Have you noticed that everyone seems to be buying chickens lately? Are you thinking that chickens might be a great addition to your homestead? Do you dream of eating farm-fresh eggs produced by your very own chickens?
You are in the right place. 5 Considerations before keeping Chickens is part of a series to help you make purchasing decisions about different farm animals. You can read the farm animal overview and a complete list of animals evaluated at A Beginner’s Guide to Animals on the Farm.
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the questions to answer before purchasing Chickens:
- What is the purpose of keeping chickens?
- Next, what is the cost of keeping chickens?
- What are the advantages of keeping chickens?
- What are the disadvantages of keeping chickens?
- Finally, what are the special considerations of keeping chicken?
The Rise of the Chicken
A chicken craze had swept the nation. It seems like everyone is buying chickens. You can search Pinterest and see adorable chicken sweaters, pants, and even shoes. People build extraordinary chicken coops to pamper their chickens. Others even wear t-shirts displaying their love of chickens. Here are just a few cute examples of t-shirts available for purchase on Amazon.
Chickens are all the rage right now. Having a large flock of chickens myself and having raised hundreds of chickens, I totally understand the growing popularity of chickens. I love my chickens and I can’t imagine our farm without them.
But are chickens right for you and your homestead?
That is the question I will help you answer today. By answering the questions below, you can make an informed animal purchase. It may help you to write out your answers out and discuss it with your family. I have developed a free download to help you.
Be sure to sign up for my newsletter. Then download the free chicken Worksheet. The worksheet will help you decide if chickens are right for your homestead.
What is your purpose of keeping chickens?
There are four main purposes of keeping animals:
- meat or other food product such as milk or eggs
Let’s explore each of these purposes for chickens.
Chickens for Profit
Chickens can be profitable, but if you are just starting out, I suggest you start with just a homestead flock to see if you like chickens before expanding to a profitable flock.
There are three main ways to earn money from chickens: selling eggs, selling meat, and selling chicks.
Chickens for Food
Fresh, Delicious Eggs
One of the reasons keeping chickens is so popular these days is because of the farm-fresh eggs they lay. Once you taste an egg laid by your very own chicken, it is hard to go back to any storebought egg. The yokes are a dark, golden yellow. The whites are thicker, and they just taste better. If you love eggs, you will really love the eggs your very own chickens lay.
Homegrown chickens are a healthy, delicious way to develop self-sufficiency on your homestead. I have been raising meat chickens for over 10 years. I have butchered them myself or had a local Amish farmer butcher them for me.
This year I am planning on selling them at our local farmers market which means that we will have them butchered by a USDA certified facility. Many people do not raise meat chickens because they do not think that they can kill them. It is difficult the first few times, but you can always have them butchered by a local butcher or pay someone else to butcher them for you. You can read 14 Reasons to Raise Meat Chickens if you need more encouragement to give raising meat chickens a try.
Obviously, chickens are not kept for protection. Chickens are prey animals. However, a good rooster will protect his flock by alerting hens of danger such as a hawk, raccoon, or other predators. Unfortunately if the predator attacks, I have found that the hens and not the roosters are the easiest prey.
Chickens as Pets
Are chickens really pets? I am sure you have seen the youtube videos of the very tame chickens interacting with their owners or wearing little chicken clothes. Here is a video of a chicken “giving a hug” to a boy.
This video is cute to watch, but it is not typical chicken behavior. This chicken was probably handled continually and had a one in a million temperament. If you watch the video closely, the black rooster shows some pre-attack behaviors, but the video stops before we see what happens next. Typically, chickens do not like to be held, but many will tolerate it.
Chickens do make excellent pets. But not the kind of pet you snuggle with. They are the kind of pets you watch. I have been able to train my chickens to come when called by using food scraps to imprint their behavior.
the cost of keeping chickens?
Chickens do not have to be expensive to keep. However, with the growth in chicken popularity, you can get carried away with all the shiny, new chicken accessories and extravagant coops available these days.
Chickens basically need 5 things to survive and thrive.
Most likely you will feed your flock, commercial chicken feed. Therefore you will need a feeder. If you live on a farm like us, we give them ground corn, oats, and sometimes soybeans that we grow, along with their favorite treat – kitchen scraps.
I feed my chickens just about anything including eggshells. They love eggshells because it helps to make the shell on their eggs strong. This prevents you from having to buy oyster shells for your chickens.
Eggshells provide much-needed calcium needed for layers. If for some reason you do not have eggshells, you should buy them oyster shells at the local feed store. It is best to keep eggshells or oyster shells in a separate container. Those hens that need it will take it, the others will not.
I used to grind up the eggshells, now I just give them broken shells and they will peck as much as they would like. Some people will cook the eggshells to get rid of any harmful bacteria. I do not. I give them raw eggshells and have never had a problem.
You should also provide with grit. Grit itself is made from very small pieces of granite or flint that chickens can gulp it down easily. Grit can be easily purchased at the feed store or online and is pretty cheap since it will last a long time. Chickens should always have access to grit. It is what helps them to digest their food. However, if your chickens free-range and there is a gravel driveway nearby, they will peck the gravel. I usually only provide grit in the winter when all the gravel is under the snow.
The beautiful thing about chickens is that they are pretty self-sufficient. If you free-range them, they love to hunt for bugs and seeds. They will scratch through piles of dirt to find microorganisms.
Chickens need fresh water daily. A chicken waterer will keep the water cleaner, but you could use any dish that will give enough water to them.
We use wheat straw, corn fodder, or soybean fodder as bedding. I like to use pine shavings in the nesting box. Pine shavings can also be used as bedding in the coop, however, I prefer straw or fodder. Contact a local farmer if you do not produce your own crops.
You can purchase nesting boxes like this one. However, you can also use items that you already have. My current nesting boxes are made out of plastic cat litter containers like these. They are sitting on the floor of the coop, but I do plan on hanging them on the wall. Pinterest has a variety of DIY nesting box ideas from items you have around your home.
a.k.a a chicken coop. Chicken coops can be as simple as using a building already on your homestead to building one, to buying one. the possibilities are endless. I suggest you set a budget before you begin searching for a coop. One trip to Pinterest in search of coop designs can be overwhelming and expensive.
The characteristics of a good coop are: weatherproof, but not insulated, predator-proof, have nesting boxes as a roost for chickens to sleep on at night.
the advantages of keeping chickens?
Chickens are very easy to care for
Even if you work full-time or are very busy, chickens do not require much time to care for. You can simply let them out in the morning, feed and water them. Then shut them in at dusk, check their food and water and collect the eggs. Then on a weekly basis, clean their coop. Honestly, since my chickens free-range and don’t spend much time in the coop, I only clean it quarterly.
Chickens Produce beautiful, delicious eggs
As I mentioned earlier, one of the best reasons to keep chickens is for the beautiful, golden yolk eggs they produce. Your chickens will lay many eggs in the spring, summer, and even fall. Depending on your location, they will not lay as many in the winter due to the lack of light.
If your chickens produce more eggs than you can eat you can always share with friends and neighbors, sell them or even preserve them. I read once that eggs are the perfect food for health and nutrition and I believe it!
Raising Chickens for Meat is a step toward self-sufficiency
If you are interested in raising chickens for meat, I have outlined 14 reasons to raise spring chickens. From diet diversification to entertainment to education, there are many reasons to raise spring chicks on the farm. Another main reason is if you aren’t sure chickens are right for you, meat chickens are a short-term, low-cost way to see if you like raising chickens.
Chickens are Friendly
Chickens are not only friendly but as I said earlier, self-sufficient. If you free range your chickens, they will hunt for food beyond the feed that you provide for them. Your chickens will get to know you and your voice. If you bring them special treats such as kitchen scraps and call them, they will come when you call them.
Chickens are a Good starter animal
Chickens are a great starter animal when you just begin your homesteading journey. They require little care and are not expensive to keep. Not only that, chickens are the gateway animal to other farm animals. you might just get the homestead fever and end up with a farm full of animals like me. Since I have owned chickens, I have also purchased ducks, guineas, turkeys, and geese.
the disadvantages of keeping chickens?
Chickens can be destructive
One main disadvantage of keeping chickens on the homestead is that they can be destructive. From scratching out your garden or flowerbeds to making dust baths on any small patch of dirt they can find. Of course, they also leave behind manure everywhere.
There are some things you can do to reduce these problems. But chickens are going to be chickens. If you pride yourself on a beautiful yard, chickens are probably not for you. Unless you keep them in a chicken run, rather than free-range them. If you do keep them in a run, they will scratch it down to dirt and there will probably not be a blade of vegetation left. You will also need to clean it out quite often.
roosters can be Loud and sometimes mean
Roosters are not necessary if you have layers unless you want to hatch out chicks. If you live in a suburban area, roosters are usually not allowed for good reason. They are very loud and they start crowing very early in the morning, sometimes even in the middle of the night. I have gotten used to the crowing and it doesn’t wake me up anymore, but it does take some getting used to.
If you purchase straight run chicks, you will no doubt end up with some roosters. Then you will have to figure out a way of getting rid of the roosters. You can read all about 3 ways to deal with extra roosters here.
Roosters can become mean as they get older. It really just depends on the bird, but if you have small children, you must take this into consideration. My daughter was attacked by a rooster when she was just 2 1/2 years old and has a scar on her face now. That rooster quickly became chicken pot pie.
Roosters definitely have their place in a chicken flock. I have learned to replace my rooster every year or two to prevent inbreeding and developing mean roosters. My farm has become a refuge for city roosters, however, usually, they end up in the freezer.
special considerations of keeping chicken
There are not many special considerations for chickens beyond the information above. If you are looking for layers, research chickens that lay a high amount of eggs. If you want meat chickens, be sure to choose a heavy breed. There are also dual-purpose chickens that lay eggs and can be butchered for meat. There are also breeds that make better pets such as bantams and silkies.
I admit that I am biased about chickens because I love owning chickens. But I did my best to give you my unbias opinion of owning chickens. Chickens are an easy and fun farm animal to keep on the homestead.
What about you? Are you ready to keep chickens on your homestead?
Maybe you already own chickens? Tell me about your chickens in the comments below.