Are you interested in POULTRY?  Then you might find one of these Homestead.org articles handy:

Roosters A Plenty by Magdalena Perks

Put Your Poultry in Your Pantry by David Von Kroug

A Goose and Its Golden Eggs by Sherrie Taylor

What I Learned From Poultry by Diana Barker

Raising Chickens... From Scratch by Sheri Dixon

Easter Chicks Gone Bad: The Unexpected Menace, by Sheri Dixon

Getting Started With Chicks by Jan Hoadley

The How and Why of Free-Range Chickens by Regina Annealer

Born to be Wild: North American Wild Turkeys by Victoria Varga

Guinea Fowl: Something Different in the Garden, by Victoria Varga

 

 

 

 

Raising Chickens in Suburbia

by Reid McGrath

I don’t know if you could go so far as to say that I am a chicken farmer, but I keep a modest flock of fifteen hens in a coop that my father built for turkeys back in the early 1980’s.  I raise these hens on a one acre plot of land in Suburbia, which is abutted to some woods, and flanked by a row of pines on the westerly side of our lawn, and a row of forsythia bushes on the easterly.  These two hedgerows are natural obstructions that keep the hens from roaming too far, but provide them with a suitable shady, leafy area where they can forage for worms and bugs.

The chickens have free access to most of the lawn two to three hours before dark, which, because of their fear of the imminent night and their subsequent inclination to go roost, reins them in and inhibits them from exploring the nearby neighbor’s properties.  For the hedgerows are not impervious, and I squawk at the idea of fencing off the entire lawn, the coop is built on top of an old hay-wagon frame, therefore making it movable.  It is a modern day Egg-Mobile, which have become very popular thanks to educated yeomen like Joel Salatin and others involved in the local organic food movement.  In the winter it does not move; and does not move much besides, I only owning an acre.

Presently, there is just under a foot of snow on the ground here where I live in the Hudson Valley.  The coop is completely sealed from outside predators, with woven wire walls and floors, and plywood in places to keep the wind at bay.  It has a shingled roof, just like any house, and is admittedly more grandiose than any efficient Egg-mobile should be. 
It used to be, when we were children, and after it was a turkey pen, my sister’s play-house.  She painted it colorfully and upon the siding there are painted purple flowers with green stems.  Before I reclaimed the coop for its original intent, I had to rip out and remove one of those artificial turf carpets that you see on mini-golf courses—and after the carpet was rolled up and discarded—the plywood floor which was beneath it.  (I say this only because my sister would have a conniption if she thought that I was suggesting she played in a chicken coop with her dolls when she was younger.)  The coop looked a lot different, internally at least, back then.

The wire floor is a lifesaver and the holes in the wire are small enough so that the birds can walk right over it.  The manure drops through the cage to the dry dirt floor below where the moisture is absorbed directly by the earth.  The problem with most chicken coops is that the floors are cement, or wood, and are impermeable.  They do not let excess moisture escape, even if they are easier to clean.  The earth, bare ground, dirt is a much more permeable surface.  You should let your chickens outside as much as possible; into the sunlight and grass especially.

If you are obtaining the birds as pullets, or nearly full-sized birds that are ready to lay, make sure you detain them in their coop for a couple of days before permitting them the liberty to go outdoors and explore.  This lets them know where home is, where their feed and water is located, as well as where they should lay their eggs and roost at night.

One winter, long ago, we had been very lazy about our chickens.  We were having a cold spell and they were getting pretty old and weren't laying  much.  We started leaving them out, not shutting them in their coop at night.  Apparently lonely, the chickens started moseying up closer and closer to the house, eventually roosting fifteen feet up in a blue-spruce tree right beside our back deck.  They looked quaint enough, six of them huddled together on a branch that was worn smooth from their feet, especially when the green boughs of the conifer were sprinkled or weighted down with snow, from the warmth of our living room window.  We did not believe they were laying any eggs, being older and infertile, and were about ready to butcher them; but the next spring, after contemplating the origins of our mongrel’s bad breath, we came to realize that they had made a little nest in the pachysandra along the house... and that the dog had found it.  The chickens were gone by this point; and a new brood was being cultivated in the garage under a heat-lamp.  Of the six elderly tree dwellers, a raccoon got four of them; but the last two--one of which I had saved by running outside with a .22, in my long underwear, in the middle of the freezing night--were too wily for that raccoon, and lasted the entire winter, until my brother dropped them, under a veil of darkness, into the high-school courtyard as a prank.

If you are obtaining the birds in a smaller form, you should raise them in a small pen, large box, or drum of some sort under a heat-lamp until they are ready for the elements in an outdoor coop.  Once I believe that my chicks have reached this stage, I put them in the coop, though not with full-grown birds who may bully and pick on them, literally.  My coop is off the ground about four feet, with a ramp to a grassy plot below.  Once the chicks, who are now closer to pullet size and have gotten a real grasp of their new home, can manipulate the ramp proficiently (which I discern through trial and error, and by sprinkling a trail of grain down the ramp to inspire their courage), I am in the clear and the birds are fully assimilated to their new environment.  If you let the birds have access to the chicken-yard before they can competently handle the ramp, you will have to manually return them to their roosting place which can be a timely, and vexing, hassle.  It is important that these small birds remain under cover anyway, even during the daylight hours, because of the threat hawks pose.

Your chicken-yard can be any size.  Mine is a 25x25-yard area surrounding my chicken coop.  This is sort of like a corral.  I let them out into it in the mornings, and I push them back into it if they get too adventurous and start wandering over the property line.  All it is is a section of lawn in the back corner of my yard that I enclosed with a hundred yards of woven wire fence.  In the spring and summers, the fifteen chickens cannot exhaust the grassy paddock.  In the late fall and  winter when there is no snow on the ground, however, they seem to peck it down to a yellowy brown color.  In the spring, as long as I continue to let them out into the rest of the lawn in the late afternoons, the grass comes back.  The bigger your corral and the less chickens you have, the harder it will be for them to exhaust it or turn it into a mud pit.

Your coop should have a roost, which can be made easily out of saplings, old hockey sticks, or whatever you have on hand, so long as it is wide and ladder-like and off of the ground.  This will keep them from roosting in their laying boxes, which you only want them to tenant whilst they are laying, and no other time, which will keep the eggs cleaner. 
Usually, I go down to the local hay-dealer and, with his permission, sweep up some of the loose hay lying around the barn to put it into my laying boxes, which augments their comfortableness, therefore making them more appealing to the chickens.  Three chickens are purportedly able to employ one box; so for every three chickens you should build at least one box.  For fifteen chickens I have five boxes.  Though they only, for reasons that are beyond me, employ one of them.

  Continued on page 2   >

 

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