As Spring approaches, I'm fondly remembering those six adorable balls of fluff we brought home in their little cardboard box last April. We chose three practical Australorpes (big, hearty hens that are known to lay all winter) and three whimsical Easter Eggers (these the chickens that lay eggs of all different colors).
At first all the little chicks needed was a tub full of shavings, a heat lamp, and some food and water. They lived in our basement and were visited frequently for snuggles by my three children (the two-year-old definitely required supervision!). As they got older and the weather got warmer, we started giving them recess outside, which was a big neighborhood activity. There is really nothing quite so cute as a chick.
All too soon they were going through their awkward teenager phase, which they spent outdoors in the moveable chicken tractor my husband built for them out of scrap lumber from a neighbor's old tree house. We use this tractor to give them access to fresh plants and bugs without allowing them free range (we aren't allowed to have free range chickens where we live).
Whenever we were in the yard, we would give the curious hens recess so they could explore the nearby woods and bushes. They loved running around, pecking everything, dust bathing, and generally just being outside until one day a roaming husky killed Cutie Pie. After a lot of emotional learning on the part of my daughter (who named her), we decided to continue giving them recess whenever we were outside to supervise.
By the end of their first summer, Buttercup, Piplup, Betty, Rufflet, and Nita Chick had filled in and looked surprisingly beautiful. We were able to feed them table scraps and garden scraps and watching them eat is a truly wonderful hilarious way to spend ones time. To read more about the chickens at that stage in the game, check out my post from last summer.
When Buttercup laid her first egg, the kids happened to be watching (probably because she was announcing it at the top of her lungs). It was a beautiful light blue egg, warm and fresh, and everyone passed it around and wondered at it. Grandparents were called. Pictures were taken. It was a big day.
The other hens took their sweet time about laying eggs, but, one by one, with time, we were getting brown eggs with dark brown speckles (Betty and Piplup), tan eggs with white speckles (Nita Chick), and sea green eggs (Rufflet) in addition to Buttercup's blue eggs.
As winter approached, my husband and I built the ladies (as we affectionately call them) a warm coop with a laying box and roost to stay in at night. They still spend the day outside in their chicken tractor, which we connected to the coop for the winter. They were not pleased with snow, but still happy to fly over any drifts to explore the woods.
The deep winter meant we only got two eggs a day (from the Australorpes) and the ladies stayed in their muddy little yard, but we still carried them out to a patch in the woods that warmed faster for their recess when we could. As the days lengthen, we are back to getting three eggs and looking forward to getting five a day again in the Spring.
So far, everyone is very happy with our year of backyard chickens. Fresh organic eggs have been amazing (not to mention healthy), but it's also been wonderful to watch the kids with the chickens and to spend time with them ourselves. They are actually surprisingly affectionate and always excited when we come out to visit with them.
I hope this post will inspire you to consider backyard chickens are part of your lower waste lifestyle, along with growing your own food.
P.S. We were recently offered three chicks from a local embryology class and we are now going through chick fever all over again with three little balls of fluff in the basement...