We’ve been having a lot of fun raising chickens for the past six months.
When the concept of raising chickens first came up, the discussion developed into how many, where they would live, and why we would even have them. Aside from collecting eggs, there seemed to be this sense of us being Pioneers. Were we ready to tame the land and what about the stigmas that had been associated with having chickens? The myth was that you had to live on a farm to be a chicken farmer. You needed a lot of acreage and only large-scale farmsteads raised chickens. Nowadays, many people raise chickens on a much smaller scale, proving that a local chicken farmer can be productive. So we decided to start a small chicken farm ourselves. Read on to learn more about our four chickens, their personalities and their names.
When we purchased our house in Spartanburg, we were surprised to learn that the previous owner, who claimed to have been an animal lover, decided to leave her cat behind. The cat came and went as she liked, but we would set out a bowl of food for her on a regular basis. Neither of us is fond of having an indoor cat so she remained an outdoor pet. I did build her a ‘Cat House’ so that she wasn’t completely left out in the cold.
We also had a dog previously and we were entertaining the thought of finding a new one. Lily had become attached to my parents while we were caretakers and the thought of separating them was not really on the table for discussion. Visiting dog shelters proved to be difficult during the Covid-19 pandemic and there always seemed to be an excuse as to why it wasn’t a good time for us to get another dog.
Finding Our Four Special Chicks
Earlier this spring our local Tractor Supply store had taken on a petting zoo feel. Both young and old were hovering over the newly arrived chicks. Huddled together under their heat lamps these little fluffy creatures were the main attraction. Separated by type into different holding tanks, you got to see them in various stages.
One tank showed them all sleeping, the next tank they were all eating, a third tank had them cheeping into a crazy cacophony of different pitches and heightened urgency. It was a lot to take in, but we zoned in on a particular breed right away and opted for the brown laying hens. Here is where we learned the difference between Pullets and Straight Run chickens. As it was explained to us, the pullets were the separated female chicks that would grow up to lay eggs. Yeah! Go us. The straight run chickens were a mixed bag, and you could get either all male or all female chickens. Ideally you would end up with a nice even split.
Necessitates To Become A Chicken Farmer
Once we had our four special chickens packaged into what comically looked like something short of a KFC ‘to go’ box we proceeded to collect the necessary items that would be needed to raise them. This is something we really hadn’t prepared for or given much fore thought into. It would have been more productive to have a list of items that was needed, rather than trying to figure all this out as we went along the aisles.
I was impulsive and soon the shopping cart looked like some eclectic collection, from chicken necessities like feed and a heat lamp to chicken memorabilia. Included was metal chicken signage to help accentuate the future chicken coop. Just in case somebody missed the memo as to what the structure was going to be intended for.
Silke had been carrying the chicks around this whole time and they went ahead and fell asleep. It felt like they had been in the little box too long already. All we wanted to do now was to get home and let them out. The pickup was loaded, my wallet was lighter, and we were all crammed into the front seat bringing our newly adopted chick’s home.
Making A Brooder From Spare Parts
I went up into the attic to get one of the large plastic storage totes that we had used in our move. It was the right height and was sturdy enough to clamp the heat lamp light onto its side. We lined the bottom with a paper bag and bedded the brooder down with wood shavings. We also set up the chicks water and feed trays, using a shallow bowl and a converted humming bird feeder to start with. They explored for a little while and then eventually found a nesting spot near the light to fall asleep.
The baby chicks didn’t make much noise at first, so we always found ourselves checking on them just to make sure they were all right.
It was always strange to expect to find them sleeping, but instead the chicks would be exploring the four corners of the tote or standing around the water tray looking around.
Four Little Chicks For Our Chicken Farm
Three of the chickens looked the same to me while the lighter one stood out. Calling this one Blondie seemed a little too much, and how it ever became decided that all their names should begin with the letter ‘L’ is still a mystery to me. Nevertheless, we proceeded to name them:
- LuLu (a.k.a. Blondie)
- Loren and
This was a defining moment because once we named them, they simply transcended from being ordinary yard animals to being personal pets. Keeping an eye on them really wasn’t necessary at this point. I had a new sense of purpose and duty. It was time to build these chicks a real chicken coop to call home. Check out this multi-level fir wood chicken coop with a nesting box and ramp.
Play time with little Libby
Building Our Own Chicken Coop
The previous year we had built our own shed in the back yard. Leaving a fair amount of space to get around it at the time made sense, but little did I know that it would translate into being a buffer from the elements for a chicken coop. There were some left over materials that I could use and I looked up some layout and designs for chicken coops on-line.
I can say today that building the coop verses purchasing one was one of the smartest decisions I ever made regarding raising chickens.
The big box stores have some fancy coops that look like they could be photographed for a Farm and Country magazine. None of these houses were practical from the standpoint of how big our chickens would get. The craftsmanship that went into these pre-built coops was anything other than less then spectacular.
I followed the coop blueprints that were found online rather loosely and improvised where I needed. All of the videos and camera shots that accompanied these instructions had the benefit of working on a flat area. Our back yard slopes quite a bit from the back of our house to the edge of the woods. These were the same issues that we had while building the storage shed so I was prepared for this. I was also working with a much smaller area, so it really didn’t take too much to level the house out. With the previously collected materials I was able to put together a chicken coop that was way more substantial than anything I could have ordered on-line.
In the small amount of time that the chickens were with us in the house it seemed as though every week brought about new challenges.
DIY Projects For The Chickens
It didn’t take long, and it became apparent that the chicks liked to stand in the very food they would be eating. I built a small little feeder with separate holes so they could be a little more contained when it came to feeding time. The feeder soon became the roosting area, and this soon led to the food being dumped on. Ugh, children! We recorded a video on How To Make A DIY Chick Feeder in under 10 minutes.
With all four of them weighing in on a roosting spot it wasn’t really that uncommon to find the water dish tipped over. Once again, it was time for yet another DIY upgrade. We were able to convert an old hummingbird feeder into a chicken waterer. The bases were the same size, and we simply placed the waterer base on it and attached a tie string to the top so it couldn’t tip it over. Problem solved!
Everything was good for awhile until the morning I came out into the living room only to see that Liza was perched on top of the tote quietly waiting for me. The thought of them running around the house was way too much. It was time to transition the girls outside.
Transitioning From The Brooder To The Coop
- Priority #1 – Security For The Chickens
When I had built the chicken coop, we were mindful of the woods that ran along the back of our property. I have a trail camera set up in the woods and over time it has confirmed what I always thought to be true. Foxes, coyotes, and owls all reside in this area and having four chicks sitting in a pen would have looked like happy hour at the ‘All you can Eat’ buffet in town.
Not only did I attach the screen mesh to the sides, reinforced that with strips of wood, but I also ran the mesh across the whole bottom of the chicken coop. This mesh was buried with a good layer of dirt but if anything tried to dig its way up and under the fence they wouldn’t get very far.
There is no electricity out to the coop or its neighboring shed. We had transitioned into summer at this point so we felt confident that they wouldn’t get cold while staying out overnight. I bedded down the top floor heavily with wood shavings and showed them around their new pad.
One thing that we noticed was that the chickens always stayed together.
If they were going to be upstairs, then they were all upstairs. That first night that they were out in coop alone I must admit that I was a little worried. It was like sending your kid off to school on the first day. I knew it was time, but still I felt protective of them and wanted to make sure that the little chicken coop was in fact secure. The next morning found all the chicks huddled together and resting quite comfortably. Crisis averted.
Chicken Playtime In The Backyard
Life in the coop was good for awhile but it once again became apparent that they had matured to another level of discovery. It wasn’t uncommon for me to go down to the coop in the morning and open the front doors to allow them to roam freely. The biggest move they would make would be to go under the shed and hang out all day. This lasted for a little while and soon they were exploring everywhere.
One Sunday morning I had gone back into the house and started making breakfast. I turned around to find Liza had come up on the deck and was standing at the window looking in at me. She must have followed me all the way up the stairs. This was funny at first, but it soon proved to be messy as well. Cleaning up chicken poop off the deck was always a tell-tale sign that they had found their way back up there again. This was manageable until they decided to go visit the neighbor’s house.
Personality goes a long way when it comes to our four chickens.
LuLu always stood out simply because she was a lighter color. But there was also a noticeable difference in attitude toward exploring their surroundings that began to show as well.
LuLu soon became our little ‘Christopher Columbus’. She was always eager to explore new areas. The other three seemed content with where they were at but if they saw LuLu off pecking at something out in the woods then they would all go running to catch up with her. When you approach each chicken, they will all do the same thing. They will go into a squatting position and kind of anticipate you picking them up.
Liza loves to be close to us. Chickens will always resist being picked up except for Liza who seems quite content. One day I carried her around for awhile just to see if she would start to resist at some point, but she was quite satisfied being held.
Liza sitting on Silke’s lap
Libby sticks around the coop. If I leave the doors to the shed open, then Libby will go roost in there. I had the other three back in the coop one day and I looked all over for her only to find her tucked away on one of the shelves in the shed. It is now the first place I go to find her because she is so consistent.
Loren loves the garden. I watched her eat the blossoms off the tomato plants. It took longer to plant them then it did to watch her eat each one of them and then move on. The garden wasn’t producing much this year, so it was easy to overlook but now I had to give serious thought into putting a fence around the garden.
On any given day you can find all of them doing their own thing. Watch a short video of Liza jumping on Silke’s back.
LuLu is wandering around out in the woods. Libby is hanging out in the shed and Loren scratches around in the planter box with Liza close behind her. For the most part they still do stay near each other, but their own interests and curiosities find them exploring off on their own. Meeting new animals and learning to cohabitate. When the chicks were small, we took them outside for an afternoon. We stayed with them to make sure they didn’t wander away or get picked up by a bird of prey. One thing we didn’t anticipate was the newfound interest the cat had in the chickens.
The cat had crept up within a very short distance and remained tense enough to strike at any moment. We simply said no and that was that. She used to sit and watch them outside the coop, but now that the chickens have gotten older, she goes out of her way to steer clear of them altogether.
We have a little picnic squirrel feeder in the yard and there are always some kernels of corn that fall to the ground. The squirrel will come down the tree and eat these as well. Well, it did until it saw all four chickens come running up to it. I can only imagine how intimidating it must have looked to see these huge birds come running up upon it. It retreated up to the picnic table feeder and continued to eat letting the chickens fight over the crumbs.
Chicken Coop Additions and New Rules
I was working in the office one day and heard what sounded like a knock at the door. My mind was trying to recall something that we might have been ordered. What I found when I opened the door was all four chickens pecking at the door sill. I couldn’t believe it!
The back door to the porch was in line of sight though the living room so I walked across the room and simply opened the back door. They all walked through the house in single file and made their way out onto the deck. Thankfully none of them decided to poop!
The next day I was at the sink washing dishes in time to look up and see that they were standing on the neighbor’s front stoop getting ready to knock on their door. They had become too emboldened and really didn’t have a sense of boundaries. It was time to add onto the existing coop so they could have a running yard.
I would still let the chickens out of the coop, but they obviously couldn’t be left unsupervised.
The ‘chicken run’ wasn’t difficult to build, just more time consuming than anything else. With the addition they would be able to walk out the back of the coop and continue to walk down hill toward the tree line. The same amount of security was added to the fencing this time as well. They can come and go as they please now and with the added room, they seem even more content.
Our first chicken egg!
I kept referencing an article that gave a timeline of what to look for at what age and how to make our chickens lives more pleasant. We had followed it all the way and when it mentioned that at around 16 weeks they would start laying eggs. I would go out to the chicken coop each morning in anticipation of finding our first egg.
It didn’t happen right away, in fact, it felt like it wasn’t going to happen at all. Just when I had given up on our chickens and thought they were dormant, they finally started laying eggs. Everything that my dad had said proved to be true.
The chickens were way more vocal than they had been and their food consumption had increased dramatically. The egg itself was a little smaller than the ones that we had grown accustomed to from the grocery store. As you can see it is a light solid brown color with no mottled spots or blemishes.
Since our first egg we average about two a day. The little nesting boxes worked beautifully. I could hear them scratching in the boxes and all the bedding would be taken out. I would put it all back and later they would take it all out again. We played this little game for awhile but soon they were content to have the bedding in the boxes and the eggs were discreetly left behind.
With the colder weather approaching I may run an extension cord down to the coop so I can run the heat lamp for them. This is South Carolina so I really don’t think that they are going to freeze to death anytime soon, but it would be one less stressor that they would have to deal with.
Overall, becoming a chicken farmer has been an amazing learning experience.
We have enjoyed watching them grow and become more inquisitive and evolved each day. If we get more chickens, we will be better prepared and have the housing for them already in place.
If you become a backyard chicken farmer, be sure to let us know about your own experiences.
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