Friday, February 6, 2015

Starting an Urban Flock

The Urban Flock - Getting Started

If you live in the city, you may think that you can't have chickens. However, that is not necessarily true. Most cities have a four to six hen maximum, given there are no noise or odor complaints from your neighbors.

Why get chickens?

There are plenty of reasons to get chickens. They control bugs (especially those pesky slugs!), they produce fertilizer for your garden, provide feathers for any crafting uses, and, of course, they lay eggs! Chickens also make good pets. They are comical and are fun to watch as they peck around, bach-bach-baching at each other! Chickens may be a wonderful addition to your family!

So, you want some chickens?

Chickens are a delightful addition to your backyard, but there are a few things to consider before you get chickens. 
The first is to check with local laws, to know how many chickens you can have, how you must house them, and any other laws pertaining to poultry. If you live in a community with a Home Owners Association, make sure chickens are allowed and it is okay with your neighbors!
 Keep in mind that all those things that chickens do, providing bug control, feathers, and eggs, is not free. Especially in start up costs, you have to rake out the cash!
 Then, decide where you will keep your chickens, and how many chickens you have room for. Housing suggestions for chickens is four square feet of coop space, and 10 square feet of run space per chicken. The coop is where your chickens will sleep, lay their eggs, and be sheltered in severe weather. The run is where they will eat, dust, and spend time outside. 
Once you've measured how much space you have, and how many chickens you can keep in that space, it's time to plan your coop! You can buy a pre-made coop online or at a feed store, or you can build your own chicken coop! I made my chicken coop out of an old playhouse that was no longer in use! 
So, ready for chickens now? Hold on, there, we've got a couple more things to cover. 

You need some supplies!

In order to start your flock, you'll need some supplies! 

A feeders and waterers
A brooder (if you're getting chicks) (this can be done with a plastic tote and a desk lamp)
Extra bulbs for your brooder
Chicken feed (or medicated chick feed)
Bedding (I prefer straw and pine shavings)
Nesting boxes (if your coop doesn't have them already)
Grit (crushed up rocks, you can get it at a feed store)
Something to clean the coop with (I prefer the snow shovel)

And that's the basic stuff. 

How are you going to get them/ what breeds?

You can get chickens from a feed store in the spring, or you can order them online from hatcheries. There are pros and cons to both.

Feed store:
Easy, no-hassle. Buy your chicks and leave.
Convenient, you likely have a feed store close to you.
You can see your chicks before you buy, you can see any obvious problems. 

Often mislabeled breeds by staff
Often poor variety of breeds
Chicks are exposed to the public, may contract illness

Directly from Hatchery:

Huge variety of breeds.
Keep better track of labeling.
Chicks are shipped directly to you, without exposure to the public. 

May be inconvenient due to shipping rates and minimum order size.
Must plan orders with hatch dates.
You cannot see if there is something wrong before you buy your chicks. 

*Remember, when buying from a hatchery, be sure to notify your post office that you are expecting live poultry and be available to pick them up as soon as they come in. 

What should you get?
There is a huge variety of chicken breeds out there, but not all may suit your family. What you should get depends on what you want, and your situation. 

For egg production:
Red Sexlinks. A hybrid of a red rooster and a silver hen, these birds are egg laying machines. They are known to lay an extra large brown egg almost every single day! If you can only have 3 birds, that is still plenty of eggs for an average sized family! They are called Red Sexlinks because they can be sexed by the color of their down at hatching. Males grow to be white, females are buff to red with white undertones. They are also known as Golden Comets, Red Stars. Cinnamon Queens, Golden Buffs, and many other names. 
Black Sexlinks. Similar to the Red Sexlinks, they are a cross between a red rooster and barred hen. Male black sexlinks are barred, females are black with red feathers on their head and chest. 
Buff Orpingtons: A calm, fluffy breed, they are very popular. Their gentle personalities make them popular choices for families with young children. They go "broody" often and are excellent mothers to their chicks. 
White Leghorns: These flighty white birds are the top egg producer in the United States. They are the layers of the large white eggs that you get at the grocery store. 

For pets:
Silkies: These are one of the most popular pet chickens. They appear to have fur rather than feathers, and are quite small in size. Kids love the fluffy "cottonball" appearance. They also make excellent mothers. They come in many colors including white, black, buff, and blue.
Cochins: These fluffy birds come in both Large Fowl and Bantam sizes. They are popular pet birds, and lay more eggs than many ornamental breeds. You may expect 3 eggs a week per bird, though some report having more. 
Easter Eggers: Green eggs and ham? These hybrid birds are a kid favorite. They come in bantam and large fowl sizes, and lay blue to blue-green eggs. They have the blood of several different breeds in them, including the Ameraucana, which they are often confused with. 
Polish: These ornamental birds are known for the somewhat silly appearance of their crests. They appear to have an 80's "teased" hairdo, and are quite the beautiful bird. They come in many colors including Gold and silver laced (black), and buff laced (white). 

And that's just to name a few! There are tons more breeds that could suit your family! 

What to do when you get your chicks.

Chicks have to stay warm, but must avoid getting too hot as well. It's best to keep them in your house, in a brooder.
My brooder is simply a large plastic tote with a desk lamp clipped to the side, at an angle that the chicks can get away from it. Place a small bowl of water with pebbles in the bottom to make sure they won't drown if they fall in!
Your chicks need to stay in until they're feathered, which is around 6-10 weeks.

Help! My chicks are flying out of the brooder but they're not fully feathered!
Flight feathers and tail feathers are the first to come in - and be fulling functional. Our simple solution was to put an old screen from a window on top of our brooder. Put something mildly heavy on top of it so they can't move it. Consider your carpet saved!

When do they start laying eggs?!

Congratulations! You raised your babies and they are now young pullets. Depending on the breed, they should start laying between four and six months of age! 
But don't you need a rooster to get eggs?!
No. You do not need a rooster for the hens to lay eggs, but you do need a rooster to fertilize them if you plan to hatch your own eggs. I do not suggest getting a cockerel with your initial chicks, and you likely are not allowed to have one in an urban/suburban setting. Roosters come with their own set of possible problems to run into, and it's best to avoid that while you're starting out. 

Have fun!

If you can take care of your dogs or cats, you can take care of chickens. They're not difficult to care for, but take just a little responsibility. Your kids will learn the value of the work they put into something, and the food that comes from that work. You will find yourself entertained by the dumb little things you'll see your chickens do. You'll know that your eggs come from your chickens, that are treated well and nourish your family. Enjoy your chickens!


Meyer Hatchery (OH)
Ideal Poultry (TX)

Chicken websites:

One of my red sexlink hens. They are superb layers!