Chicken people love to talk. They especially love to talk with other chicken people–swapping stories, tips and ideas.
I recently met (virtually!) chicken person and blogger Lisa S. blogs over at Fresh Eggs Daily. She’s my guest today here at Eggs & Chickens.
Lisa grew up in rural central Massachusetts but now calls southeast Virginia home. She lives on a six-acre farm with her husband, cat, German shepherd puppy, horse, ducks and chickens.
In 2009 she launched into her chicken adventures following a high-living life in the Big Apple. She is now the custodian of 20 laying hens and five ducks in a rainbow of breeds: Rhode Island Reds, Buff, Australorps, Cuckoo Marans, Black Copper Marans, Ameraucanas, Easter Eggers, Buff Brahmas, Andalusians, Faverolles and Cochins. It is spring, so she also has nine more in the incubator: Blue Copper Marans, Olive Egger, Welsummer, Blue Ameraucana, Black Copper Marans and Light Sussex.
Here’s a little of the chicken people give-and-take.
Robin: What kind of homework did you do before taking the chicken plunge?
Lisa: I grew up across the street from my grandparents’ chicken farm. They raised chickens for meat and eggs to support their family right up through the 1970s. We also raised chickens for awhile when I was growing up so when my husband retired from the Navy and we moved out to the country (we had a horse that we wanted to be able to keep on our property instead of boarding), and a friend mentioned he raised chickens, all of a sudden it seemed like a good idea. I admit I didn’t do much ‘research,’ figuring I already had experience.
I did research coops though, since we had a barn they lived in when I was young, so I knew nothing about chicken coops. I ended up building my own, using the features I liked best out of all the coops I looked at.
Robin: What was the biggest surprise about keeping chickens?
Lisa: How different raising chickens (and chicks) is when YOU’RE the person actually in charge of them! Much different than being a kid and just holding the cute chicks, or collecting eggs (a chore my brother and I initially loved and then quickly grew tired of). I also didn’t realize how affectionate and friendly they can be. We had mean chickens as kids, although looking back they were probably broody and just didn’t want us taking their eggs! After realizing that I did have alot to learn, I think I read every book that Amazon and Barnes & Noble carry on raising chickens. Call it a crash course, at first barely staying one step ahead of our growing chicks!
Robin: One of the first questions people always ask me is, “Do you eat them?” Well?
Lisa: No, we don’t eat our chickens. That was never part of the plan and I could no sooner eat one of our ‘girls’ as I could eat our cat or our dog. They are pets/family members AND the only pets of ours that actually product something !
Robin: How many eggs do you get a day? What do you do with all those eggs?
Lisa: We are now getting between 14-20 eggs a day plus 4 duck eggs. I tried putting up flyers at the feed store and post office trying to sell our extra eggs. I started at $3.50/dozen, ended up lowering the price down to $2/dozen, still no takers…then someone suggested I blow them out and sell them on eBay, so that’s what I do. Both the colored eggs and duck eggs sell extremely well–for alot more than $2 a dozen AND we get to keep the good part! I scramble up the blownout insides and feed them back to the chickens alot of the time.
Robin: It seems every chicken keeper has great stories. What is your favorite chicken story?
Lisa: Wow. Chickens are so funny it’s hard to pick just one but I guess one of the funniest is in one of our first batches of chicks we had a white Ameraucana chick with an attitude. When I would put my hand in the brooder to change the water or feed, all the other chicks would run to the opposite side of the brooder, but this one chick would run up and, honest to goodness, jump up and karate kick my hand! No kidding. A full one two legged kick ! We of course we named her Bruce Lee. My husband didn’t believe me until one night I got home late so he had to feed the chicks and she did the same to him. She finally grew out of it and became a wonderful friendly hen (we were worried she was a rooster honestly), but she sure was our one ‘chick with attitude.’
Robin: Do you allow your chickens to free-range in the yard?
Lisa: I don’t allow my chickens to free range. I wish I could because we have a beautiful pasture area, but I tried that for about a year and realized it wasn’t worth the risk. After two hawk attacks (fortunately the first time, my Buff was too heavy for the hawk to carry off so he carried her across the yard and then dropped her–she was fine–and the second time our dog and I were outside on the back patio and ran screaming and barking at the hawk and managed to scare it off before any major damage was done to our hen, although she did limp for quite some time afterwards) and the fact that we back up to woods and have seen both foxes and possums, as well as neighbor’s hunting dogs running free during the day, our hens are kept in a enclosed run.
Their run is a huge 1600 square feet and has trees, bushes and branch perches in it. There are sunny areas, shady areas, some grass that I replant each year, some dirt and dust bath areas. A large run is so important if you don’t free range to avoid disease, pecking and other behavior issues. I do let them out of the run many evenings about an hour before dusk and let them roam around the pasture under my watchful eye. They enjoy it, it gives them a change of scenery and I enjoy my time out there with them.
Robin: Do you have any tips for socializing chickens? Or teaching them tricks?
Lisa: I have raised all but three of our chickens from day old chicks. The other three I bought as three-month old pullets from a local breeder. I notice a distinct difference between them and those I hand raised. I encourage everyone to buy all their flock additions as chicks. Not only is there less risk of introducing diseases to your flock, by handling and interacting with the chicks, I feel you end up with MUCH friendlier, more affectionate and tame chickens.
I haven’t taught mine any tricks. I do believe that they do start to recognize their individual names if you use them enough though.
Robin: Rooster or no rooster? And why?
We don’t have a rooster. When you buy chicks there is always a chance that you will end up with a rooster or two. We have had three over the years. They stayed as long as they behaved. But as soon as that testosterone kicks in, roosters become aggressive, start crowing, start mating like crazy, tearing into the hens. The anxiety level in the run was palpable. We re-homed the roosters to a nearby farm. I am perfectly content continuing to buy new chicks when I want to add to our flock. Also, if you don’t want to end up with alot of mixed breed hens, you really need to separate the rooster with hens of the same breed, and that means more work and effort, so no, no roosters.
Robin: Why did you decide to start a blog? Who are you trying to reach with it?
Lisa: I started my Facebook page in January 2011, mainly to separate my chicken posts which were starting to dominate my personal page–and none of my ‘regular’ friends raise chickens so their interest level just wasn’t there. Well, I had no idea the interest there would be in my page which has swelled to more than 4,000 fans in just over a year. It’s been a great way to spread the enthusiasm about backyard chickens and offer advice and encouragement to a large number of people at one time. The problem with Facebook is that once something is posted, it is really hard to recall or find again days or even months later. I kept being asked the same questions, about raising chicks, broody hens, healthy treats, etc. and so I started the blog this past January, mainly as a way to categorize and organize information. The blog format is a wonderful ‘sister’ to a Facebook page since fans can search by topic, month or key word to find information and I can attach links to my blog posts instead of retyping responses to questions.
I find that my page is a bit different than others. I don’t focus solely on health issues, keeping them safe or just basic chicken care–although we do discuss all those topics. I have taken it one step further and talk about putting herbs in nesting boxes to encourage laying, reduce stress, act as natural wormers and pest deterrents. I hung curtains over my boxes (because they look cute !) but also to discourage egg eating and encourage laying. I have written blog posts about which weeds are good for chickens, and how to freeze excess eggs. I set up nesting baskets and tie pretty bows on them, and I have even posted a recipe for making bread for your chickens. I try to be unique and original–and people seem to be responding !
I guess I am trying to reach an audience who views their chickens as pets. Who name them, want to give them fun treats, build them a cute, functional coop. Just really enjoy the whole experience. After all, the more welcoming your coop and run area are, the more time you will want to spend with your chickens… and that benefits you both.