So, you'd like to get started raising chickens? Be sure you're ready to commit! Here's the first post of a beginner's guide. Let's "start from scratch," so to speak.
There’s a lot to like about raising your own chickens.The eggs are a real temptation—tastier and fresher than any store eggs and better for baking, too.The shells, along with the chicken poop, can be tossed right into the compost pile. Much of the day, the birds entertain themselves, picking at grass, worms, beetles, and all of the good things that go into making those yummy farm eggs.
Remember, though: Nothing good comes easy.
- You'll need a coop. It has to hold a feeder and water containers and a nest box for every three hens. It should be large enough that you can stand in it to gather eggs and shovel manure.
- Chickens need food (and water) daily. Feed is about $20 per 50-pound bag at my co-op; how long a bag lasts depends on the number of chickens that you have.
- Hens will lay through spring and summer and into the fall, as long as they have 12 to 14 hours of daylight. Expect to collect eggs daily, or even twice a day.
- All year ‘round, you’ll have to shovel manure.
- If you go away, you need a reliable chicken-sitter, and they are scarcer than hens’ teeth.
Chickens are sociable, so plan to keep four to six birds. They’ll need space—at least 2 square feet of coop floor per bird. The more space, the happier and healthier the chickens will be; overcrowding contributes to disease and feather picking.
The birds will need a place to spread their wings, so to speak: a 20x5-foot chicken run, for example, or a whole backyard. (My hens had lots of outdoor time. They had places to take a dust bath and catch a few rays.) Either way, the space must be fenced to keep the chickens in and predators out. (Did you know? Predators include your own Fido and Fluffy.) Add chicken-wire fencing and posts or T-bars to support it to your list of equipment.
All of this costs money. The materials to build and furnish a coop and a 20x5-foot run are going to set you back $300 to $400. If you can’t do this work yourself, you'll also be buying skilled labor. Want to increase your flock? Young chicks need a brooder lamp for warmth, but don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.
In my next post, we'll talk about choosing the right chicken breed.
Elizabeth Creith has fifteen years of experience keeping chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on her farm in Northern Ontario. She currently dreams of a new flock of fancy chickens. Elizabeth and her husband also have six and a half years experience running a pet store. On top of that, she's kept more animals than you can imagine from cats to cockatoos!