This time of the year I usually get asked about raising our girls? No, I am not talking about daughters, I am talking about our hens. As the grips of winter holds fast, the plotting and planning of spring is about the only thing that keeps some of us going. This will be our fourth spring with chickens. Granted we have had a few chicken debacles… however the girls that we currently have will be two years old this spring. Woot-woot! We kept them alive for two whole years!
The most common question I get asked is, “What is the time commitment?” To that my response is simply, if you have an inside cat, it is about the same or less as that – however there is no snooty cat behavior and just the wonderful glorious eggs on your plate each morning. Honest, We have had our cats for four years this fall and I spend just about the same amount of time taking care of their litter box as I do cleaning and taking care of the chickens, and the chickens earn their keep… well during the summer the cats do to, with their mad mice trapping skills.
Today as I was out cleaning the girls coop I took a few pictures, granted it is not glamorous, there is poop and such, so if that is too much for you please skip! I usually clean the girl’s coop once a week during the winter and every other week during the summer. The reason for the difference is simply that during the summer the girls are only in the coop really to lay, our girls have a roosting bar in their run that they prefer to sleep on during the summer. During the winter they will snuggle in when the temperatures dip much below twenty.
It was one week ago when I cleaned their coop last, today we had some wonderful temperatures in the mid 50’s with a big snow storm on the radar for Sunday and Monday so today I took advantage of the warmer weather and I actually took a bucket of warm sudsy water and scrubbed some of the yuck off of the walls and such. I usually only scrub their coop every two to three months, depending on the need. From beginning to end of all the cleaning out to placing new pine shavings today I spent just about an hour. On a usual clean and relay shavings I am in and out of there in about fifteen minutes.
I usually tend to clean the coop on trash day so that I am not storing the dirty shavings. I prefer to clean the coop in the morning too. For whatever reason our girls are not morning egg layers, they are the kind of girls that get to it whenever they feel like it, which usually is around lunch time, however with that said the minute I go to clean their coop at least one of them comes in thinking that she might want to lay. Today I had to shoo two of them out while I was cleaning, not because they want to lay but just cause they are little busy bodies!
Cleaning the coop is really not that big of a deal. I actually would rather clean the chicken coop than the kitty litter any day! I did mention that during the summer our girls love to roost in their run area and during the summer hubby usually places all our grass clippings in their run. Our girls have a hay day scratching at that. At the end of the summer the chore of clearing all of that out is a big of a pain. I spent a good almost three hours and four very full trash cans to clear it all out – that was not fun! If our run got more sun we could probably leave the clippings in there and let the girls work it into compostable material, but it does not really work well for us.
Other than the coop, I usually get asked about “what is the cost of keeping the girls?” My response to that is, what is the value to you of knowing where your food comes from? We buy our hens through a local feed store in the spring, hens range from $2-6. When you get them they are one day old and require a bit of time, they need to have a heat lamp and their food and water has to be changed every few hours.
Once they are big enough, in our case we usually wait until they are about three of four weeks old we move them to a coop (just the store bought one). We choose to line the bottom of our coop with pine shavings that we purchase from the local feed store, for my big coop I use a little less than half of the bag which costs $5.64 at our feed store. I once tried lining the bottom of our coop with straw and our girls did not like that! So for us pine shavings is what we stick to.
Food for our girls we have chosen to give them laying crumbles, a forty pound bag of that costs me about $14. A bag lasts us just about one month. During the winter months with snow on the ground we do give our girls scratch, a bag of that costs about $16 and it tends to last us two months.
One of the best purchases hubby made for me last winter was a heated water holder. The heated water tank was $50, at first I was in sticker shock, after a really cold snap we had and having to bucket brigade water out to the girls every two hours I was over the sticker price. Granted to have the heated water tank means that you must have electricity out to the coop, being that I am married to an electrician it was no problem.
One thing that I was not prepared for was this fall our girls molted… when they molt they do not lay. I was without fresh eggs for almost five weeks. I actually had to buy a dozen eggs, I was not too pleased. I was tempted to post some chicken shaming pictures – “Here is Little Miss, a free loading good for nothing hen, eating all my food and giving me no eggs”. I refrained but it was oh so tempting.
I will say that once you have fresh eggs from your ladies, everything seems so worth it. The yokes are almost highlighter orange. The whites are firm and clear. If you have any other questions that I did not cover let me know! I can honestly say that having girls is one of my favorite things, I plan to always have hens.
Hope that my information was helpful!