Prepare for Chickens Now!
I love winter. I really do. I love the cozy evenings, lighting candles, spinning, knitting, reading. I love the smell of the wood furnace as the wind blows the smoky smell through the gaps in the old farmhouse. I love hot bowls of soup and chili. Roasts with root vegetables, warm bread, cups of hot coffee in the morning and herbal tea and cocoa at night. I love the early evenings, as I'm most creative at night. I love ice skating on our pond and rides in the sled behind the 4-wheeler. I love cable knit sweaters, and warm fuzzy socks. I love the strange deafening quietness of standing outside in a snowfall. I love the lack of mosquitoes and black flies, and most of all I love not being hot...I hate being hot!
And though I love winter, there is still a feeling that comes over me around the end of February that starts to look forward to spring. The newness after a winter of introspection and planning. I start to crave the smell of thawing earth, of new life, of crisp, fresh green. It's this anxiousness to start new projects that can make the last weeks of winter tough to get through.
I got a new incubator for Christmas this year and I'm itching to fill it with eggs. But it's too soon. It's too cold and the chicks would have to stay in the house, in the brooder, for too long if I plug it in now.
If you're thinking about getting chickens this year, whether it be your first flock, or if you're adding to an existing flock, the time to make plans is now. Even while there's still 6 inches of snow on the ground this is the time to start thinking about chicks. Especially with the world being the way it is right now. Many people are starting gardens and backyard chicken coops as a safety net against unsure times, so like last year, things are going to sell out faster. I know of at least 3 families who added chickens and a kitchen garden to their yard last year, and I'm sure there will be more.
Building Your Coop
The coop and run are probably the biggest investment in your chicken keeping endeavor. Chicks and even adult chickens are relatively inexpensive, as are feeders, waterers etc. But the coop, depending on which way you choose to go, can cost several hundred dollars. You want a well built coop that will keep your chickens safe from predators and the weather. You also want a coop that will house all the chickens you want to keep with adequate space. Chickens can be addicting. You may think you want to get just 3 but I bet you'll want more.
The winter months are the perfect time to start researching plans and collecting materials.
You have many options when it comes to chicken coops:
-You can build from scratch.
-Use recycled materials
-Purchase a used, moveable coop (think small shed)
-Partially assembled kit (with minimum building)
Building from scratch, or off the side of a larger building is a great option because you can really make it your own. Research the daily care of chickens and try to see what would make looking after your chickens most convenient. Will it be easy to clean? Can you get to the egg boxes easily? Is it safe from predators? Weatherproof? Ventilated?
There's also a lot of creative ideas to turn recycled items into chicken coops. Like dog houses, old play houses even gutted cars and old furniture.
I discovered a couple years ago these partially assembled kit type coops which are easy to put together, and relatively inexpensive for what you get. You can often find these at your local feed store or you can even order them online through Amazon. I also heard Costco was selling chicken coops last year. I've purchased 2 of these coops as breeding pens and overall I'm pleased, though I feel like many of these designs would benefit from a simple extended run area.
You can also find coops for sale on "garage sale" type sites like Facebook Marketplace. or Best Farm Buys. But start looking now because these items sell out fast.
2. Research Breeds
Breeds for a Purpose
This can be one of the most fun research projects you'll ever do! There are hundreds of chicken breeds to choose from. Each bred for a specific purpose. Some were bred for egg laying, some for meat, some for both (dual purpose). Some were bred to be good mothers like Silkies who love to go broody and will sit on eggs of not only chickens but ducks, guineas and even turkeys! There are some who are bred for interesting feather patterns, colors or plumage like the Frizzle or the Polish. Some are bred for interesting egg color like the Easter Egger who lays green or blue eggs or the black copper Maran who lays a deep chocolate brown egg. Some are small like bantams and some are huge like the Jersey giant.
You'll also want to consider breeds that do well in your climate. Wyandottes have dense plumage and a short rose comb that does well against frostbite in cold climates.
Another thing to consider is temperament and personality. Chickens can have all kinds of individual personalities, but as a general rule, the larger the breed, the more docile.
The hardest part about this process is narrowing down what breed you want!
You also need to decide if you want to get straight run chicks (roosters and hens) or pullets (just hens). Most bins in the feed store carry both nowadays. If you pick from the pullet bin you still have a 5%+ chance of getting a rooster. It's very hard to determine the sex of a chick until it is about a month old (depending on the breed).
3. Find a source for chicks
There are many ways to add chickens to your homestead:
-Farm store (check minimums)
-Order from a hatchery note: minimums and hatch and ship dates
-Hatching eggs incubator
One of the easiest by far is to visit your local farm supply store in the spring and pick out a box of chicks to take home. This is a perfect choice for the beginner chicken keeper. You won't be bringing home blue ribbon examples of the breed, but hatchery chicks make for some great backyard birds. Often there is a minimum of 6 chicks.
You can also order directly from the hatchery, which will give you a better selection of breeds to choose from, but there is often a larger minimum to ship an order. You also have to line up the availability with the ship dates so that you can get your chicks all at the same time, thus fulfilling the minimum. A good way to get your minimum order is to go in with a friend and order your chicks together. If you don't have room for 24 minimum chick order, maybe you and a friend could each get 12. Sometimes feed stores will let you place special orders from the hatcheries and the extra chicks will be shipped with their weekly shipments.
You can get some of the most beautiful examples of a breed from backyard breeders. You may pay a little more per chick, but these birds are often worth the cost. You can also find rare and unusual birds from local breeders. Check Facebook groups for specific breeders in your area or join a Forum. You can also get adult chickens from breeders. So you know if you're getting a hen or a rooster without a doubt, and you won't have to wait for your birds to reach laying age.
Hatching eggs and Incubator
One of the most interesting ways to add chickens to your homestead is to purchase hatching eggs and hatch them with an incubator. It is an amazing learning experience! You can look for hatching eggs online. Sometimes chipping is expensive, and you want to ask the seller what their hatch rate it. You want around 85% percent success.
Right now is the time to get on waiting lists. Whatever method you choose hatcheries, breeders and even farm stores will be putting together waiting lists. To get optimal choice contact sources now!
With a little planning and a little patience you can fill your coop with exactly the type of chickens that you want!