Adding Backyard Chickens- What You Need to Know Before You Buy
They say that chickens are the gateway livestock, and it’s true. Ever heard of chicken math? If not, you will find out shortly.
We all want food independence and freedom to raise our own food. Raising chickens is a great and affordable way to do that, but before you go adding backyard chickens, there are a few things you need to know before you buy.
Adding Backyard Chickens- Things to Consider
- Does your City/Town or HOA allow poultry?
- How much space do you have?
- Do you have the support of your family? Make sure everyone is on board to share the workload.
- Can you afford it?
- Do you travel a lot? Who will take care of them when you go on vacation?
- Will you be able to make a five to 10-year commitment to raising them?
- Are wild predators an issue? Can you provide a safe haven for them?
- Will you want chickens for eggs, meat, or both?
- Can you handle losing a pet or two?
- Do you want chickens for personal use or do you want to make money off of them?
- Is there a vet that specializes in chickens close by?
- How close is the feed store to purchase supplies?
- Are you or someone in your house handy with tools to build a brooder and coop? or do you plan on buying pre-made ones?
- If you’re buying for meat, do you plan on doing the processing or know someone who will?
- Do you have the time?
- If you’re buying for eggs, know that chickens only lay eggs for a couple of years but can live up to 10 yrs. What will you do with them once they quit laying?
- Do you have a place in your home or on your property that is free from drafts and elements to raise the chicks for 6-10 weeks?
- Will you be free-ranging your chickens? Or keeping in a coop or run? Or both?
Adding Backyard Chickens- Common Knowledge
Did you know the color of the egg has NOTHING to do with the quality of the egg or its nutritional value? I know this seems like a no-brain’er but why have we been told for years by the grocery store chains that brown eggs were better? Why do brown eggs always cost more?
Chickens are just like people, we all make different color babies and different breeds of chickens all lay different colors of eggs. This tidbit of info is good to store in the memory bank when your hens start to lay eggs if you get different breeds you can tell who laid what egg by the color.
Did you know you can have eggs without a Rooster? Who Knew?
Now if you want baby chickens all the time you need a Rooster, a general rule is 1 Rooster for every 5 Hens.
Adding Backyard Chickens- Picking the Best Breed For You
People shop with their eyes first so when looking for a particular breed you may make your first choice based on looks but here are some other questions you need to consider when picking a breed that is best for you.
After you have done your research and know it is legal to own chickens the next step is to pick a breed and the amount that you will want to order, never have less than three chickens. There are hundreds of breeds of chickens and narrowing it down can be difficult.
Adding Backyard Chickens- Meat? or Eggs?
- Meat Bird or Egg Layer: Some breeds are better for one over the other than there are some that are good multi-purpose birds
- Egg Layer: if you are choosing a breed just for eggs you will want to pick one that is known to have a high volume. You may also want to consider to add a breed to your flock that is known to lay in winter months when the others slow down in production (keeping you with eggs all year)
- Meat Bird: Meat breeds tend to grow at a faster rate and reach maturity quicker. There are special requirements (different raising techniques) than from egg layers such as the type of food needed at different stages that you will have to research
- Egg Color: does it matter to you what color the eggs are (even though they are all the same on the inside some egg colors sell better if you are looking to sell your eggs)
Qualities to Look For
- Friendliness: Do you have children or do you want to keep them as pets as well as a food source? Pick a docile and friendly breed.
- Climate: Some breeds are better for warm or cold climate. You don’t want to pick a breed that can’t tolerate the heat if you live in the South, nor do you want to pick a breed that doesn’t like the cold if you live in the North
- Noise level: Will the sound of your chickens be an issue with your neighbors? Some breeds are known to be loud compared to others. If you are worried about noise at all then you do not want a Rooster.
- Flight Risk: Some breeds are known to jump the fence to explore the big world and others don’t mind being confined to a pen. If you have a small space don’t choose a breed that is known for going AWOL (absent without official leave)
- Plays Well With Others: Do you want more than one breed? If so, make sure you choose breeds that get along well with other breeds or you may end up with just one breed before it’s all said and done.
- A Good Mama: If you want to raise baby chicks to sell or just to keep you in ample supply then you will want to pick a breed that is known for being a good mama
- Coop Raising: Certain Breeds do better confine in a Coop/Run than others. If you pick a breed that needs open land and try to raise them in a coop/run you could have: aggression issues, depression, and health issues
Here is a link to Hobby Farms that has a good list of chicken breeds with details about each (click here for link)
Adding Backyard Chickens- How Many Do You Need?
How many chickens to order depends on some more variables.
- Do you want eggs? Meat? Or Both?
- How many members are in your family?
- Do you want to raise baby chicks to sell?
- How many eggs do you eat now?
- How much chicken meat do you need per week?
- What will your county allow?
- How much space do you have?
- Minimum Order from a hatchery
Chickens are socialites and need chicken companions, I would suggest a minimum of three.
Adding Backyard Chickens- Chicken Math
Eggs: If you are raising chickens for eggs you will want to pick breeds that are known for egg laying. The average good egg layer will produce roughly 5 eggs per week and slow down production during the winter. Add a breed that is known for laying during the cold months if you want eggs all year long. Plan on adding to your flock every couple of years as egg production slows down with your original flock.
Meat: How much chicken do you want to eat per week? There are 52 weeks in a year, if you average 1 whole chicken a week you will want 52 chickens.
Members in the family: If the average egg layer lays 5 eggs a week and your family eats a dozen eggs a week you will want the minimum amount of recommended chickens (3). We have 5 family members and eat 1 dozen eggs a week. I want to sell some eggs to cover the cost of raising our flock so we have 15 chickens, we’ll have enough eggs for us, to sell, and to share with friends.
Breeding chickens: If you want to raise baby chicks to sell or keep you in ample supply, you will need to add a Rooster for every 5 hens.
Minimum Order: If you are buying your chicks from a local feed store, many only carry chicks in the spring to sell. If you are ordering online, many will have a minimum order. The place where we ordered our chickens, The Cackle Hatchery, had a minimum order of 15 for the regular rate ($2.45 per chicken).
Hatching Eggs. In addition to ordering baby chicks, you can save money by hatching your own eggs in an incubator. To learn how to incubate eggs, read our article here.
Adding Backyard Chickens- How Much Space Do You Need
A brooder is housing you will use for baby chicks until they are old enough to move into the coop.
With baby chicks, you will need a minimum of 6″ sq per chick in the Brooder. As they get bigger (they grow really fast), they will need 1 sq ft per chick.
- 4 square feet (sq ft) of floor space per Large Fowl chicken
- 3 square feet of floor space per Bantam chicken
- 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 sq ft of floor space
- 12”x12” is the standard size for nest boxes.
- Minimum of 1 nest box for every 3 laying hens
- 10 Sq Ft of ground space per chicken
- 12 inches of perch space per chicken
- Perches should be positioned 12” to 18” away from the wall for head/tail space.
- Chickens need a minimum of 18″ to 24″ of headspace above the perch.
- 2 “x 2” boards with the edges rounded off may be used for bantam breeds
- Chickens do best roosting on the 4” side of a 2”x4” with rounded edges.
- Natural branch roosts may also be used -minimum diameter of 3”-4”
In conclusion, after all the research and planning is done, just remember to enjoy the ride. The freedom and satisfaction that comes from owning your own backyard flock are very rewarding.