When we first started talking about homesteading and becoming self-sufficient, getting a small flock of egg-laying chickens was very high on our wish list. As pets, they’re cute, fluffy and amusing to watch. As farm animals, they provide excellent quality eggs, fertilizer for the garden, and they are an important part of tick control efforts.
Still, as excited as we were to get our first flock of chickens, we weren’t quite expecting to end up with them so soon. We moved onto our property in early November 2016, with the aim of building a chicken coop and run throughout the winter and getting our first chickens in the spring. However, fate intervened, as it so often does, a few weeks after our move. A co-worker of Mr. Fluster who also kept chickens knew of a small laying flock that someone needed to re-home immediately. This incredibly generous, gracious co-worker not only gave us a crash course in raising chickens, but also housed our future flock at their property while we scrambled to get our coop and run ready.
Our original plans entailed building a large chicken coop with an enclosed run close to our house for easy access. As we were now short on time, we decided to try and salvage the chicken run that already existed on the property, which was set off in the woods a bit. Most of the wooden posts were rotten and wobbly, but one end of the run remains sturdy and we were able to salvage a lot of the chicken wire.
We repurposed leftover plywood for the majority of the coop. While building out of wood is not ideal, especially in the Georgia humidity, it should last us a few years. We still intend to build a bigger, better coop and run in the future as we expand our flock. We used tin sheets for the roof and to line the floor of the coop, and threw a tarp over the shortened run to help keep it dry. We have six nesting boxes total, three at each end of the coop. I wish I had taken more pictures of the building process, however I was still busy stapling on chicken wire as Mr. Fluster was driving home with our chickens. We brought the chickens home exactly one month after we closed on our property, so we were a bit overwhelmed at the time!
No fancy livestock hauling equipment is required for moving chickens – a dog crate worked just fine. We gently carried them to their new home and let them get settled. Our original group of chickens were all Barred Plymouth Rock chickens, also known as Barred Rock. They are daily layers of beautiful, big, brown eggs and also make excellent broilers.
The chickens were very skittish at first, which is understandable for such an upheaval. We let them get settled and they remained locked in their coop area for three days. During this time, we gave them fresh food and treats often, to ease the transition. Mealworms and scratch quickly became favorites. We also allowed the dogs to get acclimated to their new friends.
On the fourth day, we let the chickens out of their run in the late afternoon for their first foraging experience on the homestead. The entire Fluster family circled around the chickens to keep them near the coop area as they explored. Letting them out in the late afternoon meant that they soon headed back to their coop area to roost for the evening. This was also an opportunity for us to begin training the dogs to protect the chickens instead of chase them. Gradually, we increased the chickens’ foraging time while under close supervision, and our chickens are now expert foragers and are comfortable around the farm dogs.
We’ve since added to our flock with some Golden Comet chickens, and now we have ten chickens total – Rodney the Roo and his nine girls. Our days begin before daybreak, with the sound of a rooster crowing. We’re fortunate that Rodney the Roo is very gentle and sweet. He’s a big boy now, easily twice the size of some hens. Our chickens lead rich social lives and are always fun to watch, and we’re getting average of 7-9 delicious eggs daily. In coming posts, I’ll talk more about caring for, protecting, and training (yes, training!) your flock; how to keep your farm-fresh eggs fresh, and how to hard-boil them; how to check for a bad egg; and lots more!