Do you have a child asking for pets that are just going to become another responsibility and give nothing in return? Are you interested in edible landscaping? Do you like the idea of eating locally? If any of the above apply to you, consider raising chickens.
Chickens are cute, can teach children responsibility, and provide fresh eggs! So if you think you might want to raise chickens, here is a little information to get you started with much more information available in books and on the internet. We attained much of our information and ordered our chicks from Pickering Valley Feed in Exton, PA, and continue to use them as a resource.
Spring is a popular time of year to start the process.
The first thing to decide is what kind of chickens you want. You can select for cold hardiness, number of eggs laid per year, color of eggs (blue-green, white, or brown) or just the looks of the chickens. Breeds range from a basic white Leghorn to ornate Silkies. Other early decisions include whether to order eggs, chicks, or larger birds and if you want a rooster or just hens. Many people are surprised to find you do not need a rooster to get eggs, (hens will lay unfertilized eggs without a rooster) and decide against roosters because of the noise. Either way, you may want to check your local ordinances to see if there are any codes against owning roosters in residential areas.
Should you decide you want to hatch out eggs or order chicks, you will need a chick sized water dispenser and feeding tray as well as a temporary shelter with a heat lamp. We found this well worth the expense, because the chicks are SO cute! The chicks will live in this shelter until they are large enough to be transferred to a permanent coop. Once they move to this coop, a full sized feeder and water can will be necessary, and you will also want a heater to keep the water from freezing in the winter. This is usually a small tray where you place the water can which heats to about 40 degrees.
Your coop should be large enough for your girls to range around a little, and include a chicken run. Make sure your cage has protective wire strong enough to keep out hawks, foxes, and raccoons, as well as a secure door that allows you access to gather eggs, provide feed and water, and clean the coop. The coop should also have a roost for the girls to access at night which is placed in an area that offers protection from the wind, especially in winter. The last essential element of the coop is the laying boxes. I made ours from a simple design that I got online. Add some wood shavings to the laying box and some on the floor, and you are on your way to raising chickens.
We get a lot of enjoyment from letting the girls out of the coop to forage in the yard, BUT, you must keep an eye on them as the hawks are always a threat if they happen to pass overhead.
We also enjoy our amazing friends when our chickens come running when they are called. Simply give them a handful of chicken scratch (i.e. chicken candy) when you call them, and they will come every time!
It is also fun to experience the different personalities of chickens should you choose to mix up your flock. We started with 2 each of six different breeds and were surprised to find our Plymouth Barred Rocks to be curious and always the first to come when called, the Buff Orpingtons to be sweet and gentle, and the Rhode Island Reds to be, well, stupid (they can’t find their way back into the pen). Our small flock provided more than enough eggs for our family of six and we end up giving away eggs, especially in the spring, when chickens are the most productive. Laying slows down every winter, but we consider this the girls’ vacation.
Should you decide to start your own flock, expect to check on them daily to collect eggs, make sure they are safe, and check food and water levels. If you go away for the weekend, don’t worry, they should be fine for a day or two without you. You will also need to clean the coop every once in a while, and can transfer the wood chips/chicken manure to a compost pile. Other than that, they love it if you let them out of the coop every once in a while. For your efforts, you will be rewarded with living lawn ornaments and fresh eggs. Enjoy your girls!