Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Get Those Backyard Chickens Going

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: chickens, poultry, farms,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.I'm exercising a bit of restraint in the backyard chicken arena this year by resisting the urge to add another thousand or so chicks to our already sufficient flock. Oh, I tempt myself practically every evening by poring over colorfully-illustrated catalogs from some of my favorite commercial hatcheries. But, my laying hens turned up the egg production a few weeks ago and reminded me that I need to grow our egg customer base before I can rationally think about expansion. I will place an order for meat birds later in the year, but for now the backyard flock, as it exists, will have to suffice.

Purebred Buff Catalana Chickens

Of course, just as I write that, I am reminded that the backyard chicken flock will grow a little this year because I plan to increase the numbers of purebred, and fairly rare, buff Catalana birds on the farm. We have just a single Catalana rooster and three hens at the moment -- the birds are about 6 months old and have exhibited sufficient signs to indicate that they've passed through puberty. The hens have begun laying eggs -- my plan is to collect a few incubator loads of the eggs later this spring and see whether I can increase the numbers right here on the farm. I'll never give up the motley crew of brown-, speckled-, mauve-, and green-egg laying chickens for purebreds entirely, but it will be fun to add the slightly off white Catalana eggs to our cartons in the future.

Hank's Hens

For those of you with backyard chickens in the works, or in the plan, now is a good time to book your mail-order chicks, especially if you have your hearts set on any specific breed. And if you don't want to deal with disposing of unwanted roosters, be sure to spring for the pullets, as opposed to straight run birds. Either way, just remember that you need to have a brooder of some sort, feed, feeders and waterers set up before the chicks arrive. You can brood the chicks in something as simple as a cardboard box, plastic tote or a small stock tank -- and all you need is an incandescent light to keep them warm. You can read all about brooding chicks here and how to build a chick brooder for virtually nothing, here.

Even if you don't have a backyard chicken coop worked out yet, you will have plenty of time to build or buy one while the chicks are confined to the brooder. So don't let the lack of a coop keep you from placing your order. If you feel lucky, you can sign up to win a Cadillac of a backyard chicken coop here.

I frankly cannot imagine a life without backyard chickens. Whether it's just sitting in the shade of the huge hackberry tree and watching the big, gentle Barred Rock rooster dance for his ladies, or chuckling at the mostly-white Ameracauna hen who flies the coop every morning to pick through the hog pen and returns to the coop in the evening, or revelling in the daily anticipation of finding fresh, delicious eggs in nests, backyard chickens are good for the soul.

Buff Catalana photo and author photo courtesy Karen Keb.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

aunt bea
4/11/2010 8:28:05 AM

Ive been trapped living in the city and hope to win a bid on a country house tomorrow. I have always wanted chickens. The property next to "ours" has a huge barn with wooden fence around and you can hear a LOT of roosters any time of day that I have been there. Please someone tell me they do not crow all night long too? I know there must be a ton of other birds around but you cant hear them. By the way there is no house on the property. Ive never seen any people....just a bunch of chickens. Oh one more thing...strung across the ckicken yard is a halloween ghost that moves in the wind. Does this maybe frighten them? It must be there to scare off something!

hank will_2
3/11/2010 3:31:37 PM

Oz Girl -- The Dorkings also won the ALBC's "Chicken Choosin" blind taste test last year. Here's my report of the event:

oz girl
3/1/2010 3:32:00 PM

Thanks Hank ... hubby did some work on the coop yesterday, and I'm thinking some Dorkings since they are dual purpose, but I'll look at the ALBC's website again (just looked at it last week but was looking at the horses then). Looks like we're going to get a few guineas too - one of my friends has 4 and I love watching them. And Caleb, I too question the quality of our produce AND the meat we buy at the store. I'm buying the least amount I can get by with these days and trying to buy what they label "organic" etc, even though I know better...

hank will_2
3/1/2010 11:57:56 AM

Oz Girl and Caleb -- Keep the gentle pressure on and take it one step at a time. And be sure that you don't Tom Sawyer the care taking chores too quickly once you land a few birds. Check for some ideas on interesting older breeds worth raising. Hank

3/1/2010 9:48:09 AM

This excites me to start my backyard flock. Awesome. Oz Girl - I know exactly what you mean when you say subtly working on your significant other. My fiance keeps me grounded too, but I guess some of us need that restraint or we'd have more animals than we know what to do with. I work on her daily about obtaining livestock and animal husbandry. I get a kick out of questioning the quality of bacon (and beef, chicken, you name it) frying in our skillet, just knowing we could raise better meat. I think it's working.

oz girl
2/27/2010 1:11:03 PM

I had yet another discussion with hubby today about someday getting a few chickens and I think he is beginning to warm up to the idea as he called his daughter in Wyoming to find out how many she had, what kind, etc, etc. Yay for me! Now we just have to repair the coop on the property, get some waterers and food, and decide what breeds we want to start out with. I thought it wouldn't happen until next year, but now, maybe just maybe, it will happen this year! :-) I'll be so excited to join the ranks of the other Grit chicken owners! Now I just need to continue subtly working on the hubby, you know, for those goats, a llama or two, maybe a few donkeys or burros..... LOL

hank will_2
2/26/2010 2:55:43 PM

Hey Shirley -- That is so totally true. We've been given such a gift of colorful variety -- that's why I no longer raise Angus cattle. I have white, blonde, dun, and red Highland cattle and blonde, white and black sheep. I am hoping to add black to the cattle and some spots and additional colors to the sheep. The commodity livestock producers will criticize, but I'm no longer interested in producing food that will fit in a packer's box. It's more fun to produce food for people. I have my eye on some spotted and red hogs too, but that is a project for a few years down the road. Thanks. Hank

rodeo princess
2/26/2010 2:07:18 PM

I love it when flocks look like confetti on the lawn!!!