The Sliding Scale: Chickens of Freedom

by Kurt Dugger–

Gateway drugs — we’ve all heard of them. They’re easy to obtain and seem harmless, but once experienced will leave you wanting more. Making your property work for you, instead of you working for it, tends to have the same effect. Start the process by growing a tomato plant and a few peppers and use them to make delicious canned salsa. Next, you’ll want a small garden. Then, you might start eyeing the empty space in your front yard and think, “A peach tree would fit just perfectly there.” You begin to notice that with every improvement, you feel a little freer and less stressed. Now, adding a pet that provides you breakfast is just the next logical step.

If you’ve never cared for anything but dogs and cats, the thought of chickens can be intimidating. Don’t fear the chicken. Keeping two or three hens in your yard is less hassle than a dog — if it’s done right. Even if you have neighbors, they may not realize what you’re doing until you start bringing them all of the eggs you don’t have room to store.

Roosters crow, but hens are generally calm and quiet, unless something is bothering them. You don’t need a rooster for the hens to lay eggs, but they will help protect your hens. If you use a chicken tractor, a mobile pen, there is really no smell to speak of or mess to clean up. They don’t eat much and are happy to keep your yard bug free. They have no problem taking care of most table scraps. Unlike a dog, you don’t really need to worry about a chicken chasing cars or biting the mailman.

If you live in a more populated area, you will want to look into a chicken tractor. It’s like a small dog kennel with wheels on one end and handles on the other so it can be moved around your yard easily. This lets your chickens enjoy grass and bugs in different areas while providing free fertilizer anywhere you need it. You don’t need a giant dollhouse-looking chicken coop to haul around. Keep it simple, but do consider the following ideas when designing yours.

It will be outdoors so treated or painted lumber is a good idea. You will be collecting eggs, changing water, and adding food every day so make it easy to access. Think along the line of a big rectangle with a hinged lid, like a screen door. It will also need to be predator proof. How strongly your castle needs defended will depend largely on the predators in your area. Raccoons and possums can be very clever and determined. A solar electric fence charger can be mounted on your tractor and makes a great low maintenance deterrent. Other considerations include giving the chickens protection from the sun and rain in the summer and cold and wind in the winter. Some breeds are hardier than others so do a little research before you buy.

Baby chicks can be purchased for one to four dollars. Kids love watching them grow and hop around. You can easily build a chick brooder out of a plastic tote. Line it with grass clippings or other dry bedding and change it regularly. It is great for compost. Give them a waterer, a few handfuls of feed every day, and a heat lamp. They don’t have mom to keep them warm and dry so you’ll have to handle that. Suspend a heat lamp over the brooder on one end. This allows them to move closer or further from the heat, depending on how cold or hot they feel. Cover the top with a piece of chicken wire and some weight to prevent escapees and feline intruders.

When you start collecting eggs there are a few things to keep in mind. Don’t wash them before storing them. Eggs are sterile inside and have a natural coating that prevents any bad things from getting in. If you scrub them in warm water, you will remove this coating and force water through the shell, which can cause problems. Fine grit sandpaper will clean off dirt without disturbing anything inside. Industrially produced eggs have to be scrubbed to create an efficient system. Those eggs are then hit with radiation or other methods to sterilize the insides before packaging.

When cooking with your homegrown eggs, you will notice differences between them and store-bought eggs. The yolks will usually be a much richer yellow color and taste like freedom. If you boil them, you will find that fresh eggs are harder to peel. After they sit in the refrigerator for a week or so or on your counter for a few days (No, they don’t go bad over night), peeling will be much easier. Enjoy the fact that every egg your chicken produces is tax free.

If you live in city limits, you may have to ask permission to keep pets on your land. Some town councils only allow pets that consume food, not those that produce it. If this ordinance applies to you, I suggest finding others interested in keeping chickens and making a few calls to your council members. Remember, any law made by man can be changed by man. If that doesn’t work out, it’s easier to move a few miles down the road than to live under tiny tyrants.

As a next step on the road to liberty, I can’t recommend chickens highly enough. It is truly a good feeling to sit down with your family and enjoy a meal you all grew and prepared together. Be careful though, once you find out how easy it is to raise chickens you will want to experience more freedom highs. On that note, I’m off to check on the pair of piglets that joined us yesterday.

Be safe and live free.