A Beginner’s Homestead- Chickens

I never liked the idea of animals.  We had a few dogs growing up but I never really liked them.  My parents gave me a cat but eventually the cat and I stopped loving each other and just tolerated each other.  So when I suddenly got the desire to own chickens, I shocked myself.Big Hedwig

What changed things was that I finally had a house and we had children.  Lots of children.  Chickens seemed like such a good idea to teach my family some good skills and get some eggs out of the deal!

We started out inheriting a friend’s chickens when she moved.  But it didn’t stop there.  We graduated onto buying 15 baby chickens from a feed store and then we bought fertilized eggs so one of our hens could raise some babies. And then we bought 16 chickens from a lady on craigslist, willing to give us a great deal.

Hedwig started brooding so we allowed her to raise babies.  She is inspecting a hatching chick!
Hedwig started brooding so we allowed her to raise babies. She is inspecting a hatching chick!

Through all this chicken raising, I feel like I’ve gleaned a few things that I’d like to pass on.

Baby Chickens:

Baby chickens are super cute.  But they are also super messy.  And they grow super fast.  So be prepared with an indoor set up for the first several weeks and a way to transition them to being outside. We used a cardboard box for the first 5 weeks, which was great until they got big enough to fly out every time we tried to lift the lid.

Baby chickens need to be socialized.  The first set of baby chicks we got were from a feed store.  I remember them telling me they had been handled from day one and were really friendly but it didn’t really click why that would be important.  The second set of chickens were raised by one of our own hens.  They were very skittish, but we figured that was because Hedwig, the mama hen, was very protective of them.  By the time we purchased the last batch on craigslist I realized these chickens were not nearly as friendly and were very scared of being picked up (at one week old) because the lady we purchased them from had not handled them at all since birth.

Read up on some of the issues that baby chicks deal with (like blocked vents) and know how to look for them.  Chickens are pretty hardy but there are a few things that’ll do them in. Be prepared to handle the death of a chicken because it does happen, even to the most careful of caregivers.

Eggs:  

Most chickens start laying between 16 and 20 weeks old.  And when they lay, not all breeds produce an egg every single day.  But if you want to have only enough eggs for your family, you do not need 15 chickens.  Make sure you think through exactly how many chickens you need-its easy to get excited and buy a lot of chickens because they are little and cute.

Our chickens have laid eggs ranging from almost white to a very dark brown over the years.  There is no difference in flavor or nutrition in egg colors.
Our chickens have laid eggs ranging from almost white to a very dark brown over the years. There is no difference in flavor or nutrition in egg colors.

Roosters:

Most hatcheries offer the option of buying only male or only female chickens.  Since most cities have a ban on roosters but will allow hens in a backyard flock, its a smart way to sell chickens.  But, if you choose to raise the chickens from eggs or buy from a friendly person on craigslist, you are going to run into chickens that you can’t tell male from female until you start hearing the crowing at 5am.  If you choose to buy from an uncertain source and you can’t have roosters, be prepared to deal with the rooster.

Don’t plan on just putting roosters on craigslist and hoping someone will take him.  And don’t plan on letting it go wild.  Either you keep him, or you have to be prepared to cull it (cull means to butcher in this case).

Roosters will fight among themselves if there are not enough hens to go around.  And occasionally they can be violent and attack people, especially children.  And they can occasionally be really hard on the hens they are supposed to be protecting.  So decide carefully if having a rooster is something you can handle. You Do Not Need A Rooster To Have Eggs.

Well Being:

Chickens need fresh water daily and access to food.  We have no grass where we live, which is okay.  We toss out all our compost items for the chickens to peck through and they can scratch for bugs.  But we have to supplement with chicken feed.  If you are lucky to live on acreage, you may only have to minimally supplement.

This is our chicken set up- space for scratching, shade for the heat and plenty of coop space for roosting and nesting.  It has evolved over the years, but is still pretty basic.
This is our chicken set up- space for scratching, shade for the heat and plenty of coop space for roosting and nesting. It has evolved over the years, but is still pretty basic.

Where we live, there are so many dogs that other predators like raccoon or coyotes are non existent. In places where you have to protect your birds, make sure you have a coop that is easily locked and will keep predators out. There are some fancy coops that will close automatically or you can plan on doing a visual check and lock them in every night.  Both ideas are quite valid.

Overall, chickens ended up being so much easier than I thought they could be. Spend time researching to your hearts content but realize that for the most part, you just have to get your feet wet.  When you come up on a question you can’t solve on your own then hit the common websites like backyardchickens.com where you can get answers to anything your heart can ponder on.

And have fun with them!

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