Our chicken raising adventure really started out as a science project. A few years ago we decided that raising chickens through a season would be good project for both science and responsibility. My family raised chickens and pigs when I was younger and I didn't remember it fondly with the exception of 1 bawdy rooster who took a fancy to chasing me up the woodpile. The deal was that we would get a dozen chicks and raise them, then at the end of the season the older kids would assist in preparing them for the freezer instead of dissecting frogs for no good reason. We decided free-range would be fine and they wouldn't really need a coop or anything because we were only keeping them for 1 season after all!
So we researched all the needs and care of chickens online and popped on down to the local feed store for some chicks. (If you happen to be in the area Erways is awesome! The people are friendly, the produce is fresh, and the attached restaurant is our favorite place to eat with our large family!) Where we proceeded to obtain all the necessary gadgets for raising chicks. A light, waterer, feeder, chick feed, and most importantly... the chicks.
It went great! We kept them in a pen in the house until they head a hearty coat of feathers and the kids loved on them until they were ready to go outside. Those chickens very quickly learned to follow the kids around when they were outside and it was so cute to watch them line up at the front window peeking in when we weren't. Then came fall. Time to end our project but the kids decided they wanted to keep them. Forever. It had been a great year for them and the hens were laying eggs that all enjoyed. The kids learned a lot and we all enjoyed having them so we said if the kids would care for them and keep them alive through the winter we would keep them and build a coop in the spring. The chickens spent their first winter living on our front porch (much to my husband's dismay) and in the spring we added a few more chickens.
We didn't get a coop built that second year. But we didn't want them on the porch either! We settled them in the lean-to shed by the garage with some nest boxes and I think it was only 5 minutes before they were back on the porch. All year we tried to encourage them to use that instead of the porch but they were set in their ways and quite determined to live with the family.
The third year we began a chicken coop. We got as far as building the foundation for it before I ended up sick and there just wasn't time in the day. So they spent another year living on our porch. The kids were still very much wanting to keep them and care for them and we had grown quite fond of having our fresh eggs!
So the fourth year my mother and father in law helped out. They built this awesome little coop out of scrap lumber that would fit just perfectly on the foundation I had made. And the chickens wouldn't use it! We really wanted them off the porch! I tried closing them in the coop for a couple days so they'd get used to it as their home and as soon as they came out they were right back on the porch. So we did the next best thing. We bought more. We added 25 chicks and 2 turkeys to the flock and THIS TIME we took them directly to the coop when they had their feathers so they would learn the coop as their home. We figured the older hens were set in their ways and as they grew old at least the newer ones would be at the coop and we would eventually reclaim our porch.
We still have a couple of the birds from our first flock who claim the porch as their own. 5 years old and laying just as good as that first year and looking just as pretty! They're pretty spry in their old age! By all accounts a chicken's life is 1-4 years so with all our learning we must be doing something right! The younger chickens use the coop most of the time and after a minor hassle with a couple roosters who decided to guard the coop from a tree we have just a couple old biddies sharing the front porch.
So this year as I posted earlier I got ahead of myself and decided to go big. We'll have about 200 chickens this year and a lot of work! But from past experience we're going to love it!