Thumbing Your Nose at the Dairy Aisle – Contemplating a Backyard Flock

The decision to raise a few laying hens did not come easily to our family. It was a hardship decision. Out of work, we needed food. It turned out to be a cool, educational experience.

Now, we keep kicking ourselves for not doing it sooner.

I was not particularly fond of chickens. Okay, I was afraid of chickens. I knew nothing about raising any kind of livestock. I couldn’t hammer a nail to build a coop. I knew no one I could ask for advice. Did I mention I was afraid of chickens?!

They kind of look at you sideways. They might not be happy to see you like a dog. They are not independent like a cat. Right?


Well, peeps aren’t scary. If you watch them grow daily, oddly enough they grow into non scary chickens with individual personalities. Who knew? I always thought those people who wrote about enjoying their chickens as a bit loony.

Some hints for the fearful:

1. Know your zoning.

Raising chickens is allowed in more places than you might think, but it is best to double check. Live in an apartment? What about a rooftop chicken coop?

2. Research the different breeds.

Do you want lots of eggs or a few? Is it cold where you live? Consider a small combed breed. Do you have little kids or are you afraid of chickens? A calm breed for you. Do you care if they fly around a bit? I wanted a heavier bread so they might not scare the s*&% out of me flying about. Of course, not so heavy as to have the advantage. (shiver) What about egg color? There is not just white or brown. There’s white, cream, pinkish, light brown, chocolatey brown, blue, bluish green, khaki and so on. Guess what? They all taste the same. Wonderful!

3. Figure out how many eggs you might want per week.

Once you choose the breed, look up the hen’s average weekly production. That can be found online somewhere. Use that number to help you determine how many chickens to get.

For a beginner, I suggest a minimum of two, so they have a friend. They are a flock animal after all. A maximum of a dozen. If you’ve never had chickens or any kind of livestock before, more might become overwhelming.

4. Figure out how to house them.

You can build your own, buy a pre-made coop, modify an unused shed. Two can usually live happily in a slightly modified, large clamshell doghouse. They need a draft free, well ventilated place to lay, roost and be safe from predators.

To be healthy and happy, assume 4 square feet per bird. Coop sellers often over estimate how many chickens their coops can healthily hold. Try your favorite search engine for more specifics.

5. Do your homework.

Learn everything about what you should and shouldn’t do to keep your girls healthy. Read about their life cycle, common illness and what you can do to prevent them. You wouldn’t want to confuse molting with illness or worse…the other way around.

For the most part, if your chickens have enough space, you keep up with any cleaning, you supplement what they forage for themselves and keep them in fresh, clean water, they do fine. For us, they take 5 minutes a day and a 15 minute cleanup, once a week. Very easy.

6. Buy “day-old” chicks from a seed and feed store.

They usually show up around Easter, but you might want to go on a recon mission to pick the brains of the seed and feed people. Are they getting the breed you are hoping for? Can they? No? what might they suggest instead.

“Day old” chicks at the seed and feed store are inexpensive, but have the benefit that someone with a clue is handling them in their most tender days of life. Also, I would rather the natural culling happen there, instead of here. About the last thing I need is my six yr. old discovering the corpse of a tiny fluff ball that just wasn’t ready to give this life a try.

Besides, you usually must order 25+ chicks to get them mailed to you. That’s a lot of chickens for a beginner! Again, scary.

7. Have fun.

They grow so quickly. Soon enough, you will discover they actually have fascinating personalities. Some days, you’ll look out the window, only to walk away shaking your head and chuckling to yourself.

Lousy economy? Raise some chickens. Ask your favorite Great Depression survivor for more advice.

You might be interest in:

or the ready-for-chickens article in the Backyard Flock series:

or Entertained by: The Cock and the Granny Nightie

And come back tomorrow night for the weekly Waiting-for-Payday recipe. If your hungry tonight try: Egg Drop Soup for the Hungry or Stale Bread Comfort Food

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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