I have always loved the idea of raising chickens and getting fresh eggs every morning, but since the closest thing we’ve ever done to raising chickens was raising dogs, cats, and an odd guinea pig or goldfish, we were a little hesitant to take the plunge. Pamela Sheldon Johns, cookbook author, and owner of a lovely agritourism in Tuscany posted a photo on Facebook of a chicken coop she had just ordered back in June and we thought it looked perfect for us. We had spoken to our landscaper and the local handyman about building us a chicken coop earlier, but no one seemed too anxious to get started so we decided to order the pre-made coop Pamela posted about to get started on our journey into raising laying hens.
The coop arrived in tiny pieces and we had to assemble it like an Ikea do it yourself kit with very little instructions. We persevered though, and with both my husband and myself working together we finally got it put together and looking like it was supposed to. The next step was finding the chickens for our coop and my husband spoke to the local Agri store owner who told him that he orders them for folks and gave us a number of options of chicken varieties. Not knowing which would be best, we asked for hearty chickens that were known to be good layers. A week after we placed our order, our three ladies arrived and we introduced them to their new home.
Although we had everything in place for them before their arrival, I had been doing a lot of reading on the best diets for chickens and we started out with organic chicken food. Upon reading different chicken websites though, I learned there was a long list of foods chickens liked to eat including everything from yogurt to bugs, and everyone seems to have different advice on what laying hens need to consume to keep them healthy and producing flavorful eggs. We’ve been told by some Italian friends to only feed the chickens grain from the feed store and don’t supplement with people food in order to keep the hens laying eggs regularly. Other Italians tell us not to throw out anything in the kitchen, simply feed it to the chickens as the variety will improve the flavor of their eggs. Apparently left wild to free range, chickens instinctively know to eat certain bugs for protein as well as greens for minerals, but kept in a coop need to be given a little help to eat the optimal diet. I do supplement the hen’s diet with foods they seem to enjoy eating that are on my list of proper chicken food although some people in my family suggest my hens are now spoiled. Who knew feeding chickens could be so complicated?
We are learning day by day what our three ladies need, and after 6 weeks, we have just this week had our first egg appear. Unfortunately, our grandkids were visiting for almost three weeks recently and ran to check the coop for eggs twice a day without one egg appearing. The family left to return home, and the very next day our first egg arrived. It was tiny, but seemed perfect in every other way, and I’ve read that the first eggs are called “wind eggs” and are often smaller as the chicken’s bodies adjust to producing eggs. Our grandkids named our three ladies Rosie, Ginger, and Henrietta, and it was Henrietta that has started laying her eggs first. We are now on egg number three after three days so we are off to a good start! We fried the first two small eggs in our own olive oil harvested last year just this morning, topped with a sprinkling of sea salt. Although they were tasty, I can’t honestly say I noticed a great difference from any other egg I’ve recently eaten but it was lovely to know the eggs came from “our hen”!
We’ve learned that raising chickens isn’t as quite as simple as we first had thought however, as our initial cute, American style coop turned out to be too small for our three ladies. We then had to build a fence around the area outside their coop so they could have room to roam and then build a gate to get to the coop from the fenced area to clean and feed them. Soon after, we had a terrible heat spell, and found the chicken coop and run just wasn’t shady enough for the chickens as our three ladies were walking around with their mouths open looking very uncomfortable. I had to staple shade netting all around the run fence so the poor chickens wouldn’t cook in the high temps and to give them some shade.
One morning a few weeks back, I looked out my window to see Ginger, the boldest of the three hens, sitting on top of the chicken coop roof having a great time looking all around the yard. By day three, I was having to go outside and get all three off the top roof repeatedly, and told my husband we needed to put a roof on our run to prevent the chickens from flying out. We looked at different materials trying to decide which would be best, and then we read about clipping the chickens flight wings. Initially I couldn’t get myself to agree to clip their wings until finally I found Ginger sitting up in an olive tree one day. That day, we clipped their wings which didn’t seem to bother them at all except that they are now grounded.
One other issue we have is that my 5 pound Yorkie is in love with the chickens and would spend the entire day watching them outside their coop which makes the chickens more than a little nervous, so we cannot let him outside on his own. One day, while I was out hanging the laundry, I heard a huge ruckus over near the chicken coop and saw that Ginger had escaped the coop through the bottom of the chicken wire, and was being chased by Luca, the Yorkie. The hen was screaching and flapping her wings in fright, the dog was barking furiously and chasing the chicken, when I dropped my laundry on the ground and took chase. I can only imagine what we looked like with the chicken racing out in front squawking like she was being tortured, the dog right behind her barking crazily, and me taking up the chase behind trying to catch at least one of the two animals while shouting at the top of my lungs as we ran all around the yard. I finally managed to catch the dog before he did any damage to poor Ginger, and she has not tried to escape the coop ever since, apparently realizing it simply is not worth the risk.
Our adventure in raising chickens has so far been a good one despite a few bumps in the road. My husband now says our cute “American style” coop looks like any Italian one with all of our additions, but the hens seem happy and are beginning to lay eggs, so that is what matters. We figure it may take a year or two of eggs produced by our three ladies to cover all of the costs of the coop, fence, supplies, etc. but being able to go pick up fresh, just laid eggs for me is well worth the expense and effort.
We started out with this cute, clean chicken coop.
Henrietta on right & Ginger on the left (Rosie is camera shy!).
Our first two eggs fried in our own olive oil for breakfast.