Raising Backyard Chickens 101: Why & How Many?
My chicken posts from the last couple of weeks seemed to have piqued the interest of quite a few…particularly on the design of our chicken coop. Today’s post will be the first of several where I’ll provide greater context and a bit more detail on not only the design of our coop, but on a number of other basics around raising backyard chickens – basics that we would have found helpful when we were starting out.
My first recommendation is that you consider both your objectives and your limitations for raising chickens.
Before you run out and buy yourself some chickens and think you can figure everything else out once you get home with your new feathered friends…STOP. Chickens are not an impulse buy. You need to really think about it. We love our chickens…but they aren’t for everyone. So before you get started…do your research, talk to people you know who have had chickens for more than 2 weeks, and consider both the financial investment and commitment of time. The chickens themselves are not expensive, but the upfront investment for a coop and all else involved can be. And…although certain aspects of raising chickens are easier than you’d think, there are other aspects you probably haven’t even thought about. Regardless, they are a big commitment. So be smart about it…think before you jump. Two of the most helpful sites for me have been Backyard Chickens and My Pet Chicken.
After you and all those involved are sure that you’re ready to step into the world of chicken husbandry, you need to make a list…a few lists. First you should make a list of what your objectives are for raising chickens. If it’s just for the fresh eggs or because you think others will think you’re cool…I’d recommend that you just buy organic eggs and that you start walking with more of a swagger. Raising chickens for these reasons is probably not sustainable. Here were our reasons:
- Eggs. I had recently turned from being a slug…not exercising and not caring about what I ate, to exercising 5-6 days a week and being much more intentional about what I put in my mouth. And I was putting a lot more eggs in my mouth, so I wanted them to be as healthy as possible.
- Our girls…knowing where food comes from. Like was the case with the veggie garden we started a year earlier, we wanted to make sure our girls understood and appreciated where food came from.
- Our girls…getting their hands dirty and possibly their hearts broken. We wanted our girls to fairly consistently step out of what has become a fairly sterile world…one that tends to cater to children, into a world that is a bit dirty, requires work, takes commitment, and has nothing to do with an electronic device(!). We also realized that our chickens would die over time…and our girls’ dealing with death and disappointment now…under our roof, would be a good thing.
- Family brand…family story. We wanted the story told in our home to be our story – something uniquely us…something interesting…something that would build into our hearts, our minds and our memories. We felt chickens would help do that.
The next thing you should consider is the scale of your mini-chicken farm. I’d start by asking yourself the following questions…then consider the information I provided and whatever other information you found during your research.
- How many chickens can you have?
- This varies by where you live. Particularly when starting out, you’ll want to do your research to better understand the conditions and restrictions for raising chickens provided by your HOA, county or other jurisdiction.
- Odds are, if you live in an urban setting, you probably can’t have a rooster. But as you learned in one of my previous posts…roosters aren’t needed to produce eggs. Hens can get the job done on their own.
- How many chickens do you want…or how many chickens do you have the space for?
- One chicken needs a minimum of 4 square feet of space…in the coop. So a flock of 6 chickens needs a coop with 24 square feet of space. But…they will also need at least that amount of space in a run, outside of the coop, to get fresh air.
- We knew we were limited to 7 hens, given county restrictions and the size of our property. Although we started out with 5, I knew that I’d want to max it out at some point. So my design took that into consideration. And I like odd numbers.
- You can also ask yourself, “How many eggs do I want?” and then back into the number of hens you’ll need:
- Depending on the breed, hens will lay eggs fairly well from the time that they are about 5-6 months old until they are 5 to 7 years old…and then slow down quite considerably and live for another 3 to 5 years.
- A good egg layer will lay 6 eggs per week…during their prime egg-laying years. This will slow down during the colder months of the year.
- The average hen will lay more like 3-4 eggs per week.
- So clearly you’ll need to do some research on what breed of chicken to get. I’ll touch on that in a future post.
- How much do you want to spend?
- The cost for raising chickens is really on the front end…your coop and all the supplies and other chicken paraphernalia. You can spend a few hundred dollars or thousands of dollars on your coop. It really depends on what you are looking for and your style.
- I have found that monthly expenses are minimal. I spend only about $15 a month on a big of chicken feed for our 7 hens…and then $5 every 2-3 months on pine shavings for the bottom of the coop. I’m sure there’s the occasional other expense, but that’s really it on a monthly/semi-monthly basis. I will say, our food costs are probably low because we feed them every bit of our table scraps (with a few exceptions) and they eat it all. We also free-range them in our yard 3-5 days a week for about 4-6 hours a day.
As I’m considering my next several chicken posts let me know what you’d like me to write about. And I promise, I will get to the details on the design of my coop…but in due time.
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