I adore chickens. I don’t think folks really understand what there is to like about chickens until you have some of your very own. From holding a tiny, fuzzy peeping chick to celebrating their success of laying their first egg or their first cock-a-doodle-doo, chickens have a way of pecking and scratching into your heart.
Chickens are typically very easy and low maintenance animals, with big rewards. They offer entertainment-it is quite a show when one chicken finds a juicy bug the others all want- and delish, fresh eggs most every day. Keeping chickens is as easy as C.H.I.C.K.E.N.S.
C: Chicks/Chickens. To start a flock, you need to either purchase chicks or chickens. I typically prefer to purchase chicks because they tend to be more bonded to you and it is such a fun experience to hand raise them. “Sexed” chicks refer to looking at their chicken parts under a microscope to determine gender. Places like Tractor Supply and certified hatcheries sex their chicks, “straight run” means they are unsexed and you won’t know what gender you purchased until you hear a cock-a-doodle-do or see an egg!
H: Heat. This is only important if you start your flock with chicks. Chicks need a heat lamp for the first few weeks of life. There are many complicated ways out there of weaning the chicks off the heat lamp, but in a moderate climate, as long as they have access to a heat lamp until they are mostly fully feathered (around 3-4 weeks), I have never had a problem just taking the heat lamp away at once. Particularly if you have more than a few chicks, they will all huddle together to stay warm and cozy.
If you purchase full size hens, you do not need heat lamps as long as there are a few chickens to cuddle together. Chickens do just fine in very cold weather, as long as they have an enclosed, dry coop. On occasion they can get frostbite on the waddles, but this is a rare occurrence.
I: Integrate slowly. This comes into play when you expand your flock. Chickens are more brutal than middle school girls, so make introductions gradually and make sure there is plenty of distraction. It is normal for chickens to fight and pick on the newbies, but keep an eye on them for a few days so it doesn’t result in blood shed!
C: Coop. This is one of the most costly elements to being a chicken keeper. Since backyard chickens are the new “in” thing these days, coops range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Whichever choice is right for you, make sure it has the basics, or you add the basics, roosts, nesting boxes and room. Chickens need room to roam and if you are going to keep them in the run they will need entertainment to stay happy, healthy, hens. There are some creative alternatives to buying a traditional chicken coop. I repurposed an old crib to be a chicken tractor (mobile coop) and it worked out great. It was also much more cost efficient. Check it out HERE. Make sure the coop you choose to house your chickens is super secure. Chickens are pray animals and will attract predators you didn’t even know you had in your area.
K: Keep fresh water and plenty of food available for your chicks/chickens. Chicks and chickens eat like a pack of hungry wolves. I prefer unmedicated chick feed and I keep the flock on this until they are of laying age. I then switch them to a natural layer feed formula. I also supplement with food scraps to save on feed costs. There are many alternative feeders than the traditional red and white ones you buy at your local feed store. Here is an option I have done in the past with PVC pipe, it is very easy and completely customizable. Check it out HERE. Whichever feeder choice you chose, make sure it keeps the feed dry, as rotten feed will make your chickens ill.
E: Eggs. Hens begin to lay eggs at around 6 months old. Those first 6 months seem to drag by as the anticipation of when your girls will lay their first egg heightens. The moment you see that brown, white, green, blue or pink egg, is a moment to celebrate-you’re chick has officially become a hen! Most eggs are clean right from the nesting box, but if they have some chicken remnants on it, wash carefully with warm water. Be aware that washing the egg removes a thin layer (bloom) that prolongs the freshness of eggs, but should still be fine to eat for weeks to come. Most other countries do not keep fresh eggs in the refrigerator since the bloom keeps them fresh.
N: Nest boxes. The main reason most people want chickens is for those tasty, fresh from the chicken’s behind, eggs. Hens need a dry, quiet place to lay their eggs and if not provided with one, will establish their own, typically very inconvenient nest box. There are hundreds of creative, inexpensive options out there. Don’t waste too much time or money putting out numerous boxes, hens will typically pick one out of the many choices and all fight to cram in the same one or stand there and wait their turn, even though there are open boxes available!
S: Sick. Chickens are traditionally fairly hardy, but they can fall prey to respiratory illness, fowl pox, have a prolapsed vent, become egg bound, develop bumblefoot, or a few other chicken ailments. Your local vet, or google which is free, is your best friend in these situations. Look up your symptoms and you will find numerous resources on what the condition is and what to do. Epsom salt water (small dose) or Epsom salt soaks are a farmer’s “cure all” for most chicken ailments.
With a little time and cost, chickens are an entertaining bunch that are truly a delightful addition to your homestead and family. With the popularity of backyard chickens growing, many cities and towns are allowing chickens inside neighborhoods and city limits. Hens are typically more accepted than roosters, due to the obvious noise difference, but some products are now on the market to help quiet roosters, Rooster Bowtie.
Purchasing backyard chickens also has a positive effect on lessening the need for inhumane, disease ridden factory farms.
Entertainment and fresh eggs, what’s not to love?
Until next time…