[Part One of a three-part series. In this first installment I’ll help you decide if raising chickens is right for you and what breeds you might want to get.]
Even though I’ve had chickens for eight years, I’ve never really pushed the idea of raising chickens as a part of prepping or self-reliance.
Today’s food prices are increasing at nearly three times the rate of wage increases. Recent avian flu outbreaks have triggered the destruction of millions of chickens. The result is, once moderately priced chicken meat is becoming increasingly more expensive and in some parts of the country, there are serious egg shortages. It may be time to rethink the importance of having chickens as part of your food plan.
Is it Legal?
Most cities today allow residents to keep chickens in their backyard. If your city doesn’t allow it, now is the time to present your case to the city council and get a reasonable backyard chicken ordinance passed.
Every city ordinance is different, so check with your city to see what the requirements are. Ordinances typically will ban roosters, limit the number of chickens you can have and require you to keep them penned.
Are chickens right for you?
Chickens require far less time and money than a dog or cat. It will take just five to ten minutes of attention a day, to check food and water and collect the eggs. If you have young children, this is the perfect job for them. They’ll learn invaluable
lessons in caring for animals and the connection humans have with their food.
They don’t make a lot of noise, certainly far less than a dog. And if you manage the bedding in the coop well, they do not smell.
But the best part of keeping chickens is that, once they start laying eggs, they quickly pay for themselves.
Four is a good number
Chickens are flock animals. That means they are happier with lots of friends. I usually have 15-20 chickens, but that’s not feasible for most people.
Two is the minimum, but four makes for a happier flock. Four chickens will give you 15 to 20 eggs a week, plenty for a family of four. So everything I say here is with the idea that you will get four chickens. Adjust up or down as needed.
Keeping chickens is surprisingly easy and inexpensive. The biggest demand is space. For four
chickens you’ll need about 60 square feet, about the size of a small backyard garden. The next big investment is their food and shelter. They’ll need a coop, a feeder, a waterer and a nice bed of straw or dry leaves.
Choosing a breed
Ask ten chicken owners what their favorite breed is and you’ll get ten different answers. They are all lovely animals, each with different endearing characteristics. You may look for characteristics like egg production, egg color, how cold hardy they are and if they can also be used for meat.
I look for heavier birds that continue to lay well during our frigid winters. I’ve had good results from the Wyandottes. They are calm birds that tolerate our winters well. There are several Wyandotte breeds, each with different colors and feather patterns.
The Australorp and Orpington breeds are also good layers that do well in our cold winters.
Many people want the Easter Eggers or Araucana chickens for their unique blue and green eggs. These are smaller chickens, so their eggs will be on the small side. They average 3 eggs a week compared to the 4 eggs/week that the Wyandotte lays or the 5 eggs/week that you’ll get from the Australorp. And the Araucana lay even less during the winter.
I’ve found this Chicken Finder especially helpful in deciding which breed to get. Just plug in what your preferences are (egg color, number of eggs, hardiness, other characteristics) and it will give you a list of chickens that fit the bill.
To Be Continued…
There’s a lot to be said about raising chickens. More than I can write in a single blog post. So this is the first in a three part series.
In Part Two, we’ll look at getting your first baby chicks and raising them to maturity.
Part Three will be setting up the coop and getting them through the winter.