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September 3, 2018

Are you clucking with me? a beginners guide to owning chickens.

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This post was written as a guest post for my girl Kait Hanson over on her blog CommuniKait. I had been wanting to share some information on owning chickens myself, so I decided to repost the information I shared with her readers over here as well.

As most of you know my husband, two dogs and I moved to Virginia in 2016 when I was eight months pregnant. Apparently I really enjoy caring for living creatures so we decided to add a flock of chickens to the mix. I’ve always loved the idea of owning chickens, mainly because we go through an insane amount of eggs in this household and secondly, because they are freaking adorable and fun to watch. Yes, I am that basic. The first and more beneficial reason ended up being why we took the plunge and purchased some hens. Now we have eggs from a good, clean source that is not only helpful to the environment (aka our yard) but is also super cost effective for our family.

First off, I want to say that I knew absolutely nada about chickens when I moved to Virginia. My parents had them and my best friend, Lindsay had them, beyond that, I had no experience whatsoever. Everything I have learned has come from personal research and pestering Lindsay about all her chicken knowledge. If there ever was a crazy chicken lady, it’s her and I love her for it. She came up with the concept for her chicken coop and has always been very kind about sharing all of her tips and tricks for owning a little flock. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

So, back to owning chickens, they take a little bit of work at first and they obviously require maintenance like any living thing but overall it is super easy and sustainable. This is where I use the hashtag Kait came up with, “#makesustainablelivinggreatagain” you know you love it. Wink, wink. I’ve compiled a list of steps that I would address when considering making the jump to owning chickens.

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Step 1: Chicks or Hens? so I have been fortunate enough to have people (Lindsay) help raise my chicks, we have always gotten them at the same time and thrown them into the same brooder (basically a giant plastic container with wood chips, food, water and a hanging heat lamp) so they could grow together and create less work for one of us… cough, me. I have done this with ducklings and it’s the same process for chicks and ducks. You keep them in the brooder until they fill out with feathers. They can’t be left outside until they have “feathered out” aka they lose all their baby fuzz and you guessed it, get feathers. Once this happens they can be moved to their coop and get established there. The other option is to buy hens that are already older and laying eggs, this typically happens around 6 months but it can vary breed to breed. The upside to getting older hens is that 1. they are usually already laying and 2. you don’t have to put in as much work as you do with the chicks. The downside is that 1. they cost more, instead of $3-$10 a bird you are looking at $20-$40 and 2. they are usually less  social / domesticated than a chick that you raise on your own and love on. At this point we have purchased several established hens and chicks and have had great success with both so it really comes down to a preference.

Step 2: How many do I get? The main thing to consider when getting a certain number of gals is how much space you have for them. People notoriously overcrowd their chickens because they start off tiny and people forget that they don’t stay that size. A good rule of thumb is to give your girls at least 5 sqft of space per bird. They go inside at night to roost and sleep and they also lay their eggs inside during the day so they need enough space to get around indoors without being all over each other. We built an outdoor covered run (160 sqft of fenced off space) off of the back of our coop so that the gals have plenty of room to roam around and hang if they can’t be in the yard that day. We personally have 10 full grown hens right now and 5 additional ones that are still in the chick phase. I was told  that “10 chickens are just as much work as 2” and that’s completely correct. I say the more chickens the better but only if you have the space. More chickens = more eggs. On average we get 7-9 eggs a day right now. They do slow down in the winter when it gets colder but we haven’t completely run out. The other awesome thing is that you can gift your overflow of eggs to friends, family and coworkers. Who doesn’t love fresh organic free range eggs? Weirdos, that’s who. You can also sell them! We have people that give us $5 for a dozen and we put that into buying more feed for our gals. A bag of feed lasts us about two weeks and it costs $25 (this is for organic feed, nonorganic feed is around $11 a bag). So our overhead is $50 a month for roughly 200 eggs a month.

Step 3: The coop, what do we do? This is probably the most work you will have to put into owning chickens but the great thing is that it only takes doing it once and then you are set. We had moved into our first home when we got our flock and opted for buying a storage shed, then converted half of the inside into a coop and the backside into a run. You can buy prebuilt coops but they are usually pretty expensive and don’t have enough space. I am happy to share some inside shots of the coop if anyone is interested.

Step 4: What will I do with all the money I save from not buying eggs? Haha but really, owning chickens is so cost effective. PLUS, you are creating your own sustainable food source while helping to end the mistreatment of animals in America that are used for mass production. I won’t go down a huge rabbit hole here but you should really look into where your food comes from and how downright awful these poor animals are treated here in the U.S. If you would like more information about what you don’t know about store bought eggs I am more than happy to send your way. Lastly, farm eggs from a good source are much healthier for you. A recent study by Mother Earth News compared the official results from the USDA for commercial bought eggs vs pasture raised eggs and the findings were cray cray:

1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more vitamin A
2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
3 times more vitamin E
7 times more beta carotene
They also found that eggs from hens raised outdoors on pasture have from three to six times more vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement. Pastured hens are exposed to direct sunlight, which their bodies convert to vitamin D and then pass on to their eggs. Eating just two of these eggs will give you from 63-126% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D.

(sourced from Mother Earth News)

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Beyond having an awesome, sustainable source for our food the chickens really have been fun to have around. They are super quirky, ditzy and hilarious to watch. Look up videos of a chicken running towards someone and try not to laugh. Our daughter, Hadley absolutely loves them, she spends most evenings in the yard following them around trying to give them snacks. Because we don’t have a rooster (the pimp of the chicken world) we don’t have to worry about an aggressive chicken. All of our hens are super sweet, they let you pick them up and enjoy being nosey. For our family, chickens are the way to go and I hope to continue owning them until I am too old to go out and pick up eggs. I hope this was helpful and even if it doesn’t encourage you to go out and get chickens I hope that you will look into where your food is coming from and why it’s important to support small farmers.

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