What You Need To Raise Chickens
At work, I am affectionately (I think!) known as the Crazy Chicken Lady. Not many people raise their own meat and egg-producers, and as someone pointed out, “You know, they sell eggs and chicken at the grocery store, you don’t need to go to all this work.” Yeah, I did know, thanks! I raise chickens because I really enjoy knowing that some of the food my family and I eat is raised, and killed ethically, treated humanely and that I provide them with the best life possible while they are with me.
But that’s not the only reason…chickens are fun, they give you eggs, they’ll rid your garden of pests, and they’ll eat your weeds. With the right handling they can even be affectionate. Really! Okay, I also know not everyone wants to commit to this level of urban farming, and no worries, it’s not for everyone.
However…if you’ve ever thought you might like to try your hand at chicken ranching in the city, go for it! I’ll bet you find it’s easier and more rewarding than you thought. Here’s what you need:
- Some chickens
- A safe place for the chickens to sleep and lay eggs
- A safe place for the chickens to spend the day
- Chicken food
See? Simple, but, of course there is also the time commitment factor. Expect to spend some time every day with your flock, feeding, watering, gathering eggs and cleaning their pen. It’s important to get to know your birds, so spend some time observing their behavior and how they interact. If you know how your girls act normally you’ll be able to quickly spot if one starts to exhibit signs of stress or illness. On workdays, I take between 5 and 10 minutes in the morning to let the girls out and make sure feed and water is full for the day. I take 15 minutes or so in the evening after work to check each one, gather eggs, top off water and food, and close them in for the night. Weekends and days off I move them to different pens for variety, clean pens and scrub feeders and waterers.
Where do you get your chickens? I ordered mine from McMurray Hatchery but most feed stores will have live chicks in the spring, or you can search online through places like Craig’s List or even the newspaper will likely have a pet or livestock section.
Chicks Or Older Girls?
This is entirely up to you. Chicks are fragile and require extra care, can die easily and often without warning or sign of sickness, but they will be the least expensive option. For best success you should keep them indoors, in a draft-proof pen (I used a large cardboard box) and a heat lamp is a must. They won’t start to lay until they’re around 4 months old, so you’ll have to be patient, but you’ll get the most eggs out of a bird in her first year or so; after about 2 years, egg production drops off. Pullets (hens under 1 year) or hens will be anywhere from $8 to $20 per bird, but less likely to die on you spontaneously. You’ll have the instant gratification eggs almost immediately, but if you buy older girls, you may have slower egg production. You might consider this a bonus if it’s just you or one other person and you don’t know what you’d do with a bunch of extra eggs. I just sold my 2 ½ year old hens, 4 of them, to a family that wanted to try chickens but didn’t want to bother with chicks this year.
Where Chickens Come Home to Roost
Hens need a henhouse; someplace they can sleep at night, with nest boxes for egg laying. A henhouse needs to be secure from predators; things like foxes, coyotes, cats, raccoons and even rats love to find henhouses with easy access. Chickens shut down in the dark. Their eyesight is poor at night and they know that lots of things out there in the dark like to eat them, so their instinct is to find a safe place to roost when the sun goes down and not move until morning. If a night-roaming predator makes it into your henhouse, your girls will not have a chance, and the predator will have an easy meal.
Nest boxes should be big enough that your hens can stand up, 12” x 12” x 12” should do. Make them easy to access for egg collection and cleaning.
Chickens also need some land they can forage around in during the day, but you still need to protect them from wandering predators. Cats, hawks, roaming dogs are all a danger to your flock.
There are plenty of online chicken supply sites. Check out places like My Pet Chicken, Omlet, or Backyard Chickens for more information on breeds, chicken coops for sale, plans to build your own coop, feed and equipment. A plethora of chicken information is available to you.
You should check your local laws regarding keeping chickens in your town. Some have limits on how many birds you can keep, and many prohibit roosters. You also want to be a good neighbor; let yours know you plan to add chickens to your yard. Generally, free eggs help smooth things over.
This is my henhouse. It’s in my garage, so my hens are doubly protected from the elements. It also means I can clean it in the coldest and wettest seasons and still stay dry. The nest boxes are on the left, the perches are on the right, and there is a door cut into the garage wall that gives them access to their enclosed run. The run is roofed over with chicken wire, and it runs on two sides of the garage, giving the girls plenty of room to roam. They are safely enclosed in the run, and I don’t worry that the neighborhood cats are stalking my hens while I’m at work. I’ve never, ***knocks on wood***, lost a bird to predation. Also, I have two other pens that I can rotate my flock to during the day to give them some variety and a change of scene.
Feeding. There are lots, and lots, and lots of commercially available chicken feeds out there. I give my girls a locally milled, non-GMO, organic feed, but your local feed store should have a good selection or be able to answer any questions. You can also give your chickens scraps: left over greens or fruit, plain yoghurt or cottage cheese. They love to hunt for bugs; if you turn them loose in your yard to forage they will help control pests. However, if you have delicate or valuable plants, you will want to protect them from scratching chickens. Laying hens need extra calcium for making shells, be sure to provide plenty of oyster shell (again available at feed stores). I just fill up a feeder and leave it to the hens to eat it when they need it. I figure they know better than I when they need more calcium.
Hens drink more water than you think. Provide them with plenty of fresh water daily.
Enjoy those fresh, delicious and good-for-you eggs! Read here about why your eggs will be healthier than those produced by factory farm chickens. Yes, there is a difference!
Have you raised chickens? What are some of your favorite breeds? Do you long for some little cluckers of your own? What else do you think you’d need to make your fowl fancies come true?
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