A couple of weeks ago, Little Chick and I went to visit some friends and celebrate my favorite godson’s birthday (ok, so he’s my only godson. What’s your point?!) I’ve known these friends since college (or before) but we don’t get together very often, so I always cherish the time we have.
While we were there, my friend Kristi mentioned how much she would love to have a couple of chickens in the backyard. When I got home, Papa and I discussed it, came up with a few ideas … I started to write an email to her, but then the email got longer and longer with advice, topics to think about, and what they would need to get started. The more I wrote in that email, the more ideas popped into my head of what they should know. I never sent that email. Instead, I thought it might make a great set of blog posts, so more than just one family could benefit from what we’ve learned. So, Kristi? This is series for you 🙂
Now, why would anyone want to raise chickens?
- You are growing your own, better tasting eggs. Ones that have bright orange centers with more nutrients). Plus, you know what your chickens have been eating!
- Chickens can be funny and develop their own personalities. Some are friendly. Some can be aggressive (and don’t last long around our house). Some run from the family dog while others stand up to him.
- Chickens are relatively easy to take care of.
- They love to gobble up your grass clippings and will keep the dandelion population under control (well, unless you have a really big yard like we do).
- They eat nasty bugs like ticks that roam your yard.
- Having your own chickens is the humane way to raise them. I dare you to watch a video on how mass-production egg farms are run. Even a “safe” show like Dirty Jobs had me cringing at their conditions.
- Your friends and family will become even friendlier to get on your short list for egg sales.
Mother Earth News did a study on hens that feasted on fresh grass, bugs, and anything else they could find in the pasture and reported that the eggs contained:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4-6 times more Vitamin D
as compared to the supermarket variety.
The first question I was asked was “is it difficult to raise chickens?” Nope. Just get your husband to do all the work! Ok, maybe that won’t work in every circumstance. But in reality, chickens are pretty easy to take care of.
Your first consideration should be whether or not you can raise chickens in your location. Do you live in the city? If so, you will need to check with local ordinances – including zoning boards. If you live in a subdivision, they may have restrictions as well. Many areas now allow 2-4 hens to be kept in the back yard, but won’t allow roosters because of the crowing. You don’t need a rooster to get eggs. You only need him if you want to turn some of those eggs into future chickens.
Side note: Roosters don’t just crow early in the morning as many television and the movies would have you believe. We’ve had roosters crow at all hours of the day. It can be a little trying when it’s 3 am and you want to still be asleep.
The next consideration is if you have room. Chickens don’t need a lot of room – and I’ll discuss later what the actual requirements are, but if you keep them confined in a coop/tractor set-up, you may want to have ample space where you can move it around a couple of times a week so it doesn’t kill your grass. Also, think about what you currently use your backyard for. If there are children playing in the backyard, you may want to limit the area where you are able to move the coop so you don’t have to deal with someone stepping in “droppings” once it’s moved.
Third consideration: how much time do you have to devote to them? Most days, taking care of the chickens means making sure they have plenty of food and water and collecting the bounty they’ve laid for you. They don’t need to be walked and exercised like a dog but remember these chores need to be done even in the dead of winter when it’s freezing cold (sometimes you may have to collect eggs more than once a day so they don’t freeze!) Papa usually makes at least three trips out to the coop each day – once to open the door to the run, once or twice to collect eggs and check on their food and water, and then back again at night to close the coop up to keep out predators. And of course, the coop area will need to be cleaned occasionally.
Fourth consideration: What will you do when you go on vacation? Do you have a neighbor that would be willing to stop over and make sure your chickens are ok and have the sustenance they need? Often bribery of whatever eggs your hens have laid that day would be enough payment for the task.
And finally, do you have easy access to a farm supply store? Ordering feed and supplies online is fine until you come to a situation where you forgot to order or you need something immediately. Here in the Midwest, we have Mills Fleet Farm, Blain’s Farm & Fleet, and Tractor Supply as examples.
I plan to cover several aspects of raising chickens in the coming weeks, but feel free to ask questions as they arise!