The Seeds Are Sown

January 1, 2018 found my wife and I sharing bread with a large group of like-minded folks here at the cabin. Not necessarily politically like-minded folks but self-sufficient types. The discussion circled around replenishable resources in situations where money stopped coming into the household needed for food, heat, mortgage, doctor bills, et cetera. This lack of income could be as simple as an hour cut back at a job on up to a SHTF drama.

The discussions circled around growing and raising your own food, procuring your own fuel for heating & cooking. Then we discussed what could one do if their job disappeared in its entirety with no revenue coming in. The one issue that seemed to generate the most discussion was growing and raising one’s own food.

Neighbors Scottish Highland Steer

All my friends have gardens of different sizes and we only grow heirloom crops that produce well in our environment. The seeds are saved each year from our crops and we trade our seeds from the same varieties among us to maintain a healthy crop for seasons to come. Once we beat that topic to death, we moved onto raising critters for protein.

Only one family in the group does this at any great depth. They raise pigs, rabbits, ducks, meat & egg chickens, turkey’s, sheep, goats and a small herd of Scottish Highlanders. They raise this livestock while both husband and wife work full time jobs. They butcher and process everything on their small farm except for the pigs and cattle which go off to a butcher. I also raise a pig a year that they graciously allow us to keep with their pigs. We chip in for the feed and help as needed.

During this discussion the wife of the farming couple suggested that I should start to raise chickens as they are easy to raise, and they are replenishable at a greater and quicker rate than cattle, let’s say. With that suggestion I started to plan to build a chicken coop, buy some hens, and see where this venture led my wife and me this coming year.

The Coop

As I do with every project, I worked on the research first which started in earnest one snowy March day with little else to do but keep shoveling the porch and keeping the wood stove stoked up. I read everything online and then between snow storms went to the town’s small library to check out and order additional books on this subject. Once I had in my mind’s eye read enough about chickens, I started to plan the chicken coop. The text book that helped me the most was Building Chicken Coops for Dummies by Todd Brock, Dave Zook and Rob Ludlow which I eventually purchased and returned to the library their copy.

I wanted my coop to house up to 24 hens. With a chicken needing approximate 2 sf of space to be raised humanly for a nice long life the foot print for my chicken coop became 5 ft wide and 8 ft long. I decided to go with a slanted roof so one side of the coop was 5 ft tall while the other was 6 ft. This made the coop a walk-in coop which makes maintenance and cleaning easy.

The coop was built on two pressure treated 6×6 in posts with the ends cut at a 45-degree angle. With four ¾ inch galvanized eye bolts added to the coop’s base posts or skids, I could easily pull the coop with my tractor to different parts of our property.

I know for healthy chickens you need a lot of air circulation hence this coop had 4-windows with the back end being made up of 3-doors. Two of which I could open for circulation in the summer plus egress ingress to the insides of the coop and a door I could drop down for ease of cleaning out the coop several times a year.

I just drive the tractor up to the back of the coop open the two doors and drop the one and the whole back-end of the coop is open. Put the tractors bucket up to the level of the floor and just shovel out the used bedding right into the tractor bucket. Then off to the garden.

Last the coop was designed with two, 4-sectioned nesting boxes located on each side of the coop. The roof of the nesting boxes could be raised from the outside so there was no need to go into the coop to collect the eggs.

April rolled around and my interest on building the chicken coop had waned as spring chores kicked in. Tilled our 1,800-sf garden and planted our March started seedlings’ Memorial Day weekend. One of our group stopped by to check in on my progress and asked about the chicken project. Seeing that the project had taken a backseat he offered his time, money, and expertise for half of the eggs. My friend is a 70+ farmer’s son so a good guy to have around for all kinds of practical skills used on a self-sufficient farm. I hesitantly thanked him for his kind offer and immediately changed the subject. I had a lot on my plate already or so I thought. Later that night, I got an email from a friend recommending a book he just read titled Shatter by Thomas Sherry. I downloaded the eBook version and started to read it that night.

Not to give the whole storyline away, but it was an apocalyptic book and if it was not for their chickens which they used for food, bribes, and barter the family would surely have perished during the beginning of their SHTF drama. The next day I called the local lumber store and ordered the supplies we would need. Next, I called my friend who had offered his help, to set up a day to start the coop. Be careful what you volunteer for here.

The materials used in the build cost just shy of $500.00. I did have several packs of shingles left over from the cabin build plus some other components. If I had bought all the materials from scratch, I estimate the cost would have been around $700.00.

Finished and positioned coop minus slant up windows

With the help of my neighbor and my 14-year old ham radio friend from across the road, we started the build. All in all, it took a combined 49 hours to build then another 5-hours to paint. If you did this by yourself it probably would take a bit longer. By the way, 14-year old’s take a bit longer to paint something and are a bit messier than the average adult. Filed that away for later projects.

The Chickens

As mentioned earlier the coop is built on two 6×6’s 8-feet long. This allowed me to drag or reposition the coop easily with my tractor. Once the coop was done and positioned for the upcoming winter it was painted and chickens ordered.

We decided on 6-Barred Plymouth Rocks and 6-Rhode Island Red pullets which I ordered from Ideal Poultry in Texas.

I received an email from Ideal Poultry several days after I ordered the chicks letting me know that the chicks would be at my post office the next day and requested that I contact the post office to let them know they were arriving. I did as was requested and left my phone number with the Postmaster to be notified soon as they showed up.

I received a call from the post office the following morning that the chicks were in. Picked up the chirping box, took them home to be placed in a big card board box in the corner of the coop with some water and chick food. That night it got down to the low 40’s so my neighbor loaned me a heat lamp for the young’uns. They were left in the card board box for a little over a week so they could get their sea legs under them. I have read it was not good to let them roam on bedding like pine shavings which we use, till their legs are strong enough to do so. One day I caught one of the chicks trying to climb out of the box, their second home so I let them all out in the coop to roam freely. Then put their old home on its side which gave them security when wanted but the ability to roam at their leisure.

About the middle of June, they had grown a bunch and were sporting their post chick foliage. I could tell who the Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds were, so it was time to let them out of the coop. Before I did that, I put chicken wire around the coop and made a nice pen for them to enjoy the outside world. By the beginning of July, they were free to roam the redoubt at will. My friends who helped me build the chicken coop would help when I traveled for business. This was a big help.

Mid-July I went out to the coop to let them out to roam one morning and found 11 out of 12 chickens dead. It appeared that a critter chewed their way through the chicken wire on one of the windows. Crawled in and murdered 11 of my chickens. One was taken and 10 laid on the floor of coop dead. The survivor ran over to me with a lot to say. The survivor of the “Raccoon Massacre” as it is now being called locally, was promptly named Lucky. Another lesson learned. Use chicken wire mesh rather than generic chicken wire on your windows.

At the time I didn’t know what or who the culprit was. Some folks thought a fisher cat. Others guessed a raccoon. While others suspected a skunk. I set out a Have-a-heart trap baited with one of the dead chickens and caught a big fat raccoon mama. Dispatched the raccoon and reordered six and six more chicks from Ideal Poultry.

As before, the chicks arrived and the whole process started all over again. After a short time, a separation board used to keep Lucky and chicks apart, was lifted. These eleven chicks (One died the third day after arrival) became Lucky’s flock.

With some jokester’s attempts to get my goat by placing colored eggs in the hen box and a rooster showing up from who knows where, I received my first real egg mid-December. Well, once that happened, the daily take started to rise to the point at this writing (Mid-January) I am collecting 8-13 eggs a day.

To prepare for winter I added a few things that most chicken wranglers do not use. First, I ran a 12/3 extension cord to the coop from the cabin and hooked up an outdoor multi electrical outlet inside the coop. To the outlet I plugged in a heater that would keep the water from freezing and something called a Cozy Coop Heater. These two additions, in my opinion kept the girls laying even when the temps dropped below freezing at night as is the norm this time of year.

I do let them out to roam this time of year even though there isn’t much to scratch from frozen terra firma or the snow. It just seems they are happier when outside their coop. I do not let them out during snow storms or when the temps drop below 10 degrees F. When they are in lock-down mode, I typically get fewer eggs.

The finished product-This morning’s haul

The feed is purchased from a local Agway which runs for about $12 a 50 lb. bag of 16% protein layer feed and similarly for a 50 lb. bag of cracked corn. I mix into their daily feed cracked corn which they seem to love. We go through a 50 lb. bag of laying feed every other week now, a lot less in the summer. And, a 50 lb. bag of cracked corn once a month. In the summer we went through a 50 lb. bag of feed a month. This is mainly due to the foraging they do when the grass is up, and worms are prevalent during the warm months of the year.

I give a dozen eggs to each of my two helpers once a week. They continue to help when I am on the road for business and can not be there. We use about half a dozen eggs a week at the redoubt, so the rest goes to the church we frequent. The eggs go into the church’s fridge and any of the church members can donate $2 a dozen and take-home fresh eggs. The church gets the donation.

In closing, if you agree that things could go sideways, whether it be a job or the schumer hitting the fan at any time, and have thought of raising protein along with your vegetables, get started on chickens. It is easy, a fun family project, and to be frank, I am now a lover of just watching chickens do chicken type things.

Now where did that damn rooster come from?

Freedom Through Self–Reliance

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