Keeping Chickens / Hens for the First Time
* This article is just the first of at least ten that will show the different ways to raise chickens for beginners (with tips and tricks) to compare the options and hopefully make your decisions easier. Look for links towards the end of this page that will explain each method in detail.
Deciding to raise your own chickens for meat or eggs is a big decision that should not be taken lightly. Getting a puppy is one thing, having a baby is another, but keeping chickens can be more of a commitment as you can’t just pack them in the minivan when you want to go on vacation.
Chickens require daily care and cannot be left alone for long periods of time. Chickens also require electricity (water heaters, fans etc.) and electricity can be in short supply for the off grid homestead.
HONESTLY, IF ALL YOU WANT IS FRESH EGGS THAT COME FROM MOMS THAT HAVE EATEN GRASS AND BUGS, FIND SOMEONE WHO IS DOING A GOOD JOB AND BUY THE EGGS FROM THEM.
But if you want a cool experience, want to have the best food for your family and be prepared for a disaster of some kind then having hens might be a great idea for your family. Children can learn so much from helping you in your egg producing endeavor.
As stated previously, raising chickens for beginners can be a lot of work.
However if you do your homework and design your chicken containment system properly, you can actually go on vacation and spend very little time caring for your feathered friends.
Simply building a chicken coop out of old pallets and fencing in a small area will work but will also create endless work and frustration.
The last thing you want is another full time job just to have fresh eggs.
Our favorite method of raising chickens limits the amount of work required and makes it very possible to leave your chirpers home for a week without any issue at all. You obviously won’t get any eggs if you don’t collect them but the chickens will have all the comfort, food and water they want and need even if you are not around for a week or so.
This section (group of articles) is an introduction to designing your own chicken containment system and weighs the pros and cons of each method. It will be obvious which method is our favorite and maybe will become your favorite as well.
We obviously can not discuss every way to raise chickens as there are new ideas every day.
If you believe you have found the best method please share it with us!
The truth is you can have chickens that are well fed, healthy and happy without requiring much intervention from you. That is our goal.
Yes we want our chickens to be happy.
They are living creatures that need love and care just as humans do.
It is sad that so many folks rate their chicken raising skills by how many chickens die while in their care. “I must be a great farmer. I only lose about 10% of my chickens each year.”
Imagine you are born with parents who think they are awesome. You have 8 other siblings and one sibling who died a few years ago. They feed you and your siblings oatmeal and water every day, take you to the doctor when needed, allow you to sleep 8 hours per day, never talk to you, never take you anywhere or let you out of your bedroom, never show you any love but you are alive. When a neighbor finds out how you are being treated they contact the local authorities. Your parents are very upset when confronted. “We must be great parents, only one of our children out of ten has died.” How stupid does that sound. But that is exactly what farmers talk about all the time…dead-loss.
If you feed your chickens the same old musty feed and inferior water they will likely live. But wouldn’t it make more sense to give them a variety of foods like bugs, worms, berries and anything else they can find in nature?
There are many ways to keep chickens on your homestead. Although it is unlikely you will have thousands of chickens (like a commercial chicken farm) we will discuss the usual methods for large farms (methods 1 and 2) as well so you can make an accurate comparison.
The methods to be addressed are:
- Cages / Battery Cages / Barren Battery Cages or Enriched Battery Cages
- Commercial Free Range/Free Run
- Real Free Range
- Coop and Run
- Pastured Pen
- Fixed Coop with 4 Pastures (our own favorite for our climate))
Each method has its positives and negatives. Some are very easy for the farmer (like cages), but horrible for the chicken and some are a lot of work for the farmer (like real free range) but the chicken’s are very healthy and happy.
Each chicken coop system will be rated for the following factors and will be rated as either EXCELLENT, GOOD, FAIR, POOR or HORRIBLE:
- Cleanliness (how clean or dirty the chicken will be)
- Feed Quality (the quality and variety of foods)
- Happiness (the chicken’s happiness…not yours!)
- Labor (how much work is involved in caring for your poultry)
- Electricity (for the off grid chicken lovers who can’t spare electricity)