Posted on June 24, 2010 by
Today’s post is written by our newest Greenist, Howling Hill!
One of the easiest ways to green your kitchen is to keep a small flock of chickens. Easy to care for, versatile, relatively quiet, and amusing chickens are a must have for any microsteader* with a little space.
When Wolf and I first discussed getting chickens we had a fair amount of fear. Neither of us had any idea how much work they would be. I can say without any deception chickens are very little work. Feed and water them, collect the eggs, and chickens pretty much care for themselves.
Feeding is easy. We give our flock a combination of foods. First, they have access to our compost pile, which they love. Within days a clump of rotting vegetables and fruits is a dark, wonderful compost ready for the garden.** Second, we give them all kinds of table scraps (no meats though): vegetables, fruits, breads, cheese, yogurt, nuts. Third, they get egg-laying chicken feed, though we use that to supplement their diet, not as their only food source. Fourth, they eat bugs so their poop will attract flies, etc. the chickens will scratch through and eat the larva of the flies, the flies themselves, mosquitoes, snakes, chipmunks, you name it. Chickens are omnivorous and they will eat anything including each other and their own eggs, so just be vigilant.
Housing is also easy. Wolf built the Coop de Ville in 2008. While every flock we’ve had has slept in the coop on their own, the current group (12 of them) won’t sleep in it. At first we were going out there every night to pull them out of the trees and put the Ladies into the coop, but that got old fast so we just let them roost at night. In the morning there’s usually a couple out of the confines of the chicken yard (our chicken yard is fenced because of a fox and because they can’t really control their descent from the trees. Because chickens are a flock animal they want to be together so they don’t wander far from their yard.) The Ladies go in to the nesting boxes every day to lay their eggs without us having to teach them how.
The chickens don’t make too much noise. When they do it’s because (1) they laid an egg and must announce it (this lasts for just a few minutes); (2) They got separated from the flock and are calling back to it; or (3) Ms. Foxy-Fox is lurking around and they’re calling out “Danger Will Robinson!” to each other.
The Ladies don’t need a lot of space. Some people keep their chickens in a coop all the time but Wolf and I feel they really need to get some walking around and scratching space. We would’ve given this flock some more room in their yard but we ran out of fencing and couldn’t afford to buy more. If you have a small city yard just a couple chickens should live there because you don’t want overcrowding issues.
Regarding the eggs, it depends on the type of chicken you get. We have cinnamon queens which are a hearty New England crossbreed designed to withstand the cold snowy winters. Wolf usually culls the chickens before winter comes though he said he wanted to keep them over the winter this year. That’s not going to happen when we move to Massachusetts (unless we can take them with us). The Cinnamon Queens lay an egg a day for the first year or so then slow down. We have 12 chickens and we’re totally awash in eggs. This is a good source of income if you can get some steady customers. We sell ours for $3/dozen.
To know your egg is fresh and from a healthy chicken is really easy. First, the brighter orange the yolk the more animal protien the chicken has eaten (bugs, snakes, mice, etc). Second, when cracked open there are three layers. (A) The yolk should stand up tall and be orange. (B) the white clear middle should be thick surrounding the yolk and stand up. (C) the thinner outer part of the yolk spreads out. If you crack an egg into a frying pan and it spreads out to the shape of the pan it’s not a new, healthy egg. Some spreading is good but you really want the egg to hold its shape.
*combination of “micro” and “homesteader.” Someone who keeps a garden and chickens.
**Don’t spread it when it’s “hot”. That is, give it some time to cure. Chicken poop is really hot and can ruin your garden. Peppers and tomatoes can be planted into a bucket of poop and soil though.