It's not something that you do once and then move away from, it's a process that as long as you have access to more information will continue to happen. In the case of us that means if we have access to a library, the internet, or other knowledgeable people. Given that there happen to be an abundance of knowledgeable people, functioning internet for now, and plenty of libraries, I suspect there will be a large number of posts on research.
The First Idea
Let's keep chickens. That would help with ticks and provide eggs.
That was the idea that came to the mind of the lady of the house. We looked at it, and decided this seemed like a good idea. After all, chickens have multiple uses and are supposedly fairly easy to care for. Eggs are good for you, and ticks are a pain in the ass. Beyond that we know people who keep chickens, both in suburbia and in the more rural areas that we've moved out to. Ok, it's definitely functional and probably a good idea, let's look into it.
The Parts of the Process
Ok, what does it take to keep chickens? Let's make an initial list.
Have we missed anything? Sure we have, but that's what research is for. We then proceeded to independently and sharing links and books look into as much information as we could. We also obviously talked to our friends who keep chickens to learn what we could from them, which was a lot. I could list links and books, but honestly this is one of those things where you can enter "Keeping Chickens" as a search term and get hundreds of thousands of hits. Until we've actually kept chickens and I can make a personal recommendation based on what works I'm going to let you do your own research.
Things that are really important that we didn't think about.
Litter: There are two approaches to this, a thin layer that you clean out weekly and a deep layer that you keep putting more on to, and stir up with a gardening claw so by the end of the winter you have compost.
Predators: Man, from the stories I've heard and advice I've read, critters LOVE them some chicken, and can get into amazing places. We've heard so many pieces of advice I'm going to list a few.
* Keep the coop off the ground with a solid floor.
* Use electric fence around any vents and on the door latch to discourage raccoon.
* Raccoons can pull chickens through a hole the size of my fist. That's not terribly big at all, and means that chicken wire is really important, you can't settle for a hurricane fence.
* If you free range (which we intend to) you need something to protect the chickens. If you don't want a Rooster (which we don't) you should have another protection animal. We're thinking Guinea Hens, but are still working on it.
* If you have a small coop and let the chickens out into a yard, bury the fence at least 1 foot down with a 90 degree turn out at the bottom to block digging predators.
Ventilation for the coop: Seems really stupidly obvious given that I've kept birds but bird droppings produce a lot of airborne inhaled particulate and toxins that can produce respiratory ailments in humans and birds both. You need to have a well ventilated coop.
Keeping the coop warm: Which has to be balanced with keeping the coop warm in the winter so the chickens don't freeze to death. The fact that we're not breeding at this point makes it easier, but it is vital.
What kinds of chickens: I have to admit, this one was all me. My lady had this in mind from the start, but I didn't think about what breeds we wanted, I just figured we'd go down to the farm supply and get laying chicks. She's done a lot of research into this to try to learn what breeds are hearty, relatively good at self protection, and lay well. For a starting point check out Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart. http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html
Coop design: This one is a big one that I've been paying attention to, and there are as many coop designs as there are people that keep chickens. That's a slight exaggeration but not by much. I've been focusing on this one, and will discuss the design of a coop later on.
Where are you going to put the coop?: This one is a big one that is going to be addressed in the same post (or series of posts) as coop design.
Electricity and water: Yeah, I forgot this one, do we REALLY want to run a 100 foot underground electric run and hand carry 5 gallon buckets of water to the coop? I'm not particularly a fan of that.
Feed storage: Oh yeah, that's right, you don't want to keep your feed stored in with the chickens, and you want to make sure it's predator secure. Oh, don't forget dry. Also easy to get to. Did you remember that raccoons can lift metal trashcan lids?
Are these going to be organic eggs?: That strongly affects the feed choice.
Free ranging: With predators like fisher cats and sharp shinned hawks in the area, you are going to lose chickens.
Chickens don't like snow: Huh, one of those things that would seem really obvious if you thought about it before hand, but yeah, they don't like snow. It's good to have a covered area for them to get out in during the winter.
The chicks: When you get chickens you can get eggs and pray that they're female, or you can pay extra and get sexed chicks. You also need to bring those up in a dry warm sheltered place.
So once we've gone through all of that we revise our list of things we need to get started with chickens.
A big tub to raise the chicks in
A good site for the coop
A design for the coop that fits our needs and location
Some electric fence (do they have any that's solar powered?)
Decide on types of chickens
Are we really going to free range, if so how many chickens over our initial desire should we get to account for losses?
Are we going to make a fenced in yard area attached to the run? It would be a convenient thing to put a roof over.
Are we going to have organic eggs, we still need to do feed research.
So, as you see, our research has brought us to a list of more decisions to be made, and I think I've found a list of things to blog on for future posts. That said, in the next post I'll discuss how we found something to make our lives even more complex to start, but potentially easier in the long run.
All Photographs Copyright Michelle Vigeant 2011