Look no further! Here are the answers to all your questions about raising healthy backyard chickens.
Backyards have gone to the birds! Everyone from A-list celebs (we're looking at you, Jennifer Garner and Lady Gaga) to city slickers has taken to raising hens in the name of having farm-fresh eggs at the ready. If you've been thinking about joining the chicken-keeping contingency, there's no need to wing it. Before you get started, check out some DIY chicken coop ideas or you can consider chicken coops you can buy right now. Then outfit your coop with all the necessary accessories from our chicken coop buying guide. You should also do some homework about the different types of chicken breeds Once you've studied up on all that, check out these helpful tips from a panel of grade-A poultry experts. Here, they answer some of your most pressing questions about raising chickens, from time commitment and costs to safely and, yes, even how to get those pretty blue eggs.
The short answer: probably so! Chickens are relatively small birds, in turn requiring relatively little space. "You should plan to provide four square feet per chicken in the besting coop (also called a henhouse), plus 10 square feet per chicken in their enclose run," says Country Living veterinarian Dr.Tricia Earley. For a flock of, say, six chickens, that translates to a 6'-by-4' nesting coop plus a 6'-by-10' run. (See below for more scoop on chicken coops.) In reality, he amount of room is rarely the deal breaker for backyard chickens. The bigger question is if they are permitted in your neighborhood. Before you get started, our experts advise you to check with your homeowners' association or municipality to confirm it's allowed. Surprisingly, many suburban and urban areas only have restrictions on the number of hens allowed or on the possession of roosters.
Raising chickens is not hard, but chicken expert and author Lisa Steele (@fresheggsdaily) says, "As with any pet or livestock, chickens are a serious time commitment and require daily attention." But, again and again, owners say there's also a "hen zen" that comes with keeping chickens. Part routine, part respite, starting and ending the day with some fresh air and labor can confer a kind of self-care. In other words, the health benefits go way beyond fresh eggs.
While your eggs may soon be homegrown, your chicken's diet shouldn't be. "A commercially prepared layer mash has been formulated by a poultry science nutritionist and will have the appropriate amount of calcium, calories, and protein to keep a hen healthy and ensure a good thick eggshell," says veterinarian Dr.Victoria Drouet. While occasional treats are fine (mealworms or watermelon will get them clucking!), 90 percent of a chicken's diet should come from store-bought goods. Plenty of fresh water is also vital and, because eggs are mostly composed of H2O, directly tied to egg production. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar a few times a week to prevent bacteria.
Chickens' needs are simple and somewhat inexpensive, especially when you factor in the return you see on those eggs! But they do require a small investment up front. Female chicks typically cost between $4 to $7 each. (You can get them for even less if you order an "assorted" flock instead of a specific breed.) A 50-pound bag of quality chicken feed costs approximately $25, which a flock of six will go through in about a month. Your biggest cost will be that coveted chicken coop, which can ring in for as little as $100 for a simple mail-order kit to upwards of $10,000 for a designer look. And just like any other beloved pet, don't forget the occasional trip to the vet.
From egg production (spoiler alert: No chicken lays eggs every day) to regal plumage, these nine breeds are among the most prized varieties of back yard hens.
- Buff Orpington
- White Leghorn
- Plymouth Rock
- Rhode Island Red
"Buying chicks online is a safe way to bring hens home," says chicken expert and author Kathey Shea Mormino (@thechickenchick). But she advises to only purchase from a hatchery certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan, such as mcmurrayhatchery.com. Local farm-supply stores, such as Tractor Supply Co, also often have chicks available seasonally, although usually with fewer breed varieties. Psst: Hens don't start producing eggs until they are approximately 20-24 weeks old. If you don't want to wait that long, consider a "started pullet," which is a hen that's 15 to 22 weeks old. Once accustomed to her new surroundings, she'll begin laying eggs very soon..
No! "It's a common misconception that you need a rooster in order for a hen to lay eggs," says chicken expert and author Melissa Caughey (@tillysnest). The truth is that a male is needed only if you want eggs fertilized to then hatch as baby chicks. In fact, while the thought of waking up to a country call may sound charming, having a rooster in a backyard flock is generally not recommended because they can become aggressive to hens and people. Be aware that determining the sex of a baby chick is difficult and mistakes can be made. Want to get rid of an accidental fella? Contact a poultry science department at your local college.
Whether you flock toward a rustic red barn or a French chateau, these are the six key elements needed for a safe and happy henhouse.
Chickens can harbor dangerous bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli, so "washing your hands thoroughly or using an alcohol-based gel after all contact with poultry or eggs is the best way to protect yourself," says veterinarian Dr. Victoria Drouet.
Family pets and a gaggle of hens may first seem at odds, but there's hope. To ensure things get off on the right paw, try supervised visits, preferably with your dog or cat on a leash, for the first few weeks. Take note: If your pet shows strong aggression during the first encounter, it will likely stay that way.
While it is best practice to collect them daily, eggs have a natural biofilm that keeps them from outdoors for several weeks. This holds true if they are displayed in a pretty bowl on your counter, too. Once the egg is washed, however, it should be refrigerated right away.
By Caroline Collins McKenzie, April 13 2020