Monday, March 9, 2009

Minimalist chicken keepers

Yesterday was Chicken 101: my hen trio visited chicken keepers and attended a free lecture [sponsor - Westford Farmer's Market]. The coop on the right was on the tour sponsored by Groton Local.

This is what I learned.

1. The chicken adventure is more fun with my "hen talk trio" -- me, Bernadette, and Denali. We help, laugh with and teach each other. A century ago, farm women got together for "hen talk." That's us.

2. We're trendy. About 70 people attended the chicken meeting, and some came a distance. Anybody who is "with it" eats organic and local, composts, and raises some vegetables and fowl. If you're really somebody, you've been doing all three "forever."

3. It's simple and frugal. The biggest challenges are building/buying the coop and choosing what variety of chickens to get.

"Make the coop so predators can't get in, it has no direct wind, and ventilation. Chickens will die from overheating sooner than they'll die from the cold," according to Tom Mahoney, who has been raising chickens since he was 5 years old. He's a regular chicken guru.

The coop can be made from recycled materials. It can be a retro-fitted garden shed. All the coop needs is a private place for laying eggs and roosts for sleeping. He really simplified it.

Tom recommended Rhode Island Reds, which can be bought for a buck or two each, which is chicken feed, so to speak.

4. Chickens don't need much attention, and they're entertaining. I asked one of the farmers on the Groton Local Tour, "How many chickens do you have?" She answered, "I don't know." That's my kind of chicken keeping. Laid back and low key.

They need to be checked once a day, sleep outside all winter, and don't like stress, which is simpler than a dog's needs. They do stupid things to make us laugh, especially roosters.

5. Chickens will help compost. Terry Golson, author of "The Farmstead Egg Cookbook," built her chicken run adjacent to the compost pile. Vegetable and fruit scraps first get heaped in a corner of the chicken yard, beside the compost pile. The chickens get first dibs, and they enjoy the pecking, then it's a short throw into the compost pile. That's my idea of a low-tech compost pile. Just toss it on.

Next step
The final decision is whether to get chicks or to buy the more mature pullets. I think it will be a more complete experience to raise them from the beginning. That's not saying I want to bond with them. The chicks at the lecture were mighty cute, so I'm leaning towards adoption at birth. Time to order the birds and build the coop!

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