This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure here.
Having your own chickens has become all the rage lately. This is one fad that is a great money saver and way to feed your family healthy food. Raising backyard chickens is actually easier than caring for a dog or cat and comes with benefits of food!
We started raising our own chickens about two years ago. My husband went to Tractor Supply and came home with 12 chicks unexpectedly on my birthday. Can’t say it was what I wanted for my birthday… but when he held up the boxes and said “they were on sale Buy One Get One, I thought you’d be proud” how could I not smile. We honestly knew nothing, but they are so simple that figuring out what to do wasn’t hard.
Why Raise Your Own Chickens
Raising your families own food through gardens, and chickens is pretty awesome. You are in control of what goes in them, and you have a food source that didn’t cost anything at the store! If you are trying to eat more organic and healthy foods then this is a great choice. Cage free eggs in the store are nothing compared to home grown eggs.
Please know one thing, raising your own chickens doesn’t make for free eggs. You do have costs for feed, equipment and a coop. We did the math on our chickens and it came out to about $3 per dozen when they are younger and eating more feed, and about $1 per dozen as they get older. You can feed them table scraps and let them free range, but they do need some feed to supplement your snacks.
Another great part of raising chickens is the lessons your kids will learn. They can do almost every part of taking care of them (depending on age) and will learn a lot of great lessons having daily chores of filling feed and water and gathering eggs!
Do you want to take on backyard chickens?
This is a great time to get started. Tractor Supply stores across the US are running their big “chick days” sale. Each store has plenty of baby chicks plus all the gear you need.
Before you go in and go crazy you need to decide how many want to have (or can). Some cities have ordinances that limit chickens so make sure you know the rules. We started with 12 which was a lot. However we didn’t end up with 12 that were layers.
Tip #1 – make sure that you get girls! Some stores will sell “unsexed” birds. This means they didn’t check and that come 8-10 weeks from now you will find out whether they are boys or girls. We accidentally bought from this batch… so our original 12 included 5 that were boys. We ended up killing the boys and eating them (this is where my husband is all the more awesome cause I wasn’t going to do anything but cook them).
Having 7 chickens was plenty for our family. We could eat eggs everyday and still not eat them all!
What You Need to Start
Grab your babies at Tractor Supply or from a local farmer. Then grab a few more things before you head home. Baby chicks need:
- A large box to live in (we used a plastic Rubbermaid storage container)
- Warming light
- Chick Feed (most choose medicated chick feed but you can decide for yourself)
- Bedding – wood shavings work great
For the first few weeks the chicks can’t fly, so leave the box open to enjoy their cuteness. Once they start trying to perch on the top of your box (or escaping) put something over the top to keep them inside. We had left over wire shelving pieces that worked perfectly. It was very open but enough to keep them inside!
One big thing to realize from the beginning is that they can’t live outside for a while. They can be in the garage, but to release them into an outdoor coop or even free range them when they are little puts them at too much risk. They need to stay warm under the light, plus they are so small that any larger animal can carry them off. The joy here though… you don’t have to figure out what coop to use for at least 5-7 weeks!!
As They Get Older
When they get big enough and the weather is warmer you can start preparing to move them outside into their house. My husband built our coop from wood scraps we had. We made a “tractor coop” that was really a large box that we can move around the yard. This lets them rid your entire yard of bugs and helps to fertilize lots of different areas.
There are tons of creative, frugal, ideas on building a chicken coop. I’ve seen everything from using an old little tikes play house to using palates. Don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune or buy something pre-made. You just need something that can keep them warm in the winter, and safe from predators.
Your best investment at this point is a chicken book since it will give you helpful information at all stages of their life. I’d recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, it is one of the most informative books on chickens.
Saving With Chickens
When your chickens are really young, it’s best to stick to medicated feed that you buy at the store. It has all the nutrients that your chicks need at this stage.
When they are older, you can give them any table scraps (except raw meat and potato peels) and that will help cut the cost of feeding them. Letting your chickens free range or keeping them in a chicken tractor will also help cut feed costs and also help your yard or garden out. Just remember that they can’t distinguish between the leftover tomatoes from last night and the ones growing in your garden. You will still need to provide some feed and possibly oyster shells to make sure they are getting enough food.
When Do Eggs Come?
Raising your own chickens will help you finally learn the age old question… what came first? It was definitely the chicken! They won’t start laying eggs till they are at least 16 weeks old. This is where the bulk of the “cost” of your eggs come in. For 16 weeks you are feeding and taking of them before you see any big results. Once the eggs start though you’ll feel like everyday you have a secret the rest of the world needs to learn!
Look for most birds to lay every 2 days at first and work into laying daily. An average backyard chicken will lay for around 5 years. They do lay less as they age, but you’ve got a long life of eggs out of each bird.
A Few Extra Tips
- Chickens can be mean to each other. Before adding different age groups together you need to introduce them to each other slowly.
- Have friends save egg cartons for you now!
- You can Google or watch Youtube videos on everything, this isn’t that tricky!
One last tip (or warning)… many joke but it’s true, chickens are a “gateway” animal to wanting a farm…