Photo: Sarah Gilbert (Flickr)
Spring is right around the corner, which means hatcheries are mailing out catalogs full of colorful feathers and cute chicks. After eying the glossy pages, you may be thinking this is the year of the yard bird!
But you have to be prepared, because raising chickens requires more than just having a decorative coop and a fenced-in, predator-proof run.
Here’s a quiz to help you figure out if you are really ready to take the plunge.
Have You Done Your Research?
Do you know which kind of chickens you want and why? Like dogs and horses, different breeds of chickens were developed for different purposes. A Leghorn, for example, was developed as an egg-laying bird. While they will lay lots of white eggs, they aren’t very big birds and, therefore, won’t make much of a meal if you want to raise chicken for meat.
Do You Know The Nutritional Needs Of Your Chickens?
This takes some reading! There are several websites with lots of helpful information, like this one from the University of Maine and this other one from the University of Kentucky. You need to know what kind of food and how much to feed your chickens at various stages of development.
What Will You Do With Your Hens As They Age?
Chickens can live for 9 years or longer. Take my old Buff Orpington — she died at the age of 13½! She hadn’t laid an egg in years but was a wonderful broody mother to many hatches of my Sicilian Buttercups. Will you butcher the older birds and replace them with younger birds? Will you keep them no matter what? You need to think of your long-term plan before you buy your first chicks.
Are You Willing To Put In The Time And Get Your Hands Dirty?
Will you spend time every day checking on the chickens, ensuring they have food and water? Are you ready to clean the coop in rain, cold and heat? Chickens are pretty easy as far as animals go, but you still have to keep the coop fresh with new shavings. What will you do with the soiled shavings? Even for just a few chickens, it still adds up. If you don’t compost, you might need to find a neighbor who does.
Do You Know How To Keep Your Birds Happy And Healthy?
Can you recognize signs of illness? Do you have an experienced chicken keeper you could consult? Do you have a plan for caring for the birds when you are away from home? The birds need to be locked up every night and need to be checked on every day to make sure they have adequate food and water. In the short days of winter, I often rush home after work in time to lock my coop door before darkness — and nocturnal predators — strike.
Raising chickens is a wonderful experience for most of us, but its also a serious commitment.
If your answer to any of these questions is “I don’t know” or “no,” then you need to do more research before getting those first chickens.
But if you passed the test and are ready to get those chicks, stay tuned. I will be writing a post called “Backyard Chickens, 101″ very soon!