I never had imagined that someday we would be raising chickens. But truthfully I never imagined that I would be a homeschool mama of 7 either! But 7 years ago when we first joined 4 H, my then 6 year old Nicholas expressed an interest in learning about chickens and that began our chicken raising journey. Now with the rising prices of eggs, I am asked more and more about how hard it is to raise and care for chickens, and honestly if we can do it, anyone can!
|Nick with one of the chickens from our first batch|
We live outside city limits, but many towns and cities allow backyard chickens, you will first have to check the regulations where you live before making plans. We raise chickens for eggs. Of course you can raise them for meat also but that is something we don't really enjoy doing. We do love having fresh eggs though. Most chickens will start laying eggs between 16 and 24 weeks and will lay about an egg a day for several years. Our chickens here lay all year round as long as it stays fairly decent temperature wise and they get plenty of sunlight. The cost of buying your birds will vary on the age of the bird, whether or not they are straight run or not, how many you are buying, and who you are buying them from. Baby chicks can run from around $1-$5 a bird and if you order them online you have to buy a minimum of 15-20. Hens that are already laying can cost around $5-15 per bird.
We have raised chickens from chicks and even hatched some of our own. We have had up to 40 chickens before and sold eggs, but right now we have 5. 5 is a good number for our family's egg needs.
You will need a few things if you are interested in raising egg laying chickens.
1. Laying Hens (or chicks that will be laying hens)- There are several different breeds that you can choose from. We have had great experiences with white leghorns, and brown bovans (cross between a Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn.) You do not have to have a rooster unless you want to hatch your own chicks. Roosters are also good protection for the hen, but they can get aggressive! The children do not always like to take care of the chickens when there is a rooster they have to battle so we do not have one right now.
2. Shelter- Chickens need to have some place to live. There are a variety of different types of coops and runs for chickens. You can buy ones that are already made, or you can build your own. Size varies depending on how many birds you will have in the coop. Chickens need a safe place to lay their eggs and roost for the night. They need to be protected from a variety of critters who would like to eat them for supper! Our first coop had a door leading into a wired chicken yard that we could open in the morning and shut at night. Unfortunately a crafty raccoon found a way to enter the coop and got all of the chickens but one! The pens that we use now do not have a separate coop, instead they are wired all the way around. Some people like to free range their chickens, but again you run the risk of loosing them to whatever prey is out there and it can be a bit more difficult to find the eggs!
|This is the frame to one of the small pens. It can hold 3-4 birds|
If you are starting with chicks you will need a heat lamp and a smaller more protected place to keep them. We build a rectangular brooding box with a removable wire lid and keep it in our shop building. When the chicks have their feathers we move them. outdoors to the pen.
3. Food- You do not need to spend a lot of money on chicken feed. Chickens will eat a wide variety of things. We buy a type laying pellet and mix it with scratch grains for their main source of nutrition. But they will also eat things like bugs, grass and worms. Fruits and vegetables are another food item for chickens along with different types of bread and grains. We feed our chickens things like the tops of tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, and other fruits and vegetables, ends of bread, stale buns, and other table scraps. We keep our feed in plastic garbage cans with lids in our shop building.
Having fresh eggs is a great benefit. Plus my children really enjoy taking care of the chickens and collecting the eggs. It is a great learning experience for them!