Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Life With Chickens: An Update

Life goes on at the Brick chicken ranch. 

Fortunately, our winter so far has been pretty mild -- freezing nights are common, and we've had lots of snow. But we've only had a handful of below-zero temps. The chickens have a heat lamp in their coop, and they rustle up a surprising amount of warmth just by snuggling. Feathers make good insulation.
     We also have a light to ensure that they get at least 12-14 hours of light. Keeps them laying regularly. So far, we're averaging about a dozen eggs daily. Wonderful, considering the older hens aren't doing much but eating.

Our neighbors bring down mice caught in their rabbit feed bins. We have some too, hunkered under the pallet the water trough sits on. Every once in a while, the Brick will move the pallet and shoot water down into the mice nests. Mice take off everywhere -- and the chickens chase them like crazy.

Fresh protein on the run is the perfect snack. Kind of like this:

Here's an 2015 shot of the chickens, having breakfast. The Brick, clever man that he is, rigged up a pipe holder to keep the feeder upright and slightly off the ground.

Here's a photo taken before we put in the chickenyard down the hill -- so I could actually have a blade of grass or two and some perennials that weren't chewed and/or dug to bits in our backyard. (Our entire backyard has a chain link fence running around it -- which also forms the back two sides of the chickenyard.) 
   Charley, who normally hates birds of any kind, doesn't seem to realize that his charges are avian, too.

Here's a more recent shot of the back edge of the chickenyard -- with Castle Rock in the background. 

And the infamous 'library table:' a secondhand table the Brick enclosed with wire. We used it for temporary housing for quite a while. When the chickenyard was finished, I persuaded the Brick to use it as an extension on one side of the fence. "They'll never use it," he scoffed. 
Well, it's their favorite place to View the World.

Maybe they're having conferences in there. Or spy sessions. 
Or trading mouse recipes.

It's a good time of year to renovate, update...and decide what to do next, chicken-wise.
 A few decisions really paid off this past year:

*The door that automatically opens and closes itself was a brilliant purchase -- even though it was about $250. We don't have to race home to get the door closed before dark...or get up early to let them out, either. In fact, we can easily go somewhere overnight, without having to pay someone to come over. (Now, if all the chickens would uniformly make it into the coop before the door closes a second time...)

*The 'cherry egger' chicks lived up to their billing. The feedstore girl told me that this breed were more reliable egg-layers in the winter. Well, they are. (Now, if they weren't stupid enough to get their heads stuck under the coop, or show more gumption against the bossy Rhode Island Reds...)

*The flock is doing great. Extra veggies (from our dumpster-diving neighbors) and scavenged pumpkins, along with a pound of venison or a can of mackerel a week, are helping keep everyone reasonably healthy. (I plan to grow extra greens for them this summer, plus squash and pumpkins for winter use.) We've only lost a few chickens -- and those were to old age.

*Our neighbors are still okay with it, too. We're careful not to bring in any roosters, keep the coop clean (and the yard reasonably smell-free)...and hand out a free dozen eggs every once in a while. That helps.

*We can sell every egg we want to. If any of our regular customers stepped aside, we still have a long list of people who want our eggs. That helps pay for feed and a little extra. (Like the automatic door.) And we still have all the eggs we can use.

*We're in good company. More people are housing chickens nowadays, including one of our Denver Broncos, Von Miller. (Maybe that's why he was the MVP in the Superbowl!)

This spring, for the first time in four years, I won't order a fresh batch of chicks. We are planning to put our house on the market, after some needed renovations -- and I'm not sure where we'll settle next. (One of the possible options has us buying an RV and traveling for a while. Not a good scenario for chicken ranching.) 

Would we do it again, though? 
You bet.

You'd better! 

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