The rooster may crow but the hen delivers the goods.
Walk in to your local feed store this week and you will hear the chirps of baby chicks from every corner of the store. They are so cute and for some of us it’s hard not to walk out without taking a few home. And, why not!?
For those that think chickens are better in the country – think again. There are many great reasons why you should consider a small backyard flock. But what surprises people the most is how much fun these ladies are to have around. The urban farm and backyard movement has really taken off. Take a walk around your neighborhood – I bet you would be surprised by the number of people who have a coop hidden somewhere in their yard.
But, before you take the leap, there are a few things to consider. There is a lot of information out there. It can be a bit overwhelming sorting out the good advice from the bad. When we brought home our first backyard flock I did a ton of research. What I found was a massive amount of bad information, conflicting experts and confusion. Still, doing your due-diligence will prevent disappointment and frustration.
First, check your local city ordinances but chances are this will not be a problem. Most cities will allow a small flock with few restrictions. In fact, not only will most cities allow backyard chickens – they encourage it. The most common restriction within city limits is the no rooster rule. Poor guys get a bad wrap.
It’s not a good idea to walk into your local feed store and make a impulse buy during chick season. I think another big surprise to raising chickens is how expensive it is. Shelter, food and supplies can be a bit of sticker shock. Especially when you can by a dozen eggs in the store for less than $1. Still, it’s worth every penny.
Do you want to raise chicks or are you wanting older pullets (female chicken under 1 year old) that are closer to the age to lay eggs? Raising chicks is rewarding but a big commitment. Sure they’re cute. But if you don’t have the time, space or a proper brooder set up this option may not be for you. If you want a chicken for eggs you may want to check local listings for “started pullets” from a reputable breeder. Pullets will be around 12 -15 weeks or older and ready to go in the outside coop. They will be much less time consuming and require minimal daily care. Typically, a started pullet will cost about $15 each depending on the age and breed.
Proper shelter and space are another factor in your decision. How much room do you have (how many do you have the proper space for)? Is your area predator proof? Is your back yard fenced? Neighborhood dogs are the number one killer of backyard chickens. Planning for good care and protection is vital before you bring home your girls.
Do you know what your getting yourself into? There are tons of great books for new backyard chicken keepers. I am adding a list of my favorites below. Before you commit financially and before you buy chickens make sure you know what to expect. Chickens are not a lot of work. But, they do require life-long specific and consistent care that you should commit to ahead of time or forget it.
What breed is best for you? There are a lot of really pretty chicken breeds out there but they are not all created equal. Do your research. There are some breeds that are better for laying, some that are known to be more docile, some that are better in cold climates – what specific needs do you have? For a good idea of which breed fits you check out The Livestock Conservancy
There is a lot to think about. But a small flock can give you so much in return – fresh local eggs, hours of entertainment, teach your kids responsibility, aerate your yard, natural fertilizer and pest control, and on and on. It’s also a big step towards sustainability, self-reliance and talk about local eats! Do your homework first and you will reap the rewards.
Looking for answers to some of your questions? For more information on all things backyard chickens check out these great books and blogs:
The Chicken Health Handbook; Gail Damerow
Backyard Homesteaders Guide To Raising Farm Animals; Gail Damerow
A Chicken In Every Yard; Robert Litt
Our mini farm continues to grow. I am learning a lot this year. Specifically, more than ever we are really trying to max out our space by intercropping and succession planting. I am also squeezing our planting distances. Probably more so than anyone would recommend but so far so good.
We doubled our garden size this year – who needs that much grass anyway. I also moved away from row planting which goes against everything I know and saw growing up. I also disregarded the recommendations for raised beds. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice this valuable space for clear defined walking paths – just ask my husband who wasn’t allowed in this space until all plants were fully visible.
So far we have been very happy with the results. We got a jump on planting due to a ridiculously mild winter so we have already harvest our Yukon Gold potatoes, cabbage and onions. All of which have already been replaced with their successor. Beans and peas are on and we have an amazing tomato crop ripening. Of course, the spring crops are done and I am setting up for our Fall planting now. Crop rotation is fascinating and I am learning how important this is.
We did everything from non-GMO heirloom seeds (organic too when possible). It’s been so rewarding and I hope to have enough starts next year to share- even more than this year.
I have found some amazing books and websites. I am compiling my list and will add them soon. One of the hardest things we have found is sourcing our homesteading supplies, feeds, seeds, etc. We support local as much as possible but also don’t wanted to be limited by the local retailers. This has been a big problem with our bee supplies – finally settling with two suppliers that I’m happy with but shipping is a problem.
Finally, as the harvest comes on I am learning to store food. We bought a food dehydrator and some freezer bags. Canning scares me the most but I will give it a shot!
Here’s some of what we’ve been doing. Hope you enjoy!
The girls got an upgrade
New this year!!
The gardens are planted and seeds are starting to sprout. I just finished putting down the straw and it’s everywhere! But, if it does its job of keeping down the weeds and holding in moisture – so be it.
I have been reading a book called Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess. It has inspired many weekend projects for Jerad and I. Great book – especially for those of us needing some of the basics.
We have two (and a half) garden areas – getting ready to expand one for more space. Every year we press our luck with the frost. With a short growing season we do what we can April/May but keep the plastic sheets close. I think – I hope – we are past the last frost. So far, everything made it.
It’s been a very long time since my last post. I have missed journaling and sharing, but, a job change, house purchase and move, dead computer, new business, wedding and whatever else life has thrown our way has kept us preoccupied.
Busyness has kept us from not just sharing but actively participating in the things that are so important to us. We have been doing the minimal cooking, planning and learning – just getting by but not enjoying it.
Getting back into cooking and exploring ways to broaden our vegetarian diet/health is not only out of enjoyment, but necessity. And, we have taken it one step further jumping on the urban farm movement. Yep, even backyard chickens.
It has been a busy and exciting spring. Transforming lawns into vegetable gardens, building a chicken coop/run, and setting up a rain barrel just skims the surface of my long chore list. Hard work that is full of purpose and life- and I love it.
Look forward to sharing this journey – lots to learn.