I’ve had chickens since I was about ten years old. I’d spend my mornings letting them out and collecting the fresh eggs nestled in the straw of the nesting boxes.
It all started when my older sister, Anne, was found constantly sketching ideas of chicken coops and practically begging our father to build one so that she could pretend like she was Amy from the film Fly Away Home. A year later and the beautiful coop was built with a flock of ten stunning Barred Rock, Sex-Link, Buff Orpingtons, and one Indian Runner duck. Over time, the ivy grew up and over the sides of the coop, hiding it in the field.
My parents, sisters, and I had little knowledge of how to take care of chickens when starting out. We learned as we went. The baby chicks, unable to be in the giant coop just yet, spent the first few weeks in a galvanized tub with shavings, wood, water, and a heat lamp. When they began to get their feathers and gain strength, we let them roam in the coop and the outside “pen” area. They spent another week there before we finally let them roam the one-acre property.
The first batch of chickens that we had, we had to manually put them into the coop at night because they would not go on their own. Although this was a bit tricky and a hassle, they eventually they got the hang of it. Now, they go inside independently when the sun begins to set and the predators roam about. Living in the suburbs of San Francisco, there are owls, foxes, coyotes, opossums, raccoons, and other animals that are around.
The only up-keeping that I find necessary with the chickens is to clean the coop every month (take out old straw and replace it with fresh straw), close them in at night, let them out in the morning, and make sure they have food and water. Also make sure that, especially after you’ve introduced a new flock of chicks to the older chickens, none of the chickens get picked on. Chickens can be pretty mean to each other and will single out one or a few chickens that look “different” to them. Once chickens get the taste of blood in their beaks, they go crazy for it in a very cannibalistic way.
I have found that I can no longer eat regular eggs from chickens that have not had the ability to roam free and have been cooped up their entire lives. The ones allowed to roam free have different sized eggs and the yoke is a deeper yellow. I have yet to buy the jumbo white eggs that are found at the local grocery store. I love my chickens and could never, ever imagine growing up without them.