Welcome to my little ol' blog. I'll be upfront about it: I don't blog very often any more. If you found your way here because you read my book "Trailer Life," have a gander! But it's easier to keep up with me on Instagram or on my Facebook page. I have this long, drawn out theory on why I'm a terrible blogger, but that is a story for another day. Enjoy the ramblings of my life from the last 8 years or so.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Raising Chickens, One Perspective

My father-in-law, David, started raising chickens last year. His two and a half acres boasts a fruit orchard in the back, an orange orchard in the front, and a large family vegetable garden on the side. A large coop stocked with chickens seems a perfect fit.
David grew up with chickens, learning about them at a young age from his father. He went many years without having them himself, but when he noticed a large infestation of fruit beetle in his fruit trees, he looked into alternative pesticides.
 "I didn't want to use chemicals to keep the fruit beetle out of my peach trees. Chickens eat the larvae of the beetle. They can actually hear the larvae underground and will scratch them up and eat them. I haven't had one beetle this year."

To Begin

David started with lots of research. He had a knowledge base from his childhood experience, but he didn't rely only on that. He also read a lot. He especially read up on the different breeds, and which breeds would fit a good fit for his wants. He recommends one book in particular as being an indispensable resource: Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.

The Coop

Building his own coop was a fun project for David. The coop features three different sections, with only two housing chickens. His coop is quite large, measuring 12x32 feet. His pen is large enough to house 250 free range birds. He the feeder hanging from a rafter because this keeps the chicken food cleaner, and it deters any mice from having a free buffet. The chickens have an automatic water system. This allows David the freedom of watering everyday, conserves water, and also provides the chickens a fresh supply of water.He installed roosting bars and nesting boxes (built by himself, of course!).

The Birds

David initially ordered 62 birds. When ordering chickens, you can order a "straight run," which is mixed with pullets and roosters, or only pullets, which have been sexed and will yield only chickens. These will cost slightly more, but are a good buy if you are not interested in roosters. After researching the many available breeds, he ended up ordering a straight run of 25 Rhode Island Reds, a straight run of 25 Barred Rocks (also known as Plymouth Rocks), six Black Australorps (all pullets), and six Buff Orpingtons (again, all pullets). He ordered so many because he had the room, and because he wanted to have enough eggs to have a surplus.

Ordering Chickens

Murray McMurray Hatchery is one place you can order chickens. They have been in business for over 90 years, and according to David, have excellent customer service. "They are really nice on the phone, and the shipping was really fast. They shipped my order on a Saturday, and the post office called me on Monday morning. They were all healthy when they arrived, and they even put in extra ones to make up for any that might have died. I think I ended up with more live birds than I had ordered."


With his bird population at 35 (gave away some Roosters, and had one incident with a predator getting into the coop), he reports the birds consume a 40# bag of feed every five days in the summer, and about every three days during the winter. He and his wife Cherie do feed the chickens table scraps, but sacks of feed make up the bulk of their food. They let the chickens out daily to roam around the property, where the chickens free range.


In the warmer months, David was averaging 27 eggs a day, often more. In the colder months, he has been averaging about 16 eggs a day.  Putting wooden eggs in the nesting boxes encourages the hens to nest in a certain spot, so you are not picking eggs up off the ground. Hens tend to lay more with a rooster around. Literature says that an ideal rooster to hen ratio is 1:8, but from practical experience, David prefers a ratio of 1 rooster for every 10-11 hens. He noticed less fighting amongst the roosters with the higher ratio.

Advice for Beginners

David advises those thinking about getting chickens to make sure you have your feed container, water, and pens finished and ready before you get your chicks. "Know what you are going to do with the manure. If you free range for a long period of time, the chickens get into mischief. Roosters may attack small children. Read as much as you can before you start." When asked what his favorite thing about having chickens is, he says, "It's fun to watch the chickens. I love that they get the bugs. I like to see the kids coming over to see the chickens. My favorite thing is teaching the kids about the chickens."

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