So you wanna own your own chickens. . . .
We in America are in what some people are calling an “egg-apocalypse”. We know you’ve seen the price of eggs and have sworn to TAKE ACTION!
We have been inundated with questions, like why are eggs so expensive right now? Do you have eggs? Do you have laying hens to sell? Where can I find my own chickens? Read on for the answers and our advice.
Okay, first of all, why are eggs so darn expensive right now?
Eggs are expensive now for a couple of reasons. The first is that chickens naturally take a well-deserved break in the fall and winter from laying. Chickens need to molt in the fall. That’s the term for shedding their old feathers and growing new, super feathers. And when they are molting they can’t lay eggs. So you have about 9-12 weeks when they are either not laying or laying less. The second is that chickens need 14 hours (ish) of sunlight each day to stimulate their system to lay eggs. In late December and early January they just don’t get that so don’t lay. Third is that when they are molting and then in the bleak midwinter they don’t eat or drink as much. I think they had SAD like so many of us. They just don’t take in enough nutrients to lay. (My grandmother had a remedy for this - she made cornbread and soaked it in warm water to get them to eat and take in some water as well. I do this whenever there’s snow on the ground. They love it and a little warm meal is good for the soul.) The fourth reason, and I think a big reason for limited supply in the grocery stores, is that there have been a LOT of birds euthanized due to Avian Flu concerns (over 50 million birds!!!). Some of them were sick and some of them euthanized due to concerns they’d been exposed. It’s so so sad to us. (But we’re not here today to blog about the benefits of family farms versus big ag. We’re here to tell you about chickens and answer your burning question - should I get chickens?) It is a fact, though, that because there are so fewer chickens in agriculture that the demand is outnumbering the supply and therefore prices have skyrocketed.
So now, will these high prices last? I think they’ll last for a bit. Chickens don’t lay when they are born (keep reading! We answer that in a bit). So even if new chickens are hatching at the hatcheries now it’s going to be a bit before prices go down. Now, if people stop eating and using eggs then, yes, obviously prices will go down.
What can you do? Well, you can find a farmer near you who has a flock of chickens and see about their egg supply. Usually farm fresh eggs are no higher than grocery store eggs and THEY ARE SO MUCH BETTER. Seriously, there are numerous research studies out showing the benefit and nutritional difference between farm eggs and grocery store eggs. They’re fresher, taste better and so much more nutritious. Also, a lot of the family farms have kids who run the egg business. Marshall has run the egg business here at Bales Farms since he was 7 years old. So not only will you have better eggs, you’ll be supporting a kid-owned business. Marshall’s customers are amazing. He always has a wait list so don’t be surprised if you are told you’ll be put on a list. It won’t take long, though.
So now. . . if you want your own chickens I say go for it! Chickens are fun, easy and they do provide you with a yummy treat. So if you want your own chickens, read on. . .
Lots of people want chickens. We get questions every year about having chickens and it has ramped up this year. Owning your own chickens can be great - they’re not very much work at all. And if you have kids it’s a fantastic way for them to learn some responsibility. I believe very strongly that kids should have responsibilities early in life. Caring for animals will teach them dedication, follow through, work ethics, mercy, grace, responsibility and lots of other core values society is losing as well as showing them they have value in the family and the community at large (Wendell Berry has some great lectures on this very thing if you wanna check them out). Plus if all goes well and you have extra eggs they’ll earn some money by having a side job. So anyway, given my feelings on THAT and the fact we love our chickens I have some tips to share with you on raising chickens as well as how to keep them happy, healthy and (most importantly) alive. Here are all the details you need:
1. The first step. Yes, even before you do anything else.
The first few decisions will need to be made now. Understand there are different chickens for different purposes. For this conversation we are dealing with egg laying chickens, known as laying hens. There are different breeds and you need to decide which breed you want and where to get the chickens. I would strongly recommend a heritage breed of chicken, like Buff Orpingtons or Dominiques or Wyandottes. Generally speaking heritage breed chickens have more personality and tolerate a greater variety of weather. You can google breeds to get information on which breed is good for your location. I am partial to the Buffs, Wyandotte’s and Dominques. They are sweet, lay well and are just good additions to your family. We always always have Buffs. No matter what other breeds we get we always add a few buffs to the flock. Buff Orpingtons are those yellow chickens you see in everyone’s yards that are so so sweet and kids carry around. They’re good girls.
Next question, where do you get the chickens? I would recommend either a general farm store or purchasing online at a hatchery who will then send the day old chickens to your post office. Don’t be scared about going that route! Call the company and ask all the questions you need or call me and I’ll walk you through it. Those hatcheries are generally better on the phone anyway. I have found they are easier to reach by phone than email and they know their stuff! They are very knowledgeable about all things chicken related. So ask away. I recommend Cackle Hatchery. We’ve used them for years and they are wonderful. Strombergs is also a great company. Once you order your chickens you’ll choose a shipping date and get ready. . . The post office will call you very early in the morning to come and pick up your babies. It’s such a fun day! It’s like Christmas and if you have kids they will be so so so excited.
2. So now you’re getting those day old chicks and bringing them home. You better have your housing ready!
Housing for baby chicks is called a Brooder. Don’t make it fancy. They’re babies and won’t notice. All you need is a space with a heat lamp to keep them warm (they can’t control their body temperature until they get their feathers so need to be kept warm), water and food. That and some bedding material is about it. Just make sure the brooder doesn’t have breezes and predators can’t get in. A lot of people use the kiddie pools from WalMart and they work fine. We’ve used Rubbermaid totes and they work just as well. Just don’t worry about it. The babies won’t care as long as they’re fed and watered.
After about a month the chickens will have all their feathers and be ready to move out of the brooder. We use chicken tractors (think moveable cages open to the grass) but there are lots and lots of options. The chickens will stay there their whole lives. Again it doesn’t have to be fancy. Some people do have fancy chicken houses with play grounds and everything! That’s so awesome and if our girls ever find out about that they might run away but so far they’re good with what they have at Bales Farms (it’s probably the love they get from Marshall).
3. Okay, so food and water. The first 24 hours you’ll need to give the chickens sugar water or simple syrup as some people call it. I make a jar of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water cooked over medium heat stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves) and keep that jar to use the first day. You just need a few tablespoons for each waterer you use. And you can get the waterer anywhere – pet stores, Tractor Supply, Amazon, General Farm stores. When you’re picking up your waterers get some start and grow food. That’s what it’s called. Start and Grow. You’ll feed that for the first 18 weeks of their lives so don’t forget it! After that you’ll switch over to layer food.
4. Do not expect eggs right away! If you do you’ll be sorely disappointed. Depending on the breed you will wait anywhere from 20-28 weeks for eggs. I know. That’s a long time. But don’t be discouraged! The hybrids lay earlier than the heritage breeds but usually can’t lay in the winter or hot part of the summer. So that might be something to consider when choosing a breed. But yeah, they don’t lay instantaneously. (I will share that some folks just go ahead and buy laying hens at 20 weeks and you can do that if you choose. Almost every county has a 4h program who offers “chick chain” where members auction off 20 week old chickens they’ve raised from babies. It’s a great auction supporting an awesome cause. Marshall’s done it for years and it is just so fabulous I can’t even make it fit in this article but call me if you want more information and I’ll talk all day about it.)
5. Your egg expectations will differ with breeds. Most heritage breeds lay about 5 eggs per week. So 2-3 chickens will generally meet most family needs.
6. The rooster question. Here’s the answer. No.
You don’t need a rooster to get eggs. I wouldn’t recommend a rooster. They’re generally mean, aggressive and pick on the girls. Plus they eat a lot and don’t really improve the quality of life for anyone in your home or your neighbors’ home. They’re loud. In the morning. Early morning. And all day. If you do really really want a rooster you need 1 rooster for every 10 hens. We’ve had lots of roosters. In the past. Bottom line - don’t get a rooster.
7. The life expectancy of a laying hen is anywhere from 3-7 years. They’ll lay for 2-3 years but they can have long healthy lives after they’ve retired if you choose to keep them around. But that’s definitely something you need to think about when you have them. You know, what you’re going to do after they retire. We live on a farm so we let them free range with the beef cattle and they cut down on the fly population, which is great for everyone, but you do need to have a plan for that time of their lives.
I think that covers most of the questions we get about chickens and now about eggs. If you have any other questions feel free to call me at 423-823-1397 or stop by the farm.
Thanks and have a great day!
Aliceson and Marshall