Saturday was our first day of egg sales at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market. And we sold out! We also had plenty of people ask us about our flock . What do they eat, where do they roam, where do they sleep, and more general – what kind of birds do you have?
Our birds are just like us – a rag-tag, misfit group.
We got our first chicks in 2010. We started small with 3 Barred Rocks, 3 Wyandottes, and 2 Pekin ducks.
What was supposed to be 6 hens turned into 2 hens and 4 roosters so we got an early lesson in chicken butchering. We have been butchering roos and broilers and ducks for ourselves since the summer of 2010.
The two roos on the left were birds we hatched and we butchered those a few weeks ago. The duck on the right was actually back in 2010 and my first time butchering. As we were raising these ducks, which I knew were meant for slaughter, I told myself that if I couldn’t do it; couldn’t go through with butchering the birds then I would become a vegetarian. When Mike first slit the duck’s throat I cried – like really cried.
Mike: “Liz, do you like eating duck?”
Me: Sniffle, choke, sob. “Yes.” Sniffle, choke, sob.
So then I started plucking and now – it’s no big whoop.
Eventually we started searching Craigslist and newspaper classifieds and began to purchase a few birds here and there. And who can resist chick days at TSC? Known members of the flock include Buff Brahamas, Brown Leghorns, Comets, Black Australorps, Rhode Islands, and Barred Rocks. Unknown members of the flock, aka the Misfits, are mixed breeds we hatch ourselves.
We started with a small incubator but now we just let the hens go broody when they feel like it and they hatch the eggs themselves.
We leave the chicks with their moms for just a day or two and then bring them inside. When they’re teeny we usually keep them in a small tub in our basement. Then we move them to a larger tub and then eventually we move them outside to the ‘brooder’ side of the coop. They’ll stay here until they’re large enough to move in with the big birds.
Speaking of the coop – here it is.
This was an existing structure that was originally a chicken coop. You can read more about how we fixed it up on this early blog post.
So to hatch chicks you need a rooster. Meet the man in black – our Black Australorp named Sue.
We also have a Silver Duckwing Old English bantam rooster named Napoleon and you can read about him here. We recently snagged a Silver Duckwing Old English bantam hen (Josefine) and hopefully once she’s a bit older we’ll be able to hatch some really cool chicks!
Ok, back to the coop – we cut a hole in the back of the coop so the birds can roam during the day.
They share this area with the goats which is why it’s fenced. Yes, they can fly over it and that’s fine. No big whoop. At dusk they start making their way back and by the time the sun goes down they’ve put themselves to bed back in the coop.
Since the birds are out all day they enjoy plenty of grasses and bugs. We also throw them some scratch every now and then and they get the various kitchen scraps I deem too nice for the compost heap. We supplement all that with a corn based layer mash we get from our local feed mill.
Our birds range in age from 2 months to 3 years so we have some that aren’t laying yet or that aren’t laying very much anymore. More serious poultry farmers cull their flock and butcher their older hens (aka stewing hens). But we’re softies. Our original Barred Rock (Lady) is over three years old and she’s still with us. She lays an egg every now and then and we actually hatched a Barred Rock in our latest round of hatchings. And one of our original feather footed Bantam Brahamas (Henrietta) – she’s still around too.
And speaking of softies – Mike, the lover of all animals, may just keep our two turkeys off the Thanksgiving table and raise them as pets instead.
Besides keeping birds way past their prime we also do not add artificial light in the winter. Once the daylight hours get shorter birds begin to molt and they stop laying. Commercial egg farmers and many smaller farmers keep a light on in the coop for at least 14 hours a day to ensure the layers keep laying. We let nature take it course so production slows a bit during the winter months. That’s ok. They need a rest anyways.
Ok, I guess that covers it. We’ll continue to bring eggs to the market (and we’ll continue to eat plenty of eggs ourselves) but it’s doubtful that we’ll become super serious egg producers any time soon.
We truly enjoy keeping chickens if for nothing else the entertainment value. So please know that when you purchase our eggs these gals (and roos) are really loved and cared for and that ensures some pretty darn tasty eggs.