Monday, March 2, 2009

It's Chicken Week!

This week is chicken week. I’ve been waiting to write about keeping chickens and organic eggs because I have too much to say and this blog is called kid-friendly organic life and not kid-friendly organic life with chickens. My hens (and those pesky roosters) are teaching me many things about chicken keeping, eggs, children, and life. So this week I’m going to post a whole bunch of information and some reflections on chickens. I’ll start with the scoop on keeping chickens. It’s really very simple, and in my opinion, much easier and certainly more profitable than keeping hamsters.

Keeping chickens is not difficult. If you have enough property, I encourage you to try it out. Even if you don't have much property I still encourage you to try it out. I know people who keep chickens in small pens in the city or even fancy neighborhoods. If you really want to do it, check your neighborhood code and find out what kinds of pets are legal. Chances are you can keep a chicken. They don’t require a ton of space and unless you have a rooster they don’t make much noise.

My husband jokes that the first egg we collected cost about $250 and each egg thereafter has been a little less expensive. Here is our breakdown:

Wood for hen house (we used lots of old junk lumber we had laying around plus an antique door my neighbor was throwing out) $75
Fencing (we use chicken wire stapled partly to some other fencing and partly hung on metal electric fence posts) $50
Electric water heater $60
Feeders $25
Peeps (1 day old chicks) $54 ($3 x 18)

Feeding the chickens costs a little more in the spring and summer when they are confined to their pen for 23 hours a day. We raised 18 peeps in three months on less than 2 bags of chick feed (the kind with no antibiotics added). Chicken feed costs $13 for a 50 pound bag. We use 2 bags a month when they are in the pen and less than a bag a month when they are being free ranged. We also feed them lots of table scraps. They love bread crusts, leftover pasta, cereal, snack food, cheese, eggs, old fruit, lettuce, and especially popcorn. If you’ve got kids in the house, you’ve got plenty of chicken feed leftover after every meal. Sometimes I buy the hens some bird seed as a special treat – they love the black oil sunflower seeds and will become ferocious in their battles to get to them.

Now here’s the best part. Most good laying hens lay an egg every day. At this point we give away all our extras, but I can see the wheels turning in my entrepreneur daughter and chief chicken keeper. I’ve been told by other chicken-keepers that fresh eggs that have just been collected will keep for three weeks at room temperature. We refrigerate ours immediately and they are good for at least 3 months. I mark the full containers with the date they were collected. Chickens will not lay as much in the winter. We had been led to believe they would not lay at all and so stockpiled nearly 14 dozen eggs, but our chickens never stopped. They did slow down to about ½ their rate, but that is still at least 6 every day. I’ve been told that you can also freeze eggs. We haven’t resorted to that yet, our freezer is pretty spoken for. I have cracked a frozen egg on an especially cold day and it looks really cool but cooks up just like an unfrozen one.

Fresh organic, free ranged eggs can cost up to $4.50 a dozen. My hens are already coming close to earning their keep and somewhere down the line they should be profitable too. But for now, just having them around for entertainment and enlightenment is good enough for me.

If you have specific questions about setting up your own chicken operation, please let me know. I’d be happy to answer what I can and/or get answers for you from the “chicken lady” who lives down the street. She knows everything about chickens and has fielded my stupidest questions with incredible kindness.

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