It is officially spring and the chickens have arrived on the Gubba Homestead! I have learned a plethora of knowledge through preparing to receive the chickens, so let me share with you everything you need to know about having backyard chickens! How many chickens does a new chicken keeper need? How many chickens should I start out with? These are common questions to have when you are beginning your journey with backyard chickens! I had the same questions.
The first thing you need to know about chickens is that there are three main types of chickens: egg-layers, broilers, and dual purpose. Obviously, egg-layers are dedicated to producing eggs and don’t have much meat to them, so they don’t make great meat birds. For example, my Leghorn hens will only get to about 4 or 5lbs, but they produce eggs like crazy! Broiler birds are chickens that you will raise for their meat. Dual-purpose breeds can produce both eggs and meat, so they are a “meet in the middle” kind of bird.
How many chickens do I need for eggs?
After you have decided what type of chicken you want to raise, decide what you consume and what you want to produce. For egg-laying, dedicated egg-layers can produce up to 300 eggs per year. Calculate how many eggs you consume and do the math—that is for one chicken! Four good egg-layers can potentially lay up to 24 eggs a week! That is a lot of eggs. If you only utilize one carton of eggs per week by yourself or with your family, 2-3 hens will be sufficient and 4 hens would be an abundance!
How to I store excess eggs for long term storage?
You can freeze-dry eggs for long term storage. I have a Harvest Right Freeze Dryer, and I plan to freeze dry my excess eggs and store in mylar bags for emergency use. You can also freeze fresh eggs, dehydrate, and water glass eggs. The easiest way to store excess eggs would be to utilize oxygen absorbers and mylar bags after freeze-drying your eggs. Dehydrating your eggs and storing them in a vacuum-sealed glass jar would be a great alternative as well.
Water glassed eggs can keep your farm fresh eggs fresh for 1 year to 18 months. For water glassing, you want to use eggs that haven’t been washed or bought from the store. For freeze-drying and dehydrating, you can use any kind of egg you would like.
How long will unwashed eggs keep in the refrigerator?
Typically, unwashed eggs can keep for up to six months in the refrigerator. They may be runny after this amount of time, but will still be edible.
How long can I keep unwashed eggs on the counter?
Typically, unwashed eggs are the fresh for up to two weeks on the counter, but then you will want to move them to the fridge. To be honest, I have kept unwashed eggs on the counter for up to a month and they have been perfectly fine and edible.
What do I need for backyard chickens?
You need a coop to house your chickens, bedding, feed, a waterer, a feeder, and nesting boxes if you are raising egg-layers. The coop size can be large or small depending on your flock size. You can either build it or purchase one form your local farm supply store.
How much space do chickens need?
It is recommended to have about 2 sq. ft. per chicken in your flock. Overcrowding your chickens can lead to stress and disease. A large number of birds in a small coop can lead to wet floors and bedding due to the amount of droppings. Take into account the breed of bird that you have and how large they will be. Space requirements vary between breeds.
How do I build a chicken roost?
You can throw up some 2x4s in your chicken coop with the four-inch side facing up for your chickens to roost on. Having the four-inch side facing up allows the chicken to rest their whole body at night. You don’t want to use rounded poles because chickens will exhaust themselves trying to clamp onto it at night. You can either put the two-inch side or the four-inch side up for the chickens. I opted to place the four-inch side up, so they can easily rest their entire bodies on it at night if they need to.
What do I use to feed chickens?
If you are starting with chicks, you will want to get a chick starter feed. Then after 8-10 weeks, you will switch to a laying or broiler feed. Scratch feed, a mixture of grains and seeds, is valuable to give to your flock and reduces boredom by encouraging them to forage for their food. Grit is required to aid chickens in digestion development and you will want to start giving grit, like oyster shells, to your chickens once they transition from chick feed to other feed.
What kitchen scraps can I give to chickens?
Bread (including leftover pasta), cooked meats (cut into small pieces), fruits like apples, tomatoes, strawberries, grains like rice and oatmeal, greens like kale, lettuce, and spinach, most cooked or raw vegetables, and squash.
What foods are unsafe for chickens?
Alcohol, avocado skins and pits, caffeine, nightshade leaves like tomato or potato leaves, processed foods like chips, spoiled and moldy food, raw meat, and raw potato peels.
What heat do I need for chickens?
You will need to have a supplemental heat source for your chicks until they develop their true feathers to keep themselves warm. You can use a heating lamp with a heat bulb that is safely secured in the coop or you can use a chicken coop heater. Make sure that any heat source you use is safely secured and can’t be easily tugged about or fall from its place. Once the chickens have developed their true feathers, they don’t need heat unless temperatures drop below zero—they are cold hardy creatures. Some breeds are acclimated for the cold weather.
**I wrote this before I had a fire in my chicken coop due to the heat lamp. I have another blog about how to safely heat your chicken coop without heat lamps that you can read here How to safely heat your chicken coop.
How many nesting boxes do I need?
For your egg-laying hens to have an ample amount of space for comfortable egg-laying, it is suggested to have 1 box per 3 hens. The more boxes the better because they have space and privacy. You will want to use hay or straw to line the nesting boxes.
What can I grow to feed my chickens?
Weeds can be utilized to feed your chickens. For example, dandelions are high in nutrition and can be used to supplement chicken feed. Stinging nettle, comfrey, burdock, yellow mustard, alfalfa, clover, and buckwheat are all good cover crops and weeds that can be used to feed your chickens. Most vegetables that you can grow and eat can also be fed to your chickens. Peas, squash, watermelon, tomatoes, etc all can be utilized for feeding your chickens. Grow berry bushes like blackberry and raspberry and share the abundance with your chickens.
What bedding should I use in my chicken coop?
I would suggest to use a type of wood shavings. It absorbs the moisture well, unlike hay or straw where the moisture isn’t absorbed and creates dirty conditions for your chickens. Wood shavings are easy to clean and the chickens will kick it about mixing in their droppings for decomposition. Rotate the bedding once a week by adding in more bedding on top of the old. Mixing in edible food morsels into the bedding can encourage scratching which aerates the poultry compost that is building up in the coop.
Old newspapers can be shredded and used as bedding. This is essentially free chicken bedding, but beware of chemicals from treated paper like office paper and staples.
Sand can be used as a bedding as well, and if properly cared for it will only have to be changed once or twice a year.
The best bedding is what you have access to and time for.
I want everyone to have backyard chickens because they are fun and a great way to become self-sufficient. No more relying on store-bought eggs to meet your needs! You are able to monitor what your chickens are eating unlike the eggs at the store—you have no clue what that manufacturer pumped into those chickens. Start small because you can always grow your flock later!