There are many good reasons to start raising chickens. You might want a steady supply of eggs, straight from the source. You might be interested in harvesting the chickens for meat once they reach maturity. Or you might just like the idea of having animal companions on your property. In any case, it makes for an interesting – and potentially rewarding – hobby.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to get started.
Before Getting Chickens
Before you dive into the world of raising chickens, there are a few things you should establish:
· Laws. What are the local laws regarding chickens? Are you allowed to raise chickens in your backyard? If so, do you need any special permits? Be sure to check your city laws and bylaws with your homeowner’s association (HOA).
· Space. Chickens need space for a coop and some extra space where they can move around and stretch their legs. They don’t need entire acres, but there should be enough room for your chickens to move around comfortably without feeling crowded.
· Personal commitment. How much time and effort are you willing to invest into this endeavor? Chickens need daily care, including removing manure, feeding and watering the chickens, collecting eggs, and changing the bedding. Do you have the patience and motivation to tackle these jobs?
Everything You Need
Before you can start raising chickens, you’ll need the following, at a minimum:
· The right permits. Make sure you understand the local regulations in your area and obtain the necessary permits to raise chickens in your yard, if required.
· A full-size coop. One of the most important components you’re going to get is the chicken coop, where your chickens will roost, nest, and find shelter. There are many available options here, so it’s easy to get confused. If you’re feeling industrious or if you have experience with woodworking, you may be interested in building your own coop. Otherwise, you can buy a prefabricated coop or a kit to assemble your own for anywhere from $100 to a few thousand dollars (for the more robust units).
There’s a lot of wiggle room in terms of what your coop needs. However, every coop you buy should have a proper nesting box where hens can lay eggs, proper space for bedding, a roosting bar where chickens can perch and sleep, a hanging feeder and waterer for food and water needs (keeping them off the ground keeps them sanitary and away from other animals), and a dropping board to collect manure.
· The correct feed. You’ll also need to purchase the correct feed for your chickens. Commercially available chicken food is packed with all the nutrients your hens need to thrive, making it easy to plan their diet. If you have growing chicks, you’ll want to buy starter grower feed that’s even more nutrient-dense. And once they’re full grown, you can give them snacks for chickens.
· Bedding. Next, you’ll need to purchase the bedding your chickens will use in their coop. The most commonly used litter here is wood shavings, which you can get from local feed stores or as a byproduct from woodworkers. Like food, you’ll need to make this purchase often, as you’ll be replacing your chickens’ bedding on a regular basis.
· Fencing. Chickens need space to roam around to be happy and healthy. But letting them run around your entire yard unabated could be unsafe. That’s why it’s important to buy some fencing to keep your animals enclosed, giving them enough room to exercise while keeping them somewhat restrained – and protected from potential predators.
· The chicks. Finally, you’ll be ready to purchase the chicks themselves. It’s a good idea to purchase these from a local chicken expert you trust. Most baby chicks sell for around $5, but this cost can vary depending on the breed. Even at the upper end of the cost spectrum, chicks should only cost around $10.
Being Part of the Community
As you begin to make plans to build your coop and raise your chicks, it’s important to make yourself part of the community. Get to know other farmers and backyard chicken-related experts in your neighborhood and in your city. Get involved in online groups and forums. The more you engage with other people, and the more often you participate, the more you’ll learn – and the more help you’ll be able to get when you run into trouble.
Being Prepared to Make Mistakes
There’s a ton of room for mistakes when raising chickens – and unfortunate incidents that are mostly unpreventable. Spend enough time, and your chickens could get sick, they could escape their confines, or they could even get eaten by a predator. You have to be prepared for mistakes like these, learn from them, and move on, improving your approach along the way.