A lot of my friends have been interested in raising their own chickens in their suburban areas so I thought I would write a post on the realities of this age-old venture. Many of you know that my dad is a farmer and has many hobbies including raising chickens. I thought it would be great to get some insight as to how doable and how much work it is to raise chickens in a restricted space setting so I asked my dad for some advice.
1. What is the best thing about having chickens? It is fun to gather the eggs each morning and there is something about fresh eggs that tastes a lot better than store-bought.
2. How many eggs does a typical chicken lay per week? If the chicken is happy and well fed, it will usually lay one egg a day. Currently, we have 15 chickens so we gather about 7 dozen eggs per week. (Note the fake eggs that help the chickens learn where to lay their eggs in the photo below)
3. What is the hardest thing about raising chickens? Surprisingly, it is keeping predators away. There are many predators of chickens but some of the most tenacious ones have been domesticated dogs. Other predators that raise a risk to chickens include possums and raccoons who will even tunnel under the chicken enclosure.
4. What do you wish you knew before starting to raise chickens? It is definitely an everyday chore, chickens need a lot of attention; you can’t just up and leave for the weekend, you have to keep your eye on them, they need plenty of food and water.
5. What has surprised you about raising chickens? They need gravel in their gizzards to help them grind their food. Chickens have no teeth so you need to throw a bit of gravel in their pinned area so that they can collect it. Also, an interesting fact is that you can tell the color of the eggs by the color of their ears. Brown eared hens lay brown eggs, white ears produce white eggs.
6. What advice can you give about raising chickens? Roosters are probably not suitable for the city or a suburban area because they make a lot of noise, but if there is no rooster, one hen will take on the rooster role becoming dominant and protective over all the others. While in this role, the hen doesn’t lay eggs.
7. What would you need to start raising chickens if you had very limited space in your yard? How much space is the minimum you would need? A movable coop is best for limited space; there are many plans for them and you can purchase them online, some weighing as little as a wheelbarrow. You need at least 1.5 sq ft per chicken, if you had a 7-10 sq ft space you could have about 5 chickens in a movable coop. I would start out with a minimum of 3 chickens as they are quite sociable and are happier in a group. The concept of a movable coop is that it is light, portable, and can be transferred easily around your yard. The issue is that any grass chickens are in will turn to dirt within a few days because chickens like to search for bugs, therefore, it is best to rotate the chickens around your yard if you do not have a dedicated coop area. Chickens also prefer to be rotated around and are happier with the change in environment as opposed to the traditional fixed coop.
8. Are chickens safe around children? Chickens are generally safe around children but they become aggressive and could peck if left unfed.
9. How much do chickens eat? Ten chickens will go through a 50lb bag of feed along with grass and bugs in one month. You can supplement some feed with vegetable trimmings and scraps even introducing omega 3’s into the eggs by adding fish to their diet. They also need a calcium supplement which can be found in the form of oyster shells to help make their egg shells thicker. Chickens cannot eat potatoes or rice.
10. Anything else you would like to add about chickens?
- You can keep eggs for up to 3 months at 44 degrees. To help eggs last longer, don’t wash them completely because they have a natural protective coating.
- You can use an LED flashlight as a candler, what you are looking for is a blood spot within the egg. If you crack an egg and find one it needs to be discarded and is not edible.
- They sleep up high on a roost, you can use a branch or dowel within your coop and they love it!
- Twice a year, chickens molt, or lose all of their feathers and during this time they do not lay eggs.
- They are very comical animals.
Would you consider having your own hens? Anything else anyone is interested in about raising chickens? Feel free to send in questions!