It’s that time of year! The time when backyard chicken keepers and full-blown homesteaders alike start thinking about expanding their flocks. My conversation with Kathleen of Oak Abode covers everything a new or prospective chicken owner might want to know. We address the four main aspects of chicken keeping: food, water, shelter, protection, as well as many other questions we are frequently asked. Whether you are considering getting chickens or have been keeping them for years, this episode is full of practical tips and lessons we have learned along the way.
In this episode, we cover:
- Different types of chicken setups: coop and run, chicken tractor, free range
- Mitigating the threat of predators
- Dealing with environmental factors: heat, cold, moisture
- Features of different breeds
- Options for feed and supplements
- Supplemental light in the winter
- Raising chickens sustainably and ethically
- Best time to get chicks
Kathleen and her husband, Ian, are passionate about growing their own food and self-sustainability on any scale.
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Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today, Kathleen from Oak Abode and I are going to be talking about keeping chickens. Right now, it’s that time of year again where all the feed stores have chicks. And you might be feeling a little bit of that pull that tug to put a few in a box and bring them home. But at the same time, maybe you’re intimidated. Or maybe you’re a seasoned chicken keeper who just likes to hear other chicken keepers talk about chickens. And so either way, this episode is for you. We are going to talk about the needs for keeping chicken, some of our favorite breeds, and just our experiences, and our homesteads and how we keep chickens.
Lisa Bass Well, thanks so much for joining me anyways. Wow.
Kathleen Oh, thank you for having me. This is a lot of fun.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So start by introducing yourself and your farm. I follow you on Instagram. I don’t know if you’re on any other platforms or anything like that, but yeah, tell us the best places.
Kathleen I think we do most of our work on YouTube now. We do have an Instagram and basically we are kind of in transition. We started out just kind of with the backyard chicken thing. I know a lot of people say they’re the gateway drug to homesteading, which is totally true for us. We had a lot of fun with that. We just bought 20 acres of land, which we’re going to build on. And kind of in the interim, we are renting a farm property. So right now we’re on about 12 acres, but it’s not where we’re going to be permanently.
Lisa Bass Oh, so that brings up some interesting dynamics. Your chicken setup, for example, probably is somewhat temporary.
Kathleen Yeah, we started out with just— we’ve had two chicken coops at our suburban property. The first one was kind of like a trial coop, and we learned a lot from it. And the second one was a lot better, but we did disassemble it to move it. But on the property we’re at now, there’s already a stable there with no other animals in it. Well, when we moved there, there were no other animals. We just kind of put them in one of the stalls, built some roosts, and put their feed in there, and it’s been working great. We just haven’t gotten around to reassembling that coop. Hopefully in the future, we’ll have a much bigger setup or a pasture setup type thing.
Lisa Bass Yeah. There’s so many options. If somebody somebody’s brand new to chickens, there’s chicken tractors, which are mobile so that they can get access to fresh grass and bugs, you move them around each day. There’s the coop and run scenario to where they have a grass area that they can run out to. Then there’s more of just coop, where—I don’t know, I’m assuming most people at least have some kind of run. And then there’s free range, which that has all of its own—.
Kathleen Controversy and problems.
Lisa Bass Yeah. We’ve had both.
Kathleen What are you guys doing right now?
Lisa Bass Well, we have a silo and a barn and then in between, there’s basically a structure. That is the chicken coop. And then we have a run built that’s pretty good size, but they eat it down very quickly. If you have chickens on something full time, there’s pretty much no way for it to grow back. We also have a chicken tractor, which we originally just started with the chicken tractor and we had about 12 chickens, I believe, at that time.
Kathleen Oh, so you started with the tractor first?
Lisa Bass We started with the tractor first. Well, we started on our quarter acre where we used to live with just a coop with a very small underneath one because it was in town. I don’t really know if we were allowed to have chickens there, so they kind of needed to be sort of under wraps just in case. That’s where we started, and then with this property, we built the—what was it?—Green Willow Homestead’s chicken tractor plans, which are great. Then we decided that we were getting more chickens last year. We wanted two different spaces— one for the new ones before they got to a certain size. So that way, you know, the big ones wouldn’t hurt them. We put the new chicks in the chicken tractor and then built another run situation. That’s when we turned that barn area into a coop for the older chickens. I don’t really know what exactly we’re going to do this coming year because there’s chickens in both areas. Actually, my husband just told me today, “I guess we need to order chicks.” I’m like, “Wait a minute. I thought we had plenty, and I’m surprised you’re saying this.”
Kathleen So he’s the instigator here. I like that. Okay.
Lisa Bass Not usually. Not at all. So that was really surprising. So what’s your setup currently like where you are?
Kathleen We just have them in a stall. I think the people actually who were here before us had chickens in that stall too. It was like a chicken friendly stall. I guess the biggest bummer about where they are right now and what I can’t wait to change is we had—in that second coop we built—we had one of those automatic chicken doors. I’ll be totally honest, it doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, but it kind of mitigated that room for error when I would be late to shut them in. Or, heaven forbid, I’d forget some nights. It was kind of like a buffer, and we don’t have that buffer right now. Every night, we’re trekking out to the barn to close the door manually. But that is something I’m really excited to get in again on the next one. And then, yeah, I am really curious about the chicken tractor and I guess your experience with it and how you’ve liked it, because I think my biggest thing is I want to take care of the chickens as best as I can for them, but also as I can for me. I’m not big on cleaning out a coop every day, and I really like the idea of moving them a lot. I’m always curious to hear if people enjoy that.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. So tell me about— what is the door? I’m not familiar with that, what you’re talking about.
Kathleen Oh, the automatic chicken doors?
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah, I’ve never heard of that before.
Kathleen It is awesome. They are definitely a little bit controversial. People in the homesteading community will say, “It promotes laziness.” I get that side of it too. Like I said, it’s more of a buffer for us. It will open and close at the same time that you set it every day as long as it’s working. The one we have has like a string and it raises it up and down. People worry like, “What if it closes on the chicken?” It’s very light and it goes very, very slow, so they just kind of move out of the way. It has been really nice for kind of that like dusk time of day where the owls come out and I think some of the raccoons come out, too. It helps mitigate that threat a little bit. We do still go out and make sure everybody looks good for the night and everybody’s tucked in. It doesn’t eliminate the care, but it does add a little bit of a buffer.
Lisa Bass Yeah, if you forget or if you’re out of town or something. That’s actually really interesting. I can’t believe I’ve never even heard of that option at all.
Kathleen I guess it’s a lazy people thing.
Lisa Bass I mean, no, actually—we don’t have predator problems here. Every time I say that, I say, “Knock on wood,” because, you know, one night something’s going to come and take our whole entire flock. We used to shut the door every single night. We’ve lived here for three years and we’ve never had a single issue.
Kathleen Wait, so do they have like a run that they go into or they just go in and out and they’re cool?
Lisa Bass A lot of our chickens actually choose to roost. I don’t know how they got in this habit, but we built— well, I guess I know how. So we first built the run and it wasn’t like super official. We just put up some chicken wire and made like this little run area because we had this overgrown woods and we thought, “Oh, we’ll just let them out in this little area and they will clean it up.” And before we like got everything all established, we hadn’t built any roosting bars yet in the coop area, and they got in the habit of roosting on the top of a fence post that was close to it. And so they still roost out there like pretty much every single night, and this has gone on for a long time and no predators, so they don’t actually get locked in at all. And even the chicken tractor has— so it’s built to where the ramp goes up to, you know, lock them in at night, and they go up there. But we definitely don’t close it every single night. And again, we’ve never had a predator. So I think maybe we’re just getting overly confident.
Kathleen Well, I wouldn’t beat yourself up about that because I remember in the property we used to live at, when we were kind of in the suburbs— where we are right now, There is a pretty serious coyote threat. We were actually fine until winter hit. And then we lost like a couple of chickens in a couple of days. We could just tell by the way it happened. We were like, “Time to lock them in.” So I think the jury’s still out on if we’re going to rearrange them next summer or not know that the coyotes know that they’re there. We’ll see. We’ll play it by ear. But the property we were at before was kind of like this small town that was surrounded by farmland. And my theory is that I think the coyotes and the raccoons and everything stuck to the farmland, because they don’t want to deal with people if they don’t have to, you know?
Lisa Bass Yeah. Right.
Kathleen That’s when we were kind of like you guys. Like we never had— we saw a possum one time, but it was just eating the eggs. It didn’t bug the chickens. So yeah, I think everybody’s property is just different and you just kind of have to experiment for what is best for your property, right? I don’t think there’s one one rule that fits everybody.
Lisa Bass Yeah, so we also do have a dog, and he’s a very intimidating dog. And so Luke thinks maybe that that is why we haven’t had much problem. But then also, we don’t live in the middle of nowhere. It kind of appears that we do, which I’ve shared on this podcast before. It looks like it because we have an old house, an old barn, an old silo and there’s seven acres. But there’s actually development like everywhere around us. And so we don’t have much issue even with deer. People are like, “Well, how do you keep your deer from getting in the garden?” I’m like, “We don’t have deer.” Like, we don’t have anything.
Kathleen It feels like guilty to say that. I’ve felt the same way.
Lisa Bass I know. It’s really easy.
Kathleen I think that’s great. I think that’s something people should consider too when they’re looking at property. I know for myself, when we decided we wanted to do the homesteading thing, we wanted so much land as fast as possible. And as soon as we got out of that area that we were in, we just have this whole new set of challenges, right? So sometimes there’s things I miss about where we were. And yeah, just learning to work with whatever we have, and and I think it can work out pretty well.
Lisa Bass Yeah, there definitely our trade-offs because sometimes we want to be more in the middle of nowhere. But then, like where my parents live, they’re more in the middle of nowhere, and they have had chickens before and they don’t last. Even when they close them in at night, something gets in and kills every one of them.
Kathleen Oh, that’s horrible. So what, like coyotes, or what was getting in there?
Lisa Bass I don’t even know what. Probably. That or— do raccoons? I think raccoons— I don’t know. Everything can kill a chicken. They can kill them from above— bird predators. Yeah, security is an issue.
Kathleen Yeah, I mean, they taste good.
Lisa Bass Yeah, they taste like chicken.
Kathleen Yeah, for sure. You can’t blame them. Everything loves to eat chickens. I remember when I first got into chickens, I was reading everything I could. Everybody was like, “It’s the hardware cloth. You have to bury it a foot underground,” and they’re real specific with materials. And I think it was really intimidating reading about all that, and I think there are definitely areas where that’s necessary if you want to keep chickens. But looking back, I kind of wish I could tell myself that, you know, things are going to happen. You’re going to make mistakes either way. It’s okay to start out where you can. And then if you find out you need to kind of ramp it up—you have to be prepared for heartbreak, of course, which is never fun—but yeah, I guess I wish I hadn’t gotten so scared by the whole predator thing right at the beginning.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And for some farms, it is more of a problem. But then for some, like you said, it’s really not. My sister, actually, one year in the summer, she had an issue where gnats were killing her chickens. Have you heard of that?
Kathleen No. Was it a disease?
Lisa Bass We had a crazy year of gnats. No, they were like going up there wherever they breathe and yeah—
Kathleen Oh my gosh, that’s horrible. Where is that?
Lisa Bass Yeah, she thought that’s what was happening because we had so many gnats that year. It was, I think, about two or three years ago. And she googled it, and sure enough, it’s a thing. Be prepared that a few can definitely die, so don’t name them all. I mean, some people do name them all.
Kathleen I guess kind of on that point, too—like not to intimidate people who haven’t gotten into chickens yet either—but man, like not only does everything love to eat chickens, but they’re also, I think, pretty fragile in terms of like— that’s a perfect example. I think they’ve been bred to lay eggs, right? And as many as possible as fast as possible, a lot of them. So yeah, I know they have a lot of health issues that can come with them too. So man, I never would have known about the gnats.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. That was a weird thing. As far as the needs for chickens, if somebody is trying to get into this brand new— you have shelter, security, food, water. Is there anything else you can think of? Am I missing something?
Kathleen That’s my main four, too. I think I always say shelter, protection, food, and water. And then kind of, I think, as added on to the shelter protection, in terms of environment, I think dry is best. I think a lot of people run into problems when their chicken coop—I mean, we all have a lot of fun with them, right? So we always end up with more chickens than we plan to, and they tend to get a little bit cramped. So moisture is generally not your friend with chickens. And I think a lot of people run into a lot of health problems with chickens because it’s just too wet or they don’t have the right materials in the living area. So that’s kind of the other thing I add in. That’s just be really conscious of kind of the moisture, the bedding, especially in the winter for winter care. But yeah, other than that, I think they’re pretty simple.
Lisa Bass What are you using to, you know, make sure the moisture is as low as possible?
Kathleen Yeah. So I think probably the one big mistake that people can be prone to is just making a really, really secure coop and then sealing it up. And that’s not—from what I understand—that’s not what you want to do. So the way that we set up our favorite coop we’ve had to date is that the area kind of on chicken level—so where they would roost and lower—didn’t have any drafts, but above, there was lots of airflow. So the moisture could escape out of the top, but the chickens also weren’t getting like cold air blown at them all the time. So it ended up being a pretty good balance for us.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And as far as winter care, are you doing heat lamps or anything like that? I don’t know what zone you’re in either.
Kathleen Yeah, another controversial topic.
Lisa Bass It is.
Kathleen Get ready for people to get heated.
Lisa Bass Yeah, like everything.
Kathleen We are in Zone 5A, I want to say. We’re in southeastern Wisconsin, and we don’t use heat lamps personally. We had that setup, like I said, where we kind of block the drafts, we provide a lot of airflow. I’ve spent so much time reading chicken forums where people get so excited about this same topic. And something that really stuck out to me is that a lot of people say they’ll be like in Alaska, keeping chickens in three sided shelters, and that they’re fine. Now, it’s the internet. So you can’t always, you know, trust everything you read. But for us, I think the biggest cold problem we’ve had is frostbite on chickens with the longer combs. And, you know, fortunately, that’s something they can live through and something that we do what we can. Because of that, we’ve gotten more conscious about the breeds that we choose, and we probably won’t choose as many like that. But yeah, I think that’s the main thing that we’ve dealt with. Obviously, eggs cracking is kind of like my indicator. So the first coop that we had, the eggs would crack so fast and it was just drafty. We built it out of repurposed materials. It wasn’t the best setup. But I guess kind of the main difference is I’ve been amazed just how much the chicken’s body heat will warm the area by just keeping it draft free and then allowing the air to escape out the top because the eggs rarely crack for us. Or they rarely crack for us when we were in that coop. So that’s what I considered a success.
Lisa Bass Yeah, we’re the same. I read that chickens will regulate and figure out how to adapt to the climate. And so by giving them something like a heat lamp, that’s actually preventing their natural process of being able to tolerate it. But like you said, the breeds are really important too. So certain climates, you might need to worry more about which breeds can sustain heat because I’ve had more trouble actually with heat than I have cold for chickens. And so certain ones are more hardy to that. I’m sure where you live, that’s probably not as much of an issue.
Kathleen Where do you live again?
Lisa Bass I live in Missouri, so we’re not super hot, but I mean, it can get—not like all summer long—but it can reach 100 degrees. And so that’s the biggest threat from what we’ve experienced with chickens is more the heat than the cold. People usually think the opposite. They don’t worry that much about the heat. But we’ve actually only lost a chicken actually one time. We’ve only lost a chicken from heat, never cold.
Kathleen So what do you guys do to keep them cooler when it’s really hot outside?
Lisa Bass I mean, just plenty of water, plenty of airflow. It hasn’t been a huge problem, but I do imagine in some climates that would be really important if you’re living any further south, you know?
Kathleen Sure. When you were talking about your chickens roosting outside, my first thought was like, “They probably are so much happier that way during the summer.”.
Lisa Bass Probably. Yeah.
Kathleen Yeah. I always feel so bad locking my chickens in when they’re panting. And we actually ended up making a separate door that had like a screen on it so that we got a little more airflow in there in the summer. But yeah, that heat is definitely scary. Have you ever tried dunking your chickens in water? Is that crazy? Not like all the way, obviously.
Lisa Bass I haven’t. No.
Kathleen Oh my gosh. My first summer with chickens, I was so nervous because it was so hot outside. I felt so bad for them that, yeah, I put them in like a little kiddie pool and made them like, cool down a little bit. I’m sure they hated it.
Lisa Bass Well, I don’t know. I mean, ours have some— depends on what watering. Sometimes we’re using an open waterer, and so they can get into there and get water. But they did get in the habit of roosting outside in the summer because that’s when we started all of this. That could be why they did that. And then you know how all animals, most animals, are very— they get into habits. And so that’s where they roost now, even though it’s winter.
Kathleen That’s great. Good for them. They found out what works.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about breeds. I think this is the most common question I get especially when it comes to— when I show my egg basket that has browns and green and blue, all those pretty colors. People are wondering, what breeds are you getting? So what are some of your favorites?
Kathleen OK so, I’ve thought so much about my favorite breeds of chickens. It’s always changing, full disclosure. And I think it changes depending on what our goals are, which are always changing. But right now, my favorite, I think, are the—and this is controversial as well—the Black Copper Marans.
Lisa Bass Aren’t they always?
Kathleen How do you say that?
Lisa Bass I say it like that. Black Copper Maran or Maran. Yeah, I always say things wrong, though, so trust me— I get in trouble for that all the time.
Kathleen Oh my gosh, I saw a thread about that whole thing and people were like, “This thread needs to be deleted for misinformation,” like it was about the pronunciation of the word. I was like, “Wow.”
Kathleen I’m always messing stuff up.
Kathleen Right, same. So that’s why I was like, “I need to disclose. I don’t know how to say it correctly.” But I think those are my favorites. Number one, because for us, they have been the best at evading predators. So when we’ve lost chickens, they’ve generally been lighter in color. And I know it’s not proven that that’s a thing, but for us, that’s what we’ve notice.
Lisa Bass That makes sense.
Kathleen Yeah, I think they’re easier to spot from above. And I know there was a theory that if they look like crows, that hawks are more likely to leave. I don’t know. But they’ve been evasive of the predators, number one, and number two, they leave those gorgeous chocolate almost reddish brown eggs. They’re so pretty. And I don’t know about you, but I found ours have been very consistent with laying throughout the winter. So yeah, I think those are probably my favorites at the moment. What about you?
Lisa Bass Yeah, I really like those. I feel like we need more of them because whenever we have one of those dark eggs, there are very few of them throughout the egg carton? And I always want more of them. Because I picked a whole lot of Ameraucanas last year. So we have a lot of light blue eggs. And it seems so silly to care, but it is so fun to go out to the coop and collect just this colorful basket. And so I didn’t worry about that at all the first several years that we had chickens. I just always went up to the feed store, usually Orscheln, picked up leghorns. And what are the ones— so many lay just brown, not the dark brown, but just the regular brown eggs. I’m trying to think of like the most common ones you see.
Kathleen Plymouth Barred Rock?
Lisa Bass Yes, I think that’s it. Those are really common at our local store, so I usually just grab those. But then lately I’ve been actually ordering them online and ordering them specials that we can get this variety. Last year, I ordered some Olive Eggers. Those are really pretty.
Kathleen That’s my second favorite.
Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah, I know I need to get some more of those. The Leghorns— okay, so those lay the most eggs per year, at least that I could find. But they’re all just the white eggs, and so not as pretty of the variation. So I guess it, like you said, it totally depends on your goals and you know what you’re trying to achieve with your eggs. Now, as far as food, because another question I get a lot: “What are you feeding your chickens?”
Kathleen As far as food goes for us, this is not my area of expertise. So actually, this is something that we want to change in the future. We have been just kind of buying whatever is generic at the feed store, we might go through a few different feed stores. So I think as we’re getting more into chicken keeping and homesteading, we want to shift away from— I know that they do like some soy-free feeds, which I don’t think we’re feeding them right now. So that’s something I’d like to move towards. And I think the main change in our chicken keeping goals since we started keeping chickens— when we started out, we were kind of wanting like pretty chickens and like you were saying, like as many eggs as possible. Now we’re kind of moving more towards sustainability. So what breed can we buy that are going to lay eggs but are also going to provide meat if we need meat, but also, you know, are good at kind of eating from the land and free ranging. And basically all that to say we are going to try and plant like a chicken food plot on our land when we get that going. So we don’t know a lot about the feed right now, but I definitely want to learn a lot more about just the different things that you can grow in your land that, you know, aside from just free ranging them, which helps us save money on feed bills. Just from a sustainability perspective that we could potentially sustain a flock ourselves if we had to.
Lisa Bass Yeah, plant things specifically for it. It’s hard right now because right now they’re mostly just eating feed. But whenever it’s spring, there are so many more opportunities for them to get bugs and garden scraps, and we’re always doing food scraps as well. We have a bowl out every single day that goes out to the chickens, and so they eat a lot of that. But trying to get them out on the fresh grass is why we do things like the chicken tractor. We were talking a little bit earlier about the chicken tractor and how that works. It’s really the perfect solution for anybody who doesn’t have a whole lot of space. The downside is you do need to move it at least once, and it’s better if you move it twice a day, or they’ll just leave a spot. It depends on how many chickens you have. But if you have that thing packed full and you pull it just once a day into a new spot, you will find that your grass is going to be brown and ruined, and so you have to really keep up with it. But it is the perfect solution for a for a small operation.
Kathleen Do you find that the chicken tractor— is that reducing the amount of feed that you’re feeding them? Especially if you’re keeping them— because I know our chickens kind of like congregate in an area, and then when they’ve decimated that area, they just like, eat the feed faster. They don’t really think to expand. Do you feel like the tractor helps with the feed costs a little bit?
Lisa Bass It does if you move it all the time. So if they always have new fresh access. Still, though, I have not found that—even whenever we had chickens that were free range—if they don’t have access to food— so we just will buy— I have an organic feed that I get from the feed store. They have to order it special for me, but it’s really cheap. It’s a good price. It’s a better price and I could find anywhere else. I looked on like Azure Standard, and this one, at least for our area, is cheapest. But even if they’re free range, and we don’t give them feed, they stop laying. Have you experienced that as well?
Kathleen We’ve never stopped giving ours feed, so I wouldn’t— I guess that would make sense. The organic feed that you’re getting, does it have the calcium in it too? Is it calcium fortified or is it more like a scratch?
Lisa Bass You know, I don’t even know. I should look at it. It’s not like scratch grains. It’s more of a pellet. Yeah, it’s an organic pellet feed. But I’ve heard from so many friends and homesteaders on YouTube and the internet that they just let theirs free range and they don’t give them any feed. And I mean, ours completely stop laying when I do that.
Kathleen Okay, okay. Yeah, it makes sense. Like, I know in a lot of places of the world, I’m pretty sure chickens are just entirely free range. So yeah, that makes sense.
Yeah, I don’t know what we’re missing. Yeah, maybe it’s the protein or something. I’m not totally sure. But yeah.
Kathleen Do you give yours like oyster shells and grit? Where are you in kind of that camp?
Lisa Bass Yes, we give them their own egg shells back, and I’m pretty sure that counts for the same deficiencies that they would be— and then we also do do some diatomaceous earth as well. I don’t know if that helps with the same kind of thing.
Kathleen Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And then I guess the free range. That’s also why we like to free range ours. I guess they can get some grit in their runs, depending on the run. But yeah, I’m curious to talks other chicken keepers about that because it seems like there’s two extremes. There’s like people who are like totally hands off, and there’s people who are like, “Here’s everything they need in their diet,” and the oyster shells and the grit. And I remember being really intimidated by all that when I first started, but we’re like you. We don’t really do that anymore. We do do do the eggshells also, though. I think that’s a good hack.
Lisa Bass Yeah, just eggshells back them seems to really help strengthen their eggs. I notice whenever they’re starting to get a little bit soft, that’s usually what they’re lacking. So that’s typically what we do. But yeah, I don’t follow all the rules, probably with anything I do. Just kind of learn along the way and see what works. But now, how about winter? Are you doing any supplemental light so that they keep laying? Or is it a break for your chickens?
Kathleen Yeah, that’s another hot topic. So we have never done the supplemental light. I’ve heard that some people come at it from like a— you know, to be kinder to the chickens and give them a break. That’s partly why we do it. Also, I’ve heard that chickens, like humans, are born with a given amount of eggs that they’re going to lay. And I’ve heard that if you supplement light in the winter, that it causes them to lay that amount faster, and we— a little bit on our background, we are just city people. So when I got chickens, I was like, “Look,” to my husband, I said, “I cannot handle looking at these baby chicks because I’m a city slicker and like planning on eating them. Like I just can’t get to that point. I would like to get to that point in the future, but just right now, like, I just need to bond with them.” So for that reason, if we’re going to keep them for their whole lives, we just decided not to do the supplemental light because theoretically, it might mean they lay a little bit longer. But I don’t know how much truth there is to that or not. That’s why we haven’t tried it yet. If we got desperate, though, I think it’s something we’d be open to giving a try.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think it’s something that we really need to try because we have seven kids, and eggs become a problem. So we have more eggs than we know what to do with—which I need to also get into the water glassing and all of the different preserving type of things with eggs. I have not done that. But we have more than we know what to do with in the spring and then all winter, we’re buying eggs, so I’m like, “We should really figure this out.”
Kathleen It is so demoralizing—isn’t it?—when you’re like coming back from grocery shopping and you have like five bags of chicken feed and like three stacks of eggs.
Kathleen Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I can totally relate. One year, when I was more on top of it, I scrambled them and then—just in like a food processor, like in big batches—I did a dozen at a time, and then I froze them kind of like a dozen at a time. And I remember we made like egg casseroles with that in the winter. So that kind of helped offset. I need to look into the glassing and stuff like you were talking about, though. I’m so new to the food preserving world that it’s all a little bit intimidating. But that’s where we started. And it helped for that first couple of years at least.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So far, we just make so many more egg dishes whenever it’s spring and summer, and so we never have all these extra. But if we’re eating the normal amount of eggs and not just making egg everything, I think it would make more sense to preserve some and not, you know, go all winter without having them. But yeah, one of those things that’s on the list of things to learn. So with that being said, whenever they stop laying, what are your plans for— what do you do with them? Also, are you better at keeping track than me? Because we add each year more chickens and then I have no clue which ones are the old ones? And so I know somebody is not pulling their weight, but I’m really not sure who it is.
Kathleen Sure. Yeah. Fortunately, like I’ve gone through such chicken phases. You know, at the beginning it was one hundred percent Ameraucanas, and then I’m pretty sure it was like one hundred percent Black Copper Marans and Olive Eggers. So because of that, every year to year, it’s been pretty obvious, like who’s starting to taper off.
Lisa Bass Ah yes, that makes sense. That’s what I should have done.
Kathleen Yeah. As we start mixing and matching a little bit more, I think we’re going to have to pay more attention to that. People want to be— they don’t want to consume inhumane eggs. And I know that’s a big part of the reason that people get into backyard chicken keeping. And they know that chickens have to die, but they also aren’t necessarily mentally prepared to do it themselves. And so I tell those people, “It’s okay.” Like I told myself the first batch of chickens— we’re not killing them. These are pets. Like they can stay here as long as they want. I also know that financially, that’s not sustainable for all the chickens that are going to come in the future. So that’s what I told those girls, I let myself get attached to them, I named them. And we still name them, but moving forward, we are planning on probably having— I want to move towards more heritage breeds because I want to stop necessarily going with meat chickens versus egg layers and then, you know, they have to get rid of the boy egg layers somehow. So we’re trying to cut down on the amount of lives that we do consume. And because of that, we’re planning on moving into more of a place where, okay, when these chickens become not as productive, that’s when we will be able to consume them. Like I said, this is something that is like totally foreign to us. So I have never gotten to that place yet. But I do know that as a meat consumer, I think that that’s the ethical thing to do, and we have to be prepared to start taking responsibility for that at some point down the road. It’s a very long winded answer of, I don’t know, but I think that’s where we’re going to move towards.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think that it’s really smart because I talk about that a lot where people are against talking about butchering animals, but yet they eat meat. You just aren’t facing it. So at some point, I think it is more responsible to face that if you’re going to continue eating meat, which we are. So with that being said, though, I am terrible at keeping track, so we just end up keeping ours forever till they die.
Kathleen And you don’t have predators either, so they’re living a long time.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah, it’s a long time. So I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what the solution is for that, but it would make sense that you somehow mark them. Because if you’re going to be adding a dozen chicks each year and then a dozen are aging out, to thin the herd, make sure you only have egg layers and you’re not feeding chickens that aren’t producing. That is what a smart homesteader should do.
Kathleen Sure, I know they make those little bracelets. My friend sent it to me and she was like, “Look, you can give your chickens friendship bracelets.” I was like, “I don’t think that’s what those bracelets are for.” I think they’re supposed to be, you know, you give the same age one that one. But yeah, I think another thing that I encourage people to think about, which we just started becoming more conscious of is the awareness behind the chick industry. And obviously, we are buying chicks from hatcheries and we’re trying to learn every step of the way that we can. But something has to be done with those boy chicks that, you know 99% of people don’t want. So we want to move towards more heritage breeds, dual purpose breeds that can be both meat chickens and egg layers so that every life is going towards some kind of purpose. That’s, I think, what we’re planning for this spring, so we’re going to try out a few different things like that.
Lisa Bass So what are some of the breeds that you’re looking into for this year?
Kathleen Okay, so a few months ago, I was on this kick that I was like, “I’m gonna come up with the best Olive Eggers. Like, I’m going to get all the blue layers and all the brown layers, and I’m going to come up with the best Olive Egger.” And that changed when we decided we didn’t want to do the meat birds versus the egg layers. We want to try and have an integrated flock that could breed, that could reproduce itself. If we had to, we could keep producing those chickens. So I was looking into—this feels wrong to say—but those Black Copper Marans are really meaty birds and they’re a great dual purpose bird from what I’ve heard. But also, I think they’re the White Sussex. Does that sound right? It’s a big white bird. It has like kind of that black collar. And it’s one of the few meat birds that breeds true. I know people get Freedom Rangers or Red Rangers and they— I’ve heard that after a couple of generations, they kind of just become like regular egg layers again. So I think we’re going to go with just kind of the biggest, meatiest. I think Jersey Giants are another option for us, too, where they will theoretically be able to continue breeding true over many generations and not have to introduce too many other breeds into the flock.
Lisa Bass Cool. Yeah, that’s a great idea. So when are you guys building your new place? Is it starting soon?
Kathleen That’s the question. Yeah, it is crazy right now with labor shortages, and we are definitely working on it over the past four months. We have the land, and over the past few months, we’ve been waiting for the engineer to stamp the plans and get everything finalized. It should go up pretty quickly once it does go up.
Lisa Bass Once you actually get started, yeah,
Kathleen Man, it has been a waiting game. We did finally get the plans and it is like, we’re applying for permits. It’s just kind of one of those hurry up and wait things. But yeah, so hopefully this summer, to answer your question. But it’s it’s hard to tell with everything going on. It may be a little bit longer than that.
Lisa Bass Yeah, well, yeah, it’s kind of unpredictable. So are you documenting all of this and setting up your new farm over on your YouTube channel?
Kathleen Yes. Yeah. So I think we’ve done a lot of chicken stuff on our YouTube channel. We’re going to continue to put out more chicken resources. I think the other thing that we want to figure out is how to build— we’re more like owner builders, so we do want to document that process and put out kind of the triumphs and the failures for people. Because even things like applying for permits, I had no idea how to apply for an erosion control permit. I have no idea what I’m doing. So when we find out how to do that kind of stuff, we’re sharing it with people. And hopefully there’s other people out there who want to learn how to build sweat equity in their home. And yeah, so that’s going to be more of our journey this summer. But after that, after the house is up, we’re going to get a little bit more into homesteading, I think.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah, that’s sounds like something really fun to follow along with. Are you doing a lot of the building yourself?
Kathleen Yeah, we’re going to try to. We got basically a SIP house kit. So it’s got like all the insulation and all the framing. It’s kind of like a prefab house. But the reason we did that is because in case we can’t find people to help put it up, it’s something theoretically we could put up ourselves if we had to. That being said, as long as the budget allows, we’re probably going to pay some people to do the heavy lifting in that regard.
Lisa Bass Yeah, you could be building for a long time.
Kathleen Long time, probably forever. We did blog a little bit of our house remodel, too, but it’s never finished, is it?
Lisa Bass Well, no, no. Ours isn’t either. Ours won’t be because I always get new ideas of what I want to do. After something’s done, we do it again.
Kathleen That’s like the worst part. You like got this vision and then the styles change so fast, too. But yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
Lisa Bass Yeah, it really is. It’s fun to follow along with, too, for viewers. I know, my viewers like to go along with each step of the process. They like to hear what’s going on in my head whenever things are happening and not just see a room reveal. So they enjoy that kind of thing.
Kathleen I do. I enjoy that kind of thing too. And I think it helps prepare people because we got into like sweat equity, and that was kind of how we started the blog. It ended up more of a chicken blog, but I got into it because of those like HGTV shows, you know, where everything is like Hunky Dory and it’s like done in an hour. And I really thought that was realistic. So I do appreciate when other people kind of share the actual process, and I think people can be a little more prepared that way.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So share with us, as kind of closing, what are some tips that somebody who wants to get into chickens, who has never started— I mean, some people who are listening to this might just want to hear us chat, and they’re totally already into chickens. Maybe hear some new breeds. But what about somebody who has never done chickens? They’re a little bit intimidated by it. Maybe they only live in town and they want to get started. What is some advice or like maybe a tip you’d give them?
Kathleen Oh man. Besides, just—
Lisa Bass I didn’t prepare her for this.
Kathleen Yeah, it’s kind of a big question. Besides just it’s totally worth it, and it’s a lot of fun, and do it, I guess I would tell people, don’t be too intimidated by— there’s so much advice out there. And that’s one of the biggest things with our content is I try to just like dumb it down and simplify it. Because there is so much different advice and it’s coming from people in different environments and people with different goals with chickens. So I try and tell people, like you were talking about, the four basics for their chicken care. And I think the other big thing is just let yourself make mistakes. I think a lot of us care a lot about the animals, and I think that’s how it should be. But also, I think we’re all going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. You know, like as long as you’re doing your best and you’re doing some research, there are going to be failures along the way. Chickens are going to get sick. Some of them might get taken for predators, be prepared for it. But also don’t beat yourself up too much, and also know that when you’re beating yourself up, that’s totally normal too. I remember reading this blog post that someone was just talking about, like, why is it so hard to lose chickens, especially the first few times. I think, because we feel so much responsibility for them. But man, there is no lesson like just doing it yourself. And once you make a mistake, once, you’re probably never going to make that mistake again. So even those people who are out there on Instagram and on YouTube posting their chickens, everything looks great all the time. They’re making mistakes too. And you know, we’re a generation that wasn’t necessarily raised around this, for a lot of us. So learning through trial and error is totally okay, too.
Lisa Bass So tell us where to best find you. It’s Oak Abode over on YouTube.
Kathleen Oak Abode, and then that’s our YouTube and also our Instagram, so our Instagram is Oak_Abode. We did just start a podcast too, which we are just, a lot of trial and error with that one. But having fun and experimenting on that one, so those are kind of our three main platforms.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So is your podcast also called Oak Abode?
Kathleen Yep, the Oak Abode Podcast. And it’s mostly talking about our house stuff right now, but especially as chick season is coming along, we’re going to do a little bit more of that, too.
Lisa Bass Yeah, and now is the time. So when this is coming out, go check your local feed store there. They have chicks, and it’s time for you to bring home a little box of them and get started.
Kathleen And oh my gosh, yeah. I think a lot of people do it as an impulse buy and then they’re like, “What have I gotten myself into?” But yeah, it’s a journey and just enjoy the journey.
Lisa Bass I was at the feed store the other day with my kids getting some other things. I needed to get some overalls and like boots and things, and I didn’t leave with chicks but I’m like, “How did I just not leave with chicks?” Like we’re going to— at some point I’m going to cave and we’re going to get more chicks, even though we have plenty.
Kathleen Yeah, we have too, right? But the funny part is, the more I’ve gotten, and the more chickens I have, the easier I find it to leave without chicks. Our neighbors bought some silkies as an impulse buy. And oh my gosh, the problems they’re having with those silkies are never ending. So the more I see it happen, the more I’m like, “Maybe I don’t need chicks quite yet.”.
Lisa Bass We got this. We’re good.
Kathleen Yeah, we’re waiting until the weather warms up a little bit more so we can push them outside. That’s the fun part.
Lisa Bass I know we’re kind of closing, but yes, that’s another tip. I’ve gotten chickens in February and I’ve gotten them in April, and I’m like, “Why did I? Why did I ever get February chicks?” That’s when you’re supposed to get them, but I’m really not sure why, because that’s not spring. So, yeah, there’s other tip. Wait till April.
Kathleen Right. Yeah, your sanity will thank you.
Lisa Bass Yeah, seriously. Well, thank you so much for joining me, and I will definitely leave links down in the show notes for all of the great places to find you and follow along with your home build and building your farm pretty much from scratch, it sounds like. Raw land to— over the next several years, this will unfold.
Kathleen 50 years later.
Lisa Bass Yeah, exactly.
Kathleen Cool. Well, thank you very much, Lisa. It’s been a lot of fun talking and we’re looking forward to keeping in touch more.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Be sure to go check out Oak Abode on YouTube and follow their journey for their homestead. As always, thank you so much for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.