Raising Chickens: An Introduction

Chickens have always been part and parcel to homesteads and farms, but they have recently broken into urban back yards, too! People homesteading on an acre or less often have chickens (and sometimes even goats) as part of their strive for self-sufficiency. Here is an introduction with some pros and cons to help you decide if raising chickens is right for you.

Raising Chickens: An Introduction

Chickens have always been part and parcel to homesteads and farms, but they have recently broken into urban back yards, too! People homesteading on an acre or less often have chickens (and sometimes even goats) as part of their strive for self-sufficiency. Here is an introduction with some pros and cons to help you decide if raising chickens is right for you.

Why You Should Raise Chickens

Fresh Eggs – Naturally, one of the main reasons to have raise chickens is because of the fresh cackleberries! Typically, chicken owners have multiple egg layers and can get at least an egg a day. Depending on how many chickens you have, you might get a dozen or more a day. Either way it goes, these eggs are better for you than the ones in the grocery store. Why? Because you know what you’re feeding your chickens, you know how the animals are treated, and you’re not injecting them with steroids or any other kinds of chemicals to make them lay more eggs or anything like that. Plus, you don’t have to refrigerate them! (No, seriously, you don’t!) Just keep them in an egg basket on your counter!

Fresh Meat – Some of you are already wincing at the thought of killing a chicken, but it happens. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you probably eat chicken at least once or twice a week, right? That deliciously fried, crispy, golden brown yummy deliciousness was walking around “bawk-bawkin” just days before (or weeks… or months). If you’re not comfortable culling your own chickens, you can always find a local butcher to do it for you. Most chicken owners cull when the hens stop laying. Again, you’re getting meat that’s better for you than what’s in the market – no chemicals, hormones, steroids, and your chickens have not been mistreated. I guarantee you’ll be able to taste a difference.

Free Pest Control – Chickens love to eat bugs! They’ll eat grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, flies, crickets, snails, slugs, weevils – anything they can get their beaks on, pretty much.

Education – Keeping chickens will make you learn things. You’ll learn their behavior, their diet, what their eggs look and taste like under different circumstances and much, much more. There is so much to learn when keeping chickens – no matter how easy it may be to keep them. If you like to learn, this is a definite plus! Then there’s educating your children and your neighbors. You’ll probably have to explain more to your neighbors, though (unless they keep chickens, too). My friend Meredith (who not only keeps chickens, but takes the best pictures of them) has had a few conversations with her neighbors.

Entertainment – If you’ve ever been to someone’s house that has chickens, you’ll know just how cute and funny these little things can be! Scratching, pecking, picking, clucking… and when they run? Oh man… too funny! Trust me, a glass of iced tea and an afternoon of chicken-watching make for some good times! …and Leah agrees that they’re “so dang cute!

Why You Should Not Raise Chickens

Smell – Yes, chickens poop… and yes, that poop smells… but the thing is, it’s not nearly as mad as you’d think. If you take care of your chickens and keep their areas cleaned up, the smell isn’t bad at all. Plus you have free composting material! If your chicken pens ever start having an overwhelming smell, that’s a good sign you’ve been slack in your cleaning duties. If you leave the wet, soiled bedding material in there for weeks at a time, it will smell up the whole neighborhood and could result in your flock getting sick. Be sure you keep things clean, and your coop will always smell fresh!

Noise – Like any other animal, chickens make noise – especially the roosters! If you stick to hens, you’ll have a quieter chicken pen. Hens do still cluck and bawk, so noise won’t be completely avoided. The problem is, without a rooster, the hens become more vulnerable to predators.

Extra Chores – You already have chores – indoor and outdoor chores. Adding a flock of chickens to your duties will bump that chore list up! It’s not a massive bump, but still, they are a responsibility. Egg collecting, pen cleaning, feeding, watering are the main concerns, but there will be more. You’ll also need to think about supplementing the feed with crushed eggshells or oyster shells, which will also be more work.

Zoning Issues – You might not even be allowed to have chickens in your residential area to begin with. Regulations vary from city to city, and even different regions within the same city. Never assume that because someone else you know has chickens, that it’s permitted for you to have them also. Be sure you check local ordinances before you get started!

Planning Your Chicken Flock

If the pros outweigh the cons for you, and you’ve done your homework on local ordinance, it’s time to plan for your flock. You’ll need to build a pen, a coop, obtain proper bedding, and make sure they’ll have an area for food and water. How many chickens you plan to have will determine how much work you’ll have to do in preparation. Obviously the more chickens you get, the bigger their area will need to be. If you’re in a warmer climate, you’ll also need some form of additional shade for your coop. If you start off with chicks, you can always have a temporary “baby chick playground“ until you get your coop ready!

Be sure to think about predators, too. Urban areas might not have many, but the further away from the city you get, the more coop security you’ll need to worry about. If you can have roosters, you’re already doing a good bit toward coop security. However, if you’re in an area where you’re not allowed roosters, as Meredith talks about, you’ll need more security.

Tips for Buying Your Flock

So you’ve got all your chicken coop necessities in order. Now it’s time to find a source for your birds. Some people argue that it’s better to start with chicks, while others say it’s best to get hens that are already at their laying age. Some might even tell you it’s best to hatch your own chicks. If you happen to know someone who is selling chickens, talk to them first and get their take on things. After all, you’ll probably be buying from them, right? You can also check your local farmer’s market. Sometimes they sell and/or auction chickens there.

Keep in mind, if you buy hens, you’ll also need a way to transport them if you can’t have them delivered. Pet carriers seem to work well, but you’ll need about one for every 2 hens.

You can actually order day-old chicks through the mail, if you don’t mind having to take care of them. You need to be prepared to have them indoors in a warm area for around 2 months, so make sure to factor that into your decision. It does make your purchasing much simpler though, to have a box of cheeping chicks delivered right to your door. There are several poultry sellers and hatcheries that operate online, and you’ll have your chicks almost immediately by expedited shipping.

For further reading, check out Janet’s post at Timber Creek Farm – “Best Ever Chicken Advice“.

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