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Raising Chickens


A friend of mine recently forwarded me an interesting article about chickens.  Basically, the article tries to answer the question "Do hens produce more poop than they do eggs?"  Now that we've owned chickens for awhile, we have our own perspective on the situation.

When I built our chicken coop I used 1/4" wire mesh for the floor.  My thinking was that the chickens would be able to walk around comfortably while their poop would just fall through and fertilizer the ground.  Unfortunately I miscalculated just how big chicken poop can be.  I should have used wire flooring with much larger holes.  Spend some time trying to clean out our chicken coop and you'll swear that chickens produce way more poop than eggs.  According to the math in the article, it's a close call.

Eggs In addition to chicken poop, the article also discusses the economics of raising chickens.  I didn't need to read the article to know that raising chickens is almost never profitable.  Indeed, we got our chickens in the first place because a commercial egg producer on the island decided it was no longer profitable to raise chickens and decided to get out of the business.  With our 11 chickens we have way, way more eggs than we can ever eat but we'll still never make enough money selling the eggs to pay for the chicken feed.

If eggs is all you want then it's definitely easier and cheaper to go to the grocery store.  The numbers in the article agree with this.  What the article doesn't discuss is all the other potential advantages of raising chickens.  Chicken poop is a nuisance when you have to clean it up and dispose of it, but beneficial if you have high fertilizer costs that can be offset by a little free chicken poop.  Of course the primary difficulty is getting the fertilizer out of the coop and into the fields.

Centipede Eating bugs is another thing about our chickens that we really like.  Hawaii has these large, nasty centipedes that can deliver a very painful bite.  Chickens think they're a delicacy and will happily spend all day long scratching the ground looking for just such a treat.  If you're a centipede or a tick, you probably don't care much for chickens.  I've heard that chickens can help reduce the mosquito population too but I have yet to actually see a chicken catch and eat a mosquito.

Free range chickens are cheaper to feed because they naturally find a balanced diet on their own.  Free range chickens also have better tasting eggs that are higher in vitamins and lower in cholesterol.  This is probably because free range chickens have a healthier diet and aren't as fat.  Best of all, free range chickens automatically spread their manure around instead of concentrating it in one place.  The problem with free range chickens is that chickens aren't very bright creatures and they can easily get themselves into trouble if allowed to wander around anywhere.  They'll also spread their manure in places you don't want, such as on the porch.

We've recently started letting our chickens out of their pen late in the afternoon.  This gives them a few hours to wander around and search for bugs before sunset.  When it starts to get dark the chickens naturally want to head "home" to some place familiar and secure.  If we let the chickens wander around all day they'd start wandering too far from home and get themselves into trouble.  They'd also start laying their eggs in little hidey holes where we'd never be able to find them.  Eventually the chickens would turn wild and start roosting in trees at night instead of coming back to their coop.  By leaving the chickens in their coop for most of the day they stay out of trouble, lay their eggs where we can find them and retain a strong sense of their coop as home.  Letting them out for a few hours in the afternoon seems to be the perfect balance between free range and penned.

Click on the picture to chase the velocirooster out of the chicken coop. (9.4MB)
Wait until dawn then click to hear the rooster crow.
We have 11 hens and no roosters.  We don't want any baby chicks yet so we don't need a rooster.  Letting our chickens out of their pen runs the risk that one of the local wild roosters will make friends with our chickens.  The velocirooster has been coming by in the mornings.  It's easy to chase him away but he comes right back the following morning.  Maybe we'll end up with baby chicks whether we want them or not.

Besides keeping the chickens in and unwanted roosters out, the chicken coop is also supposed to keep other animals out.  The last time we moved the coop we didn't get the fencing put back up as solidly as we should have and our goat figured out how to force his way in.  Skippy the goat really loves chicken feed.  He even managed to climb entirely into the coop.

Skippy   Rooster

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