Chickens

We’ve had our little mixed flock since the spring of 2012. We started with Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Dominique, and Rhode Island Red day-old chicks. At first, our chickens lived at home, where we were renting 5 acres. But when we had to move “to town” in April 2013, we moved the chickens to a friend’s farm about a mile away. We initially had three roosters but one was killed (along with 2 Buffs and 1 Rhody) by a fox in summer 2013. While we called around looking for laying-age hens, a generous and anonymous neighbor “donated” 8 hens to our flock. It was impossible to know exactly what breeds they were, or even their ages. Some were able to integrate quickly into the bunch, and some, sadly, were not. Meanwhile, our last remaining Buff Orpington hen went broody around Mother’s Day 2013, and after three 3-week stints with various apparently-not-fertilized eggs, she hatched two chicks! She knew there was something wrong with one of them, and though we tried to save it, it died the day after hatching. We were able to foster the other baby (Cheep-Cheep) in our brooder at home, and integrated her into the flock that summer. We were back to 13 chickens by the fall; 2 roosters and 11 hennies.

Happy Hennies
Happy Hennies on our friend’s farm in PA

Then, on Mother’s Day 2014, either a raccoon or fox or..? attacked our flock and killed 8 birds, including both roosters. Since our sweet buff mama hen was broody again, I figured “what the heck!” and gave her ONE egg the day after the massacre. Three weeks later she hatched it out and though it made the 7+ hour trip south from PA to VA, Cheep-Cheep2 escaped while we attempted to move the hens from my dad’s to the farm. Add to that {or, rather, take away} the hen that we presume was either killed by a hawk or her sisters, we moved just 4 hens to the farm in summer 2014. We added 8 Buff Orpington poults and 1 Buff rooster shortly after arriving, bringing the numbers up to lucky 13.

If you’re a chicken keeper you know how hard it is to keep chickens. We live on the edge of thousands of acres of forest land, so we see fox, bears, coyote, hawks and vultures on a pretty regular basis. And all of those critters love chicken just as much as you and I. So… over the years we’ve added and lost birds every year. After purchasing 20+ chicks during the summer of 2020, we reached an all-time high of around 30 birds.

We keep our chickens in a homemade mobile coop built on a 4×8 utility trailer. We use Premier 1 PoultryNet and in the fall 2013, due to extreme predator pressure, installed an electric door that opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. When we started keeping chickens, we lived in a lovely, grassy spot, so our double-spike posts were no problem. Here, in the rocky soil of Rockbridge County, Virginia, we have a heckuva time getting them in the ground. Just something to think about…

We keep their food inside the coop and use a typical bell-style water fount outside the coop for water. We depend on a water fount heater every winter and have had no problems keeping our flock well-watered. Eventually, we’d like to rig up a water catchment system that will provide year-round fresh water to the birds using gutters and a rain barrel. Stay tuned for that!

Farm Innovators HP-125 Chicken Coop Heated Base

For years we fed organic laying feed from New Country Organics in Waynesboro, VA, but in 2020 decided to switch to Non-GMO, Non-soy feed from Sunrise Farms in Stuarts Draft. It’s a super-high quality feed and the girls are doing really well on it. Plus, we can sell our eggs more competitively with lower feed costs. We know of one farm that gets $7/dozen for their organic, pasture-raised eggs, but everyone else is $5 or even $4/dozen. We sell our eggs for $5.00/dozen if you need some!

In the fall of 2020 we decided to move one of our livestock guardian dogs into the paddock with the chickens, so we’ll have the coop surrounded by PoultryNet, then the dog, then old farm fence with a few strands of polyrope attached for dig- and predator-discouragement.

Chickens in the snow at Owl Moon Farm

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