Three mistakes we made raising chickens and ducks for the first time
When I was working 40+ hours a week in an office, I would use my breaks to daydream about not being in the office. My favorite daydream was having chickens, more specifically how much fun our family would have raising chicks and hens. Usually the scene in my head was my daughter and I, dressed the part in denim overalls and rubber boots, racing across a yard of daisies to collect the morning’s fresh eggs from our odor free coop. Yes, that would be just picture freaking perfect! No more copy machines, budget requests, and annual reports for me! I would trade it all in for a pitchfork and a straw hat.
During this past year, we made the giant leap to pursue a different life out in the country. During that time I have learned two profound lessons. First, sometimes dreams can come true, so keep believing! And second, once reality takes hold, things you may have longed for may not be so dreamy.
Yes, we got those chicks and raised six fluff balls into hens. Truthfully, three ended up being roosters, which somehow we never expected. We also threw in a couple of ducks when no one was paying attention at the farm store. The extent of our expertise in raising laying birds was limited to the 17 articles we looked up on Pinterest. But we were on our way to free range chickens and ducks with egg production to begin at 8 or 9 months…boom, farming done! However, we did make a few mistakes along the way that had us scurrying to keep everything clucking along.
#1 – The Mixed Up Flock
Due to our inexperience, our ideas about the novelty of raising ducks with the chickens was not well thought out. Ducks love water, from any source, and they make sure to suck and squirt water all over the coop, all over the bedding, the ground, the feeders, just about everywhere. I would fill-up the water container three times a day, and like clockwork the ducks would irrigate all the bedding, splash all the chickens, and kept the walls of the coop damp and dripping wet. Finally, we moved to a hanging bucket with a lid. We drilled holes and inserted several nipples so the water would be governed. Next, we had to do was train the birds to drink from the nipples underneath the bucket. My husband and I bet how long ‘training’ would take, but I actually only had to show them where the water came out from three times in one afternoon. After that, the birds took to the nipples with no complaints.
#2 – Chicken House Blues
Another blunder had to do with the prefabricated coop we bought for $300 from the local farm store. It was supposed to hold six chickens, but our chickens were free ranging and had gotten very large, very quickly. They and the ducks ended up looking like shoehorned sardines trying share nesting spots. They also broke the press-board perches and the entrance door was ruined within the first month. So, we ended up spending another $700 on materials and built a barn-style coop. So by the time we finally got our first egg, we were shocked it wasn’t golden, because our animal husbandry adventure had cost the family around $1,200 counting all the housing costs and initial purchases to set up our flock.
#3 – Foul Frolicking
The final shock to our plan was underestimating the “range” of free range chickens. They leave a trail of destruction and are N-A-S-T-Y in ways I wasn’t prepared for. Like a gang of marauders, they peck, wreck, scratch, and poop without regard. Add with two ducks who projectile poop, smear slug slime all over themselves, and use their pool as a squirting fountain and you’ve got an apocalyptic mess anywhere they roam. In order to collect eggs from the coop, we have to go through a foul (pun intended) obstacle course, evading and dodging poop mortars all the way to the nesting buckets. Even if you make it that far unscathed, you will probably get residual crap on your fingers during egg collection.
Ignoring the Bad, Enjoying the Good
Now that my farm life wishes have come true, I realize it isn’t exactly the way I seen it in my mind’s eye. However, I never could have imagined the more rewarding aspects of having our own flock. We all enjoy watching them do their hen march up the hillsides to scratch for worms. The clucking noises they make are adorable and each chicken voices herself a little different from the other, adding personality and charm to the sounds of our farm. Since they were hand raised, the chickens and the ducks love to have people around them. When I go outside, the whole flock runs full-tilt with wings out, surrounding my feet before I even step off the porch. I know they’re really just looking for a special handout, but its still endearing when they look up at me and start making their little hen sounds. I pick up my favorites for a hug and stroke the neck feathers of those that prefer to stay on the ground. Our hens do a kind of curtsy, where they suddenly freeze, bend their legs and open their wings slightly. This is what they do when they want to be picked up for some attention. It is very funny to watch and it makes me think they are happy to be part of our farm. They may not smell like roses, but they make our yard special. It is neat to see the flock moving in unison through the pasture. If I squint my eyes through the kitchen window, I watch those birds foraging and I swear they are a herd of head thrusting, two-legged dinosaurs.
Ultimately, I look past the dirty parts of keeping chickens and ducks because their business end does provide real, homegrown food. It’s a satisfaction missed when I used to buy cartons of eggs from the grocery store. There’s nothing like knowing exactly where the scrambled eggs at breakfast come from and chances are we’ll have another clutch of fresh eggs tomorrow.
If you really want to take on chickens you must read the articles on Backyard Chickens! The information will help you be a successful chicken mom or dad! – Link: http://www.backyardchickens.com/