Keeping Chickens

by Wendy

So, you want chickens do you?  You should be forewarned that chickens are the gateway homestead critter.  Food and fun, chickens can be extremely rewarding with only a little work involved.  But just to be clear, they don’t call ’em the gateway animal for nothin’!  Once you start having fun with your chickens, you will begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we could manage a critter for milk, or perhaps, meat.

And the answer to that is YES!

Of course you can!

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We all need to consider how our food is handled, from live seed or cell all the way through the journey to the plate, and the understanding of that journey is of utmost importance.  From start to finish what we raise to eat, and how we choose to process it is up to us on the homestead.  That is what makes the choice to homestead so empowering.  You make the difference, not someone else.

Whether you are interested in keeping chickens for putting eggs or meat on the table, how you raise and care for your birds are very similar. The first step in keeping chickens is to decide what your homestead needs are, eggs, meat or both, and what breed(s) best suit the needs of your homestead.  There are breeds specific to each purpose, and also dual-purpose breeds suited to meeting the needs, of both eggs and meat.  With a wide variety of chicken breeds, there is something for everyone, and every homestead.

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A few things to consider when choosing a breed:

Environment:  Where do you live?  What types of chickens are suited to your local weather patterns.  If you live in an extreme climate like we do in Northern Mn. you need to factor that into the equation.  Extreme cold, as well as extreme heat can be hard on certain breeds of chickens and should be taken into careful consideration when choosing the best breed for your homestead flock.

Urban Homestead vs. Rural Homestead:   Do you live on an Urban Homestead, or a Rural Homestead? Keeping chickens is not only possible on any type of homestead, but rewarding in many ways.  Gathering eggs, using manure for compost, and allowing your flock to turn over garden soil greatly enhances your homestead.

However, regardless of where you live, you need to consider your neighbors wellbeing.  Not everyone finds a 4:30 am rooster crow an invigorating alarm clock.  So if your home is positioned close to another, you may want to skip keeping a rooster, and only keep a lovely flock of laying hens.

An Urban Homestead also comes with another special considerations.  You need to find out your city’s ordinances and laws regarding chicken keeping within city limits.  Some cities or towns do not permit you to keep chickens, and some only permit hens.  It is best to find out what is permitted in your area, rather than have angry neighbors and police at your door seizing your flock later on. 

Shelter:  What type of shelter do you have, or intend to provide for your homestead flock?  Will you need to heat/insulate your coop, is there adequate ventilation for the birds?  These are important things to keep in mind when setting up your chicken shelter or coop. There are many types of plans on the internet to build your own, anything from a pallet chicken coop to a deluxe fancy model.  Do a google search, and you will see what I mean.  Remember, it doesn’t need to be fancy to get you started, it only needs to meet the basic needs of the flock, which are shelter, food, clean water, a place to nest and roost, and room to roam.

Room to Roam:  How much space do you have to keep your flock?  You need approximately four square feet of space for each full-grown chicken you keep, if they are permitted to free range. You also do not want to overcrowd your chicken run so limit the size of your flock to the space that they will have available to them on a daily basis.

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Free Range, or Not?  Let’s face it, we all love the idea of allowing our chickens to free range as creation intended them to, however, this is not always practical, and in some cases deadly.  A secure fenced in structure, or chicken tractor (moveable shelter), is a must in some areas to protect your chickens from predators.  Consider what types, and how many predators you have in your area.  This is of utmost importance in caring for your flock.  You need to be sure that you are protecting them to the best of your ability, not only to care for them, but also to protect your investment.  Chickens are not only entertaining on a homestead, but they are your source of food, whether eggs or meat.  In the age of convenience we live in it is easy to forget this.  Sustainability and self-reliance are built on providing at least a part of the food supply for your family on your homestead.

Temperament:  Just like other breeds of animals chickens have certain temperaments as well.  Often this is overlooked when choosing a breed, but should not be.  Especially when choosing a laying hen.  Remember your layers will be around a while, and you want your daily experience with them to be as pleasant as possible, matching your personality with the breed of your hens is a must.  You need not be terrified to do chores, or you will lose your joy in a hurry caring for your flock.

Chicken temperaments are often described as:  Quiet, docile, gentle, calm, friendly, or active, excitable, alert, flighty, broody, aggressive, and lively.  If any of these words send up red flags it is for good reason, remember this is chicken code talk for a potentially scary bird.  If you are a first time flock keeper you may want to choose breeds that are described as quiet, docile, gentle, and calm.  Friendly can innocently mean an over inquisitive well meaning chicken who may innocently chase you, just because she wants to be your friend.  Just sayin’.  😉

Do you have children?  There are special considerations to be made if you have children. The ages and personalities of your kiddos play an important role in choosing your homestead flock.  Please consider the temperament of the birds you choose, and that of your kids when picking out a flock to keep.

If your children are fearless, this allows you to choose any breed you may like, but avoid anything that is listed as aggressive when you have children involved to safeguard a good experience for all.  Teach your kids to respect your family flock and treat them with kindness.  Any chicken can become aggressive if it feels threatened.

If your children are not confident about keeping chickens, or are very young, start with a very docile and gentle breed, and let them learn and gain confidence as you go.

Let’s take a breather right here….I did not realize when I started this post that I was writing an ebook! 😉  So for sanity’s sake and clarity, I have broken it into two parts.

Next time we will continue with Chicken Keeping Pt 2….. Meat vs. Eggs:  Choosing a Breed of Chicken.

I hope this gives you a starting place in your chicken adventures!

Happy Chicken Keepin’!

 

 

Shared With Our Neighbors at The Barn Hop

www.theprairiehomestead.com