What to Know Before You Get Chickens.

The girls spending the evening grazing on a freshly cut lawn.

Know your Zoning laws:

First and foremost before you get chickens, know your zoning restrictions. Many cities, states, and counties have different laws regarding keeping livestock. If you are in the city, if you are allowed backyard chickens, you will most likely be restricted to a small number of hens omitting roosters.

In the county or country you may have more freedom, but you will still need to abide by guidelines.

For example, where I am located, I am not restricted on the amount of chickens I can have but I am restricted on how far my coops need to be from my neighbors front door. My animals must be confined to my property either by a fence or pen attached to coop. I also need to practice good manure management to keep my coops from causing fly, rodent or odor issues for my neighbors. So even in the country their are guidelines that need to be followed.

Caster making his way out of the Coop De Ville to the outdoor pen area.

If you are unsure of what your zoning laws require, you can find out simply by calling the State Veternian for your state and asking. They will be able to tell you based on your location what your restrictions are.

Addiction

As the saying goes, “You can’t have just one”. This more than applies to owning chickens. I started out with 17 Buff Orpington chicks and now have ballooned to a flock of 50+ of various breeds. I totally underestimated the addiction risk of chickens. I absolutely love my backyard divas and have plans for more.

‘ Buff Orpington Chick sitting amongst farm fresh eggs.

Today my flock is a thriving multicultural mesh of different breeds. Through acquiring a variety of breeds I am able to profile the behavior of various breeds along with any advantages and drawbacks. After owning several breeds, I can honestly say that the Polish is my favorite breed of all my Backyard Divas.

Aphrodite in a barrel of Gerbera Daisies.

Time/chores

Clean coops and happy hens after morning chores.

Chickens require time and daily care. Like all pets, chickens require dedication. However, chickens require little but give much in return.

To illustrate. My flock of 50 and 7 coops require about 30 minutes of my time every morning. Daily chores consist of cleaning the coops, filling feeders, filling waterers, collecting eggs and maintaining nesting boxes. All of this, while sounding like a lot does not require much time out of my day.

However, like a dog or cat, maintenance needs to be performed on a daily basis. Also, like your cat or dog, if you go on vacation, care will need to be arranged in your absences.

Eggs

Tripple tier egg storage basket in my kitchen.

Most people keep chickens for the farm fresh eggs. However, this pursuit, although positive has some drawbacks.

First, once you get a taste of farm fresh eggs, it’s hard to eat any other type of egg. For example, store bought eggs after eating farm fresh eggs taste like plastic. You will find yourself becoming an egg connoisseur of sorts, an egg snob if you will.

Basket full of eggs. The girls were busy today.

Second, you will come to realize that at first, your flock will produce the most expensive eggs that you ever collected. Allow me to explain.

Once obtaining your flock it will be about 20 weeks or 5-6 months before you collect the first egg from the nesting box. But during the “waiting period”, you will have to feed your flock. Egg laying or not, feeding your flock is a necessity. By the time you get your first egg, you will have spent a hefty amount in chicken feed, flock supplies and coops/pens. However, once the flock starts to lay dependibly, your cost and reward ratio will begin to align. But until then, you will be putting money into a “time share” of sorts without any benifit. Many people do not realize this, they falsely assume that chickens lay eggs right away and do not factor in a period of egg drout.

Egg drouts do not only happen during devolpment/maturity of the hens toward laying age, but also at various times throughout their lives. Yearly molt, the coldest part of winter, or the hottest part of summer depending on the breed. Point being, your flock will go through dry spells where they are not laying but you will be spending money on chicken feed. During these times of declined egg production, I humorously refer to my girls as “free-loaders”. All in good spirits of course. I understand my girls need a vacation every now and then and grant them time off.

Premium chicken feed the girls earned with the sale of their eggs. My flock is a big fan of Purina chicken Feed. They prefer it to any other brand. My girls are indeed pampered poultry.

Third, they will find you. When an egg recall or egg ration is suffered by the egg industry, backyard chicken keepers become everyone’s favorite neighbor.

Empty egg coolers at my local Walmart during the past bird flu scare and massive egg recall. And just like that the crazy chicken lady is everyone’s favorite neighbor.

For example, during the past egg scare when the bird flu raged havoc throughout the egg industry, I got a few unexpected visitors at my door. It takes quite a bit of guts to knock on a strangers door and ask for eggs.

The situation of this particular visitor was rather unique. She was a friend of a friend, who worked with a friend who told her that she knew me and that I had a fairly large backyard chicken flock. Her husband was on a a strict diet, eggs were his primary source of protien. Being that the bird flu forced many egg producers to recall eggs and euthanize their flocks, he was practally starving.

I gave her what eggs I had. I offered them at no charge given their unique and desperate situation. She insisted that she pay for them. This was the first day that a stranger knocked at my door and the girls turned a profit, but it was not the last.

All procidees the girls make on the eggs, I turn back to them in the form of feed, treats, and other necessities.

This was when I first realized how self sustaining my little farm really is. A massive egg recall raging the nation, had I not watched the news, I would have no idea. Now, when egg recalls or egg scares make the news I am prepared for a few visitors looking for eggs. The humble backyard chicken keeper to the rescue.

Illness and the importance of a Chicken first aid kit:

First Aid Kit for my girls.

Just like kids and other pets, chickens too get sick. However, unlike a pediatrician for little humans and vets for cats and dogs, most vets will not treat chickens since they are technically “live stock”. While backyard flocks are rapidly reaching pet status, for now they are categorized as livestock.

Thus, the backyard chicken keeper has to become a chicken doctor. Althought this sounds scary, chickens are simple creatures. Most conditions that plague a backyard flock are relatively simple to treat.

The more common health conditions that a backyard chicken keeper will encounter are things like mites, lice, bubble foot, fly strike, respitory illnesses and sour crop. The good news is, good flock maintenance practice will eliminate many of these conditions. If your flock has fresh water daily, fresh feed in clean feeders, and a clean dry place to call home, most of these potetional illnesses will be greatly reduced.

In my 10 years of keeping chickens, I have only had a few illnesses to tangle with. Mostly I have had to treat for mites, worms, and bumble foot. If your chickens are allowed to free range, at some point they will come down with a case of red fowl mites. You can think of mites as a badge of honor because your flock has access to grass, fresh air, and sun. Treatment is simiar to flea/tick treatment for cats and dogs. Only with a method for chickens. My favorite product for this purpose is Epernix. Found a Feed/Farm stores in the cattle section.

Although made for cattle, Epernix at low dose is safe for chickens. I use 1/2 cc for bantoms and 3/4 cc for standard size birds. With a syringe I drop the liquid behind their neck, just like treating a cat or dog. I repeat again in 14 days, and that’s it. After two doses, lice and mites are history. Treat every single flock member. I do this maybe 1 to 2 times a year. I treat only when symptoms are present. Note when using this produce there is an automatic egg withdrawal of 20 days while the girls are in treatment.

Worming is the same. I use safeguard for goats, at small doses it is effective for chickens. This time, with a different syringe I use 1/2cc for bantam and 3/4cc for standard size birds. Drop the wormer on a piece of bread and feed to each member of the flock, repeat in 14 days. There is also a 20 days egg withdrawal for safeguard like Eprinex. That is it, crises averted.

The most complex issue I have had to deal with is bumble foot. I will link my method for dealing with bumble foot here.

Although a chicken keeper needs to take their flocks health in the own hands, it’s not hard. Most things you need to treat your flocks are found at feed/Farm stores. If you can find a vet to treat your birds, the price will be very high. However, most vets will put a gravely ill chicken down. Some keepers prefer this to putting their own sick hens down. I humanly euthanize my own sick members, but most people are not able to do this which is fine. Most vets will assist in this event.

Chicken first aid kit.

Things to keep in your chicken first aid kit:

vet wrap, gauze, triple antibiotic cream, salve, plastic knives for admistering salve and creams, steril scizzors for cutting gauz and vet wrap, hydrogen peroxide, syringes without needles for admistering medication orally, Rooster Booster poultry cell (great for poviding sick birds with iron, amino acids, and minerals for recovers), Rooster Booster B-12 (good for providing sick birds with essential vitamins for healing, high in B-12), VetRx for poultry (great for birds with respotiry issues, similar to vicks for humans. Drop in water or place under the wing to help birds recover), bleach to sterilize instruments.

Most of this things are household items accept for items specific to poultry. Keeping a first-egg kit (pun intended) ready and stocked makes it easier to treat on the spot rather than waiting till you can get the items you need.

Have a plan for winter

When acquiring chickens, most people are so focused on brooders and bring their flock to laying age that they often find themselves frantic when cold weather approaches. Preparing a flock for winter takes time, preparation and some expense. However, due to the fact that chickens come factory installed with down coats, it’s not the cold keepers need to worry about but wind and moisture. To adequately prepare your flock for winter a keeper needs to take measures to keep the coop/pen clean and dry. Installing heater or heat lamps is not needed or recommended. Coop fires are often started by good intentions to keep flocks warm. The rule of thumb is to never judge your flocks comfort by your own standards. Chickens evolved to live out doors, all a keeper needs to do is keep them clean and dry, warmth is not necessary, the chickens take care of that on their own. I will link here the methods I use to prepare my flock and coops for winter.

Coops and Pens: There are so many options.

Before you get chickens, decide what kind of coop you want to get. Before shopping for coops you need to know how many chickens you intend to get and how many coops you want to have. There are lots of resources for acquiring coops. If you are skilled at wood working you could build your own coop and pen. If you’re like me and wood working is not your cup of tea, there are many prefab coops on the market. Contraty to popular belief, prefab coops can and do make great homes for your flock. I will link here my post where I talk about prefab coops, hacks, and how to get the most out of your prefab coops.

Finally and most importantly: Brooder set up

In order to have a successful flock, your chicks need a good start, and the best place to get this start is in the brooder. Before you get chicks, you need to think about their brooder and how you plan to brood your clutch. Just about everything you can think of has been used for brooders, kiddie pools, Rubbermaid totes, dog crates, boxes, bathtubs, garages, attics, and so on. The possibilities are endless. At the end of the day, a brooder is just a heated home for your growing chicks, what you use to achieve this home is up to you. I started out using large boxes then switched to puppy play pens as my preferred brooding container. Everyone will have their own idea on what to use and how to brood. The size of the flock will also affect the type of container use I to house the flock. I will link my brooding method and supplies here.

Grape Arbor and the Coop-Hood.

I hope that this post has been a helpful addition to the information gathering phase on starting your own backyard chicken flock. Chickens are a great asset to any farm, homestead or city backyard, they ask little but give much in return.

If you have any questions not addressed in this post, feel free to ask. You can leave a comment, find us on facebook, or drop us a line at kuntryklucker@gmail.com

As always, thanks for reading. Till next time, keep on crowing!

~The Kuntry Klucker Crew~

Edible Landscaping

Pollinators hard at work.

Flowering bushes and gardens are most definitely atheistically pleasing, I have flower gardens a plenty but edible landscaping is a joy that is unique in and of itself.

Just about everything in my backyard is edible. Going to my backyard is like going to a farmers market on my property. There are lots of options when it comes to landscaping.

In this post, I will reveal how I use plants to landscape my backyard into an edible mini paradise.

Blueberry Bushes:

Blueberry bushes loaded with berries.

There are lots of ways to add edible landscaping to your property. Blueberry bushes are not only producers of wonderful deep blue berries but have beautiful spring green leaves. When planted in a row they creat a hedge of greenery and goodness. In the fall their leaves turn to a beautiful red that are stunning in the fall landscape.

Blueberries ripening on one of the blueberry bushes

As the blueberries ripen throughout the season they add a lot of beauty to the yard. They turn from a green to a deep blue or purple depending on the verity.

When planting blueberry bushes, plant at least 6 of 2 or 3 different verities. Doing this will ensure adequate cross pollination and a large yield. Blueberries need a few different varieties nearby to cross pollinate well. If too few are planted the harvest will be reduced and they will not be as prolific.

Arona Berry Bushes:

Arona Berry Bush. Related to the Acia Berry, Arona Berries are a super food high in antioxidants and are great additions to smoothies.
Arona Berry bush. 8ft tall.
TARDIS in the background behind Arona Berry bush.

Arona Berry bushes are another great way to add edible landscaping to your property. Topping out at about 8-10 ft tall and a spread of 5 to 6 ft wide, these bushes are show stoppers.

In the Spring that are filled with white delicate blooms that turn into dark purple berries around mid-summer. They have a sweet/tart taste, somewhere between a cranberry and a cherry. They are dense little berries that are great to add to smoothies or other berry dishes. My chickens absolutely love the Arona Berries. They will readily pick all the berries they can near the bottom, luckily these bushes are tall so there is plenty to go around.


Arona berry blooms

Unlike blueberries, Arona Berry bushes do not need another bush to cross pollinate. Given their size 1 or 2 will be enough. I have two of these bushes in my backyard, both are beautiful and a lot of berries come mid-summer.

Black Berry Bushes:

Another beautiful trailing berry bush to add to an edible landscape are Black Berries. Unlike Blueberries or the Arona Berries, Black Berries do best on a trellis. While they can grow independent of a trellis they do better if they have a support to keep the branches off the ground. If too low to the ground the berries tend to rot before they can be picked.

Fresh Black Berries and Raspberries picked from my backyard. After dinner, for dessert I serve my family and guests fresh berries.

If you have tasted Black Berry jam or Black Berry pie then you know exactly what to do with these prolific little berry producers. Black Berries are great in many things from smoothies to jams to pies. If the bushes produce an abundance, then frozen Black Berries are a treat in the winter months when all the bushes are dormant.

The possibilities are limitless with what one can do with a bushel of Black Berries. I have my Black Berries bushes near the Grape Arbor so they can trellis along with the grapes as they grow taller and have longer branches. Instead of keeping them pruned to a smaller size I allow them to grow long and just attach them to the Arbor as they need more support.

Grapes:

Grape vines attached to arbor.

If you are granted the room, grapes are another great plant to add to your edible landscape. Grapes are very versatile, they can grow on fence posts, poles, trellis, or even chain link fences. As long as whatever they are growing on can support the weight of the vines, grapes are a possibility. Uncultivated, grapes vines will grow up trees and other vertical shrubs that can support the weight of the vines.

A Grape Arbor is not necessary to grow grapes just the method that I chose. But if you are interested in building a Grape Arbor, a Pergola Arbor is a great asset as it can double as a place to hang Hammock swings, a porch swings, or even a hammock. If you are interested in how we built our Grape Arbor I will link that post here.

Unlike Blueberries and other berries, grapes need something to trellis on. To have a successful grape harvest the vines must be kept off the ground. Grapes also need lots of pruning. I prune my grapes every January, cutting off the dead vines and securing the previous seasons growth to the trellis. Come March/April when the grape vines come out of dormancy, they will grow on the dormant vine and continue their journey up the trellis.

Horticultural/mineral oil spray that I use on my grape vines and other vines that need a hand in dealing with insect loads. Found at Tractor Supply and other feed/farm stores.

you will need to spray your grape vines to keep insects at bay. I use an organic gardening spray that works well at keeping the bugs off and will not harm the chickens or other wildlife in my backyard (just the bugs). It can be found at Tractor Supply or other farm/feed stores.

Neem oil is also a good option but will need to be sprayed more often. I spray my grape vines 3-4 times a year. Once as the grape vines start to bud, then again after they leaf out, once in the mid season (June-July) and once a month or so before harvest. This spray schedule keeps the bugs from eating the leaves and stripping my vines throughout the growing season. Just make sure to spray early in the morning or later evening to keep from burning the leaves.

Raspberry:

Another beautiful plant to add to an edible landscape are raspberry bushes. Newly planted this year, I have the raspberry bushes planted at the back of the arbor. As they grow (like the black berries, raspberries need a trellis) I will attach them to the grape arbor and let them trellis up the arbor along with the grapes and the black berries. I have one raspberry bush that survived our cold winter, the rest sadly perished. So this year a bought a more hardy variety that is cold hardy down to -20. Hopefully, with these new varieties I will not suffer any more losses of my raspberry bushes.

Butterfly Bushes:

Although not edible (by humans anyway), butterfly bushes are a great plant to add to an edible landscape. Not only are they beautiful, but a stately butterfly bush will attract pollinators to your yard. Everything from butterflies, hummingbirds, bubble bees, honey bees, and hummingbird moths will flock to the butterfly bushes to feed off the nectar of the butterfly bush blooms.

In mid-summer when the bushes are in full bloom there is a frenzy of activity around the butterfly bushes. In close proximity with the berry row many of these valuable pollinators visit the neighboring berry bushes and continue to pollinate creating a high yield.

Spices and Herbs:

Another way to add edible plants to your property is that of herbs. Most herbs are flowering plants that have beautiful blooms that attract bees, butterflies and other important pollinators.

I grow just about the herbs and spices that I use in cooking and for inscene making. I rarely have to by herbs because I harvest and dry the herbs that I have here on my property. Everything from Basil to lavender I grow on my property.

In the fall I harvest the spices and herbs and use them in cooking, teas, baking, and incense. At the end of this post I will share one of my favorite dried herb incense recipes that I have constantly fragrancing my home.

Vegetable Gardens:

Veggie gardens need no introduction, these gardens no matter the size are a great way to add edible landscaping to your property. I have several veggie gardens. One that I use as more of a kitchen garden, the other I grow corn, pumpkins, sunflowers and other fall/winter goodies.

In all my veggie gardens the girls patrol the rows of veggies eating the bugs off the plants and tilling the soil in search for worms. My girls are a great asset is organic gardening, their natural talents reduce my need for any bug ellimitating regiment. I may lose a tomato or two to a curious chicken, but I plant enough for everyone to get their fair share.

Flower Gardens:

Although not edible (by humans) I do have an abundance of flower gardens that surround my home and property. These gardens provide food for necessary pollinators such at butterflies and bees which in turn assist me in increasing a high yield from the edible landscaping. It is through these beneficial insects that we are able to feed our families and put food on the table.

In attempts to aid the bee populations, I do not spay any insecticide near my home. Many of my gardens contain herbs and spices which naturally deter may pest insects that would otherwise enter my home.

Chickens:

Given that this is a blog that is primarily focused on raising backyard chickens, how do my girls factor into edible landscaping.

The simple answer is composting. The girls create a very nutritious compost in their coops through their digestive processes. Due to the presence of a gizzard in their digestive system, chickens process everything they consume. When added to the coop shavings and composted, the girls produce the best plant food that money can buy. Because my girls are fed an organic diet by way of their feed and whatever delictibles they find out when free ranging, their compost is also chemical free.

Every spring I spread the compost the girls have been making throughout the winter. Because chickens poo is high in nitrogen and other minerals beneficial to plants, my gardens are lush and produce high yields.

Many visitors to my farm ask me what I feed by gardens to produce such beautiful blooms and large vegetables. My answer, chicken poo. My homestead is literally powered by my girls. They are the secret to my success.

Recipe:

As promised, I leave my recipe for natural incense that I created using spices and herbs from my garden. This recipe is very versatile and can be tweaked given aromatic preferences.

The Kuntry Klucker’s Home Herb Insence

For this recipe you will need an electric wax warmer or a wax warmer that is warmed by a tea light or other source of heat.

1/8 to 1/4 tsp olive oil

1-2 TBS dried rosemary

1-2 TBS dried sage

1-2 TBS Dried lavender

1 TBS Basil

Other things that can be added: Tree resins such as frankincense, dragons blood, myrrh, copal, or benzoin. Drops of essential oils can also be added.

In the wax warmer place a small amount of olive oil, just enough to just cover the bottom of the wax warmer. Mix all the dried spices in a small bowl and add to the wax warmer on top of the oil. Turn on wax burner or light tea light under warmer. After a few minutes of heating, a spicy yet calming aroma will be released by the herbs simmering in the oil in the wax warmer. You can add other aromas as well, such as essential oils or resins to bring the aroma to your liking. This is an all natural way to fragrance your home without releasing harmful substances in the air such as chemicles that are often added to candles and other wax or oil fragrances.

Dried spices and herbs in a tea light heated cast iron wax warmer.

As always, thanks for reading. Till next time, keep on crowing!

I hope that you enjoyed and found value in this post. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments or shoot an email my way. Kuntryklucker@gmail.com I can also be found on facebook.

Basket full of the days eggs resting on a hammock chair hanging from the Grape Arbor.