The Old Man and I started our hobby farm with 60 layer hens. We’ve had several flocks over the last seven years. Hens have been our constant friends through many major life changes. Their fresh eggs have fed and nourished our family and friends alike. Our heart strings are tied together while making sure the deviled eggs taste just like mom made them, or delivering a week’s order to a friend and stopping for a chat, or sharing an early morning breakfast before Bible study. And we’ve bonded with our kids while building coops, securing the chicken run from predators, picking up chicks at the post office, and collecting eggs from an especially broody hen.
So when a girlfried asks me if I think she can raise chickens, I say “yes!”
These are the top three questions I am most often asked, and my citykidfarmgirl answers….
1. Are chickens easy?
A well-tended flock of laying hens is not difficult to maintain. Their needs are fairly simple: clean water and feed, shelter, protection from predators, laying boxes and roosting space. Ideally they’d have some grassy space to forage and peck around during the day.
That being said, there are a few details you might consider if you’re thinking about raising hens.
First, what are your goals?
Hens require 12 hours of day light for maximum laying. If you’re looking to maintain a layer flock all year round and it’s important to you to keep the ladies producing as much as possible in the spring, fall and winter months, than you’ll want to supplement their light with a lamp on a timer which means you’ll need a source of electricity (solar or hardwire) at the coop. We need our hens to produce enough eggs to pay for their expenses so we opt for giving them extra light when the days are short.
If on the other hand you’re looking for a hobby, a learning experience for your kiddos, or consider your flock pets with benefits (eggs!), than supplementing light may not be a priority for you.
Second, will you keep hens all year long? I find the most troublesome part of keeping chickens is maintaining their water during the winter months. Dealing with frozen waterers could be as simple as having two and swapping a fresh one out while the other defrosts. There are also heated bases that help keep waterers from freezing. We have experimented with a submersible heater and pump system to keep the water warmed and moving. Either way you’ll want to think through how to handle water in the winter.
2. How many eggs will I get a day?
The answer to this depends on the breed you select, the time of year, and how old your birds are. New chicks take about 6 months to mature and start laying. You could get almost an egg a day for their first year of laying, provided they have enough light and their supply of water and feed are uninterrupted.
3. Do I need a rooster?
No. You don’t need a rooster to have eggs. But, seriously, why wouldn’t you? If not prohibited by city ordinances or homeowners associations, and you won’t otherwise annoy your neighbors, I recommend keeping a rooster with your hens.
First I love to hear them crow–at all hours of the day and night. I’ve learned to sleep through their early (early!) morning crowing, and if I wake and realize I haven’t heard th rooster yet, I get a little panicked until I hear the first crow and I’m reassured all is well.
Second, they’re beautiful. Tail feathers especially tend to be fuller, longer and showier in the rooster.
Third, they are fun to watch. Our current barred rock hops up on the waterer in the run, pauses for all to notice his majesty, and crows emphatically. They shake, fluff, and puff up their feathers and generally want everyone to admire their beauty.
Finally, experience has convinced me of the rooster’s protective instinct over his girls. After culling two grumpy roosters, we suffered the worst weasel attack in our chicken rearing history loosing 60 pullets and 20 or more layers.
Please note, my recommendation comes with one caveat–most roosters start out docile and some breeds more so than others. However as they mature, they can become aggressive to children and mamas just trying to load up the minivan, for goodness sake. We had a rooster that loved to hop the fence and patrol the yard. He’d charge my son who eventually learned to carry a large stick with him whenever he ventured out and I kept one eye on him as I came and went to the barn.
Keeping hens proved a great starter project to begin our hobby farm, continue to provide a valuable resource for our family and friends (in both nourishment and relationship), and makes a fabulous bonding experience for our family. Well worth the effort.
Ready to get started?
Before you order your first flock of chicks, do these three things:
- Get a copy of the book “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow. Read it, highlight it, book mark it, sleep with it under your pillow, make it your new best friend.
- Browse my Chickens Pinterest board for more inspiration and research. You’ll find everything from how to build your own back-yard chicken coop, to using the deep-litter method, to how to wash and store your eggs.
- Find someone local you can talk with and ask questions and maybe even visit their coop. Most people I know raising chickens are more than happy to talk about their birds plus they can show you the ends and outs of raising layers in your area, walk you through the process, and answer your questions.