Okay ya'll, I've heard that people are panic buying baby chicks. I get that having a renewable source of protein during uncertain times can bring a sense of peace, but, chickens are a huge commitment and not one to just go out and jump into without knowing what you're really getting into.
So, before you go and do something crazy, stop and learn about what's involved with having and raising chickens. They aren't cheap, feed alone can cost 20 or more dollars a week depending on the quality of feed and how many chickens you are feeding. If you are thinking of free ranging them, understand that they poop everywhere, destroy gardens and potted plants if they have access to them, and are food for many other animals, not the least of which are dogs.
You will need a tall fence that dogs can't dig under and if you have a dog, well, hopefully they aren't going to eat your chickens, which they often do. Dogs are the worst predators of chickens. They will quickly kill all the chickens they can get hold of. Your own pet dogs will probably eat lots of chicken poop (dogs eat it like candy). If you decide to keep your chickens in an enclosed chicken run, they will be safe, but, you will be doing a lot of cleaning, because, like I said before, chickens poop everywhere. The run can't be made of chicken wire unless you don't care if dogs or other predators get into the run. Use welded wire, and the smart way to go is to dig all around your run, down about a foot, and bury the welded wire to prevent predators digging under it. Make it high enough that you can easily walk inside for cleaning and bird care, and definitely have a door or gate that you can go in and out of so you don't get trapped inside, but, have a good way of locking the gate so a wiley raccoon doesn't get through to your chickens.
A solid top or roof will keep rain and snow out of the run, cutting down on mud and giving them a dry place to dig and scratch whether they free range your yard or not. It also provides some shade. Chickens need shade as they don't tolerate a lot of heat.
They will require a coop large enough for them to have 4 square feet of space per chicken. Cleaning the coop will be a chore, again they poop everywhere, plus there is chicken dander and dust that gets on everything. We repurposed an old children's playhouse, attached a chain link dog run and did just fine with this set up for a year, but, by year two I was so tired of cleaning such a cramped space, and decided it was time to upgrade to something I would be able to stand up inside, move around, and easily clean and collect eggs, plus, my chickens would have more space that was indoors for bad weather days.
We looked at some pre built sheds at our home supply stores and decided to come up with our own design. Cost was a huge factor, as those pre builts are thousands of dollars. We divided the shed into two halves using chicken wire on a frame, and attaching an old storm door.. The front half and the overhead area of the back half are all for storage, and to use as a brooder area. The back half is coop.
We painted it barn red, attached a solid roofed run, and added an electric door into the run, and the finished product is to this day, 6 years later, a blessing and a joy. I just don't understand how anyone would choose something small and difficult to clean if they are going to have chickens for any length of time. Our entire project, including electric door cost us eight hundred dollars in materials. The labor was all ours.
Now, to continue on about what's involved with having and keeping chickens, there are some extras that need to be considered. Nesting boxes can be anything from baskets, to milk crates, to buckets, what have you, but, they will need to be big enough for a chicken to lay comfortably in. They need to be kept clean and dry (refer back to they poop everywhere). They will need a healthy feed ration that includes calcium once they are laying, or you will need to supplement calcium in the form of oyster shell. Then you have feeders and waterers, which come in a huge variety of styles, sizes, and functionality. Whatever you get you must keep them clean, and always have fresh water available. Chickens cannot digest their feed without water.
Don't keep chicks in the house if possible, dander goes everywhere, and certainly not in an area where food is consumed or prepared. Chicken dust is a thing, and no one should have to live with it on their food. Yes, you can handle them, but, always, always, ALWAYS wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly after handling them, and before touching food or drink. They can transmit Salmonella. Don't kiss your chickens or let them peck around your mouth for the same reason. No, this is not my child, just found that pic on the web, it kind of freaks me out just looking at it.
When buying chicks, be aware of some important terms. Straight run means the chicks have not been separated according to sex, so, you could very likely end up with one, several or all roosters. If you don't want or can't have a rooster or several, don't buy straight run. Pullet means hens, but, again, sexing is not a guarantee, you could still end up with a roo, but, your chances are strong that you won't. Auto sexing breeds are a great way to avoid getting a roo.
Cornish Cross, Cornish Rock, and several other less common breeds are bred specifically to be slaughtered for meat, so, they grow very fast, and need to be processed no later than 12 weeks of age. If you wait longer they can have horrible heart problems, paralysis, and are generally miserable. If you want egg layers, do not buy these breeds, aka meat chickens.
There is so much more to know, but, that's a fair start. So, if after all this you still want chickens, great, go for it. Still, do your homework. Breeds are different. Some are noisier than others. Some are friendlier than others. Some are better layers than others. Egg size and color varies by breed as well. Know what you want and shop with that in mind.
I'm a mother of eleven children, wife of 37 years, Latter Day Saint, and 911 Dispatcher and a budding homesteader. Come along with me as I journey toward self sufficiency, one baby step at a time.
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