Once we decided what age and breed of chickens we wanted, we thought about how many we wanted. We thought six was a good number because we wanted enough eggs for a family four and some left over to share with friends, family, and neighbors. The average hen lays five eggs a week; so 30 eggs a week seemed like a good big number, but not TOO much. We thought if six worked out and we eventually might want to get more and maybe start selling some eggs at a Farmers Market.
So anyway, we meet up with Becca at RGB Ranch to pick up our five Australorps and one Rhode Island Red (see how we decided on their breeds/ages in this blog). Tip #1 - bring something to put the chickens in! Hahaha - yeah we didn't even think of that one. Becca was kind enough to loan us her chicken crate. We paid her $15 for each of the chickens, which is about average. They were 3 months old (teenagers) and ~3 months away from laying age. We couldn't be more excited to bring them home!
Now I'd like to introduce you to our two dogs, Maggie and Zoe, who were waiting for us at home.
Duunnn... dunn... duuunnn... duuunnn... duunnnnnnn... Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. duuunnnnn duunnnn!
Normally they're the sweetest little angels on the planet. Mild, sweet, soulful. Maggie's the black one... she's not too smart, but she makes up for it in kindness. Oh except for that one time she caught the rabbit hiding out under our shed... that should've tipped me off.
Now we'd done our research and had the common sense to know not to put the dogs in the backyard with the chickens right away. To give them time to acclimate to each other. But try doing that with a house with a dog door and a back door that's being used by two young children.
Our biggest mistake was not keeping the chickens securely cooped up until we'd made sure the dogs weren't going to eat them. We hadn't finished building the chicken run yet, so we had to allow the chickens to free range all day.
We kept the dog door locked, which was difficult because both Maggie and Zoe are getting super old (12 and 13), so if they can't go out immediately we run the risk of an accident. Well anyway, I left the door open by accident on one of the first days after bringing the chickens home and Maggie was in the backyard in a flash. Within 3 seconds she'd caught one of the black australorps and shook her until she was dead. It was pretty horrifying. Feathers everywhere. I'm screaming like a banshee. I was just glad the kids weren't out there. I used a shovel and rake to pick it up and put it in the trash bin so that the rest of the chickens wouldn't see it and be sad about their lost friend.
Unfortunately my kids are a bit smarter than the chickens (errr a lot more actually) and that same day Greyson (my 6 year old son) says,"We're missing one! I can't find her." I gave him a long look and he says "What?" I went with my gut, which is to never lie to my kids. I think they can handle more than most people give them credit for and learning about life/death is part of growing up. I didn't want to make a big production out of it, I matter of factly told him "Well babe, Maggie got one." Charlotte's too young (4) to really get it or care. Greyson seemed pretty unfazed and took it in stride. I felt like it was pretty a good parenting moment.
It was about a week later that the next sad sad murder happened. I was sanding the chicken coop making it pretty for our hens (and neighbors). The kids were coming in and out of the backyard while I was working away and Maggie pushed past Greyson into the backyard. I'm using a sander machine so I don't hear him shouting as Maggie darts around the backyard chasing the chickens around. She full-on chases a chicken in a circle around Greyson's legs and catches and shakes the poor bird to death in front of him, At the crescendo of the attack is when I finally hear it all and seconds too late to reach them. My son has witnessed a murder. I can definitively say that he has had his first traumatic childhood event that is sure to be burned into his memory. (sigh) Parenting fail.
But this kid is a champ. He's a bit shaken up, but he takes it on the chin. I'm pretty impressed by the guy's resilience. Now Maggie knew this time that she'd done something bad. Naturally I'm very upset with her and put her in her crate (don't worry, I love my dogs. I didn't beat her or anything, but she knew I wasn't happy and that she'd done wrong). I was worried she'd never be allowed in the backyard at the same time as the chickens again.
For the next ~2 weeks we did a pretty good job of keeping the dogs and chickens apart. We'd bring the dogs into the backyard on their leashes so we kept a controlled environment. We let them get to know each other and get acclimated. Once they got over the novelty you could see the dogs ignoring the chickens and everyone relaxing. Our next step was to let the dogs off their leashes while standing protectively by the chickens. Maggie never again attacked a chicken! It just took some time and patience.
Things are so great now. Here's Maggie hanging out with the chickens and eating kitchen scraps with them! I'm not sure if she thinks she's a chicken or if the chickens think they're dogs. But they're definitely good ole' friends now! Everything's forgiven.
Long story short - Have a secure place for your chickens to safely keep separated from any pets you've got. That was our big mistake. We rushed bringing the chickens home too quickly. We should've built their secure run first.
Make sure you do the long drawn out introduction and acclimation period before letting any of your other animals in the same space as your hens.
Side note: four chickens is not enough for a family of four. We're getting 3-4 eggs a day which we go through pretty quickly. I like to bake and I make eggs more mornings than not. We're still having to buy eggs from the store every now and then to supplement, which is a complete bummer. The City of Allen just passed a new ordinance finally allowing backyard chickens (see my journey passing the ordinance through in the blog post HERE). They limited it to four chickens (I'd been pushing for six, but I figured compromise is a part of democracy). So we're going to try and make four work. I might consider working on pushing for an increase in the # of allowed hens once enough time's gone by for them to see that residents don't complain like they were worried they might. But we'll give it some time and see...