An Introduction to Working Chickens
We’ve put our chickens to work…
When it comes to keeping chickens, you’ll hear all about how they eat things they aren’t supposed to and that they poop a lot! It’s true, and it can be very frustrating. Here at Haven Homestead, we’ve experienced several iterations of chicken habitat and systems. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from each period. The main lesson we have learned is that you need to put your chickens to work!
During our free-range period, we learned that chickens will roost and poop wherever the heck they want to. It makes a huge mess. I had to fence off my front porch at one point so that they would stop pooping in my shoes! They also have favorite plants, and they will eat them into nothing-ness. Our one and only blueberry plant (at the time) was picked clean almost as soon as it leafed out, but they wouldn’t touch the dang ferns and blackberries that abound in our wee forest.
During our chicken-tractor days, we learned that they will roost in (and poop in) the nesting boxes. That required almost daily cleaning of the nesting boxes. Plus, we had too many birds in that tractor, so it needed to be moved twice a day. That was a lot of work, and a lot of money spent on nesting material. The work we put into the tractor did not equal the amount of work we got out of our chickens.
The hens needed to be put to work, or else we were going to be worked to the bone. In the past two and a half years, we have tried about four different housing and run methods, including free ranging. We are still experimenting and growing.
As of now, we are implementing a paddock system with ample forage planted in and around the paddocks, and we free-range the birds on the weekends or whenever else we feel like it. We also feed them kitchen scraps, and they help us clean the garden out at the end of the growing season. We’ve designed our coop so that the poop cleaning is minimal and easy!
It’s been a little while since we’ve changed things around on our hens, but we have some plans to update our paddocks and possibly rebuild our coop. As we continue with our experiments, we keep making things better for us and for our flock. Here are some things that we keep in mind as we adapt:
1. Really low cost feeding. We don’t make a lot of money, and the point of having chickens is so we can save money on eggs and gardening. It doesn’t make sense to spend more on chicken feed than we would otherwise, so we have to make our hens work on a budget.
2. Just the right amount of work. Let’s face it, keeping animals of any sort is hard work. There are, however, some hacks or designs that will enable you to put your hens to work, so you don’t have to work so hard!
3. The poop is where it should be. We don’t like dealing with poop. It stinks, it’s messy, and nobody enjoys mucking out nesting boxes on a daily basis. Again, some thoughtful preparation here helps in making this a breeze.
You can put your chickens to work, too!
I’ve put together a series of posts where I will share the things we’ve learned about chickens and flock management so you can put your hens to work, too. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. As I mentioned before, we are still experimenting with things, and I could use your input!
Keep your eyes peeled for the rest of the posts in this series. I’ll cover:
• Numbers Matter
• Planting Forage
• Creating Paddocks
• Deep Mulch Runs
• Designing Roosts, Coops, and Nesting Boxes
• Water, Dust Baths, Grit and Other Necessities
• Using Chickens to Compost, Till and Fertilize
Read this editor’s letter about her new chickens and their lively personalities.
Backyard Chicken Tools
What tools do you need to raise and process meat chickens? Killing cones are humane, and promote a complete bleed, scalding tanks, plucking machines facilitate easy feather removal.
Integrating Chickens, Dogs and Cats
Introducing the pets to the chickens has been a little more challenging than originally anticipated.