Before we get rolling along, let me start by asking you all to please excuse the fowl language…hahaha! Dad jokes are the best! Okay, now that it’s out of my system, let’s get this thing started!
Chickens can be a great resource. They are good providers for food production and can themselves be a tasty meal. An average hen produces 2 eggs about every 3 days. Production can vary but that’s a pretty solid figure across the board.
Since this is a “Getting Started” article, I’m going to keep it very simple and throw out some basic considerations and recommendations. Keep in mind that your specific situation may require further research based on your climate, what’s allowed in your neighborhood, etc. so, let this be a starting point for your journey into owning chickens!
Where can you buy chickens to raise?
You can actually buy baby chicks online and have them mailed directly to your house, but local farms and co-ops are also a great option for keeping your money local and supporting local business.
What kind of chickens should you get for egg production?
There are more types of chickens then you can shake a stick at but assuming that the reason you want chickens around is for egg production, take a look at the Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rock chickens. They are pretty hardy chickens, fairly quiet and produce a pretty decent egg yield. I’ve personally owned Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rock chickens and was very happy with their egg production.
Should I get a rooster?
If you decide to get a rooster, you’ll typically want to limit it to just one because roosters don’t like competition and may fight or wear out the hens. If you grow into a substantial number of chickens and want to produce offspring to grow your flock, you’ll need a rooster to fertilize the eggs for hatching. If you only want eggs to eat you don’t need a rooster.
I’ve commonly seen recommendations for one rooster per 12 hens as a general rule of thumb.
How soon can you expect your new baby chicks to start laying eggs?
Typically, you can count on chickens to start producing eggs around 6 months old. So, if your plan is to get some baby chicks and have egg production within a month, you’ll need to rethink your game plan. Flock planning is also something to think about as time goes on. Hens will age out of egg laying in two years or so.
How many do I need?
Another thing to consider if you’re buying baby chicks for future egg production is, how many should you start with in order to arrive at the desired number of laying hens? If you want to end up with 5 laying hens, some of those may die during the growth or maturation process. If you scour the internet, you’ll see mixed information as to whether you should buy extras to hedge your bets or not but, if it were me, I’d order a few extra chicks just to be on the safe side. Worst case scenario, all of the chickens survive, and you end up with a few extra chickens that can be sold, traded, bartered or simply given away to someone looking to start their own flock.
What are some added benefits of owning chickens?
Growing up, we often had chickens and guineas around the house. If allowed to free range, they do a pretty good job of keeping tick numbers to a minimum. In fact, I recently read an article that mentioned a study from 1991 where a flock of chickens was released in a tick infested field for 30 minutes to an hour. They found that on average, the chickens consumed roughly 80 ticks each within that time frame. That’s pretty significant and in a time where tick fever, Lyme disease and other tick born illness are on the rise.
Chickens can also serve as an alert system to predators in the area. In fact, our guineas were really on point about letting us know if anything showed up around the house, almost like a guard dog…that doesn’t bite. If you have space to include guineas in your “flock” I’d definitely recommend it. They are a nice compliment and do their part to keep pest levels down. If I’m honest, they’re also just a ton of fun to watch as they go about their day roaming the property.
So, what are some bare minimums that you need to consider for starting out with chickens?
Well, if you live in a neighborhood with a POA or HOA, be sure to check out the guidelines for your neighborhood to see if you can even own chickens. I live within an HOA and our guidelines state that you can’t have any roosters but, you can have up to three hens (I think it’s actually worded as “fowl”). My point is, don’t go spend a bunch of money getting set up to own chickens without knowing what’s allowed in your neighborhood first!
What will you need to keep chickens safe and happy?
Ideally, you’ll want a raised chicken coop (a raised coop will likely save you problems and reduce chicken loss down the road and there will always be some loss) where the chickens will stay at night and will also lay their eggs. At my mom’s place, the chicken coop is located in a much larger grazing pen where the younger chickens stay during the day to reduce exposure to risks for them while the others roam the property. If you live in the country like my mom does, you may want to let your chickens out to free range during the day. It can definitely save on food costs and can be a help keeping tick and insect levels manageable. By free ranging your flock you can cut your food costs for 20 hens down to roughly the cost of a housecat or two.
Fresh water is very important every day because you don’t want the heat to get to your flock and dirty water and moldy food can translate to the food safety of the eggs.
Important note: If you order birds online it is very important to be ready for them to arrive by providing heat, nesting materials, a safe containment and you will want to be familiar with the antibiotic for their foods so they don’t get sick when they are very young.
What about the chicken stranglers?
Chickens are tasty to other creatures that share our living spaces. It is important to give them a safe and secure coop to take refuge, especially at night when the nocturnal predators are on the hunt for easy prey. Raccoons, foxes and even dogs, sometimes the family pet, are drawn to the scent and sounds of a small flock.
Raccoons are very creative at breaking and entering. They can find the smallest of holes or loose seams to pry open. If you build your own coop, search every inch for a weakness.
Rats and mice also enjoy the challenge to invade the coop and snakes love eggs as much as we do so if you seem to be missing birds or eggs, they might have been kidnapped in the night. Be careful about reaching your hands into the dark recesses of a nest to pick up the eggs, look carefully for snakes and spiders first.
If you are going to free range your yard birds during the day, don’t forget to close and lock the coop door each night after the chickens come home to roost to keep the intruders out.
Pro Tip: It may take some time to convince new chickens to be comfortable in their new home. Especially if they are adults raised somewhere else. Pecking order is a real thing and it takes time for everyone to be accepted in the flock. Just be patient and the birds will sort it all out eventually. If you need to pick them up or retrieve them from a place they shouldn’t be, forget chasing them all over the place in the daytime when they are active. Wait until they roost in the evening and you can often just walk over and pick them up.
A chicken tractor?
If free range is not an option or, you simply want to control where your chickens go in order to direct things like chicken droppings being deposited where you want it or for other reasons, you may want to look into investing in or making a chicken tractor. There are multiple designs for chicken tractors floating around out there but boiled down, it’s a mobile pen that keeps the chickens contained while still allowing them to be moved to different areas every day.
Again, this is a very basic intro to some ideas for you to consider when thinking about raising chickens, but I do want to throw out a couple more things to at least give some thought. Let’s face it, you are going to be making an investment. Whether it’s an investment in fresh eggs for breakfast every day or an insurance plan for food for when the sky falls, you’ll want to protect that investment as much as possible.
If having a dog is an option, you may want to consider a protective breed like a sheep dog (Great Pyrenees). My mom has kept sheep dogs on her little farm for years and they are amazing protectors! They are friendly and do well with children as well. Also, keep in mind that there are birds called “chicken hawks”. They are called that for a good reason. My brother used chicken wire to cover the top of his grazing pen. It has saved him a lot of headache and money by not having to replace members of the flock due to birds of prey swooping in and snatching his chickens.
Keeping chickens for egg production obviously isn’t rocket science and can be a lot of fun but, like anything else, you should do a little research and get prepared to care for them properly and responsibly so that you will be successful in your mission to get fresh eggs on the table every day!