Sep 26, 2009

Chickens 101

I got an email from a new friend with questions about chickens! I love it when people are thinking about raising chickens. I am a newbie myself, but here's a little that I've learned.

I felt very nervous about getting chickens, so I did lots of research. Turns out, probably more than I really needed to! People have been keeping chickens for OH SO LONG. So, all that to say, don’t worry too much.

Okay, so: My parents had chickens when I started college or just after. So I wasn’t around much. Pretty much I just collected eggs when I was home. I knew nothing about them except that the needed food and water. For a zoology major, that’s pretty sketchy knowledge! :)

I did love to read these sites – they offer forums that I’d peruse every so often as I wondered things.

Urban Chickens (this is local)

As far as number of eggs: it really depends on the breed. There are so many different kinds of breeds. So, it depends on if you want chickens that might make good stew someday, or if you want brown eggs, or if you want hens that might tend to try to brood chicks, etc. You can see all that here: Breed Chart

Mostly, I really liked the idea of brown eggs and green/blue eggs. We have six chickens and get an average of 4 eggs per day or so. Most breeds start laying at about 5 months old. We got ours as little chicks (2 weeks old) - I wanted the kids to have the whole experience. :) Chickens lay more in the summer than the winter (it’s based on day length) but you can put a light in their coop if you want to extend their day during the winter months. I plan to do that in the winter anyway, just to keep them a little warmer – not so much for the eggs.

As far as advice: I’d start with figuring out where you want to put a coop/run. Measuring your space and then working backward from there to see how many chickens you have room for. (I’ll have to look, I can’t remember the recommended square footage.) I wish I had thought through our garden a little better to make it less accessible to the chickens – they are notorious scratchers and leaf eaters. (Fine after your garden dies off for the winter but not if you have cold crops) - which explains all the white trash chicken wire around certain beds! I love to have the chickens out in the yard, though, so we try to do that a couple of times a week and just stay outside to watch them.

You have to learn to clip their flight feathers on one side so they can’t leave your yard. They don’t tend to be good fliers, but just in case. It’s VERY easy. 

The first time I clipped feathers. 

The only things you really need are a coop/run. Well protected – neighborhood cats have been seen eyeing our chickens a few times. A Watering trough. A feeder. Starter pellets (for chicks) and switch to layer rations (for adults). Also, hay for bedding or woodchips or wood pellets. That’s about it! Actually pretty simple.

Some problems: Chickens can choose to peck each other – usually there’s a pecking order and one gets picked on more than others. From what I’ve read, this isn’t usually a problem if they have plenty of food and space.

I really like being able to give my kitchen veggie scraps to the chickens. I have a redworm farm, too, but they don’t eat enough – and a composter but it’s too slow, so I like having the chickens. It enables me to get fruit/veggie scraps from extended family, too - (funny that I compost other people’s garbage since they don’t!). And I put the chicken poo in my composter to let it age before using it.

Also, I’ve been starting some research on hatcheries (been hearing some weird stuff) so I think next time I get new chickens, I’d like to try and brood my own (I’ll need to find a rooster somewhere I guess) or buy some from someone whose own chickens have layed the eggs. I bought my chicks from a family in Corrales who had ordered them from a hatchery. (It was the daughter’s ‘business’ to order the chicks, care for them, and resell them in town.) LOTS of places to get chicks – I see ads every winter/spring.

The chickens have to be 8-10 weeks (I think) before they go outside full time, depending on the weather. We got ours in the middle of Feb and I think they were outside by the middle of April.

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