Getting Started with Chickens
My grandparents raised chickens, along with many family members out west, but they have long passed and seeking their wisdom is a window that closed several years ago (what I wouldn’t give to have that opportunity again). If my grandma had a cup of coffee in her hand she had a chicken in her lap. My grandparents were true chicken whisperers before chicken whisperers were cool. Culling day was a family affair between brothers, and I learned at a very young age where the term running around like a chicken with their head cut off comes from.
As I got older and moved away from home, I always associated; chickens, birds (they had several aviaries raising exotic and domestic birds) , and gardening with home. Whenever that earthy aroma passed through my nostrils, nostalgic memories came rushing through. This is something I desired sharing with my own children.
When we (I should say ‘I’ because I don’t think hubby ever really decided as much as tricked into) decided to raise chickens I did months of research. I bought all of the magazines, downloaded books, followed chicken bloggers (yes, there are chicken bloggers–lots of them), talked to local farmers, everything I could do to make sure I was well-informed. A couple of things I found out quickly was that everybody has a completely different view; from what bedding is used, what breed is best, what to feed them and so on, it is very confusing. Another problem I ran into is I couldn’t find all of the information I was looking for in one central location, even the information packet I received from the hatchery was very vague. I am a newbie, first time chicken owner, so I need step by step instructions and some guidance.
If you’re like me, well then good luck because there isn’t a central location that answers all of your questions. Sure there are a lot of reference places to go to (Back Yard Chickens is one of my favorites) but you have to read through a lot of information to find your answers.
Although I was raised with chickens, I am no chicken expert nor will you ever hear me claim to be, however, I do pride myself on the research I put into a subject and fully believe 100% in the statements I make. I encourage you to do your own research to base your decisions and what works best for you.
I am more of a measure twice and cut once type of gal, look left, right, left and again for good measure before making a decision. So while this post may be lengthy and detailed its how my brain works best and covers all of the details that are important to me. My desire here is to share with you our experiences on our journey to food independence and hope that it will help you.
First things first, questions to ask yourself before making a decision to buy chickens:
Things you should consider before getting chickens:
- Does your City/Town or HOA (Home Owners Association) allow poultry? Don’t buy first and ask questions later.
- How much space do you have? (see SPACE below)
- Do you have the support from your family? Make sure everyone is on board to share the workload.
- Can you afford it?
- Do you have the time?
- Do you travel a lot? Who will take care of them when you go on vacation?
- Will you be able to make a five to 10 year commitment to raising them?
- Are wild predators an issue? Can you provide a safe haven for them?
- Will you want chickens for eggs, meat, or both?
- Can you handle losing a pet or two?
- Do you want chickens for personal use or do you want to make money off of them?
- Do you have access to a vet that specializes in chickens?
- Do you have a feed store close by to purchase supplies?
- Are you or someone in your house handy with tools to build a brooder and coop? or do you plan on buying pre-made ones?
- If you’re buying for meet, do you plan on doing the processing or know someone who will?
- If you’re buying for eggs, know that chickens only lay eggs for a couple of years but can live up to 10 yrs. What will you do with them once they quit laying?
- Do you have a place in your home or on your property that is free from drafts and elements to raise the chicks for 6-8 weeks before they can go in the coop?
- Will you be free ranging your chickens? Or keeping in a coop or run ? Or both?
After you have done your research and know it is legal to own chickens the next step is to pick a breed and the amount that you will want to order, never have less than three chickens. There are hundreds of breeds of chickens and narrowing it down can be difficult.
Here is a link to Hobby Farms that has a good list of chicken breeds with details about each (click here for link)
- Did you know the color of the egg has NOTHING to do with the quality of the egg or its nutritional value? I know this seems like a no-brainer but why have we been brainwashed for years by the grocery store chains that brown eggs were better? And why do they always cost more? Chickens are just like people, we all make different babies and different breeds of chickens all lay different colors of eggs. This tidbit of info is good to store in the memory bank when your hens start to lay eggs, if you get different breeds you can tell who laid what egg.
- You can have eggs without a Rooster? Who Knew? Now if you want baby chickens all the time you need a Rooster. Depending on what website you’re looking at general rule is 1 Rooster for every 5 Hens
People shop with their eyes first so when looking for a particular breed you may make your first choice based on looks but here are some other questions you need to consider when picking a breed that is best for you.
Qualities to look for:
- Meat Bird or Egg Layer: Some breeds are better for one over the other than there are some that are good multi-purpose birds
- Egg Layer: if you are choosing a breed just for eggs you will want to pick one that is known to have a high volume. You may also want to consider to add a breed to your flock that is known to lay in winter months when the others slow down in production (keeping you with eggs all year)
- Meat Bird: Meat breeds tend to grow at a faster rate and reach maturity quicker. There are special requirements (different raising techniques) than from egg layers such as type of food needed at different stages that you will have to research
- Noise level: Will the sound of your chickens be an issue with your neighbors? Some breeds are known to be loud compared to others. If you are worried about noise at all then you do not want a Rooster
- Egg Color: does it matter to you what color the eggs are (even though they are all the same on the inside some egg colors sell better if you are looking to sell your eggs)
- Friendliness: Do you have children or do you want to keep them as pets as well as a food source? Pick a docile/friendly breed
- Climate: Some breeds are better for warm or cold climate. You don’t want to pick a breed that can’t tolerate the heat if you live in the South, nor do you want to pick a breed that doesn’t like the cold if you live in the North
- Flight Risk: Some breeds are known to jump the fence to explore the big world and others don’t mind being confined to a pen. If you have a small space don’t choose a breed that is known for going AWOL (absent without official leave)
- Plays Well With Others: Do you want more than one breed? If so, make sure you choose breeds that get along well with other breeds or you may end up with just one breed before it’s all said and done.
- A Good Mama: If you want to raise baby chicks to sell or just to keep you in ample supply then you will want to pick a breed that is known for being a good mama
- Coop Raising: Certain Breeds do better confined in a Coop/Run than others. If you pick a breed that needs open land and try to raise them in a coop/run you could have: aggression issues, depression and health issues
Of course all of the breed characteristics are guides and not absolutes, just because you pick a breed known to be quiet doesn’t mean they won’t turn into a Chatty Cathy.
Many of the breeds meet multiple criteria so you can find the perfect chicken for you with a little research .
Here at The Coastal Homestead we; live by the ocean, have less than 1/2 acre, lots of trees, sandy soil, hot, hot, hot, temps in the Summer, are prone to hurricanes, neighbors on all three sides, 6 ft fenced in yard, children, in city limits, and live within a Home Owners Association
For reasons mentioned above, I was looking for:
- Friendly and Docile
- Good Egg Layers (we didn’t want them for meat at this moment)
- Gets along with other breeds
- Heat Tolerant
- Quiet (it is against our Bylaws and City Law to have Roosters)
- Flight Risk
- Coop Raising ( we plan on free ranging when we are home but we have a small yard so I wanted to choose this characteristic)
- Egg Layer during winter (wanted eggs all year-long)
The breeds we chose based on my research were:
- Buff Orpington
- Black Australorp
- Barred Plymouth Rock
How Many Do You Need?
How many chickens to order depends on some more variables.
- Do you want eggs? Meat? Or Both?
- How many members are in your family?
- How many eggs do you eat now?
- How much chicken meat do you need per week?
- Do you want to raise baby chicks?
- How much space do you have?
- Minimum Order from a hatchery
Chickens are socialites. It is never recommended to have just one chicken. I would suggest a bare minimum of three. Be forewarned: chickens are addictive and you are more than likely to end up with more than you wanted in the beginning.
Eggs: If you are raising chickens for eggs you will want to pick breeds that are known for egg laying. The average good egg layer will produce roughly 5 eggs per week and slow down production during the winter. Add a breed that is known for laying during the cold months if you want eggs all year long. Plan on adding to your flock every couple of years as egg production slows down with your original flock.
Meat: How much chicken do you want to eat per week? There are 52 weeks in a year, if you average 1 whole chicken a week you will want 52 chickens (add more for loss) and that’s a LOT of chickens.
Members in the family: If the average egg layer lays 5 eggs a week and your family eats a dozen eggs a week you will want the minimum amount of recommended chickens (3). We have 5 family members and eat 1 dozen eggs a week. I want to sell some eggs to cover the cost of raising our flock so we have 15 chickens, we’ll have enough eggs for us, to sell, and to share with friends. Keep in mind that the chickens will like to eat cooked eggs as well (kinda weird but it’s true).
Breeding chickens: If you want to raise baby chicks to sell or keep you in ample supply, you will need to add a Rooster for every 5 hens* (see info above)
Space (these recommendations are from Natural Chicken Keeping)
Here is another one of those facts that change considerably depending on where you look. With baby chicks you will need a minimum of 6″ sq per chick in the Brooder. As they get bigger (they grow really fast) 1’sq ft per chick.
- 4 square feet (sq ft) of floor space per Large Fowl (LF) chicken
- 3 square feet of floor space per Bantam chicken
- 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 sq ft of floor space
- 12”x12” is the standard size for nest boxes, but your chickens won’t mind slightly smaller or larger boxes (provided they fit comfortably).
- Minimum of 1 nest box for every 3 laying hens
- 10 Sq Ft of ground space per LF chicken
- 7.5 Sq Ft of ground space per Bantam chicken
- 12 inches of perch space per LF chicken
- 9 inches of perch space per Bantam chicken
- Perches should be positioned at least 12” to 18” away from the wall for head/tail space.
- Chickens need a minimum of 18″ to 24″ of head space above the perch. Remember – they have to fly up there and you don’t want them banging their heads each time they jump for the roost!
- 2”x2” boards with the edges rounded off may be used for bantam breeds
- LF do best roosting on the 4” side of a 2”x4” with rounded edges.
- Natural branch roosts may also be used (minimum diameter of 3”-4” (but not all types of wood are healthy for chickens, so check prior to using.)
Minimum Order: If you are buying your chicks from a local feed store, many only carry chicks in the spring to sell. If you are ordering online, many will have a minimum order. If you only want a couple of chickens, it will cost you a lot more. The place where we ordered our chickens, The Cackle Hatchery, had a minimum order of 15 for the regular rate ($2.45 per chicken). I could have ordered 3 or 5 but that would have raised the cost considerably. If you don’t want but a few chickens, see if you can find someone to order with you so you can get the discounted rate. Hatchery’s generally send more chickens then ordered due to the loss factor (will explain the loss factor later). I ordered 15 and was shipped 16, we lost one so I still have 15, but there is a chance all of the chickens shipped will live.
So, do your research, pick the breed or breeds that are best for you and begin your journey to Food Independence.
Disclaimer: This post is intended for information only. Anything highlighted is a link to the item being described and may be an affiliate link.