We raised our first batch of chicks in the spring of 2010. They lived in our basement while my husband built them a chicken coop, and then we moved them outside when the weather turned warm and their feathers grew thick. It was a fun experience, raising those chicks, and in fact we’ve done it several times since. Even as I type this, there are four chicks hanging out under a heat lamp in my bathroom. They’re in a big plastic bin, of course. Not, like, my bathtub.
Before we got our first batch of chicks, we did a ton of research. I spent weeks learning about chicks and what they needed for survival. There were still surprises, of course, like the fact that the chicks were able to hop right over the sides of their little plastic swimming pool within a few weeks.
I’ve come up with a list of questions you’ll need to ask yourself before you even think about buying chicks. They aren’t just cute and fuzzy little Easter decorations, after all!
Raising Chickens – Questions to Ask Before Buying
What type of chickens should we buy?
There are dozens and dozens of varieties of chickens. I’m not an expert on the breeds – we’ve had mostly New Hampshire and Rhode Island Reds, with a Black Austrolorp or Buff Orphington here and there – but I do know that you need to do a lot of research before you settle on a type of chicken. Try to select a breed that fits your needs. Some chickens are docile, some are more aggressive. Certain breeds produce copious amounts of eggs while others are less generous.
Popular on many small farms, heritage breeds are from old-fashioned stock, and have to meet certain standards to be included in that definition. If you want to learn more, check out The Livestock Conservancy.
What exactly is a straight run?
When you buy your chicks, they will be labeled as either “straight run” or “pullets.” Straight run simply means that the chicks have not been sexed. You can expect 50% or so to be roosters.
Here’s a secret to raising chickens: you do not want half of them to be roosters. At most, you want one rooster, and you don’t even have to have that. A rooster will fertilize the eggs (and give you the potential for hatching chicks) and offer some protection from predators to the hens, but they can also be aggressive to your other chickens (or you!).
Buying pullets guarantees that most of your chickens will be hens. It’s hard to be sure at a young age what sex chickens are, so even when buying pullets, you could end up with a rooster or two, but it’s a much safer bet.
How many chickens do we want?
When we raised our first batch of chickens, we raised entirely too many. I’m not going to fess up to the exact number because it was so ridiculous, but I’ll tell you that we ended up selling several of them.
Before buying, think first about the number of chickens you can comfortably house and feed. Chickens need roosting space and scratching space. A good rule of thumb is that each chicken needs four square feet of space in the coop, and even more space in the chicken run.
You probably aren’t buying your chickens just for pets, of course. You probably want them for eggs. Most laying hens produce about one egg a day. If you’re feeding a small family, you won’t need more than three or four hens. Once your friends and family find out that you have fresh eggs available, though, you’ll probably be able to give any extras away without a problem.
If you’re debating how many to get, I suggest getting fewer chickens than you think you need. You can always acquire more chickens later, and it’s better to feel like you need to expand your flock than it is to be overwhelmed by the bazillion chickens living in your backyard. (I’m only telling you from experience.)
Are we even allowed to have chickens where we live?
Urban farming is becoming more and more popular, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions on farm animals in some places. Certain neighborhoods, cities, and towns still don’t allow residents to raise chickens, so you need to make sure that you’ll be able to have your chickens legally before you buy them. This is especially true if you plan to keep a rooster. They really do crow at the crack of dawn, and close neighbors probably won’t be too happy about that.
Are we ready for the responsibility of raising chickens?
In a lot of ways, raising chickens is great fun. They are interesting to watch, and gathering eggs still gives me a thrill, but taking care of them is hard work.
The coop has to be cleaned out frequently (chickens poop a lot!), and they have to have a large or mobile pen, otherwise they will tear out every blade of grass and end up living in mud. Eggs have to be washed nearly every day. And that’s all just in the summertime. In the winter, it’s much less fun to go out and collect eggs. Hens don’t lay as frequently, water freezes, and sometimes you have to hook up heat lamps to keep the coop warm. Plus, arranging care for your chickens if you have to leave town can be troublesome. It’s not quite as easy as dropping them off at a kennel.
I’m not complaining about how much work chickens are; I just want to make sure you know that chickens are hard work. The work never stops or goes away. I love our hens, but I know that I’d never try to raise them if I didn’t have my husband around to do half (and by “half” I mean “way more than half”) of the chores associated with them. Just be prepared for all that before you buy your flock.
If you’ve read through all of this (and done more of your own research), and you think you still want to raise chickens, stay tuned. Next week I’m going to go over the basics of chick-raising, which really is fun and rewarding.
Have you raised chicks before? If so, what are some other things that should be considered before buying? Share with us in the comments!