Taking the plunge--getting my own chickens. Where do I begin?
When I was a little girl, one of the greatest adventures was accompanying my grandparents on their annual spring trip to our local feed store, where they would buy 50 or 60 little yellow peepers to take back to their Texas ranch. There they were settled in the ‘broody house’—an extension of my grandmother’s big henhouse—to lounge under a warm light and drink out of their Mason jar waterers till they were feathered out and big enough to join the rest of her flock of white Leghorns. I’d sit in there as long as my grandmother would let me, watching them tumble around, mindful of her warnings not to step on anyone.
About 3 years ago I heeded the call to urban chicken-wrangling. Our local feed store is still here selling chicks in the springtime. However, I knew I wasn’t prepared for the babysitting that day-old chicks require, and the feed store didn’t deal in older pullets or grown hens. I didn’t own an incubator, so hatching my own wasn’t a consideration, either. I began to research my options on the Internet. I wasn’t prepared for how many options were available!
Craigs List. After accessing the website at www.craigslist.com and locating your area, type in any word associated with “chicken”—pullets, hens, eggs, free range, rooster, etc—in the SEARCH box, and you will be rewarded with a wealth of possibilities. This is a great starting place for someone who hasn’t yet decided whether they would prefer hand-raising chicks or starting with older pullets or hens. Many local breeders use this venue to sell their eggs, chicks and pullets and will provide photos of the hens and roosters that comprise their breeding stock. Reputable breeders will mention that they vaccinate and/or are subject to inspection by the state and local authorities, and what they vaccinate for—most specifically, avian influenza and pulloram-typhoid.
Hatcheries. Google ‘chicken hatcheries’ and start from there. McMurray Hatchery, Ideal, Mt. Healthy and Meyer are the most well-known; however, you’ll also find links to smaller hatcheries around the country as well. Some only deal in chicks, which are mailed via US Postal Service, while some sell hatching eggs as well. Again, check to see that the hatchery you choose posts their health information prominently. If you’re looking for a certain breed of chicken—particularly the more exotic breeds—you’re most likely to find them from a hatchery.
Local establishments, such as feed and ranch supply stores. Once upon a time, feed stores that sold chicks only carried one breed—such as the Leghorns that my grandmother bought in the ‘60’s. Today, these establishments offer several of the best-loved breeds in the spring—Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most popular at my feed store these days. Feed store employees are a great resource for chicken information, too.
Local organizations such as organic co-ops, meetup groups and chicken fanciers clubs. Finding groups like these can be a valuable resource—both before and after you get your chickens. Many groups host informational gatherings, such as Chickens 101 or Processing Meat Birds—and invariably, there’s always someone selling or giving chickens away. This is a great way to learn more about your new pets, meet some interesting new people, and both add to and pare down your own flock when necessary.
Whatever the age of the chickens you decide to acquire, make sure you’re prepared. Each stage of chicken acquisition has its own specific requirements:
Hatching eggs: You’ll need a dependable incubator, and to understand how it works—humidity requirements and temperature, particularly. You may need to rotate the eggs as well, if your machine doesn’t do it for you. Once the chicks hatch, you’ll need a warm (around 95 degrees F) and secure nursery box for the little darlings, with chick starter feed and water that they can’t fall into and drown. There is a great deal of information on these boards regarding incubation, hatching and caring for new chicks. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into.
Days-old chicks in the mail: These babies are usually mailed within 12 hours of hatching. They’ll need a drink of water on arrival, and very little handling the first few days. They’ll need the same care as mentioned above till they’re feathered out at about 8 weeks. This also applies to very young chicks you buy locally.
Older pullets and hens: Your new girls will need a secure hen house or chicken tractor with a sturdy latch on the door, nesting boxes, a roost, and a roof to keep out the elements. Where you go from there—no limit. You’ll find lots of ideas on Backyardchickens.com for beautiful, functional coops and tractors.
Chickens are a great addition to any landscape, and regardless where you end up getting your chickens, you’ll be glad you did! Good luck—and enjoy!!