We were so excited to introduce our chickens in last months newsletter…Scarlett, Charlotte, Layla & Lulu have hit the chicken jackpot! Not only were they chosen to live at the beautiful Cross Creek Ranch, they also have a custom made coop to live in, lots of fresh vegetables to eat, their own swing to play on and their very own custom made perch to watch the day go by. They are obviously loving their new hen house because they are laying eggs just about every single day.
We’ve learned so much about raising chickens and we want to share our journey with you.
We have been raising chickens at Cross Creek Ranch for a few months now…
Bonnie, the owner, has been long been dreaming of having enough space to have her own chicken coop, and with over the 17 acres at Cross Creek Ranch, she certainly has it now! Even though the McSharry’s have owned the ranch for close to 20 years now, having chickens was not quite at the top of the priority list. You can certainly understand this when you look at all the projects and improvements (enlarged and enclosed the stable, constructed an open air chapel, twice, acquired and renovated the B&B, created the enchanted forest and secret garden, started many gardens and garden areas, the list goes on and on) that have happened over that time! Early on in March of 2020, when the world was just getting the potential impact of this thing called Covid-19, Bonnie thought it was time to do some preparing for the unknown future- kind of like getting ready for a hurricane , which we who live in Florida are used to, but she also thought about doing a little bit more. So she moved a catering freezer from the French Country Inn to the Main House, filled it up with extra groceries, stocked up on all the other supplies and then decided with the upcoming quarantine and business as usual coming to a stop, it was the perfect time to get her chicken coop going.
Bonnie is notorious for doing her research, she had a complete Pinterest Board going, so she had lots of ideas on what she wanted to do. So it was easy to put it into action once she pulled the trigger.
There’s so much great information available on this subject such as books, blogs, websites, and many local vendors as well with loads of experience and advice.
Once she selected a nice mostly shady spot on the property near her house, she ordered her chicken coop with outdoor run from the local Tractor Supply Company. Then on-staff builder/maintenance man/fixer & builder-of-all-things, Dave, reinforced the walls, digging them down to deter predators and added on extra room for them to run, with extra latches installed to keep them safe. Four chickens arrived via a close friend that had extra hens to share but be aware! Once you start raising your own chickens, a thing called “chicken math” may happen. It starts with the idea of a couple of chickens and then before you know it, you’ve picked up a couple more here and then a couple more there and VOILA! CHICKEN MATH!! You will have more than a couple hens believe me.
Raising Healthy Chickens
There’s so much great information available on the subject of raising your own chickens. There are great books, blogs, websites, and many local vendors, as well, with loads of experience and advice.
Some of our favorites:
Florida Backyard Chickens Facebook Group
My Pet Chicken website has so much information as well as chicks and coops for sale.
Fresh Eggs Daily Blog is a lovely site featuring Chicken Keeping, growing herbs and recipes.
Keeping Healthing Chickens by Carissa Bonham is one of our favorite books. It’s a real fast read and provides easy to follow suggestions.
We are lucky to live in the Tampa Bay area, the local farmers markets are great resources. There are local Facebook groups as well.
A local certified hatchery that I would highly recommend is the great folks at The Happy Feet Hatchery.
They offer many types of baby chicks, juveniles, or hatching eggs. Christina at Happy Feet has lots of knowledge and can certainly help if you’re looking for different breeds or different color eggs and all that goes along with this very gratifying endeavor.
Scarlett, Charlotte, Layla and Lulu were quite comfortable living in their new digs from day one. In addition to basic chicken feed, they can pretty much eat anything that we do, with a couple of exceptions, such as raw potatoes and onions, green potatoes or green tomatoes and absolutely no citrus or chocolate.
Cross Creek Ranch has a vegetable & herb garden, so they love getting fresh lettuce and herbs (rosemary and mint being some of their favorites) as well as a variety of lettuces, carrot tops, kale and mint. Chickens are quite vocal and curious by nature and they get so excited and love to cackle and chatter when we come out to feed them. And boy do they love getting their treats!
Check out one of their favorites below:
A cabbage or watermelon hung from a wire basket is entertaining as well as a favorite refreshing snack. We have tied a bundle of herbs, hung upside down, and they really go for that too. You can also make a pinata out of apples, corn on the cob, cucumber and pumpkins, and since it’s been so hot lately we even freeze fresh herbs in an ice cube tray for them to peck at it to get to the herbs. They LOVE that…
We compost a lot at Cross Creek Ranch so it’s great to be able to do an initial composting with the chickens. All veggie and food scraps go right to the girls and they just love to check it out and pick through stuff. Heck they even like the fine grass clippings, weeds, and dead leaves. (Who knew?) If there is something they don’t like, we make sure to remove it after a day, so it doesn’t start decomposing. We then just move it to the regular compost pile.
As mentioned, our girls love to eat fresh mint and rosemary, but we also sprinkle some of these herbs throughout their nesting boxes to keep everything feeling and smelling fresh. You could also use parsley, basil, sage, thyme and rose petals. Spa blend anyone?
So now that we have cozy, healthy, well fed chickens and they are laying eggs, what to do with all those eggs?
Eat them of course! Here’s a couple of our favorites.
Scrambled- Fried- Poached. And omelets of course. Waffles and pancakes can also use up a lot of eggs. Then there are all kinds of variations of Frittata, Quiche, breakfast quesadillas, breakfast casserole or burritos. Egg Salad, egg muffins, Egg sandwiches, French toast, crepes, eggs benedict. Make your own mayonnaise, Caesar dressing and hollandaise sauce. Zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, blueberry muffins.
Boil eggs for snacks or include in a cobb salad, chef salad or potato salad. And do NOT get me started on all the options to make deviled eggs.
Make bread pudding (that uses a bunch of eggs!), bake pound cake, angel food cake or any other kind of cake or cookies for that matter. Make puddings and custards. Bake and top a pie with fresh meringue. And making your own pasta for Spaghetti carbonara and fried rice are great dinner options. If you are feeling adventurous, try making some delicious pop overs or a souffle.
If you are into bulking up on protein, you could add an egg to your morning smoothie OR on the other end of the spectrum; enjoy a homemade batch of egg nog!
As you may know, it is best to store your fresh eggs at room temperature. They will hold up to a month on your counter so track and eat your eggs in order. You can number them or we just love this egg holder; the fresh eggs always go on top and you use the eggs from the bottom, that way you know which eggs are older and should be eating first.
We will start planning for the slower producing winter season soon, such as transferring some of our eggs to the fridge for longer storage. Once you wash the eggs (and remove the protective bloom) they need to be stored in the refrigerator – they will then keep up to six months.
We grow flowers and other plants on the property as well and guess what? The chicken poop is a great fertilizer. We even make a poop tea that is great to add to the water for our plants.
Local markets, garden centers, big box stores, event Trader Joes and Whole Foods grocery stores have starter herb plants to help you get started.
We also save all the eggshells and grind them down and add to their feed because it’s a great way to provide them with that all-important calcium to keep them laying eggs! Bonnie is excited about bringing the girls into the veggie garden to help clear out for fall plantings. Hens love to dig and eat weeds, which helps till and fertilize at the same time. Raising chickens is such a rewarding and sustainable project.
We just love getting fresh healthy eggs from well cared for chickens, they benefit from our gardens and help them grow. In a short time they have truly become part of our family. We even moved a wood swing from another part of the property so we can just sit and watch them. Believe me when I tell you- these girls are funny! It is relaxing to see how they interact with each other, and how they enjoy their snacks, and how they play, and how they fight. It’s like people watching, but better right?
Editor Note: By the time we published this blog; Chicken Math happened! We have added two more hens to the coop! More to follow.