As we excitedly prepare for our first flock of chickens, I thought I’d share all that it entails. We’ve watched countless YouTube videos (many of them with Asher) and scoured the internet learning all we can about raising chickens, from breed selection to building our coop and run to everything in between.
We’re fast approaching our third spring and summer of country living. The first two were spent working on landscaping around the house, getting to know our land, cleaning up the down trees in our woods, and attempting to put a dent in eradicating buckthorn (or at least keep it at bay). Not only for the health of our woods but for the health of our wildlife.
From season to season, we’ve seen an increase in the number and variety of birds, as well as deer, turkey, possum, fox, skunk, raccoon, bear, and even a fisher. While our woods are plentiful with wildlife, we’re ready to add some of our own feathered friends to the mix.
Living in western WI, we get a good mix of all four seasons. As I type this, it’s -13 degrees F outside. And it’s not uncommon to have a heat wave in July with temps in the upper 90s. Selecting breeds for our first flock of chickens that are winter/cold hardy was of utmost importance. From there, I narrowed the criteria down to breeds that are excellent egg layers, friendly/pet-like, suitable for beginners, and tend to be less broody.
In case you’re a chicken novice like us and have no idea what broody means I’m including a definition. That way you’ll know why we want “less broody” birds in our flock. Especially since we do not plan on having a rooster, only hens.
A broody hen is a hen that wants her eggs to hatch. She will sit on her eggs all day long in an attempt to hatch them. The eggs will only be fertile if there’s a rooster in the flock. What makes a hen go broody – it’s a combination of hormones, instinct, and maturity. Some breeds are more or less likely to be broody.
After researching the various breeds and seeing what is available in our area (and when), here are the six we selected:
The Ameraucana is a winter hardy breed. They are generally a friendly and docile bird that enjoys human contact. The Ameraucana sits in the middle of the pecking order and is predator-savvy. Hens weigh around 5.5 lbs and lay up to 250 blue/green eggs per year. Ameraucanas are non-broody (for the most part). They do not have any significant health issues and live about 7-8 years.
The Olive Egger is a hybrid of two breeds – a blue egg layer and a dark brown egg layer. They are sought after for their vibrant olive-green eggs. Although some lay blue, brown, and even pink eggs. They produce about 150-200 large-sized eggs per year. Olive Eggers are cold hardy as well as heat tolerant and aren’t prone to common chicken health issues. They get a moderate score on the broody scale. The average weight of an Olive Egger hen is between 6-7 pounds. These birds are generally very docile and friendly and get along well with humans and other birds in their flock.
Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red is very good at laying eggs, laying up to 300 medium to large-sized brown eggs per year. They are exuberant, curious, friendly, and lovable. Sitting in the middle of the pecking order, they are social with both people and others in their flock. Rhode Island Reds are not likely to be broody. They get an A+ in the health department, are very hardy (and predator-savvy) by nature, and will take to almost any climate.
The Speckled Sussex are calm, friendly, docile, and love lap time. They are great conversationalists and will follow you around, especially if you have treats. Because they are cold hardy, they lay well year round – up to 25o brown eggs annually. They don’t have any outstanding health issues except perhaps a propensity toward obesity as well as broodiness.
The Sapphire Gem will catch your eye with its lavender and blue feathering. They are excellent egg layers, laying upwards of 290 large to extra-large brown eggs yearly. The Sapphire Gem rarely goes broody. They are middle-of-the-flock in size and can hold their own in a mixed flock. The Sapphire Gem does well in all climates. They are one of the sweetest chicken varieties for kids and love to cuddle.
Silver Laced Polish
The Silver Laced Polish are fun and friendly chickens. Its reputation as a good egg layer is often overlooked because of its unusual appearance. The Silver Laced Polish sports a pom-pom hairdo resembling a bouffant. They lay around 200 white, medium to large-sized eggs per year. And they are rarely broody. The Silver Laced Polish are happy in all climates, although their crests must be kept clean and dry.
(I plan to come back add photos of our beautiful birds once we get them for visual reference as well.)
We ordered 12 chicks (2 of each variety) from our local feed store. They ranged in price between $4.50-$7.00 per chick, with the Rhode Island Red being the least expensive and the Silver Laced Polish being the most. I have a feeling in addition to being the most expensive, the Silver Laced Polish will be the highest maintenance due to its hairdo. Our first flock of chicks will be ready for pick-up on April 21-22.
Coop & Run
Right now, we’re working on converting one side of one of our outdoor bathroom buildings (perks of buying property that was once owned by the Girl Scouts) into the coop and then building an outdoor run. As much as we would love to let the ladies free range, there are ordinances against it in our township. Our woods are also home to a lot of predators.
The chicks will spend the first several weeks in a brooder in our garage before moving to their coop and run outdoors. We still have a lot of winter left, so we will have to wait until it warms up and the ground thaws a bit before we do any construction on the run.
Food for Thought
Until then, I’ll continue researching how to make homemade chicken feed. I’ve seen one too many articles recently about how commercial feed has changed and is not the best option for healthy hens (or eggs).
Oh, and names. We need to come up with names for our ladies.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” ~Job 12:7-9