Happy Monday, friends!
I’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions about chicken keeping for those of you who may be thinking of getting your own backyard chickens. I hope this answers any questions you might have and if I’ve missed something, feel free to ask in the comments section! If chicken keeping isn’t your thing, skip this post altogether and come back another time, ok?
How many do you have? What kinds are they?
How many eggs to you get every week? What do you do with them all, do you sell them?
Currently, 12 of our chickens are laying eggs. The Ameraucanas were added to our flock earlier this spring (the first week of March) and we are expecting to see their pastel colored eggs (pink! blue! green!) any day now. Chickens are considered to be full grown at 20 weeks and will begin laying any time after this 20 week mark. So from the 12 chickens that are currently laying, we get an average of 60 eggs per week. We do sell our eggs to neighbors and co-workers for $3 per dozen. It works out to cover the cost of feed, straw and bedding each month. We’ve started to make back all the money we’ve spent so far (fencing, feeders and waterers) and we might even be able to start setting aside a little fun money for a weekend trip. Or new flooring in the kitchen. A girl can dream!
Are chickens friendly? Can you hold them? Do they bite?
Yes, chickens are totally friendly! They’re very social, curious creatures. Of course some are more friendly or more social than others and some really have no interest in being held (though if you catch them, they’ll still tolerate it) but in my experience, they’re certainly not mean. Obviously I can only speak about my own chickens – I bet there are some grouchy, mean chickens out there but that goes for humans too, doesn’t it? Most of us are nice, but some of us have our panties in a royal twist and love to moan and groan over anything and nothing, no matter what. I once asked our friend, Farmer Tom about holding and petting chickens and his response was: FONDLE YOUR CHICKENS! And friends, that’s really all there is to it. If that’s what you want, of course. The more you chat with them, the more they’ll chat with you. The more you offer them treats, the more they’ll come running when they see you. The more you pick them up and hold them for a minute or two, the more used to it they will become. As far as the “biting” or pecking goes… I’ve only had a chicken peck me because they see something they think is food. Buttons, shoe laces… they think there’s maybe something to eat there. I’ve even had chickens peck at my freckles or my painted toes. They eat pretty much constantly during their awake hours, and the pecking and the scratching, well… that’s what a chicken does.
What do chickens eat? What kinds of treats do they like?
Our chickens eat a regular diet of chicken feed (layer crumbles) and scratch grain, to which we mix in grit (to aid in digestion) and oyster shell (to strengthen their egg shells). They free range from sunrise to sunset in a fenced off yard of their own within our back yard so they also eat lots bugs and grass. Actually, they’ve eaten up all the grass in their yard, so one of the things I do as part of the morning routine is bring them a bucket of fresh grass and clovers from elsewhere in our yard and spread it around in small piles for them. They love this and make lots of little chatty sounds to let me know how much. As far as treats go, they’re spoiled rotten! They get scraps from our kitchen every day. They love fresh fruit (watermelon, all berries, bananas, tomatoes) and everything from pasta, crackers, cereal, peas, corn, milk and yogurt. I’m not kidding when I say that they see me come out the kitchen door and they RUN to the fence line. Happy chickens make good eggs, y’all!
What’s the set up like? What do chickens need? How do you keep them safe from predators?
So here’s the thing: chickens are really super easy and they require very little. There’s an initial cost to get things up and running (feeders and waterers, fencing, coop related costs) but it doesn’t have to be a lot. That part is really up to you. You can spend hundreds of dollars on the fanciest, cutest, Pinterest worthy little coop of your dreams or you can spend next to nothing and put together something from what you have on hand. It’s your choice! Your chickens aren’t going to notice the difference and they’re still going to poop all over everything just as much. Whether it’s store bought fancy or DIY thrifty, the one thing that really matters is their safety. They need a safe, quiet place to nest in during the day and a place to roost at night, safe from all the scary night creatures. A coop should also be roomy enough for them so that they don’t get bored or overcrowded and peck each other to death and roomy enough/user friendly for you because, future chicken keeper, guess what? You’ll be cleaning it out often. Chickens are not the greatest house keepers and they poop a lot, on everything.
We decided on a cheap, use what we have, DIY route route because… we’re thrifty like that and in the end, function mattered over cute. For the actual coop, we used an existing metal shed in the back corner of our yard (free!) that happens to have a concrete floor – this keeps the bad guys from digging in at night. We built our own nesting boxes in one afternoon out of some old fence boards (free!) that we got from my Mom’s house when she had a new fence built. We used medium sized sticks and logs from around our yard (free!) to build roosting poles inside the coop for the chickens to sleep on at night. The only thing we really dropped any money on was the fencing itself – no real getting around the cost of rolls of chicken wire and fencing + fence posts. (Although, if you’re really savvy, and planning ahead, I bet you could comb craigslist and find some to save $$) The gate was built from scrap wood found around the house (free!) and while it might look a little hodge-podgy, IT WORKS. Matt will tell you that he’s rather proud of it because it literally cost like a dollar and 30 cents to build (darn hinges!) and it’s totally level, opening and closing smoother than a hot knife through butter. It serves it’s purpose which is to keep the chickens safe inside their yard during the day and allow for really easy access for us humans to come in and out with a wheelbarrow when we need to. And that right there makes it a thing of beauty.
Do they fight with each other? Do they all get along? What is this pecking order thing all about?
Chickens are funny. They can be like a bunch of mean high school girls, snipping and pecking at each other over a bug or first access to a freshly filled feeder. They’re just like that and that kind of small pecking is totally normal. Everyone has their place, and this light pecking keeps the flock in check, keeping the peace in a way. The tough stuff is when there’s a re-ordering or re-shuffling. For example, if you introduce a new girl. We made this mistake last year when we discovered that in our original group of 12, there was one rooster. We knew we didn’t want to have a cock-a-doodle-doodlin’ all day and night so we traded him at a poultry market for a new hen. (Beatrice Butter Chicken, who is our Brahma)
Long story short, this was kind of our big newbie mistake. Not only did we pull the one male from the group (which meant one of the hens was going to fight for a dominant spot) we ADDED a new hen on the very same day. Poor Butter Chicken will never have it easy. She’s at the bottom of the flock, even below the new group of 6, and all you have to do is take one look at her to know that. She’s hen-pecked and her feathers are a wreck. We’ve recently given her a separate yard, safe from the daily pecking from the other girls. If you’re going to ADD to your flock, add at least 3 at a time. There’s strength in numbers.
Speaking of Beatrice Butters, do all the chickens have names?
Not all the chickens are named. I pretty much call all of the RIRs Noisy Nellies. Don’t tell them, but they’re my least favorite of the bunch. They’re great egg layers but they’re noisy in the morning and they’re kind of bossy/less friendly. I’ve seen them chest bump and mount a couple of the other chickens which was an odd, slightly uncomfortable sight, if we’re being honest here .
The kids have pretty much been in charge of naming the rest of the gang:
So that’s that. Do you have any other questions?? Ask away! I’m no expert, and I don’t know it all, but I sure do love having these chickens in the back yard and I think anybody that can have them and is interested in having them should have them. Easier than cats, I promise you that! They don’t pick on your furniture, leave hairballs on your rug AND they give you fresh eggs daily.
Not sold on chicken keeping? Here are a couple things to consider:
Chickens are educational and great for kids! They benefit from having a daily responsibility of caring for them, keeping them fed and watered and gathering their eggs + seeing where their food comes from.
As I said above, chickens eat bugs all day long so they’re providing a great (and green!) service for you of maintaining the bug population in your yard without you having to spend money on sprays and treatments to do so.
Chicken poop is gold! Seriously, can you compost your cat’s poop?
Chickens are fun. Turn off your tv and watch your chickens. Seriously.