means we need roosters as well as hens. Ah, morning music!
One more thing, there are a lot of aerial predators around here – eagles, hawks, and falcons – so our birds will need fairly good camouflage since we want them to be able to free range during the day when the ground isn’t covered in snow and ice.
And so, we now have 25 chickens, two of which are not the breeds we selected, but, the hatchery we bought the babies from does what they call a “meal maker” program where they will send you an extra chick of a different breed than you order with the understanding that you will donate the food from it to a needy family or organization in your area. Okay, so I feed and shelter the chicks, then give the eggs (or meat if they’re roosters) to a needy neighbor or the Senior Center or Care and Share. I can do that to help someone else!
Next thing to consider was housing – coop designs ABOUND in books as well as the internet! And then there are the pre-fab coops…
After considering all of the many design offerings, we decided on a simple, but large coop that actually does triple duty. It not only houses the chickens, but rabbits as well, and, it’s large enough to be a comfortable indoor run when the weather is bad (like NOW). Oh, and one other minor detail we had to consider in coop design was ventilation. Yours truly is (cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze) allergic to both feathers and hay. Going into my mom’s coop as a kid and teen was a 100% certain guarantee of a nasty asthma attack within seconds. (Why did I ever decide to keep chickens?!?) I’m happy to report that we’re 11 weeks into this now and I haven’t had any problem, other than a bit of to-be-expected sneezing when I’m actually handling hay to put on the floor of the coop/run. TRIUMPH!!!!! Excellent ventilation is good for the chickens, the rabbits, and me. 😀
We don’t have electricity to the coop, but we want eggs all year round (hopefully). That meant we needed to figure out a way to get as much natural light into the coop as possible.
Introducing corrugated greenhouse plastic panels which even provide a tiny bit of insulation. These are not the clear-ish wavy panels you see over carports and porches. No. These are like large pieces of plastic cardboard and they let in LOTS of natural sunlight.