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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Backyard Chickens: The Basics

This is part one of a series I'm putting together about raising your own chickens.

From what I'm reading, getting chickens is the cool thing to do now. With the eat local movements and growing your own food, chickens are really the perfect way to get on board. You can eat their eggs, they can eat your scraps, and well, if you're not too tenderhearted, you can eat them.

Before you decide to go to the feed store and pick up half a dozen, here are a few things to consider.

1. Check your local ordinances and home owner's association bylaws. Chickens aren't allowed everywhere and it would be a huge bummer to get into it and then find yourself in a bind.

2. Start small and decide what you want. We have egg layers and meat birds, but started out with just egg layers. One word to the wise though -- if you're going to have meat birds, don't name them. It's probably a good idea to not name any, but with names like "Hennifer Lopez" who can resist?

3. Figure out where you will keep them. If you're getting chicks, you'll need somewhere to keep them until they're old enough to go into a coop. Chicks poop a lot, and it smells. While they're in the brooder(a crib for a chick), you'll need a heating element, chick food, and a waterer. Then, when they outgrow the brooder, they'll need a place outside with shelter. The nice thing is that it doesn't have to be a store bought coop. If you (or someone you know) is pretty handy, you can build a simple coop yourself. If you're not, farm stores, Sam's Club, and Amazon all sell coops. You'll need to keep in mind that there are predators outside that you don't see during the day. We've had an issue with opossums, but they're not the only critters that like to have a winner winner, chicken dinner.

4. Your time. Chickens take less time to care for than a puppy, but there is still time to consider. You'll have to feed and water them every day, and collect eggs. If you're like me, you'll also spend time just watching them because they're pretty cool to observe. My husband has spent quite a bit of time building runs (outdoor pen) and things for the chickens, so it isn't just a set it and forget it kind of thing.

5. Decide if you want a rooster. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have a rooster. However, if you want to hatch your own chicks from eggs, you do. If you have all hens, you'll still get eggs from them and they'll still be delicious. The only way a chick can come from an egg is if you have a rooster and fertilized eggs. I know that sounds super common sense, but I've been asked so many times if I've ever cracked open an egg and found a chick. If you collect eggs every day, this will not happen to you. Roosters are helpful in protecting the hens from predators. They are noisy though, and can get...well...cocky. They watch me when the hens all have their backs turned to get water. A downside though is that they can be a little aggressive with the hens when they fertilize their eggs. That is a conversation for another time, but they aren't very gentle then.

An ISA Brown hen and ten week old Buff Orpington (yellow) and Rhode Island Red pullets.

6. The breed of chicken(s) you want. Check what is good in your area, and for the purpose you want and go from there. We live in Indiana and have Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, ISA Browns, Welsummers, and Cornish Plymouth Rock Crosses. All of our chickens lay large to extra large brown eggs, but the Welsummers will lay chocolate colored eggs when they start laying. You can expect about an egg a day per chicken once they start. Keep in mind that hens are usually six months or older before they start to lay (our first ones were closer to 9 months) so this isn't a quick replacement for putting eggs on your shopping list. A female chicken who has not started to lay eggs yet is called a pullet. Some breeds lay bluish/green eggs which are pretty, and I'd imagine kids would get a kick out of green eggs.

7. Keep in mind that they are birds, and some do die. It is just kind of one of those things that sometimes happens. We had 10 Welsummer chicks and 8 died, but we haven't lost any of our Buff Orpingtons. If you order online (yes, live birds can be shipped to you) the hatchery will often refund you if there is an issue with your batch. Make sure to check into that before you order though.

8. Ask yourself if you're only doing it because they look cool on Instagram. Don't do it if that's your reason. I know, that sounds silly, but people do it, and it's bad. But if you're interested in seeing some, look up #backyardchickens.

So, anyone still interested?


  1. This is amazing!! I can't imagine keeping up with this (and we live in an apartment with no yard, so it is a moot point at this point in our lives), but this is so so so amazing, both for the eggs and meat, the experience and when they are old enough, a great responsibility teaching tool for the kiddos.

  2. I would love to taste those eggs and chicken!

  3. Thanks for the nice blog. It was very useful for me. I'm happy I found this blog. Thank you for sharing with us,I too always learn something new from your post. auto locksmith



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