Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Novice's Guide to Preparing for Chickens

In the next day or two, we will officially be true farmers with the arrival of 25 tiny, adorable chickens.  This is our first endeavor with any kind of livestock (are chickens even considered livestock??) so we are excited/nervous about their arrival.  We have done a lot of prep in the last year or so including reading every book we could find, searching the web and talking to/badgering every chicken farmer we knew.  We are by no means experts or really have any idea what we are doing, but based on our research, anyone planning on having chickens for the first time may find some helpful information complied here instead of having to look a ton of places like we did.  So here we go:


Obviously, the most important ingredient in having a chicken farm is the actual chickens.  I found an online supplier that had a good refund guarantee (if chicks die in the mail) and had great prices:  www.dunlaphatchery.net.  The minimum order from this supplier is 25 chickens but you can mix breeds/types.  

We decided we wanted chickens for eggs as well as chickens for meat.  Yes, if you grew up in the suburbs like we did you probably had no idea that there ARE two different kinds!  The chickens that you get for egg production stick around for a few years and provide eggs for your consumption.  We chose to get females only so we wouldn’t have a noisy rooster to deal with and so we don’t have to worry about vaccinating babies- the chicks come vaccinated from the supplier.  You want the egg layers to be friendly and produce a lot of eggs.  You can choose breeds that lay brown, white or blue eggs.  So why are brown eggs you find at the grocery store more expensive than white ones?  No reason at all- it just came from a different breed!  

We ordered 10 egg layers, all pullets (females under a year old):  

5 Barred Plymouth Rocks 

and 5 Black Astralorps.

These both lay brown eggs.  We chose these because people claim they are both friendly breeds and huge egg producers (generally 1 a day; though in the winter production slows down).  Also, they are both black which helps with camouflage from predators (ie. eagles).

We also ordered 15 boilers (chickens meant for butchering for meat)- White Cornish Cross.  

There wasn’t much choice from our supplier on this and the cornish cross seemed the popular choice.  These are straight run so they will be mixed male/female.  This doesn’t matter as much as the egg layers since they will be dressed (killed) at 7-8 weeks old.  Any roosters in this batch while grow a bit faster but that will be the only difference.

The chickens are overnighted from the supplier and should show up at the post office tomorrow or Thursday.  The post office will then call me to pick the box up.  I think it will be a completely surreal moment, carrying a cheeping box home with me.


Since we live on a farm, housing is pretty simple for us.  If you have to create your own coop, there are tons of resources online- the most important thing is making sure there are no places for predators to get in.  We decided to use an attachment on the barn as our coop.  

We chose this area because we only needed to add chicken wire to a couple spots, it had access to electricity and it would give the chickens easy outdoor access.  

I was worried about air flow in the summer, so Andy built a screen door attached to a screen wall on the outside wall of the attachment.  He added a spring to the door so it slams right behind you as well as a lock so the kids can’t wander in their unsupervised. 
E posing with Murphy outside the door.  The  red metal to the left is a sliding door that covers all the screened in areas.

On warm days, we can open the metal sliding door all the way to get nice air flow.  I imagine on these nights, the screen wall will be lined with raccoons eying their wanted supper.  In the winter, we can close the sliding metal door to give some escape from the elements.  

The space has a door that also opens to the interior of the barn, so Andy built a screen door for this side too.

We have some time before the egg layers start producing so we haven’t built the nests inside the coop yet.  This will come soon!


I am very lucky to have a friend who lives across the field from us who raises chickens as a hobby.  She brought by her baby chicken supplies and told me what else to get.  

Since the chicks are so little, you keep them in a ring for a while.  My friend brought by a ring she made which is metal and has holes drilled in every 2 feet so you can make the ring bigger as the chicks get bigger.  

Above the ring, I hung a heat lamp about 1 1/2 feet from the ground.  

The heat lamp stays on at all times when the chicks are little.  A nice tip I learned today- if the chicks are all huddled under the lamp, they are too cold and the lamp needs to be hotter; if the chicks are scattered outside the lamp they are too warm.  They should be meandering around the ring kind of equally.  Apparently, they are so dumb that if they are all huddled under the lamp they can suffocate each other.

I picked up some food, grit and pine shavings at the local Farm and Home.  

I got medicated chicken starter for food.  I opted for the medicated just to be safe, though since these are our first chickens, they would probably be ok without but I wanted them to have a good start.  They also need fine grit mixed in with their food to help with digestion until they can go outside and pick up their own grit.  When you fill their food tray, you sprinkle the grit on top so they are attracted to the glitter of the rocks.  Finally, the pine shavings are their bedding which we laid on the floor inside the ring.

So now the stage is set and we are all ready for our new arrivals.  Everyone on the farm is very excited!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Meet the Robinson's

Hi!  I’m Megan and this is my dashing husband, Andy.  We have 2.01 children, a minivan, a membership to a co-op and a dog.  No, we don’t live in Suburbia- we live in rural Iowa.  How did we get here?  We literally have no idea.

I know what your thinking, Andy and I didn’t post for a week or so and went totally bonkers.  No, we don’t need lobotomies, we are actually quiet content with the results of several events in the last few months.  

Number 1- the Car.  

Anyone who has crossed paths with us over the years will know that we are the most anti-minivan people there are on this planet.  Random person in supermarket line- “Mini vans are pointless”… stranger on the sidewalk- “Yuck! Christ no!” (in a British accent ala Bridge Jones).  So how did we end up with one and are seriously happy about it?  I’ll tell you- we tried to find a car you could fit three car seats into.  If you plan to eventually have three children (calm down people, this is NOT an announcement), you need to consider how you are going to transport the wildlings.  Car seat law nowadays is very strict and with the tiny, fairy-like munchkins that Andy and I produce, we will have children in carseats until they learn to drive (YIKES- kids around here get learners permits at age 14!!! A discussion for another day).  

We decided to upgrade from our current Hyundai Elantra Wagon-which we really like but were just outgrowing a few months ago.  I went to our beloved yellow legal pad and made a list of every mid-sized SUV with good gas mileage, a third row and was affordable.  Our top runners were the Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder and Mitsubishi Outlander.  The plan would be to fit three car seats across the 2nd row so the car would need to have enough hip room plus enough leg room for the kid in the middle (probably E) to climb in and around the other seats.  The third row seats would be used as back up in case we had a long load (aka, some 2 x 4s or something) and needed to put down 2nd row seats.

On a weekend outing to Des Moines, Andy gave the Mitsubishi Outlander and quick test drive with F providing the role of tired child in car seat throwing cheerios into hard to reach areas.  I also sent him with a second car seat to try it out in different locations to see if you could strap in three across or get it in the third row and then have access to from the 2nd row.  He came back saying, “It’s a great car if we just want to upgrade the Hyundai but no way are we fitting three kids into it.”  And thus, a dream is shattered.

The Mitsubishi was probably the smallest of our choices but a frantic look at all the dimensions quickly told us it was a no go.  Sure, we could have probably gone with the Toyota and bought the narrow Radian seats (for $300 a pop, YIKES) but to what end?  It still would have been a really tight fit and for what reason other than our stubbornness?  Also, we discussed the possibility of the Highlander with the bucket seat option in the 2nd row but that would mean always having a kid in the back which limits how much cargo space there it.

We did look briefly at a few trucks- around here that is pretty normal and we wanted to cover all our bases.  This was knocked out of contention quickly for a couple of reasons.  #1, I just could not imagine me, barely 5’4” doing my errands in a giant mountain of a car.  #2, the ones that could fit 3 car seats across have terrible gas mileage.

So van it is.  Everything I read or heard said Honda Odyssey was the way to go and that was good enough for me.  I did look briefly online at the Toyota Sienna and though I was tempted by the AWD option, it had to be ruled out for gas mileage.  We didn’t consider a single other van… not much for window shopping the Peterson family is.  Let me just say that Honda is a genius when it comes to marketing.  Andy and I settled down one night with the laptop and checked out a few videos on their website.  The new HondaVac had both of us panting and then, they show how the seats all fold down and easily slide in a whole piece of plywood.  Well played Honda, well played.  

We got super lucky and found a used Odyssey right in town that is a Touring version so it is loaded.  

Leather seats, navigation system, DVD system, sun roof, rubber floor mats throughout, crossbars on roof rack, sensors galore and it will wipe and flush for you if you ask real nicely.  One test drive had us sold- the kids were comfortable, you could easily fit a third car seat in the middle row without having to purchase any new seats, Andy and I were comfortable and it was easy to drive.  I couldn’t believe how tight the steering was.  Mini van makers have fixed all the things that were stupid about vans growing up- automatic sliding doors (E LOVES this and I love that we don’t have to worry about banging into neighboring cars in parking lots anymore), removable center console so you have the option of 2 or 3 seats in the 2nd row depending on what you are doing/hauling any given day, and more cargo space.  This is seriously smart because the 3 row flips down into the floor with an easy pull of a cord so you have the whole back for cargo or if you have the 3rd row up you have the huge cavern of space to fill up.  Oh, and windows that roll down in the 2nd row.  Hopefully bringing down the number inevitable carsick stops.  Honda, are you ready to hire me yet?  No? There’s more.  This thing is designed for the ultimate convenience with kids with the DVD system and wireless headsets so F and E and stop fighting over the iPad every time we take a longer trip.  Plus the cup holders.  Oh, the cup holders!  Five, yes FIVE for the driver and shotgun alone, 4 that I found quickly for the 2nd row, at least 4 in the 3rd row.  Holy grail of beverage holders.

Best of all, gas mileage is much improved over old vans at a whopping 19/28.  Yeah, nothing compared to what our little Mini Cooper got (I think an average in the 40s) but better than most of the mid sized SUVs we were looking at and TONS better than the large SUVs or trucks.  At this point, I think I a shitting minivan rainbows.  The one downfall?  No AWD.  Probably not a concern for most but a concern around here where the city doesn’t tend to plow until the snow has stopped.  Luckily, this car’s last owner bought new tires that are much better on snow so we are optimistic we will be ok come winter.  And you know what?  If we get stuck somewhere, I have heated seats and a DVD to keep me company.

So, for all of you couples out there doing frantic internet searches for “cars that fit three car seats across” or “narrow car seats” or are looking up car seat blogs for diagrams of cars that fit three car seats across, let me just save you the trouble.  Test drive a minivan.  Just do it.

Number 2- the Dog

So all that and I haven’t even gotten to how we ended up with a dog.  Well, I’ll make it short.  A dog showed up at our neighbors house and made himself… or herself at home on his farm.  It is a super friendly dog so probably a runaway or an abandoned dog.  Randy, our neighbor already has a dog and decided to pawn the new one off on us.  Andy was eager to accept.  Me… I am resigned to it.  I feel bad that he/she needs a home and Andy probably would have talked me into a farm dog in a year or so, so I am going with it.  My suburban friends will probably not understand this- I didn’t either but around here, most people with farms have an outside dog.  It never sees the inside of the house and protects the property and animals.  He has a house outside and we feed/water it.  

Anyway, Andy brought the down down from Randy’s on Saturday.  For E, it was love at first sight and she immediately called it “her dog.”  We discussed names and she decided on “Teaka” (though it often sounded like she was yelling “Tea Cup”).  After a happy first day, E woke up on day two and declared that the dog’s name was now “Murphy.”  She was determined so we have relented and now are calling he/she “Murphy”.  We have told E that we can’t rename the dog everyday so that is it.  I have taken to calling the dog Dede (DD) in my head, short for “Dumb Dog”.  Andy will be taking it to the vet tomorrow to get checkout out as well as finding out his/hers gender. It’s like the big 20 week gender reveal, just in reverse.

Chickens arrive in 2 weeks so we will see what Teaka Murphy thinks of our newest addition to the farm.  Hopefully no sagas of the dog brutalizing our furry friends.

So, to finish, we moved out of the suburbs and somehow turned more suburban than ever with our dog and mini van.  Yes, we ARE the Robinsons.