Raising chickens is not all fluffy baby chicks and fresh eggs.
A lot of times it is mending fences, scraping chicken poop off of everything, hauling 50-pound bags of feed, searching for hidden nests of eggs around the yard and chipping ice out of frozen waters.
Before you get chickens you need to know about all the aspect of caring for chickens so that you know what you are getting yourself into.
Know the laws and ordinances
Your local laws and ordinances will depend on where your property is located. Are you in a rural location out of city limits or are you part of a subdivision within the city.
If you are within the city limits there will be ordinances and regulations set forth by the city. Also, if your property is part of a subdivision, they may have rules of their own about what you can do.
These rules may dictate how many chickens you have, if you can have a rooster, or if you need to acquire permits before building a coop.
What is the intended purpose of the chickens?
Why do you want chickens? Eggs? Meat? Pest control? You have to know the purpose of your chickens before going in it.
Do you want an egg-laying bird that can also be harvested for meat? Maybe you want to raise a batch of meat birds to fill your freezer.
Know the qualities that you want from your birds and that will help determine what breeds will work best for you.
Pullets or Straight Run
Knowing the difference between pullet and straight run chicks is important when trying to acquire your first batch of chicks. Pullets are female chicks. Straight-run chicks are chicks that are not sorted by sex.
An order of straight-run chicks probably contains about half pullets and half cockerels(males). Pullets are typically more expensive than either cockerels or straight run chicks since they're the ones who will grow up to lay eggs.
If buying straight run chicks know that you will probably be getting at least a few roosters.
Do a little chicken math
Doing a little bit of chicken math ahead of time will save you alot of headaches later. Start with knowing the final number of hens you want and work backward.
If buying straight run chicks don't buy 10 chicks and expect 10 hens. Typically you will get a few roosters when buying straight run chicks. Also, remember that accidents happen and chicks and chickens are vulnerable to predators.
Stray dogs come through the yard and can easily kill young chicks by playing with them. Losing a chick or two is normal.
Knowing that I always buy a few more than I want to end up with just in case.
Spend time with your chicks
If you want to have chickens that are friendly and easy to catch then spending time with them as babies is important. They will learn who you are and get used to you handling them. This will make catching them when they are fully grown alot easier.
Just remember to always wash your hands before you handle them as well as after.
Rooster not required
One common misconception is that hens need a rooster in order to lay eggs. But the reality is hens could care less about a rooster and will lay eggs whether there is a rooster around or not.
The only thing different will be that the eggs won't be fertilized, so they would never hatch into baby chicks.
Hens don't lay eggs every day
The frequency at which chickens lay eggs depends on the breed, the hen's age and the time of year. Some breeds of chickens have been bred for egg production over the last few decades, other breeds were bred for meat.
As an example, a Rhode Island Red production hen may lay five eggs per week, but a Sultan chicken may lay one egg per week.
They don't lay eggs right away
The timing of her first egg is called the “point of lay” and generally happens between five and six months old but can take as long as nine months.
Now there are a lot of factors that play into “point of lay” including breed, health, light conditions, temperatures, diet, and stress. If you get them as chicks then you will have months of caring for them without getting any eggs at all.
You can read about the signs that your hens are ready to start laying in this post.
Eggs can be few and far between in winter
In general egg production really slows down in the late fall and winter months. This is mostly due to decreased daylight and is sort of break for them to prepare for the next season of egg production.
In our flock this winter, instead of 10-14 eggs per day, I am getting 5-7.
Chickens are destructive
It is commonly overlooked but chickens can be very destructive to landscaping. Depending on if you are going to free range your flock or keep them in a run, you will want to take precautions with your flowerbeds and landscaping.
Chickens love to scratch into the earth and have a dust bath and both of these are beneficial to them but be prepared for it. Chickens can quickly turn a lush patch of lawn into something that is patchy and bare.
My flock seems to sense when I am putting fresh mulch down in the flowerbeds because they are there the same day kicking it all out on the walkway.
They live a long time
Chickens that don't become lunch for a predator usually live for five to seven years, but some can live up to ten years. That is a long life to keep in mind when checking out the baby chicks at the feed store.
Also as far as egg production is concerned, hens peak laying years are generally before their second birthday. After they turn two they will continue to lay eggs but less and less over time.
Consider what you will do with the hens when their production drops and prepare for that.
Get your coop ready
Chicks grow very fast and will need more than just their little broader before you know it.
I made this mistake when I brought home our first chicks. There was still snow on the ground outside so I drug a steel water trough into our mud room and turned that into their home for a month until the snow melted.
From there they went to the garage for a while, then the dog run and still I had no coop. It was a bit ridiculous and we scrambled to get an old shed converted and fenced in for them.
So don't do like I did, prepare beforehand and it will make your life easier in the long run.
Chickens are expensive
Sorry to break the bad news but getting chickens is not likley to save you any money.
The reality is that you will be spending more money raising chickens that you would just be buying your eggs from the market.
Broaders, heat lamps, feeders, fencing, coop materials, bedding, and feed all add up very quickly. And remember that you won't get your first egg for 6-8 months.
If you need some additional convincing here are the real reasons you need to get backyard chickens.
They are addictive.
Chickens are sort of like those chips in the can… Once you start, you just can't stop.
Once you have your coop setup it is just so easy to pick up more chicks and then a few
Before I knew it I had a flock of over thirty and was getting two dozen eggs a day… Hello, my name is Bobbie and I am a chicken addict.
So there you have it. Everything I wish I would have know before I brought home my first batch of chicks. I hope that I haven't talked you out of diving head first into chickens. I was scrambling in the beginning and I would 100% do it again. Take it easy on yourself and do a little prep work before the babies arrive!