Chickens have been in the news. Recently, the city of Corpus Christi has discussed an ordinance for city dwellers keeping laying chickens. I have not read proposed ordinance changes, but my understanding is that chickens may be kept for the purposes of eggs only and presume number and types of animals(hens no roosters) will be limited and distance requirements.
Since temperatures are warming, and more and more locals are showing interest in keeping their own flock,I want to share a little information with you about keeping a backyard flock. This information is mostly just my experience with our flock but there is tons of information out there if you want more.
We have had a backyard flock for about 3 years and are on our second generation of ladies. I believe we have about 28 birds right now.
Both times we ordered our birds from the Welp Hatchery. We ordered a total of 30 each time…straight run. What exactly is a straight run? Well that means we are ordering all of one sex (i.e. want them to be all hens)…now here’s the caveat…they don’t always get it right. Both times we have ended up with two roosters out of 30 which judging by chicks’ private parts is a pretty good mitigation of error. We usually let our roosters mature to their teen state. Around that time, one becomes dominate and the other becomes lunch :/. If the dominate one becomes too dominate(i.e. meaner’n all get out) then we try to find him a home with some other needy hens. In a pen, it’s best to just have one rooster but, be it known (yes, this question gets asked all the time) you do NOT have to have a rooster for your laying hens and eggs. For the city folks you’ll want no rooster and you don’t have to have one.
If you are only going to be keeping a few hens for a backyard flock, then you may want to check out Naylor’s, Tractor Supply or some other local feed store like Lone Star Country Store. In early spring, these stores will often carry chicks and ducklings. Another option, is to buddy up with a friend and order chicks together.
There are many different breeds to choose from. I researched the subject to determine the ones best suited for my purposes. Our first time, I chose three types. Two of the best egg layers and one egg/meat bird (this just means they are fat hens that could be eaten too). I chose the White Leghorn because they are the best white egg layers, I chose the Rhode Island Red because they are the best brown egg layers and the Buff Orpingtons because they tend to be big, fat and good layers. The next time, we skipped the White Leghorns because they are smaller birds (would never be good for meat) and also due to their smaller size they are flyers (as in right out of the chicken yard). Instead, we selected Barred Rocks because they are great brown egg layers too and are pretty with black and white feathers. We also wanted Araucanas but they weren’t available at the time…these are very colorful birds (particularly the roosters) and the hens lay blue and green eggs. You can see, we choose based on look, production, size and even temperament (Rhode Islands and Buff Orpingtons tend to be more domesticated while Barred Rocks and White Leghorns are more standoffish from humans). It’s important to do a little research before choosing your breeds. There are several good books out there. We read and used Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and Chickens: Raising a Small Scale Flock for Pleasure and Profit. Also, hatchery websites often give you good information about different breeds.
Your chickens will be delivered in the mail. That’s right, in the USPS…and don’t be surprised when you get that 5:30 a.m. call because they are there and PEEPING. They will come to you in a very small box (ordering 30 we get a box that’s about a square foot). The hatcheries confine the chicks to a small space to keep them warm in transit. They are day old chicks and will come to the post office where they will promptly call you to come pick them up directly. When you get them you will need to keep them in a small box to start. The first time we started with a small cardboard box and then built a brooder box. It’s best if the brooder box is split into two sections. One area with a heat lamp (make sure to put a barrier between the birds and the lamp) the other side should have water and feed. This is to make sure the birds will be able to get away from the heat if they get too warm. If you notice them huddling together around the lamp and never going to the feed side then you know they are too cold. They will need bedding, water and chick feed.
Once the birds begin to put on their real feathers and begin to get too tall (or begin trying to jump or fly out) of the brooder box you know they are ready to upgrade to a pullet pen. A pullet pen is necessary to protect young hens as they mature to their full grown size. At pullet age they are still small enough to fly and small enough to be picked off by predators like hawks.
Currently our hens have a coop and a yard. This is for their protection in a backyard. We had issues early on with predators and created an aviary type setting for them. Your hens will need a roost; this is where they sleep. They will need nesting boxes; this is where they will lay their eggs. The nesting box will need to have bedding in it; hay is what we use. The hens love to make their beds; so just throw some hay in there and they will do the rest. Leave the door to the coop open and they will come and go as they please through out the day and as the sun sets they will begin to go to roost on their own.
Hens begin to lay eggs when they are about 20-24 weeks old. They will lay about 240 eggs in their first year of laying and then this will quickly decrease in the second and even more reduction in the third year. With your first flock, you may need to place some “fake” eggs in the nesting boxes to teach the hens where the appropriate place to lay their eggs is. With a new flock you may occasionally find eggs in the yard as they are beginning to lay. They are still learning. Give them a little time and they figure it out.
As summertime rolls around, you may see a decline in egg production. Hens get hot like the rest of us and a little stressed by the heat. They’ll pick back up again as the cooler weather of fall comes around. Be sure they have easy access to clean water at all times; we use automatic waterer. Also be sure they have plenty of chicken feed, but they love your kitchen scraps and weeds and worms from your garden too. You will see an increase or decrease of egg production, size and yellow yolks depending on how much “extras” they are getting. We throw out scratch for the hens when we gather the eggs around the same time every day. This motivates them to abandon the nest while we rob them, but be prepared for the hen that isn’t ready to give up her babies…Just reach in there and grab ’em out from under her! Of course, you might get a peck or two … be creative on how to protect yourself when you reach under her. We keep laying hen pellets available for them to feed on demand.
So if you are considering starting your flock now is the time to get started. email firstname.lastname@example.org with more questions! I know I didn’t cover near enough, but I gotta stop somewhere 😉