Brrrr! It’s the depths of winter. We haven’t had snow yet in Seattle, but we have had cold, fog, and the ever-present rain. My garden is sleeping, buried in a warm bed of straw. It’s dark, cold and wet.
But it won’t be for long. I’m already planning which seeds I’ll be starting early indoors; grapes, peas and beans. Maybe more, with me, you never know. I know what I’m not planning for this year…baby chickens. The flock Hub and I raised last year are laying beautifully. They’re coming up on their 1-year birthday. It’s hard to believe in just a few short months they went from this:
To all grown up and laying delicious eggs:
Isn’t she gorgeous? You want chickens now, don’t you? Have you always had a secret desire to be an urban chicken farmer? Do you realize the benefits of raising your own food, even if it’s only in small quantities? If so, now is the time to start planning for your new flock, and I’m here to help.
Before you go any farther, check with your local government, and familiarize yourself with the city codes concerning livestock. In Seattle, they recently upped the number of chickens you can have in the city from three to eight. Lucky me, I’m in an unincorporated zone where the only requirements are minimum square footage per animal. It’s also a good idea to have a friendly chat with your neighbors about your chicken plans. Usually, free eggs help ease any concerns, and you’ll likely have plenty to share.
How many chickens should you have?
Chickens are flock birds, so just one is not a good idea. She’ll be lonely, she may make extra noise trying to find friends. Two are okay, but they’ll constantly be vying for top bird status in the pecking order, and that can get noisy, not to mention uncomfortable for the birds. It’s best to have a minimum of three hens so they can keep each other company.
This time of the year is perfect to plan what size flock you want, where you want their coop, and what breed of chicken you want. You can check out these earlier posts on some basics of chicken coops and care, and the breeds I have right now.
What breed should you have?
I can hear you asking; you mean there are different breeds of chickens? There are actually hundreds of chicken breeds! Check out the wiki list for an overview. But which breeds are going to best for you, a new chicken farmer? Here are some suggestions for your consideration; these breeds are generally easy-going, hardy, and readily available.
Pretty gold ladies with mellow temperaments, often described as calm and friendly. They are excellent egg producers, and lay light pinkish-brown eggs. Buff Orps are heavy-bodied birds, that can tolerate colder climates. They are considered dual purpose (eggs and meat) if you are inclined that way, but to be honest, egg-layers are tough and stringy after a year and take a lot of cooking. Buff Orpingtons will likely be available at your local feed store (if they carry chicks) come spring.
Wyandottes come in a variety of color schemes; gold, silver, blue, to name a few. Like the Buff Orpington, Wyandottes are heavy-bodied birds with an easy-going nature who are also very good egg producers. You can expect about 4 brown eggs a week from one of these girls. Wyandottes are hardy in cold weather.
Rhode Island Red
These birds do it all. They are excellent egg-layers (some report 6 or 7 eggs a week), hardy in winter and heavy bodied. They are even the state bird of Rhode Island! Most report mild and friendly temperament in these birds, although my two girls were the dominant birds in my first flock and were on the bossy side. That’s okay, every flock needs a leader! For a first time owner, 3 or 4 Rhode Island Reds will provide you with more than enough eggs for you and your family.
Have you kept chickens? What are your favorite breeds? What birds would you pick for your flock? Would you want a variety or keep all the same breed? Good luck, and be sure to check back for more chicken, garden and animal training tips!