It’s that time of year again! The signs in front of the feed stores in town boldly announce it. BABY CHICKS ARE HERE!
Yay! I love this time of year! Even when I’m not getting new chicks of my own, I stop by the feed stores (all of them!) and look at the new chicks. They’re so cute and irresistible, I have a hard time leaving the store without some…after all, I COULD add a few more girls to my flock…what’s the harm in that? (Thankfully I live in a city that doesn’t restrict the number of chickens I can have, although this fact does make resistance a bit harder!)
I did contemplate adding a few new girls to my flock this year, as I’ve lost two hens in the last 6 months, but I’ve decided to wait a year. This doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind once I see the new babies, but for now I’m standing strong (sort of). Well, and besides, I have a couple of months to decide FOR SURE, right?
I remember my life B.C. (before chickens). I felt content. I didn’t think I liked chickens (I had too many memories of cleaning out the chicken coop in my childhood). I didn’t think I wanted chickens. But then my friend, Linda, talked me into going to a ‘backyard chickens’ workshop, just to LEARN about chickens. I mean a free class to become a more informed city dweller seemed pretty harmless, right? And I wanted to be a supportive friend.
Imagine my surprise to instantly fall in love with the speaker’s three chickens! WHAT? They weren’t even cute baby chicks, but full-sized hens. Beautiful hens. Hens I wanted to capture in a painting. Hens I wanted to bring home to my house.
Just a few weeks later I had my own miniature flock of peeping fluff balls. The first few nights were pretty sleepless as I wondered if I’d made the right decision (since I did, after all, dislike chickens, right?). Before long I was ultra-mincing fresh veggies and feeding the girls by hand.
I fell. Hard. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I look back on my life B.C. and realize it was a bit one-dimensional and drab. I’m hooked and loving it!
If you haven’t taken the plunge to add chickens to your life, I highly recommend it. Chickens are good for the soul. They’re low maintenance (even when they’re spoiled like mine), and high entertainment. They give you a reason to hang outside (I even built myself a ‘chicken watching bench’ last summer) and watch a live chicken comedy show every day. (Of course there are also other more practical advantages to having chickens like daily fresh eggs and great fertilizer for your garden.)
Most cities restrict the size of your backyard flock; so getting set up for a few chickens isn’t very hard or expensive. To start with, you need a brooder (a box and a heat lamp—I used a dog crate) to keep your babies warm. They’ll need to stay in this warm environment for 6-8 weeks because they can’t regulate their own body heat until after they have feathers.
A word of caution: Figure out (and even build) your chicken coop before you bring chicks home. I mistakenly thought I could build a chicken coop in those 6-8 weeks the chicks had to stay inside. I’d read all these super great testimonials about people who built their coop in a weekend. And maybe you can do that too. But it didn’t quite work that way for me…it took me most of the summer!
(Okay, I know that almost anyone has more construction skills than I do. And, it’s also helpful to have a set of plans (instead of just winging it like I did). But the coop is the biggest expense (in both money and effort) of this chicken endeavor, so plan accordingly. And take into consideration that chickens grow at lightening speed and your building plans might have a glitch or two along the way.)
The good news is: for just a few chickens, you only need a small coop. Be creative. Maybe you have some outgrown playhouse or old doghouse you can modify to use for your coop. The base of my coop started out as a two-story play structure I bought used from Craigslist. If you’d like to see how I did it, here’s the step-by-step journey. And, if you’d like to see some simple, innovative coops for inspiration, check these out.
And take it from me. Even though it took me ALL summer to build my coop, and even though I toasted several power tools in the process and used a box of band aids on my beat up body…I don’t regret taking the plunge. And every chicken person I’ve talked feels the same way (although many of them did it without coop building horror stories)!
So, what are you waiting for? The baby chicks are arriving!!
PS If you’d like more help on starting your backyard flock, the City Girl Chickens and City Girl Farming websites are full of all sorts of information.