Category Archives: Poultry

Raising Chickens

Raising Chickens

“I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday” – Henry IV

I have memories of birds as a child but never had I had the opportunity to work with raising chickens.  I had a duck when I was little.  My duck’s name was Feathers.  He was big and bad.  He attacked all those who came in his path, especially my step mother who’d tend to the flock daily.  My duck would chase her poodle around the yard.  We had one male and two females. I only visited Feathers in the summer and one summer he and his girls were gone.  I have memories of my tita and tito visiting my grandmother bringing along bounty from their garden and eggs from their chickens. I’ve raised parakeets throughout my childhood but that has been the extent of my exposure to birds throughout my life.  Never have I had hands on experience being around, working with, or raising chickens…

Shortly after having our son we started making the lifestyle shift towards back to basics.  During this time we kicked around the idea of raising chickens for eggs.  Unfortunately it was only an idea because of where we lived.  Our landlords would not allow us to have chickens despite my excellent care of their property.  After almost four years of talk, hoping, and wishing we’re finally able to take the step.  We’re raising chickens!

Part of our path to live a less dependent lifestyle is learning how to manage small livestock.  Chickens are the gateway! We are choosing to raise chickens for meat, for eggs, for compost, for pest control, for learning and responsibility, and for family fun!

When we first had the idea we wanted to purchase our chickens from a sustainable source that supported Heritage Breeds.

raising chickens

We still have this end goal in mind, in addition to hatching and raising our own, but we had to get started somewhere.  We have to learn, practice, fail, succeed, and learn some more.  Before we spent extra time and more importantly money, we looked to our local feed store for options.  The feed store had Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds.  The Rhode Island non industrial are on the list for the Heritage Breeds but I can’t confirm if the ones we’ve purchased are considered “industrial” or “non-industrial”.  We got 2 of each.  We were told that they were all girls but even the best of the best can be wrong in sexing a chicken.  Only time will tell.

Now the ideal setup would be you get your chickens home (if not already hatched at home) and straight to the brooder.  A brooder is the nursery chicken coop if you will; a non-drafty, warm, clean, secure area for the chicks to roam, and a place for their food and water.  Our ideal brooder will sit in a secure area outside next to an electrical source.  It will be protected from the elements but still allow for the birds to get natural light during the day and closed off and warm at night.

Here is an example of what we would like to have.  I envision ours on legs, high off the ground for me to be able to work from a standing position vs. kneeling.  I also would use a different heat source and have a risible roof for easy cleaning.  We have a cement slab next to our house in vicinity of my view as well as electrical source that would house a brooder nicely.

raising chickens

The heat source I would use would be an EcoGlow Chick Brooder.

raising chickens

Our end goal is to be able to raise our own chickens for both eggs and meat.  We would need a setup for our incubation, brooder, and a final home for the egg birds and the meat birds.  We plan to semi free range our birds.  I say semi because they will still have to be in an enclosed area because of predators.  We don’t have the option to have guardians (dogs) and electric fences. We will depend on large enclosures over pastured areas that allow them to roam, scratch, eat bugs, get sun and fresh air, and still be protected from predators.

For now, this is what we’re working with…

We don’t have a garage that could accommodate such a setup for a brooder and we’ve not yet built our ideal brooder to sit on the cement landing pad outside our house. When we brought our chickens’ home at 2 weeks old they went upstairs to my office.  Yes, I’ve had baby chickens in my office for the past month.  We did some minor research and gathered what little supplies we had at home and got the birds’ setup in my office.  On the surface this is a cute nice idea but in reality – they are dirty birds.  They scratch, they flap their wings, and they make lots and lots of dust.  Each day they get bigger is each day they make more of a mess.   They start to take flight.  They like to roost on the edge of things… poop goes everywhere.  In reality a 4 inch high container is not sufficient no matter how much protection you have on the floor.  Their food & water was always dirty, shavings were everywhere, and as I mentioned they like to roost.  They’d hang out on the edge of the container with their little fluffy butts facing the WRONG WAY… poop everywhere!

raising chickens

After a week of constant sweeping, scrubbing poop, and cleaning their food & water I said enough and purchased a large galvanized metal trough.  Our trough stands 4x4x2.  Resting on leftover cardboard boxes, the trough has been a lifesaver in keeping the birds clean, safe, as well as keeping my office clean.

raising chickens

We’re using a long square wooden dowel along the top of the trough that hangs the water and food.  This allows the birds room to roam but also keeps the food & water out of their poopy mess.  Remember, they love to scratch and flap their semi flightless wings which cause huge amounts of dust and kicks up poop.

If you’ve researched heat sources you’ve found the typical heating lamp that looks like this.raising chickens

During our research we’ve discovered that this heat source comes with several risks and challenges.  The risk is of fire.  These lamps get hot and if they get knocked over in anyway and fall, a fire is most likely the result.  The challenge is that despite it being a dim light it is still a light and can throw off a chicken’s natural balance.  When the sun goes down so should the chicken.  They aren’t humans.  They don’t run off of artificial light.  When the sun is up they are up and when the sun is down they are down.  The EcoGlow is perfect in both regards because it is fire safe and does not emit any light.

We’re raising chickens on a budget right now and getting started for us is using the very basics of what we have around the homestead.  We will scrimp and save to get the safe guards in place that will keep us successful in the future.  For now we will come up with a temporary fix for our housing and heating purposes but for future chicken raising we will invest in the EcoGlow and build a secure brooder that will go outside.

Our heating source was different but simple.  We took a terra cotta plate and on the plate we placed a porcelain light fixture equipped with a cord and 60 watt bulb.  We then placed a terra cotta pot over the top of the fixture and plate.  The plate and all of its contents then rest on top of a large mason brick that is wide enough to support the base of the plate.  There is no light that emits from the fixture.  Even unplugged the terra cotta retains the heat but never gets hot enough to start anything on fire or burn anything that rests upon it.

raising chickens


raising chickens

Keep in mind we live in California on the Central Coast.  It will never be Minnesota cold.  These birds are inside my office, free from draft, next to a sunny window in a tall secure trough.  They are cold hardy birds to begin with so this heat source works well in a pinch.  Now if you’re in a state with freezing temperatures, then no, a 60 watt bulb in a terra cotta pot will not be sufficient.  It works for us for now giving us minimal risk and challenge.

raising chickens

The birds huddle near it at night and away from it during the day… it has proven to provide the perfect amount of heat they’ve needed since living in doors.

Every morning I give them fresh water and food and every morning these little peepers greet me.  As they’re getting bigger and braver, they’re hopping up to the top of the tough as I prep their food and water.

The general rule of thumb for keeping your baby chicks warm is 95 degrees at birth and 5 degrees decrease every week till they depart for their new digs.  This age all depends on your chickens.  We’re in preparations now to get our birds outside and they are officially 6 weeks old.  When we first brought our chickens’ home we placed a cardboard box with the bottom open and a door cut out over the heat source.  During the day they’d roam around outside the box but at night they huddled inside the box next to the heat source.

Here are a couple images of our little girls wandering around outside the cardboard box, exploring their surroundings during the day.

raising chickens

Peek-a-boo I see you!

raising chickens

Here you see our lovely Elvis (we thought he was Elvira when we first brought them home… like I said, only time can truly tell) roosting on top of the cardboard box above the heat source.

raising chickens

As they got a little older we removed the cardboard box to allow for the heat to circulate more at night.

Here they will go once they transition outside.  They have a free roaming area to scratch, eat bugs, and roam.  They have nesting boxes and a coop to sleep in and rest at night.  Is this our ideal coop?  No.  We’d prefer our birds to have more room to roam but for now this will do as we learn.  Obviously this will only house a few birds, at most.  My goal is to have a dozen egg layers and roughly 15 to 20 meat birds in rotation.

raising chickens

Once they transition outside it’s not just a matter of placing them in the coop and that is that.  They won’t start laying eggs until roughly 4 to 5 months old.  That is a long way off while they transition to their new digs.  Until then, the nesting box is off limits.  As I’ve read, a sleeping hen is a pooping hen.  If they learn to poop in their nesting boxes then your fresh eggs will have more exposure to contamination.  We’ve secured a simple piece of plywood in the space between the nesting box and the coop.  This will be removed closer to the time they will start laying.

The coop will go in our back clearing, near the landing pad where the brooder will soon go.  They will have the company of our neighbors chicken’s whose very large coop is just up the hill from us.  At night we will place the coop over a hard surface to protect the birds from anything that may attempt to dig underneath.  During the day they will have access to grass, dirt, bugs, and fresh air and sun.

I mentioned earlier our birds are now 6 weeks old.  They’re clearly showing signs that they’re ready to move to the big leagues.  They no longer crowd around the heat source and they’re constantly roosting and attempting to fly the coop.  In preparation we’ve blocked off the nesting box and are putting in a larger more accommodating feeder & water source.  Here you see we are building our own waterer with chicken nipples and PVC tubing.  The nipples were $5 a pack at the local tractor supply and the PVC pipe was just a few bucks at the local hardware store.  We’ll have a similar setup for the feeder and both items will be secured to the sides of the coop to allow the birds to have plenty of room to roam.

raising chickens

This is all trial and error.  I by no means claim to be an expert and am always open to listen and learn from those who’ve experienced more.  We will make adjustments as we go and share those adjustments with you… but for now these fixes are all working well for us and our birds.

Elvis says “what, you have a backyard… then you should have chickens!!!”

Raising Chickens

We realize everyone’s situation is different.  Some are not allowed based on their city ordinances, or possibly they are renters and the landlords won’t allow it.  In those instances I encourage you to seek out local sources for eggs.  First and foremost chickens are NOT VEGETARIANS they eat bugs.  They need to roam and scratch.  They need to free range to be healthy and provide healthy meat and eggs.

Healthy chickens look like this…

raising chickens

Not like this…

raising chickens

If you have a backyard and an interest I highly recommend doing your research and getting started with the basics.  As I mentioned earlier we’re raising chickens for eggs because we eat eggs almost daily, for meat because we want to know where our meat source comes from and deserve a cleaner more sustainable option, for compost because their poop does wonders for our produce garden, for pest control because they eat BUGS, for responsibility because the kiddo has to learn, and for family fun because they are fun little critters that bring us lots of joy.

Welcome to Pasture Chick Ranch, Hollister CA

Welcome to Pasture Chick Ranch, Hollister CA

It was the summer of 2010 when we met Lisa Knutson of Pasture Chick Ranch. Our son was five months old and starting to eat solid foods. It was also around the time we focused on changing our eating and consuming habits. It was important for us to get our son off on the right foot so we sought out the local farmer’s market to see what sustainable, organic resources would be available to us.

This is where we met Lisa Knutson of Pasture Chick Ranch. When we first met, she was just getting her feet wet and clientele were rapidly knocking down her doors. Lisa was very busy providing pastured eggs and chicken to CSAs and local Farm Stands that her supply was limited to outside clientele. She stood very firm on only putting forth what she could sustain via her land and her current resources. We kept in touch and soon the farmers market came to an end. Here in Hollister, the farmers market is seasonal and only runs spring through end of summer. We saw Lisa the last week of the market; she handed us a flyer. It was for a Saturday Farm Stand in San Juan Bautista. The farm stand was managed by the same organic produce farm we purchased from weekly at the farmers market; Pinnacle Organics. Lisa advised Pasture Chick Ranch would be providing eggs, chicken, sheep, and goat meat at the Pinnacle farm stand every Saturday from 8am to 1pm. We were so excited! Everything our refrigerator needed in one place and it was all organic, pasture raised, and local!

We arrived early 8am for our first Saturday farm stand. Lisa was there, tucked in the back, setup, and ready to go. She had her truck backed into the stand. Her little dog Tempie sat in the front seat. She had a table arranged with cartons of fresh eggs, chicken, sheep, and goat meat. Every Saturday from that point forward we would visit the farm and every Saturday Lisa and her little dog would be there. We became fast friends. Lisa was super sweet and spunky. She had a wealth of information about the services she provided, her community, and always seemed to know every face that showed up at the farm stand.

Over the past year of getting to know Lisa, she has opened her home and her heart. She has provided us with valuable resources, great information, and a friendly welcoming face in the community. She’s been an inspiration to me, and as I’m learning, to several others within the community too. Up until now, I’ve only seen the surface what she goes through to get us these delicious products. Given my need to know & share attitude… I asked if I could spend a day at the ranch with her. I wanted to learn all about Pasture Chick Ranch and what made Lisa operate?

Lisa grew up in San Juan Bautista. Her family raised and grew almost everything they ate. Her mother milked cows and took care of a garden. Canning was a frequent task in their household. Her father raised veal and took great pride in his work making sure his animals had a clean and comfortable living environment.

Before Lisa was Pasture Chick Ranch she was Lisa Marie of Lisa Marie’s Salon in Hollister, CA. She ran one of the best salons in San Benito County and had a wide array of clientele. Need a blow out, a wax, a quick trim… Lisa was your girl. She provided specialty products and services that were out of this world. Everyone in town knew where to go. She was busy, very busy; so busy that she began to fall ill. It was a time in Lisa’s life when she had to step back and look at the bigger picture. After a lot of soul searching Lisa found her way back to her roots and left the salon business.

It took several years but with the support of her husband, they secured an ample plot of land, and took on raising grass fed natural cows. Once securing the space, it took them a year and a half to prepare the land for the animals. The ground needed maintenance, hundreds and hundreds of feet of fencing went up, and security had to be in place. Lisa and her husband were managing over 20 cows and a large pack of dogs, while her husband was working on a secondary career in the fresh cut produce industry. Before they knew it, his career took off and Lisa was managing the animals on her own. The cows and dogs were manageable but it was the bulls that gave her a challenge. This is no easy task especially when you don’t have consistent outside help. A couple years into their life of grass fed beef, Lisa realized that this wasn’t the direction she saw her life moving. With her husband’s career taking on a positive full time status, she needed something she could manage on her own, that would provide her family with a secure future, and most importantly would make her HAPPY!

Again, with her husband’s support they made the decision to sell their cattle to Paicines Ranch, who specializes in pasture raised grass fed beef. In addition to cattle, Lisa was raising Merino Sheep and Cashmere Goats for her own spinning of wool fibers and meat for her family’s personal consumption. After crunching the numbers, it made the most sense both economically and environmentally to raise goats and sheep for her community instead of cattle. The Merino Sheep and Cashmere Goats are dual purpose animals providing both fibers and meat – overall it was the best move sustainably for her environment, space, and resources; Pasture Chick Ranch was born.

Despite their best efforts to manage the cattle, the land still needed additional maintenance to support the grazing and growth of healthy sheep and goats. Lisa was motivated by friends involved in the Slow Food movement and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which lead her to decide to raise heritage chickens and turkeys. Lisa decided that grazing poultry on the same land as the sheep and goats would help improve the quality of the grass, manage the bugs in the area, and fertilize the land. Throughout my visit with Lisa there was one thing she repeated frequently… the care and maintenance of the land was so important. “The grass is the goose laying the golden egg.” If the land wasn’t properly cared for the animals wouldn’t thrive. It was a cycle… the land took care of the animals, the animals took care of the land, and Lisa of Pasture Chick Ranch took care of it all!

After selling the cattle, they took a sweep of the land, tilling and cutting the grass, moving and updating the fence lines, and building schooners for the chickens and turkeys, and other structures as needed for the animals. The animals would be grazing on over 100+ acres in the middle of the country. In the country there is wildlife. In order for your livestock to survive in a natural setting you need security from the wildlife; here enters the dogs. Besides her beloved poodle Tempie, Lisa manages a pack of Border Collies, a pack of what she refers to as her “guardians”, and also a herd of cats. Of the Border Collie pack there is Jesse, Dee Dee, Katie, Lucy, and Joe. The border collies help Lisa manage the herds, help drive the animals where needed and keep everyone and everything under control. It is amazing to watch Lisa work with her dogs. The relationship of trust and communication between Lisa and her dogs is a sight to be seen. They move around the field with grace as they herd in the animals. The “guardians” are a mix of Akbash and Pyrenees dogs. She has Herbert, Cooper, and Josephina to name a few. There are eleven in all but honestly I couldn’t keep up with all of the names! The guardians are there for just that. They keep a strong watch on everyone and everything – keeping the land and the livestock safe. The cats reside at home base, where they keep the barns and surrounding buildings safe and clear from rodents and vermin. Everyone and everything at the ranch has a purpose and is used to their fullest abilities and are treated with the utmost respect and care.

Pasture Chick Ranch
Ready to get to business!

It was early fall 2010 that Lisa was approached by Live Earth Farms to grow chicken and eggs for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. She started off with 50 birds and kept a journal watching their growth, habits, and how they adapted to the environment. The birds grazed on natural pastures and were fed an organic feed provided by Modesto Milling, who traces all of their seeds ensuring Non-GMO ingredients are used. Fresh air, bugs, and sunshine were all that’s added. Lisa conducted her first harvest and reached out to family and friends to give her honest feedback. The reviews were in and the chicken was a success. Here we are a year later and Pasture Chick Ranch’s relationship with Live Earth Farms is still going strong!

Lisa’s reputation for great service and even better quality products also brought her to Greenhearts Family Farms CSA and Jesse Cool of Cool Eats restaurants and catering, where Lisa is providing organic, pasture raised meats & eggs. Lisa recently hosted an event for Greenhearts along with the support of several local farmers such as Claravale Farms, Pinnacle Organics, and Garden Variety Cheese. The goal of the event was to promote Greenhearts CSA program and to bring the community together in the fight for sustainably grown good healthy food for all.

It’s because of Lisa’s growing popularity we have not seen her at the Saturday farm stands. She’s had to focus her time on the land and her animals. We still keep in contact and we still purchase her organic pasture raised chicken. It’s the only chicken my son eats and he loves it!

Lisa hopes to make her way back to the Saturday farm stand and possibly other Farmers Markets but until then her hands are full. One thing I’ve learned from Lisa is that she will not sacrifice quality for the sake of profits and this… is honorable. At the Greenhearts’ event, the guests took a tour of Pasture Chick Ranch’s operation. Unfortunately I was kept back at home base, unable to attend the tour. Lisa promised me a personal tour after things calmed down at the ranch and last week I got the opportunity.

It was an early Friday morning. I arrived at Lisa’s house, 8am sharp with coffee & homemade applesauce scones in hand. I was greeted by Cooper and a very excited Tempie. It was clear to me that I’ve become a fixture at Lisa’s since Cooper now welcomed me with a loving nudge of his ginormous head instead of a demanding loud bark. Lisa was already moving quick, ready to get to the day’s chores. She let the border collies out of their pens. They were immediately ready to work, jumping excitedly into the back of the ATV. We headed up to the main barn, passing by her personal home of chickens, turkeys, and French Alpine goats. Lisa starts her day by letting the dogs shake off the morning sleep and feed the brood of animals that live at home base, such as the cats, dogs, chickens, turkeys, and goats.

The main barn houses the baby chicks who will go out to pasture for either eggs or meat. Over 170 little baby birds peeped wildly as Lisa cleaned their nests and gave them fresh organic feed and clean water supplemented with an organic apple cider vinegar. The chicks will reside in the brooder for roughly three weeks, which houses lights that replicates the mother. Once their first feathers develop they will be moved out to pasture to grow on fresh air, grass, bugs, and sunshine!
Pasture Chick Ranch

After the birds, cats, and home base dogs are cared for, we head back down the hill to grab Emmy the registered French Alpine Goat. The other goats are excited and want to come along but it’s only Emmy who will be providing milk today. Emmy gets milked every morning and typically provides a gallon daily. Lisa explained that the French Alpine milk is mild in taste. She utilizes Emmy’s milk to make cheese and kefir for her family’s consumption. Emmy will be with Lisa’s family for years to come and every year will provide fresh whole goat milk.

After Lisa finishes with Emmy, we lead her back down the hill to her pasture. It’s time to load up the Rhino with the feed for the ranch animals and head out. As we drive along the route to the ranch, Lisa stops along the way to feed the dogs watching over each pasture. Once on the ranch, the border collies’ jump out and run alongside the ATV. We enter the main pasture where everyone is there to greet Lisa, turkeys, chickens, and dogs… everyone is so excited to see her. With slow methodical movements, Lisa makes her way through the flocks, feeding birds and collecting eggs. The animals have been fed and lastly we take a trip along each of the fence lines to fix gates and ensure everything is intact.
Pasture Chick Ranch

Pasture Chick Ranch

Pasture Chick Ranch

The chores are complete and now it’s time for projects. On the surface, Lisa makes it look very easy and fun but it’s so much more than putting some animals in a pasture and letting them roam. Lisa has a huge operation that is 100% dependent on her; it takes money, time, and a lot of care. There are hundreds of feet of fencing to build and maintain, moving a fence line, building or rebuilding a schooner for the birds, making deliveries, receiving deliveries, community/partner projects, the dogs need training, care, and maintenance, the land and grass need maintenance that requires large expensive equipment, hundreds of pounds of food is needed monthly to sustain all of animals along with vet bills and preventative care maintenance, the physical demands are endless lifting heavy bags of feed, fence and animals; from sun up to sun down there is always something for Lisa to do.

There are two things that seem constant at Pasture Chick Ranch and with Lisa Knutson… she won’t give in quality to profit and every animal under her watch is shown respect and care. She honors what the land and the animals provide to us. She is grateful for those who have helped show her the way in this world of agriculture and those that continue to stand by her today. Lisa wants Pasture Chick Ranch to grow naturally… organically.

A small creamery, farm dinners, spinning classes, canning classes, and farm education days are just some of the many possibilities, which are endless for Lisa and the team she is building. Lisa will continue to celebrate generations of farmers by sharing her experiences with others and keeping true to the tradition of real organic, sustainable farming.

And then, there is the reality TV show… but that’s another story…

Thank you to Lisa and her family for opening their doors and hearts to my family and to the community; we appreciate all that you do.

For more information on Lisa Knutson and Pasture Chick Ranch, visit her Facebook page – a website coming very soon!

Pasture Chick Ranch offers pasture raised organic chickens, eggs, turkeys, goat, sheep, Cashmere wool, and Merino wool.

Check out her services provided through Live Earth Farms and Greenhearts Family Farms.

Original post written on October 26th, 2011 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site: