With everything going on in the Food Industry (pesticides, herbicides, hormones, GMOs, antibiotics and more), we constantly resist the urge to pick up and move our family to a remote part of Montana where we can live 100% off the land and insulate ourselves from the crazy and scary things that are happening in today’s world. But, since that is not a reality for us (or most people), and since we live in the heart of Silicon Valley, we have decided to take (some) matters into our own hands: we brought home chickens!

We brought home four lovely 2-week old chicks (mind you, we also had a 2-week old child at the time…) and started the wonderful adventure of raising backyard chickens. We studied up, learned as much as possible about raising these little fluffy gals and started them in our garage in a brooder with a heat lamp. We cuddled them daily and watched as they sprouted their feathers and gained individual personalities. We also learned about “pasty butt,” but as a mom changing multiple diapers a day anyway, a little pasty butt didn’t scare me away (and my husband ended up tending to it promptly and saving “Lady Gaga’s” life).

My husband built a beautiful and completely predator-proof chicken coop and when the ladies were about 7-weeks old, we moved them outside to their new home. Fast forward a few months…the chickens are now almost 5-months old and should start laying organic, farm-fresh eggs next month! We can’t wait! Unfortunately, we are down two chickens as of 3 weeks ago, when we discovered that 2 of our “ladies” were actually roosters! In the interest of being good neighbors, we quickly donated our two beautiful Buff Orpington roosters. Boy, were we sad to see them go.  They were so handsome and we actually enjoyed hearing them crow early in the morning; and with a newborn and a 2-year old, I was awake anyway! It made me feel like I was in Bali, Hawaii, or some other exotic and tropical locale. Alas, they are gone but hopefully quite happy in their new home, a nearby 12-acre farm.

 

Our Flock. From left to right: Marty (a Barred Rock), Lady Gaga (Buff Orpington), Moses (Welsummer), and Yvette (Buff Orpington)

Some of the many advantages of our chickens are that they free-range throughout our yard, they trim our grass, eat ticks (huge benefit, especially since we have little kids rolling around in the grass), fertilize our yard, eat slugs, will produce beautiful organic eggs soon, add to our compost pile which we will in turn use to fertilize our plants and trees, and they provide countless hours of fun for our family and friends. They are funny little things, those chickens. They are also incredibly low-maintenance pets. Seriously…easier than a dog. Aside from the fact that they poop everywhere, they will eat your kitchen compost, put themselves to bed when the sun goes down, and feast themselves on our grass during the day and take an occasional dirt bath. We have a self-feeder and water station in their coop that will keep them self-sufficient for up to a week (they are raised off the ground so the chickens can’t poop in them and contaminate them). All we have to do at the end of the day is remember to close the door to the hen house so they are safe at night. Raccoons can be nasty, as can neighborhood dogs and cats. But we also have the added pleasure of mountain lions, coyotes, fox, and big birds of prey. So far, we have managed to keep them safe and happy. Happy hens = higher egg production (higher fertility). Fancy that…stress-free and happy + lots of organic food =  higher fertility.

I just brought home an adorable basket for my daughter to collect the eggs every morning, once they start laying. It’s a great way to assign responsibility to your children, and they get to learn about where their food comes from! While you explain it to them, you can decide to tell them which comes first: the chicken or the egg?

If you plant some lavender near the coop, it will help mask any lingering chicken smell, although a self-composting coop shouldn’t have too much of a smell. I will continue to provide tips for raising your backyard chickens…as we continue to learn.

Our two-week old chicks! We kept them in the garage in a brooder for the first 7 weeks under a heat lamp, letting them learn to forage in the grass during the day under the protection of our brooder (which has an open bottom) for a few hours at a time and during warm days in the summer. You will need to adjust the height of the lamp just so, such that the temperature is neither too warm or too cold. Your chicks should be moving freely around the brooder quite content, rather than huddling together cold under your lamp (it’s too high and not emanating enough heat) or they are spread out in the farthest corners from the lamp (it’s too low and emanating too much heat and they are trying to escape it). We opted for a red lamp to help calm them and to mask any potential drops of blood from an occasional peck. Chickens can aggressively start pecking at the source of the blood which doesn’t end well, ergo…a red lamp to turn everything red and keep the peace in the coop. During the day, we would move the brooder around to different spots in the grass so they could learn to pick bugs, and even out our lawn in different areas. We kept it in the shade, also provided a food and water source, and just watched them for hours! It is a lot more fun than it sounds. Keep a close eye on those little chicks and keep them safe and happy. They will pay you back in spades for your kindness with beautiful farm-fresh, organic eggs! No doubt, you will taste the difference.

We used these two books to bring us up to speed on everything we need to know about raising chickens and creating a chicken-friendly yard for free-ranging them: Chick Days and Free-Range Chicken Gardens.  Also talk to people who have chickens. They are the best resources and you’ll find a kinship among other chicken owners, especially if you live in an urban area. All of the neighborhood kids will want to come over and play with your delightful, fluffy little friends. We even had one toddler friend who put his hand right into the “Happy Hen Treats” and started eating dried meal worms….at least they are organic! We all had a good chuckle over that one, including mom.