Chickens Start to Finish – Week 1 – Chicken Basics
If you’ve never really been around chickens, it can be easy to wonder why anyone would even want to own them. I mean, let’s face it, their primary activities include eating, pooping and sleeping. They need to be fed and given water and their eggs must be taken daily. You may be thinking, “This sounds like too much work, am I going to get anything out of it?” The answer is YES! Chickens are awesome! They are quirky and silly, each with their own personality, soft to the touch and fun to have around.
Of course, how you raise your chickens will be determined by your individual needs and by what you hope to gain from becoming a chicken owner. Since most people just starting out with chickens just want to save money on eggs, we’ll mainly focus on owning egg-laying chickens, known as layers. You can expect to get 5-7 eggs per chicken per week, so if you and your family eat about a dozen eggs per week, all you really need is two or three chickens!
There are other benefits to having chickens as well. Chickens are omnivores, and love to eat insects. This is especially important for people with gardens that have an insect problem. Chickens will eat the bugs and help prevent overpopulation. They also eat grass, so if you have a large chicken run, they will even take care of lawn maintenance!
Do you have space for chickens?
The amount of space required for an average chicken really depends on the breed and size of the birds you select. I have heard everything from 3-4 square feet per bird all the way up to 80 square feet per bird, depending on how you plan to manage their poop. A good rule of thumb is to give them as much space as you can, especially if you do not plan to scoop! You can never have too much space! As we mentioned earlier, the primary functions of a chicken are eating, sleeping and pooping – especially that last one. Too much chicken poop on an area of ground will result in excess nitrogen, which may make it difficult to grow anything in that area.
One way to preserve the soil quality in the spot where you place your chickens is to have a movable coop that allows you to rotate the coop every so often (daily, weekly, or as often as you need). That would greatly improve the grasses without harming them. If you do plan to scoop, there are a surprising number of uses for the scooped poop. Gardeners can spread the chicken poop over established plants, providing essential nutrients to the soil. If you compost (watch for a series on composting very soon!) add the chicken poop to the compost. This will help turn it into amazingly rich soil. If you find you have more than you can use, there is always the option of giving it away to neighbors and friends who garden. Try talking with local farmers at a farmer’s market, they may be willing to trade produce for high quality chicken poop!
What breed should I get?
We’ll be talking about breeds in a few weeks, but here’s a sneak peak: A common layer breed is the Rhode Island Red. They lay light brown eggs, are known for their moderate size (about 5-7 pounds), and tend to be less fussy than some others can be. These birds would do well with 10 square feet each, or maybe just a little bit less depending on what you have to work with. For a decent flock of five Rhode Island Reds, it would be best to give them at least 60 square feet of fixed space. Scorching the ground with nitrogen could still be a problem, but this amount of space is still manageable. With that same flock of 5 chickens, you could have upwards of 1300 eggs a year! What an impressive return on your investment!
Next week we’ll be talking about the different kinds of chicken coops and chicken runs you can buy or make, and give you advice on how to choose the right one for your flock.
See you next Wednesday, and thanks for reading!