Chickens 101

Growing up around chickens (and we had geese as well), I didn’t like them one bit. However now I have my own chickens, I finally understand why my father always kept them. They have turned me from being terrified of anything with wings, to learning anything there can be learnt about them. And now I secretly want to turn all of my friends (and strangers) into keeping them as well…

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Jansen & Haddock…

Why keep chickens?

  • They’re very low maintenance; as long as you have a decent coop and a predator-proof fence, all you need to do is make sure they have fresh water and food (every few days or so, more often in summer) and clean out the coop now and then (depending on the design and the number of chickens per square meter). When you go on vacation (and if you have the right setup), a neighbour can easily come and check on their water and food every few days.
  • They can be as expensive as you’d like – you’ll pay more for a fancy breed and the costs of the coop and run depend on where you source the materials and wether you build it  yourself.
  • They don’t need much room; technically, you could keep them on an apartment balcony. The eggs you’re currently eating come from chickens kept at an average of 17-19 per square meter, which is the European norm. Most people around here seem to keep 3-4 chicken in a (more or less) square meter cage; the more room they have, the less cleaning they require – and the more they can act like chickens (which is fun to see). We are planning to have about 12-16 chickens on around 25 square meter most of the time, although we’ll have them free range with an electric fence for protection as well.
  • They provide their owners (and maybe neighbours and family members as well) with daily fresh eggs. That is, if you get the right breed – some breeds lay more eggs, others have better (and more) meat, while “dual purpose” chickens lay an average number of eggs but are very tasty as well. I’ll be focussing on egg laying chickens in the rest of this post.
  • They provide you with high quality fertiliser for the garden. Or if you don’t have a garden, chances are a neighbour or friend will happily come and collect the chicken poo for his or hers.
  • They will eat all your kitchen scraps and leftovers. No more food waste!
  • If you have a garden, they will eat pests (ants and slugs, for instance)
  • They are funny and active and better than a television. Really. Watching them scratch away or fight over a piece of spaghetti is priceless.
  • They are good pets; some breeds are quite flighty, but others like being cuddled and are very sociable. I think many chicken breeds are definitely better suited for children than rabbits or hamsters, for instance.
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Rodriguez & the Sanchitas, Ginnie, Calimero, Greta, Fluffy and the nameless little roosters…

So… why not keep chickens?

  • If you’re going for free range / pasture raised chickens, they are either higher maintenance, or the infrastructure will cost more; some people only do supervised free ranging, others have a system with electric fencing and / or a chicken coop that will automatically close at dusk and open up again at dawn. Don’t underestimate local predators – foxes, the neighbours’ dogs, maybe a snake, sometimes even a cat if you’ve got chicks.
  • Some neighbourhoods or cities have ordinances prohibiting or limiting chicken keeping, be sure you know what you’re allowed to keep before going to the trouble of setting up everything
  • Make sure your neighbours won’t have a problem with your animals – even if you don’t have a rooster, some chickens can be loud, especially when they’ve just laid an egg (thankfully they don’t do that in the middle of the night). Sharing your eggs with the neighbours can be a good pacifier though.
  • There is a thing called “chicken maths” which makes people want to keep / buy / raise more chickens than they originally intended to.
  • If you want to free range them full time but are very attached to your green lawn… Just don’t do it, they will scratch it up and turn it into bare land. Although you can avoid that by having them free ranging in different bits of the garden every few days…
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One of the chicks under the brooder is Fatima, the only chicken featured on this page still alive today.

Chicken resources

  • Keeping chickens in the city (specifically): see this video – or check out The City Chicken website (I love their “hen house of the month” gallery!).
  • Justin Rhodes’ website, Abundant Permaculture: it’s full of videos on how to keep chickens. Also, Justin sometimes contributes to (free) webinars and online summits, he has tons of good ideas that can be helpful to any chicken keepers. Our chicken coop was built from his “chicksaw” design. And if you like vlogs: he’s got one, featuring his whole family doing stuff in the garden and with the chickens…
  • A very useful article for anyone thinking about the right setup for them to keep chickens, is Paul Wheaton’s “Raising Chickens 2.0“.
  • The Chicken Chick and Fresh Eggs Daily both have a blog with info and fun stories, and lots of information on their website. Same goes for Raising Happy Chickens, which is where I learnt how to hatch my eggs. I follow these 3 ladies on Facebook as well.
  • If you’re on Facebook, check out The Poultry Pages. With around 30.000 members it’s the biggest group (I don’t get their updates in my timeline as it’s just too much); there’s lots of interesting info, funny stories, and if you’ve got a questions there’s usually lots of fellow chicken people on it within minutes.
  • Want to read even more? There’s always the Permies forum, new content added every day.
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