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My entrance into chicken keeping was an evolution from a medical issue. In 2010 I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. I had a terrible time with the side effects of medication so my doctor was willing to work with me to control my glucose with diet. After several years of working on this, I ended up on a plant-based diet where my main source of protein is eggs. Between cooking from scratch for baked goods and breads, and eating eggs themselves, I go though 2 – 3 dozen eggs each week. So I decided that if I eat that many eggs they need to be the best eggs I could find.
Through reading the books my doctor recommended and the plant-based diet research I did, I got into organic vs non-gmo, vegetarian vs vegan vs paleo. And after seeing the eggs available at the various grocery stores in my area, I came to the conclusion I needed to raise my own chickens to get the quality eggs I was after. I want no soy, no corn, and no canola in my diet.
My family has always been animal lovers but we didn’t know anyone that raised chickens, we don’t come from a family of farmers, so I started researching on the internet. I found a local permaculture group that offered a 2 hr class on raising backyard chickens for a nominal fee. I figured the investment in the class would help me determine if this was something I should pursue. The class confirmed this was something we could handle.
I found a coop kit online, a local livestock store for feed and needed other items. I joined and followed several chicken blogs, reading and absorbing everything I could. Due to living in the Arizona desert out in a county island where coyotes, javelina, bobcats, and other animals roam wild, we decided we needed a fully enclosed run to keep the chickens safe. With our busy work schedule we didn’t have time to build a coop and run so we hired someone to do it for us. First he built a brooder cage so we could raise our flock from chicks.
This first run, approximately 8ft x 9ft, was large enough for 4 hens which worked well for the number of eggs we needed.
Then the chicken math starts … a year later we expanded the coop to approximately 8ft x 19ft to accommodate 8 hens by adding on to the existing run and replacing the freestanding coop with a built-in coop. The door to the run opens into the dog’s fenced in area. This way we have the flexibility to let the hens into the fenced in part of the yard if needed.
On the back of the coop, there is an egg collection hatch door. I like that I can see the coop and run from the kitchen inside the house.
To keep them from getting bored we built several perches, ladders, a swing, and mounted a mirror. The bench in the corner is for me so I can spend time hanging out with them.
We also fill the treat balls every once in a while, as well as fill the green basket with fresh veggies and herbs.
For water we use an automatic watering system hooked up to a garden hose that’s connected to a spigot on the back of the house. It’s so hot and dry in Arizona I wanted to be sure the girls never run out of fresh water.
In the summer I make ice blocks for the girls … sometimes I put fruit in the ice for a special treat as the ice melts. I got some large ceramic dishes, the kind that go under a ceramic planter, to hold the ice blocks because ceramic holds the cold longer. But putting the dish on the ground allowed the girls to kick all sorts of bedding, dirt, etc into it. So I got some large clay pots where the opening on the top was just the right size to hold the ceramic dishes.
Once a week the coop and run get a good cleaning. Everything is freshened up with nesting box herbs and all the poop gets dumped into the compost tumbler. Then my work has to be inspected to see if I did a good enough job. You might be wondering why I have nesting box pads lining the coop floor. Olivia has days where she just doesn’t want anyone else’s eggs in the nest box so she pushes they all out onto the floor of the coop. These pads save them from breaking as they fall to the floor.
Because I raised all the girls from chicks, they are very friendly. They don’t all like to be held and carried around but they will allow you to pick them up. This is important to us so each can be held and physically inspect if we think something might be wrong.
Being in the Arizona desert, I decided to name the girls with old-time western names. The flock consists of:
2 Welsummer hens I haven’t named because I have trouble telling them apart. I usually refer to them as the twins even though I don’t think they are really twins. They lay large brown eggs with darker brown spots.
Olivia is a Black Sex Link hen who lays jumbo dark brown eggs.
Goldie is a Buff Orpington hen who lays medium pinkish light brown eggs. When Goldie was put in the coop/run after outgrowing the brooder box, every time I went into the run she would get behind me, jump up, and bite the top of my thigh. She never broke the skin but made a small pinch of a bruise causing me to scream for a second. Then I started picking her up whenever I went inside the run just as a precaution to save myself. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what her problem was. It turns out she just wants to be held and carried around.
Polly and Pearl are Wheaten Ameraucana hens who lay small blue eggs. Polly has brown eyes and some dark streaks in her beard feathers. Pearl has gold eyes and not as much beige coloring in her feathers on her back. We chose the old-time name Polly because she likes to sit on your shoulder like a parrot. Ever since she was a little chick, you’d try to hold her and as soon as you picked her up she would flap her wings like crazy until she climbed her way up on your shoulder, then she would settle down and sit. Now as an adult, without warning (unless you see her start to bob getting ready to jump), she flies up to your shoulder … even if you’re holding Goldie already. She settles on your shoulder and sits while you go about your coop/run chores.
Now that the coop/run is almost full, there’s that chicken math again … we are looking to expand once again. This time the plans have been drawn to hold 30!
Since posting this Amy has added chicks and is expanding her coop!