A new flock!

It’s been hard to sit and write lately because there are so many pressing things going on. I work very full days, I volunteer once or twice a month, I grow and cook food, and I have a house and yard to keep up by myself.

But as busy as my outside-of-work commitments make me, I really love them. One “hobby” that I’ve really missed over the past several months is keeping chickens. Last fall I decided to take a break from having a home flock. It was nice having time to reassess my coop and run set up, and to make some much-needed changes to it. It was also a good winter to take a break from tending a flock; I don’t know how I would have been able to tend to the hens in their Eglu coops when the blizzard rolled through this year. But I missed the amusing antics of chickens in the yard, not to mention the high quality eggs.

Here I’ll confess something that may shock the more frugal folks who occasionally read this blog: when I buy eggs, I typically pay nearly $7 a dozen. Really. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get some eggs for less than that at the farmers market, but I haven’t been making it to the markets very often this year due to my other commitments (work, volunteering, etc.). So when I have to buy eggs at a store, I buy them at Whole Foods where I can get a brand called Vital Farms. These are the closest thing to backyard eggs I’ve found at a major grocery store and I will gladly pay the extra money for many reasons.

I first became interested in keeping hens because of their usefulness to my first big hobby: gardening. They eat weeds and bugs, and they produce excellent fertilizer for the garden in return. Oh, and they give you tasty eggs. Win/win/win! But to me there are also ethical reasons for not buying standard store eggs. The hens that lay those cheap eggs are treated horribly, and the eggs themselves are bland and tasteless. Once I got my first hens, I also found out how fun they are. They have distinct personalities and are amusing and calming to watch.

So that’s what I was doing tonight after I stopped working, and just before the sun set: relaxing by watching my new flock of little hens. I opened up their coop door to let them roam the big yard and watched them busily scratch, peck, stretch their wings, and explore, all while making soothing peeps and clucks.

Below are the oldest of the little hens.

Honey, the mystery pullet

Honey, the mystery pullet

Honey is about five weeks old and is my favorite. She was an “impulse buy” because I hadn’t planned on getting six chickens, but she was cute and lonely sitting by herself at the store. She was obviously hand raised as a pet because she likes to sit on my arm and be held. Technically I didn’t buy her, and the store owner gave her to me since she knew I’d provide Honey a good home. But she still was a big impulse acquisition and so far I’m glad I gave in.

Emma and Jane, Speckled Sussex pullets

Emma and Jane, Speckled Sussex pullets

Emma is in the foreground and Jane is in the background. Both are a breed originally from England called Speckled Sussex, so they’re named after Jane Austen characters. They’re about eight weeks old now. Emma is the bossiest and I think she has established herself as top of the pecking order for now. She isn’t really red; that’s just the way the light was striking her feathers at the time.

Jane, a Speckled Sussex pullet

Jane, a Speckled Sussex pullet

Here’s another photo of Jane. It’s very hard to take photos of chickens since they are almost constantly moving. This was a rare time when she was standing still for a few seconds.

In addition to these lovely young hens, I have three more chicks that are about one week old living in a brooder set up in my basement. No photos of them yet, but I’m sure to get some soon.

For now the pullets are outside in my one remaining Eglu coop, which is plenty large enough for such small chickens. By winter I’ll have everyone snug in the new coop, which is nearly ready for them. All that remains to do is installing the raccoon-proof locks (slide bolts with padlocks! Yes, those ‘coons are smart little beasts!)

My new chicken coop

My new chicken coop

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12 thoughts on “A new flock!

    • If you can spare some time on Sunday, September 25 you should come by for the Windy City Coop Tour. There will be nearly 25 coops to see this year in Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park, and Brookfield. Several are in your area, too!

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  1. My youngest son was out at my sister’s place tending her 300 or so birds for a bit this summer. He loves them. Agreed on the factory farming. After growing up on a “free range” kind of farm for all of the animals, working for a big agri-business and touring the big feedlots, hog barns and chicken pens was a rude awakening to me. Not enough to turn me vegetarian, but enough to change my protein buying habits.

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  2. Wow..what a gorgeous coop. It looks like art. I want babci to have chickens so badly but my husband really doesn’t want anything to do with them. Me and the kids would love a few chooks at babci’s house. He thinks the neighbors are too close and would bug them.

    You made me want them so bad again..especially now that it looks so nice and neat. What do you do in the winter? Is there a heater in there? How do you keep their water from freezing?

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    • Thanks, Sandy! I didn’t build the coop myself, but I know the carpenter used a lot of repurposed materials and leftovers from other projects. That’s one of the things that I really liked about it. The chickens will be fine in the winter. I’ve kept chickens in outdoor, unheated coops through three Chicago winters and they’ve done fine even on bitter cold nights and days. They tend to eat more during the winter because they need to keep their metabolisms revved up, though. I’ve used several different techniques for keeping their water from freezing, depending on the type of water container used: an immersible bird bath heater, a heated dog bowl, and heated rabbit water bottles. (This last one is what I’m going to use this year; I have to get the chickens trained to drink from the bottle, first, though.) I have a protected power outlet on the outside of the garage (the outlet has this plastic cover that allows for a cord to come out the bottom) and I run an outdoor-rated extension cord to the coop. I also have a cord lock that protects the connection for between the device and the extension cord from getting wet. Noisy hens are rare, and roosters aren’t required if you just want eggs for eating. Get some chickens; they’re easy! I have a page full of info on keeping chickens in the city on my blog that has more recommendations.

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  3. Pingback: Random Travel Notes about Italy, and Random Links | 101 Centavos

  4. I have to say, that’s a lovely chicken coop. Will you let them graze free during the day? Perhaps you need a watch lama.

    My neighbor used to give me eggs from his chickens but told me he recently had to kill them becus they got infested with mites and apparently nothing was to be done about it. So much for their experiment with keeping chickens.

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  6. What a nice coop! Was it expensive to build and what size is it? I have a coop, but not totally satisfied with it. I would like to make some adjustments.

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