What You Need to Know About Eggs and Chickens? Or…is That Chickens and Eggs?
The egg and chicken story – which came first? For many people contemplating a hankering for raising a flock of chickens, it is often the idea of the egg that peeks their curiosity. Images of wire baskets brimming with fresh and tasty, free-range, pastured eggs produced literally in your backyard are just irresistible. Does the desire for eggs come first?
Nope. It’s the chickens.
You need to get chickens because you want chickens…not because you want eggs. Adding any animal into your family is a big commitment. Those eggs will come at a steep cost – physically, emotionally and financially. Chickens require daily care. And, if like many folks, you start off with a box of meltingly delightful, fluffy chicks, your time will be pressed into service as a new “mother hen.”
Chickens are not extensions of the garden; they are the focal point. The rise in homesteading interests has led many people to think about raising a flock of chickens. Unlike gardening, chickens require daily commitment and attention. These demands are far greater than some people realize. Before you think about adding birds to your family consider your other obligations. Vacations may be a thing of the past (you won’t be able to leave your chickens, even for one day, without arranging for a neighbor or sitter to care for them). If you think the chickens won’t be a priority in your life, don’t get birds. Wait until you are financially and emotionally ready to add these dependents to your schedule.
• Work and school hours
• Family commitments
• Financial issues or insecure finances
• Health issues or family/work burdens
We don’t want to discourage chickens in families. Quite the opposite! Chickens are loving and charismatic creatures that will insert themselves firmly into your life. Knowledge is an enabler. Here are a few tips to get you started from scratch – the right way! Happy journey.
Commit for 8-10 years
When you bring a chicken into your family expect to provide care for 8 to 10 years. Bringing a living creature home is a great opportunity to build a beautiful bond with another animal. This is called a cross-species relationship, and it is very fulfilling.
Children learn skills while interacting with non-humans that are impossible to parallel. They learn patience, compassion, empathy, problem solving and the ability to appreciate other cultures. The social attributes that chickens and other animals teach children is boundless. Having a “BFF” (best feathered friend) to share stories and “bad” days with offers conviviality and comfort for kids – and adults. Chickens are wonderful at healing our stress, at delighting the elderly and at enabling individuals with special needs. Chickens teach us.
However, treating chickens as objects or as disposable egg dispensers creates a detrimental impact. The negative aspects associated with this range from animal cruelty to teaching kids to be sadistic, impetuous, heartless and apathetic. This does not build the framework for children to become mature and intelligent adults with critical thinking or healthy coping skills. Always provide animals with a great home.
Chickens, like other animals, are expensive. Expect to spend several hundred (or more!) a year for veterinary care. Chickens tend to be far healthier and less prone to accidents or diseases than dogs or cats. Their vet bills are also less expensive. Consider sourcing a naturopathic or homeopathic vet for your birds. We want to prevent illness in the first place!
Here is a great tip from the Humane Society of the United States: “While it may be tempting to think of a backyard flock as a source of inexpensive eggs, hens, like cats and dogs, require periodic veterinary care. Chickens can become ill or get injured, and vet exams and treatment can easily cost over $100 per visit. These expenses should be carefully considered before the decision is made to keep backyard chickens. Not all avian veterinarians are experienced with chickens, so be sure to locate a trusted poultry vet in your area ahead of time.”
One great way to save for those unexpected bills is to keep a Chicken Savings Account or CSA. Simply place $5-10 a week in the CSA for those surprise expenses. Give up two cups of coffee a week or refrain from impulse purchases (that we then throw out!). It can be that simple. Often, we can begin to make healthier living choices by keeping a chicken savings account as well.
Note: The CSA teaches your kids about saving money and about building safety “nest” eggs. Explain why and how you are saving money for needed chicken expenses through the chicken savings account. The opposite of this lesson only prepares children to make poor financial and social decisions. Not saving money to help the chickens teaches children to be selfish, impulsive and undisciplined.
Coops and reality
Chicken coops can cost several thousand dollars. Even if you build one yourself – expect to spend several hundred dollars. If an existing barn or shed is going to be used for birds, inspect it for safety, rot and toxic elements such as fuel spills or lead paint. But, old farm buildings and sheds were usually built to last! Grandpa knew best. You can also refit horse barns or use an extra stall to house your chickens.
Tip: Be wary of building coops with found materials. Wood should be free from oil contaminants and lead paint.
Coops should only be built from wood, brick or stone. Do not buy, or build, metal or plastic barns. The sheds sold at building stores are NOT intended to house livestock — they are only meant to store tools and machinery.
Never house chickens in a coop that is less than 4x6. The cost may be inviting, but the “rabbit” hutch styled coops are not safe for poultry, have limited re-use possibilities and will not add any value to the property. Always build a proper coop. And that means it should beat least 4x6 with windows, a solid floor - and you need to be able to walk around inside the shed.
This one is pretty easy. Feeding your chickens is simple and chickens love to eat...anything. Grain stores sell all of your poultry needs. Purchase a good quality laying feed (chicks will need a starter/chick feed for the first few months), oyster shell and grit (grit is only needed if your birds do not have access to suitable and varied pasture).
Always supplement your birds’ diet with fresh vegetables and greens, fruits and protein sources (nuts, sunflower seeds). Flocks relish grass and that’s free! Chickens love treats, and offering a few snacks daily is greatly appreciated. Try mealworms, birdseeds and millet. Experiment with different foods to see what the chickens enjoy!
Still want chickens?
Yay! Welcome to this exciting club. Chickens provide companionship, affection and beauty. That's what makes them so amazing. A flock of birds meandering in your yard provides living artwork. Chickens truly are moving flowers! You won’t regret it.
Chickens will rid your garden of insect pests; they will provide compost and help to minimize weeds.
What to expect from chickens? The best thing about your birds is their intriguing and irresistible personalities!
Fowl Play Extra! House Chickens
Want a new roommate? Get chickens. Some breeds of chickens are perfect for joining you in your home. Many birds just love to come indoors and hang out with you, but if you want to keep house chickens, a breed’s adult size will be the main factor. Bantams are best suited to indoor living. Consider Silkies, Games, Belgian d’Uccle, d’Anvers, Japanese, Sarama and Dutch…to name a few
All chickens need time outdoors to just be chickens. Bantams do not need a big yard; so if you are short on space, add a few house chickens to your family! Learn more by joining the “House Chickens” Facebook Group.