Nine Things to Know Before Getting Pet Chickens
A couple of months ago I told you about my plan to skip the garden this summer (after last year’s disaster) and take on a new project instead. Yep, three months ago I officially became a chick mom! That’s when we brought home our first set of chicks and we’ve since adopted four more. I’ve learned a lot in that time and people are always asking me about them. So I thought I would share what I’ve learned in the hopes that it might help anyone who’s thinking of getting some pet chickens of their own.
Bob & Foxy
Let me start with why we got the chickens. It’s pretty simple really. I love animals. We have two dogs that I adore and I have a dream of one day owning a horse and maybe a pig. That won’t be happening anytime soon but my husband was totally on board with getting the chickens. Having them around has been so much fun! But I knew nothing about raising chickens when I started. So if that’s where you are, then read this list of nine things you should know before you get your first flock.
ONE: BABY CHICKS ARE FRAGILE
Our first flock was a group of five and two of them died within the first few weeks. I cried both times. I know it sounds insane to get attached to a chicken, especially after only a few weeks, but after taking care of those little fluff balls around the clock it’s really sad when you lose one. So you should be prepared for that.
Also, they can get a condition called “pasty but”. It’s not a major thing but it can be if you don’t deal with it right away. Pasty but happens when poop gets caked on their bottom leaving then unable to go. It’s easily corrected by holding a damp paper towel on their bottom until the poop loosens up enough to be wiped away. Just be very careful that you don’t tear the skin.
TWO: THERE WILL BE POOP
Lots and lots of poop. And it stinks. And the bigger the chicken the bigger the poop. If you’ve ever had a cat with a litter box this won’t be a big deal. Just be prepared to wash your hands a lot. I’m already a germophobe, so you can imagine my reaction when I pick up a chick that has just stepped in its own poop. But they’re so cute that it totally makes up for it.
THREE: IT’S A LOT OF WORK
At least in the beginning. Baby chicks require careful monitoring for the first few weeks. In the beginning they will have to stay inside the home. We kept them in the garage but I know people have kept them in the basement or even in a spare bedroom. Their pen has to be cleaned and changed out daily. You will have to refill their food often since they eat a lot and they should always have access to fresh, clean water. I change the chicks’ water out several times a day. They tend to scratch and kick up pine shavings which will land in the water. They also sit on the edge of the bowl and end up pooping in the water.
The older ones are in the coop and I clean it about once a week. Though I might up it to twice a week when the younger ones join them. We’re also in the process of letting the younger ones get to know the older ones before they start living together full-time. This means I have to take them out to the coop every night for about an hour. I set up “walls” for them against the coop using a cardboard box so they have their own safe place. We’ve just started letting the little ones free-range for a few minutes at a time with the older ones. The point is they have to get to know each other before they live together full-time, for the safety of the younger ones.
Foxy sitting in my lap.
FOUR: IT CAN TAKE TIME FOR THEM TO BECOME FRIENDLY
This means you have to spend some time holding them. But baby chicks are fragile so you should handle them very carefully and don’t hold them too far above the ground. We got our first set of chicks at just a few days old. From the beginning they would let me pick them up and they would eat from my hand. That’s the benefit of getting them as babies.
We got the second set at a couple of weeks old and it took longer for them to take to me. After about three weeks they’re letting me pick them up and sometimes they actually hop up onto my hand when I reach into their pen.
FIVE: CHICKENS NEED A COOP
So you’ll either have to build one or buy one. I loved the idea of building one but ultimately it was just easier to buy one. If you choose to build one you can find lots of detailed plans on Pinterest but if you choose to buy one I recommend getting it from Tractor Supply. They have a really good selection and the one we have is really sturdy. It’s held up to storms with heavy winds and so far nothing has gotten inside of it, fingers crossed. We went with the Precision Walk In Barn because it’s big enough to walk into and seemed roomy enough for 5-6 chickens.
Our original plan was to get a chicken tractor which is basically just a chicken coop on wheels. The idea is that you move it around to allow your chickens to be on fresh grass while fertilizing the yard, little by little. We might attach some wheels to it but for know we just pick it up and move it once a week.
SIX: CHICKENS ARE BASICALLY DEFENSELESS
If you plan to let your chickens free range then just know you are exposing them to predators such as hawks. We only let our chickens free range when we’re home and able to stay outside with them. We make time for them to free range at least once a day but sometimes they get to go out twice.
Speaking of predators, we’ve already had an encounter with a snake and a close call with a pack of hawks. The chickens were totally oblivious to the snake but luckily my husband spotted it and took care of business before it could hurt any of them.
The hawks were different though. The rooster saw the hawks before I did and he made this crazy noise. That seemed to be an alert for the hen and they both ran for the coop. They seemed to understand they were in danger and the coop was their safe place.
SEVEN: DO A LITTLE RESEARCH ON BREEDS
I had no idea there were so many different breeds of chickens. Different breeds thrive in different climates and some breeds tend to be more friendly than others. You can get pretty accurate descriptions about different breeds at Murray McMurray. Which brings me to number eight.
Crested Cream Legbar
EIGHT: GET YOUR CHICKENS FROM A REPUTABLE SOURCE
Being a first time chick Mom, and a little naive about the whole thing, I found my first set of chicks on Craigslist. The seller claimed to be a prize-winning breeder and promised to give me a little education when I picked them up. When I showed up to get them they shoved a box in my arms, took my money and went back inside. They also promised me they were all hens. I didn’t know it at the time but it’s basically impossible to determine the sex of a baby chick. Two of the three that survived turned out to be roosters.
If you get your chicks from a place like Murray McMurray, or a reputable local farm, I think they have a better chance at survival. You can also buy older chicks that have already been determined as female, if you’re trying to avoid having a rooster.
Luckily, we have a friend that knows a lot about chickens and he found the second set of chicks for us. We actually traded one of our roosters for them! I was more than happy to make the trade because I know the rooster went to a good home.
NINE: IT’S A COMMITMENT
Just like when you adopt any animal, chickens are a long-term commitment. Typically, chickens live to be around 10 years old. So if you aren’t prepared to absorb the costs, and handle the work that’s involved in taking care of chickens and maintaining the coop, then maybe think twice.
THOUGH I THINK OF THEM AS PETS THEY DO SERVE A PURPOSE
- They provide eggs. Okay, I know, captain obvious. But for someone who eats eggs almost every day this is a big deal. But keep in mind this is not about saving money it’s about fresh eggs.
- They fertilize the yard and eat bugs such as pesky ticks.
- They’re really cute! And they make the craziest noises which makes them very entertaining. I love hanging out in the backyard while the chickens free range. It’s actually kind of therapeutic.
I hope this list helps you if you’re thinking about getting some chickens of your own. To be honest, I kind of jumped right in without really knowing what I was doing. I know I still have a lot to learn, and it isn’t always easy, but I believe having and caring for animals is so good for the soul.
Have you ever thought about raising chickens? If you have experience with chickens, would you agree with my advice for first time chicken owners? Sign up below to keep up with Bob & Foxy and the rest of the crew.