I love talking about our chickens. I mean, let’s face it, chickens are not only essential for farm fresh eggs but they’re interesting and fun. Lately I’ve noticed more interest in hearing about the crazy antics of my chickens. They especially love Bruno, our attack rooster; named after judge Bruno on Dancing with the Stars for his “colorful and loud” personality. Sadly, Bruno is no longer with us but his stories live on. We couldn’t ask for better security patrol; the neighborhood dogs still don’t try to dig under our fence.
Many people who love our stories are raising their own backyard flock. It’s not just the funny stories driving more urban adventurers into backyard chicken farming. The healthy benefit of eating eggs from their own hens living a more humane lifestyle is a driving reason as well.
Most people raising chickens do intensive research into the positive and negative of being a backyard chicken farmer. Unfortunately, many never try because of the misplaced belief that chickens are strictly farm animals, needing lots of space, feed, and supplies not readily available to them. The reality is, just about any backyard will do; if it’s big enough for a dog, it’s big enough for chickens. As for the supplies; if you don’t have a farm supply store near you, most poultry supplies, including the chicken coop and food, is available to order online, 24 hours a day.
Before you decide to welcome these fun and fascinating animals into your yard, there is some general knowledge needed for becoming a backyard chicken farmer. There are two experts in the poultry world, with books I highly recommend: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow and The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow and Jeanne Smith DVM. Both books are a must for any backyard chicken farmer.
Here are the top 10 chicken questions I get asked most often.
1. Do you need a rooster for the hens to lay eggs?
Answer: No. This is the biggest misconception about chickens. A rooster is never necessary for your hens to lay eggs. If you want chicks, of course you need a rooster to fertilize the eggs, but the girls don’t need the boy for producing those yummy fresh eggs.
2. How many eggs will my chickens lay and how often?
Answer: This depends on several reasons. First is the breed of the chicken. Some hens are bred for egg production and if the chickens are healthy, they may lay an egg a day. However this is not the norm and you can usually expect 4-5 eggs per chicken, each week or 1 egg every two days. A good rule of thumb is 3 hens will give you 2 eggs a day.
The hen’s age is another reason. Most hens start laying at 4-6 months of age with their first year being the most productive with the egg amount decreasing each year after that.
Finally, the seasons have a big impact on egg production. During the winter when there are fewer daylight hours, the number of eggs decreases drastically while the summer months are more productive.
3. How long do chickens live?
Answer: When shielded from predators, many standard chicken breeds are hardy animals and have a life expectancy of 8 to 15 years. However, it is rare that a chicken lives for 15 years.
4. How much care do chickens need?
Daily egg collection
Fresh water and feed often
Clean or change bedding every 1-2 weeks
Clean and disinfect the coop twice a year. I do this at the beginning of spring and the end of fall.
5. How much do chickens cost and where can I get them?
Answer: Chickens cost $1-$5 each with females being on the higher end of the scale while the fancy breeds are more. If you don’t have an area feed store, you can order your chicks online at places like California Hatchery.
6. What do I need for my new chicks?
Answer: Your new chicks need to stay warm and looked after the first 4 weeks. A brooder with a single infrared lamp is the best and most economical choice. Use a thermometer to keep the area a constant 95° F. For the pen, use an inexpensive, 18” high corrugated paper chick corral. The DuMor Chick Starter kit is the perfect solution at less than $20; just add the lamp.
After 4-5 weeks, your chicks are ready to roam their new outside enclosure.
7. When will my hens start laying?
Answer: Normally, your hens start laying between 5 and 6 months of age and based on the breed, they will lay roughly 200 to 300 eggs a year. My favorite layers are Rhode Island Reds and the Buff Orpington for their wonderful brown eggs. The White Leghorns are prolific layers as well, laying large white eggs.
For my pick of the top 5 egg layers, see the post Best 5 Breeds for Egg Layers.
8. Which are healthier and tastier, brown eggs or white eggs?
Answer: Another frequent question I hear. The egg color makes no difference in taste or health benefits. However, what you feed your chickens and how they are kept has a big effect on the taste and health benefits of eggs. Research proves that if your chickens roam freely in your yard, your eggs are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol. Even if your chickens can’t roam free, the eggs are still healthier and better tasting than store bought eggs.
A tip to remember: the more orange the egg yolk, the better-tasting and healthier your egg is.
9. Does having chickens save me money?
Answer: This is a big, resounding No. Some people decide to raise chickens for the perceived money savings. There are many benefits to having your own chickens, but saving money is not one of them. When you consider the feed, water, and time that goes into raising chickens, you may break even over buying cage-free organic eggs from the store. Having the health benefits and great taste while raising your chickens humanely is worth the effort and cost. Honestly, you can’t do better than eggs from your own chickens.
10. Are chickens noisy?
Answer: If you have roosters you have noise and roosters not only crow in the morning, they crow all day long. Hens, on the other hand, are much quieter—you might say they make a soothing sound; that is until they lay an egg or if they are threatened. Even then, they aren’t as noisy as roosters. If you live in the city, I urge you to only raise hens. Check your city ordinances since some cities don’t allow you to raise roosters.