I have received quite a few private messages of late post my article The Sneeze Heard in Wuhan City China – Felt Economically around the World asking about how my chicken experiment has been going. With the interest shown I figured an update and reposting of the original article was in order. Here is the original article with a follow-up at the end. Enjoy.
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 for food, heat, mortgage, doctor bills, et cetera. This lack of income could be as simple as an hour or two cut back at a job on up to a SHTF drama. Food seemed to generate the most discussion specifically growing and raising one’s own food.
All my friends have gardens of different sizes and we 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 their protein stock 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 prepping couple suggested that I should start to raise chickens as they are easy to raise and are replenishable at a greater and quicker rate than then let’s say cattle. With that suggestion I started to plan to build a chicken coup, buy some hens, and see where this venture lead my wife and myself this coming year.
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 between snowstorms that week 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 coup. 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 humanely for a nice long life the footprint for my chicken coop became 5-feet wide by 8-feet long. I decided to go with a slanted roof so one side of the coop was 5-feet while the other was 6-feet tall. This made the coop a walk-in coop which makes maintenance and cleaning easy.
The coop was built on two pressure treated 6″x 6″-inch 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. This made the coop easy to pull with my tractor to different parts of our property.
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 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+ farmers 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, Deep Winter by Thomas Sherry. I downloaded the eBook version and started to read it that night.
Not to give the whole story line away of Deep Winter, it was an apocalyptic book and if it was not for their chickens which they used for food, bribes, and barter the family would surly 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 around 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.
With the help of my neighbor and my 14-year old ham radio friend from across the road, we started the coop 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.
As mentioned earlier the coop is built on two 6″x 6″ 8-foot 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 the chicks were ordered letting me know that the chicks would be at my post office the next day. They requested that I contact the post office to let them know they were arriving. I did as was requested and left my phone number to be notified as soon as they showed up with the Postmaster.
I received a call from the post office the following morning letting me know that the chicks were in. Picked up the chirping cardboard box, took them home to be placed in a bigger cardboard box in the corner of the coop and added 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. 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 Barr Rocks and Rhode Island Reds were now. 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 covered me with watering and feeding 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 Havahart 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 chick’s 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 Lucy’s flock.
With some jokers 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 in the winter.
I do let them out to roam in the winter even though there isn’t much to scratch from the frozen terra firma through the snow. It just seems they are happier when outside their coop. I do not let them out during snowstorms or when the temps drop below 10 degrees F. When they are in lock-down mode, I typically get fewer eggs.
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.
We use about half a dozen eggs a week at the redoubt so I give a dozen eggs during the laying season to each of my two helpers once a week. They continue to help when I am on the road for business and cannot be there. The rest goes to the church we frequent or to the local food bank. 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 side wise whether it be a job or the shumer hitting the fan at any given 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®
This is our second winter with the chickens. Egg production is down to one to five eggs a day which is normal from what I have learned. My local Agway store told me that if I added a light on a timer to mimic a summer day, egg production in the winter would increase my daily yield. My 70+ former farmer friend recommended not doing this to give the hens a rest during an already stressful time of the year. We are going to add half a dozen chicks to the flock this spring as the older chickens will probably stop laying later this year on into next year. This is when non layers find themselves in a soup pot. Enjoy!