Ah, chickens. They conjure up a picture of hens pecking around for bugs in a rural farmyard somewhere in the heartland of America. They speak of a bygone era, where our mothers or grandmothers were busy hanging clothes on the line in their dress and apron. I admit I have a very romantic view of chickens and days past. That however does not taint my opinion that, no matter what your lifestyle, as long as you are legally able to own chickens and have a little corner of the yard they can call home, you should have chickens.
With the breakdown in the availability of basics like milk, eggs, and bread with the arrival of the covid 19 virus. It made me think back on what it must have been like when the population was on war rations and were encouraged to have “victory gardens” and own a few backyard chickens to “keep a family in fresh eggs”. We have been able to share eggs with neighbors, friends, and others during this crisis and I have been so grateful.
Way before we moved to our farm, we lived in a town on a quarter of an acre. We were lucky to have permission to own a few laying hens even with our smallish yard. I knew it was a small step that we could take to help us be a little more self sufficient, learn a new skill set, and get closer to where our food comes from. We stared with a small flock of six chicks and a fairly crudely built chicken coop. Was our start pretty? No! Not even a little bit. But along the way we learned a BUNCH about raising chickens.
First, they really don‘t HAVE to have much space. Yes, I love when they are able to safely roam a pasture, but lets be honest, most people don’t have access to a large piece of land. Realistically a laying hen requires about 3- 4 square feet of inside space and about twice that amount of outside space to be healthy and comfortable. That means that if you wanted to have a flock of 5 chickens you would need a 5’x10’ run where you would be able to build a 5’x4’ raised coop (so the chickens have access underneath it).
Depending on the breed you get they can lay eggs in varying shades of white to the deepest brown. There are even specific breeds and crosses that lay green, blue, and even pink tinged eggs! These have always been a favorite of ours because of the burst of color in our egg baskets.
So how do you get started with chickens? You will need a few basic supplies that are able to reused if you decide to raise more chicks in the future.
1. A brooder to put your new chicks. Doesn’t need to be fancy, a large tote has worked or us in the past. Just remember your chicks will grow quickly and they do need room to move around.
2. A feeder and waterer. Keeping fresh food and water available at all times will give your chicks a great start
3. Bedding material. Wood shavings have been our go to for years and work great. Just make sure not to get “fine” material that the chicks will eat.
3. A heat source there are a few different kinds and in the beginning we went with the usual red heat lamp. You do need to be careful as any heat source can cause a fire if it falls or comes into prolonged contact with flammable material. Raising a greater number of chicks now I have opted for a ceramic adjustable brooder/heater and we have had great success with it.
4. Food. There are a few options but they are all pretty similar. We always start with “chick starter crumble” sometimes we have used medicated, sometimes unmedicated. The size of the starter is the main concern and you can choose as far as organic, unmedicated, etc as you see fit.
As they grow you will switch to a larger size feed called “grower” and finally at laying age you can switch to “layer” feed and oyster shells, or do like we choose to and crush the egg shells you use and feed them back to the hens. This gives them the calcium they need to continue to stay healthy Themselves and have strong egg shells.
5. CHICKS! Now you get to bring home the cute little fluff balls! I highly recommend going to your local feed store (Tractor Supply, Rural King, IFA, Cal Ranch etc.) or if you want to order online go to Cackle Hatchery. We have used them in the past for mail orders and have been impressed each time. Their chicks have been far superior to those that we have bought at most feed stores, and the chickens are much larger and robust. I will have a post coming soon on which breeds I suggest for new chicken families, check that our HERE.
Really, chickens are a great way to take a small step forward in becoming more self sufficient and having control over your food sources. Everyone should have chickens!! If you have comments or questions, drop them below and i will do my best to answer them!