Raising Chickens: What I’ve learned so far

Hi there! Welcome to my blog, where this week I’m just going to gush all about my chickens! I figured that after getting chickens a year and a half ago, I could share with you what I’ve learned so far. It truly has been a joy raising chickens.

I’m not exactly sure why, but when we moved to Ireland I decided that I wanted to have chickens. It took a little bit longer than anticipated, but about 10 years later I did get my chickens. Good things come to those who wait, right? 🙂 I wasn’t interested in hatching eggs and the work involved in that aspect, so I purchased chickens that were almost ready to start laying, which for these girls was around 23 weeks old. Another way to know if they are ready to start laying eggs is if their comb and wattle are developed. The farmer suggested that if I took them right before they are due to start laying, the transition would go smoother. If I waited to take them until after they started laying, they would most likely stop laying until they were fully settled in.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about a chicken run – a place for them to walk about and stay safe – for our four chickens. Their hen house, which I think is really cute, had an enclosure that, even with the extension, was rather small. We started letting them out of their house to roam our yard. I can tell you that once you start doing that, they will not want to stop! They stayed in our yard for the first 3 months or so. But then they started roaming to our neighboring fields. Every day they would go wandering through the fields and every night they would make their way home and go into their house to sleep. But when the fields were being harvested, and grain was left on the roads after falling from trailers, our chickens would stay in the road to eat the grain. Sadly, we lost two chickens this way. It was a tough lesson, but it was the impetus we needed to get our run made.

Ideally, a safe run has covering, which ours does not. Someday I do hope to get covering, but for now the girls can take cover under the hedge, or under their house. We have fencing on the back side of our hedge, so they can’t get out and hopefully no predator can get in. For us, our main concern is that they are enclosed in their house every single night. It is above the ground, with a sliding door closure, so hopefully they are safe from predators. Their house has a window for ventilation, and two nesting boxes. I can tell you that the chickens are not supposed to sleep in the nest boxes – mainly because they poo all night long and then the nest is a mess for their eggs in the morning. Our first batch of chickens did not originally sleep in the nesting boxes. They started this bad habit in the winter when it was just the two of them, and since I felt badly about there only being two, I didn’t try to stop them from doing this. Then, when we added the two new girls the following spring, they all slept in the nest boxes! It is more work for me to clean it out every morning, but that is ok. The house is easier to clean as the tray below the perches slides out and just takes a quick wipe to clean. I use straw in the nest boxes, so it is a bit precarious getting the poo out among the straw (TMI?).

The girls have two watering containers – one under the house and one in their run. They have a food container under their house, and I also throw their layer pellets in the grass, as they like to eat it that way. I rarely give them ‘treats’ as it is better for them to eat their pellet food than ‘treats’. But having said that, they do love fish skins! There is also a container of crushed oyster shells, which they eat on a daily basis. This helps to ensure that their egg shells are strong. They don’t eat to bulk up and stay warm. The process of them eating actually helps them to keep warm. I also have to wonder if they enjoy each other’s warmth when they sleep together in the nest boxes. Smarty chickens.

We have 4 Rhode Island Red hybrids, which are the best egg layers. They do not disappoint, and we get one egg a day from each of them. One of our girls, Rose, will sometimes not lay an egg. Twice when she didn’t lay an egg, she became ‘egg bound’ (when the egg gets stuck). It was easy to spot that she wasn’t doing well. They almost always stay together throughout the day, and on those two occasions, she stayed away from the others, and hid under the hedge. Both times I took her into our house overnight and gave her some special attention. Thankfully, she was fine both times and was able to pass her egg. It can be fatal if they don’t. The next morning I put her back with the others and you’d never know she wasn’t well the day before!

The other issue I’ve had to deal with is bullying. In the first group, the main bully was killed, and poor Daisy was finally free of her. But when the second two girls arrived, Rose stepped up to be the bully and Iris has received the brunt of most of her antics. What does she do? She will peck Iris on the head for no reason, she’ll jump on her back and peck her, or she’ll chase her from the food or water dish. The ‘pecking order’ is well established, and the younger ones won’t stand up for themselves or fight back. If it was constant, I would separate the bully from the group. For now, I try and keep an eye on them and make sure that Iris is safe.

I really enjoyed when the girls were free range. They would follow us around in the garden. They seem to be curious creatures and always wanted to know what we were doing – even in the house! Funny enough, Daisy had managed to figure out how to fly out of the run. She’d done it about 5 or so times before the new girls arrived. She only ever flew out when we were home, which is quite lucky for us. Rose never managed to fly out. But since the new girls arrived this past spring, Daisy has not flown out a single time. Maybe she was just looking for some more company? 🙂

I’m so glad to have the chickens as pets. They are quite manageable. They are lovely to watch, and honestly, fresh eggs are the best! They are quite sweet to listen to, as well.

I hope you are keeping well. We’re coming up to Thanksgiving in the States. It is tough being far away from friends and family, especially around the holidays. If you celebrate it, I want to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! Stay safe and healthy.

In Peace,

hen house sunny morning November
A beautiful morning in the country.
chicken in the house
A view of the inside of the hen house.
Henhouse enclosure
A view under the hen house. The girls will either go here or under the hedge when it is raining hard. They don’t really mind a light rain.
sleeping chickens
Nap time! (at least for three of them)
Chickens hiding from sun
This is where they go to get some shade (or under the hedge).
chickens and their run
They have a lot of space to walk around.
four hens in the turtle
They usually stay together.
chickens at the compost
Free ranging at the compost.
two chicken bums
Is there anything more fluffy than this?
two young hens
The two new hens (the comb and wattle aren’t fully developed).
Young hens house
We separated the young hens for about a week, to keep them safe from the older hens. We possibly should have done this for 2 weeks.
two and two chickens
In the early days, the two young hens kept apart from the two older hens.
two old together two young
The two on the left are the older chickens (lighter coloring).
Three hens in nest box
Now, they’ll all mix in together!
Rose and Daisy at the door
Rose and Daisy would ‘knock’ at the door to come in!
hens and pheasant
The girls were not impressed with their male visitor.
Daisy on the fence
Daisy hasn’t flown out of the run since the new hens arrived this past spring.
rose and her two eggs
This time that Rose was egg bound, she ended up passing a normal sized egg and a very large soft shelled egg, in one night! No wonder she was uncomfortable.
three in one eggs
They usually lay their eggs all in one nest. This was unusual to see one on the right.
This is my egg house. I pencil the date on the eggs to keep track, but they are usually eaten within a few days.
all sized eggs
This was before my egg house – you can see all different sized eggs! The younger hens lay smaller eggs.
poached eggs and quinoa
It’s not all about poached eggs on toast! Quinoa with poached eggs and dressing is delicious, too!
chicken under house
It is relaxing to just watch them.
two girls under hedge
Here is a younger hen on the left and an older one on the right, resting.
two older chickens resting
The two older hens resting together. You’ll notice that most pictures are of them resting! It’s much harder to capture good pictures of them on the go!
handfull of eggs
It’s not just about the eggs, but the eggs sure are a wonderful part of raising chickens!

Thanks so much for visiting! I hope you enjoyed my little chicken story. Take care! 🙂

12 thoughts on “Raising Chickens: What I’ve learned so far

  1. Dana, Thanks so much for a great report about your experience raising hens! Also, very good photos indeed! May your American relatives and friends have a Happy Thanksgiving! You and your family take care! 🙂

    • Hi Fabio, I’m glad you liked my story ‘so far’! I really enjoy photography as much as I do gardening and taking care of the chickens. Thank you so much for your kind wishes for Thanksgiving! I hope you and your family also have a very Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving! 🙂

      • Thanks so much, Dana! There is a common trait on your photography/video, gardening, and taking care of the chickens. And that’s love! Thanks for sharing the product of your hard work! Your constant message is “We always can aim for the best!” Best wishes to you and your family in Ireland. Take care! 🙂

  2. That’s an excellent set-up; happy hens. We no longer keep hens ourselves as we no longer wished to put their care on our neighbour when we were away on holiday. We miss their company and their eggs.

    You should get a few ducks – they can be with the hens and their eggs are beautiful.

    • Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of ducks. I was thinking of possibly four more hens, of two different varieties? We’ll see. Have you heard that they now have electronic doors to open and close the coop?! That is on my wish list for next year! Then, when we do go away (hopefully we will again!) the task is somewhat easier. 🙂

      • No, hadn’t heard of the electronic doors but it’s not too great a stretch of the imagination to see the possibilities. Ducks – you’ll have to get them. They are lovely. We had Khaki Campbells and adored them.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of chickens. Even if they peck you, it isn’t too bad. The two ‘babies’ don’t peck me, and let me pet them. The two older ones aren’t quite as nice, but are still harmless (thankfully!).

    • Hi Bert, All I did for this dish was cook some red quinoa per the directions (although I sometimes add vegetable stock into the water as it is cooking, to add more flavor) and then added fresh cut tomatoes, some basil dressing, and the poached eggs. I would also make cold quinoa salad with broccoli, tomatoes, pine nuts, any kind of dressing, and a poached egg. It just depends on what leftovers we have! How do you like to eat quinoa? 🙂

  3. I also have chickens, here in Montana. I have to worry about every predator imaginable, from bears, mountain lions, foxes, and raccoons, to weasels, skunks, and neighborhood cats. I have a very sturdy “Fort Knox” of a chicken run surrounding their coop with 1/2″ hardware mesh on all sides and even under the ground, but I like to let them out to range throughout about a third of an acre of fenced fruit trees and vegetable plots. I did lose a hen to a hawk on Thanksgiving in 2020. Hard to complain about a hawk eating a chicken outside when we were inside eating a turkey. However, I learned that you can string fish line across from fence top to fence top to discourage aerial attacks. The hawks who do try to swoop down don’t like that they hit “unseen” lines, and it makes them nervous about repeat attempts. It’s cheaper than using chicken wire or hardware cloth, and doesn’t need wood supports. It looks like your chicken run is long and narrow, and would be perfect for stringing fish line across it and back at intervals, both parallel, and at unpredictable angles. Since that attack over a year ago, I have not had another since putting up the strings over part of my orchard where there was less cover available. Good luck!

    • Wow, those are a lot of predators! That makes me even more thankful for our relatively quiet surroundings. The fishing line suggestion seems like a good option for me to try. Thanks very much for the tip! 🙂

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