With the price of eggs skyrocketing, everyone is talking about chickens. We started our Chicken raising journey last Spring, so I thought I’d share a bit about what I know.
First, some background: Matt (the hubs) and I bought a ranch this summer with big plans to retire out there in 4.5 years, off grid, and raise cattle, chicken, and turkey. We started a back-yard garden 2 years ago, so this year we added back-yard chickens. I love my birds, and spend time with them daily. I’m not a crazy chicken lady (despite what some may say): they don’t come in my house, and I have “coop shoes” so that I don’t track in chicken poop. But, I love those silly birds. If you spend much time with a chicken, you’ll quickly realize how lovable they are. This is what I’ve learned about raising egg chickens thus far.
Getting the space ready
There are tons of ready-made coops and runs you can buy online, and if you aren’t handy, they are a decent option. Just know that realistically, they hold half the birds that they say they do, if you want a healthy flock. Also, those options arent built to last and have to be replaces regularly. We opted to build ourselves. For our 6 hens we have a 3×5 coop (with an additional 1×6 ramp, and 1×4 nesting box, for a grand total of 4×6. The run is 8×12, and it’s pretty tight. This spring we’re expanding another 7 feet to give them 8×19.
The coop is important, but unless my chickens are laying or sleeping, they spend zero time in there. A lot of research I did before I got my birds confirmed this, so I went for a smaller coop, to optimize space. I also built my coop on stilts, so that there is 4x6ft of space underneath that allows my birds dry space outside when it’s raining. In heavy rain, this is where I find them. But unless its pouring, my chicks wander around their run freely. Building my coop on stilts also means that I don’t have to go inside of the coop to clean it. One whole side of my coop opens up and I simply reach in and clean it out. For cleaning, I’ve opted for a rubber mat. This is very much not the norm. Most people use straw. I do use straw in my nesting box, but I have a 3×5 rubber Gorilla Grip mat on the ground. This mat is nice, because it’s not slippery, but can easily be hosed off, which I do every 5 days or so. I simply hang it to dry, and then put it back in before the chickens go to bed.
We also opted to cover our run with horse panel. It’s bigger than chicken wire, and much sturdier. Many people I know have lost several chickens to hawks and raccoons, but we’ve never lost one, and I don’t have to worry about locking up the coop at night either. My chickens only free range the yard when I’m out there with them, because my dogs would love to have chicken for dinner.
Getting your birds
I opted to get my chickens from a hatchery, and I’m so glad I did. We did end up with one roo, which I re-homed, but that is far more rare. Places like tractor supply offer cheaper chicks, but you are less likely to get the breed or sex you want, plus birds are more fragile, as they are only 1-2days old. Purchasing from a hatchery meant that I could buy week-old chicks when they were “out of the danger zone” and I could have a higher guarantee on the breed and sex of my chickens.
Also, if you’re getting baby chicks, remember that they have to stay in a brooder until they are fully feathered. My brooder was an extra large dog kennel in my bathroom, lined with pine chips. For heat, we opted for a heating pad, and it was perfect. I hung a feather duster over the pad, and the chicks all gathered under it like it was their mother hen.
Raising hens and collecting eggs
Raising hens is pretty easy. I opted for a 5 gallon nipple waterer, that I refill every few days, and the rent-a-coop feeder, that holds 25lbs of food. Both keep rodents from being attracted the the run for food and water. These plus my coop set up, means that my chickens don’t need daily work or maintenance. However, I do go to my coop daily. I usually go in the evening and gather eggs, and spend a little time with the ladies, so they stay people friendly. All of my hens are handled regularly. Also, it’s a misnomer that hens lay their eggs in the morning. Actually, chickens ovulate about ever 26 hours, but don’t lay at night. Meaning I don’t get an egg every single day from every bird, and they lay their little high-dollar nuggets at all times throughout the day.
Not needing regular daily maintenance, does not mean that we haven’t had our moments of daily care needed. My girls aren’t quite a year old, and this year we’ve had 2 baby chicks with Pasty Butts, that required some TLC. One of my hens also suffered from Vent Gleet at the beginning of her laying cycle. This required a warm bath, blow dry, and medication application for about 4 days until she was healed. Ridiculous spa treatment for a chicken, but she loved it and would literally fall asleep during her 20min daily soak. Then, at Christmas we got Foul-Pox. Foul pox, because apparently when chickens get pox, we don’t call it chicken pox. Which makes no actual sense. Thankfully we got the dry version, which is far less dangerous. Even so, it resulted in me medicating my poor girls’ sores daily for about a week.
We spent about $500 on the coop and run, but we used a lot of materials we already had. You can see in my picture that it is even currently winterized by being wrapped in moving blankets that we already had on hand, and our walls are made from old fencing. A 50lb bag of food costs around $25 and lasts me about 6 weeks, and I get around 160-165 eggs during that time. I supplement feed with egg shells (high in calcium) and fruit/vegetable scraps. I’m trying to cut that cost down even further. This Spring I plan on cutting out costs more by adding some sunflowers and pumpkins to my garden. I’m also going to start growing my own meal worms, a chicken’s favorite snack. If you know me at all, you know that 1 year ago I would have never been talking about raising beetle larve (which is what meal worms are), yet here I am. This will help me prepare for raising Turkeys, who eat far more to fatten up. This should result in the chickens turning to traditional feed rarely, or possibly allow me to only need it at all during winter.
There are of course many additional things you can spend money on for your chickens. I try to DIY as much as possible. For example, putting my own grown herbs in the nesting box, to keep it smelling fresh and relaxing. Also, as a bit of a hippie myself, I’ve shied away from most traditional meds for my birds and treated their ailments with coconut oil and other essential oils, keeping costs low by using items I have on hand. There are also tons of treat block recipes to be found online.
Raising chickens is so fun and rewarding. My feathered friends love to be pet and cuddled, and I have quickly become “The (not so crazy) chicken lady”. But just like anything, you can’t reap the reward without the work. If you decide that you have the time and energy, you will not regret it.