Should I get chickens?

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Here are the common questions I hear when friends ask about raising their own chickens.

Q:  How much work is it?

A:  Chickens are low maintenance.  We let them out of their coop every morning by opening the door.  Easy.  We sprinkle some grain on the ground for them in the mornings and evenings.  Easy.  We shut the coop door at sunset.  Easy.  We check their water bowl daily.  Easy.  Once every couple of months I either add pine shavings to their coop floor OR I shovel it out add new shavings.  Bonus:  Garden compost!   I replace the hay in their nest boxes at the same time. This takes less than twenty minutes every other month.  Easy.

Feeding chickens is easy. Even a one year old can do it.

Feeding chickens is easy. Even a one year old can do it.

Q:  How much does it cost to raise laying hens?

A:  The chicks themselves cost $2-$3.00 a piece, depending on the breed you choose.  We feed our chickens grain/feed twice a day, but most of their intake comes from grass and bugs.  We occasionally give them scraps of fruit or veggies.  We have about 15 birds and spend about $11 a month on feed or less.

Q:  Where do you buy chicks?

A:  Atwood’s, Tractor Supply, Race Brothers, and other farm/feed stores carry chicks in the Spring.  Last year, Atwood’s had chicks from February until May.  We have also ordered chicks from an online company.  It costs more due to shipping but you are much more likely to get what you really want.

Q:  What about a coop?

A:  There are two ways to think about a coop.  Do you want a mobile coop (aka chicken tractor)?  If you can’t let your birds free range, this is a good way to keep your birds safe while also allowing rotation onto fresh grass every few days.   A permanent coop has the advantage of being more secure and larger in size.  The downside is that if you keep your chickens fenced in next to a permanent coop, it won’t take long for the chickens to eat all the grass and leave a dry, dusty yard.  I’ve seen plans when a permanent coop has two exits for the birds.  One side leads into their current chicken yard and the other into their garden.  Once the garden is done for the season, you rotate the chickens into the garden areas to give the chickens fresh ground and to compost the area.  When you are ready to plant again, you move the chickens back to the other side.  The coop is by far the most expensive part of owning chickens.

Q:  What about predators?

A:  In our first year of having chickens, we have only lost one chicken and it was to our electric fence.  Sadly, the hen got caught between the wire and the fence and didn’t survive.  We HIGHLY recommend livestock guardian dogs.  They chase away hungry dogs, coyotes, raccoons, and even hawks.  This allows our chickens to free range.  Our neighbors had chickens for a few months.  They did not have LDGs.  One by one, their chickens disappeared leaving behind a trail of feathers.  Sad day.    Get an LDG or two to protect your flock or don’t let them free range unsupervised.

Our LGDs hanging out with some of the young chickens.

Our LGDs hanging out with some of the young chickens.

Q:  How long before I get eggs?

A:  Most chickens start laying at around 5 months old.  Their eggs start off small (think golf ball or smaller) and over the next month or so become regular size eggs.  They are tasty at any size!

Q:  How many eggs a day do you get?

A:  Some breeds lay more than others.  We have a variety of birds.  Most birds lay an egg every day or every other day.  From our 12 hens, we get 7-10 eggs most days.

Q:  Are the eggs better tasting than store bought?

A:  Are you kididng me?  Absolutely, farm fresh eggs are far superior.  They look different and taste different.  They also have more nutrients.

Look at those range yolks!

Look at those orange yolks!

Q:  Why would I not have chickens?

A:  The start up cost is pricey.

Q:  Other than eggs, why would I own chickens?

A:  Passing the egg section at the grocery store is priceless.  Having a constant source of food at your fingertips is pretty awesome.  It is nice to show our children where food comes from.  Chickens are also great at eating bugs, including ticks!  In the summer, if we go into our back pasture, we usually come back with a tick or two.  That is because our chickens don’t roam that acreage.  We have never gotten a tick from hanging out in the 5 acres they can access.  This benefits our other livestock and us humans.  Ain’t nobody want a tick bite!  Finally, chickens are fun to watch.  They strut, they dig, they run, and they try to fly.  My six year old loves picking them up and petting them.

Chickens entertaining our children.

Chickens entertaining our children.