Keffie Lancaster –
If you had told me when I was a teenager that I would have chickens running around in the backyard when I grew up, I would have laughed all the way to the grocery store. But now, as a young adult striving to make mindful, healthy decisions (for both myself and my community), I my own flock.
There is still a huge smile on my face when I open up that nesting box and take the eggs out every day. The girls run to me when I come home. They hear my car and they always come running for treats. The neighbors love them and, no, they aren’t smelly or loud. They certainly have brought a lot of joy into my life. It was a bit more challenging that I planned to raise and maintain a healthy flock of hens, but I will share with you a few secrets I learned along the way.
COOP BASICS: Buying a pre-made coop form the local feed store is an easy way to get started quickly. For about $200, you can buy a coop and put it together at home. Read the measurements carefully if you buy it online, as it might look a lot larger in the pictures than it does in real life. You need a minimum of two to three square feet of ground space for a happy, healthy chicken. It is best to purchase your pullets (young hens) when they are about three to four months old to avoid the tediousness of the hatchlings; you should be able to verify the sex by that age so you won’t bring home any roosters.
BASIC FIRST AID: Have some items on hand from the local tractor supply store to treat minor injuries. Also, have a plan for sickness. The chickens will get sick, and you will be sad, and you will have to make choices quickly about what to do and where to go. You will need to know which local vet will treat chickens ahead of time (because many will not) and be prepared. I recommend vets that specialize in exotics.
PREDATORS: I cannot stress this enough: there are a lot of things out there that will eat your chickens. Make sure the coop is locked up tight with hooks that require opposable thumbs. I let my girls go free-range during the day but this is still a bit risky. I am considering building a chicken tunnel (see photo) to provide more protection.
LOVE THEM. And enjoy them. They are feeding you fresh, delicious, healthy eggs, so give them nourishment and love. Hens enjoy squash, watermelon, yogurt and cool bathtubs to play in during the hot summer months. Buy quality feed. Let them have free time out when you are home and can supervise. Chickens will typically return to the coop on their own at sunset, but mine have been known to hop up high on a chair and roost until I finally carry them to their nesting box (like taking little babies to bed).