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Getting started with chickens - Ohio Farmgirl

Farmer Liz: Last week I started a series of interviews with bloggers who keep chickens, as a continuation of my series of interviews about getting started with growing your own.  Most of the bloggers from the first series keep chickens too and were keen to join in again.  You will remember Ohio Farmgirl from the last series, she's the one with all the dogs, well turns out she's got lots of chickens too.......

Ohio Farmgirl: Hello, my name is Ohio Farmgirl and I am addicted to chickens..... Ah yes, chickens widely recognized as the “gateway drug” to farming. Sure you start out with just a small coop and a few laying hens in mind and before you know it you have turkeys, ducks, and all kinds of rare breed, designer chickens. It happens to all of us. Without a doubt, chickens are the best part of my farming day. I am completely addicted to chickens.

I live on a small homestead-like farm in the middle of Ohio, USA. Here in The Good Land we have ducks and geese and chickens and turkeys and pigz and dairy goats. We grow a lot of our own food and also feed for our barnyard. We butcher our own meat here on our farm. My blog, Adventures in the Good Land, is about how we are making our way in this world.

FL: How many chickens (and other fowl) do you keep, what breed and what do you use them for (meat, eggs, slug control etc)?

OFG: We have a mixed flock with some pure breeds (Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, and Salmon Faverolles) and then some “mutts” who are decended from these breeds. Mostly we keep them for eggs for us but also the eggs are a key component for our success in raising hogs. The “secondary” benefits – such as bug control, “rooster stew”, and compost are just icing on the cake.

Plus chickens are hilarious. They are always doing something – they are so industrious. I love this poem about hennies, I think it perfectly sums up why I love them. Watching a barnyard full of hens teaches you a lot about life. And you get eggs

In addition to chickens we also have ducks, geese, turkeys, and one last guinea. The ducks are a mixed bag of breeds but I have a special weakness for white duck hens with blue eyes. We don't keep many drakes (male ducks) because they are so delicious – but little white duck hens get a pass and my heart's affection. 

Ducks!
While I love the geese – they do not return my love. In fact, they can be kinda mean. Why do we keep them? They are terrific watch dogs and law mowers. They are winter hardy and basically take care of themselves. What's not to love?

I can talk turkey all day. We started with a small flock of Bourbon Red turkeys (a heritage breed) and they are just terrific. At one point we had 17 young turks thanks to some happy hatches. They are wonderful table birds and just like most of our poultry – they basically take care of themselves. Snow? What snow? Heat? Who cares? Turkeys really are a great addition to any barnyard and the best thing? It is just as much effort to butcher a chicken as a turkey – and you get a lot more meat.

FL: Where did you get your first chickens and how do you now replenish your flock? 

OFG: We ordered our first batch of chicks from a hatchery – we got a mix of breeds because we didn't know which ones were the “best.” Turns out the best kind of chickens is different for everyone. Having a nice mix of chicken breeds helps you figure out what will work for you. For instance, for our climate and our needs a heavy bodied chicken with a short comb who inclines to broodiness and can free range like a pro is our perfect barnyard bird.
making more chickens :)
From time to time we'll pick up a few chicks at our local feedstore but mostly we keep roosters with traits that we like and just let nature take it's course. We always end up with at least one hatch per summer and this works out perfectly for us.

FL: Fixed chicken run or movable pen? Why?

OFG: Our property had an out building that we made into a hen house by framing in two main coops and a couple small “brooders.” Many of the hennies will stay in the goat/hen yard but they are free to range all over the property – we fence them out of the gardens.

We like our barnyard to be raised as naturally as possible so in the morning we fling wide the hen house door and tell those chickens, “Get out there and free range, ladies!” They do very well on bugs and sunshine – with a little supplemental feed from us. 

Turkeys!
FL: How do you integrate your chickens into the rest of your garden/farm? 

OFG: The hens are key to our success. Although we house them separately, the hens and the goats share the same yard. This means the hens eat any wasted hay from the goats and also keep the yard clear of pests. We are able to use very little chemical wormers in our goats because of this – and we don't really have a fly problem.

The goats return the favour by providing some milk for the hens... the hens provide eggs for us and also for feed for pigs... everyone gets treats from the garden - it's a nice little circle. By watching this you can really see how small farms are really efficient.

FL: What is your biggest chicken challenge at the moment?

OFG: Just like everyone who has chickens – we need to watch out for predators. For a while we had a problem with foxes but ...ahem.. that has been resolved. We also have some hawks who've taken a few hens but the goats actually “protect” the hens from the hawks! Anything bigger than chickens – like geese or goats or whatnot will deter hawks from hunting your birds. Of course, we've spent a lot of money fencing out other people's dogs – don't even get me started on that

Geese in the snow
FL: What is the best thing about keeping chickens? 

Everything. I love everything about chickens. I love new chicks peeping up at you from under their momma's wing, I love that my crazy old hen beat a huge rat to death protecting her nest, I love that chickens will hatch ducks or turkeys eggs, I love that they can basically take care of themselves, I love that my favourite little hen would come every morning and “help” me milk the goats by sitting on my lap and softly clucking to me. I love how they will live for 8 or 10 years or more and still be happy every single day to see me coming with a bucket of snacks.
lots of chickens
I love how my hens always come and find me when I'm working in the yard because they know that wherever I'm digging there are going to be worms. I love how when they see me coming for evening chores – half of them run toward the coop because it's time to go in and half of them run away from the coop because they want to stay outside for just a few more minutes.

I love how the meanest roosters make the best stew – Mean Roo Stew we say. I love the 'girl fights', the politics of which rooster gets which hen in his harem, and how no matter how much they fight out in the yard everyone gets along on the coldest winter days when they are all stuck inside.

I love how my oldest hen knows that every morning I will gently lift her down from her perch because jumping down is just too much for her gnarled old feet.

Everything. I just love everything about chickens.

FL: What is your advice to new chicken owners? What do know now that you wish you knew before you got chickens?

OFG: Build a bigger coop. I'm not even kidding – once you've been bitten by the chicken obsession you'll want more.

Oh. And don't be freaked out when you hennies eat mice or lizards or frogs. They are really just little velociraptors.

FL: Anything else we should know?

OFG: Rooster management? As we say around here, “When you start to crow, you got to go!” Extra roosters go to the pot when they either get too mean or get about the right size. Right now we have 4 roosters that all have excellent roo qualities – they are heavy birds who throw beautiful chicks and have good management skills – they take care of the ladies by warning of danger, stand up to predators, find good things to eat and announce it to the flock, and call the girls in when it's time to roost.

But the most important quality? They can't be mean or aggressive toward me. Life is too short for a mean rooster. If any of those barnyard badboys ever flog me their name is immediately changed to “Stew” and they will be sent to glory in a pot of noodles the next time we have butcher day. We don't even feel bad about it.
More geese
Dogs and chickens? Easy – supervise your dog. I feel like I should say more about this but the fact is all dogs are predators and all chickens are prey. When you aren't looking that innocent looking dog wants to kill all your chickens. So keep one or both behind fences and never leave your dog unattended around your poultry.

What else? Crash headlong into other poultry. Geese? Ducks? Sure! How about some guineas! Get some turkeys while you are at it – don't just stop with chickens. I find my poultry obsession a little ironic because I don't even like birds. But here I am – at our peak we probably had about 100 pieces of poultry and I just adore them all.

One thing that we haven't talked about here is raising meat chickens. We could devote an entire post just to raising and butchering “creepy meats.” This is a great project if you are interested in raising your own meat – you don't need a lot of space, you can start small, and the project is scalable. If you “chicken out” and decide you can't butcher yourself you can almost always find someone who will help you or a local poultry processor. We find raising meat chickens to be a great food value and a terrific farm project. 

one last turkey.....
Right now I have a small lot of baby meat chickens in the basement and they will be moved outside into one of the coops tomorrow. By the end of June they should be ready for the BBQ. Meat chickens are completely different then my happy hens out in the yard. They were bred to grow out fast and all they do is eat and poop. But when they are ready they dress out beautifully and we have always had excellent results.

FL: Thanks so much for sharing all that experience with us Ohio Farmgirl, and thanks for all the lovely photos of your flock!  There's plenty more great chicken information on OFG's blog, so head over there to leave a comment or ask a question about this interview, and then check out what else is happening on the farm.  Next week we'll hear from another blogger who keeps chickens.




By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


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