Seafarer Mama/Karen and her family are members of an intentional community in Massachusetts and love the company of their neighbors.
Chickens in the Run
Raising Communal Chickens
If you've never considered keeping chickens for the nutritious eggs they lay, it is probably because taking care of them can be lots of work and needs its own budget to maintain. I am sure that I would not have thought of keeping chickens before I moved into a co-housing community where there is a group of neighbors ready to help with the chores. The benefits include sharing the work and the financial burden, having fascinating animals to interact with, and enjoying the most nutritious eggs you can ever eat: straight from the hens!
We started with about 35 hens for our coop. There is an abundance of the white Leghorns, some golden Buff Orpingtons, a few Americunas, brown Brahmins, and Jersey Giants.
As you can see in the pictures provided below, there are many materials for food storage that can be recycled/re-purposed, such as water jugs for the grit and oyster shells, and as scoops for pouring food into the feeders.
Feasting at the Feeder
Food and Feeders
Chickens love to eat all day. Their diet is mainly organic matter, such as most kitchen scraps (greens are safe, as are most fruits). We supplement with food pellets and corn scratch.
They Eat What Bugs You
Chickens will eat the bugs out of your garden beds, or the Japanese beetles off your trees. We usually let them roam free for about half an hour or so right before sundown to give them time to do this before they put themselves to bed. They are less likely to spread out so far as to make us need to chase after them to get them into the coop for the night. Since they are little poop factories, they also fertilize the gardens.
The feeders are giant plastic jugs with openings at the top to pour the food pellets in. The base of the jug has spindly "fingers" that fan out to make small sections in the red "saucer" for individual birds to peck from. This allows a large number to feed at the same time. We have 2 feeders to give them more room. Each morning and evening we fill them up so that the chickens can "graze" throughout the day and they have food to start their day with in the morning.
In the winter, when the temperature dips below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, we put the food in the tray and mix it with hot water to make a mash for them to eat. This helps them keep their bodies at the right temperature, in addition to having a heat lamp in the coop for the times they don't get out for enough daylight exposure.
We usually take a handful of scratch when we want to open the coop or run door to fill waterers or feeders. If we throw toward a distant spot away from where we are entering, the birds will be distracted enough to give us space and not try to escape. This strategy saves much time and energy.
Grit and Oyster Shells
The chickens need grit so that their stomachs can grind down the food they eat into usable nutrients. Grit pebbles are usually grey. They also need (white) oyster shells for calcium, so that the shells of their eggs are thick and strong, and don't crack very easily.
Home Sweet Home
Shelter for Roosting and Nesting Space
The coop that our team built for the chickens was the result of many hours of research and labor. Once a location was found, team members spent time building the foundation, run fence, protective chicken wire run covers, sally port, doors, windows, stairs, nesting bucket rack, roosting bars, and the rigging for hanging the feeders. Last summer, we worked to make and paint the siding for the coop that protects the clapboard inner structure.
There were carpenters and handymen on the team, but most of the team are avid DIYers who love to find the most affordable materials to create a functional home for our chickens to be comfortable living in. A happy hen is an egg-laying hen.
The outside of the coop is insulated, but it also has windows for fresh air circulation. There are doors like the sally port for the chickens to run down, and the door for sweeping out the dirty old hay when mucking out once a week.
The inside of the coop has food and tool storage areas in the front. We use metal trash cans for the food to keep the food fresh after the packaging has been opened, and to keep out foraging critters who may come along at night, such as rats, foxes, raccoons, etc. There is a door with a latch to keep the chickens in their own living room area. That is where they roost for the night, eat, drink, poop, and lay eggs in the hay-lined buckets that are there for them.
It sometimes takes a village to raise a flock of hens for laying eggs. Instead of having to attend to them year-round, we have teams of 2 households per week who split the chores, and the schedule rotates through all of the households involved on the team. In return, there is a rotation that one household has a dozen eggs delivered to them every week or so. The deliverer works down the list until all of the member households are covered.
Below is a table that outlines the chores that need to be completed so that our chickens stay fed with a diverse diet, supplied with fresh water, and given ample opportunity for exercise.
Table of Chicken Chores
|Morning Chores||Evening Chores||Weekly Mucking|
Throw scratch; let down sally port to give chickens access to the run
Give chickens some supervised free range time in the community garden
Clean out waterers with a bleach and water solution, then fill them with fresh water ~ 1 at a time
Fill waterers (fresh every day) and feeders
Throw scratch; fill waterers and feeders
Close up sally port to keep hens in run; open muck-out door
Collect eggs and note amount on record sheet
Collect eggs and note final count for the day
Move feeders and waterers out of the way; Rake out old hay into a wheel barrow and dump onto designated compost area
Clean some of the poop out of the coop (pile outside)
Count chickens to make sure they are all in
Wash out all nesting buckets with bleach-n-water solution and line with fresh hay
Replace hay in nesting buckets when needed
Close and latch sally port, roosting room door, and front doors
Lay down fresh hay; Fill feeders, grit, and oyster shells; put feeders and waterers back in usual places
Bring kitchen scraps to hens as treats
Deliver a dozen eggs to the next member household on the list
Re-open run door and throw scratch
Short Tour of Coop and Run for Free-Range Chickens
Eggs by the Dozen
Nutritious Organic Eggs
Our co-housing community's chicken keeping sub-team has more than 7 members, so it takes more than a week between each dozen eggs that are delivered to us. When we do have fresh eggs to us, we make egg salad, omelets, or scrambled eggs with cheese. Sometimes we fry them. There is a variety of colors and sizes in each dozen that is delivered, and the yolks are big and deep yellow.
Each egg keeper will set up nesting areas for their hens based on the types of materials available to him or her. Our system has a rack full of buckets. The rack was built by a clever team member named Buzz, who also built some of our run fencing.
We have a variety of hens that we keep, so we have a variety of eggs that we collect and eat. The dark hens are usually the "easter-eggers," who lay green or blue eggs. Some of the eggs have twin yolks. Others are white, brown, or tan. All of them are full of protein and flavor and will extend that quality of flavor to the cakes or other foods we make with them.
Chicken Trek: The Next Generation
Aging Chickens and Transitions
This summer our chickens are beginning to slow down their egg production, and their resistance to disease and other ailments has diminished. As a team, we committed to not kill our chickens, so we will send them to a chicken retirement community to live out the rest of their natural lives. This will happen soon since we need to give the coop a deep cleaning before the next generation of chicks moves in.
In the meantime, we anticipated the need for this transition, and our neighbor Cathy has been housing a new generation of chicks. Her creativity resulted in the setup pictured above. She used an old plastic children's playhouse as their main shelter. Over it is a tarp and chicken wire, and chicken wire lines the deck (other team members helped with this). These materials protect them from predators, and from falling to their deaths on the pile of rocks below. They will soon be ready to move into larger quarters, but they look like they feel right at home in the meantime.
Are you a chicken, or what?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2015 Karen A Szklany
Karen A Szklany (author) from New England on July 09, 2015:
Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and votes! And thanks for sharing. Chickens are great company and so entertaining as well as a source of great protein. ~:0)
Essie from Southern California on July 08, 2015:
Delightful read! I grew up on a farm in Missouri, and we had chickens. I remember my father used to crush the egg shells and feed them back to the chickens. The yolks were always a deep, dark, yellow/orange, and, of course, so delicious. We had so many eggs, I took them for granted. I would say the only thing I didn't like was finding old nests in hidden places and only realizing they were there by the smell of rotten eggs.
Interesting article. Voted up and shared to a friend on facebook who is also loves and raises chickens. Good job!
Karen A Szklany (author) from New England on July 02, 2015:
Awwww. So sad that those poor birds caught the flu and were killed.
Yes, we try to baby our hens in the winter with a heat lamp and warm mash. We continue to bring them table scraps, which is great since we usually close off our compost piles for the winter.
Pickled eggs can be yummy. ~:0)
Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on July 02, 2015:
Thanks Seafarer Mama - Karen! Yes we are blessed with a nearby family farm and a small company farm in town (we also have a huge chicken factory that you may have heard in the news recently...they tested positive for avian bird flu and had to destroy thousands of chickens, also they produce an ungodly smell)
As far as chickens not producing, glad to hear your rebuttal! I almost want to say the farmer said it had to do with menstration waves? Interesting that a disturbance in diet or environment could have an effect, I've heard that about the cold.
Thanks again! My favorite are over-medium or pickled!!!
Karen A Szklany (author) from New England on July 01, 2015:
To an extent, we just get used to it.
poetryman6969 on July 01, 2015:
Sounds like an interesting lifestyle. Taking care of livestock seems like a lot of work. I always kind of wondered what they do about the constant poop problem. I see that is part of maintenance and design. I think one of the differences between city folk and country folk may be the tolerance for poop.
Karen A Szklany (author) from New England on July 01, 2015:
Thanks, Ben. Glad you enjoyed this article. I wonder why a group of young, healthy chickens would stop laying eggs unless they are aging or there is a disturbance in their diet...or environment.
I hope that you can convince your wife to keep some chickens some day. Best wishes. I guess that the next best thing in the meantime is to buy fresh eggs from a local farm to eat and bake with. ~:0)
Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on June 30, 2015:
Great read, I have not been able to convince my wife that we should get chickens! It must be a good feeling to eat the bounty you and your community have worked for. I talked to a farmer last week and he told me that sometimes having only a few chickens (my town allows 5 hens no roosters) can be problematic because they will, as a group, stop laying eggs for biological reasons...
Anyway, great read, sounds like a lovely way to live a life!
Karen A Szklany (author) from New England on June 29, 2015:
Hi Dolores ~ Thank you for stopping by and reading. Glad you enjoyed my hub about our co-housing chicken club. So good for you that you have a boss that supplies you with fresh eggs straight from his happy hens. ~:0)
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 29, 2015:
I am kept in fresh eggs by my boss who raises chickens in his large back yard. Those eggs are fantastic, so rich and delicious. And I know the eggs came from happy chickens! I've thought it would be so cool to have a few myself. I love the idea of your cooperative venture!
Karen A Szklany (author) from New England on June 29, 2015:
Thank you for stopping by this hub and sharing your thoughts...and your encouragement. ~:0) We love our feathery friends!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 29, 2015:
You know how I feel about raising these magnificent birds. If I lived in the country I'd have 100 of them instead of our current six. Great information here for anyone interested in this great bird.