Do you ever look at gorgeous homestead blogs and hope the glow rubs off on you? That their green fingers reach out and take you by the muddy hand and swoosh some magic over your farming endeavors? These naturals say that when you’re raising chickens, you’ll feel the “Hen Zen”. If that’s the case, we’re just in the parking lot of that Yoga class! In this post, I’d like to introduce you to our fluffballs and share some aspects of raising chickens that came with a few reality checks compared to what we thought we knew.
Bringing the Three Fluffballs Home
We did the homework. The boys and I watched video after video about how to start with chickens. For us here in the Netherlands, the most fascinating one was the Stoney Ridge Farmer who could order his chicks by mail. He had the right advice about teaching them to drink and not drown in their waterer by placing rocks in the catchment. We loved his fake momma hen gadget and added the heating panel to our shopping list.
The big boys spent a morning at a chicken farm in our area and came home with four Cochin Kriel chicks, each a different colour. In hindsight, this will become our first homesteading mistake.
1. Mistake One – Settling for a Chicken Variety that Lays Few Eggs
Don’t forget your goals. If self-sustainability is your goal, then a good egg supply is a means to that end. You should source the hen type with the highest egg-laying capability.
We were hoping for Barnevelder as the research showed these are the fifth best egg-laying hens in the Netherlands. The other four above the Barnevelder on the list do not have stable temperaments. We do consider this as we wish for our kids to raise them side-by-side with us. Side note, ready for a crazy fact?
Continuing…since we were entering autumn, Barnevelder was sold out and we settled for Cochin. DO NOT SETTLE. Cochin Kriel – Kriel is the smaller variety – only lay about 170 small eggs per year. These are hobbit numbers compared to the Barnevelder at 200 big eggs.
The area of our coop and run can take up to nine chickens, so come spring, we’ll be doing what we should’ve done from the beginning and GETTING THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF HIGH EGG-LAYING HENS FOR OUR SPACE.
Okay! You must be ready to meet the famous fluffballs. Here they are when we brought them home. We still have our bets out on which one is a rooster!
2. Mistake Two – Leave the Fancy Gadgets for the Rich
One of our main reasons for homesteading is to KEEP OUR FINANCES AS LOW AS POSSIBLE and to not be dependent on big commercial industries. But. We fell for the marketing schpeel. We got the heating panel because we didn’t want our chickies to get mommy withdrawal symptoms, we got the big rabbit cage and the fancy wood shavings so they would be comfy and then the lovely little waterer and feeder…ding ding ding. Your total comes to €257 (US$306). Noooooo…
Although I really liked the heating panel, I do feel that chickens have been surviving for tens of thousands of years in so many varying climates. Surely they can withstand the beginning of the autumn in Europe without one?
If we did this all again, I would probably scrounge a cardboard box out of the paper recycling and keep the chicks in that in our sunroom to start off with. Our local charity shop has shelves and shelves full of waterers and feeders and lamps. That would have given us a much more thrifty start to this process than new goods. Have you heard this one?
Failure is a lesson learned. Success is a lesson applied.Unknown
Pleeease let the next one be a success!
By the time the chicks had some real feathers (around 2 months old), we moved them to their permanent home, the coop. This was one of the reasons why we bought this property as it had a nicely established chicken coop with two brooding boxes. It works out to about 10m2 and thus works well for about 9 chickens. We figure another brooding box would be needed once we have more chickens as the experts recommend one for every 2-3 chickens.
3. Mistake Three – Breaking the Rules on Which Kitchen Scraps to Feed your Chickens
I really do hope this mistakes list stays at three and I don’t have to update it soon!
It is a great natural diet to feed the chickens kitchen scraps. Also, it relieves the environment of that food going to dumps and turning into harmful gases. You do, however, have to check the exceptions on what to feed them. The mistake I made was thinking that all kitchen scraps are equal. ALL KITCHEN SCRAPS ARE NOT EQUAL.
This advice from Hobby Farms highlights what I’ve been doing wrong. No potato skins! Apparently they are toxic to chickens. I am so grateful my three made it through a couple of spuds without any harm but I’m just reiterating the helpful list for the rest of their kin. I actually didn’t know you could feed them fat and that solves a ton of logistical issues for my household. Refrigerate fat and oils and feed it to them. I’m going to try it this week!
Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road
Raising chickens so far has been tough work. They poop all day and when we had them in the rabbit cage, they usually managed to knock the waterer enough times in a day to drench the wood shavings. These two messes combined made that the three of them would huddle under the heating panel in the corner until we came to start all over and clean up the area. I actually and naively did think it was a little less work than that. But we made it through their childhood and now for the teenage years…
If you have a great “why did the chicken cross the road” joke brewing, please post it in the comments below or share some pearls of wisdom from your raising chickens experience.