2008-05-05

Hot Chicks are Hard Work

Some of you guys may be aware that these days I'm a chicken farmer. However, there are also a lot of challenges to this sort of small-scale personal or pet chicken-keeping. Here are a few, for starters -- literally, for starting chicks on a small scale.

1. In much of Athens, chicken-keeping is illegal. Unlike some other places, Athens doesn't distinguish between chickens on an industrial scale and a smaller number kept for more individual reasons. This is actually being looked at the moment due to a recent event -- be on the lookout for "Don't Seize Our Chickens" bumper stickers -- and the local foods movement. But meanwhile it's technically illegal to have any chicken in any residential zoning lower than RS-25. That said, chickens have been kept by many, many people in Athens for many, many years -- most with no incident. This is because most people don't keep roosters, if they're keeping chickens in town. (Note: my chickens are going to a place zoned AR as soon as they're big enough.)

2. What kind of chickens do you want? We want to eat some, and also get some eggs. Originally we thought of raising meat and egg birds, but have you seen meat birds? They mature to slaughter weight in weeks, but they aren't built for it and their legs sometimes break, they sometimes get fluid in their hearts, and a lot of them die. So, um, no. Also, what's the point in seeking an alternative to the industrial industry if you're just going to replicate it on a small scale?

3. If you buy from a commercial hatchery, very few will ship in quantities appropriate to your project. So you'll have to get 15 or 25 or whatever the minimum is. Plus, these are commercial hatcheries, and some of your chicks probably won't make it. Plus, you know, if you're raising chickens personally, do you really want to support the same folks who support the commercial chicken industry? I don't, and I like to support local people and sustainable practices. Plus, it's pretty damn depressing to open a box of dead chicks, I suspect. So I used the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin to locate an individual farmer in Madison County, from whom I picked up the chicks Saturday. The major disadvantage of this is that only a very large commercial hatchery can sex chicks at one day of age -- but very few of them will sell you females, anyway, because those are more valued by the commercial industry. Just be aware that you'll have to give away/slaughter any roosters that you end up with if that's going to be an issue.

4. Chicks require some setup/investment. I actually bought all this stuff and then discovered that people were willing to loan it to me, but here's what you need: starter feed, a "brooder" (a small container which is secure from predators and can be heated to 70-95 degrees with a 250-watt heat lamp), large pine shavings, a waterer especially for chicks, and a chick feeder.

5. Also, they're kinda fragile and stupid and delicate. So you have to put some effort into teaching them to eat and drink, protect them, and watch carefully/intervene if "pasting up" occurs. Anyone who's raised neonatal kittens would find the work to be less, but it's definitely more complex than just getting some chickens.

3 comments:

Margaret said...

What's "pasting up"?

- Picklehead

Tim said...

So its 4 AM, I am lying in bed, tossing and turning and wondering about 'pasting up'. Giving up, I heave a sigh, roll out of the bed, and go to my friend google. Google leads me to:

Sometimes stress causes the manure to stick to the bird's bottom and essentially block up its cloacae, which can kill a chick. This is called "pasting-up."

Satisfied, I return to bed, safe in the knowledge of all things pasty with chicks. But I cannot get the inevitable image out of my mind's eye. So I toss and turn again, finally giving up at 5 AM and rise to contemplate (but not search for) the cure for "pasting-up". I hope it involves heavy rubber gloves. God I hope so.

jaime said...

Hi, I too have 6 hens (4 bantams and 2 standard sized). I, so far, have had no trouble with neighbors. (I have the luck to have neighbors who either don't care or are pro-chicken). I'm very sorry someone complained and your chickens were removed. I think I might not really be allowed to have them due to zoning, but i have them so well hidden. I do worry one day that someone will snoop around my property and rat me out. I support your bid and would like to know how to get involved in improving the odds of having the commission approve even minimal chicken ownership in town.