If you have been paying attention to recent events this past year, you’ll know that chicken-keeping is the newest back-to-basics obsession. In fact, I’m not sure which is the hotter item, raising chickens or making sourdough bread.
Have you thought about getting your own flock? Chickens are the easiest livestock to take care of and are considered the “gateway” animal. I know because that’s what started me down the path towards having my own self-sufficient homestead.
It was a warm day, way back in 2008, when my friend said she knew a lady who was hatching her own chickens. I lived in Tennessee at the time and had about two acres in the country. I had a huge garden and an old pole barn that was just asking to have animals in it again. We were surrounded by pasture fields with cows and wild blackberry bushes. And I really wanted chickens.
I had done my research and wanted Barred Rocks. I liked that they were a sturdy breed, well known for their personalities and for being a dual-purpose bird: This means that they are good for producing eggs and for their meat.
I wanted to start with a small flock and then work my way into having a larger flock where the hens would raise the next generation, and then when the time came, Mama would go into the stew pot.
So, my friend took me to see the farmer with baby chicks. We chatted for a few minutes about her setup. (She had the biggest incubator I’d ever seen. Of course, at the time, it was the only incubator I’d ever seen, but still, it was big.) And she had baby chicks in their brooders everywhere. I can still see it clearly in my mind. She told me to go ahead and pick out the birds I wanted. So I stood in front of the brooder with the Barred Rock chicks, contemplating if I could even touch a chicken, much less grab one and bring it home with me! But I did it, and I haven’t looked back since.
I know you are getting antsy to start your flock. Where do you start? First, answer these questions about what you want from your flock. Do you want chickens solely for eggs? Are you looking for the infamous rainbow egg layers? Are you considering raising your own meat birds, but want egg layers too? How much room do you have? How many birds do you want? Do you want a rooster or just hens?
Then, think about where you want to get them. Do you want to order from a large hatchery and pick them up at the post office? Yes, they get sent through the mail! Chicks can survive up to three days without food and water when they are first hatched. Hatcheries have a day that they hatch out birds—usually on Mondays, but not always. Your post office will call you when the birds arrive. It’s the funniest thing when you walk into the post office and hear all that chirping, because they’ll certainly be chirping away. The trip is usually stressful for them and they don’t know what’s happening. Whisk them away, get them home and set them up in the brooder where they’ll be happy and ready for food and water.
Or, you can find a smaller breeder online. The process will be the same: They’ll hatch out the birds and ship them to you through the post office. The post office has lots of experience with shipping live birds. You can order hatching eggs through the mail, too. It’s amazing what can be shipped through the mail. Maybe not bigger livestock; can you imagine going to the post office to pick up your alpaca? Stranger things have happened, I’m sure.
One other way you can get your first flock is to find someone locally, as I did with my first flock. I personally think this is the best way. There’s nothing like going to the farm and picking up your chicks and seeing where they started from. But depending on what type or breed of chicken you want, you might have to look outside your immediate area to find the breeds that you are looking for.
Don’t overthink this part. You need a safe, secure container to raise those birds in for the next six to eight weeks. It needs to be protected and free from drafts. They will need heat, food and water. And eventually, you’ll need to give them grit and things to do. Chickens get bored. And once they’re bored, they’ll start picking on each other. But once you have your brooder all set up, now the fun begins!
After the initial startup costs of securing your birds, feeders, waterers, brooder and chicken coop, you don’t have too much of an expense, save for feed and other inexpensive accouterments. This is what makes chickens so appealing: They’re easy to care for and don’t require a lot of long-term investment. They are also one of the only livestock that gives you food without you having to do anything. Don’t want to milk a cow? Not a problem. Don’t want to butcher a pig for food? Don’t worry about it. The chicken is the gift that keeps on giving—giving you food, giving you entertainment and giving you new birds (if you have a rooster and want to go that route).
I’m now on my third flock. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and we have to start over. I have eight hens—all different breeds (Winnie the Wyandotte, Maran the Black Cooper Maran, Sassy and Gussie the Barred Rocks, Tomy, Loretta and Martha Anconas and Gracie the Barnevelder) and we are adding a Barred Rock rooster to the group soon. And don’t worry, not many of my egg layers have ended up in the stew pot! I’m a sucker for those birds. And don’t say I didn’t warn you! Next, you’ll want to add goats, sheep, pigs, cows and, maybe, an alpaca or two. But that’s a conversation for a different day.
Each of them has its own personality, and if you figure out who’s who early on, you can watch their personality unfold.
Some will be curious, some will be shy, some will be bold. They’ll all pretty much talk to you. I like making up stories about what they’re saying.
You might think I’m crazy, but once you have your flock, give it time.
Then you’ll be writing to tell me that you also make up stories about what they’re saying!
Kristin White runs Chicken Librarian, where she teaches homesteading courses for life. You can find her living a handmade life while free-ranging on the banks of the Delaware River, in the foothills of the Catskills, with the Mister, a good girl pup, two very bad kitties and eight pretty girl chickens.
She enjoys the homesteading, made-from-scratch life, which includes knitting, raising chickens, pie making, beer making, bread making, gardening and seasonal eating.
She also enjoys photography. And wine. And she reads. A lot.
Contact Kristin to find out how she can help you live a life simply, successfully and filled with all things homesteading. You can find her at www.chickenlibrarian.com, Facebook, Instagram, or email at email@example.com.