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12 Things to Consider Before You Start Raising Chickens


Raising chickens is satisfying, rewarding, entertaining, and a fun family activity, but you do need to do your research first. Before you dive into the world of backyard chicken keeping, there are a few things you know know.  

Here are 12 things to consider.


12 Things to Consider Before You Start Raising Chickens

1. Check your Town Laws.

Every municipality has their own rules about backyard chickens. Regulations can range from how many chickens are allowed, to if roosters are allowed or only hens. Sometimes permits are needed for the chickens or their coop if it's over a certain square footage.

Many times there are rules regarding how far from the property line a coop can be situated, and often chickens must be confined to a pen or run according to the town rules. Before you bring home your chicks, you’ll want to know the laws where you live. And it’s best to get them in writing.

If your town doesn't allow chickens, or if you don't like the rules. Work to change them. Don't knowingly break the law. Too many times families invest time and effort into getting started only to be told they have to get rid of their flock - which can only lead to heartache or unnecessary financial expenditure.


2. You Don’t Need a Rooster.

Don't despair if your town won't allow roosters. Did you know that you don’t need a rooster in order for your hens to lay eggs? They’ll lay eggs for you whether or not there’s a rooster around. The eggs just won’t be fertile and will never hatch into chicks.


3. You Will Need a Coop.

Your chickens will need a safe place to sleep in and lay their eggs. You can buy or build a coop, or repurpose a garden shed or playhouse.

Rule of thumb: Allow for 3-5 square feet of floor space in the coop for each chicken. You will also need 8” of roosting bar per chicken and one nesting box for every 3-4 hens in which to lay their eggs.

You'll also need some nice soft bedding on the floor of the coop. Straw is a good choice.


4. Hens Don’t Lay Year Round.

Although good layers will lay an egg every day during the spring and summer, no chicken lays year round. Once the days get shorter in the fall, chickens will start “molting", which means dropping their feathers and growing in new ones for winter.

Most hens stop laying during the fall molt. Once they're done molting, the shorter days also mean they aren’t getting the 14-16 hours of daylight needed to stimulate the ovaries to release egg yolks, so you might not see eggs again until spring.

(You can add light to your coop to keep your chickens laying through the winter, but I don't recommend that. It that doesn’t give their bodies that natural break they need).

5. Chickens Can Live to be 10-12 Years Old.

Speaking of eggs, a chicken can live to be 10-12 years old, but will only lay eggs regularly for about her first 2-3 years.

After that, her production will drop by about 20% per year until she stops altogether. You will need some kind of plan for your elderly hens, even if that means setting them up in a retirement home in your backyard to be loved and fed for the rest of their natural lives.

6. Research Breeds.

There are over 100 breeds of chickens. And that  can be overwhelming to a new chicken keeper. But rest assured, there are no "right" or "wrong" breeds, it's all about what's right for you and your family. 

Although most breeds do just fine in warm or cold climates, if you live in a place where it gets extremely hot or extremely cold, you might want to choose breeds best suited for your climates.

There are also some breeds that are more docile, so a better choice for families with kids. There are breeds that lay better if egg production is your main concern. There are lots of breeds that lay different color eggs from tan to pink to green to blue.


7. Eggs Don’t Need to be Washed.

And speaking of eggs.... Fresh eggs from your own flock don’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – washed until just before you use them. Every egg is laid with an invisible protective coating called the “bloom” that prevents air and bacteria from entering the egg through the pores in the shell. 

Washing removes that coating. And when you do wash your eggs, a gentle rinse under warm running water should be sufficient.

You do need to wash your hands though, both after handling your chickens and their eggs because salmonella can be transmitted from both.  


8. Eggs Don’t Need to be Refrigerated.

As long as you haven’t washed your eggs, they don’t need to be refrigerated. The bloom helps to keep the egg fresh and it will still be safe to eat even after several weeks out at room temperature.

An egg will keep longer in the refrigerator though, so if you aren’t planning on eating your eggs fairly soon, chilling is always better.


9. Learn what Chickens Should (and Shouldn't) Eat

In order to lay all those fresh eggs, chickens need to eat a balanced diet. Baby chicks need to eat a special feed that's smaller in size and higher in protein than adult chickens eat. 

Be sure you know when to switch your chickens to each different stage of feed. Chickens also need supplements like grit and calcium to be healthy and lay eggs. 

Although chickens are omnivores and will eat a wide variety of foods as treats in addition to their feed, there are also some foods that can be potentially dangerous for chickens to eat. Learn what they are.


10. Everything Wants to Eat a Chicken.

Unfortunately predators are a grave concern for backyard chickens. Chickens can’t fly, so they are extremely vulnerable to all kinds of predators including coyotes, fox, hawks, raccoon and even the family dog. In fact, dogs are the #1 killer of backyard chickens.

To keep them safe, chickens need a secure enclosed pen for daytime or a dedicated guardian animal if you plan on letting them roam freely.

11. Chickens can be Destructive.

A secure pen will also keep your lawn and landscaping safe. Chickens can be extremely destructive to grass as they scratch looking for weeds, worms and bugs. They delight in nibbling on flowers and munching on garden vegetables.

While they can be extremely helpful in the garden during the off season, aerating  and fertilizing the soil, be aware that your pristine lawn won't stay photo-worthy for long if you allow your chickens free-range.

12. Chickens Make Wonderful Pets.

Once you start raising chickens, you will probably be surprised at how intelligent, affectionate and friendly chickens actually are.  

While they do require a bit of a time commitment, adhesion to a schedule and daily care, they also provide hours of entertainment and stress relief as you watch them cavort in the backyard chasing butterflies, wriggling in the dirt and softly cooing to each other.

Congratulations!

You've added some fun, new pets to your family that also provide you fresh, delicious eggs for breakfast... for at least a few years!

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