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Updated: Apr 26, 2021



You have decided to add chickens to your homestead. Now what? How many should you get? What bred? What can you use for a coop? What do they eat? How much do they eat? Today I am going to answer all of these questions and more. Let's get growing!




Intro


Welcome to the Pray, Just Plant Podcast. I am your host Crystal Mediate and today we are going to talk about chickens, adding chickens to your homestead, what you need to be thinking about, and answering a few questions before you take the plunge.


When adding chicken to your homestead that are quite a few things you need to consider and contemplate even before you get your baby chicks or even adult chickens. I am going to share how you can get your chicken in just a moment but right now I want you to take a few minutes to answer the below questions.



Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Get Started


Chickens are going to be a joyous adventure. But before you begin it is very important to get a few things figured out. Below are a few questions that will help you out. You may not know the answer to these questions right away. But take a few minutes and try to answer them the best you can. If there are any you can't answer then I promise if you read to the end then you will be able to answer all of these questions.


Why are you raising them?


Are they because you want eggs or do you want them to fill your meat freezer with delicious chicken? Do you want them for pleasure or as a helper in the garden? Are you getting them for your children? Maybe to teach them about where their food comes from or as a learning experience?


Where are they going to live or go?


Do you have an idea of a coop you want to use? Do you have a shed on your property you are thinking about converting? What are your plans? What are your ideas? Where in your yard are you going to put them or on your homestead?


I have two different coops for my chickens. One is located right behind my house and I love how close it is to my back door in the winter. The other coop is located in the center of my garden. This is more of a static coop with a yard so the chickens don’t eat my plants.


Are you thinking about free-ranging your chickens? That is when you have a coop but the chicken are allowed to roam far and wide during the day.


Are you prepared to spend time with them?


Chickens are going to be a time investment and I promise we are going to get into all of the details in a moment. But you need to answer this question for yourself and also be thinking about who will be doing the chores and who will do which chore? Or are you raising these chickens as a family and the whole family is going to help with all the chores?



Are you ready to shovel chicken poop?


Are you ready to handle poop? Everything poops even chickens and depending on what kind of system you go with is going to determine how often and how much you are going to have to shovel.


Who will care for your chickens when you are away?


Finding a responsible person now is gonna be so beneficial. Having someone who will take care of them when you are away on a vacation or a trip will help you feel more relaxed when you are away. Also, realize that this person is going to need to be paid.


Can you have them? Is it Legal??


And next, you need to see if you can even have chickens where you live. Some HOA or cities do not allow chickens within their limits. I know my local town only allows three chickens per yard and no roosters. So contact your city or HOA organization and find out if chickens are even allowed or if they have any restrictions of any kind.


Now don’t worry if you couldn’t answer all of these questions right this moment. But I want you to think about them as you continue to read as we are going to talk about all of these questions in detail. For instance when answering the first question “ Why are you raising them?”. This will help you answer what breed you should get?


What Breed to Get


When it comes to breeds they are broken up into about three different categories, with one extra category that can be found in each of the other three categories. But they are all going to depend on why you want to raise chickens.


Heritage Breeds


So let’s first talk about the category that can be found in all of the other categories and that is Heritage Breeds. These are breeds of layer, dual-purpose, or meat chickens that are more about preserving the breed. They are usually slow-growing chickens but they are also a breed that has been around for a very long time.


And if pleasure is your goal when raising chickens this could be the type of chickens that you want. They are still going to be useful as they can still give you eggs and meat but that becomes a second goal as preserving the breed is more important.


Layer Chickens


Now if you are wanting chicken that will provide you with lots of eggs and that is the only reason you want to raise chickens then you are going to want to pick an egg-laying breed. These breeds are usually light and can lay longer than a dual-purpose breed. They are breeds that are known for being very prolific layers.


Dual Purpose


Duel Purpose means that they are going to lay eggs for you but they are going to be a bigger bird. So when they are done laying eggs they can be used for what is called a stewed chicken. This an older bird that is best used in soups and stews. These are what I raise. I like that they are dual purpose.


We raise Black Osterlopes and Red Star Sexlinks. I have always had the Black Osterlopes and just got the red stars last year. They are dual-purpose breeds that lean a little more into the layer side as they laid earlier than my Black Osterlopes and are laying more per week even though I have the same number of each.


I do want to define the word sexlink for you. It is not a breed but is more of a way a type of bird is described. Sexlinks means that when these birds first hatch the males and females have different coloring. Finding the sex of a baby chick is very hard to do and there are professionals who get paid to do it and because they are so accurate. I have never been able to figure it out until they get older and one starts crowing. So when sexlinks hatch this process is made easier because the boys - roosters, and girls - pullets are a different color.


There is another word I want to define. A pullet is a female chicken that has not laid an egg yet. And a hen is a female chicken that has reached the age of and is laying eggs. Phew!! Let's get back on topic, shall we!!


Meat Breed


And as the name suggests these breeds are raised for their meat. They grow and put on weight very quickly. I raise Cornish Cross chicken and from hatch, to putting them in my freezer it only takes 8 to 12 weeks. Where egg-laying breeds take 4 to 6 months to give you eggs.


So just remember answering the question, "Why do you want to raise them?", is going to help you decide what breed you want to raise on your homestead.



How To Get Them


Next, we are going to discuss how you are going to get or purchase these chickens. When you are first starting you have a few more options than you think.


Baby Chicks


This is the most used option but it also means you are going to have to do more to care for them when they are little compared to the other options. This is where you buy 1 to 3-day old chicks, which are baby chickens, then raise them. This option will allow you to be precise about the breed and when you want them. You can find them at your local feed stores in the spring or you can also order them online and the chicks will be sent to you in the mail. This is a great option for kids as chicks are just so darn cute!


This is also the only option when purchasing meat birds because they grow so quickly.


Pullets


As I told you before, pullets are chickens that are about 4 to 6 months in age and are not laying yet. These can also order online or bought from a local hatchery. This option takes out the need to care for them when they are chicks and you don't have to wait 4 to 6 months before they start laying eggs. They arrive ready to get to work and give you lots of eggs.



Adult


I know when I was just seeing if chickens were right for us I got 3 hens and a rooster from my mother-in-law. My children were too young to enjoy chicks so this was a great option for us. They laid eggs for another two years and then we decided chickens were for us so we purchased some chicks from our local feed store. And now I would say we have chickens and a lot of them. I don’t like to talk about numbers because then my husband might find out and say we have too many.


But adult chickens are a way to go as long as you don’t get them when they are too old. Hens only lay productively in their first 3 years and after that, they drop in production.


What To Look For When You Are Looking


The health of your chicks or new birds is very important. And if you see any of these symptoms do not buy them because they are sick and if they come mailed to you with these symptoms then be sure to contact your supplier right away. These are things you should avoid when getting new chickens.


You do not want birds that look sleepy and lethargic and do not move much when you go in to touch them.

Birds hunched in a ball or look ill

Sitting by itself or reluctant to move

Any nasal or eye discharge

Or a blocked vent which means they may have diarrhea


All of these symptoms are a sign of sickness in the birds. And be sure that if you did order them over the internet that you tell your supplier as many suppliers guarantee them for the first 48 hours. Meaning they will replace them if they are sick or dead.


How Many


Next is going to be how many are you going to purchase or essentially how many do you need?

This is all going to depend on the type of chicken or breed you are getting as well as the size of the area you have for them. But here are a few guidelines you can use.


A younger layer hen will lay up to 6 eggs a week. So if you are a family that eats lots of eggs you could get the number of hens needed to supply your family with its weekly egg needs.


You need to see how many you can legally have.


Chickens are also going to need room to roam, perch, and live in their shelter. So a chicken will need about 2 square feet of coop room, 2 linear feet of perch room to roost, and about 3 square feet for an outdoor run. These are the minimums. My chickens enjoy more room than this.


In a 3ft by 6ft house, you could have about 9 chickens but this also doesn't account for perch space or nesting boxes.


How much time do you have to invest in them more birds are going to take more time.


As for meat birds I suggest starting small so that you can learn a new style of cooking, raising, butchering. I was not used to cooking and serving a whole chicken to my family so when we first started we only started with 15 birds. This eased us into all of these new skills.


Housing Needs


We talked a little about the size of house you are going to need but there are about 7 things you need to consider when building or purchasing a coop.


You need:


2 square feet of floor space per bird

1 nesting box per 3 birds

3 square feet in a chicken run

2 linear feet of perch space


Weather Proof


Your coop needs to be able to block out the wind, rain, and maybe even snow. Chickens can handle below-freezing temperatures if they have a proper shelter to keep them out of the weather.


Space


Chickens are breathing living animals that enjoy having space to do all of the chicken things. Like scratching, eating, talking to her friends, perching, laying, and so many other things. So giving them plenty of space to live life is going to make them happy healthy birds!


Good Ventilation


Having a coop that is sealed from the weather is perfect but a coop that is sealed up too tight can lead to suffocation. So just don’t seal up every tiny little crack because they are going to need air to breathe.



Nesting Boxes for Layers


A nesting box is where your hen goes when she wants to lay an egg for you. This is usually a small space or box off the ground away from the crowd of other chickens where she can find a little peace and feels safe.


These can come in an arrangement of sizes and shapes. Here at Red Ridge Farm, we use buckets nailed to the wall in our house behind the house and the other coop has buckets with roll-out trays so that gathering eggs can be done without entering the coop.


You are going to need 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. I have found that if these numbers are not followed you are going to be searching for eggs everywhere. And as I sometimes free-range I mean everywhere!


Roost


Birds like to roost or perch up off the ground when they sleep. This helps them avoid predators when they are at their most vulnerable. When a chicken sleeps it sleeps hard so having a place for them to get up off the ground is going to make them feel more comfortable.


Your roost needs to have enough space for 2 lineal feet per bird and the rail needs to be at least 2” inches wide so it will not dig into the chicken’s feet.


Place to Roam


Chickens do not enjoy being cooped up even though they live in a coop. So it is important if you are building a run to be sure that each bird has at least 3 square feet of space. The same goes for meat chickens if you are going to be using a chicken tractor. If you plan to free-range them then these numbers are not as important but you do need to consider our next compilation, predators.


Predator Proof


Chickens do not have the ability to protect themselves. And it will be up to you and the strength of your fencing to protect them. Many predators would love to join you in that tasty chicken dinner. So be sure to shut them up at night and make sure their house is secure from both ground and aerial predators.


This is going to be your most important job!!


How Much Do They Eat


One laying chicken is going to eat about 1.5 pounds of feed a week. Meat Chickens will definitely eat more than that because they are growing so fast. Now this will all depend on if you feed them scraps from your kitchen or give them treats.


Now, what do they eat? Most feed stores will have a layer or a meat bird ration that you can use. They have done the work for you so your birds will be getting all they need. Just as a side note, if you are wanting more control as to the type of food you want, say like with no soy, then you can work with your feed supplier to find the right food for you or you may have to mix your own.


I don’t recommend doing this right away but as you grow in the knowledge of what your chicken needs to maintain health in your area then I say go for it!


You need to avoid chicken scratch as their main food. If you were to compare chicken scratch to our diet it would be like eating cake, deep rich chocolate cake. Chicken scratch is very rich but can be too rich as a solo feed.



Maintenance Needs


Starting with a day-old chick one can wonder how these little guys are going to be much trouble but I promise you those chicks are going to get bigger. And when they get bigger they are going to take more of your time and energy.


They are going to need daily feedings, opening and shutting of their coop, eggs gathered, and meat chickens will need to be moved once to twice a day. They will need their house cleaned, this is where the shoveling poop comes in.


They are going to take time daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or easier to say all the time. This would also be a great time to look into systems that may help you like automatic door openers or the deep mulch system for your coop.



Cost of Raising Chickens


What is going to be the cost of these chickens? We have talked about so many different things that they are going to need. So what is it all going to cost?


When we first decided to expand our flock past the 3 my mother-in-law had given us. One thing I said to my husband was that raising chickens was going to save us money. We would not need to purchase eggs anymore and this was going to be a huge savings.


Right now I would say my chickens break even. When you purchase chickens you are going to be spending from $2 to $5 per chick. It will depend on the breed you get and how many as many breeders give discounts when you order larger amounts of birds.


Next is the cost of feed. A good layer or meat bird bag of mixed feed will average around $20 a bag. So I raise 30 layer hens and they would eat 45 pounds of grain a week if I only feed the layer. But I also mix my layer with barley and hen scratch. I can get away with only spending $30 a month on feed.


You also need to take into account that chicken will not lay eggs year-round without supplemental light. Hens naturally lay very heavy in the spring and then in the summer and fall slow down to laying no eggs or very few in the winter. The egg cycle is tied to the light they get. They need an average of 14-16 hours of daylight to lay eggs. To fix this in the north some growers put lights in their coop through the winter but this would be an extra cost. I feel that chickens deserve a rest so their bodies don't get overtaxed by forcing them to lay eggs. The point is that if you don’t spend more money on light your chickens will not provide you with eggs the whole year but you will still have to maintain them anyway.


You are also going to need to provide them with a shelter of some kind. Building a house from scratch back when we got into chickens would be around $300 but now with the inflation and the 2020 situation, I would be more like $400 to $600. If you use a shed you already have you could save money.


You can see that when you crunch the numbers, raising chickens will not save you money but there is another reason you should make chicken part of your homestead. I know this is why we raise chickens. And that is because you can not put a price on good healthy food and the peace of mind of knowing exactly where your food comes from and what they eat is priceless. That food that you have raised now has a story. You raised that baby chick. You saw its first egg. You collected that first egg. And you tasted that first egg. I am going to tell you right now that there is nothing like the taste of a fresh egg. And these eggs that you helped produce are going to be more nutrient-dense and rich in goodness.


The same goes for homegrown chicken; it tastes so much better. And you know what that chicken ate before it was placed on your table and you also know that that chicken lived its best life. And all of these things are priceless. I think it all comes down to, Do you want to spend your hard-earned money on good healthy food that nourishes and heals your body or do you want to spend your money on medicine to fix an unhealthy body?


So again I feel that the cost of raising your own eggs and chicken for your family's plate is priceless.




More Benefits


We have talked about what raising chickens can do for your bodies but they have many other benefits. They can help you in the garden and even on the homestead.


Like before I mentioned that I let my chicken free-range in the early spring and fall and that is to help with weeds and insects in my garden and around the homestead. In the garden, they are my clean-up crew. They clean up any garden leftovers. They scratch the surface of my beds and eat weed seeds. They spread any compost that I lay on my beds. As for the homestead, they have kept the grasshopper numbers down. Because they eat the young grasshopper when they emerge in the spring and eat the eggs in the fall. The manure from the chickens has helped my garden as well as our pasture.


As a side note, if you do want to use chicken manure in your garden you do need to make sure to compost it first. It is considered the hottest of the manure and can burn plants if put directly in the garden. My grandpa has told me stories of growing tomatoes in chicken manure and that it is amazing stuff.


Another thing I have noticed is that chickens are an easy chore. When my boys were little and they wanted to start helping on the homestead the easiest chore for them to start with was the chickens. Each of them started out gathering the eggs and then would move on to feeding and watering. Then they each graduate to an animal of their choice and do the chores for those animals all on their own. Because doing the chicken chores had helped them gain that confidence of independence and the knowledge they need to raise their own animals. It has been so fun watching my boys grow up on the homestead. Chickens are just a great way to bring your children into the homesteading life.


Conclusion


Make sure you go back through those questions and answer any questions you couldn’t answer before you start reading this blog post. And even maybe flush out some of your previous answers. Knowing the answer to all of these questions is going to help you make adding chickens to your homestead a breeze!


I want to thank you for joining me today and as always don’t let the world hold you back,


Pray, Just Plant





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