Chickens, in my opinion, are one of the most fun and rewarding animals to interact with. They are creatures of habit so you can bet in the morning when you open the coop or shake some seeds about for a treat they will come running. They make me smile often so it is an easy source of happiness. Hens for the most part are friendly and if you raise them from chicks and hold them regularly they won’t be afraid of you when you want a little cuddle time. They may even enjoy being pet or sitting upon your shoulder. So, if you eat eggs (or chicken) in your home, consider this wonderful option.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need?
Chickens take up very little space especially considering a household of four people probably wouldn’t need more than six laying hens, if that! The rules regarding coop space vary depending if they will be free range or in a fenced in run. We choose to free range which means less feed because they are able to forage more for bugs and wild seeds, etc. However, it is impossible to regulate what they eat when free ranging so it is likely you will deal with chicken crop issues but it is manageable! They will try to eat EVERYTHING! The decision to free range or keep in a run is just based on personal preference. If you don’t want chicken poop all over your yard or in your garage (if left open), then you’ll probably want a run.
Each bird should be given two square feet per bird if they free range all day, every day and only use the coop for laying and sleeping. If it is a completely enclosed coop and run provide at least four square feet per bird in the coop and about 10 square feet per bird in the outdoor run. Because they don’t require much space and the cost for starting is relatively low they are the PERFECT backyard addition in my opinion.
A coop can be built DIY for dirt cheap with free wood off of Craigslist or your local newspaper. In big cities there are left over building materials constantly available for the taking. I can’t believe that stuff just gets thrown away! Go get free wood and start your coop today. There are tons of options pre-built (and expensive), but I think it is more fun to design and build it yourself. It forces you to learn what the birds like before you begin raising your backyard chickens. For example, they will want to roost at night in the HIGHEST possible point in the coop! You can get away with one nest box per every four to five hens. With our first batch of five laying hens four of them used the same box and we had four boxes for them to choose from!
What Breed is Right For You?
There are a ton of different breeds of chickens to choose as well. I’m not going to list them all, but we have had the following breeds: Salmon Faverolle, Americauna, Black Australorp, Buff Orpington, California White, White Leghorn and now… assorted Bantams (not old enough to judge them yet).
My favorite breed so far for temperament has to be the Buff Orpington and Black Australorp, but Buffy was my number one lady for sure. The two white layers: California White and White Leghorn were “production” breeds and they laid one to two eggs a day! They were machines! Beware if you get a really good layer breed you will have A LOT of eggs! If you are interested in birds for meat, there are breeds like Cornish Cross, Jersey Giant, and Freedom Rangers, along with many others. There are also dual-purpose birds like Orpingtons, Australorps, and more. Our preference is to have a variety of dual purpose birds. We don’t need too many excellent layers or too many “meat” birds. It is still hard for me to say chickens for meat as I have a hard time dealing with that process. However, I know that if I want to eat meat I need to know the reality of what that means. A friend turned me on to a book called “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan which follows the production process of four meals and the disgusting truth about the conditions and practices of large scale farming. If we all had our own backyard flock of chickens, there would be no need to purchase chicken or eggs from the grocery store. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever questioned the ethics of large scale commercial production farming.
How Much Time and Money is Involved?
Very little, if you set it up right! A large average brand 50 lb. bag of chicken feed from your local feed store will run you around $15. How fast you go through a bag completely depends on the situation. How many birds, breed of birds, run vs. free range, supplemental feed/ compost access, etc. are all questions you will need to keep in mind when planning your expenses. I would guess we picked up a bag every couple of months for our 6 chickens. A feeder and water bucket can be picked up at a local farm store for $15 each. Throw in a bag of various seeds as a treat for your little birdies and you are at about $60 to get started with adult hens. A rough estimate for 6 birds would be $20 every two months. If you are thinking about starting from day old chicks, see my previous post here. I would recommend searching for DIY chicken food and water set ups. There are some very inexpensive options made of things you can find in your home already! For example, a 1 gallon milk jug can be turned into a waterer or feeder. PVC pipe is used often for both as well. We used a 35 gallon brine tank from an old water softener and 3″ PVC 90 degree elbows to make a large feeder that we wouldn’t have to refill often. It stayed clean since the birds only had access to the small 3″ PVC hole to get to the feed.
Side note: They scratch their food out all over the ground if given the opportunity and it will be wasted!
We purchased what is called “chicken nipples” from the store, essentially just like a hamster or rabbit water bottle and screwed them into a PVC tube that connected to a separate 35 gallon brine tank filled with water from the gutter, in the summer. In the winter we had to use a heated water bucket. Stay tuned for this year’s winter watering system. We are still undecided. So, how much time should you expect to give to your adult laying hens? If you have an automatic feeder and waterer like I have stated where you know they will not dirty their water or food then the answer is 10 minutes tops. All they require is a greeting at the beginning and end of every day to open and close the coop and collect the bounty. Some even have automatic doors set on timers so all you have to do then is pick up eggs and clean the coop every once and awhile. In addition to collecting eggs and cleaning the coop, you can find them anytime you want by dispersing seeds and clucking like a chicken. 🙂 It is helpful to interactive with them to ensure they are healthy and the flock is getting along okay.
What Are The Benefits to Raising Your Own Chickens?
The obvious benefits include fresh eggs (and meat). The secondary benefits include a new interesting relationship you’ll come to know, love, and even crave! When we were without chickens for a few months after the majority of our flock was killed by predators we missed them everyday. We had gotten very used to our routine with them. It was a very sad experience and I still think of that flock (our first flock raised from day old chicks) and miss them dearly. The relationship comes from hanging outside with them, talking, and observing their behavior. It is some pretty great entertainment. They provide feathers, even the live birds, so collect them from the coop and you’ll be able to create beautiful meaningful art projects. The most important benefit is the chicken’s poop! Every time you clean out the coop collect it all into a wheel barrow and throw it in your compost heap. It will be great on the garden! They are also great end of season tillers. Once your fruits have fallen and you’ve collected your crop. Bring your chickens in to do the rest for you! They are a huge benefit to any home, not only farms. I highly recommend everyone raise their own backyard chickens. You will not be let down!