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An intro to chickens for beginners if you want to start keeping hens in the back yard.
Chickens are hard workers in our backyard. Every animal we raise here has a job to do while they are with us. If you want to have chickens, here’s some of what we’ve learned having our hens. Think of it as Chicken Farming 101!
Raising Chickens for Beginners
Our chickens are always working. They are trying to find food and working the soil.
They work to keep the bugs down (have you ever watched chickens chasing bugs? Hilarious stuff!).
They work over and fluff up our composting manure piles in their search for bits of grain and worms.
Plus, they lay some of the best tasting eggs you will eat. Don’t knock farm fresh eggs. They taste SO different from those store bought ones.
And the colour – the brilliant yellow, almost orange yolks are a sight to behold. So unlike those pale runny eggs they sell in the grocery store.
If you don’t have chickens at your house, consider getting a few. Even 3 or 4 hens will lay more than enough eggs to keep a family of 4 happy and they make great additions to your backyard.
Many towns and even large cities are changing their bylaws to allow chickens in city backyards.
In the City of Vancouver, you are allowed to have 2 hens per house. It is really great to see so many cities and town starting to think progressively about the food supply.
You don’t need a rooster in order to get eggs from your hens. That’s a good thing, because roosters in the city may be a problem because of their crowing.
Where to Find Chickens to Buy?
You can look on Craiglist for some laying hens. But be aware that sometimes people will sell off their OLD laying hens.
You want young hens, ones that will produce well for at least 2 years. Older hens will lay fewer eggs but those eggs will be larger.
If you have a local feed store you can ask if they ever bring in “Ready to Lay” hens. These hens are probably about 4 months old, and should start laying for you within a month. These are probably the best option for chickens for beginners, who would rather not raise hens from chicks.
Our feed store sells them for about $10 each and most years I do order some to add to my flock.
You can also mail order day old chicks and raise them to laying age yourself. If you want to learn about setting up brooders and raising day olds, 8 Pounds in 8 Weeks covers all the stuff you will need.
Whether you are raising meat birds or laying hens, their starting needs are the same, except for their feed.
We feed our layers 16% protein feed. Much of the year, they are outside running around in the yard chasing bugs and worms which adds more protein to their diet.
If we had a worm farm, we could likely do away with the feed from the store.
Our hens also get a lot of our garden waste and veggie tops. We can reduce the amount of store bought feed in the warmer months as the hens are getting protein from other sources.
During the winter months, when our barnyard is covered in several feet of snow, things change for our hens.
They get lots of 16% lay pellets, plus hay. Our hens love hay and yours probably do too. Alfalfa hay is excellent and will help their yolks have that beautiful deep colours.
We also give them all our household leftovers and scraps, except chicken. We do NOT feed chicken to chickens, just like we do not feed pork to pigs.
Do Chickens Like Eating Fat?
Speaking of pigs, when we butcher our pigs each Fall, we trim off a lot of the fat. Our pigs do not have as thick a layer of fat on them as straight grain fed pigs, because we feed them heavily on garden veggies. We still get plenty of fat for our needs.
I wrap the fat in bags and tuck them away in the freezer. Then during those short, cold dark days of Winter I pull out a package and dice it up for the hens.
They love it and it’s good for them. Look around your barnyard and see how you can reduce the feed store food bill.
Many people with extra freezer room tuck turnip tops or beet tops in there to take out for their hens in the Winter. Cabbages can be kept in a cold room down in your basement to be brought up to the chicken coop during Winter.
Five minutes later, here’s what’s left of that big bowl of fat and leftovers.
What do you feed your chickens? Start thinking of easy things to grow that will be good for chickens. Less dependency on the local feed store is a good thing.
Grab our book 8 Pounds in 8 Weeks! Everything you need to know is in there!
Links to our articles about raising chickens for beginners:
Answers to the most common questions about chickens are right here!
A funky temporary chicken coop and fast and easy chicken fencing!
More information about raising chickens in the city.
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Originally published 2017; updated June 2021