Two years ago, we ventured into the realm of raising small livestock. Our beloved neighbor already had some goats, and I had always wanted to have goats and chickens. Now we have goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and a puppy! It is SO FUN! Raising chickens is very rewarding, and I thought I might share a little bit about the chickens first.
We did a lot of internet research on raising chickens. There is a vast amount of websites out there to assist in your ventures. My personal favorites are Backyard Chickens and The Chicken Chick. Doing some research is vital to having a successful experience in raising livestock of any kind. Don’t fret! I’m going to give you a quick list of what to do first!
1. Plan/Design/Purchase A Coop
Our chickens free range, but all chickens need a coop for safety at night. Animals of prey are often nocturnal – like raccoons, possums and some coyotes – and you’ll want your chickens tucked safely away when you aren’t around. We have all three here, and one pesky hawk that just won’t quit. We lost the beloved rooster in the photo above to the hawk today. 🙁 In fact, I don’t even let my chickens range if we’re away more than an hour or two, because the risk is too great.
We have built two coops and purchased one. My husband is not handy – he has been learning as we go, and even he has been able to build two coops with very limited tools and experience. So you can do it! Coops in a box that you purchase can be convenient, but we have found that ours did not withstand the outdoor elements for as long as we had hoped, considering how much we spent. We built a wooden coop. Sturdy, but HEAVY – not very mobile if you ever want to move it for some reason. Our favorite so far is our hoop house. We did one similar to this, and have been very happy with it! It has been sturdy yet lightweight, and most importantly safe for our flock. We plan on building a second one in the spring.
Example of a “hoop house”
Your coop needs to have 2-3 square feet per chicken. If you free range your chickens, they’ll mostly be in the coop at night. However, if you do not, you’ll need a chicken run that has 8-10 square feet per chicken. A run is basically a protected area where they walk around and forage. That’s basically all that chickens do – walk around and peck at things. All day long. Consider free ranging, or chicken “tractoring,” as you will reap the benefits of healthier chickens and eggs – and fewer bugs in your yard.
2. Decide On and Purchase Your Feed
One of the best parts of raising your own chickens is that you get to decide what they EAT! Free ranging means your birds will walk around and forage your yard most of the day. This is the best for them! But they need feed available to them everyday, and YOU get to decide what that is. Commercially, chickens are fed as cheaply as possible. Sometimes, what they eat is disturbing. Typical chickens eat corn and soy-laden feed, and that isn’t something we should be consuming, as a by-product, all the time. Your local Tractor Supply has a good selection of feed for all different types of animals. You can also check other local farm stores or feed supply places. We get organic, non-GMO feed for our chickens. We have the best eggs ever!
3. Raise Babies or Buy Grown Chickens?
In the spring, local farm stores usually start carrying baby chicks. Or, you can order them online from a reputable source such as Meyer Hatchery. Raising baby chicks is fun, entertaining, and a great learning experience for kids and adults alike. But – it’s messy. Chickens grow quickly – they don’t look like those tiny, adorable chicks for very long! So, which one should you try?
Aren’t they cute? For a couple of weeks.
Personally, we raise baby chicks. The reason we started raising chickens – outside of the learning experience – was for healthy eggs. Having a large family, we can easily blow through 1-2 dozen a day. By raising chicks, I know what they’ve been exposed to and eaten for almost their entire lives. When the shipment comes in to the store, we get them when the chicks are just a few days old. That gives me the power to decide their nutritional life! If you want to raise baby chicks, you’ll need a good brooder set up. This post gives you some great tips for getting started. Chicks need to be in a brooder for about 6 weeks, at least. They also need baby chick food.
If you decide to purchase adult chickens from someone, you want to be as sure as possible on their history, age and overall health. This is a risk that you take, so it’s just not one that I really take. Baby chicks are inexpensive and easy to raise, albeit a little messy. Adult chickens might be a good option if you know of a good, reputable source, however. I just don’t have one! Chickens don’t typically start laying eggs for 4-6 months. So if someone you know will raise them until then, you might enjoy that option.
These are the basic considerations for starting a flock of backyard chickens. We really enjoy raising chickens. They are endlessly entertaining. They become extremely familiar with you and your habits. When my children open the backdoor, any chicken within hearing distances comes RUNNING – and chickens run fast, up to 9 mph! – for the door. It is hilarious. They want a treat – we toss them all of our vegetable and fruit scraps. And if the kids forget to CLOSE the door? Well, we end up with houseguests, as the goofy birds just walk right on in! Our children really have fun with them in the warmer months, too. The little ones will play endlessly with the chickens, and that is also entertaining to watch.
I mentioned that the main reason we started raising chickens was for better, healthier eggs. In closing, I’ll leave you with this. On the right is a store-bought, “large cage-free” egg. In the middle is one of our young chicken eggs (a “pullet” egg). On the left is the egg from one of our grown chickens. Those are the types of eggs we see every single day, with large, orange yolks. You can see at the bottom of the title graphic that it doesn’t even fit in the carton. It is TOTALLY worth it, y’all!