If you would like to know the good, bad, and ugly of owning chickens, this article is for you. This is actually the 3rd part in a three-part series called "Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book." Here are the links to the first articles:
Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 1 — It covers why you need to collect the eggs every day and how we feed our chickens for free (mostly).
Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 2 — This article gets a little deeper in the land of chicken ownership. Here I discuss predators, illnesses, and why we don't keep water in the coop.
Today, I'm going to tell you why you should put the chicken food in the coop (if you provide the food), and try to set some realistic expectations about the lifespan of your girls (and boys).
First, let's talk about the average life of a chicken.
I am so sorry to break it to you. It's true. They are all going to die. Some sooner than others.
I always advise people to start out in spring with twice as many chickens as you would like to have this winter, because half your flock will manage to kill themselves in the next nine months.
Why? How? What is wrong with your chicken keeping skills?
It's not me. It's just a fact. Chickens look for ways to die. We've tried everything to keep them alive. We've kept them fenced in, we've let them free-range, we've put out a guard dog, we've used motion sprinklers. For eight years we have had the same experience: We lose half our flock in winter. It's OK. Just plan for it, buy some extras, and don't get too attached. It's a chicken, not a cat.
We have experienced more bizarre chicken deaths than I care to discuss. If you would like read all about them and decide for yourself if I am a chicken murderer, go here.
As I mentioned in this article, we offer free-choice food during winter for our chickens. In the past we have filled our king feeder (holds 50 pounds of feed) outside the coop, but every night some local varmint would show up, eat most of it, and dump the rest all over the ground. Ugh.
Since I don't have unlimited funds, this consumption of feed had to stop. I am not trying to feed the local wildlife; I am trying to provide sustenance for my chickens. We tried two solutions.
1. Move the feed into the coop. This was my first thought. It worked, kind of. It kept the nighttime visitors from eating and scattering all the chicken food ... but it didn't stop the daytime consumption. Dang it. Dang, stupid, gross, mangy-looking opossums are eating all my chicken food, and eggs! The good news is that this family of opossums doesn't like chicken. They are just eating all my eggs and chicken food. And the chickens don't seem to mind. Come on, cocks! This is why you are here! Can we please get some crowing when a non-feathered critter enters the coop?
2. Ration the stores. Since the opossums are BFFs with my chickens, they are happily sharing their food and eggs with them, and I can't catch them to save my life, we've started scattering a day's worth of feed on the ground each day. The chickens love scratching and pecking at the food, and the opossum can't eat it all. This doesn't stop them from eating eggs, but my feed bill is lower.
Speaking of opossums. I have a story that may or may not have happened last week ...
We were visiting with family and out past dark. DH got home before the kids and I did. If it's after dark, the general rule is: First one home put the chickens to bed. "Putting the chickens to bed" means "go out to the coop and close the door to the hen house."
So, DH heads out to the chicken coop to close the door and saw some sort of commotion scooting away from the coop. It was Mr. Opossum. Probably the one eating my chicken feed and eggs. Busted.
Well, DH owns a pawn shop. You can see it here. Which may as well be called a "gun shop," because that's the majority of what we do. DH always wears his gun — his 1911 .45 caliber.
If you don't speak "gun," I'll explain. A .45 is quite the pistol. It easily fits in a holster on your hip, but it's a pretty powerful handgun. I'm pretty sure you can stop King Kong or a T-Rex with a .45. So DH was at the chicken coop, and he was armed and dangerous — especially if you happen to be an opossum.
DH saw him scurrying away from our coop, where I'm sure he was partaking of all my eggs and feed. Being the loving cowboy he is, DH secured the chickens in the coop first before giving Mr. Opossum his full attention. DH knew which way the varmint went, and he knew what opossums do when they run away: They climb. And one of the great things about iPhones is the flashlight feature. Need a light? You got one in your back pocket! DH used his phone flashlight and quickly spotted Mr. Opossum in the trees.
Varmint vs. .45. Let's just say if you lived in my county, you may have heard a couple of loud gunshots at about 8:00 last Tuesday night. And I have one less critter to deal with.
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