Saturday, December 3, 2011

Urban Chickens

The Cost of My Education

When I was in high school I was a mostly average student except in Math - were I was a complete dunce.  My grade nine advanced math teacher gave me and F+ - the plus for trying really hard and still not getting it.  Having to go through life and not understanding the intricacies of higher math didn't really impact me at that stage of my daily life - and I have so far managed without it more or less. Practical math was more my forte - but then again - you be the judge.

My DH and I have a philosophy in life. We are of the mind that a non-traditional financial educational system can be very effective.  Some people have another name for our philosophy - they call it paying Stupid Tax.  We've paid stupid tax many times over our lives and this was no exception - perhaps we should have had a little more input from a professional about building the coop...

Our first chicken coop was some mathematical equation that reversed all the known rules of our Universe or at least everything we had ever learned up to that point in our lives about financial wisdom.  On the whole we're a frugal bunch but somehow it all went out the window when it came to housing the girls.   I'm sure it was OK/LM x BH=UCC which means Overkill over Lots of Money x Big Headaches = Ultimate Chicken Coop

Our chicken coop was amazing!  We started out with our children's playhouse (long outgrown) and turned it into the Most Expensive Backyard Chicken Coop on the planet.  It had to be perfect.  I didn't want my chickens to live in squalor - they were going to live in a Fort Knox safe, Martha Stewart organized, Better Homes and Gardens beautiful coop.  Oh it certainly was.. We designed and painted and fiddled and had Handyman Lew come and make changes till we got it perfect. We even laid sod in the covered outdoor run. It looked so cute and adorable…

...until our 6 red sex link chickens arrived.  Darn things pooped everywhere and ate the grass down to mud in less than two weeks.  It seems they were much less concerned about looks than I was. I'm not sure that they appreciated anything since they are rather bird-brained.  They just pecked and scratched and did chicken-stuff while making some quiet clucking sounds now and then and a few loud squawks when laying eggs.

We worried about them being cold over the winter.  DH won't admit this in public but he woke me up several times on cold and blustery nights just to ask if I thought the chickens were warm enough.  My sleepy and half coherent reply probably went something like - if you are so concerned why don't YOU go an check on them and LET-ME-SLEEP!  Ok - I worried too - a little.  But I had been reassured by many others online that they would be fine even in sub-zero weather and it seems they were.

Our coop was not insulated but it was small enough that the body heat of the six girls did add up to raise the temperature a few degrees from the outside.  Of course without the wind it really wasn't unpleasant at all but then again the hens declined to give me written statements.  We installed vents near the roofline to deal with the "fumes" and in nice weather we left the windows - which were covered with hardware cloth - open.  Air quality is of great concern for birds.  A dry and reasonably well ventilated space is more important than a closed up tight and warm one.  One of the challenges of any chicken farmer is keeping the water from freezing.  We used the simplest method - we had two waterers and brought one in to defrost and fill while the other was in the coop.  We changed out the water several times a day if it was super cold but usually once a day was enough in good weather.

The outdoor run caused us the most trouble.  We built it to withstand an army.  We went overkill on the size of the wood we used but it was good and sturdy - you could walk on the joists.  We used hardware cloth - not chicken wire which is far too flimsy and not enough to withstand an attack by raccoon or neighbourhood dog.  We also added polycarbonite panels to the roof so the run wouldn't get so muddy in the rain - that was a luxury I'm not sure was worth the money.  We made one huge design flaw that we were unable to fix and that was the height of the run.  It matched up to the roofline but it was a very VERY unpleasant job to clean out the run while bent over - make the run at least 6 feet tall!

For the record we used chicken egg layer pellets from our local co-op store for feed.  That's pellets instead of crumbs - much less waste with the larger pellets.  I am in the process of finding a more sustainable feed option but it has been problematic for several reasons I won't go into right now.  At that point I was more concerned with learning how the whole farming process worked while not killing the chickens with my lack of knowledge.  Time for getting creative comes with some more experience.

Starting out with any new project means there needs to be some money involved.  I consider it money well spent when I learn from the challenges and mistakes I've made.  When I added up the expenses and divided by the number of eggs we got in the one year the coop was in use I think the eggs came out to about $6.00 a piece.  A great deal don't you think when you consider it also made a chicken farmer out of me and that was priceless!


  1. That's too funny! We overspent, too. I'm the frugal one and wanted to use scrap materials, like wooden pallets or wooden shipping crates. Hubby put his foot down and said, "I don't want any hillbilly chicken coop"! So, tally up one brand new $450 resin shed, a wooden platform to raise the coop, plus a $400 chain link dog run (10'x10'x6'high) and we're still waiting for a return on our money ;-) But, hey, they're worth it, right?

  2. Those $6.00 eggs tasted wonderful because we raised them ourselves!! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only crazy one Brenda :)


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