By Blogger of the Month Jennifer Cazzola
One of the first additions to our country homestead was a tiny flock of Rhode Island Red hens. To me, nothing screamed country living more than the task of collecting fresh eggs every day from the nest box. Chickens, however need not be limited to the rural yard. Most city ordinances will allow for up to six hens provided they are kept within a covered run a reasonable distance from the neighbors.
If you’ve never toyed with the idea of a backyard flock here are four reasons why you should:
- They are relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain. The cost will run anywhere from about $2 for the more common breeds to over $30 for the more rare types. Day old chicks can be purchased locally at a hatchery, or off of Craigslist. If you are willing to pay a little extra for shipping and want a particular type of breed, there are many hatcheries nationwide that will ship chicks through the mail. Feed and housing are affordable, and Craigslist is another great place to look for used coops.
- They are easy to care for. As long as their basic needs are met: proper food, water, and shelter, chickens pretty much do their own thing. If you are new to chicken keeping, your local ranch supply should stock everything you need from feeders, to food, to coops. Provide your chickens with a place where they can scratch during the day for grit and insects. Make sure they have a dry coop with clean bedding that can be locked up at night keeping them safe from predators. Unlike dogs, who need to be called in and put to bed every night, chickens will literally come home to roost each evening at dusk. My only evening chicken related chores are taking a head count to make sure everyone made it home before locking them all in.
- They will gift you each day with their eggs. Once you experience the flavor and texture of healthy, fresh, free range eggs, you will never go back to store bought again. Our six Rhode Island Red girls provide us with up to two dozen eggs per week. What we aren’t able to eat ourselves we sell to our neighbors or give away to friends and family. A few things to keep in mind: you do not need a rooster unless you are wanting to hatch chicks. The hens will lay eggs on their own. Also remember that a hen’s laying ability will begin to decline after about two years. If the eggs are primarily what you are after you will need to have a plan to either rehome your older girls or be willing to cull them when they have slowed down. But eggs are not the only reason to
- They are entertaining. My husband and I have spent many an evening sitting out on the front porch just watching the chickens interact with each other. Nothing is more hilarious than a rooster who is just learning to crow, or a flock of hens playing a game of keep away with a bug. Each breed, and each bird within each breed has its own unique personality. If you have children and you are looking for a breed that is gentle and friendly I recommend Buff Orpingtons. We have seven that are super sweet and love to be held.
A few final thoughts:
- If you live in an area where roosters are not allowed, be sure to order pullets (a young, female chicken). Chicks that are listed as “straight run” will include a mix of male and females.
- Any used housing or feeders should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before using so as to prevent the spread of disease.
- Once a year, chickens will molt and lose most or all of their feathers. This is a normal part of life for a chicken. They will however lay fewer, if any eggs, during that time period.