Getting Started with Chickens—What You’ll Need

©2010 Shanna Ohmes

So, you are excited about raising chickens in your backyard.  You are ready for homegrown eggs, raising some of your own food and showing your children how to connect with where their food comes from.  So where do you start?

Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  • Start with day-old chicks.  You can order these in the spring through mail order from hatcheries.  The downside is most orders are a minimum of 25 chicks.  This way, the chicks keep each other warm en route.  If you don’t want that many, you can share your order with friends.  Or, you can go to farm-supply stores and order what you want.  You don’t need roosters, so only order females (pullets).
  • You need a brooder.  This is a box with a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm until they are old enough to be kept outside.
  • Bedding.  You can use pine shavings, dry leaves or straw.  Change it when it’s soiled.
  • Feeder and waterer.  Designed for chicks, keep these cleaned and filled.
  • Portable coop.  When nighttime temperatures stay above 50° F., the chicks can be moved out to their mini-coop.  This keeps them safe from dogs, cats, skunks, opossums, foxes and other predators that love an easy buffet.  You might be surprised that many of these predators do roam city streets at night.
  • Feed.  In the beginning you will probably start with chick starter feed.  As adults, they will need a “laying mash” available at your farm supply store.  Chickens love grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps and most veggies from the garden.
  • Crushed oyster shell.  Hens need grit to help them grind their food because they have no teeth.  Oyster shell also provides calcium and makes for stronger eggshells.
  • An appetite for eggs!  Your hens will start laying eggs when they are 24 weeks old.  One hen will lay 5-6 eggs a week.  In one week, with 4 hens, you can have about 2 dozen eggs.  Don’t worry, you will find plenty of ways to enjoy those eggs.  And if you share some with your neighbors, they will appreciate them and support your backyard chicken raising adventure.

7 Reasons Why You Should Raise Backyard Chickens

©2010 Shanna Ohmes

If you would like to be a part of the growing food revolution movement to eating real foods, then you have probably already learned how eggs are a part of a healthy diet. You may have also learned that how chickens are raised affects the nutrition of those eggs.

Did you know it’s simple to raise chickens in your own backyard? Why would you want to? Here are a few reasons why you should raise your own chickens.

• More nutritious for your family—a homegrown egg, from a hen that’s allowed to eat bugs, seeds, grass and other goodies from your yard and garden, has a deeper color than factory-eggs. This deep color indicates denser nutrition, and is rich in beta carotene, vitamin D, vitamin E, folic acid and vitamin B-12.
• By raising your own hens, you’ll know they are humanely treated. You can feed them wholesome feed that’s free from antibiotics and growth hormones, most of which they will forage for themselves. In factory raised hens and meat birds, these additives are passed onto us through the eggs and meat, and the chickens are kept in cramped cages or close confinement indoors.
• You can preserve endangered breeds. These heritage breeds have been reduced in numbers because the commercial growers focus on the faster growing types.
• Chickens are small and can easily be raised in portable mini-coops which can be moved around your yard daily. This is good for your lawn and keeps the hens happy eating bugs, seeds and grass. Chickens also eat termites, grubs, fire ants, grasshoppers, fleas and flies.
• They are quiet and make good pets. It is the roosters that crow and make the most noise. Just 3-4 hens are quieter than most dogs. At most they squawk when they lay an egg and make small clucking sounds when scratching in the dirt. A hen will lay an infertile egg almost daily. The only reason to have a rooster is for fertile eggs to raise chicks. So, you really don’t need a rooster for egg production.
• There are many breeds to choose from: most are dual-purpose, which means they provide both meat and eggs. Some are very small and lay tiny eggs. Some lay brown or green eggs or even speckled eggs. Fancy breeds have topknots of feathers on their heads while others have feathery legs.
• Raising chickens with your children involves them in learning where their food comes from. Many children today think their food somehow comes from the back of the store. Now they can make that connection in how it gets to their plate.

Raising chickens in your backyard is easy and entertaining. We spent hours watching ours jumping up to peck the seeds from drooping mammoth sunflower heads. They were very comical.

When you keep chickens, you will discover the true meanings behind many of those old “chicken sayings” that your grandparents used to say. Like, “hen party”, “madder than a wet settin’ hen”, “hen-pecked”, “like a banty on a june bug”, and “rule the roost”.