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A Dog’s Eye View: It’s Chicken Season

Chickens

Tis the season for ordering chicks. I’ve already received my chick catalog, and Agway’s got their sign out, too. Tractor Supply Store gets them by the bucketload. And they are so adorable when they weigh 1.5 ounces-the little peeps bring out the sappy side of you from the cockles of your twisted heart. They make you say, awwwww, and they aren’t expensive to buy. It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap I call “owning chickens.”

But before you give in to the temptation of ordering, you should be aware these cute little spoons of peep and fluff have conditions.

First – the bureaucracy. In Chelmsford, in order to have domestic animals, your home must sit on at least an acre of land. The coop should not be too close to neighbors, because even though you can’t hear them now, you will hear them loud and clear next month. You will need to get an annual permit from the Board of Health. The first year will cost $30.00 for every nine birds, and $15.00 every year thereafter. And each year you will get a visit from the local Animal Inspector, to offer advice to keep your birds are safe and clean.

Second, there are a lot of predators out there who love, love, love to eat chickens. One such mystery guest got three of my birds earlier in February. After replacing large sections of wire on two sides of one of my coops, and encouraging my dogs to urinate near them, whatever it was stopped coming back. This happens to us every year.

Third, chickens are slobs. They poop everywhere and often. You will need to have an area far away from all signs of civilization to store the poop until it composts back to dirt. Chicken poop makes great fertilizer for gardens, and each Spring I have a weight lifting session moving poop. It’s like having a very smelly cardio session in your private outside gym.

Fourth, chickens eat a lot. The first few months you will feed them Chick Grower, a crumbled grain mixture. After that, depending on whether you are growing them for food, or you want them for their eggs, you will feed them pellets. Their food will run anywhere from $13.00-$18.00 per 50-lb bag, and since I have a couple dozen birds, I will go through about 75-lbs of grain a week. I also supplement their diet with “farm bread” that you can get inexpensively at a bread discount store, or leftover vegetable scraps.

Fifth, Chickens are noisy, especially in the morning and when laying an egg. If you happen to get a rooster, he will be noisy whenever he wants. I have one I keep in a horse stall so he doesn’t annoy the neighbors any more. I can still hear him from my house, which is about 400 feet away from the barn. He lives with two guinea hens that are just as loud. A pigeon we took in because he was injured lives there, too. We tried to let him go when he was healthy, but he came right back in and doesn’t want to leave.

Lastly, when designing your coop, allow at least a square foot or two per chicken. Crowded birds will fight each other to death for space and food. They will also get into small tiffs while establishing “pecking order”. If you are in a position where you are introducing new birds to an established flock, bring the new birds into the coop in the middle of night. For some reason, they don’t fight as much. One time I mistakenly put several birds together in the morning, and the new birds were dead in a day. Do the merge at night, and they stare suspiciously for a few days, but there will not be much pecking.

Still have questions? Ask away! I will get back to you.

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