Easter is right around the corner and most pet and feed stores – as well as many hardware and farm-supply stores – will be selling the cutest little baby chicks you’ve ever seen in your life. So cute in fact, that you just might be tempted to buy one or six and start a flock of your own.
And while caring for chickens is a pretty straightforward task, it’s still a commitment that deserves some serious thought and consideration. As it turns out, Mark (Eggzy co-founder and my hubby), is teaching a two-day class on what it takes to start a flock of your own. We decided to share his outline here, and while we’ve had to edit out quite a bit, it’s still a good overview for beginners.
As always, we welcome your feedback and input and if you think we missed anything major that a newbie should know please do drop us a line or post a comment below.
First things first, do you even know if you can keep a flock of your own – does your town and/or city allow chickens? Hopefully the answer is yes, but check with your local authority, there may be ordinances you need to follow. Sadly, there is no single national service that lists all pro-chicken municipalities but urbanchickens.org does keep a current list of ordinance laws.
Next you have to ask yourself why you want to keep chickens. Answering that question will help to guide several other decisions down the road, like what kind of chickens you want and how many you should get. We think one of the best reasons for keeping chickens are those healthy and delicious eggs that they produce, but there’s also services they provide such as bug control and the creation of excellent fertilizer, to name a few.
Choosing which breeds to start with depends on your purpose for wanting to keep chickens, as well as your location and/or climate zone. Since most folks we know keep chickens for their eggs (and not their meat or for heritage conservation), we’ll assume that eggs are also your primary reason for wanting a flock. And unless you’re ordering your chicks from a hatchery, chicks for sale at local retailers would probably already be vetted for regional appropriateness – note some birds are considered hardier for cold weather than others. You can also refer to our breeds guide and resources page for additional breed information.
When deciding how many chickens to have in your flock, keep in mind that even the most prolific breeds produce no more than one egg every 25 hours. So if your family eats 1 doz. eggs a week, you need enough birds to lay 1 doz. a week. The general rule of thumb in terms of productivity is:
- 2 commercial layers (~6 eggs/wk/bird) or
- 3 heritage breed layers (~4 eggs/wk/bird)
Lastly, if you are starting with baby chicks, you’ll need to keep them indoors, in a safe and warm environment for between 4 to 6 weeks of age. You’ll need; feeders & waterers, and, if starting baby chicks, a brooder, a heat lamp & thermometer, and safe bedding material. All this can probably be purchased at the same place you buy your baby chicks, if not, again check out our resources page for a list of hatcheries and suppliers. We recommend that you plan for the chicks before you bring them home … think of it as a nursery for the chickies.
Once you have them, you’ll need to feed them starter feed up until about 4 weeks old, then grower/developer feed once they are pullets, which is 5 to 18 weeks old. And make sure to check on them daily and give them lots of fresh water. This stage is the hardest part of having a flock of your own; we’ve planned weekends and spring breaks around new chicks, but then again they are just so cute, who would want to leave their side anyway?
And if all of this just sounds way too overwhelming to you, can always rent some chicks to give the family a fun Easter peep experience before making a full-blown commitment of your own.