Spring/Summer 2017 Homestead Update: The Poultry

Man, it is taking me a long time to get these updates done!! I plan to do several next week and finish up. Hopefully, I am able to get them all up!

My homesteading adventures in raising chickens

The Poultry: We got chickens (and guineas)! I’ve learned a lot in our little chicken experiment.

We had an existing small building on our property with an attached fenced yard that we are using for our chicken pen. We just added nest boxes and a roost.

First, in February, we got 13 chicks that were just a couple days old (well one of them was a week older than the rest). We got 2 Cochin, 3 Brahma, 3 silver laced Wyandotte, 3 gold laced Wyandotte, and 2 Columbian Wyandotte. I had intended to get all lace winged Wyandotte but the breeder we got them from didn’t have enough so we got the others instead. Unfortunately, 3 died in the first week. One we are pretty sure died because one of my kids dropped it on its head. The other two we don’t know why.

our homesteading adventure updates

I kept the chicks in a large plastic bin with pine shavings in our spare bathroom. I quickly learned that I do NOT like having chicks in the house and the got dust from those shavings EVERYWHERE. I also realized how long it was going to take to get eggs from these chicks and decided I needed some laying hens. So, at the first animal swap at our local Tractor Supply Company in March we picked up 6 laying hens. I also picked up 6 guineas at that swap.

our homesteading adventure updates

The laying hens are Egyptians and Phoenix. These are both ornamental breeds and not really known for great egg production and they are definitely too skinny for meat but they were what was there and a good price so we got them! They lay small to medium eggs. When we first got them, they laid almost every day so we still had pretty good egg production although smaller eggs.

My homesteading adventures in raising chickens My homesteading adventures in raising chickens My homesteading adventures in raising chickens

My brother came to stay with us for a bit and brought his six chickens as well. I’m not sure what breed they are, I believe some sort of laying cross. They are excellent layers and lay medium to large eggs.

We have lost a few chickens from the dog or from them flying out of the pen and not returning and I bought two more silver lace Wyandotte pullets at a recent swap. Currently, we have 7 of the original chicks left (one or two we suspect are roosters), 5 of the six layers we got at the first swap, all 6 of my brother’s chickens, and the 2 we just got.

Our guineas were constantly getting out of the pen and we ended up losing all but one of those to the road, the dog, and unknown causes. Now we have one male guinea, I’m debating keeping him, butchering him, or selling him. He stays in the pen now that he is alone. I would get more for snake and tick control (which is why I got them in the first place) but I don’t want to waste money on them getting killed again. Turns out guineas are about the stupidest animals I’ve ever come in contact with!!

What I’ve learned so far:

  • I need an incubating/brooding area that is NOT in the house before I get any more chicks.
  • Leg bands are a pain in the rear; if I decide I need to keep track of specific birds in the future I will try wing bands in stead.
  • Guineas are really really dumb.
  • I need to fence our property so I can let them range more. At a minimum we will expand the chicken yard, it took all of two days for them to completely remove all of the vegetation in there.
  • Chickens eat a LOT and organic feed is expensive. We are exploring ways to lower our feed costs.
  • Egg production slows down a LOT in the hot weather. I will be exploring ways to freeze or dehydrate eggs for when we have a surplus to offset times when production is slower.
  • To balance the cost of food and egg production it will be important to cull birds who are not producing well and roosters that we don’t need. That makes me sad but I can’t feed a bunch of birds that aren’t doing their jobs.

I’m actually enjoying the poultry more than I expected and would like to add quail, ducks, geese and perhaps other birds eventually. I didn’t think I would like it much and was just motivated by the potential for fresh eggs, but these birds are great! Chickens are surprisingly full of personality.

My homesteading adventures in raising chickens

I’m still waiting for my chicks to start laying, I believe a few may be laying since we are getting some odd eggs. Our overall egg production has plummeted from 11 a day to about 6 a day due to the heat. I’m still trying to decide which chickens I will keep and which I will get rid of or butcher. We ended up with one really nice looking silver laced rooster that will definitely stay. There are a few I don’t like and I’m not sure the original layers are worth their feed at this point so we will likely cull a good bit in the fall. I had originally planned on having only one breed of chicken but I kind of like the way the variety looks in the yard.

I won’t do chicks in a brooder again until I have better facilities for that but I’m considering letting a hen sit on and hatch some later this summer and seeing how that goes. I would definitely like some more Wyandotte hens, but of course at this point, we wouldn’t know what we are going to get with the mix of chickens.

I will put a light on a timer in the coop in the winter and I would love to add an automatic door but not sure that will be in the budget. I’m hoping the hubby will make me some small chicken tractors later this year to use for quail, quarantining new birds, and separating birds I want to use for a breeding program.

I would love to hear from you! Share your experiences with chickens or chicken tips in the comments!!

Click here for the intro post to the Homestead update series which contains links to all posts in the series. 

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