Let’s be real. Chickens for sure have some micro-evolutionary ancestry connections to dinosaurs. (This guy, Justin Rhodes, who we love to watch talk about chickens, calls them his “Dinos”) They are a strange looking creature, with bizarre habits, but super entertaining personalities. Originally, a forest animal from Asia, chickens are not actually native to the United States. But I, like many friendly Americans, accept them with open arms!
For those of us who like a checklist when it comes to starting something new…here is my…
“Poultry Princess Guide to Getting and Maintaining Chickens”
Decide if you are the right fit to be a chicken parent.
Do you want to take care of the earth by putting less in landfills? Do you want to help control bugs and pests in your area? Do you want to create nutrient rich soil for your garden? . Do you want totally fresh, non-hormone filled eggs? Do you want endless hours of natural entertainment? Do you want some feathered friends? Do you want the opportunity to earn some extra cash? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then chickens are, indeed, for you! They eat your kitchen scraps, they eat bugs and pests in your yard, their poop makes excellent fertilizer, and they produce amazing eggs, daily! Keeping chickens is a fun way to teach a family about where food comes from, while also having the benefit of an easy, and fun pet! Plus, there is always the potential of selling extra eggs or chickens in the future!
Determine if you are ALLOWED to have chickens where you live.
There is not much more to say on this. Some suburbs allow chickens with certain restrictions, and some do not allow chickens at ALL! City ordinances differ on this, and you may find yourself in a city that has more chicken affordances than others. Do some research, don’t just assume, that because you have neighbors and a small lot, you are unable to have chickens, that is not always the case! In addition, it is often about whether your chickens become an eye sore in your neighborhood. If you have 2 or 3 hens in a well kept chicken tractor, your neighbors should have no problem with that….a rooster, on the other hand, which like to make their presence known…may cause you some trouble. 🙂
Purchase eggs, chicks, or full grown hens.
You can search for chickens EVERYWHERE! I have seen chicks for sale on craigslist, or Facebook marketplace. You can also check with a local feed shop or tractor supply store. You can get eggs and go through the hatching process, but this can add an extra challenge. I recommend getting your chicks young from a local feed store or country lifestyle store. That way you get to experience them as little adorable chicks and socialize them from a very young age. Whoever you buy from should be able to guarantee that you are getting hens, but if you aren’t concerned about whether your chicks are hens or roosters, then there is no need to worry. Hens will usually start laying eggs at around 6 months. If you want to bypass the chick stage, there are often people selling full grown hens. Obviously, egg laying hens are usually a bit more expensive than chicks, but the difference is usually not too steep. Chicks are anywhere from $1.00-4.00 and hens can be $5.00-10.00, depending on where you live and what time of year it is. We got ours from Merton Feed Company. 🙂 *P.S.* There are many different types of chickens you can get…we got Barred Rock, Super Reds, Marans, and Rhode Island Reds, because they are practical and great layers, but if you want to be entertained for days, spend some time on this site looking up all the amazing and beautiful varieties of birds you could own!
Build/Buy a chicken coop or a chicken tractor.
You can make a stationary chicken coop, or build a movable chicken tractor. We prefer a chicken tractor because it allows us the ability to move the chickens around the property. It keeps the grass and ground healthy, because chickens left too long on one area tend to deplete the ground. They are able to till, fertilize, and prepare our garden for planting and scratch through our horse manure. The chicken tractor is also great for people who do not have a decent or safe place to let chickens range free. It allows them to get outside and scratch at the ground, while still keeping them contained within their home. Still looking for some more info on chicken tractors, you can check out Chelsea’s take here, or read more about the benefits here. We have tried 2 different chicken tractors ourselves, and if you are in the Wisconsin area and looking for a chicken tractor, we’d be happy to build you one of our models 🙂
Chickens need a lot of water! They utilize water to help regulate their internal temperature, so it is very important that they always have water. Chickens tend to make a mess out of everything, so we like to use water nipples. It allows us to hang a bucket of water and keep the water clean for the chickens. When a water container is simply put on the ground, like you would for normal pets, they walk in it, poop in it, get their bedding in it, and it is difficult to stay on top of. The water nipples, as pictured below and explained further here, are the best option, in my opinion, for hydrating the little ladies. *P.S.* make sure you teach the chicks how to get water out of the nipples. It usually just requires bumping them against the container and letting them feel the water hit their bodies. They are not very experimental creatures, and they need to be shown the ropes….especially with something as important as water!
In the beginning they need lots of grain and grit. Grit is essentially stones and shells that help the chickens digest their food, since they have no teeth. You can read more about that here. Chicks will eat a lot of food, especially in the beginning, but as they grow older and learn to forage for food on their own, you will not need to feed them as much grain. To make an easy feeding container, we used an old Vega protein container and cut sections for the food to fall through. As they grow and get outside more often, they will eat bugs, grass, and kitchen scraps, which make them a pretty easy and beneficial keep.
Give them Warmth.
If you get young chicks, they will most definitely need a heating lamp, especially while their adult feathers are still coming in. They will often huddle together and find warmth from each other as well, but you never want to risk it being too cold for them. A heating lamp ensures their body heat for the first few weeks, and after that they may only need the heat at night. Once their adult feathers are in, they should be fine at regulating their own temperature, even in the winter months.
Safety against predators.
Everything wants your chickens and chicken eggs. Birds of prey, weasels, raccoons, foxes, snakes, coyotes, everything!! The easiest way to protect your chickens is enclosing them in a chicken tractor with chicken wire and locking them up at night. In addition, getting a rooster or a goose can also help to fend of predators. There are lots of other ways to keep your hens safe, and this site is full of different ideas, but staying aware and keeping them contained are your best tools.
. Hold them when they are young. As often as possible. This will make your life much easier when they are full grown. My hens don’t love to be caught, but they are getting much better, and it is good for them to know they can trust you.
Once they start laying eggs, pick up their eggs daily. Eggs do not need to be refrigerated until they are washed. The chickens have some sort of natural protective film that covers the outside shell, which water disassembles. So there is no harm in letting an egg sit out for a day or more, but once you wash them, ALWAYS refrigerate them.
Chickens are naturally pretty messy. They poop everywhere and scratch everything, which aids in making their homes less than perfect. So just keep some extra bedding on hand and trade out their messy coop bedding every couple weeks. While chickens don’t stay as clean as we would like them to, they really do enjoy taking baths. Dust baths that is. We like to put a small tray filled with dust and food grade DE (Diatamaceous Earth) which helps to keep fleas and mites and general grime off of them as it is their natural way of keeping themselves clean. In fact when we don’t keep up with the dust bath they are quick to scratch themselves a hole and make their own. Rarely, you may have to bathe them with warm water and a gentle soap if you have a problem. When the chicks were about a week old one of them had a dirty butt and the poop was just building up until we noticed and cleaned it off of the little fluff ball. After she was all cleaned up and dried off all was well with no damage done.
Finally…You may want some extra glam for your flock. I claim to be a poultry princess, but my amazing and super creative friend, Megan, is the Poultry Queen! She makes some fun bangles and other chicken accessories, so that you can keep your girls in style. Check her out here.
🙂 Image of Margaux, and you can see more by visiting the Poultry Haus.