Its not a secret that 2020 was a tough year for a lot of reasons. One of the bigger challenges for our household were the losses we suffered both in the garden and with the chickens we hoped to raise.
Our property is one I think of as semi-suburban. We are situated on the edge of town in a small dead-end subdivision. Since the subdivision was completed two others, much more typically suburban, were developed; one adjacent to the south and one across the expanded road to the west. The rest of the area remains farm fields. The homes in our subdivision have two to three acres of land and are zoned “Agriculture Light.” For our area that means we are allowed to keep livestock animals as is appropriate for the individual size of the land and unspecified farming.
The suburban nature of our surroundings forced an unexpected predator pressure.
I suppose we should have expected predators, as the first few weeks we were in the house we regularly were visited by the dogs of a house from across the street. Additionally, we had more than one sighting of a coyote in the yard over the winter months. We even had some days during which an eagle perched on the power pole in the back of the property.
We thought we were well prepared seeing these creatures in the area and planned to rely heavily on electric poultry netting, both the standard type and one designed for the raising of chicks. We built a chickshaw, based on plans available online. We unpacked all our poultry supplies and placed our order for a dozen layers and 50 meat birds.
Interestingly, we hadn’t originally thought to include meat birds in our first real homestead project on the new property but changed our mind because of the corona virus pandemic. Because we eat chicken as a dinner at least once a week we chose to go big and raise more Cornish cross birds than we had ever had in the past. Many, many other people had similar thoughts. Sadly, we woke up on the fourth of July to find all of the meat chickens and all but one of the pullets dead, all over the lawn, as I have explained in a previous post.
We then learned several things: first that our daughter had forgotten to turn the electric fence back on after closing the birds in for the night, second that because the weather was extraordinarily dry the fence was not registering at full strength, thirdly that there was a far greater need for predator prevention than we had anticipated, and lastly that the demand for chickens had increased by almost 200% and replacing those birds would be almost impossible.
All of this has greatly influenced our plans for raising birds in this coming season.
Thus, I have been reviewing the failures of last year to consider what changes need to be made. Part of that includes examining the shelter we built. To be clear, I have been reasonably happy with the chickshaw we built, but it has not been a perfect situation.
One fact that I neglected to share is that we are housing both our layer chickens and four ducks in the ‘shaw. My youngest daughter loves ducks and insists that they are always part of our homestead. I also enjoy duck, so I have not argued the point. However, she and I have felt that the chickshaw is not well suited to the ducks. They are capable of climbing the ramp door to enter it with no notable difficulty and they get along well with the one surviving chicken and the three replacements we were able to get late in the season. However, they do not chose to bed down in the ‘shaw at night of their own accord. Therefore, we plan to develop and build a different, non-raised, shelter for the ducks as one of our early 2021 goals.
The duck shelter will also be getting some new inhabitants, as my daughter has discovered an extremely rare, endangered breed of domestic duck that she has fallen in love with and wishes to save. This has been her focus for several months and will likely be a large part of our spring and summer focus.
Since the ducks will be moving out, I plan to increase our small chicken flock by a few birds. I like to have about a dozen ladies. At the height of any laying season we will get a dozen eggs a day, and I don’t think we have ever eaten them that quickly. However, at that production level we have a standing rule of keeping a dozen boiled eggs in the refrigerator that anyone is welcome to at any time of day or night. This may seem odd to some, but with two of the three children who are home are teenagers who sometimes eat non stop-and who have friends who do the same-I like to be able to refer them to this plentiful, healthy food source. Also, at sometimes of the year I need to remind my children to check with me before they eat everything in the house. (It is simply a matter of trying to keep the items set aside as an ingredient or ingredients in a planned meal.) I have also tried several methods of storing eggs to last through the winter months when I don’t force the hens to continue laying. I expect I will continue these experiments to see what method or methods work here in Colorado.
We have decided that we will again raise Cornish cross birds, but I will be building a chicken tractor that I plan to be especially stout. Previous chicken tractors that we have built have been based on hoop designs and often used chicken netting or wire. Because I expect to continue to deal with more predators than we ever saw in Texas I plan to use welded hardware cloth as an alternative. While I have not yet finalized a design, as a family we have decided to down-size our planned meat flock to 25 birds, possibly two rounds at this number. The hope is that by keeping our goals smaller we will be better able to manage both the flock and the pressures on ourselves and them.
We have also left an option for ourselves to raise a few turkeys again this year. We have not had turkeys for several years, and we enjoyed the calls and the increase in quality when we raise them ourselves. The loose plan is to move turkeys into the tractor after the chickens have been processed.
This means I have a couple of projects to get building with the goal of having these complete by March. Wish us luck that our plans this year will fair better than those of 2020. I hope you are all well and safe and ready to take on some of your own 2021 homestead goals.
Tags: building, Chickens, ducks, planning, turkeys