Do you want to raise chickens in your backyard? Well now is the time to start planning. Baby chicks are available in stores like Farm & Fleet and Tracker Supply starting in March & April. At least in the Chicagoland area.
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When I decided I wanted to have chickens almost 10 years ago, I thought I was going to have an uphill battle on my hands convincing “Handy“. I did all my research, had a PowerPoint presentation, the whole 9 yards. Well, all I had to do was broach the subject and he was all in.
Before I knew it he was building the Taj Mahal of chicken coops. I got our blueprints from Heather Bullard but he modified them quite a bit.
5 Things you Need to Know to Start Raising Hens
1. Will your Town or Village allow you to have Chickens?
Our village didn’t have any ordinance so I had to go to the board to ask permission. Luckily for me, “Handy” who is currently our Village President was a trustee at the time so I got his vote! I actually got everyone’s vote and they adopted the ordinance that we already in place for our county. Basically, we can only have a max of 7 hens (no rooster) and they can only be for egg-laying.
2. What Kind of Hens do you Want?
You need to do your research about breeds and decide what kind you want to have. Here was my criteria:
- I wanted different breeds of hens
- I wanted different colored eggs (green/blue/brown/peach/white)
- It’s important for us in Illinois to choose hens that can survive in the cold (yes, they stay outside all year long)
- Friendly temperment was also a big consideration
- Definately wanted Good Egg Layers
We are on our 3rd batch of hens and we have had all of the following at some point. We’ve loved them all but we especially loved the Orpingtons because they were super friendly and interactive with us, however, because they were so sweet they both were victims of raccoons.
- Rhodes Island Reds
- Barred Rock
- Ameraucana – Often called Easter Eggers (They lay the blue and green eggs)
3. Do You start with Baby Chicks?
I strongly suggest getting your chicks as babies. We brought teenagers into our flock once and it was a disaster. The older chickens picked on them and one of them actually became very aggressive. We ended up having to rehome all of them except for one.
We bought the rest of our hens when they were one day old and they lived in our house until they were ready to go outside. They were in a galvanized tub with bedding and a heat lamp. We had this in our laundry room.
In the first few days, they need a lot of attention. Don’t be surprised if some of them don’t make it. We started out with 8 chicks in our very first batch and we only had 7 that moved out to the coop in the spring.
You have to monitor the heat lamp and temperature. They need plenty of clean cool water and access to chick starter food. We have only fed our chicken organic food right from the start.
We didn’t really touch them the first day or so (unless I had to manually give them water) to get them acclimated and I also added electrolytes to their water to help with the stress. After they perk up, we started holding them for a little bit every day. We wanted them to become used to us.
It didn’t take long for them to outgrow the galvanized tub and “Handy” made them a larger cage that we put in our dining room. They were still under heat lamps until they feathered out. They were about 8 weeks when we put them into the coop.
4. Do You have a safe, secure place for your hens to live in your backyard?
Probably one of the most important things about raising chickens in your backyard is having a secure place for them to live.
While our first babies were growing, “Handy” was busy making their coop. It is a sturdy structure with room for all of them to be locked into at night. Chickens need about 3-5 sq., ft., per bird in the coop.
He modified the original blueprints to be sturdier in general. He also made a base for it out of 2″ x 6″‘s and added 1/2″ x 1/2″ galvanized wire to the complete underside of that base. This part is important as we have minks who can burrow into the ground and get into the coop if it’s not protected.
Additionally, he added 2″ x 4″ staked to each corner and all of the base and stakes were buried in the ground. The base was then filled with sand. “Handy” also added leaded glass windows and a fancier copula to the top.
We also have a pretty large run area that is fenced 6 ft., high with chicken wire that surrounds the enclosed coop. They are allowed to roam about in this fenced area during the day, every day.
We let them out of the pen into the yard later in the day (when it’s nice). If we let them out too early they stray further from our house and we can’t keep an eye on them. However, as soon as it starts to get a little dark, they make their way home and put themselves to bed in their coop with no help from us.
Inside the coop we have a large feeder that hangs from a hook, we have a large galvanized water fount that hangs from a hook in the summer but sits on a heater base in the winter so it doesn’t freeze. We have electricity in our coop. It’s needed for the heater base and we also provide them with a ceramic heat coil that is on a thermostat for when it gets too cold.
We have wildlife where we live that would love to have our hens for dinner. So far we’ve only had an issue with raccoons but there are coyotes, hawks, and eagles also in our area. When they are out free-ranging, we keep a pretty close eye on them.
5. What do You feed Hens?
As I mentioned earlier, we feed the baby chicks a starter food and they get that until they are old enough and it’s warm enough to go outside. When they are about two weeks old you should also introduce chick grit to them. We don’t supply grit to our older birds because they have sand in the bottom of the coop and they pick and eat that and didn’t even seem to touch the grit.
Once they are older and out in the coop, they need food and fresh water to live. They are fed organic chicken feed. We also supplement them with scraps from the kitchen. We give them just about any kind of fruits and vegetables but not too much. Their main source of nutrition should be their chicken feed.
In the summer they get more produce because of the garden and the availability. They love corn, melons, cabbage, and berries. We also occasionally give them a suet bar and we also give them dried mealworms as a treat. Those are actually our tricks for getting them back in the coop before they are ready to be put away if we have to leave or we need them safe for some reason. When they hear the bag shake, they come running.
Are Fresh Eggs Better?
If you’ve never eaten an egg fresh from a chicken, you haven’t really eaten an egg. The yolks are not yellow, they are golden and they taste like butter! There is absolutely nothing like a fresh egg from your hens. Even organic and grass-fed eggs from the store aren’t as good or as fresh.
Your chickens won’t start laying eggs until they are about 6 months old so don’t get concerned if you’re not seeing eggs right away. Because of when we get them, they are just old enough to lay when chickens typically start to slow down production. This is when we get double yolk eggs as well as an egg inside of an egg (yes that has happened). After the first winter (at least for us) is when they really start laying regularly.
Our little ladies lay about an egg a day in the warmer months. Their production slows down when it gets darker earlier and as they get older.
We hadn’t had an egg from our girls since probably November but they are starting to lay again. In the summer if it’s really hot they can slow down production too but we typically have so many eggs from our current flock of 5 that we give them away to all of our neighbors.
You can leave un-washed eggs out on the counter until you need to use them. Once you wash them, the natural protective coating comes off of them, and then they need to be refrigerated.
Is it Worth it to Have Chickens?
They aren’t cheaper than buying the eggs from the store but they are definitely tastier than anything you can get from the grocery store. We also enjoy the heck out of having them and they fit right in with our gardens and little urban farm. They add something so special to our backyard.
Our first bunch of chickens was named after President’s Wives and our second bunch were named after President’s Mistresses 🙂 This last group of ladies is named after spices. They definitely have always become part of the family.
While my explanation of what it takes to raise chickens, seems difficult, it is harder on the front end but once you have the coop built or installed, they are pretty easy to maintain. Probably the hardest part is, just like any pet, you need someone to watch them when you go out of town. However, we always have someone who is happy to open and close the coop in exchange for all the fresh eggs.
Do you want to raise chickens in your backyard? We find it such a fulfilling hobby and I think if you are contemplating – go for it. If you have kids, what a great lesson at home for so many things. The possibilities are endless. It would actually be a whole other post.