Chickens are referred to as the gateway animal to farming, and for good reason. Once you experience the satisfaction of homegrown eggs it’s hard to go back to store bought eggs. You can raise chickens on a couple acres, on a suburban lot, and even in the city. Raising chickens is an incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable hobby. With so much information available to those interested in raising chickens, it can seem overwhelming at times. This article and the subsequent articles will outline the basics of chicken keeping so you can start your journey into raising chickens with confidence.
A male chicken under one year of age is a cockerel and a male chicken over one year of age is a rooster or cock. A female chicken under one year of age is a pullet and a female chicken over one year of age is a hen, regardless of laying status. The structure in which the chickens lay their eggs and sleep in is the henhouse and a fenced in yard that the chickens occupy during the day is called the run. The henhouse and the run are collectively the chicken coop or coop. The fleshy growth on the head is the comb and the fleshy growths under the beak are the wattles, both male and female chickens have combs and wattles. Comb type varies by breed. Chicken chicks are sold as straight run, as cockerels, or as pullets. Straight run means that the chicks you receive will not be sexed. Large fowl chickens are chickens that weigh more than five pounds at maturity. Bantams are chicken breeds that are ¼ or 1/3 the size of a large fowl chicken breed. Some chicken breeds come in large fowl and bantam sizes while other breeds are only large fowl or only bantams. There is a mistaken notion that the color of a hen dictates the color of her eggs, this is not true. However, there is a correlation between the earlobe color of a hen and the egg color she will lay. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but for the most part pure chicken breeds with white earlobes lay white eggs and pure chicken breeds with red earlobes lay brown eggs. This rule cannot be applied to mixed chicken breeds as they are crossbreeds.
Local Laws & Ordinances
It is very important to check your local laws and ordinances before purchasing your first chickens to ascertain that you are legally allowed to raise them on your property. Some towns have requirements that dictate the placement of your coop in relation to your house, neighbors’ houses, or property lines. Since chickens are classified as livestock some towns require a minimum sized lot to keep a certain number of chickens. Having more space can entitle you to unlimited fowl and roosters. Check noise ordinances to determine whether you can keep roosters. If you are not allowed to keep roosters in your town, don’t. Accidents do happen and sexed pullets can end up being cockerels. It can be hard to rehome accidental roosters, but it is in your best interest to abide by your town’s chicken laws. Not doing so can result in the town amending the ordinances to restrict the number of chickens you can keep or outright ban them. I have had to rehome many cockerels since I started raising chickens. I love them, but I can’t keep them until I live in a place where I’m allowed roosters. Knowing your local chicken laws helps to protect your rights in the case of complaints or a visit from the zoning or health department.
Once you have ascertained that you are legally allowed to raise chickens on your property it is time to choose a coop and a spot to place it. It is much easier to have a coop built and ready prior to getting your first chickens. An ideal spot to place the chicken coop is on flat level ground, near a water supply, and preferably shaded. If you live in a place that experiences freezing winters, a nearby outlet that you can run an extension cord to for a heated waterer will save you from lugging water throughout the winter. The coop you purchase or build needs to have enough room for the number of chickens you plan to have. Even better is to get a coop that can hold a few more chickens than you plan to start with.
Your First Chickens
It’s really hard to choose your first chickens, there are just so many amazing breeds and varieties available. Most people get all of one breed or a mixed batch of breeds. Choosing the right breed for you depends on what you are looking to get from your chickens. Will they be pets? Will you have them for eggs? Do you want to breed your chickens? Do you want dual purpose breeds? Do you want large fowl or bantams? Most people get their first chickens for the fresh eggs. I always recommend that first time chicken owners get a mixed flock so that they can have a very colorful flock. Having a mixed breed flock also means that your chickens will lay different colored eggs. Many first time chicken owners turn their noses up at the Leghorn, a white egg layer, in favor of brown egg layers. I always recommend White Leghorns as they are highly productive layers, personable, adaptable, and reliable layers. There's a reason they are used for commercial egg production. I do not recommend first time chicken keepers add Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, or Red Sex Links to a mixed flock as these breeds tend to be more dominant, aggressive, and bullies to other chicken breeds. If you have children, high production sex link chickens are very prone to reproductive issues as they age and many don't live past four years of age. This can be very hard on young children who may not be prepared to deal with the loss of a beloved pet. Some of my favorite chicken breeds for a beautiful flock and egg basket are Ameraucanas, a blue egg laying breed, Leghorns, Anconas, and Andalusians, layers of bright white eggs, Marans, layers of some of the darkest chocolate brown eggs, Dominiques, Brahmas, Speckled Sussex, and Orpingtons for their rich brown eggs, and Faverolles provide a nice pink or tinted egg. Check out our article on Brooding Chicks if you decide to get day old chicks!