Backyard Chickens and Gardens – Part One

Backyard Chickens Again

Life has a funny way of changing or “circling back”…..

gardening blogWhen I was growing up, gardening was a normal part of life.  My father had a huge garden sitting in the middle of an acre in the suburbs of Baltimore County.   I remember spending hours picking strawberries from several very long rows of plants and playing in the weeping willow that grew in the middle of the garden….. and selling 5-gallon buckets of tomatoes for 5 bucks because we always had wheelbarrows and wheelbarrows of tomatoes.  We had a canning closet in the basement where my mother filled shelves of every kind of pickles you can imagine, tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, jams and jellies.  I remember the sourdough starters and the bread baking.  My father hunted and filled the freezer with deer meat.  I even remember making our own butter!  You’d think we were in the middle of nowhere but we were only about 30 minutes from downtown Baltimore City.  Those were good memories.

yellow sex link chickenWhen Dean and I left our first house moved here to the cornfields of Northern Harford County, MD, we did so wanting a quiet peaceful life.  We only have a few acres, but this past year, we have been making use of every bit of it and even more projects in the works (will do some sharing as completed).   I know when Dean married me 22 years ago, he never thought we would even own horses let alone chickens, etc.  The thought did not cross his mind.

I want to continue to share peeks into the progress because I want to encourage anyone and everyone to get back to nature even on small properties!…. it is quite enjoyable, and you would be amazed what you can fit.  The little things make a difference.

rooster crowingSo Chickens and Gardens?  Yeah…..

In the early 2000s, Dean and I tried our hands at gardening.   We did it “right”.  We bought a tiller, we tilled up a big area in the backyard and planted.  He still jokes to this day about the fact that I planted but didn’t label what I planted so frankly, I had no idea what I was growing and where.   Somehow we both lost interest and the garden was unsuccessful.  We chalked it up to being too busy.

colored chicken eggsWe also had chickens for a few years starting around 2009. We had had cochins, americaunas, polish, silkies, marans, rhode island reds, barred rocks, you name it…. I was buying them up just for their unique egg color or unique appearances.

 

hatching eggs

We had 20+ chickens at one time, and we had hatched out about 100 eggs in incubators (which we did sell by the way, I’m not that crazy!).  Eventually, the chickens got older, I was working full time outside of the house, the kids were teens, and we were all just busy busy busy.  I rehomed the last of the chickens, some of them were ready for naturally halting egg production due to age.

This past year, I have been home a lot.  Life changes, work changes…I will go into that in more detail in a later post.  All I know is I am in the best shape of my life because I am outside every day.  I’m also in pain nearly every day because I do way too much – but it’s self inflicted, my own fault.  Bringing horses home and angry neighbors that do not understand agricultural zoning (more on that later) will do that to you!

large chicken coop

My daughter, Erynn, has her own rabbitry (Anomaly Rabbitry).   We had originally housed these rabbits inside of the old chicken house.  We even ran electricity and heated and air conditioned it as needed.  I decided to build raised bed garden boxes in the chicken run.  After all, we weren’t going to have chickens and the rabbits would have a little play area in the run.

Eventually, we decided on a whim to bring the rabbits inside the house.  Did you gasp?  Oh no worries, I will share what we did here in a bit.  It’s kinda cool.

When we moved them, I then had an entire chicken house open with nothing in it (eventually, I will be giving it all a facelift).  Well, of course, perfect timing, I went to the Mill of Black Horse to pick up something or other and there were americauna chicks.  No.  No.  I’m not buying chicks.

“Would you like to buy some chicks?”

“No, but I want to.”

“Why won’t you?”

“Because I don’t want any roosters.  My neighbors are not very nice and last time we had chickens, they complained and said we were the reason they got central air because of the roosters (no central air in the year 2009?)…. they complained about other neighbors too.  I’m not having roosters to cause contention.  I have to order online so I know I get hens.”

“These ones are sexed.”

“Really?!!”

“Yeah, 90+% chance they are hens.”

“Well then I need three, only three.  I am keeping this manageable and small…. make that four just in case one is a rooster.”  😀

roosterYou know what?  Out of those four, 50% were roosters.

Well now I need more hens.  I decided on sex links.  Sex links are easily identified as to what gender.  I could guarantee myself all hens.  I contacted someone local who had them.

 

“I only need two.”

“I have a lot of them, are you sure you don’t need more?”

“Okay three… I can do three… no make that five.”

What is wrong with me?

backyard chickensAt any rate, back to what’s going on.  Yes, I have 7 hens and 2 roosters (one may be going in a stew pot – he’s a jerk… I don’t need a rooster that attacks.)  There would be no convincing the neighbors that I did not intentionally get roosters, but it shouldn’t be an issue anyway.  We’re in the cornfields.  *sigh*

 


mushrooms in compostI had to come up with a way to combine my chickens and gardens that I had started in the same chicken run.  I loved it that my gardens were in an enclosed area, but chickens eat everything.  I mean EVERYTHING.  We give them food scraps all the time, but they will eat weeds, grass, and nearly any type of vegetable or fruit.  They would devour an entire garden.  In fact, they will eat plants the minute there is anything sprouted, so the garden would never grow.

I love to re-purpose, so I made the L-shaped raised beds out of lumber from our pool deck that we got rid of.  Over the winter, I had filled them with composted horse manure (always looking for a way to use up the manure) and rabbit waste.

hen-chickenI figured out that if I hung bird netting using a roll of bungee cording I purchased here and used the cord at ground level as well, the chickens could not get to my vegetables.  They could grab a few little leaves through, but the plants would be fine.

This proved to work wonderfully.  I was a bit concerned that I took space away from them in the run but we are far from the 20+ chickens we used to have.  I think they will be fine.  In fact, after growing season, I may take the bird netting down and let them have access to peck through whatever is left.

Our new chickens are now 5 months and we expect egg production to start any day.  We did put this solar light in the coop, and it is really nice for a small space.  We also have one in our barn feed room.  I was very pleased with how easy it was to install and how well they work for these spaces.  I plan to utilize more solar power in the future after doing much research.

Okay this is a long blog post – Part 2 is now available!

 

About Jodie Otte

Maryland Newborn Photographer and Child Portrait Artist, Jodie Holstein-Otte, specializes in unique photography of newborn babies, kids, and families. She works on location in Harford, Howard, Cecil, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and other areas throughout Maryland. She uses both both natural lighting and soft studio lighting techniques.