My husband and I have a small “hobby farm” where we have lived for over a decade with our now teenagers. We have enjoyed having space to have a few animals and space to grow a few crops and garden. The farm projects have evolved over the years based on our interests and needs. However, none of the changes were as dramatic as the ones that were stimulated by the pandemic and then the subsequent supply chain problems.
When the Covid 19 virus hit and lock-downs went into effect our family made a number of adjustments as did many families to stay safe and to follow new health restrictions. Work, school, shopping and social activities all changed. Most of us have stories of how we and our families experienced pandemic lockdowns and endured the shortage of supplies and goods resulting from the supply chain problems. We felt very lucky to have our roomy house in the country so we at least had room to “spread out” even while we were technically isolating and social distancing.
Part of our family’s changes became more than the short-term changes, though! As we discussed our challenges of finding staples such as milk and eggs in stores on some occasions, my husband recalled that he would still like to expand the scope of our “hobby farm”. He was especially interested in chickens and producing our own eggs. The following was a summary of the brief exchange that followed:
My response was a good humored (I hope) “Well, if we are ever going to do it, now would be the time.”
“So, you would be okay if we got some chicks to raise for eggs?”
“Maybe, but what about when lock-down is over? We are gone sometimes for family visits, vacations, and kids’ activities. We would need a consistent plan to have them taken care of. A partner or something?”
Ten minutes later, we had a part-time neighbor partner.
24-hours later we had a dozen chicks in a cardboard box under a lamp in the garage. Later this graduated to a dog crate with a cardboard liner and bedding. Meanwhile, my husband started building a coop out of scrap lumber.
There was a learning curve of course, but I must admit, this has been one of the easier “experiments” we have undertaken on our hobby farm. My husband did the “heavy lifting” building the coop and still does the bulk of the care, so he deserves most of the credit. But we all enjoy using the eggs and benefit from them. Our partner enjoys them too, and we love being able to share occasionally with family and friends.
So, what were the bumps or lessons of this project? Probably the biggest one was the coop. While it was amazing for us to have someone in the family who had the skills to build our first coop, he now thinks he might have built it too well. My husband designed it to be strong to protect the chickens from critters and the winter winds. He also built it on runners so he could pull it from one area to another in our yard using the idea of the mobile “chicken tractor” but using our actual tractor. It’s a well built chicken house, but it turned out heavier and less mobile than anticipated. There is more to that story, but it is probably better told by the builder himself, my husband!
We have learned so many other things! While there is routine care, chickens really are relatively low maintenance. They really don’t take a lot of space, unless you have a larger flock. Feeders and waterers are easy to use. Fresh eggs keep well much longer than I ever knew, even unrefrigerated if you don’t wash them. I had no idea most of the world feels it is better not to wash your eggs so they keep longer!
Warning: I need to note that food safety guidelines in our country require refrigeration of eggs and egg products sold. So, I won’t advocate not to refrigerate your eggs! Certainly, I didn’t try it until I had read and researched it! There are important guidelines that need to be observed in handling farm fresh eggs, and all eggs, to prevent some serious health risks whether you refrigerate them or not, including salmonella or even just spoiled eggs. I am a broken record with my kids! Don’t eat raw eggs, break and inspect each egg before you use it, wash your hands before and after you handle eggs, once refrigerated you have to keep them refrigerated, etc. Probably nothing new here! Certainly not if you ask my kids!
Best surprise for me? A big batch of eggs is one of the fastest, healthy ways to feed a group of hungry teens on short notice! Maybe one of the cheaper ones, too! The teens may even do the cooking themselves on occasion.
Another fun discovery was that our garden weeds increase egg production. That is a win-win for me for sure! It makes it more fun for me to pull a few handfuls of weeds along the garden rows on the way to gather eggs. The hens are so excited to see me, they all get off the nests to enjoy the treats making it easier to get eggs, and eggs production usually increases! And, it helps clean up my garden.
So, I am a chicken advocate. Not everyone has a place for chickens, or the schedule that would allow them to take care of them. The biggest challenges for us were the initial set-up and then the schedule changes to ensure we could take good care of them. For some households it might just be that “practical hobby” that has a great payoff. What started for us as a response to pandemic shortages turned out well for us. It is also a project that some of our friends have more interest in as egg prices continue to rise!
Our next “hobby farm” addition was a bit larger and a bit more complex than the chickens. And, of course, the learning curve was even bigger than for chickens! That is a future story!
P.S. if you are thinking about starting with your own chickens, be sure to check out our Natural Gramma Chicken Tractors at www.farmandhomesteadequipment.com. Based on experience they are much easier than building one! And, they are easier to move!