Welcome to the Friday open thread for the Living Simply group. If you are not familiar with our group, the basic idea, from our profile, is:
A group to explore and share sustainable, simple living skills among fellow progressives. For the urban, rural, or wannabe homesteader, this is a place to share eco-conscious (and frugal!) information to simplify everyday life. Gardening, food production and storage, do-it-yourself projects for the home or farm, backyard chickens and other livestock, etc., etc. If you are interested in writing for this group, please contact me! Suggestions and comments are also welcome.
Several years ago, in an effort to be a little more self-sufficient, I got a free unwanted coop from a relative and brought home four laying hens. What started as a fun way to be a little more in control of my food supply (I mean, what is cooler than your pet making you breakfast?) quickly turned into a full-blown hobby. There is a stunning amount of diversity in the poultry world, any many breeds are threatened by a lack of genetic diversity. The monoculture of commercial poultry operations can feed a lot of people, but at what expense? I began breeding a few different types of rare and/or heritage poultry with the goal of helping to preserve a bit of what I feel is very valuable--those real, unique, living pieces of history, able to adapt to a variety of uses and climates.
So it goes without saying that, whether you aim to be a breeder of exhibition quality heritage poultry or just want a couple of hens for eggs, I'm a big fan of the backyard chicken. I started a full-blown diary on the basics of getting started with chickens but scrapped it; there's a ton of information just a few google clicks away, and there's no sense in me repeating what's already out there (I'll save the diary for a little more in-depth piece on heritage poultry and/or more specific topics, if there is interest). So in open-thread fashion I'll keep it brief and instead share a few of my favorite links for anyone new to poultry considering keeping a few backyard chickens.
First stop is Backyard Chickens. If you're into forums, the Backyard Chickens site is a treasure trove of information--and lots of knowledgeable folks who are glad to answer questions. It's usually my first suggestion to anyone new to chickens.
Mother Earth/Grit Magazine's Community Chickens is a web site geared toward those new to poultry and seems to have a lot of information for those keeping chickens on a small scale--likely helpful for those of you who may want to keep chickens in town or on small acreage.
And speaking of keeping chickens in town, if you're not sure if you can even have chickens in your neighborhood, the Municode Library should probably be your first stop. Check out your local laws and see if poultry can be kept where you live! And if it can't, don't necessarily give up on the idea. Lots of communities are changing their local laws to allow a small number of chickens (usually just hens, which keeps noisy roosters out of the equation).
If you need help choosing what kind of chicken to keep, Henderson's chicken breed chart is a handy tool.
For more information on heritage breeds of livestock and those breeds of poultry most threatened, check out the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. There is also the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities. You might not entirely agree with their politics, but their lists of rare breeds and some of their articles are good sources of information for someone interested in breeding rare varieties of poultry.
It's not the fanciest web site (or the easiest to navigate) but Feathersite has pictures of almost any breed of poultry imaginable.
Hatcheries: Lots of folks order their chickens as day-old chicks through the mail through one of the big hatcheries, but even if you're just "window shopping" their web sites can be fun to peruse. Murray McMurray Hatchery is the largest and most well-known hatchery in the U.S. There are other smaller, but also popular, hatcheries, such as Ideal and Cackle. An alternative to some of the larger hatcheries, Sand Hill Preservation is a small, family-owned business dedicated to the preservation of heritage poultry (and plants! They have a fun seed catalog, as well).
My personal note on hatcheries: I have never bought birds directly from any of the above businesses (though my first few laying hens were someone's McMurray extras), so I am not personally recommending any of them by including links here. I think hatcheries can be a great resource for birds for the laying flock, but if you are interested in actually breeding rare or heritage poultry, I would strongly suggest searching out a small breeder and not using hatchery. It's like expecting to breed the next Westminster champion from puppy mill dogs; the quality isn't there, and if you are working to preserve valuable genetics, you want to get it right.
So who has chickens already? Anyone thinking about starting with them? Please share your favorite links in the comments!
On another note, if anyone would like to post diaries to the group, please do so! While I expect that we will eventually have regular scheduled diaries, as the group gets going and evolves things are pretty relaxed--I will post diaries whenever it is convenient for the author.