By: Kathy Summers – Editor
At first glance you may be wondering why we have an article about chickens in a beekeeping magazine. It’s because we love our bees and we also love our chickens – and they go together quite nicely. We are finding more and more people who have bees, have chickens.
I’ve been a beekeeper for over 20 years, and about five years ago I decided we should have chickens. No particular reason, other than it sounded like a good thing to do. Every gardening and nature type magazine I was reading had articles about backyard chickens.
Most cities allow chickens and bees inside the city limits. Usually not roosters because of the noise factor. Especially in the last five years a lot of big cities have decided to allow bees in town. Urban beekeeping has become a huge thing – bees in backyards and on rooftops. It’s a wonderful thing!
We started with 15 chicks purchased at one of our local feed stores. We have two stores in town. One of them you just get whatever they have as far as chicken breeds. The other one actually has a list of several breeds and you can special order. So if you decide to get chickens see what’s available where you are and what you want from your chickens. They also sell ducklings, geese and some sell guinea fowl.
Are they going to just be a hobby, pets or do you want to make money selling eggs or do you want meat birds so you have a freezer full of home grown chickens for the year?
Like beekeeping you need to decide ahead of time what your goals are and what your capacity is. You can’t buy just one baby chick at most feed stores. This is because they are social birds and need other chickens to interact with. So how many do you want? The very minimum should be three, in my opinion and six is a very manageable number for most folks.
I strongly encourage you to do some reading before you decide. Look at the different breeds and their personalities – flighty, docile, aggressive – the books will give you descriptions on all of that and tell you what color eggs they’ll be laying. You also need to look at where you live – get birds that are acclimated to your region. Again, see the similarities between chickens and bees. You also want bees that are good for you region and do want bees for pollination or do you want to make a lot of honey?
Our coop is a permanent structure attached to our garage. We made it bigger this year to accommodate more birds and it has two sections where I can manage babies and sick or damaged birds that need to be separated from the rest of the flock. But there are literally dozens of different kinds of coops. If there is a Tractor Supply near you they have coops that come in a box. You take it home and put it together.
Of the original 15 birds we have five left. Some chicken keepers would have ‘disposed’ of them already, but I have a hard time doing that. Our chickens are somewhere between pet and hobby. They don’t live in the house with us and they don’t have names, but they’re kind of spoiled. They have warming lights for those bitter cold nights – we live in NE Ohio – and a heater so their water doesn’t freeze. And they get almost all of our table scraps – there are some things you’re not supposed to give them, so pay attention to that also. Our chickens are pretty happy.
Over the years we’ve lost a few to predators, even though we keep them in a pen. That’s another decision to make. Are your chickens going to be kept in the coop – we have one friend whose chickens never go outside? Or are you going to give them a designated, somewhat protected space like we do? Or will they be completely free range, meaning you let them out of the coop in the morning and they go wherever they want to go? More choices.
Two years ago we built up our flock again with 12 more chicks and we have 10 that are now two years old. It’s time for some new, young ones. The egg laying, just like with the queen bee, starts to diminish after even that first year. So right now we have 15 chickens and some days only get four eggs.
Two years ago we also decided to try some ducks. We saw some really cute small ducks at the Medina County Fair. They are Call Ducks and are much smaller than the regular duck breeds. Some of them are Mallard like in their appearance and others are a pale yellow or pale blue. They are beautiful little birds. When we found out that we could order them locally we jumped on that and got six. With the ducks we didn’t have a choice of male or female, so we weren’t quite sure what we would end up with.
Our duck adventure ended up somewhat tragically. We lost four of the six when they were just a few months old – big enough to finally mingle with the chickens. I’m not sure if they got out of the pen or something got in the pen and got them. So we were left with a male and female that looked exactly like pint-sized mallards. They were gorgeous and so much fun.
The duck couple made it through that Winter quite happily living in the coop with our chickens and running around in the same pen. However the little female duck kept finding ways to get out of the pen. On a somewhat nice day in January she got out and a hawk got her. Now we had just one male duck and 18 hens. He made it through to the Summer and then something got him.
But we’re determined to try ducks again this year. We’ve made the coop and the pen secure and hopefully we can keep them protected and enjoy them for a long time.
We enjoy our bees, our chickens, our cats and our garden. I hope you will too.
Good luck with your bees, and your chickens and I hope you all have a wonderful Summer.