This spring, we bought 40 pullets from a friend, rhode island red crosses, right about the time when we moved the chickens from their winter coop near our house to a (rickety old) coop that we can (very carefully) pull with the tractor. Many of our barred rocks were no longer laying and it was time for new birds. The kids and I tried to hatch our own, so we'd have some barred rocks and araucanas, too, but none of the eggs we incubated hatched! (Any suggestions from readers? This was our first time incubating eggs. I can't imagine that *none* of the eggs were fertilized of the 18 we incubated, but maybe?... We borrowed an incubator with a self-turning egg tray.)
Keeping 40-50 layers is an ideal number for our farm--enough for farmshare members, our local co-op, a farmers' market and our family.
We've been moving them through some winter wheat cover crop that hasn't been ploughed in yet and it is so nice to see happy birds running through the wheat and digging up bugs.
While my parents were visiting a few weeks ago, Adam and my dad figured out a system to counter weight a heavy slate door with a bucket full of water. The bucket has a small hole in it that slowly lets water out into one of the chickens' water bowls. It's timed to take about 2½ hours, so when we do chores at night and fill the bucket, the door will close just after dark.
Happy birds, happy farmers. :)