The $154 Egg: Mistakes to Avoid When Raising Chickens
Moving to The Country
Several years ago, after retirement, I decided to move to the country. For years, I read books about sustainable farming, homesteading, and living off the land. I was a great admirer of those who could make their living from the land and thought the lifestyle sounded very appealing.
I knew I would never be living entirely off the land, but I did want to try my hand at some of the skills I had been reading about for years. Perhaps, I might have a goat or two or raise chickens. Raising chickens seemed like an easy enough task. I could remember my mother raising chickens when I had lived in the country as a child. I had never really been involved in this activity, except to eat the eggs, but how hard could it be?
I began this journey of living in the country by finding and purchasing a little plot of land near where I grew up. Having read a book about contracting your own home, I decided I could do that. How hard could that be?
Sharing The Good Life
I had barely begun this process of contracting my home when I met the man who would eventually come to share my life here. Living in the country was not something he had dreamed about. He wanted a condo in the city where he could spend his days playing golf and not mowing yards or gardening.
Since I was already in the process of building my house, however, he often came to join me here. I must have made it look like a lot of fun because he eventually came here to live permanently.
The house building was actually very successful. There were some stresses along the way, but we learned as we went and still look back on those days as a great adventure. We now have a lovely little house here in the woods of northern Tennessee that we both call home.
Every year we grow a few vegetables, pick wild blackberries in the summer, harvest black walnuts in the fall, and cut some of our firewood for the winter.
A New Adventure
A couple of years back we decided we would also try our hands at raising chickens.
We found a local Mennonite farmer who made portable chicken coops and bought one of those. That was $125.00. Then we needed a feeder, a watering can, and chicken feed, not to mention chickens. Our total was up to $154.00. In order to make this pay we would need to gather many eggs.
But this endeavor was about more than 'making it pay':
- Since we travel often, we don't have pets, except for the wild ones that live in the woods surrounding our home. So having animals to care for would add to our country living experience.
- We sometimes purchase eggs from local farmers. These eggs from free range chickens are always better than those we purchase in stores. It would be rewarding to have these free range eggs at our back door.
- Most importantly, by this time, we had four little granddaughters who often visited. We thought it would be great for them to feed the chickens and gather eggs with us.
Our First Attempt
So we found a neighbor who was selling some pullets, purchased four of them and named them for our four granddaughters. We had a nice little coop for them, and were very pleased that they would go right back to the coop just before dark each day. All we had to do was go out and close up the coop. We were even more pleased to find an egg in the coop one morning.
It was a time for celebration. To make it even more rewarding, our oldest granddaughter, Josie, had come for a visit. She could help us gather eggs each day and learn about the behavior of the chickens. She was very excited. Just what we had planned.
That night Josie came to our room in the middle of the night and woke me up. She was frightened, she said, because she thought she had heard a wolf outside. I went back to her room with her, lay down beside her, and assured her there were no wolves at Grandma's house. She went right back to sleep, but as I was lying there beside her I thought I could hear something outside. I shrugged this off and went back to bed.
The next morning when Josie and Papa John went out to let the chickens out of the coop as usual, they found an empty coop. That night, unfortunately, we had forgotten to go out and close up the coop after the chickens were in, so instead of eggs in the coop they found a few bloody feathers lying around. Nearby, they finally found one very skittish chicken left.
First Lesson Learned
It was a tough day in our chicken story, but a lesson well learned. After we got the one skittish chicken in her coop that night we vowed to never forget to close up the coop again.
A few days later we found two more pullets to add to our flock, and every night we remembered to go out and close up the coop. One morning a couple of weeks later, however, we went out to find the chicken coop empty again. This time it was closed. We had not forgotten to close it up, but instead of chickens we found feathers and bloody debris lying around. Our coop had again been invaded. It was closed but the lids, though quite heavy, did not have any latches, so something had been able to open the coop and kill our chickens. Perhaps a raccoon.
This was the second lesson we learned: Be sure the chicken coop is well secured. Raccoons are very good at opening apparatuses. They had done it a number of times with our garbage cans.
This time they were all gone, and we were through, for the time being, with raising chickens. We put the coop away and said we'd try again later. It was getting a little late in the season to find more chickens to buy, and we were feeling disheartened with the whole endeavor.
We had spent $154 and collected only one egg. Not a very good return for our money. More importantly, however, we had already named the chickens for our granddaughters. It's harder to lose an animal once you've named it--especially after your grandchildren.
Second Lesson Learned
Our second mistake was to assume that a raccoon could not open the chicken coop. Since the raccoons living here on the hill with us (your pet raccoons, John calls them), regularly manage to open garbage cans and compost bins and make off with our suet feeders, we have learned to secure those firmly. We assumed our sturdily built coop did not need further security. We were wrong.
We stored the chicken coop and other equipment away for the time being. That was two years ago. Occasionally, we would discuss whether we wanted to try raising chickens again. We always said we wanted to try it again, but the time never seemed right. Finally this spring we decided it was time.
As we began making plans to once again try our hand at raising chickens, John saw a large coyote in our back yard. We have lived here now for over a decade, but have never seen a coyote. We have heard them at night but not often and weren't even sure it was coyotes we were hearing We have heard other residents complain about them, but it was not an issue that caused us any concern until we began planning to get some more chickens
Nevertheless, we persisted. We cleaned up the coop and added some latches to the closings so that it would be more secure. We bought some feed, and made plans to purchase some pullets from our local Mennonite farmer. It so happened, he had four pullets left. We brought them home, put them in our coop with food and water and closed the latches securely. The next day when we checked on them, we had three eggs.
A few days later, after they were acclimated to the location, we let them out of the coop to roam the yard. They had been raised in a coop at the Mennonite's and kept in our coop for three days after we brought them home, but they took to the free roaming right away. Free range chickens are happy chickens, and ours seemed happy and content. That night they went right back into the coop without any problem, and we closed it securely, being sure to fasten the latches.
Our Third Lesson Learned
For a couple of weeks we gathered eggs (two or three each day), fed and watered the chickens, and let them out to roam. A nice, pleasant addition to our country life.
One morning we let our chickens out of the coop to roam the yard as usual. Later, as we sat eating at our dining room table, John suddenly said, "There he is."
He had spied the coyote again, and we both rushed outside to look for our chickens. We found three of them but never saw any sign of the fourth. She was gone for good.
We rounded up the three remaining chickens, put them in their coop, and sat down to discuss solutions to the coyote problem. After a little research we finally decided to order some electric poultry netting.
While we were waiting for the order to arrive, we kept the three remaining chickens in the coop. This coop is designed to hold four or five chickens, and can easily be moved to a different location each day. John decided, however, that the chickens might be feeling a little cramped and he used some chicken wire we had available to build them a little pen for some additional roaming room each day.
A couple of days later as I was mowing the yard I came across two clumps of feathers in our yard. When I went to check the coop, only one chicken was left.
Our third mistake in this adventure was assuming that coyotes were nocturnal predators. We have learned that, if food is scarce or they have a den with young nearby, the will also appear during daylight hours, especially if there is visible food around.
The one remaining chicken stayed, securely latched, in this coop until our electric poultry netting arrived. It's all installed now, and we're over 200 more dollars into this project. The one remaining chicken quit laying after the invasion of the coyote, so now there's no return for our money.
We've now added two more chicks to her coop. We were concerned about placing much younger chicks in with the more mature chicken, so we kept them separated for several days. They're integrated now, and she likes to nestle with the new chicks under her wings. This is why we have chickens.
The electric fence seems to be working and we've seen no more coyotes. The raccoons still make their nightly visit to try to get into our compost bins or garbage cans and to make off with the woodpecker's suet feeder. But that's all part of country living. So far the electric fence has kept them away from the chickens.