I once read somewhere that “chickens are the gateway drug to homesteading.” While we aren’t setting out to start a full-fledged homestead, we are aware of the fact that now that we have chickens things might start to snowball. When we first moved in we had just a couple things on our list that actually pertained to homesteading: chickens, bees, a vegetable garden, and an orchard. We planted a garden and brought our chickens home, and those things alone make the place seem so quaint that I thought we needed to also add goats or sheep to our list of wants. If you think you want chickens, and are prepared to manage that addiction, the hard part is over (seriously). It does take some prep before you can bring your chickens home, and of course some maintenance afterwards, but once you have your basic chicken necessities, caring for chickens is a cinch!
First: The Chickens
Doubtless, if you are thinking about raising your own chickens you already have an idea of why you want them. We wanted chickens for their eggs, and to a lesser extent I wanted them for their charming appeal. Chickens can also be raised for meat, or just for fun. Once you have pegged why you want chickens do a bit of research to decide what breed of chicken would best suit your needs. I chose Rhode Island Reds (great egg layers and hardy) and Buff Orpingtons (also good egg layers and very docile). When you know what kind you are getting, do the math to figure how many you need. If you are raising chickens for their eggs, and you have a family of ten, two chickens are not going to suit your needs. Locate where you can buy your chickens, your local feed store will probably be your best bet (be aware that these are generally young chicks that will also require some additional supplies and attention), or you can search local classifieds or ask neighbors and friends for fully raised chickens.
Second: The Coop
First of all their coop, where they rest at night, should provide at lest 3 square feet per chicken. I have six chickens so my coop needed to measure 18 square feet. Too big of a coop is not a good thing, so try to keep it cozy while still allotting each chicken their mandatory space. Coops can be purchased from stores like IFA or Bomgaars, you can buy them used (like I did), or make your own (there are some awesome plans on Pinterest). There are also some online option like this one from Amazon, which would be great for just two or three chickens.
The coop should also have nesting boxes attached. I love to look at Pinterest and see all of the different styles of nesting boxes, some are even adorned with curtains! Nesting boxes can be open, but it is preferred that each hen has her own. The math for nesting boxes is a bit easier: 1 square foot per chicken.
Another important part of the coop is the perch. This is where the chickens will sleep at night, and it should be up off the ground. Most likely your chickens will huddle together at night, but you should still plan on giving each chicken 10 inches of roosting space. For my six chickens that is 60 inches, or a five foot perch.
Third: The Run
If you are in an area where your chickens can roam free during the day, you can skip this step, and also have peace of mind knowing that you’ll have some of the happiest chickens around. If free range is not an option, a chicken run can easily be attached to the coop. At a bare minimum chickens should each have at least 15 square feet of outdoor roaming area. That means my 6 chickens must have at least 90 square feet. Of course, the more roaming area they have the better, some experts recommend up to 25 square feet.
If you don’t have that kind of space in your yard another viable option is a chicken tractor, which is basically a portable run. This is on my wish list, and I’ve been eying this one from Amazon. The tractors are attractive to me because the chickens would be on a different patch of grass everyday, and it would protect them from my dog, who try as I might, loves to chase the chickens.
Fourth: Food and Other Supplies
When I first brought my chickens home I had only the bare necessities, and have bought extras as they have been needed. To start with I had this chicken feeder, this waterer, straw for their nesting box, and Purina Premium Poultry Feed. Hanging feeders and waterers are great because they stay cleaner than those on the ground. As time goes on I’m sure I’ll invest in some medications, cleaning supplies, and enrichment activities. Until then I think I’m set, and I have some seriously happy chickens!
To sum things up, if you want to raise chickens you will need:
- coop (3 square feet per chicken)
- nesting box (1 square foot per chicken)
- perch (10 inches per chicken)
- run (15-25 square feet per chicken, tractor, or open yard
- chicken feed
It seems like a lot, but once you’ve got these basic tools caring for your chickens will be a breeze. Then you can start dreaming about what the next addition to your farm will be!
Photo by Alison Burrell from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-hen-near-white-egg-on-nest-195226/