Ask yourself some questions first.
Why do you want chickens? What is your goal with chickens?
Are you doing it so you and your children can learn about chickens, so you can learn about the effort that goes into taking care of chickens? Then yes, get chicks.
Are you getting chickens because you are panicked and think chickens will provide eggs for you? No, don't get chicks or chickens.
Are you getting chickens to learn about resilience, determination, and never giving up hope, even when your chickens get sick? Even if a neighbor dog gets in and kills some? Even if a raccoon gets into the coop?
What will you do with your chickens when they are old and no longer laying?
If you want chickens, and are ready for the work that goes with them, then here are a few thoughts that I have.
Most people want to get chicks. That's a great idea! They are cute and fuzzy! They are also fragile.
Chicks or Chickens?
Here's a post I did last year about our new chicks.
I like watching chicks grow into chickens. You'll need a place to keep them warm for 4-6 weeks. If they are inside, be aware that they smell and they make a mess. You'll have to clean their brooder every day. Are you up for that?
Chicks need a heat source for about 4- 6 weeks depending on the weather. My favorite is the Brinsea Heater because there is no danger of fire. I sometimes use a heat lamp, but I have to be very, very careful with those because if they fall on to the bedding, there is a good chance of starting a fire.
Once the chicks are feathered out, they can live outside.
Which breeds? That's 100% up to you! I tend to like the more docile birds that. They don't lay as many eggs (4-6 per week) rather than the high layers (5-6 eggs per week) because I like their calm nature. I don't like Leghorns because they are very excitable and not as tame. It's also very difficult to keep them in the yard, even if you clip the feathers on their wings.
Chickens need about 14 hours of sunlight per day to produce eggs. Once fall hits, their egg production goes down.
If your chickens go broody and want to sit on a clutch of eggs, they stop laying eggs. Their egg production stops when they molt, too. They will loose their summer feathers and grow new feathers for winter. You'll still be feeding and taking care of them the entire time! Are you ready for that?
How much space do chickens need?
Ours are free range, meaning they are not locked inside a coop or a pen. Their coop is inside a pen, but they can get out of the fence easily through a hole. Chickens love to eat bugs, and I love that about them!
However, they will scratch through your flower beds and vegetable gardens to get those bugs. We live on enough property that my chickens have plenty of space in the pasture to roam. If I see them in the flower beds, then I know they have run out of food and bugs in the pasture area.
The general recommendation for chickens is that you'll need 4-6 square feet of space per chicken for roaming around. We like to have more than that. We feel it's better to have around 15 square feet per chicken in their pen. If you have 6 chickens, you'll need about 90 square feet. Think about it this way: a pen that is 6' wide by 15' long will give 6 chickens plenty of room to roam.
That doesn't include space for the coop!
You can see that our coop is an old wire cage that protects the chickens while they are sleeping. It's not fancy. Chickens don't need fancy.
|Inside is a bit of a mess right now.|
I use cardboard boxes from Costco for them to lay in.
I throw them away once they are really nasty.
I also keep food inside the coop so they have access to
food when they are locked into their coop at night.
Coop Set Up
Chickens need a place to get out of the wind and weather. They also need a place to get out of the sun in the summer. Our coop is on the north side of the barn. It isn't ideal, but we have a shade cloth and pieces of wood to give them protection from the wind and snow in the winter.
Keep the chicken's food and water away from where they roost at night. It makes a mess if their droppings are in their food and water. It isn't healthy for them, either.
|We have both a tank waterer, and a rubber bucket of water.|
Both need to be cleaned regularly.
The metal tank waterer seems to last longer than any of the plastic ones we have had.
You'll also need a heater for it if you keep chickens through the winter.
If you want to contain your chickens, you'll need a 6' fence to keep them in. You might need to have a cover over the top of the run to keep hawks and other predators out.
The more space you have for your chickens to roam, the less you will have to deal with their droppings. We do a major clean every spring and fall. Spring cleaning always takes more time that fall cleaning because the chickens don't wander around the pasture as much when we have snow on the ground.
The chickens like the cardboard boxes for laying eggs,
and they also like their wooden nesting box.
I keep golf balls inside the nesting boxes because it tricks the chickens into thinking someone else laid an egg inside. If another chicken thinks it's safe to lay an egg, then the hen looking for a place to lay will often want to lay in the same spot.
How long before my chicks lay eggs?
That depends on the breed.
Some hens will lay as early as 16 weeks (4 months!). But they don't live as long and they don't lay for as many years as some of the later laying breeds. Some breeds will start laying around 20-24 weeks old.
I personally like the Light Brahmas. They are docile, friendly, lay a good amount of brown eggs, and don't mind Utah winters.
We also like the Black Sex-Link (or any sex-link) birds. They also seem to do well through our cold winters.
|We have a few different breeds of chickens.|
While I love the Brahmas, we are often given chickens because
families get chicks, raise them, and then decide they
really don't want to deal with all the day to day work.
I like my chickens. I love having eggs. We've had chickens for about 15 years. We've learned a lot! We've had sick birds that we nursed back to health. We've had predators. We've had sweet, gentle chickens that are just like pets. They follow me around the barn yard and don't mind being picked up.
Like dogs or cats, they will need time, money, and equipment to produce eggs. They will need to be cleaned up after. They will need food and water whether they are laying or not, whether you are out of town or home.
Hopefully that gives you a little more information about chicks and chickens to help you decide if chickens are right for you.