Meet Blythe and her fuzzy little chickens!
Hi there! My name is Blythe and I am so excited to share my interests and experiences with you through this blog! By way of introduction, I am a mother to a toddler, wife to an avid hunter/fisher, a high school English teacher and a native to Brevard County. I am an enthusiastic cook and thank goodness that’s the case because my husband, Nate, and I are self-proclaimed Island Crackers– which is just our way of saying that we are passionate about our community and the Florida lifestyle. We are all about hunting, fishing, and self-sustainability in this family (not that we don’t hit up Target on a regular basis– we do). Because of Nate’s hobbies, I have been forced… I mean, encouraged… to try my hand at cooking alligator, deer, hog, duck, raccoon, squirrel (shudder), and pretty much every kind of fish or shell fish that is unfortunate enough to swim or scuttle by us. And, because we believe in the whole waste-not, want-not premise, I have NOT just gotten to fry up some alligator tail like most people. No, we’ve done ribs, legs, jowels, you name it! I am constantly winging it in the kitchen and hoping for the best.
Being a Florida native, I have a huge regard for our local waterways and ecosystems… I even have a tattoo of a mullet (the fish, not the ‘do) on my foot in homage to this area. Weird, I know. But I really, truly love this area and all that it has to offer.
I am lucky that my vocations and my passions align: I love experimenting with new ways to prepare fresh caught game and fish, kicking back with a beer and a good book, and spending time with my family on our local rivers. As a mother, I’ve found a new interest in making sure ours is primarily an organic/ locally sustainable diet—thanks to our garden, Spacegirl, and my rugged outdoorsman hubby, this is seeming to be a feasible transition—the primary roadblocks being my daughter’s love of hotdogs and my love of taking the easy way out (read: fast food). In future posts, I hope to share information about local going-ons, healthy family-friendly recipes, adventures in hunting, fishing, child-rearing and backyard gardening, and more. (“More” is slang for “I’m winging it.”) If there are particular topics you’d like for me to pursue, please let me know… and thanks for reading!
So the fates were conspiring to make my first posting a holiday-appropriate one… Lucinda had requested that I write about our latest venture in poultry-raising—hatching out and raising quails—but, sadly, some varmint got them and hence, no quail post. BUT… that means that I can write a more Easter-appropriate post because really, who doesn’t think of fuzzy little chicks when they think of Easter? The two go hand in hand, right? That’s what I was thinking which is why we a) acquired a trap, b) fortified the coop, and c) ran out to the feed store and bought two sweet little Rhode Island Reds! (A collective “aaaaaww” is completely appropriate at this point.)
This is not our first foray into raising chickens. In our life BC (“Before Cora”), Nate and I were the proud parents of three strutting hens.
However, these ladies took up the awesome habit of crowing—it simply couldn’t be called clucking—and so, when Cora was born and we were in the midst of sleepless nights and early mornings, their noises went from being endearing to tormenting. Luckily my in-laws have tons of chickens and were gracious enough to take the three girls off of our hands. Maybe we only ended up getting an extra ten minutes of sleep after their departure, but trust me: those were ten precious minutes. However, now that Cora’s a toddler, we seem to be getting plenty of sleep, and so I started to get a hankering for chickens–and, more honestly, fresh eggs– once again.
For those of you interested in starting your own flock, let me share some of my experience. First, the disclaimer: I have seriously only ever owned THREE chickens. Add in these two chicks and you’re at a grand total of five. I am NOT an expert. So if you’ve had a different experience, I defer to your expertise. These tips aren’t some Chicken Owner’s Bible and certainly aren’t meant to ruffle feathers (haha, I have a fowl sense of humor. I know, you’re groaning right now; sorry.) Read on, por favor:
- First you’ll need to look into your city and county ordinances/zoning rules. How many chickens are you allowed, if any? Do you have to have your neighbors’ permission? Are you allowed to let chickens free range or will you need a coop? Are you allowed to have a rooster? Do you even want a rooster? My answer is a resounding NO—contrary to popular belief, chickens lay even without a male around (the eggs just remain unfertilized). Your yard will be a lot quieter (and therefore, your neighbors will be a lot friendlier) without a rooster. Even if you want to hatch out chicks, you can always get fertilized eggs through a mail order company or feed store and then purchase an incubator. However, if you’re just looking to establish a brood of layers, it’s a lot easier to buy chicks and then raise them. And their survival rate goes way up when you buy them a few weeks old—personally, I’m a big fan of birds surviving J So for us, the rooster decision is a no-brainer, but you may feel differently.
- A sturdy coop is pretty important. These come in all shapes and sizes—you can look on Craigslist for both plans and already-built coops. A protective coop is very important because I can guarantee that if you have possums or raccoons in your area, they will find you out and become VERY interested in getting your chickens. Setting a trap as a preventative isn’t a bad idea—there are humane ones out there, even available through Animal Control, I believe. Even better is creating a coop-within-a-coop of sorts by building a coop with two layers of chicken wire (with a few inches in between), so that even if your chick gets flustered and runs right up to the side of the coop, there’s another layer of chicken wire preventing the raccoon from reaching in and nabbing it. You might be thinking, “but a chicken won’t FIT through chicken wire, you idiot!” but PARTS of a chicken will, leaving you with a chicken body but no head (did I mention my quails??) or a chicken with half a wing… delightful. Another solution is to create a coop that you can close up at night; this is what we did. Our ladies have a day run below and then a coop up above that we can raise the roof on when it’s time to get the eggs out of the nesting boxes. It seems to work relatively well. Our coop is pretty pimped out, and you can certainly be successful in raising chickens with a much simpler (read: lighter) coop. We made ours a few years ago and just seemed to keep adding more and more wood. I think we got carried away J
- The alternative to a coop is to free range your chickens. If you decide to let your chickens roam, do NOT clip their wings because they will need to be able to get up into a tree at night. I prefer not to free range—we did that for a while, and there was always poop everywhere. I’m not super prissy, but still. That crap gets old. Hahaha… can you stand it?! Chicken poop is also pretty germy—if you have a kid who ends up with e. coli or salmonella, there’s a good chance your feathered friend was the culprit. Another reason I keep my brood cooped is that chickens love to dig for bugs, etc. and after a few days your yard and garden will likely show some wear and tear. Our chickens still have plenty of space, and we move our coop around pretty often (it’s on wheels—again, lighter is better), so they’re always getting access to new grass and bugs, etc.
- Take a while to consider the type of chickens you want. Are you looking for social birds? Do you plan to raise chickens for meat and therefore want ones that plump up quickly? How many chickens do you want/have room for? This will all factor into your decision when it comes to buying chickens. Some chickens are purportedly more docile than others—Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, and Australorps get good reps for friendliness. Amerecaunas and Aurecanas, (also known as Easter eggers—their eggs can be blue, green, even pink) are somewhat more skittish. The bottom line is that a chicken that is handled regularly from the get-go will always be friendlier than one that is just cooped up and left to her own devices. Another thought: are you primarily concerned with egg production? Bantams are smaller and have smaller eggs. Some chickens reliably lay an egg a day; others are a bit more fickle depending on the weather and the season. Then you can get into all kinds of fancy breeds—just google-image “fancy chickens” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s worth researching breeds a little before rushing into anything, though. You can mail-order eggs and incubate them, or go to a local feed store/ chicken farm—there are a few in the 321 and several more in Orlando. Just call ahead to see what breeds they have and make sure you get the gender you desire.
- Obviously, this is the bare bones of chicken-rearing. You’ll also need to look into diet, your time/level of commitment, and consider what you’re going to do with all that poop—it’s pretty “hot” so you can’t throw it directly on plant beds like you would with some manure without first treating/composting it. With that said, I think chickens are relatively low maintenance, especially compared to a dog, but there are others that may disagree.
That’s all I’ve got for now… If you’ve read my bio (above) and there are certain topics I mentioned in it that you’d like for me to pursue, please send a comment letting me know; as it is, I’m just going with whatever strikes my fancy each week. And, if you have chicken-related questions, please let me know! I’d be more than happy to attempt to answer them.