Our 24 chickens live in a rather eclectic area of our farm.
My dad built the coop nearly 20 years ago, when my parents first decided to venture into backyard farm animals. After a five-year go of it, my dad had had enough of the early morning crowing and our chickens were sent to live with my cousins in the Kootenays. Then we ventured into horses (for about another five years), and my dad built a large corral and two horse stalls next to the old, empty chicken coop.
Fast forward nearly 10 more years to when we first moved back home: Fabien turned the old corral into a new chicken run with proper fencing, and the old coop was given a serious face lift. He created an area to keep the chicks separate from the adults, and covered a section of the outdoor run to keep the young birds safe from overhead predators. Talk about re-purposing!
But it hasn’t all been that easy. Despite both growing up around chickens, Fabien and I have made couple of blunders since keeping them ourselves.
Blunder #1: Our first year, we had a gang of about 20 Buff Orpingtons, a golden dual-purpose heritage breed. It was winter and our ladies had just started laying when we went away for the weekend. While we made sure they had enough food and water, we didn’t expect the very fast and heavy dump of snow that Friday night. By Saturday morning the birds were completely snowed in their coop, and by the time we returned on Sunday evening, the hens, out of boredom, had started eating their eggs. As any backyard chicken keeper would know, this is a habit that, unfortunately, is very hard to break! But we learned quickly from the experience. We have since become very diligent about collecting the eggs three times a day and Fabien modified the coop to create a more sheltered outdoor area.
Last year we expanded our flock with a new gang of dual purpose birds, the lovely Rhode Island Reds, as well as a cute, gentle Bantam/Americauna rooster, which leads us to another of our blunders…
Blunder #2: Our sweet little rooster had a sweet little brother who, in a night of “I don’t feel like closing up the chicken coop”, was taken and enjoyed by a raccoon. Another learning experience added to the books! And needless to say, those kinds of nights don’t happen any more.
To date, our gang consists of 16 Rhode Island Red hens, 7 Buff Orpington hens and our one little rooster. This spring, we’ll be looking into raising some Western Rustics for meat, as well.
Yes, raising backyard chickens includes butchering them too, but it is all part and parcel of our lifestyle. We raise chickens so we can eat healthy meat and healthy eggs. Our birds have less white meat and smaller breasts because they have room to run, scratch and explore. We don’t have a bucket of chicken wings or drumsticks for supper, because we’re only eating one bird at a time. The meat on our birds has flavour, and is completely free of antibiotics and hormones. And we know that they were butchered humanely, because we did it ourselves. We also get to enjoy fresh eggs throughout the year, with firm shells and bright orange yolks.
It’s a lifestyle we know is not for everyone, but (despite our past blunders, and likely those to come) we know it’s one for us.