Our Family Farm: A Balance Between Love, Exhaustion & Being Obsessed With Chickens
One day, long ago, my husband asked me what I thought about having pet chickens. I adamantly said, no. Not because I didn’t like the idea, but because I wasn’t sure if my heart could handle a pet that was prey to basically everything, and a whole lot of work.
This was about ten years ago. This feeling was solidified for a short time after my neighbor's very hyper hen wandered into my next-door neighbor’s yard and got stuck in his fenced area. It was a frigid February day and we attempted to catch the spry little thing for hours, going numb from the freezing temps. I had to leave for a bit to run to the grocery store and when I returned a hawk had already gotten to the poor thing. That was it. I was right in my decision.
That didn’t last long. Fast forward to just four years ago. A rooster was surely dumped somewhere near my home and sauntered through my front yard. He did this day after day for over a week. Then I fed him some treats. He kept returning more frequently and just hung out in every spot on my property and made himself at home. Long story short, I adopted the bachelor. He was gorgeous and sweet…and loud. I loved it, but my neighbor across the street most certainly did not. So, I figured I’d quiet him down if I got him a flock of hens. That usually settles males down, right? Wrong, but did you notice the transition? I had officially started my life with chickens and didn’t even realize I went forcefully against my initial decree. I was doing this.
My husband and two girls were supportive and excited about this new venture into chicken ownership. It was just before the pandemic started, but I wasn’t doing it for the hoarding of eggs or because I was stuck at home and bored. I just dove in and never looked back. I recently realized that we have come a long way. The thing is when you have chickens, you need to read, connect with resources and other knowledgeable chicken owners, and basically, figure stuff out on your own. The vet will certainly help if needed, but it’s not like raising a dog or cat. In full transparency, I’ve had to treat vent prolapse, a yeast infection, an egg-bound hen, heat stroke, and even dealt with the pain of liver failure and heart attack in my precious feathered girls. Welcome to the family farm.
In this blog, I want to share some resources that I find helpful; what steps we took to ensure the safety of our birds; my daily routine and how we keep things sustainable whenever possible. My chickens have absolutely become an obsession that makes me happy, but animals in general bring me peace in an otherwise chaotic world. Here goes.
1. Don’t do it alone. Seek answers to all of your questions. You will have about ten daily when you start keeping chickens.
I live on the East End of Long Island. I joined the Facebook Group, Long Island Chicken Keepers when I bought my first 3 pullets. This group has been immensely helpful and responsive.
I like the blog, Backyard Chickens. They have details about everything you could possibly Google.
Take a Chicken 101 Workshop at your local feed store, Cornell Cooperative Extension, or grab a book from Amazon.
2. Create Your Own Fort Knox in the backyard. Remember what I mentioned at the beginning of this article? Chickens are prey to just about everything. The biggest predators are raccoons, foxes, and hawks on Long Island. Sure there are the random cats or dogs you have to be cautious of, but raccoons and hawks seem to be the biggest offenders. The way you set up your coop and run are key to keeping your girls safe.
Note: Even if you’ll free range all day, you can’t leave them vulnerable in their coops at night. I recommend keeping wire (chicken) fence over the rafters, and windows (along with screens), and keeping the latches double-locked with carabiners or latch clips. This will ensure no mistakes.
3. Clean up properly. Keeping the coop and run area clean will help keep predators off their scent, and also keep unwanted critters away. This is key to their health and a constant focused chore.
4. Feeding that makes sense. I used to buy layer pellets, the mini-sized kind. There was a ton of waste. I realized that my girls absolutely love the Layer Crumble. The crumbles are gone from the feeders each day. They are eating them like they’re starved hens, but they are certainly not. I just had to try different things and this was a winner.
I also feed them cracked corn as a part of their daily diet. Their treats consist of fresh herbs (mostly oregano and basil), romaine lettuce, and grains that have mealworms in them (as a very small treat unless is cold outside and they need more protein). The herbs are actually almost medicinal. The qualities they provide to my flock have been extraordinary.
I grow my own herbs and feed them from different planters daily. I also collect leftover foods that are appropriate for my chickens and feed it to them the next morning. These foods would have otherwise been wasted, and they also help the fresh eggs we are eating to taste even better.
5. Have fun. Many of the options that are available are all a matter of preference. Don’t get too stressed. Take it seriously and keep them safe, but enjoy the daily routine. It is super peaceful. Your pet chickens will give you food for your table without having to sacrifice themselves. We can all appreciate that!
It is a lot of work daily, but I always say that physical work is not hard work. It’s good for the soul. The smell of pine shavings in the morning sets my mood right for the day. Yes, at the end of the day when I am exhausted from work and caring for my two girls, feeding our family, and folding laundry, it would be easier to just crash on the couch. However, that trip to the backyard to lock up and say goodnight to my feathered friends is a great bookend to the day.
My family farm is not solely based on my flock of thirteen hens. We have two male cats, Charlie and Binx, who we adopted last summer as a bonded pair. They are the sweetest cats I’ve ever met and they provide great company all day while I work at the computer.
We also have two dogs currently: a Brittany spaniel named Reilly, and a golden retriever
named Dakota. They help with chores and are always ready for cuddles. We have a brand-new puppy coming to our home very soon! (But more on that in another blog.)
I’d like to close this post with a recommendation - one more, I swear.
When it comes to setting up for pet chickens, be ready to:
Never sleep in late again,
Have an open mind,
Prepare for things to sometimes go wrong,
Feed and clean even on Holiday mornings,
Get a lot of belly laughs,
Get a ton of love in return for your efforts!
Please reach out to me anytime if you'd like! My blog email address is: email@example.com.