City Chick goes Country

Homesteading on a 0.18 acre suburban lot in rural Arkansas

Category: Urban Homesteading

In the Garden with Chickens: The Lazy Gardener

I am by nature a lazy gardener. The one garden task that gets neglected more often than not is weeding. I hate weeding. If I could get away with never doing it, I’d be the happiest gardener in the world. But, every year grass and other weeds invade my garden beds. These unwelcome guests must go. I have several choices for weed control; a Weed Dragon, various hoes and cultivators, pulling by hand, and chickens. That’s right—I embrace having chickens in my garden.

 

Chickens in the garden

Chickens are my favorite method of weed control. If you give them some time, they will eliminate all weed, weed seeds, bugs and grubs from the garden bed. Right now, they are working the future tomato bed. I just pulled the garlic and before I plant again, I’ll let the girls have a romp through the garden bed. They will remove any cutworms, weeds, and bugs. As a bonus, their scratching around tills the bed. I am left with the task of planting, adding mulch, and tomato cages. Nothing else needs to be done.

 

My girls need supervision in this particular garden bed. It is outside of the garden area where they are allowed to roam free. If left unsupervised, I would have chickens everywhere. It would not be a good situation. They could get into the neighbors’ backyards. With two hours a day of supervised time, 15 hens stripped the bed clean in two days. They get tasty plants and high quality protein from bugs and grubs. I get a weed and pest free garden bed, healthier eggs, and spend less money on chicken feed.

 

There is a down side to allowing chickens to do your garden bed preparation. Unlike ducks, chickens will devour your favorite plants. According to my chickens, anything green or wiggling through the ground must be eaten. They do not make the distinction between the gardens you want them to be in and the gardens full of your favorite plants and veggies. Chickens prefer the latter. If you want to be able to keep your garden alive and well, a barrier of some form is necessary. I use several different methods with varying success. Expect plant casualties. It is inevitable.

 

— till next time

Lynda

Ten things I wish someone told me about chickens

Experience is what we get when things don’t go as planned. I was raised in one of the largest cities in New York. Growing up, I had a dog and a parakeet for pets. Even cats were foreign to me. This city chick is learning the hard way that raising chickens is not as easy as most backyard chicken blogs make it out to be. Here are ten things that I wish I knew before I bought my first chick.

1) I will never process chickens during the summer again—not ever. The heat and flies were unbearable. Processing chickens will take place in the fall through late spring. I’ll have to plan my egg purchases accordingly.

 

2) Broiler chickens have no tolerance for heat. Temps above 80 really start to stress out the adults. Arkansas heat is too much for them. I will have to make sure that the last broiler adults are processed in late spring and the next set of chicks will have to be ready in early fall.

 

3) Ear color is not an accurate way to determine what color eggs a hen will lay. Both of my white-eared hens lay colored eggs. Chicken books say that white-eared hens usually lay white eggs.

 

4) Australorp and Barred-rock pullets and cockerels can fly. It is not until they reach adulthood does the ability to fly diminish.

 

5) Hens from Easter-egger and other breeds that lay different colored eggs will only lay one color. If you want a basket full of different colored eggs, you need multiple hens.

 

6) Hens will never lay eggs where you want them to. They lay eggs where they want to.

 

7) Never trust an employee from a farm-supply store about the gender of chickens. I purchased 23 pullets. Twelve of them turned out to be cockerels. Next time I will hatch my own eggs. It is cheaper and I’ll get the same gender breakdown.

 

8) If you purchase chicks instead of adult chickens, expect to get some cockerels (young roosters.) If zoning in your area does not allow roosters, this is a problem. Most breeds will start to crow at about 8-10 weeks. You cannot sell roosters, many times you cannot give them away. No one wants roosters. Keep this in mind if you plan to order straight run or hatch eggs.

 

9) Chickens love shiny objects—this includes shiny nail polish. If you love long nails with metallic polish, expect your chickens to come after your fingers.

 

10) Chickens LOVE mealworms. If you ever need to divert your chickens’ attention away from something, mealworms will always work.

Meat and eggs on 1/5 of an acre

Part of homesteading should include producing meat and eggs (unless you are a vegetarian—I’m not.) Attempting to do this on a meager 1/5 acre in a subdivision is not easy. Zoning regulations aside, there is space—or lack thereof—to consider. My family is now eating fresh eggs and semi-free range chicken, courtesy of our little homestead.

 

Eggs

Copyrighted Image.

My new hens are laying beautiful colored eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

My initial goal was to purchase chicks and raise them, with egg production starting toward the end of summer. An opportunity came up for me to buy seven adult hens with unknown egg production. I figured this would fill in the gap between now and when the pullets would start laying. After a quarantine period, we merged the adult hens with the pullets. Egg production started out okay—averaging two eggs per day. My family uses more eggs than that, but it is a start.

 

I was trying to figure out which hens were laying. Three were identified, but I was pretty sure there was a fourth, based on egg color and the time when I found the eggs. On Monday, my hens proved that there are indeed at least four laying hens. It was the first ever four-egg day! My ladies gifted me with eggs in shades of pink, tans, and green. Today was a repeat performance.

 

Egg count from 6/14 to 7/1:   29

Meat

Meat production is something that most chicken blogs do not discuss. Well, this former City Chick raises both laying hens and chickens for meat. Is this cruel? No, my chickens live a good life with access to fresh air, sunshine, supervised free-range time, and healthy food. For years I have been very vocal about how large-scale confined chicken farming is inhumane. I own my home, so it is possible for me to raise chickens for meat.

 

Broilers and dual purpose chickens

Copyrighted image. All rights reserved.

One of our broiler chickens. Copyright 2014 Lynda Altman and City Chick goes Country

 

I started my venture into chicken raising Cornish-cross chicks. This would be the acid test to see if raising chickens was something I wanted to do. After 12 weeks, the birds would be processed and I would know if my venture into chickendom was successful.

 

Turns out, chickens are not that difficult to care for. We built a large chicken run which housed both the broilers and the pullets. Turns out, some of the pullets were cockerels–that’s a problem.

 

After 15 weeks, we processed four, very large broilers. They dressed out between 8.5 and 9 pounds. It is hard to say how much money this saved us. You cannot find chickens that large in the grocery store—especially ones that are semi-free range and free from added hormones and antibiotics.

 

Meat production so far

We have harvested 26 ½ pounds of chicken:

One 9 pound roast chicken.

7 ½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast.

6 pounds of chicken leg quarters.

4 pounds of backs and wings for chicken stock.

 

So far I am pleased with the returns I am getting from my little homestead. My new adult layers are starting to produce better than expected and we are enjoying fresh peas from the garden to eat with our chicken. Soon, there will be squash, sweet potatoes, plenty of tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

The Chicken Tractor

I could not stand having the little pullets indoors anymore. They were getting too big for their tubs. I was changing the shavings out several times a day because they kept knocking over their waterer. Because they were cramped for space, they were very noisy. Time for the to go outdoors but there was one problem…there was no place for them to go. Solution to the problem—a chicken tractor.

The Chicken Tractor

My husband and youngest son created this amazing chicken tractor. They spent the better part of Mother’s Day afternoon building it. It looks great, it’s functional, and it gets those sweet pullets out of my house. Here are some pictures of the pullets in their new home.

City Chick goes Country's chicken tractor.

The pullets really love their new chicken tractor.

 

 

 

 

 

City Chick goes Country's new chicken tractor.

Another view of the pullets in the chicken tractor. It may take them a while to get used to this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Chick goes Country's chicken tractor.

The chicken tractor will be the new home for our pullets until their permanent enclosure is ready.

 

Good thing we bought a tarp to cover the chicks up at night. It’s raining hard—we could see up to four inches before this is over. The chicks have been under the tarp for most of the day.

I was more than ready for those chicks to go outdoors. Finally, I have a normal living room—with 3 college/teenage boys and 4 dogs.

—Lynda; a city chick gone country