Winter is the time of year, when a person’s mind begins to wander. Sure, there are the usual distractions: chocolate, seed catalogs, French press coffee, gardening tools, and the newest mold-ripened cheese at the local deli. But for some people, their minds can only find rest once they place their chick order.
Whether you are a seasoned chicken keeper or a first timer, backyard chickens is a trend that is sweeping the country. People from all walks of life, income levels, and even those living in an urban setting are keeping chickens. Chicken workshops are filling up. Urban dwellers are checking municipal codes. And hatcheries as well as local feed and ranch supply stores are poised to sell chicks.
Now for the first-time chicken keeper, the idea of ordering chicks can be daunting. How many chicks? Which breeds are best? Is there a minimum number to order? Does it matter if they lay white eggs or brown eggs? Must I order roosters as well as hens?
To put your mind at ease, here is a simple guide that will take you through the process.
1) If you live in an urban setting, find out if you can legally keep chickens on your property. To do this, you can look up your local community’s municipal code. To pare down the process so you are not reading page after page of code, do a search on ‘Animals’ and/or ‘Urban Agriculture’. This will vary based upon the wording used by your local government.
2) Verify within the municipal code the maximum number of chickens allowed. (Almost all communities will set a limit as well as a ban on roosters… allowing only hens.) From that number, determine approximately how many eggs in a week that you use. Most breeds of chickens will lay anywhere from 3 -5 eggs per week on average. Now if your code allows 8 hens and there are just 2 of you in your household, can you realistically handle 24 – 40 eggs per week? If not, do you have friends, family, or neighbors that you can share with? (Most people will readily accept fresh eggs.) Or would you be better off by keeping fewer chickens?
3) Determine if you want chickens that are good egg layers or are a combination of meat and eggs. (Some areas will allow homeowners to slaughter their poultry.) Any reputable hatchery or local farm and ranch store will be able to provide a list of breeds for eggs as well as eggs and meat. A great example of an egg laying breed is the Leghorn.
4) More and more stores no longer require a minimum chick order. They will take your name, number and the type of breed(s) that you want. This make it easy if you are in the market for just 3 or 4 chickens. Hatcheries are also following suit, though if you place a large order (typically 25 or more) the price per chick is less. Call the store or hatchery first to find out if they require a minimum order.
5) Eggs taste the same regardless if they are brown, white, green, or pale pink. Keep in mind that the only difference is the shell color.
6) You are not required to order male chicks (cockerels). And it gets even better. Males are not needed for your chickens to lay eggs!
7) Have food, water, and a warm place ready for the chicks. Whether you pick your chicks up at the store or they are sent via mail, be ready to care for them the minute they arrive at your home. You can purchase a commercially made brooder which is designed to maintain a constant temperature. (Though you can make your own with a small pen/cage with the floor covered in straw and a heat lamp above.) Be sure to provide fresh water as well as chick feed. (There is a difference between chick starter and layer mash.)
Getting chicks can be a painless process. Remember to check your local municipal code. Determine how many chickens you need. Get breeds that fit your needs. And remember, roosters are not required! Once your chicks arrive, be ready to care for them with proper feed and environment. Getting chicks really is easy.