One of the easiest commercial foods to replace is eggs; making chickens one of the first animal additions for any homestead, whether it be rural or urban. Chickens are relatively cheap to feed and very easy to care for. They provide the homestead with eggs, meat, and fertilizer. And chicken TV. They are a great deal of fun to watch as they go about their chicken business.
There are some things that you should consider before you bring home those little peeping balls of fluff.
1.) Are chickens allowed where you live? What about roosters?
If you’re living in a city then you will have to follow the local laws regarding backyard chickens. More and more towns are allowing chickens to be kept in the backyard. However, there will be limits on the number of birds you can keep and most cities do not allow you to keep roosters.
If you’re in the country then you can pretty much keep as many chickens, hens and roosters, that you want.
2.) What purpose will the chickens serve on your homestead?
Defining the main purpose that you want your chickens to serve is a very important step to take before deciding on breeds.
- Will your chickens be livestock or pets? Basically, will you be eating hens that no longer lay or will you be caring for them for the rest of their relatively long, non-productive lives? It’s okay to have some of both in a flock too.
- Do you want them to lay eggs, produce meat, or brood eggs (make more chickens)? A chicken cannot excel at all three.
- Does your climate require a bird that is cold or heat hardy? Heat hardy birds typically have a single comb, tighter feathering, and originate from hotter climates. Cold hardy birds typically have smaller combs (walnut, pea, rosecomb, and cushion) with small wattles, looser feathering, and originate from colder climates.
- Will the chickens free-range or will they be kept in a coop and run? The best chickens for free-ranging are highly alert, reactive, and excellent fliers. The best chickens for coop and run are docile birds who will tolerate close quarters. There are chickens that fall in between that will do fine in either management style.
3.) How many chickens should you get?
Twice as many as you want to end up with. I’m not kidding!
If you’re in the city you may have a limit on the number of chickens you can own. I would recommend getting the maximum number of birds allowed.
In the country you should get the minimum number to fulfill your goals or as many as you want.
4.) Straight Run, Pullet, Cockerel?
Straight run means that the chicks are a mix of genders and what you get will be totally up to chance.
Pullets are female chickens under 1 year of age. You can purchase chicks that have been sexed so you end up with all (or mostly) pullets. Sexing is not 100% accurate.
Cockerels are male chickens under 1 year of age. You can purchase them sexed if you want too.
5.) How many square feet should the chicken coop be? How big should the run be?
The minimum acceptable spacing in the coop is typically said to be 2 – 4 sqft per bird for chickens that live in a coop and run only. If the chickens will be spending a lot of time in the coop due to inclement weather you should go even larger, like 10 sqft per bird.
The run size should be as big as you can make it and not less than 10 sqft per bird. Bigger is always better for coop and run sizes.
If chickens will be spending very little time in the coop and run (only inside to roost, lay eggs, and eat or drink) then the size of both is relatively unimportant as long as there is room for everyone to roost.