For today’s Adventures in Homesteading post we’re talking chicken. It sure seems that raising chickens – even in urban settings – is becoming more and more common. Now I don’t personally raise chickens, but a few of you that follow me on Facebook do and I’m delighted to share your stories, tips, advice and photos today!
Here are the questions I posed. Erin lives in Maple Valley, WA, Kristina lives in Burien, WA and Jennifer lives in Irving, TX.
Q: Why did you decide to get chickens?
Erin: Our dream is to have a farm someday, and I have always wanted chickens. I assumed that because we live in a neighborhood, we would not be allowed to have them. My CC & R’s stated “No livestock.” I let it go for a while, and 2 years ago I e-mailed our mayor who is also my neighbor to ask. She told me that chickens are not considered livestock, but “small domestic animals”, and gave me the go ahead – up to 6 without a kennel license, as long as my neighbors didn’t complain. So it is best to check with your city/neighborhood CC & R’s and HOA’s for sure.
Kristina: A whim probably sums it up best. It was my birthday and being totally unprepared and arguably irresponsible we bought 4 pullets (young birds, feathered out and sexed to be 90% hens).
Q: What sort of work and cost was involved to get them set up?
Erin: We bought our chicks at the local feed store for $3 each. We housed them in a free cardboard box with wood chips and a heat lamp in our bathroom for the first few weeks. We also bought a bag of scratch, a waterer and a feeder. It was around $75 to set up initially.
We had chicken wire on the top of the box, and set the lamp on the wire for warmth.
As they grew, they were moved to the garage and put in a large rubbermaid tote with the heat lamp gradually being lifted farther from them as they got older. When they were a couple of months old, they could start going outside to acclimate for a few hours at a time. (Make sure they are contained – if they go under your deck or under a fence, they may be impossible to retrieve!) As “teenager” chickens, they were moved into a coop in our garden. There are MANY ideas/plans for coops. We planned to build one but ran out of time, so we ended up buying one. There are also many new/used/custom options on Craigslist.
Kristina: Cost depends if you start with pullets and/or adult birds or if you start with chicks. I’ve done both and it is far easier to start with older birds but the babies are so hard to resist! For pullets and older who are not dependent on a extra heat source you will need a basic coop which can be extremely elaborate to a converted dog house or old rabbit hutch. Be sure to include an enclosed run if you don’t plan on letting them free range. I’m not sure of space requirements but at least a couple square feet per bird. Overcrowding can lead to pecking and injuring each other. Costs for this can really vary depending on how “pretty” you want things and what supplies you already have. Our first coop was a little bigger than a dog house for the cost of 2 sheets of plywood, and we had other scrap wood and some hog wire for fencing a run. The coop I have now is shed size; I wanted to be able to stand up in it. Almost all of the materials for it came off Craigslist for free…windows, the door, roofing!
A 50-lb. bag of layer pellets runs about $15 (we go through this every 2 weeks) plus I feed them scratch for treats. Any dinner scraps they love. Mine check out the compost pile daily. They are free range so they eat grass, bugs, rose bushes and any plant I really love. If you let your chickies free range, protect your garden!
If you start with the cute little chicks you will need a brooder – basically a box with a heat lamp. I currently have 3 turkey chicks and 3 chicken chicks in my laundry room. By starting with chicks they often bond better with you and then you have time to construct your coop. The thing with chicks is, before they are feathered out and ready to be outside they become escape artists and poo flingers.
Jennifer: Initially, when I thought that four chickens was enough, I bought a fancy-schmancy teak coop from the Internet. Assured that this wooden beauty would hold four hens, I plunked down $499 plus shipping, and when the coop arrived, my first reaction was that I had been royally hosed. The coop came unassembled (which hadn’t occurred to me). It consisted of a small box-shaped enclosure with one nest, and a slightly larger wire thing in which the chickens were supposed to spend their day. The yard was about 2′ x 3′, not much bigger than a dog kennel. It would have made an ideal rabbit hutch, but as a four chicken domicile, it was close to animal cruelty. Then I bought a much larger coop which was a sort of chicken tractor. It had four nests, a roomy interior, and best of all, it only cost $225 delivered and fully assembled. Now with two coops, we enclosed both of them in a 16′ x 16′ wire pen.
Q: What kind of care and work does it take to keep your chickens happy and healthy?
Erin: We feed them a good quality chicken food, and give them scratch grains during the winter months. We also supply them with either oyster shells to give them the calcium for strong shells, or I bake the eggshells from the eggs we use in the oven and add them to the bowl I keep on my counter with all of our scraps, leftovers we don’t eat, etc., for the girls. Mine love watermelon rinds and pasta, but refuse to eat strawberries!
I use the dry litter method – I put down woodchips, and food grade diatomaceous earth to keep down on flies. It is low maintenance, and I don’t have to clean out the coop as often. I use straw in the nesting boxes, and replace occasionally if they make messes or break an occasional egg. We use a large waterer that holds 5 gallons and hangs from the coop above the chicken (if it is on the ground they will fling wood chips and poop in it). Our food container is also a large one that hangs as well for the same reasons.
Also make sure your coop is secure, and that you lock your ladies up at night. When dusk falls, they will put themselves to bed, so make sure they are safe. Nothing is more devastating than having a raccoon or other critter come in and destroy your flock during the night.
Kristina: Provide fresh water and feed. I have never had any major health problems with any of my birds. I’m a stay at home mom so a lot of chicken chores are just stuff I do all day but I would say we clean the coop most weekends, some more thorough times then others. Winter they are in there a lot longer because of the shorter days so more often then. Every morning I let them out to forage the yard and every night we lock them up. Chickens sleep through predator attacks; coops need to be very secure as they won’t save themselves. We have lost a lot of chickens to predators. Raccoons and possums are incredibly strong and determined to take part of that chicken buffet they sense you’re serving. They can pry open doors, screens and windows. Our aviary has hog wire buried 2 feet down to prevent them from digging under it. Our coop and aviary are attached so technically if I thinned my flock I could keep them secured all the time but right now I have too many for them to be comfortable that way.
Q: What advice would you give to someone thinking about raising chickens?
Erin: Know they will be messy!
When you purchase chicks, make sure they are pre-sexed – straight run chickens give you a higher chance of ending up with a rooster, which you and your neighbors DON’T want! Pre-sexed chickens give you a 95% chance of getting hens. Most places that have sexed chicks will allow you to exchange a rooster for a hen, but it will be a month or two before you will be able to tell. You can also sell him on Craigslist for around $15-$20. My sister-in-law ended up with a rooster, and after his first cock-a-doodle-do he was posted on Craigslist and gone by 11 am that day.
Hold your chicks often! We held ours in towels while we watched TV, and handled them a lot. In turn, they are friendly and easy to handle/catch in the yard. My kids and the neighbors are known to carry them around the yard like baby dolls, putting them in wagons, draping beads around their necks, bringing them into their fort, etc. I have even heard my daughter singing opera to one of them last summer.
Clip their wings! We have had a few “break out” of the backyard and decided my neighbor’s yard was a good place to hang out. He didn’t think so.
Keep in mind they will eat everything in sight, dig holes, and poop everywhere. When ours were free ranging, we had to hose off the deck every day! My herbs, blueberries and raspberry bushes were bald up to chicken height. I actually watched one hen jump a foot in the air to eat a still green blueberry! They are great as clean up crews after harvest in the garden. Just don’t let them near things you don’t want them to eat!
They can also be noisy sometimes. When they lay eggs they can make a bunch of racket called a “hen song”– mine don’t do that, but they do make a bunch of noise if someone else lays an egg, as encouragement. And also when they are out of food or water they may start making a bunch of noise. They have woken us up early in the AM “complaining.”
Know how many eggs you will want/need. A chicken will lay an egg almost every day. We have 6 chickens, and in the spring/summer we get 5-6 eggs a day.
Kristina: Chickens make great pets. Like all animals, the more attention and love you give them, the more they give back. They each have their own personalities – ours even beg like dogs for treats. Whatever the chore in the yard, we are sure to have at least one chicken helper. They even like to sneak in the kitchen for some cat food.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
Erin: Egg yolks from a fresh egg are firm, high and bright yellow, even orange sometimes. That is normal! Eggs from the store can be 1-2 months old by the time you purchase them. One thing to note: if you want to hard-boil a fresh egg, you need to let it “age” for a couple of weeks, or else the shell will be practically impossible to peel!
Our girls make us smile every day. Seeing a chicken run, or to look out the window and see one perched on my window box looking at me with her head cocked to one side making a bwaaaaaaaah noise, or to see four of them standing on the back porch pecking at the window, waiting for a treat, makes them worth their “trouble.”
Kristina: The eggs from your own chickens are the best you’ll ever have. You’ll notice the yolk color right away: no more pale yellow, these are dark yellow to vibrant orange. It is so much fun to be able to share these eggs with friends and neighbors.
Thank you so much Erin, Jennifer, Kristina for sharing your stories and photos!
About today’s featured readers:
Erin is a stay at home, homeschooling, chicken raising mom of 3 children who lives in the suburbs of Maple Valley, WA with her family and an assortment of other animals, both domestic and exotic. You can contact her at [email protected] if you have questions.
Kristina started in Burien with 10 hens. She now lives in unincorporated Puyallup where she has 40 hens, 3 ducks, and 3 baby turkeys. She lives on about 1/3 of an acre.
Jennifer has had chickens for four years and lives in Irving, TX.
Incidentally, if you’re looking for a book that gives you a step-by-step walkthrough of how to raise chickens, Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally by Lisa Steele gets fantastic reviews and is a best-seller! It’s currently priced around $15 on Amazon.