PHOTO: Terra Firma Farm
Terra Firma Sustainable Farm is a local Richmond, Virginia-based family-run endeavor that specializes in compost and chickens.
“We’d always wanted chickens and about a decade ago finally moved to a large 10-acre property that could accommodate them,” recall owners Alison and Andrew Larkin, corresponding together via email. “The first we bought was one of those little coop kits that you put together yourself.”
After beginning with five guinea keets and three rescued hens, the Larkins very quickly realized they needed to scale up and ordered a larger custom-made coop “with all the bells and whistles.” Now their interest in chickens and compost has become their livelihood, which they share to the wider world via their Instagram account.
We spoke to the Larkins about what chickens are like to be around on a day-to-day basis and their top tips for poultry feed. We also dug into the benefits chickens bestow upon the land.
Learn the right way to compost your chicken manure.
The Daily Chicken Itinerary
The Larkins say that raising your own chickens can be “very demanding”—especially so if you wind up with over 100 birds.
“We get up before dawn to put out food and fill their waterers and open up their nesting boxes,” they explain. “We have three separate flocks in different areas of the property in mobile coops, so it’s a lot of ground to cover.”
Later on in the day, around dawn, the Larkins open the coop, while mid-morning heralds the first egg-collecting duties. After cleaning the coops, the chickens receive a treat of some mealworms.
“Before the sun sets, we collect eggs for the last time,” they say. “Then we close off the nesting boxes and give the chickens their final treat. At dusk the coops are closed. There are no vacations from this schedule!”
Feeding Eggs to Your Chickens!
When it comes to meal times, the Larkins base their chickens’ diet around grain-based feed.
“But because they free range, they eat lots of bugs, worms, grass, plants, weeds and even snakes and mice if they can catch them,” they add. “We supplement with kitchen scraps, dried mealworms, oatmeal, seeds and fodder. During the summer months, the Larkins’ chickens also manage to sneak in “more than their fair share” of the vegetable garden.
“What most people find strange is that we feed them cooked eggs,” they add. “Any extra, malformed or oddball eggs are kept and fed back to the chickens. Scrambled eggs is their favorite treat!”
How Free-Roaming Chickens Can Improve the Land
The chickens that the Larkins raise are free-roaming. This brings an abundance of benefits to the rest of their land.
“They keep pests in check, they keep grasses trimmed, they fertilize and aerate the ground,” they say. “Over the winter we kept a flock in an area that will be planted this spring, and they did a great job of weeding, scratching up the ground and fertilizing it in preparation for planting!”
However, the Larkins also say they make sure “not to leave the chickens in one area too long. It can actually obliterate the natural flora and alter the ecosystem. It’s important to strike a balance.”
Free-range chickens are happier, and they lay better eggs, too.
Coming to Terms With the Chicken Life Cycle
Asked what sort of heads-up they wish they’d been given before beginning to raise chickens, the Larkins say, “Everyone considering chickens should realize the end-of-life responsibilities.”
Getting specific, they explain, “Chickens have a relatively short life span, and they don’t often go in their sleep. They will get sick and you have to separate them from the flock to convalesce.
“Quickly diagnosing different chicken health problems and administering proper care can be a matter of life or death. A small infirmary coop is needed where sick chickens go to recover or die. Sometimes we have to euthanize them—and that isn’t fun.”
Adding Chickens to Your Own World
If you’ve lately been considering adding some chickens to your homestead, the Larkins sign off with these words of responsible encouragement:
“Know that chickens are a great responsibility and will take a lot of time and attention. Chickens are not self sufficient like a cat, nor are they loyally adoring like a dog. But you will likely fall in love with them like a pet. Their contentment and good health will be your happiness.”
Follow Terra Firma Sustainable Farm at Instagram.