Nick suggested it first. "Why don't we get chickens?" My first reaction? "Absolutely Not! Birds are dirty and carry diseases! Do you know how much work that'd be?" Nick is even more of a schemer and dreamer than I am and I figured that, like so many of his ridiculous ideas, it would go away. Discourage the truly crazy or expensive ones and humor his attempts at the less expensive ones, right?
Well, it didn't go away and to be honest it started to grow on me. I like having control over what I eat and doing it as economically as possible. Honestly, keeping chickens (after the start up costs) would probably mean breaking even, but there will probably be the opportunity to sell the extras. What really sold me was the chicken tractor. I'm not so fond of finding chicken poop on my walkways or searching for eggs all over the yard, but i kinda felt like it wasn't worth doing if I was planning on keeping them in a coop with a static run for their whole lives. A chicken tractor is basically a movable coop/run combo with no floor. Every day or so, you move it to a new spot in your yard. The chickens have new weeds & bugs to pick at regularly so they don't ruin any one spot in your yard (but rather, fertilize the whole thing). They're also protected from predators (and puppy dogs). They'll still need to be provided with feed, but it should be much less than strictly coop-raised birds.
Once I had found a way of doing things that seemed more livable to me, we had some things to work out:
How many chickens? A Prolific laying breed hen can produce from 250-300 eggs per year. That means 2 chickens for every dozen you would like to get each week. Also consider that in the absence of a rooster, one hen may cease to lay and take on some rooster-like qualities and that now and again one of your hens in bound to get clucky (aka: quit laying and sit on some eggs) for a time. We decided we want 6. 4 would meet our needs, but we wanted cushion. Worse come to worse i'm sure we could give the eggs away.
What Breed? Where and how will we get them? There are about a million breeds of chickens, not to mention hybrids and mutts. To narrow it down, I set down some preferences. Mostly, I wanted heritage breeds that were prolific brown egg layers, extremely cold hardy and fairly docile. Other less important preferences were year-round laying, not prone to getting clucky and i kinda wanted one or two more colorful layers, something blue or green or something. Thus far I have narrowed it down to Australorps, Rhode Island Reds and either Ameracunas or Easter Eggers. Australorps are both prolific brown egg layers that are cold weather hardy and, being dual-purpose breeds, are also good eating. Australorps are more docile, but prone to cluckiness. RIRs are less prone to cluckiness, but i've found the full gambit of comments as it pertains to their temperament. Neither Ameracunas or Easter eggers lay quite as much, but they are blue egg layers. Ameracunas are a heritage breed but very rare, Easter Eggers are mutts and their eggs can be any number of colors, but they're fun and easy to come by and everyone raves about their personality. I'm still up in the air about where to get them. My first instinct was to try to purchase started pullets (about ready to lay) for our first time around, but I haven't found local poultry farms online where I could get some. There are sometimes chickens on craigslist though, though i'll have to wait til spring to see that much. You can order day old chicks online. Most places require that you order at least 25 chicks, but My Pet Chicken lets you order 8. We could deal with that many, and cook one or two if its too much. They also carry 3 of the 4 breeds that I like.
What type of Tractor? Below is a pic of my favorite design. We'll settle on dimensions when we figure out how many birds we're gonna have.
I can't wait until spring when we can put this all into action!
PS don't forget that you have to check with your municipality to make sure chickens are allowed!