Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Interview Wednesday - Kelcey Soderstrom and her Chickens!

Admit it - at some point you have wanted to get in on this urban chicken craze! We've all become curious whether it's through friends who have them or reading about them online (or having to chase them down the street when they get out of a neighbor's yard). When Kelcey got her chickens, I may have been more excited than her (and I don't even eat eggs!).

What made you decide to get chickens?
I had wanted to have chickens in the backyard ever since I was about 10 and I am now 26. It took quite a while to convince my mother to let them take over a corner of the backyard, but I believe the rising prices of eggs in the supermarket was the final push that made her give the okay. I have always had a fondness for birds (I also have a cockatiel) and was absolutely enamored with the idea of raising my own chickens and getting fresh eggs every day. I also love that I know exactly how fresh the eggs are. The eggs in the supermarket could have been laid 3-4 weeks before you get them.

Baby chicks!
Where did you get them?
I bought my 2 day old chicks at East Valley Feed & Tack 11084 Sheldon St. Sun Valley CA 91352 in March 2015. They were about $2.50 each and they carried 3 breeds at the time: Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth (Barred) Rock, and Ameraucana. There are lots of different breeds of chickens but these are some of the most common. I have 2 Plymouth Rocks (black and white variegated) named Snowflake and Obsidian and 2 Rhode Island Reds (rusty red/brown color) named Garnet and Ruby. Many feed/tack/livestock stores carry baby chicks in the spring. You can call them to find out when they will receive their chicks, what breeds they carry and whether they are sexed (usually done at the hatchery to make sure you are getting females - most cities have ordinances against roosters).

Was there a specific reason you went with the breeds of chickens that you did?
We did actually do quite a bit of research into which breeds we were getting. We wanted chickens that were strong layers but also with good personalities. Both the Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds are great layers! We are now getting 6-7 eggs a week from each of our four hens (7 months old now)! These breeds are also known to: have wonderful temperaments, love people and get along well in mixed flocks which mine definitely do. We are extremely pleased with our hens and I adore them. I like to think the feeling's mutual.

Getting bigger!
How hard are they to take care of?
Mature hens (once they are about 5 months old) are incredibly easy to care for and require less time than you think. In the morning and evening, I check their food and water containers, mostly just topping them off and usually a full clean of the water fount every 2-3 days or as necessary. Also I check for eggs. As you get to know your chickens, you will figure out when they lay and can collect eggs as convenient (to you and to them). Mine usually lay around lunchtime/early afternoon, but every chicken is different. Every week I add a fresh layer of pine shavings to their henhouse and every 4-6 weeks, I do a thorough clean of the henhouse and run, raking out all the old shavings and replacing them as well as raking out the dirt of the run. As baby chicks, they require a little more watching but nothing about their care is difficult or even time-consuming. You may find it time-consuming for different reasons though. There is nothing like holding a baby chick cupped in your palms and having her fall asleep. As babies, they need four specific needs met: heat, food, water, and sanitation. Usually a brooder box inside the house is the way to go so you can easily and frequently check on them and their environment. As long as they have these things, they will mostly sleep, eat and grow. Endless hours of entertainment as they go about their chick antics is a free bonus!

Are there special considerations given the number of predators that people wouldn't consider (Cooper's Hawks, raccoons)?
Have you heard the expression "going home to roost"? That is what chickens do every night. When darkness falls, chickens' metabolisms drop off rapidly, meaning they instinctually want to find a dark protected place to spend the night.

Their henhouse/roost needs to be well fortified to protect them at night when they are essentially helpless. Knowing this, I opted to create a well fortified henhouse as a second line of defense. The first line is a chain link dog run/kennel that we built and placed the henhouse inside. During the day, the chickens usually have the freedom to roam the backyard with both the run and henhouse doors open. As night falls, they automatically retreat to the henhouse and we shut and lock the run door behind them to protect them from raccoons. We have a lot of them in our neighborhood and I have heard stories from other locals who have lost hens to crafty raccoons who can open henhouse doors or even simple latches with those little hands/fingers.

How long was it before you got your first egg?
The first egg showed up just after they turned 5 months old.

What has surprised you the most about them?
There have been lots of surprises along the way. When you are doing something so new, you are bound to run into a lot of surprising things. The flock mentality is very interesting. Often when they move around the yard, they move around altogether staying close. If they split up, they pair off by breed with the 2 Rocks and 2 Reds sticking together. They will all nestle together in the dirt when taking dust baths or stand together when preening. Also chickens are known for being messy, but let me say this: this is only sort of true. Chickens can make a mess but it is mostly up to you where they make that mess. We let our chickens roam the yard so chicken poop is part of that but the chickens also eat weeds and bugs. Their poop also serves as great fertilizer but most people let it age/cool/begin to break down before using it for this purpose. They also aren't very fond of water baths but love dirt baths (which absorbs excess moisture and oil on their skin as well as repels parasites) so if you don't have an open patch of dirt they can use, they will likely find or make one in your yard. So for chickens dirty is clean! They are also surprising clean in regards to their nesting boxes, they will mess up their henhouse like a tornado has gone through but never poop in the same place they are laying eggs (nesting boxes).

People who own chickens say they're actually very smart and that they each have distinct personalities - have you noticed this?
Smart is all relative. They are super smart about most things like the way they know the sound of the back door (Pavlovian style) and all come rushing over to see if we have some little treat for them. They bed down in cool dirt during hot afternoons. They instinctively know which plants are safe to eat which gave me serious peace of mind because of the curiosity. However they will also all peck at something until it tips over (like a potted plant or garden tool) so sometimes you have to protect them from themselves. They most definitely have distinct personalities which really became noticeable as they matured. Ruby, one of the Rhode Island Reds, is our largest hen and seems to be top of the pecking order due to her size, but not due to her smarts. I love her but sometimes she is 30 seconds behind current events. She usually gets first shot at the food or the largest portion. However Snowflake often gives Ruby a run for her money. Snowflake is almost as big as Ruby, but also smarter and faster. Garnet may be the smallest, but she is faster than greased lightning. Often times, she will make off with a treat or a bug before the others even realized it was there. Obsidian is very sweet and calm and just goes about her business, waiting for everyone else to eat first or get the first bite of something before she gets in on the action.

Do you have a favorite? (You can tell us. The chickens can't read. They'll NEVER know.)
Haha! I truthfully love each one of them for their different quirks. Snowflake is usually the one you will catch me talking to because she is usually up to something. I promise that curiosity not only did in the cat, but the chicken too. They love to investigate everything and anything but Snowflake is usually the ringleader of any trouble starting in our yard. All our chickens are comfortable with people and love to hang out with us when we work in the yard. However Snowflake also sees as useful perches and likes to climb onto laps and on shoulders if she can get up that high.

Any last thoughts/tips for us?
I almost forgot to mention my go-to chicken handbook if people are looking for a great beginner's guide as well as an excellent reference. It is seriously the only book I have ever needed. I tried reading other books but they were more tailored to country folk or people with farms or large scale operations. I still refer to this book frequently. I just love it! A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store's Guide to Chicken Keeping by Robert & Hannah Litt They cover every step of the process: preparation, picking your breeds (with a great breakdown of each breed), building coops/runs, chick care, hen care, health issues, food, laying and egg instructions.

Does anyone else have chickens? What is your favorite thing about them (besides the obvious: eggs)?

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