Raising Chickens and Children on the Homestead

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My 10-year-old daughter came and found me in the house this morning, complaining that my 12-year-old daughter wasn’t letting her help feed and water the chickens.

Not a bad problem to have, huh?

Pastured Poultry

I was over thirty years old before I met anyone who owned chickens. I think this is so interesting—how for hundreds of years, every generation of Meyers (Meijers, when they were in Holland) probably kept at least a few layers. Then there were two or three generations that didn’t … and now we’re doing it again.

I’m not passing judgment on those non-chicken generations. They adapted to technologies that made life much simpler, in some ways. I don’t fault them at all for gratefully adopting a more comfortable way of living. They didn’t know that the modern food system they were becoming a part of would turn into something that we today understand is harmful in many ways to animals, to human health, and to the environment.

But since my wife and I do have that knowledge … we are choosing to opt-out of the modern food system—and much of modern culture, for that matter—by raising some of our own food and trying to teach our children the virtues of meaningful, physical work. 

Those lofty goals in place, we got chickens: 25 layers (Australorps) and 50 broilers (essentially freedom rangers—broilers that mature at 12 weeks instead of the 8 weeks of a Cornish Cross).

Poultry Brooder

For all our thinking and planning about starting a homestead, we feel like we’ve been on our heels for these first two months, just trying to stay half a step ahead of everything. We ordered the chicks back in April for delivery in mid-July, but between moving and unpacking and vacation and illness, I only barely got the brooders finished before the chicks arrived in the mail. Then I only barely got the chicken tractor for the broilers ready before they had outgrown their brooder. I’m still working on the chickshaw for the layers; they seem content in their brooder, so I’m okay for now.

As for the design of these structures, I’ll admit that I’m not one to turn down a recipe if handed one. And I had the complete blueprints for both the broilers’ tractor and the layers’ chickshaw. I was going to use Darby Simpson’s design for the tractor and Justin Rhodes’ for the chickshaw.

But then, lumber prices … they started going up and up. Also, I did build one smaller chicken tractor before, and while it turned out well, it was pretty heavy. I’d really like the girls to be able to move the structures themselves.

So I decided to modify both designs and to primarily use 1/2-inch EMT conduit instead of wood. The jury will be out for a while on this decision. I like EMT because you can bend it and weld it into any shape you want. Bending is simple. Welding not so much—especially since I have almost no experience. This was one of those things where I decided to just do it and see what happened. I wanted to be able to make and repair my own equipment and structures. There is a company called Maker Pipe that produces pretty neat connectors for 3/4-inch EMT, but each piece is about $3, and each chicken shelter would take 30 or 40 of them; I decided that this would add up to a welder before too long, plus a welder works for many other types of jobs. 

Welded Chicken Tractor

I’ve been using flux core MIG welding, and everything seems to be sticking together so far. The great thing about welding is that if it comes apart … you just reweld it. (There are some concerns with welding EMT because it’s coated with zinc oxide, but I don’t think I’ve had any issues with this yet. I just do it in well-ventilated areas and grind the top layer off beforehand. Do your own research before trying this yourself!)

Twice as many trips to Home Depot as expected later, the chicken tractor is ready to go. Hopefully the chickshaw will follow soon. The chickens seem happy. Plus we finally have a productive use for our food scraps; this feels so much more meaningful than just throwing them away.

And our girls enjoy working with the birds. This is of course the most important point. As long as my wife and I are eye-to-eye and the girls are happy helping us do the work, our goals will be met. Whatever harvest we end up with is bonus.

Read more Homestead Blog posts by Paul Meyer.

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