Sunday, September 21, 2008

So, you want some chicas too? (how to start your flock)

OK - I know some of you would like to have a small flock of chickens. Now that it's legal in Wake Forest to have up to 10 hens (NO ROOSTERS), I've gotten some inquiries on how to start. So, I guess I'll put some info up here to help out if I can..... I will stress, however, that I am NOT AN EXPERT!!!! (I don't even have any chickens yet!)

First, you have to decide how many and what kinds you want to get.... there are SOOOO many different varieties out there, I couldn't begin to list them all. I will just give you a good idea of a few different ones... Please check out MyPetChicken or BackyardChickens for their info on breeds. There are several hatcheries that have great info too - there are links to these hatcheries on those two sites.

If you're looking for mainly egg production:
Plymouth Rocks (Barred, Black, White), Orpingtons (Buff, Black), Rhode Island Reds, Sussex, Leghorns (pronounced 'Leggerns'), and Australorps are going to be the most prolific egg producers... Then you also get into whether you want different colored eggs. There are the 'Easter-Eggers' Ameraucanas, which the Bissette's have over on Main St, and they lay green to blue eggs, and occasionally pinkish. There are also the hard-to-find true Auracanas which are blue egg layers. The Rhode Island Reds have brown, Leghorns have white...

If you just want some mainly for pets, and don't care much about eggs:
Polish varieties come in a myriad of colors (and have fluffy heads), Silkies, with really fluffy feathers that look like a fluff ball, turkens (really a chicken which looks like a bald-necked turkey), and almost all of the bantam breeds... they're in this section just because they've got tiny little eggs. (about 1/2 of standard size large eggs -they still taste great though!)

OK - once you've selected the breed(s) and how many you want, you need to determine how you're going to house them. I recommend you follow the 4 square foot/bird rule for your coop. I would say give them larger space if you're planning to keep them cooped up a lot. I recommend also, that you have a movable coop so your hens can forage in your yard safe from predators. There are TONS of options available. I love the CatawbaCoop chicken ark (he's having a $9.99 sale on them this week!!!) , I think it's a great, affordable design! It's quite attractive too, especially if you made it from redwood or cedar! I would suggest keeping no more than 4-5 standard sized hens in one full-time.

There are also links to coop designs that are for sale on MyPetChicken, and BackyardChickens has a great page full of user submitted photos and sometimes even step-by-step photos showing the folks building their coops. There are many different sizes and styles available - movable, and stationary - the options are unlimited - you could look at a few and then design your own perhaps!

My plan is to have a stationary (attractive)barn-style coop with a large enclosed run attached to it, but also have an ark in which I can take several birds out to forage around my yard where I want them. I like the idea that I can keep some things stored in the stationary coop - I'll use part of it (partitioned off) for storing my personal garden tools, gloves, and the chicken supplies. The plan is to have the nesting boxes on the interior wall so I can get to the eggs via a little door from the 'shed' side and not have to get my shoes dirty to get the eggs. My husband has been excitedly drawing up different plans and asking me what I want everything to look like! Many of you who want to own chickens are most likely pretty handy yourselves, and will be able to come up with a great place - if not, please check the links I mentioned above. Some places will even ship you a kit with detailed instructions, and you just assemble it.

Wow - so you've hopefully decided which breeds of hens, and how many, and how you're planning to house them... now - where are you going to get your chickens from??? That was my major dilemma this week - I am quite impatient now that I've got the legal footing to get some 'chicas'... and I don't want to wait! There are many ways to acquire your flock...

** purchase chicks online or find a local hatchery where you can pick them up, brood them in your house/garage/storage building until they get large enough and feathered out enough to be outside in the elements, then move them to your coop. Wait several months before you get your first egg, then have an 'egg party'! (this method allows you to hand-raise your chicks, which makes them more docile and people friendly ='lap bird')
** purchase 'pullets' online or from a local hatchery, place them in your coop when you get them and only wait a few weeks to get your first eggs. (you can't be sure of their temperament, but usually they'll warm up to you if they're young enough and you handle them frequently)
** purchase grown hens from somewhere close by and start off with hens already laying. You may want to be cautious about this method - some owners may 'fudge' a little about the hen's age, and then you may end up with a hen that produces for a short time. (you're also not sure of the hen's temperament or disposition when you purchase them already as adults, and they can be kinda set in their ways)
** rescue 'battery cage' hens - this is not something I have done much research on, but you can do an Internet search. Key Points: There are organizations which help place unwanted birds from commercial laying facilities, and you can help rescue a few of these poor animals. They're usually really awful and ratty looking at first, but from what I've heard, they warm up to human contact quickly and once they've molted and feathered out, they make great pets.

I have chosen the first option listed above, and have an order of tiny day-old chicks which are coming to me in 9-10 days. I can't wait to meet them! I'm very excited about raising these chicks and so are my kids. It will be a wonderful learning experience for my daughter at least, and something that will keep my son entertained for maybe 10 minutes each day! (he's 2!)
We may also get a polish bantam chick or another bantam chick from a friend locally since they're really cute mini-chicas. I think I'll let my daughter pick one out especially for herself.

So - if you have questions... please post them in the comments section... I'll do my best to answer. Otherwise, those sites I mentioned above are really great resources of information. Please cruise around them! BackyardChickens has a really great forum which is a wealth of information, and tons of folks will post pictures, advice, information, whatever you need! There are also several Yahoo groups dedicated to raising chickens, just search for one in your area. In NC, there are two that I know of, "NCPoultry-east" and "ncpoultry2" click to follow a link to that group.


Steven Walling said...

Wikipedia also has a really great List of chicken breeds, broken down either by place of origin or primary purpose.

Greg said...

I live outside Wendell, and I am the proud owner of 10 buff orpiingtons, 9 hens, and 1 rooster named Hank.

I just wanted to mention to you that sexing baby chicks is not an exact science. I ordered all hens, and ended up with 9 hens and Hank.

Depending on what type of chicks you ordered, and how many, the hatchery's some time include "packing peanuts" extra chicks that you did not order, usually sex link roosters.

I mention this because you should have a plan on what you may want to do if you end up with a rooster, or two, or three. I know the ordinance does not allow roosters in WF.

Also, you need 4 sf of indoor coop space, and 10 sf of outdoor run space per bird.

Good luck and enjoy your chickens, they are a lot of fun. We got ours in late March and they started laying in late August. I am now getting 30-36 eggs per week from my 9 hens.

Since Hank was a suprise additon to my flock, I am planning to buy an incubator in the spring and try my hand at hatching eggs. Maybe I'll have some chicks for the good people of Wake Forest.