Good day everyone!
Today I thought I would share our first encounter with homesteading. Victor and I decided early on to try to raise a few chickens in our suburban house. In our town, you can keep poultry (apart from noisy roosters) on your residential property. Whether you take in rescued battery hens or try out a fancy breed, keeping healthy, productive poultry can save you money — plus you’ll enjoy the great taste of home-grown eggs.
Finding suitable housing
We knew we wanted at least 4 good healthy chickens and we knew we wanted to hand raise them from day olds. So that gave us the approximate space requirements that we needed to house them comfortably. We looked around for an inexpensive option but purchasing a coop or building one from scratch was out of our budget range. Luckily for us, Victor’s parents were trying to get rid of their old coop. So we took it home and remodelled it to remove the broken bits and add some new wood to the areas that needed it most. This saved us heaps of money in the beginning because a standard kit set Chicken Coop and run can cost a lot! The prices vary depending on how many chickens you want and any extra features you desire. I think our expenses to fix it up were around $100-200. A brand new one could run you into the thousands for a perfect setup.
A good coop needs an ample amount of run space unless you know you can free-range and are happy to block off any areas you don’t want them to forage in. It also needs enough nesting boxes for all your chicks. Since our chook house has 3 boxes, we can have up to 6 chickens inside comfortably.
Also, you need to have a perch which is flat on the top so that their feet are flat to roost. I highly recommend getting a small bit of 4×2 or something like that rather than using dowels which hurt their feet!
Choosing a Breed
Chickens come in all shapes and sizes. From Bantams, which are your smallest breed to your heavy breeds like Australorps and Orpingtons there are plenty to choose from. I could write for days on the different pros and cons of the various kinds, but I will leave that for another day. All you need to know right now is that we chose to get a favourite New Zealand variety called “Brown Shavers“. We got ours from a local hatchery called Heslips Hatchery. Heslips is a great place to go if you want a highly productive flock like ours. They were shipped to a local distribution point where we picked them up. You can also order and pick up directly from the hatchery, but that was farther away for us.
When raising chicks for the first time, you need to have specific items to care for them. You need a broody box to keep them contained which has access to water which is shallow enough that new chicks can’t drown and it should have a small shallow feed dish too. For feed, I highly recommend the chick starter that Heslips offers when you buy the chicks from them. It’s excellent quality, and you can usually pick it up at the same time. You’ll need to provide them with an ample heat source if you don’t have a broody hen to raise them from eggs. You can choose to buy a standard heating lamp like they use for reptile aquariums but we personally prefer the use of a specialty poultry device called an “electric hen”. An electric hen is a ceramic heating element that the chicks stand under when they are cold. You can find these online as well as at some stock feed stores and hatcheries in New Zealand. The benefits of this form of heating are that it is cheaper to run, that it allows the chicks to manage their own temperatures, and that it doesn’t interfere with their day and night routine by adding excessive amounts of light.
As you can see our chicks had everything they needed to grow up. It takes about 18 weeks for an average flock to go from chicks to Point of Lay (egg production). Ours took a little longer because we purchased them too late in the year and they were delayed by winter. On the other hand, this meant that our first year of production was actually much stronger and we had an average of 1.5 eggs per 24 hour period which is more than what the breed is usually capable of. We feed our fully grown birds a premium grade feed called “Natra-lay”. It’s the highest protein food we could find and is made with non-GMO seed mix. It isn’t medicated, and it is free of all pollutants and pesticides, and though it does not have the paid certification of “organic”, it might as well be. We also give our girls scratch seed and occasionally mealworms when they don’t get enough from our yard. Our girls are now nearly 2 years old!
We hope this has been helpful to you. We plan on writing more about raising chickens very soon. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!