The Joy of Keeping Chickens: a beginner's guide
The Joy of keeping Chickens
a beginners guide
Chickens. Some people might hear that word and think "eww" others "aww". My initial reason for wanting to keep chickens was simple: eggs. But there has been so many other benefits as well. Caring for chickens means me and my son have to go outside. Every single day. Rain or shine. Hot or cold. It means my son gets to help with a chore. He can gather eggs, spread bedding, help refill the food and water, and probably his favorite: giving treats. (Adults and children always thoroughly wash your hands after handling chickens/bedding/food/or water)
I'm no expert. I started in the fall of 2016 so we have been doing this roughly 1.5 years. But we have eggs nearly everyday (give or take extreme periods of heat or cold when they don't lay) and they are still alive so I must be doing something right. There are a few things that help when you are just getting started. Knowing what coop to have, breeds to get, and what supplies you'll need.
- THE COOP
The biggest initial investment you will make is the coop. The biggest deciding factors for what kind of coop to get is how much you are willing too spend, how much time your willing to invest, and how many chickens you plan on having. Personally we did not want to break the bank for a coop and our plan was to start out with 3-5 chickens. For our purposes we got a used tractor coop off of craigslist ($75) that was made to house 3-5 chickens. But here are all the options.
- You can buy a new coop off of amazon or from tractor supply and they run from $200-$800. If you want to get started right away and want something pretty this is the best route.
- Buy used and fix it up yourself. If your handy with a hammer and a few nails and don't mind sweating for an afternoon then here you go. We bought a wooden pole for the roost and extra mesh chicken wire for ours.
- If you want too spend little to nothing and don't mind starting from scratch you can build your own coop. Pinterest is full of DIY chicken coop ideas. This will obviously take the most time to do but it is also the cheapest option
- THE CHICKEN
We probably didn't research chicken breeds as well as we should have before starting. There was a local community farm down the road from us selling 6 week old americanas and my main concern was healthy chickens so we purchased 4 for $20. If you are willing to raise baby chickens they are very inexpensive in early spring but just require more work. We now own a mix of americanas and rhode island reds. So here's a roundup of what I've observed and know from some friends who keep chickens also.
- Americana's : Beautiful feathers, lay small blue eggs. Medium sized.
- Rhode Island Reds: They are your typical domestic chicken. Large, brown, fluffy. They lay large brown eggs.
- Bantams: A smaller chicken breed with more exotic feather patterns. They also lay eggs but they are about 1/3 of the size of normal ones.
In my experience all the above breeds are goodnatured and friendly. Beware if you purchase chickens when they are young you will likely get a 50/50 mix of roosters and hens. I have only experienced having roosters that were americanas and they were very friendly. But I have heard of different experiences with roosters. You do not need the rooster to have eggs, only if you want too raise your own chickens.
- THE SUPPLIES
- Whether you purchase your supplies online or in store you will come across many tempting but unnecessary items. First off laying boxes. If you want too make a long term investment and care about aesthetics you can DIY your own or purchase wooden ones. Beware that either choice will result in you having to clean out nesting boxes in addition to the rest of the coop. I was advised by a friend too recycle cardboard shipping boxes and replace them weekly.
- Secondly, food and water dispensers. These will also depend on how many chickens you are planning to own. We went with a very basic food and water dispenser designed for 10 chickens since we only owned 4 at the time. You can also DIY these thanks to Pinterest. We spent about $20 on ours.
- Bedding is the other important item. I have heard of people using sand but I was concerned about the possibility of fleas. We decided too go with pine shavings as they are a natural deodorizer, are supposed to repel pests, and can be recycled as compost.
Beyond the laying (nesting) boxes, food and water dispensers, and bedding the other accessories are optional. You can buy all sorts of fancy supplies. A special egg rinser, water purifiers, coop compost powder ( I did eventually purchase this one because the coop can really smell in the heat) chicken toys and treats, baskets, ceramic egg holders, egg stamps (we recycled old cardboard egg cartons and lined them with paper towels).I will add if you live somewhere with frequent temperatures below 32 degrees you will need to buy a heating lamp . (about $15 for lamp/heating bulb).
The initial investment for us was around $150- $200. ( The coop for $75, chickens for $20, food and water dispenser for $20, and bedding/feed is about $20 a month, also heating lamp/bulb for winter $15, coop compost powder $5). For feed we purchase a 50lb bag of 16% layer feed (the type of feed you buy will depend on the age of the chicken) once a month. You can pay extra for organic feed or make your own. Also with the tractor coop we rotate our chickens around the yard so they are able to eat lots of greens. If you are willing to do your research you can supplement your chickens diet with certain fruits and vegetables.
Are they worth it? From a financial stand point yes. Our initial investment rounded off was $200. If you were too buy cage-free/organic/free range eggs 1 dozen 1X a week it would be $20 a month or $240 a year. Our 3 hens means 3 eggs a day or almost 2 dz eggs a week or nearly 8 dozen eggs a month. So in one year's time they have basically paid for themselves. And as far as the monthly maintenance fee of $20 I figure if we owned a pet like a dog or cat we would spend at least that much a month if not more and chickens have the added benefit of eggs.
Beyond the math there is really nothing like walking to the coop for the first time and discovering eggs especially with your child. Or watching your children run around the yard with the chickens or even hearing a rooster crow in the mornings. Besides endless eggs our chickens have provided us hours upon hours of entertainment and I'd like to think they will be a memorable part of my son's childhood memories. Which is always reason enough for anything.
Happy Chicken Keeping!
P.S. For chicken keeping resources I recommend Fresh Eggs Daily (a blog/book) and the Down to Earth (a blog/book) which is also a comprehensive guide for simple living. Don't hesitate to send any questions my way and I'll do my best too answer them!