Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New baby chicks!

This past weekend I took a few of my kids to the feed store to see their baby chicks. We have had some decent success with chickens, primarily raised for egg production. But we treat these birds more like pets, so when one dies or needs to be harvested, it is a sad event. Our gardens have obviously also benefited from us having chickens.

Last year my eleven year old daughter and nine year old son talked me into buying them each about a dozen chicks. They both promised to work doing chores for weeks afterward to pay off their debt. When the birds were old enough to start laying, my daughter decided to advertise her birds in the local classifieds. These were australorp hens which she was able to sell for about $15 a piece. Many of the people willing to pay that much for a good hen had purchased just a few chicks that year and some turned out to be roosters, so they wanted another hen or two so that they could get enough eggs from their small flock. My daughter wasn't able to sell her roosters so I agreed to buy them for $2 a piece so that I could put them in our freezer. (She couldn't bring herself to just give them away, and our small flock couldn't handle six roosters.) My son wanted a longer term income so his black sex linked hens were able to consistently turn out a lot of brown eggs. I have had eager buyers at work who appreciated the delivery of fresh cage-free eggs to the work break room refrigerator.

These birds have been free ranging during the day but roosting and fed in a 5'x20' garden box. This box has poultry netting with hoops of electrical conduit for support. We have added layers of mulch, depending on what was available to the garden box, and the chickens have been happy to dig through it and leave their own fertilizer. While they have free ranged in the summer and fall outside this coop, in the winter we have kept them inside with a large layer of plastic over the top for shelter from the cold wind and snow. We have had to add layers of straw or wood shavings more often then when they were not confined, but this extra mulch and manure should compost in place and yield good soil next year after it has had time to decompose.

This year, the same two kids have purchased new chicks. My daughter now has a dozen rhode island red pullets, since she is starting from scratch again. My son still has his ten black sex lined laying hens and purchased another five golden sex linked pullets, making a total of fifteen birds. The difference now is that these kids have been able to save up money from last year's profits to purchase these birds without borrowing money from me. That is what I call a milestone!

Between my wife and I, we also have a menagerie of birds: a few australorp (we kept a "calm" rooster), a couple ameraucana, a couple silver laced wyandotte, and a pair of bourbon red turkeys (we hope to hatch some turkey pullets this Spring). We also purchased a few chicks to add to our flock with a mixture of rhode island red, ameraucana, and buff orpington pullets. Since chickens are most productive around a year of age, we wanted to supplement the hens that we already had with new ones so that we could have consistent egg production as the older hens aged. We prefer a varied flock instead of a single breed flock because various breeds have different strengths. One may be a more frequent layer, one has a pleasant temperament, and another will be a better forager that can lead the others to the best source of weed seeds, grasshoppers, and grubs. Some breeds we won't purchase again because of inconsistent laying or poor temperament, but all have their unique value.

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