Sunday, July 30, 2023

Backyard Chickens in Arizona

I've had several readers reach out to me asking about a chicken update. Initially I was waiting for our chickens to all be laying, but then I got wrapped up in making sure my chickens are not dying with the heat we're experiencing in Phoenix. I had no idea how much work it is to keep chickens alive in the midst of a 30-days-above-110-degrees-in-a-row streak. But it's a lot of work. 

We got our first egg in May. We were having dinner on our patio with some friends, and a chicken started squawking like it was being murdered. We eventually found a soft shelled egg, and we were excited. Then I got impatient that one of our chickens was laying, but the others were not. Over the next four weeks or so, our Ameraucanas all got into line. It was fun finding these blue eggs around. 

Side note. I built a chicken coop with nesting boxes. Guess what. None of our Ameraucanas wanted to lay in the nesting boxes. I know there are ways to force them to lay there (mainly locking them in the coop for a couple of days until they're in the habit of laying in there), but 1) it was too hot to keep them in the coop, 2) I didn't want them not to have access to all of the grass and bugs they were in the habit of eating, and 3) my family and I kind of enjoy looking around the yard for the chicken eggs. It's like an Easter egg hunt, but every day. Plus, the chickens all tend to lay in the same place every day, so we have our four spots to check out daily as we look for eggs. 

The Australorps were a different story. We got our first brown egg from one of them almost a month after we got our first blue egg. I was pretty impatient, but a friend of mine reminded me that people all develop at different speeds, and chickens are the same. But by the time we had a brown eggs, all three Ameraucanas were laying. We started getting three to four eggs per day, which meant that we were now ready to start substituting store bought eggs with our backyard eggs. 

And then the heat came in like a fiery demon dragon. We are currently in a record breaking heatwave, and keeping chickens alive is no joke. I've got the entire coop open up, with fans blowing air throughout the night (which makes it like a convection oven rather than a regular oven). I set up a misting system around our trees which we turn on each afternoon. This gives the chickens some coolness and really seems to help. We have umbrellas set up around the areas in which they lay, since the bird brains can't seem to stay out of the sun when they're laying eggs. And we give them frozen treats when we can. They love frozen watermelon set in water. So far, all of these things seem to be working, and we haven't lost a chicken. Fingers crossed that things will cool off and our chickens will survive. 

So where are we now with things? Chickens are supposed to slow down their laying in the summer, but we're getting 3-5 eggs per day. We are moving umbrellas around the yard 23 times per day to keep our chickens in the shade while they're laying. We have exactly 14 water containers around the yard so they will stay hydrated. And two of my three kids love the chickens and cuddle them as often as they can (the other one is terrified of their dinosaur feet and their beady eyes). I had no idea how pet-like they would be. 

And they all have names. They are: 

- Goldilocks (the first one to lay an egg)
- Chikera
- Kylee Henner
- Hei Hei (this one may or may not have had brain damage as a chick - very quirky)
- Not Hei Hie
- Ha Ha

Are chickens a lot of work? Kind of. I guess it really depends on the weather and how close to dying they are. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Aside from the wonderful eggs that we get from them, their poop is like garden gold. When my son cleans out the chicken coop and dumps the chicken poop into the compost, we all get excited for the high levels of nitrogen it's adding (okay, maybe I'm the only one in our house that gets excited about chicken poop). 

So if you're contemplating backyard chickens, you would get a hearty Renaissance Dad thumbs up! 

Happy chickening!