Raising chickens in backyard

When I was a little kid, my parents would ship me off to my grandparents’ house for a week. As far as I know, I was the only one of their 40-something grandchildren that paid such a visit. Why, I do not know. I guess I was just that adorable.

Grandma was a hard worker with little to say. But I do remember clearly what she said one day while we were putting away the eggs we’d just gathered from her henhouse. She held up what she called a “banty” egg – smaller than the eggs I was used to – and said, “This one is just your size.” She gave me a rare smile that I treasured.

Finally, after being burdened with a houseful of little sisters who must be shared with, I had something that was mine, all mine. I had Grandma’s smile and an egg of my own.

Today, I have many eggs of my own. When I decided a city life was no longer in my future, that I longed for a screen door to let in fresh air, I moved to my farmhouse in the country. That was more than a year ago. It was always my dream to raise 12 laying hens so there would be eggs to share with my mother, who lives nearby and still bakes at 84, and my Aunt Martha, who does the same at 95. Getting there took several months of adventure. Some of the mistakes I choose to share:

Too busy to go, I sent my mother – with her hearing aid and walker – to an auction to buy 12 baby girl chicks. Confused, she came back with 25 bantam roosters. I took them to Tractor Supply and begged them to take them off my hands.

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I actually expected the babies I bought myself to turn out to be hens. Silly me. I began to notice that three of the chickens were growing inordinately large combs and tail feathers. Mama, Aunt Martha and I determined that three of my 12 chickens were actually roosters. I gave away two of them and kept one (the happiest rooster alive, in my opinion), thinking someday I might like to let one of the chickens “go to set,” as we say in the poultry business.

My biggest success was hiring Billy, a longtime family friend and excellent carpenter, to build my chicken house and run. He liked my idea of using recycled materials – my house’s original wood siding and barn wood he had on hand. The result, with a red tin roof and delightful decorations, is absolutely charming.

It is also well thought out. Billy did his research via the Internet and built the house and run the size necessary for the number of chickens I had. The house is 6-by-6. The adjoining 6-by-16 run faces east, which was also recommended, as were windows flanking the human door to the house, four nesting boxes and plenty of perch space inside.

At the rear of the house near the roofline is a ventilation opening, which can be open or shut. The chicken entrance from the house to the run has an eave over it for shelter and a gangplank with strips of wood nailed to it for good footing. That entrance has a door that I shut after they have gone to roost at sundown, to further protect from varmints. In the morning, I let them out to feed and water.

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A lot of hassle? Sure. Worth it? You bet. Because, somewhere, Grandma is smiling at me.

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