This will be our fourth year of chicken keeping and I feel like we are FINALLY hitting our stride! Although I'm not living on the farm right now (read "I left the Farm" to find out why), I know that our gals are laying over a dozen eggs a day and are about as spoiled as chickens could be. I'm eager to see them this Spring, but for now I will get my fill of farm life with a trip to my dear friend's dairy farm.
Remember my sweet friend who let's me wander her dairy farm until my heart's content? Well, she also has a beautiful flock of chickens and I had the privilege of popping by her barn and photographing them for this post. They may not be my chickens back home, but they were happy to pose for a few photos.
Over the past year, I've had a few friends reach out about chicken keeping and all that it entails. Everything from "where do I start?" to "how do I (fill in the blank)" and everything in between. I'll admit, I could probably talk about chicken keeping (or anything farm related for that matter) until I'm blue in the face. I'm definitely NOT an expert, something I feel like I must admit before we continue, but I am more than happy to help you navigate the beginnings of chicken keeping. I love this way of life, and I do a little dance every time someone else joins the club!
As much as I want to tell you that the first thing you'll need is a batch of chickens, that is NOT where to start. Don't do what we did and bring home four baby chicks to promptly live in the bathroom while you build their coop and attempt to keep them alive. Instead, do a little research!
When I first started keeping chickens, I knew pretty quickly that I wouldn't be able to do it on my own. That meant calling in some "friends".. except these "friends" were actually some incredible people who have been raising chickens and homesteading long before it was ever a thought in my mind. From authors to Youtube vloggers, Here is a list of my favorite resources for those dipping their toes in the pool of chicken keeping:
"Welcome to the Farm: How-to Wisdom from the Elliott Homestead" by Shaye Elliott
"Gardening with Chickens: Plans and Plants for You and Your Hens" by Lisa Steele
"The Backyard Homestead" by Carleen Madigan
I'd highly recommend getting AT LEAST one of these books (if not multiple) to go into more depth on raising chicks.
Another "friend" I attribute a lot of my success to would be Justin Rhodes, Youtube homestead legend and founder of Abundant Permaculture. He's made it his mission to teach people sustainable practices for their homestead. Friends, he's quite the genius and knows more about chicken keeping than anyone else I've found. He offers FREE COURSES and has answered so many of my questions when it comes to raising baby chicks. Check out the links I attached above to see his Youtube channel and learn more about Abundant Permaculture!
There are a few factors to figure out when you decide that chicken keeping is in your future. You'll want to decide how many chickens you want. Of course this can depend on many factors (ie size of your family, property, any zoning limitations for livestock, etc.) but in general, I'd say a good rule of thumb is to start with 4-6 chickens. When mature, this should give you about three dozen eggs a week, plenty for a small family or to share with friends.
Next, you'll need to prepare the following for your chickens:
-Coop & Run (Remember my "friend" Justin I mentioned above? He also share a ton of free plans for chicken coops)
-Feeder & Waterer
-Chicken feed (will be determined by age so consult your local feed store and they'll be happy to assist you)
-Roosting bars (once grown, chickens will perch at night time)
-Nesting Boxes (this can be as simple as a wood crate)
-Straw (for the coop floor and nesting boxes)
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Where do you get your baby chicks?
A: Every Spring, the local livestock and feed stores have baby chicks for sale. One year we went to our local country store and picked up a box of chicks, but when I am looking for a specific breed of chicken, I order chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Murray McMurray is a company that sells chicks online and ships them right to your post office for pick up. I've had great success with mail ordered chicks (we mail order our chicks when we raise them for meat every Spring and Fall) and appreciate the fact that I can see the breeds, research exactly what I'm needing and know exactly what to expect. Plus, who doesn't love a wake up call at 7:00am from the post office saying "You're baby chicks are here!".
Q: Does it matter what kind of chickens I get?
A: Not necessarily, however when picking a breed, it's best to look for a breed that is known to be a productive layer. Rhode Island Red, Leghorn, Sussex & Ameraucana hens are all great layers! If you're truly focused on getting strong egg layers, breed matters more than feather color. Yes, it's fun to have a wide variety of colors in the flock, but we are focused on eggs and productivity!
Q: What kinds of things should I have on hand for my flock?
A: I highly recommend keeping diatomaceous earth, probiotic powder, oyster shells, lavender oil, syringe, soft bristle toothbrush, and a bucket on hand. This might sound like a long list but trust me, each item is great to have on hand in a pinch.
Diatomaceous Earth - sprinkle on the coop floor to help fight mites and other harmful pests.
Pro-biotic Powder - sprinkle in feed for optimum gut health.
Oyster Shells - adds necessary calcium to a chicken's diet which will help build a tough shell exterior.
Lavender Oil - natural aid for injuries + a drop in the nesting box during coop cleaning will keep the gals relaxed (shoot me an email to get the hook up for fabulous oils for more than just your flock!).
Syringe - use to hydrate/feed a sick chick.
Soft Bristle Toothbrush or Paint Brush - brush poop and dirt off of eggs.
Bucket - collecting EGGS!
Q: How do I get the poop off of my eggs without ruining the protective coating?
A: In order to keep the protective coating on the outside of the eggs, we must avoid getting the eggs wet. I would recommend keeping the nesting boxes free of poop and mud (for those of use in the rainy state, a muddy coop floor is a very real thing). If a poopy egg still arises, keep an old toothbrush or clean paint brush on hand to gently brush off the poop. Then wipe with a dry cloth.
That's all for now folks! Who's ready to bring home some new members of the flock?