Have you noticed that everyone seems to be buying chickens lately? Are you thinking that laying hens might be a great addition to your homestead? Do you dream of eating farm-fresh eggs produced by your very own laying hens? What do you need to know before buying chickens?
You have so many questions and I am here to answer them for you! 5 Considerations before keeping laying hens 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 Laying Hens:
- What is the purpose of keeping laying hens?
- Next, what is the cost of keeping laying hens?
- What are the advantages of keeping laying hens?
- What are the disadvantages of keeping laying hens?
- Finally, what are the special considerations of keeping laying hens?
Why is Everyone buying Laying Hens?
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. Laying hens, in particular, are wonderful because they lay beautiful eggs and you don’t have to think about eating your hens one day. More on that later.
BUT ARE laying Hens 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 Laying Hens?
There are four main purposes of keeping any farm animal:
- meat or other food product such as milk or eggs
Let’s explore each of these purposes for laying hens.
Laying Hens FOR PROFIT
Laying Hens can be profitable, but if you are just starting out, I suggest you start with just a homestead flock to see if you like hens before expanding to a profitable flock. You will need hundreds, maybe thousands of hens before you would be able to make a living raising chickens.
Of course, you can start by selling your extra eggs. This will help you offset the cost of keeping laying hens, but you won’t be able to feed your family (except eggs) or pay the mortgage by selling your extra eggs.
Fresh, Delicious Eggs
One of the reasons keeping hens 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.
Obviously, chickens are not kept for protection. Laying hens need protection. 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.
My chicken coop is right on the edge of the woods behind my house so I have a high predator problem. I have tried many deterrents including trapping, guardian dogs, and even guardian geese. I have found a good dog, housed by the coop is the best protection.
Laying Hens AS PETS
Are hens 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. However, hens are not bred to be pets, they are bred to lay eggs.
Hens can 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.
Currently, we have 2 young chickens that are handled by my children all day, every day. One was the lone chick who hatched from our incubator when we forgot to plug in the egg turner. The other is the lone survivor from a gnat attack that killed 3 other chicks. Neither one is old enough to know whether it is a hen or a rooster. I have a feeling at least one is a rooster. My kids have taught the chickens to sit on my shoulder.
THE COST OF KEEPING laying hens?
Laying hens 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. The cost will depend on you and how much you want to spoil your hens.
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. Laying hens are hardy and do not need a light or heat in the winter.
THE ADVANTAGES OF KEEPING Laying Hens?
Laying Hen ARE VERY EASY TO CARE FOR
Even if you work full-time or are very busy, hens 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 hens free-range and don’t spend much time in the coop, I only clean it quarterly.
Hens 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!
Laying Hens ARE FRIENDLY
Laying Hens are not only friendly but as I said earlier, self-sufficient. If you free range your hens, they will hunt for food beyond the feed that you provide for them. Your hens 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.
Laying Hens are Garden Helpers
- Composted chicken manure from your garden.
- You can feed garden weeds and scraps to chickens
- Chickens can eat pests during the off seasons of gardening.
Laying HenS ARE A GOOD STARTER ANIMAL
Laying hens 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, but hens are also 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 hens, I have also purchased ducks, guineas, turkeys, and geese.
Watching Hens is relaxing and fun
Who needs T.V. if you have laying hens? Chickens are so fun to watch. They scratch, peck, and cluck all over your yard. You can forget your troubles while watching chickens.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF KEEPING Laying HENS?
Laying HENS CAN BE DESTRUCTIVE
One main disadvantage of keeping hens 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
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 are not necessary for hens to lay eggs 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.
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 Laying Hens
There are not many special considerations for chickens beyond the information above. Depending on your purpose for owning hens, research which breeds lay a high amount of eggs. 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 laying hens because I love owning chickens. But I did my best to give you my unbias opinion of owning chickens. Laying hens are an easy and fun farm animal to keep on the homestead.
What about you? Are you ready to keep laying hens on your homestead?
Maybe you already own laying hens? Tell me about your hens in the comments below.