For a long time we’ve talked about getting chickens for the farm, and we almost did get some this past spring. The feed store had a nice selection too – Barred Rocks, White Sussex, Rhode Island Reds, and more. But spring and summer went by, and we still had no chickens.
Well, during a routine trip to the feed store this month, we found they had chickens again. “How much are the chickens,” I asked.
“Oh, you get 10 free with the purchase of a 50 pound bag of feed.”
“Ten birds, really?”
The cost of 50 pounds of chicken feed was $16. Wow, what is that, a dollar per bird and 6 dollars for the feed, or 10 cents per bird and 15 dollars for the feed. Who cares – what a deal!
“I’ll take one bag,” I said, thus obtaining 10 chickens and validating “chicken feed” as a metaphor in one transaction. So we took our little birds home, determined to learn how to take care of them, and me imagining a lifetime supply of free eggs! And that is how Operation E&P began.
That’s E&P for ‘egg & poultry’. I have no idea how to determine bird gender, but I have no illusions either. Statistically, half of these fuzzy little peeps will not be equipped to lay eggs, so the future process will have two outputs: eggs, and uh, well…chicken meat. Also, the operating plan is to have between 8 and 10 birds in egg production. However, according to my research, “layers” only have 2-3 really productive years. So eventually, non-productive layers will be re-assigned to the kitchen. That also means we will need to establish a pipeline of new candidates from the feed store to back-fill egg-laying positions as they come available.
However, even before developing this concept of operation we had to figure out how to get these little guys set up with temporary housing, food and water. For housing, I discovered a medium dog crate was just the right size for ten chicks, their feeder and water dispenser. I put them, with crate, into the basement, along with a heat lamp borrowed from the neighbors. Towels draped around the sides protect the chicks from drafts, and keep them from escaping through the bars.
The chicks were probably just a few days old when we brought them home, fuzzy and delicate. After two weeks, they are about the size of fat sparrows, with well-developed feathers on their wings and some on their tails. Sadly, one chick became sick and died in the first week, but the other 9 birds appear quite healthy.
During periodic cage-cleanings, I put the chicks into another container so they are safe & out of the way. They’ve grown too big for the box they came home in, so during the last cage-cleaning I took them outside. They loved it! They’re little grazers…munching clover and picking through the grass for bugs. They also play. One will grab a twig and run with it while others try to take it away.
It will take about 6 months for them to reach egg-laying age. And by that time I should have a coop built, with an attached run. More to come.