Backyard Chicken Adventure Turns to Experience, or…

how I changed my mind about many things in 15 short weeks.

Adventure is something you seek for pleasure, or even for profit, like a gold rush or invading a country; … but experience is what really happens to you in the long run; the truth that finally overtakes you.–Katherine Anne Porter

I have alternately worried and wondered at how my chickens were progressing on the homemade gluten-free feed. It is not like I went into this knowing anything about a chicken. All the information in the entire world written on the subject is not going to equal hands-on experience. My chickens seem quite healthy and actually happy little critters, but I still wondered. Last night I found a video on YouTube of fourteen week old pullets. Mine look just like them! Whew. We’re doing okay in the growth department.

We have 2 each: Barred Rock, Ameraucana, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red.

With fifteen weeks of experience under our belt, we’ve learned a lot of things we would not do again in regards to our chicken house and run. We would have built a bit bigger, and perhaps a lot more simple. We changed our roost setup inside three times, have now hit on what the darlings really like, which is up near the top, enjoying the air through the hardware cloth screening.

It is nice that the run is fully covered, and the chickens have access to under the coop, too. We plan more fencing beneath the trees.

One of the things we did that has turned out to our great satisfaction is to use sand in the bottom of the run. We used fine sand, like play sand. I was going to use coarser sand, sometimes called patio sand, but my dear son helped out by bringing home a great trailer load of river sand, which here is fine. It keeps everything dry, and the chickens love to dust themselves in it. We got the idea from this article.

Inside the coop I started with thick pine shavings, however, it tends to make a mess when the chickens toss it out the door and down onto the sand. I’ve discovered grassy hay much more to my liking. It smells sweet and can be scattered in a thick bedding, too, that tends to stay put. I am a firm believer in sprinkling diatomaceous earth (DE) all around the inside of coop, too, before I put in the hay. Supposedly it helps deter mites and bugs, but I’ve found wherever DE is nothing sticks and clean up is easy. (FYI: it doesn’t kill fire ants. I tried.)

Air. I’m so very glad we built a wire screen high up on the wall of the coop, facing into the run. Then I read about open-coop method and we decided to open the west access door, too. We may even yet put an opening of hardware cloth in the north-facing wall.

The door is divided in half, covered with hardware cloth. Each half can be closed or opened with a screw-off panel. We left the bottom covered until warm weather, but it is off now. A continual breeze blows through. We learned that chickens can much more easily warm themselves than cool themselves. Their body temperature is about 103 degrees–got that from an ‘expert’ in an article, not any experience.

Rocks of this sort are not naturally found in Lower Alabama. We brought these from Oklahoma. We put them all around the edge of the coop. They hold down the chicken wire we put beneath sand and dirt on the outside, to deter predators from digging. So far so good.

Hubby had these old metal pieces, actually were car ramps for a trailer. Work perfectly at each door. Nothing’s going to dig through them. Oh, that is not snow– that is white sand from the Mobile Bay.

Our little flock is allowed outside now every evening, while dear husband and I sit beneath the pecan trees, acting as designated roosters. Life is good.

National Celiac Awareness Month– and the Gluten-Free Chicken Adventure Continues

May is National Celiac Awareness Month. I don my celiac advocacy hat. Darlings, do you have migraines? Tingling hands and feet? Gained or lost a lot of weight. Chronic fatigue? You have my prayers, and urge to get yourself over to check out the info on celiac disease at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness website. You can read my own compelling story about discovery of my celiac disease here.

Do gluten-free chickens look the same as other chickens when they cross a road? Or in this case, sit on a perch?

I had a letter from a reader, Miss Deb, who is gathering information for starting up her own gluten-free backyard chicken adventure. Below is my response. (I never want to waste good writing or advice.)

Hello, Deb. Thanks so much for writing. It is always heart-warming, dare I say instant-friend-producing, to meet another celiac/gluten-intolerant person and backyard chicken enthusiast. I know you know, as no other person can know. Everyone in my household is either celiac or gluten-intolerant, too, so I maintain a gluten-free haven.

You have asked for my thoughts on the matter of keeping gluten-free chickens, and here they are: As far as I know, neither eggs nor chicken meat contain gluten. What might be happening to you and your family is a not at all uncommon allergy to eggs. Eggs are one of the top 8 allergens. I am not only gluten intolerant, but also soy intolerant, mildly dairy intolerant, and I am find I can be sensitive to chicken meat, too, a fact which may be caused by all the eggs I do eat.

My dear hens are 13 weeks old today. I don’t know how the darlings compare in size and maturity to same-age hens fed commercial wheat-containing feeds, but they and I are perfectly happy. I get my hands in the grains and seeds when mixing, and never have a worry that I’m going to be ‘glutenized’ by dust or anything under my fingernails or on my clothing. Certainly my hens show no harm whatsoever. My little Princess Puny, who seemed to have a deformity and I did not think would live, has grown and is feisty as all the others. I do not find making their feed a chore; it is quite simple, and I suspect the whole grains and seeds may be instrumental in keeping the hens parasite-free.

Thanks so much for writing. I will keep posting my gluten-free chicken raising adventure on the blog. Do let me know how your own adventure in gluten-free backyard chicken keeping goes. As far as I know, we’ll be the only ones.

Princess Puny, moving fast at eating breakfast.

Chicks at Nine Weeks– Princess Puny Grows!

Princess Puny at breakfast

Princess Puny is not so puny anymore. Her growth and strength have surprised, and proven once again that we only think we know what is down the road. We never really do know, and only by hoping for the best, making a try for it, can we get anywhere near it. I still recall observing Princess Puny’s withered looking foot when I separated her into a small cardboard box. I, melancholy that I tend to be, was certain she would die in the night. I was certain I would find her dead all those weeks she seemed weak and to spend most of her time sitting. I then became convinced she might never roost– once again I am proven wrong. We have–ta-da–even caught her roosting in the henhouse, on the second perch!

Princess Puny on the left, Big Sister right. not quite the size of Big Sister, but she is most definitely growing and getting all of her feathers. I'm going to have to learn how to put bands on these girls' legs so I can identify them.

She reminds me of the famous Sir Winston Churchhill quote: "Never Give in, never give in, never, never, never..." I shortly may have to change her name.

My dear husband spent a couple of mornings happy as a dog with two tails building his version of a feeder he found on the web. Simple plumbing pipe.

Feeder made with sewer pipe and pipe caps. Dear Husband made a number of them, a small one for oyster shell, too.

An update on the cage, too–

We are grateful to Bryan Edmonds in our Mobile Bay Backyard Chickens Club for showing us his design of a cage with no bottom. Used as a brooder, we put it on a tarp, layered the bottom with a bit of sand and wood shavings. To clean, we removed the chicks to a box, lifted the cage and hauled the tarp out as a bag to throw the dirty litter into the compost pile.

Now the chicks are in the chicken house with a run. We use the no-bottom cage as on occasion as a temporary lawn cage, to let the chicks scratch in the grass, until they are large enough to be safe from the cats for a bit of free-ranging.

The no-bottom cage protects young pullets on the lawn.

My thanks to all the input and encouragement from so many of you. I’m looking ahead to our first egg!