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I have been in the chicken business for about 5 days now, which practically makes me an expert (ahem). Although I am truly NOT an expert in the chicken department yet, I would like to share what I have learned from my research from experts and how this newbie (a.k.a. me) got started with raising backyard chickens from chicks.
I had planned on writing this post months or years from now, when I actually can consider myself an expert. However a combination of a last minute decision to not write the post I had planned this morning, writers block for other ideas, laziness to go upstairs and get my list of blog post ideas, and the constant chirping I am listening to at the moment has led me to the decision to share with you what I have learned in the last 5 days from experience as well as all the great resources I have discovered.
Our family has always enjoyed other people’s chickens and their eggs. When we lived in Colorado, we were friends with the nicest people who truly were experts on backyard chickens. They shared their fresh eggs with us weekly and we took care of their chickens if they were out of town. My kids loved to go and gather eggs and take our scraps or freshly caught grasshoppers to the chickens to watch them fight over the food. We have missed that sweet couple and their chickens since moving to Wyoming. We have made friends in our new town who have chickens and it was talking with her that convinced me to go ahead and give chickens a try. This friend of mine adores her chickens and once she informed me that I wouldn’t need a heat lamp for the chickens in the winter, I was ready to try it!
Talk with friends, neighbors, and family about their chickens and get all the advice you can from those already doing it in your area. They know the predators to be aware of, how to protect the chickens from the elements where you live, and what breeds do best in your climate.
My next step in gathering information was watching a ton of YouTube videos. Here are links to a few of my favorite:
The other helpful information I received is from Murdoch’s, where I purchased our baby chicks. The salesman answered several of my questions and they had a pamphlet and information sheets and checklists to help me get started.
I found these websites helpful in learning about the different chicken breeds:
After gathering all kinds of information, it was time to make some decisions.
- Where to build the chicken coop. I learned that there are city codes to help you make this decision. One code said the coop must be 25 feet from the house (not including the garage) and 35 feet from the neighbors house. We wanted an area that would be easy to get to during the winter months (which is about 9 months out of the year for us…). We decided the perfect spot for our coop would be next to the far side of our garage. The garage and a fence will help protect the chickens from the wind and cold of Wyoming and there is a patch of cement on the other side to prevent predators from digging into the run.
- What type of coop you will use. There are so many great designs out there, so the hard part will be choosing what works best for you. A general rule I have noticed is that the coop needs to be about 2-4 square feet/chicken inside and about 8-10 sq. feet/chicken in the run. We got our idea from one we saw in a neighbor’s yard. I will keep you updated on that project when we get there!
- How many chickens you want. We want enough eggs to feed our family of 6 and provide a few extras to either give away or for the kids to sell. From what I’ve read, I think 5 chickens would be plenty to provide eggs for a family of 6. We are starting with 9 knowing that some might not make it and to have extra eggs.
- What type of chickens will you buy. There are online hatcheries that you can order your chicks from and that seems to be a good choice. We decided to just buy our chicks from Murdoch’s, which does limit the breeds available to buy. They were totally sold out of chicks, but getting new shipments weekly. I got a list of the breeds that would coming in and then I did my research on those breeds to make sure they were hardy (could survive the winter). I then showed a picture of a full grown chicken from each breed to our kids and they each got to pick 2 breeds they wanted to claim as their own. This was a good idea in theory, but the day we went to pick up the chicks, they were already sold out of some breeds and I had been given wrong information on the date that other breeds were coming. So we didn’t get to buy the variety we were planning on, but we are still happy with what we got. We ended up with 2 Delaware, 2 Silver Lakenvelder, 4 Rhode Island Reds, and 1 New Hampshire Red.
- Where will you raise the chickens until they are ready to be outside (5-8 weeks). Chicks need to be kept inside in a brooder box for several weeks until they are fully feathered and strong enough to withstand the temperatures outside. The first few weeks they can be kept in a storage tub, but by about 4 weeks they need a bigger box still usually in the house or garage. We have a good spot in our basement that is on tile floor, so we don’t have to worry about spills or poop on our carpet. We are using a large pink storage tub. I would recommend using a clear one if you have it, because the combination of the pink tub and the red heat bulb makes for quite a glow! We plan to move them to a box that held our new bathtub when they get older and need more space.
Ready to begin
Finally you have some decisions made and you are ready to begin! We might regret this, but we bought our chicks before having the outside coop built and ready to go. We figured that we should have at least a month before they need to go outside, so we’ll see if that was an OK decision or not in a few weeks.
The first supplies we bought or gathered were:
- brooder box (storage tub and large box)
- heat lamp and bulb
- Chick starter food and grit
- Pine wood shavings
- Chick feeder and water containers (we bought used)
- Electrolytes and vitamins
- Apple Cider Vinegar
The total cost so far without the chicks was $54.
Once we had the basics and had the brooder box set up and ready to go we then got the food and water ready.
The brooder box needed a couple inches of the pine shavings on the bottom, the heat lamp securely attached, a thermometer near the bottom to accurately know the temperature (new chicks need the temp to be about 95 degrees), their feeder, and something solid for the water. We placed two bricks side by side for the water and that has been helpful to prevent it from knocking over and keeping the pine shavings somewhat dry.
For the food we poured some of the chick starter food into a container about 3/4 of the way full. We then filled the rest of the container with 1/4 of grit to help the chicks digest their food. After mixing it up good, it is ready to pour into the feeder. To prepare the water, we used a gallon jug and filled it with room temperature water and added 1 Tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar to help the chicks with digestion and overall health. The day that we got the chicks we poured that into their water container and then added about 1 tsp of the electrolytes to their water container, not the gallon sized jug. They do not need electrolytes all the time, but it is good for them in the beginning after the stress of being transferred. Now it is time for the chicks!
We went and picked out our chicks and brought them home! The chicks cost $40 for 9 of them. Like I mentioned before, we did have to make a few last minute decisions on the breeds, but the salesman was great at helping me make those decisions.
When we got home my 5 year old was busy at carefully placing the chicks into the brooder box and then he was perfectly entertained the rest of the day!
Now our job is to
- Interact with the chicks (1-2 hours a day), so that they get used to us and being handled.
- Keep their food container free of pine shavings and filled each day.
- Clean their water container to make sure it is free from pine shavings.
- Wipe their bums if they get backed up (a.k.a pasty butt). I was not thrilled with the idea of having to wipe bums, but it really hasn’t been too bad. Only 3 chicks really needed it for a couple days and then it’s been better.
- Make sure the temperature is where is should be. It starts about 95 degrees for the first week and then decreases by 5 degrees every week after that.
- Clean the brooder box every other day.
- Get that chicken coop built!
We unfortunately learned a very hard lesson. Our kids need clear rules about what is allowed with the chicks. The first night we had our chicks, my husband and I were finishing our dinner while the three boys were downstairs with the chickens. We assumed that my two older boys would supervise the 2 year old with the chicks. But we were wrong. My two year old, apparently tried to make a chicken fly by tossing it into the air. The poor chick landed on the tile floor and died. It was the saddest thing! We buried the chick and now my son keeps asking where the chicken is and if it flew to heaven. Since this incident, we now have strict rules with the chickens. Carter is only allowed to hold the chicks if a grown up or my daughter is with him and he has to be sitting down on the blanket next to the coop. This rule applies to friends that are over as well.
The happy lesson we have learned is that the chickens like to be snuggled and kept warm! My daughter is a chicken whisperer and discovered that they like to be wrapped in her shirt and will snuggle in and fall asleep! We snuggled these chicks while we FINALLY got to watch The Greatest Showman over the weekend.
If you are considering starting backyard chickens, I hope this will give you information and encouragement to try it out. We are only 5 days in and other than one casualty, we are really enjoying this new addition to our family. It is giving the kids more responsibility and a chance to learn how to care for animals. I really don’t enjoy pets in general and I plan to have as little as possible, but I am actually excited about the chickens. They are an animal that gives something in return! Carter had to go to time out after his chicken incident and now he is ready to be nice and happy!
Easter is right around the corner and I was thinking how much I look forward to Easter because of our traditions. My son said it just right; I reminded him that Easter is this weekend and he said, “when you say Easter a memory comes right to my brain and I know just what to imagine.” I think it’s fun for everyone when we can know what to expect on a holiday and have something to look forward to.
Tradition #1- Family
Easter is a great time to get together with family. Cousins (usually) make everything more fun for the kids. My family usually gets together at my sisters house where the weather is typically the nicest this time of year and we can play outside. If you don’t have family nearby then you can invite a few family friends to join you in some of these traditions. It takes effort, but trying to be with family makes a great tradition in and of itself.
Tradition #2- Egg Drop
My family has been doing an Egg Drop for about 5 years. We gather a bunch of junk and craft supplies: felt, empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, empty kleenex boxes, egg cartons, grocery sacks, string, plastic cups, pipe cleaners, bubble wrap, paper, Ziplock baggies, and whatever else we find laying around. Then each person gets a raw egg and has to design a way to protect that egg from being broken when dropped from a high spot. My nephew is an amazing thinker/builder, so his is usually the most intricate. Its fun to see how the designs are different every year. Once everyone has their egg protected we start the drop! The first drop is from somewhere close to 10 feet from the ground. After the drop everyone checks their egg to see if it broke or not. If your egg survived the first drop then we move to a higher spot and drop again. It’s fun to have about 3-4 drop places. If we are at my sister’s then our highest spot is from a window of her three-level home. It works best if the ground below is hard, like rocks or concrete. Try to have some sort of silly prize for the winner. While typing this, I just had an idea that you could make a trophy that travels with the winner and each year the previous winner would bring the trophy and then pass it along with the new winner. You could write the name of the winner and the year on the trophy to keep a record. Maybe we will add that to our tradition this year…
Tradition #3- Easter Egg Hunt & the Golden Egg
Duh?? Right? Our family typically does a few of these. We have usually gone to big Easter egg hunts put on by the city, but last year we decided to avoid the crowds and just do a big one on Saturday with our family. When we do one at home, my parents always include a Golden egg with some money in it and this egg is hidden really well. My oldest nephew is usually the one to find it, but my kids are really hoping that this might be their year! It was honestly kind of nice last year to not fight the crowds at the big egg hunts. We have been to ones at a swimming pool where kids dive down and get eggs filled with coins. My kids were young and not great at diving under water, especially when they are completely surrounded by other kids doing the same thing and we left empty handed. It was stressful and sad for the kids (however, there are always nice kids who notice empty baskets and share). We’ve also been to big egg hunts where there were so many kids and not enough eggs and again left empty handed because my kids were less aggressive at getting those eggs! And of course, you always have to worry that there might be an Easter Bunny mascot on the loose at these events, which often showed up later in my children’s nightmares… I’m starting to think that maybe my kids need to toughen up?? Anyways, take a good look at your kids and their personalities and do whatever will suit them best. But realizing that we had more fun doing our own egg hunt was liberating last year… and there were no tears! My family also does an egg hunt Sunday morning when the Easter Bunny hides our eggs. I have a friend who asked their Easter Bunny to hide the eggs on Saturday, so that they can focus on spiritual things on Easter Sunday. There are many ways to include an Easter egg hunt in your Easter traditions.
Tradition #4- Dye Easter Eggs
I’m sure this is an original idea… but if you want different ways to do this traditional event you can check out my pinterest board I created just for dying eggs. There are so many fun ideas out there!
Tradition #5- New Dress Clothes
I know we are not alone in this tradition. Easter is the best time to find cute Spring dresses because so many people get an Easter dress. We also like to get our boys a new tie to wear to church on Easter. My amazing sister has made my boys a tie and my daughter her dress the last couple years and they turn out so cute! I’m hoping she will start an etsy shop soon so you can all enjoy her talent like I do! We don’t always have the budget for brand new church clothes, so homemade options are typically more affordable. I will include a few links below to great stuff that Amazon has to offer.
Tradition #6- Cad-bury Mini Eggs
Need I say more? Did you know that Amazon sells these in bulk!?? My friend filled me in on this best kept secret and now I’m sharing with you. You’re welcome.
Tradition #7- Easter baskets
On Sunday morning, the kids get to come out of their rooms and see what was left in their Easter basket and then hunt for the eggs that the Easter Bunny hid. We usually fill their Easter basket with a movie or a book and then one big candy item. I refuse to buy those big pre-made Easter baskets that cost a fortune and are filled with junkie toys that will be broken or scattered across your floor untouched (see my No Toys for a year post here). I used to sell Usborne books, which we always gave to our kids on Easter. I still highly recommend these interactive books for Easter baskets. Since we go to church every week, I try to give them books that they will enjoy during church. We usually get our kids one thing as an Easter gift as well. This year we will give them muck/rain boots so that we are more prepared for mud season! Kites were a huge hit a couple years ago. My parents like to give all the grand kids a matching shirt. They have 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter, so all the boys get a matching shirt and then my daughter gets to stand out a bit.
We are looking forward to another Easter and the fun traditions we enjoy. I would love to hear what traditions your family has on this holiday. I hope you have a nice and happy Easter!
That’s right, I said it! My family has agreed to go a full year WITHOUT toys. We are not going to go totally crazy and get rid of all our existing toys, but for a full year we will not add ANY toys to our home. This means birthdays, Easter, Christmas, and school carnivals!!
Why would we put our kids through such a year?? I will answer with a follow up question, “have you seen our basement!??” We really do have so many wonderful toys. And the kids do actually play with them now and then. But it honestly feels like we are picking up the toys from the floor more than they get played with. Looking back at the toys my kids got for Christmas, just 2 months ago, I can think of one toy that still gets played with. The rest of the toys are either broken, like the drone for my 2 year old (imagine that), or out of batteries. I have decided that more often that not, the fun with toys comes with the excitement of opening the toy and the first 5 minutes following.
I was pleasantly surprised with how this conversation went down during dinner. The kids were enjoying this amazing homemade chicken Alfredo made from the instapot, which I will post about later; when my husband announced that we had something big we wanted to propose. We built it up by saying that the kids were going to want to complain at first, but that no one was allowed to say a word until after this idea had been explained fully and that we would take questions and comments at the end. When they all agreed not to whine or complain until they had fully heard us out, we dove right in.
We explained that we would like for them to go a full year (now until Spring Break 2019) without adding any toys to our collection. They were a bit concerned about Christmas and how would Santa know not to bring toys, but we assured them that we could write to him and explain. My 9 year-old daughter said, “good, I was just going to ask Santa to surprise me this year anyway!” All of the kids were surprisingly on board with this idea. We gave them some ideas for things they can still ask for on birthdays and Christmas, like clothes and experiences. My son decided that if a friend comes over after giving him a toy for his birthday only to find it gone, that he could just say that he lost it. Rather than encouraging this white lie, I told him that along with birthday invitations we will include an explanation that our family is not adding toys this year. Friends can do other gift ideas, or better yet, just skip the gift altogether!
By the end of the conversation and after these concerns were addressed, everyone was on board. In fact, my two oldest said that they thought this was a great idea and they think we should do this forever! We decided that if we can truly go a whole year without any new toys that for Spring Break next year we will plan a big family trip. I feel like this gives us all a reward and motivation to keep our focus.
I do feel like the hardest part for them will be the little carnivals and dumb toys that they get at random events. Think of all the little 50 cent toys that find their way under the seats in your car and at the bottom of every toy box. And think of how excited those kids are to get those types of toys in the moment. School parties, Christmas parties, summer fairs and carnivals all seem to send home an unnecessary treasure of some sort. These little treasures will go straight to the trash or thrift store rather than into our home. The elementary school in our home town puts on an amazing fundraiser called, A Night at Hogwarts, every year and they go all out! My kids come home with a new wand, new creature (stuffed animal), and new pranks from the Joke Shop every year. I believe this may be their biggest trial.
Here is a list of ideas we gave them of things that are allowed to ask for as gifts or buy with their own money:
- New clothes
- Glasses (because my 5 year old just bought glasses without a prescription from Walmart)
- Batteries for their existing toys
- Movie tickets
- Bowling gift cards
- Restaurant gift cards (Hello McDonald’s!)
- Jump House gift cards
- A day at the zoo, aquarium, or museum
- Tickets to a sporting event (college or professional)
- Tickets to a play at a fancy theater
- Disposable art products (paints, oil pastels, paper, crayons, markers, etc.)
- Disposable manipulatives (play-dough, kinetic sand, etc.), but only if ours needs thrown away
- Posters for their rooms
- Favorite candy, cereal, or food that we don’t normally buy
- A day kayaking on the pond
- Ice skating
- Rent 4-wheelers, snowmobiles or jet-ski’s, for a day
- Flower pot or spot in the garden and something to grow all summer that is their own
- Special blanket (my sister makes personalized blankets that are amazing!)
- Bags (drawstring bags, duffel-bags, purses, etc.) these are easy and cheap to personalize too.
- Water bottle
- Music (CD or downloads)
- Electric toothbrush (my kids go crazy for these…)
There. 30 things to give the kids OTHER than toys for the next year. Just so we were all on the same page, we came up with a list of things that we consider “toys” that we are not allowed to add:
Cannot be added to our house:
- the obvious toys (cars, figurines, remote control things, dolls, etc.)
- Lego’s (this one might be tough)
- new things to ride (bikes, scooters, skateboards) UNLESS the one they currently have breaks
- Wii games
- board games
- sporting equipment (again, UNLESS something breaks and we don’t have a back up)
- water toys (squirt guns, tubes, noodles, etc.)
After writing it down, we can see that the list of things we will NOT get is much shorter than the list of possibilities. Throughout the year, we are also going to work on getting rid of some of our current toys.
I’m excited to see how this goes. I hope we will focus more on what memories we can make than what we can get. The kids were nice and happy about this idea. I’ll keep you updated on how long that lasts 🙂
I know that some schools are starting Spring Break this week (ours is not one of them…). If we had not moved from Colorado this year, my husband and I would be on our way to Belize for the week enjoying beaches, jungles, under-sea walks, and of course the 20 teenagers we would have brought along with us on the educational tour that my husband organized as a high school teacher. He has taken students on educational tours to Spain and Peru, but I have never been able to go with him because I’ve always had a nursing baby. This was going to be my year to go to Belize! I’m not pregnant and no nursing baby! But we moved, dang it!! Instead we are in Wyoming with the snow and wind….
It really is OK though. I’m glad we are where we are and I’m grateful for the way things have worked out. I’m sure Belize would have been lousy (this is what I tell myself anyways).
Our Spring Break is the first week in April and we will spend the first part hanging out at home and then head to southeastern Colorado for my Grandma’s 90th birthday party. We will stop in Denver and have some fun there, but no really big plans this year. So I thought I would come up with 10 free or cheap Spring Break ideas if you are also NOT going to Belize.
10 Free or Cheap Spring Break Ideas:
- Visit local museums. My two boys that are not yet in school went with me to a State Park visitors center that we have in our town and they really loved it! It really wasn’t anything overly amazing, but they had such a great time looking at the animal mounts and they haven’t stopped talking about it. After checking out the visitors center, we played on the playground outside and rode scooters along the trail. It was new to us, didn’t cost us a thing, and took up a whole morning.
- Discover a new hike or walking trail. Since we are new to this town, almost every trail is new for us. But I’m sure that you can find an area nearby that you have heard about and never been to personally. Ask around and make a list of new places to check out and then actually go check them out! Before we moved from Colorado, we had lived there 9 years and the summer before we moved we finally made it to see some local petroglyphs we had heard about, but had never actually been to. They were amazing and we ended up going there 3 times before we moved. We just wished we had done it sooner. So use this as the time to finally go and DO those things you have always wanted to see.
- Family yard clean-up. My kids love to help my husband and I with projects, but we are often in a hurry to do them, so we don’t always take the time to let the kids “help.” Use a week off from school to let them be your helpers. We bought our kids work gloves last summer and they love to put those gloves on and help us in the yard. Unless you are still covered in snow, it’s a great time to get outside and pull out the dead weeds, pick up dog poop from the neighbors dog who always finds YOUR yard to do his business, pick up the trash or leaves that have blown into your yard over the last few months, rake the grass, prep flower beds, transplant flowers or bushes, trim trees and bushes, and whatever else you notice needs done. I was outside playing t-ball with my son last week and it was my first time in our backyard in awhile and I found a TON of things that needed done, so this will definitely be on our Spring Break agenda!
- Family Service Day. As a family, think of ways to serve your neighbors, friends, or family and actually DO it! I know that we often have the thought to take cookies to so and so, but I honestly hate making cookies! It seems like every time I make cookies that I realize part way through that I am out of an ingredient, so I either have to stop what I’m doing and run to the store or look up a substitute for that ingredient or make a different type of cookie altogether! Then once I finally have the cookies finished it is so hard for me to deliver them before I eat them!! I’m not kidding! It took me three batches of cookies to finally get some delivered once. Anyways… use your time off to get those cookies made (make plenty of extras for your family) and then get out and deliver them right away!! Another service that my family enjoys is picking up pine cones for neighbors. We developed a great friendship with a lady in Colorado by picking up her pine cones regularly. She always invited us in for ice cream and she liked to pay the kids for their work.
- Swim in a new pool. This one might require a bit of traveling and possibly up to $20 (depending on price and the size of your family), but hopefully it would be worth it. Kids love to swim in new pools… have you ever been to a hotel pool with your kids? We just went on a long road trip for State Gymnastics and stayed in a hotel for one night. The kids got to swim and that one hour of swimming made the 17 hours in a car over 2 days totally worth it! There is nothing fancy about a hotel pool, but kids are always excited about it because it’s NEW! So do some research and find a cool rec center pool that is within traveling distance and make a day out of it. The kids will love it!
- Science experiment day. There are so many great science experiments on Pinterest that you will have no trouble at all filling up an afternoon. This is another one of those things that I always want to do with my kids, but just don’t always find the time to actually do! Have the kids help you make a list of supplies you need, run to the store and buy those supplies, then you could have the kids take turns being your helper for the different experiments. I created a board on Pinterest just for science experiments and you can follow that board here. I will also include links to great science kits below that you can use over and over! I used to teach a summer science class and I used these supplies every summer and the kids always loved them! If you really wanted to go all out, you could get these little lab coats that they will love!
- Art Day. My kids love art! I used to teach an art class (along with the science class) and my kids and I really enjoyed learning different types of art and we created some amazing work! There are so many resources for you to learn from if you yourself are not an artist. I would not consider myself an artist by any means, and yet I was able to teach kids how to create some incredible products! YouTube, Pinterest, and my amazing nephew were my guides. You can do several ideas at home, but it is also fun to take a little field trip to a scenic area and let the kids draw or paint what they see in nature. We did this during my class and if the gnats had not been so bad, it would have been really fun for the kids. My favorite YouTube channel is Fun2draw. My kids love watching these videos and they end up with impressive work. For a gazillion great art ideas, you can follow my Pinterest art board here. I will include links below to the art products that I used and loved in my art class.
- Movie Marathon. Find a series that your family loves. For my family, that series is Harry Potter. We are slightly obsessed. My 2 year old talks about Buckbeak, dementors, Voldemort and “expelliarmus” all the time to strangers and I think they are a bit concerned… I haven’t let my kids watch all of the movies yet, but they somehow have convinced me to let them watch the first 5. I have the remote in hand and skip a lot during numbers 3-5, but they still love them. You could also include books on tape in the marathon. This could be an all day sort of thing, or one movie per day as a movie night throughout the week. Your local library might have all the movies available. And if you aren’t sure what series to try out, please, please try Harry Potter!
- Family game day. There are so many great family games on Pinterest for family reunions. But why wait for a big reunion?? As a family, plan a few games and gather all the needed supplies. Invite another family or two over for appetizers and games. We enjoy family Olympics, the Amazing Race, Family Fued, relay races, wack-a-cracker, and minute to win it games. I have created a board on Pinterest for some other fun ideas here.
- Go for a Drive. Simple enough. It may sound boring to the kids at first, but our kids have come to love our drives. We don’t always have a plan of where we are going, but we usually have fun along the way. My husband made up a game to teach the kids left and right. Every time he drove up to an intersection, the kids took turns directing him to turn left or right. If they said left, but really meant right then he still turned left. They quickly caught on which was left and which was right. It is a fun way to see new places. We also like to take drives out of town. We’ve always lived in rural places where we are out of town and in the “hills” very quickly. We like to take new turns and discover new places in the middle of nowhere.
Writing this post has made me even more excited for Spring Break. I really should be waking kids up right now to get them ready for school, but maybe I will let them sleep in a little longer…
Here are a few links for the science and art things you might want to try. I hope you have a nice and happy Spring Break!