It’s only the second snowfall of the winter and I’m already dreaming of spring’s warmer weather. I know the garden needs this time to relax and recover from the past seasons, but I’m ready to get out and dig in the dirt.
This time of year my mailbox is full of garden seed catalogs so I get to do a little virtual gardening by way of planning for this year’s garden. But this year, along with perusing seed catalogs, I have been thumbing through chicken catalogs. And let me tell you — this is a lot more fun than making a Christmas list!
When we first started thinking about getting chickens here at Kraemer House, we found out our local ordinances prohibited us from having them. It was probably for the best because we were knee deep in the house renovation with no end in sight. But, a potting cottage with a chicken coop had always been a plan in the garden from the very beginning. Flash forward a few years and the renovation is done and, lucky for us, the ordinance now allows us to keep a small flock. Personally, I never understood the restriction because our property is situated on over 5 acres but I’m happy that more and more towns and cities like mine have recognized the benefits of allowing residents to own chickens.
Now that we are actually getting chickens, I had no idea there were so many things to consider. Luckily, there are a lot of resources out there from others willing to share their personal experiences with newbies just starting out. But, ask the same question to ten different chicken owners and you’ll get at least ten different answers. Still, the information made me think long and hard about each decision we’ve made from coop design to the breeds of chickens we’re getting. A huge thank you to friends with chickens, The Chicken Chick, Fresh Eggs Daily, and Community Chickens to name a few. There’s still much to learn and discover but I’m ready!
We sort of knew what we wanted in a coop and it has evolved a bit from the first sketch. The garden cottage is about 20 feet feet wide by 10 feet deep. In the spring when the weather warms up a bit, we’ll be staining it a darker brown, adding some lighting and plantings, and maybe even a little arbor in the front. Only a quarter of the structure will be dedicated to the coop which will have an enclosed run attached and an automatic door.
Yep. Automatic door! Score!
Kudos to the person who originally dreamed up such a thing. Absolutely genius! They must appreciate their sleep as much as I do. Besides, it’s efficient and practical.
A few other notable features:
- As mentioned above, an automatic door that has a light sensor which will trigger the door to open at sunrise and close at sunset.
- Nesting boxes that will be accessible from the cottage side so we won’t have to enter the coop and disturb the chickens to collect the eggs.
- Instead of straw, hay, or shavings on the coop floor, we’re opting for sand. After a lot of research and questions, this seems like an excellent option for keeping the coop area as clean as possible. And, in the long run, it will be more economical than other options.
- The attached run will have lots of things to keep the hens happy including a little chicken garden. The run will be 30 feet long, 6 feet tall, and 4 feet wide.
- A rain barrel will collect water runoff from the roof.
- Corrugated metal will line the coop walls for efficient cleanup.
So what kind of chickens are we getting? I had no idea there were so many things to consider when choosing the best chickens for our little coop. So, I made a long list to identify my goals and after a lot of research, I decided the questions I needed to concentrate on were:
- Are they weather tolerant? I need chickens that could tolerate both our cold winters and hot summers here in Pennsylvania.
- Are they broody? I’m not planning on hatching eggs so the hens need not be inclined to want to sit on the eggs.
- Are they good layers? The reason I’m getting chickens is primarily for fresh eggs so I want chickens that will produce.
- Are they docile? Some breeds are flighty or aggressive and I want chickens that won’t scare the dickens out of me every time I feed them.
Initially, I thought I wanted all the fancy chickens. You know — the ones with the beautiful plumage that makes them look half crazy. I discovered, unfortunately, they’re not great layers. Also, I decided to get juvenile pullets which are young hens. When I discovered this was an option, I decided getting juveniles was the best way for this newbie to proceed.
We are excited to purchasing them locally from Lancaster Fancy Fowl. I knew this was the right place for me because the chickens are fed organic, non-GMO feed from birth and are basically raised in the backyard of Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The owners focus on rare, heritage, and show quality/exhibition poultry stock.
So what are we getting? Drumroll please!
Rhode Island Red
One of America’s most popular breeds, they are a brown-laying heritage chicken. Hardy, cold tolerant, and well dispositioned.
Cream Crested Legbar
A century old recent import from Great Britain, this breed is a prolific layer of pastel blue to light green eggs. They are hardy, rarely go broody, and diligent foragers.
This chicken is a hybrid of breeding a Rhode Island Red with a Barred Rock. Noted for being an excellent layer of large brown eggs, this breed is hardy with a mild temperament.
Developed in Sweden by a Catholic monk in the 1950’s, this rare breed layer of beautiful green eggs is cold hardy, curious, and excellent foragers. Pronounced “ice bar.”
A purebred, this breed lays an impressive number of sky-blue eggs. Noted for their hardiness, they have a beard, muffs, and slate-colored shanks.
Originating in Holland in the 20th century, this chocolate brown layer is cold hardy and friendly.
Americana (Easter Egger)
This class of chickens is not a breed but a variety of chicken that doesn’t conform to any breed standard. They possess the “blue egg” gene and are exceptionally hardy. They are often confused with Araucanas and Ameraucanas. Layers of eggs from cream to turquoise, they get their name from the Indian tribe in Chile where they were first discovered.
So that’s what’s happening in my little garden. How does your garden grow?
I hope you’ll stop by often to see what we’re up to! There’s a lot in store for 2015 so if you’re not following on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter I sure hope you will will! I often post stuff there that doesn’t end up on the blog and it’s a great way to stay connected.