How to Get Chicks

A woman holding three baby chicks.

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Some of the author's chickens going outside for the first time

Dear Pablo, I am thinking about getting some chickens but I don't live on a farm. Can you raise chickens in the suburbs without causing trouble in the neighborhood?I am hearing of more and more people getting backyard chickens in the suburbs, in fact I recently got four of my own. Over the last month I have learned a lot about raising chickens and I would love to share some knowledge with you. While backyard chickens were once part of a back-to-the-land movement the reasons for keeping chickens have expanded to producing you own healthy, antibiotic-free, local, and organic eggs, as well as keeping them as pets. If free eggs sound appealing to you, keep in mind that you will spend around $10/month per chicken on feed as well as the upfront cost for their dwelling and suppliesAm I even allowed to have chickens?

The legality of keeping chickens varies not only from city to city, but is often dependant on your zoning within the city. Check with your local zoning laws to determine what you can and cannot do. For example, I am allowed up to 12 chickens but must house them at least 10 feet from the property line and am not allowed to keep a rooster. One question that this frequently raises is "don't you need a rooster to get eggs?" Luckily the answer is no, chickens naturally lay up to one egg per day and, unless you want chicks, they do not need to be fertilized. Hens themselves are not completely quiet though, your flock will add some liveliness to your backyard soundscape. Chicks make cute peeping sounds, eventually to be replaced by buc-buc-bucauk, especially when they are celebrating the arrival of a new egg.

What do I need to raise chicks?

A little chick being held in hands.

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Bringing home our little fuzzy chicks was a real pleasure. With Easter just behind us your local animal shelter may be getting a flood of unwanted chickens and rabbits soon. Another option, of course, is incubating and hatching eggs yourself, buying day-old chicks from your local feed store, or from a local family-owned operation like Ranch Hag Hens, where I got my girls. If the chicks are young enough, your face will become "imprinted" in their minds and they will always consider you their mother. Frequent handling and hand-feeding will help to domesticate them so that they will be comfortable with you. Other than that, chicks need very little. A box will serve as a home, lined with newspaper and wood shavings, a heat lamp will maintain the home at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (decreased by 5 degrees each week), and fresh water and medicated chick mash will keep them healthy. Frequently cleaning the chicken poop out of their home will help keep them healthy and will keep the smell down. An additional benefit of keeping chickens is the fertilizer value of their waste; adding it to your compost will add nutrients.

What do you need to keep hens?

A hen walking around on grass looking for bugs to eat.

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Adolescent chickens are called pullets and don't become hens until they are a year old. Pullets begin laying eggs around 4-5 months (some breeds produce up to one egg per day) and live to be 5 or more years old. Along with a good supply of fresh water and the appropriate feed your hens will need shelter to keep them safe from predators and protected from weather. Your hens will also need an enclosed area to stretch their legs. The space requirement varies between breeds, but 4 square feet per chicken should be enough. Appropriate shelter can range from a converted storage shed, a purchased chicken coop, or you can go all-out and build an insulated mini-barn, complete with windows, shingles and solar panels, like I did.