So just what does it take to raise a small flock of backyard chickens?
We have been flooded the last few weeks with emails and questions about raising backyard chickens. And the questions cover nearly every subject imaginable:
- Is it difficult?
- Does it take a lot of time and effort?
- Is it best to raise chickens from chicks or purchase older chickens?
- Do I need a rooster to have eggs?
- When is the best time to start?
- How can I build my own chicken coop?
One thing is for sure, raising chickens is both rewarding and beneficial. And for so many great reasons!
The Benefits of Raising Chickens
In addition to supplying incredibly tasty fresh eggs, chickens provide great compost material for your vegetable and flowers. They can also make a serious dent in pest and insect problems – including ticks! See The Best Way To Control Ticks In Your Yard
But perhaps best of all, chickens are actually incredibly fun to be around. Believe it or not, they really do develop their own personalities. They really are the ultimate all-purpose addition to any home, farm, backyard garden or homestead.
With so many people now considering adding a few chickens to their “family” – we thought it would be a perfect time to talk about what it takes to successfully raise, shelter and care for a small backyard flock.
Raising Chickens 101
In a nutshell, chickens require 4 simple things to stay healthy and happy
- A Safe, secure and dry shelter,
- A bit of space to roam and scratch.
Most people are surprised to find out just how easy chickens are to care for. On average, it takes us about 5 minutes each day to fill their feeder with food and give them fresh water. And of course, to collect the day’s eggs.
In addition, we usually spend about a half hour every month maintaining the coop. Mainly, clearing out old straw and manure to the compost pile, and putting fresh straw down in the coop.
Starting With Chicks
Although you can purchase older birds, we have always raised our “girls” from day old chicks. Not only is it a fun and rewarding experience, but it allows the chickens to get used to you from day one.
It usually results in calmer, more social birds, and certainly ones that develop more personality.
Raising Chicks & Chickens
For the first 8 weeks of their life, chicks need to be kept in a brooder. A brooder is nothing more than a temporary home to keep them safe and warm until they feather out.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. We made ours from a few scraps of 2 x 4’s and chicken wire for about $10 in materials. A metal stock tank or a large dog kennel will work well too.
We use a heat lamp attached to the brooder to keep the temperature at 90 to 95 degrees during the baby chicks first 5 to 7 days. With each passing week, we move the heat lamp back to cool the brooder down 5 degrees.
By the third or fourth week, they will begin to develop feathers. As they do, they are able to adjust to cooler temperatures as well.
We feed our chicks an organic starter feed for their first 4 weeks. It’s amazing to watch how quickly they learn to use the water and food feeders.
By the 5th week, we begin mixing their starter feed with traditional pellet food. And by week 8, they are off and running with traditional pellets, and of course, and bugs as well!
A Secure & Dry Chicken Coop – The Real Secret To Raising Chickens
Your chicken’s health and security all begins with a good place to call home. As soon as the young chicks feather out (8 – 10 weeks), they are ready to move in to their “big” house.
A good chicken coop should have at least 2 square feet of space per bird, and should include an outdoor run for additional roaming room. If you allow your chickens to free-range, be sure dogs and other predators can’t easily get to them.
When raising chickens, having plenty of space and not overcrowding your birds is a big key to keeping them healthy. At night, they like to cluster up on their roosting pole for warmth and security. But they love space to roam during the day!
A coop should be well ventilated and easy to access for cleaning. It also needs to be secure so raccoons, coyote, mink and other predators can’t get in. See : Old World Garden’s Small Flock Chicken Coop Plans
But most importantly, a coop needs to keep chickens dry. Chickens can handle the cold with no issue, but not if their feathers are wet from moisture.
How About Those Eggs?
So how long will it take to start seeing farm-raised chicken eggs? On average, most varieties of chickens will begin laying eggs between 18 and 22 weeks.
As for how many eggs you will get, that too depends on the variety as well.
Chickens that are bred for heavy egg production can lay an egg about 6 times per week on average. Our Golden Comet chickens have always been right around that mark for the first two to three years.
As chickens age, they will lay less frequently. Other factors that can affect egg production include daylight hours and temperatures.
We are asked quite often if we really can notice the difference in our farm-raised chicken eggs compared to store bought. The answer is a resounding yes!
Ask anyone who has home-raised eggs and they will tell you the same answer. They are larger, thicker-shelled, and oh-so much tastier than those store bought eggs. In a word, they are incredible!
Do I Need A Rooster?
So what about that rooster question? Do you need to have a rooster to have eggs?
The simple fact is you don’t need a rooster to have your hens lay eggs. In fact, for those looking to raise just a few backyard chickens for eggs, we highly recommend forgoing the rooster.
The hens are more calm, and you certainly won’t be waking up to an early crowing alarm! Here is to raising your own flock of backyard chickens – Happy Chicken Farming! Jim and Mary.