With Easter here, I thought it fitting to talk about the true supplier of eggs. Bunnies get all the credit this time of year, but we all know we have chickens to thank for the ever so versatile egg. Although they may not be filled with chocolate there is not much that beats a fresh scramble with eggs that were laid that morning.
6 years ago we made the decision to invest in chickens. Specifically, laying hens as opposed to meat birds or roosters. We were renting a house up the Meadows where we were cultivating 1/4 acre plot of land as a veggie garden. On the property was an empty chicken coop that hadn’t been used since our landlord kept a few birds many years before. It was a little rundown and being used as storage but we emptied it out and fixed it up. We have since then moved to Reid Road and were fortunate enough to be able take our chickens with us.
To be honest I didn’t have the greatest memories of chickens. I remember getting chased around the yard by an angry hen and being pecked at by mean-looking rooster. Maybe we lucked out, maybe it’s the breed or maybe there is something to be said for raising your day old chicks but we have some of the friendliest birds. They LOVE to be petted, picked up and they are not afraid of people, dogs or cats. We let them roam free for most of the day and then when the sun starts to set, they retreat back into their coop and we lock them up for evening. I thought there would be a lot more chasing and wrangling involved but they seem to know where their home is and enjoy staying there (that or they know where their food is!)
It was a bit of a life adjustment and took a bit of getting use to caring for birds – cleaning the coop, collecting eggs every day, filling feed and ensuring clean water – but the benefits quickly outweighed the work. In six years of owning chickens, I think I’ve only purchased eggs from elsewhere once. We usually have eggs to spare and either sell them or share with friends and family.
Here is my list of benefits to keeping laying hens:
- They compost for you! I keep a scraps bowl in my fridge and every morning bring it to the birds. Carrot peels, the tomatoes I forgot about and are now stinking up the fruit bowl, the stale bread that’s about to mould, aside from a few items the chickens will gladly eat it all. (We do not feed our chickens any dairy or meat products. There is also a list of fruits and veggies to avoid feeding your chickens such as citrus, grapes and mangoes)
- They are incredibly entertaining. Have you ever watched a chicken run? It’s like peaking into the Jurassic age. And if you have children, chickens are a fantastic source of entertainment. Have you ever tried to catch a chicken that does not want to be caught? Well, kids will try for hours!
- Not only will you waste less food (feeding your birds scraps) but the grocery stores will also waste less food. Did you know that at the Pemberton Valley Supermarket you can pick a banana box of the grocery store’s unsellable fruits and veggies? For $2 you can pick up a chicken box filled with an assortment of items that are perhaps a little too ripe or bruised but the chickens aren’t picky, in fact they are thrilled to see that box coming their way.
- You know exactly where your food comes from. You know the living conditions of these birds and you know exactly how long the eggs have been sitting on your fridge shelf. This was a huge one for me. There are companies that advertise “free range” or “free run” by giving their birds an additional amount of space and a minimum amount of time spent outside but at the end of the day we just can’t really know how these birds spend their existence. (Of course, in Pemberton we are so fortunate to get access to eggs from trusted farmers, so I am speaking more to what is available at the grocery store.)
- There is something so rewarding in caring for a creature. There are many reasons we keep pets, it has been shown that cuddling a pet can reduce stress, loneliness and anxiety. Chickens are no exception! Plus if you’re not interested in having indoor pets, chickens are a great alternative!
- Chickens help keep the bug and slug population under control. If you do keep a home garden chickens can play an amazing role as a natural insecticide.
- EGGS! Oh yeah! When was the last time your dog left you a tasty treat? Chickens are fabulous, you feed them, they feed you!
When is comes to the coop there are so many amazing and innovative plans available online but here are a few essential features that every chicken coop should include:
- Waterproof roof
- A secure structure with a raised floor. Ensuring there are no holes that a mouse could fit through
- Ventilation grills
- Window(s) for ventilation and natural light
- Nesting boxes
- A roost of sorts
- Lockable door
- Fenced run using either chicken wire or galvanized wire
- Heat lamp
- Food dispenser
- Electric fence (optional but recommended)
There are a few different options when choosing which laying hens to get and where to get them from. We are very lucky in Pemberton. Through the Animal Barn you can place an order for “ready to lay hens” meaning these chickens have been sexed and then the hens raised until a week or two before they are ready to lay.
Another option is to get “day old chicks”. There are a couple hatcheries in the Vancouver area that offer both sexed or unsexed day old chicks and you can expect your hens to start laying around 6 months.
The last option and my least favoured is to purchase day old chicks and have them sent through the mail. I won’t go into any detail on this one.
We opted for day old chicks and we drove down to the Little Red Hen Hatchery in Abbotsford and picked up ten of the cutest little “Easter Egger” chicks. Easter Eggers are a breed of hen also sometimes called Americanas and they lay pastel coloured eggs sometimes blue, green, white and pink.
Since then, we have purchased ready to lay hens through the Animal Barn and adopted a few stragglers around town that needed a home. We’ve grown our brood to 20 hens, each one adding its own personality to the dynamic. It was 6 years ago that we invested in laying hens and I can’t imagine my life without these feathery friends!