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To be a chicken keeper or not to be, that is the question

As the winter slowly fades into Spring, I have heard quite a few inquiries and questions on keeping chickens.  For the next few blogs, I am going to share some of what I have learned in the last year of keeping these delightful, feathered friends.  I happily welcome any questions or feedback.  The following recommendations are for keeping chickens as an egg source and not as dinner.

Where to Start 

The first place to start is to see if it is legal for you to have chickens on your property.  You will need to find out what zoning laws exist for where you live.  To find this information, you need to look on your city/town’s website, contact city hall, or contact the local zoning office if there is one.  Due to the recent heightened interest in backyard chicken keeping, many cities have become accepting of backyard flocks (yay!).  Most neighborhoods also have their own rules about backyard chickens-check into your homeowner’s association.  Hens are obviously much more accepted in a city setting than roosters since they are quieter.

Gathering the Supplies 

If you have found out you are legally allowed to keep chickens, that’s exciting news!  If you aren’t allowed, it’s time to start a petition to get those laws changed!

A medical word of advice: chickens do put off a dander so if you or someone in your family has a lot of animal allergies, asthma or COPD, make sure this will not aggravate their conditions before you go through the time and expense of getting everything established.

Next is to obtain the necessary supplies you will need over the next few months.  Anticipate spending anywhere from $50-$100 on supplies.  This is the higher average, it is definitely possible to do it for less with more frugal choices.  Chicks need to be kept in a brooder box for several months (if you get day old chicks).  A brooder box is a secure box that houses food, water, a heat lamp and the chicks themselves.  My general rule of thumb is they stay in the brooder box until their chick fluff is gone and they have feathers to keep them warm.  Typically once this happens, it has warmed up outside as well (in our area).  Some people move the chicks out to the coop sooner than later and place a heat lamp in the coop.

The brooder box needs to be a deep box with enough space for the chicks to walk around comfortably.  There are all kinds of ideas for brooder boxes, from plastic swimming pools to wood crates.  We used a large plastic storage bin and cut the inside of the top out and replaced it with chicken wire.  Make sure you have a top on the brooder box because they can find their way out!  In the brooder box you need to have a watering container that is kept full of fresh water at all times.  Make sure you get one that is especially designed for chicks, they are not very smart and can drown in an improper container.  You also want to have a feeder and a heat lamp.  Both of which can be purchased at the local feed store.  Wal-Mart also sells heat lamps near the car/camping section and the bulb will be with the regular house light bulbs.  Chicks are little and unable to maintain a steady body temperature.  We kept the heat lamp on most of the time and made sure it was angled at one end of the box so if they got hot, they can move to the other side.  Just be careful of fire hazards, make sure its not too close to anything flammable, they get very hot.  Here is what we used (with the top off):

  CHICKbox 

There is conflicted feedback on what type of shavings to use with chicks.  The majority of what I read says that cedar chips are toxic.  Just keep in mind that chicks are babies and will likely eat whatever type of bedding you use, so make sure it’s something natural and non-toxic.

Check out your local feed store for chick feed options.  You can also purchase feed online, although I never have.  Tractor Supply and Southern States are our local franchise options.  However, we like to support the local feed store down the road.  Make sure you are buying the right feed for the age of your chickens.  There is different feed for each major phase of life.  We chose to keep our chickens natural and hormone free so we made sure our food was sans antibiotics.

You now have all the materials you will need for your little chicks.

The next step is to find and purchase your future egg layers!  Check back for the next blog to continue our chicken learning adventure.

Until next time…

Don't miss the whole chicken talk series, check out the full blog for more info HERE.