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Fresh Eggs in your own back yard

This is Pepper. We got her in the spring last year. She is a Bantam chicken, I can’t remember the exact breed, but it doesn’t really matter. A Bantam is a half sized chicken, they come in variety of breeds just like regular sized chickens.

We got our first day old chicks 3 ½ years ago. We got 6; 2 of each of three different laying breeds. My wife and son thought it would be “cool” to have chickens and have our own fresh eggs. Being completely ignorant about chickens and not wanting to disappoint my family, I say yes, ok. We brought the totally adorable little babies home, put them in a box with food, water and a heat lamp. March in Michigan is still cold, so they went in a mechanical room in my basement and we turned the light on during the day to simulate sunlight. It didn’t take long to realize these birds had personalities, some traits general to the breed, other to the specific birds. My son named them all; I started reading!

How to build your own coop. Nice read, Way too much work! $400 later a premade coop good for 6-9 birds arrives at my home. First thing, it has no floor. Second thing, it has no run. I will be placing this coop in a fenced in yard, but they need a place to be outside and protected until I can let them out in the morning. $300 later, my coop has a beautiful run, a floor, and a space under the coop for the chickens to hide (they like that apparently). Don’t forget, the food needs to be covered so it stays dry: Alteration. The chickens need access to food and water all the time: Alteration. No nesting boxes come with the coop: Additional purchase. They need roosting rods in the coop: Alteration. I’m in $800, haven’t seen an egg!

Turns out the chickens you buy in March/April don’t lay eggs until August! You need to feed them different foods when they are “growing” than you do when they are “laying” and you need to transition them from the one feed to the other. My free range chickens were a lot of work. My son was supposed to help, but at 10 years old it was a struggle. When talking to the chickens, he refers to me as grandpa! So grandpa worked diligently to make sure these birds thrive and to protect them from all their natural predators, which it turns out ALL live on or near my property.

We haven’t bought eggs from the store now in three years. My son sells the extras out front of our house. He keeps the proceeds in exchange for taking care of the chickens and cleaning the coop. I have two coops. The original small one I use for rearing my new birds (once they leave my basement) each spring until I introduce them to the rest of the flock (once they are on layer food). The second is a garden shed I have converted into a coop adding nesting boxes, perches and attaching an outdoor covered run. I am proud that in 3 ½ years I have only lost one bird to predation, it was a bantam (small) rooster that thought be was all that but found out differently at the talons of a red tailed hawk.

I have had to get rid of a few for various reasons: One hen became an egg eater, an aggressive rooster had to go, some just get sick with no apparent cause. We currently have 19 birds. The varieties get lost on me. We just get different types because we like the variety. I have learned that Leghorns are the best producers and lay white eggs. Asa Browns are prolific layers of brown eggs. We have had both of those and still have one Leghorn (Lightning), though she doesn’t lay anymore. Others lay green/blue eggs (we have 3 of those that should start laying any day).

This has been an amazing journey for us. We would never live without having our own chickens again. Now that we have everything setup properly they are easy to maintain and great fun to have. When I go into the yard they run up to me from all over. Its quite a site!

Pepper started laying for us last summer. She is a good layer! She and one other bantam hen we have provide us with magnificent ½ sized eggs. My wife uses them to make deviled eggs. They are perfect mouth sized morsels. Pepper and her “sister” will start to lay less and less by summers end. By winter they will probably be down to one egg a week and by next spring will likely stop producing entirely. Pepper has a very special personality and trait which makes this stage of her life all the more sad. Pepper is maternal. She likes to sit on her eggs. So much so that she tries her best to find “safe” places to lay her eggs. It is a game of hide and seek for us. When I notice we haven’t had an egg from pepper in a few days it means I have to start the search. One time I found 10 eggs, other times 4 or 5. This past week I found a clutch of 7. She is a broody, clever little bird. We will feed her, as we do the others, and keep her safe even after she stops laying so she can live out her life in the lap of luxury.

As for me, I continue to ask questions and learn every day. My next challenge: How to take the spurs off my rooster!

Graham Lefford

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