Oh, the shenanigans!
Chickens are desperately ridiculous. But they are relaxing to watch and so easy to keep! They require about 10-15 minutes of attention each day. You can do that! Think of the fresh eggs you will eat. Most breeds can be handled and are safe around children. My daughter (with supervision) was picking up our hens before her second birthday.
They are not much of an investment to begin with. I picked up a second hand tractor style chicken coop on Craigslist for $100. It can easily house 12 birds and came with a run attached. You can even find some affordable options online. Here is one of my favorites for a small space.
A note on buying used coops:
Before buying a used hen house you should do a thorough inspection of all nooks and crannies to make sure that the structure is free from mites, lice and other pests. Unfortunately chicken mites are able to live for months inside coops even when the chickens have moved out. Make sure to do your research and talk to the seller before buying a used coop!
If you are new to keeping chickens the first thing I would recommend is finding a great book on chicken keeping that covers all the bases and is easy to use. Books like this will cover common chicken issues and give you a great foundation for chicken keeping. This is a handy resource when you have a question about your birds. Your public library will often have several books on chickens or here are a few that I recommend.
Online forums are also wonderful places to gather information.
Getting Ready For Chicks
You will need some special equipment if you plan on raising chicks. But, it’s so worth it because you will be on cuteness overload for the first several weeks.
What you’ll need:
This is a safe place to raise your chicks until they are old enough to live outside without heat. We used a large cardboard watermelon box with great success and it was free from the market! Some people use marketed brooder boxes, large plastic containers or galvanized water tubs.
A source of heat.
This is essential for baby chicks who need to be kept warm. We used a heat lamp. Heat lamps can be a dangerous fire hazard if they are not secured properly and they are also very bright at night. Next time I raise chicks I will use a radiant heat brooder. The advantages of the radiant heat brooders are that the chicks can move in and out of the heat as they need to, it uses less energy, in turn costing you less and it’s much safer.
I like this style because it will fit on any of my regular mouth canning jars. If you are like me you have plenty of those around!
Chick starter feed and chick grit.
There are medicated and non-medicated options on the market. I choose the organic, non-medicated feed because I am raising organic hens for eggs. Small scale urban chicken flocks rarely need medication but it’s wise to do a bit of reading on this issue and decide for yourself. Starter feed should be used for the first 8 weeks. Chick grit provides the chicks with enough roughage and hard materials to help them break down and digest their food.
I used organic Rye straw with some dried grasses and branches for my chicks and they seemed to love pecking around in it and it seemed to help them develop balance. There are other options like, kiln dried wood shavings, or sand. Never use newspaper alone. Newspaper is slippery to young birds and can hinder proper leg development.
You probably have a local feed store that carries chicks in early spring and possibly fall. I got my chicks in the spring and they had moved outside by mid-summer. The benefit to spring chicks is they won’t need any additional heat once moving outside. A benefit to getting chicks in the fall is they spend the coldest part of the year indoors and when they do move outside they get more time during the warmer months to jump start egg laying. If you don’t have a local feed store there are online companies who sell chicks or you can try to connect with other homesteaders in your area and buy some chicks directly from them. I’ve found a wonderful community of homesteaders in Oregon on Facebook. Try searching for homesteading groups in your local area.
There are many breeds of chickens to choose from. Some are better layers than others. Typically my birds will lay an egg 6 out of 7 days of the week during spring and summer months. This will most likely slow down to about half during winter months. There are also lots of dual purpose breeds, meaning they lay eggs and are also good for meat. And there are a few meat breeds as well. Meat breeds are hybridized for rapid, heavy growth.
Chicks will need to be kept in a brooder for 5-6 weeks. But when they have most of their new feathers (2-3 weeks) and the weather is warm and mild you can put them out in a safe enclosed area for an hour or two before going back in the brooder for the night. Make sure to continue to provide food and water when outside.
Getting Ready To Move Your Pullets Outside
What you’ll need:
A coop and run.
Chicken coops come in all different shapes and sizes. Small chicken tractors are a fun choice for small urban homesteads because they can be moved around easily and provide your girls with fresh ground every so often. Coops will usually come with nest boxes (where chickens will lay eggs) and roosts (where they will sleep). If you can find someone in your area to make you a coop from scratch that would be the best case scenario. You can ask the builder to make modifications that will suit you and your chickens needs. Although I haven’t personally tried them, Amazon has some really cool looking coops you can order online.
Chicken feed and oyster shells.
Young birds will need grower feed from 8-18 weeks.
After that they will need layer feed.
Oyster shells are full of calcium and help chickens form strong egg shells.
I love Scratch And Peck Feeds because it’s Organic, Non-Gmo, Corn and Soy free, local to the Pacific Northwest and it has oyster shells already added.
Feed storage containers.
I use a small galvanized trashcan. This is important because you don’t want pests getting into your feed. In most cases I stay away from plastic because it is easily chewed on by rats, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. You don’t want to tempt any of these guys to your chickens.
I love straw and wood shavings because it’s easy to use and when it becomes soiled I can remove it, age it and then use it as mulch in my garden.
A feeder and waterer.
Chickens aren’t that picky. My girls are happy when I just throw out their feed to them and they get to scratch. But I do keep a feeder for times when I won’t be there to attend them. I also keep a variety of water options. The nipple style waterer is a great choice because the water stays clean and it holds a lot. Or you can use a more classic style of waterer.
I used ceramic eggs to train my chickens to use the nest boxes. This is helpful for free ranging birds because you don’t want your chickens developing bad habits of laying elsewhere. Unless of course you want an easter egg hunt every day of the year! To use ceramic eggs just add them to the nest boxes at about 22 weeks of age. Remove them when the birds have all laid several eggs in the nest boxes successfully.
When To Expect Your First Eggs
Easily the most exciting day is the day you open the nest box and see a wonderful gift from your beautiful birds. Eggs will come in all shapes, sizes and colors depending on the breed of chicken you choose. You can expect your first eggs around 23-25 weeks of age. Your first eggs will be small and infrequent. But with time your ladies will be producing eggs for you with ease. Chickens can live for 5-7 years or more depending on health, breed and care but the egg production will start to slow down after 3-4 years.
Sustainable Care For Your Feathered Friends
As I mentioned above, I feed my happy hens a grain blend that is Organic, Non-Gmo, Locally Made and Grown, and Corn and Soy free. To me this is the most important aspect of raising chickens. I know I’m feeding them a wonderful varied diet and in turn my eggs are nutrient dense, rich and healthy. Beyond the feed they get lots of organic kitchen scraps, fruits and I even grow extra kale to supplement their feeding.
There are also dried mealworms, grubs, herbs and unique grain blends on the market for extra special treats.