Today’s post is going to be a short and sweet introduction to starting with chickens as a protein source along with your vegetable garden. These are the main components to food sustainability. I started out with chickens because I wanted to see how I would do with a small but traditional barnyard animal. They were affordable at $2-$3 a chick. Chickens are the easiest animal to start with mainly because their care is straightforward and their housing can be anything as simple as a an old tub for a nursury. This makes it a good candidate animal for those with limited budgets and who may also have limited mobility. The three main concerns with starting to raise chickens are: 1) what breed will supply your needs, 2) how many should you get, and 3) what kind of coop can you afford to build or purchase.
What kind of breed will be best?
Breeds: there are laying breeds and meat producing breeds as well as dual- purpose. To start, I recommend the dual purpose: Rhode Island Reds. They are good layers and you can eat them when their laying cycle ends. You can purchase this breed at most Farm supply stores. Another dual-purpose breed are the New Hampshire breeds which you can mail order online. I also recommend an FHL Food Pantry and Resource Partner: Naptown Chickens as a resource. Generally, chicks are available in the fall and the spring from stores. If you know a farmer, you may be able to get younger hens, but buyer beware as they may not be good layers or have disease. Make sure you know the farmer and they are reliable. And there are plenty good ones out there! Chicks that are sold at a Farm supply or online are sexed so that you know you are getting a layer. Try to avoid buying the “straight run” these are not sexed and so you may have roosters or layers. Hens do not need a rooster to lay eggs. When I started, I chose to begin with Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas. The RIR’s have been exceptional layers and the Ameraucanas were a delight to have because they produced the most beautiful blue eggs! That’s why they call them the “Easter Eggers”!
How Many Should I Get?
That depends. You’ll need to have room in the coop for the number you intend to support healthfully and comfortably. You’ll need to take into account whether you have to deal with predators where you live. Accidents do happen. Dogs and raccoons are generally the kind of animals to protect your birds from. So get a couple extra to account for flock loss. One last thing: make sure you check your city ordinances if you live in city as to the amount of hens/and or roosters you can have on your property. Indianapolis is pretty lenient. Backyard chickens is a good source for ordinance information as well as other questions. You’ll find a great deal of shared information there from fellow homesteaders and chicken owners.
What kind of coop should I build?
That also depends where you live. Movable chicken tractors provide predator protection as well as forage opportunity. Here’s an example from my chicken coop board on Pinterest. If you live on some land and intend on watching your flock forage in the wild, then a more stationary coop might suit you like mine here . Farm supply stores carry them and they can also be purchased online. They generally run starting at $250 and on up. But most owners like to find a good example online and build their own to suit their particular needs. The main thing to consider is cleaning the coop – how hard will the design of the coop make it, because you’ll want to clean it enough to keep your chickens comfortable and healthy, especially in the spring and summer. In the winter, you’ll use the deep litter method and I’ll talk more about that in a future post. Word of Caution: DO NOT USE CHICKEN WIRE. It is not safe enough against predators. USE HARD WARE CLOTH. It’s sold in most farm supply and hardware stores. Most new coops use hardware cloth, but if you are unfamiliar with what it looks like, ASK!