Three Girls on the Farm

Chick Fever

Mom Rocks the FarmAfter we began raising chickens and we were getting dozens upon dozens of eggs every day, the logical next step, at least to me, was to get a little incubator to hatch our own chicks. I expressed this desire to my daughters, and they were very obliging and gave me one for Mother’s Day. It was a Little Giant Styrofoam incubator with an automatic turner that could hold up to 41 chicken eggs. I could hardly wait to get started!

Incubator

I had to wait 21 whole days for chicks. Almost half of the 41 eggs I set in that batch actually hatched, but I was beyond hooked. I was addicted. I immediately set more eggs, then more and more again. I realized then I needed another incubator and since I was comfortable with the incubator I had that’s what I bought again. I was hatching more chicks than I could comfortably handle here at our farm so that’s when I started selling the chicks I hatched because I obviously couldn’t just stop hatching. It’s so exciting to see new chicks pip and zip their way out of their shells.

First Pips

We hatch a barnyard mix so we never really know what color or variation of colors we’ll get, which just adds to the all-around excitement of hatching. We were up to 80 or more chicks hatching every month. They sell very well surprisingly enough over the fall and winter months.

In the spring, I keep most of what we hatch to replenish our flock. There are many people in our community I have sold eggs and/or chicks to, and a lovely woman contacted me asking if I’d like to have an incubator that had spent the previous winter in her shed, but she had no use for. Yes! The only question I had was, “When can I come get it?”

After we brought it home, I fired that baby up immediately. We got it up to the right temperature and it held the right temp for five days, so we started up a test hatch. Why put in anything less than full capacity too, right? I am elated to report that our test batch is hatching as we speak! Instead of hatching a measly 80 eggs per month, we are now able to hatch more than 120. I couldn’t be happier. I will admit it. I am a complete hatchaholic and I am proud.

The Three Little Chicks

Pasture Raising Chickens

Mom Rocks the FarmUsually when I tell people that I pasture raise my chickens I get a variety of responses like "Don’t you worry about predators?" "You don’t lock them up at night? If they roam all over don’t they leave droppings all over?" "Where do they lay their eggs?"

The answers are really very simple. I do worry about predators. A lot. I have relieved some of that worry by putting a couple of Great Pyrenees to work on my farm as livestock guardians. They not only provide protection for our flock but keep strangers far, far away.

Olivia and Big Mama
My daughter Olivia and our biggest Barred Rock hen Big Mama. 

I don’t lock my chickens up at night. Instead I choose to let them roost where they please. Their favorite place to roost is on the back porch of the house where the dogs sleep. Since this is where they spend a lot of time, the amount of droppings can get a little crazy. In order to keep a little control over it, I lay a large amount of hay on the floor, which makes it much easier to clean up, especially after a good rain. This works well for me because when I clean off the back porch, the hay and the droppings go straight into my garden all winter long giving me plenty of compost for spring planting. During the spring when my garden is in use, it goes into a compost pile to age.

As for where they lay their eggs? They lay them everywhere. Literally everywhere. They get laid on the back porch, under rabbit hutches, in the ceilings of old outbuildings, in the back of my truck, under trees, in the dogs' house, in the middle of the yard and, sometimes I get lucky and they actually lay them in nest boxes. If I actually catch a hen laying her egg in a nest box I give her a special treat of meal worms.   

This is a very non-traditional way to raise chickens today, but I enjoy it very much. It’s certainly not for everyone. What do you see as some other challenges raising chickens this way? Or benefits? I would love to hear your opinion.

Lili and Big Boy
My daughter Lili and the sweetest rooster you’ll ever meet, Big Boy.