Chickens are perhaps some of the easiest animals to keep, and with one of the biggest rewards! There is nothing like fresh eggs in the morning or sharing our eggs, and I love knowing I'll always have eggs for my recipes!
There are many different ways to keep chickens, but here are a few things that I do to ensure that chicken keeping is easy for my family and my hens are happy and healthy.
You can either look to buy adult chickens or buy chicks. If you buy adult chickens you want to confirm age as egg production does slow down as they age. If you buy chicks you are going to need several things including chick starter, chick feeder, chick waterer and a heat lamp. Chicks need a heat lamp which they can go under (and also be able to move away from) for about 6 weeks until their feathers come in.
I usually keep my chicks inside in a a large feed bin with a lamp until they get bigger and smelly and at that time i move them to a small secure coop outside but with a lamp for a couple weeks until I am sure they are fully feathered.
If you already have an adult flock, you must keep chicks separate until about 16 weeks of age. I recommend at that point putting the younger chickens onto the roost at night while flock is sleeping instead of introducing them during the day.
Once you have chickens what you'll need is a secure chicken coop that wildlife and dogs cannot break into. That means having it set up so animals can't tunnel into the coop, so there has to be wire underneath or wire dug deep into the perimeter. Chickens need shelter in their coop, a nesting box, roosting poles and a run where they can be outside, but still protected. The rule of thumb is 4 square feet in the coop for every chicken and 10 square feet in the run per chicken. If you really want chickens and see yourself having them for a long time I would say invest in a nice solid, large coop. You can build it yourself, buy a kit or, like I did, hire a local carpenter to build a coop.
Something I discovered along the way is that having an automatic waterer makes chicken keeping a lot easier. They are inexpensive and really easy to install, so build your chicken coop near where a hose bib is located. The other thing I do is I have a very large feeder that I only have to fill about once a week. We also feed our chickens fruit, vegetables and grain scraps daily. They love it and we reduce our food waste.
Lots of people let their chickens out daily and then when they return to roost they close them in for the night. I prefer to keep my chickens in the coop most of the time and if I do let them out, it is just before dark and roosting. We have lost several chickens by letting them out and they make a mess in my yard and eat my garden. We made sure in designing our coop they'd have enough room to stay in most of the time. Another option is having a coop that can be moved around, but I haven't tried that yet.
Chickens lay according to the amount of sun light, so remember they lay less in the winter and start to lay more as the days get longer. Chickens slow down their laying as they get older, so I like to get new chicks every other year to ensure we have plenty of eggs.
I don't have a specific breed of chicken I like best. When I get chicks I usually do a variety because I like the look of having all different types, and then the eggs are different colors, too.
Chickens are fun and easy, my kids love them and we get the best tasting, healthiest eggs around. We reduce our food waste, use their manure as fertilizer and just enjoy having them around. Even after years of raising chickens I am still learning new things, but the only way to really learn is to do it!
Happy chicken keeping!