Starting A Chicken Flock 101

Chicken Basics 101 Chickens Country Eggs Egg Production Farm-Fresh Eggs Farmhouse Eggs Organic Eggs Raising Chickens

So, you want to start having chickens around.  Good for you. There are more benefits to these beautiful animals than just the eggs or meat.
When it comes to choosing which chicken breed you would like to start with or add to your flock, keep in mind the following:
  • The climate zone in which you live
  • Their housing
  • The breed's temperament
  • What color egg?
  • How will you care for them?

Let's talk climate zone first.  Look at the map below.
The USDA Hardiness Zone Map divides North America into 11 separate planting zones; each growing zone is 10°F warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the adjacent zone.  Which area to you live in?
USDA 2020 Climate Zone Map - Miss Mable's Farmhouse
Once you've located you zone then choose the breed of chicken that best suits your climate for raising and keeping hens. 

Here at Miss Mable's Farmhouse, we're in zone 6B, we have mild winters; snow occasionally, early springs, and late summers.  The idea laying hens for us are:
Black Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Silver-Laced Wyandottes,  Blue Red Laced Wyandottes, Golden Laced Wyandottes, and Ameraucanas.

Ok, before you get overwhelmed by the names, let me explain a bit about this selection of breeds. 

  • First, these are all cold-hardy breeds, which mean they can handle the winters here without much stress.  They may slow down a bit on egg production during molting months, November - January, but still provide enough eggs for our family to enjoy.  They quickly pick back up production during February.
  • Second, except for the Ameraucanas, all are brown egg layers, which we enjoy raising and our community desires.
  • The Ameraucanas are blue and green egg layers. We love seeing the contrast of colors in our egg basket.
    Organic Farm-Fresh Eggs In Basket - Miss Mable's Farmhouse
  • Thirdly, the breeds we have are extremely clam and highly sociable chickens.  We enjoying spending time with our hens, in their home, our in the yard, or in the garden.
  • A great place to start in comparing and deciding which breeds you would like  to keep is a hatchery.  You can find many well known, established hatcheries on line.  These wonderful sites are loaded with valuable information about chicken breeds.  They would have to be simply because they sell chicks, if they didn't know their stuff, they wouldn't be in business very long.
Next, let's talk about their housing.  Ask yourself the following questions:
  • How many hens do you want to keep?
  • What type of housing will you be providing for your hens?
  • Will they be kept inside most of the time, roam freely around your yard, or fenced in?
  • Besides feeding them on a daily basis, will you interact with them?  Holding, petting, and talking to them.

Let's say you want to start with six laying hens to provide just your family with fresh eggs daily.  First things, first. No, you do not need a rooster in order for the hens to produce eggs.  I'll talk more about roosters, later in this blog. 

One hen requires 4 square feet of living space to provide a stress-free environment.  This does not include their nesting boxes, which should at least be 14" x 14" square and 4" deep nor does this include their roosting area, which should be approximately 18" per hen.

6 hens x 4 square feet of living space = 24 square feet + 6 feet for feeding. 
So the ground floor area of your chicken house should be 30 square feet. This allows an area for their feed and water.

Now let's factor in the nesting boxes and roosting areas.

You'll need 1 nesting box per 4 hens.  Contrarily to belief, you do not need one box per hen.  They enjoy laying their eggs with other hens.  At times we have seen 3 hens wait in line to use the same nesting box.
Chicken Nesting Boxes - Miss Mable's Farmhouse

Their roosting area should not be over 4 feet off the ground and have a ramp going up to it.  A simple roost can be made out of a 2" x 4" x 8' piece of wood, laid on its flat side and attached to the inside of the building 12" - 14" away from the wall, with pieces of 2 x 4's. 
Chicken Roosting Area - Miss Mable's Farmhouse
The above pictures are of our chicken house that is home to 48 hens and growing.
And speaking of growing, I must warn you having chickens around can become very addictive.  So if your future plans involve more than 6 hens, when you build your first "chicken coop" you may want to make it larger than what you need at that time.  Just keep in mind 1 hen needs 4 square feet of living space.

You will want to provide them with a sheltered outside enclosure to give them fresh air and exercise when they can't get out because of weather conditions.
Sheltered Outdoor Area On Chicken House - Miss Mable's Farmhouse

Then it comes to the design of your chicken coop, well, that's completely up to you.  You can purchase a simple one at your local farm store, order one online or build it yourself. 
Please note this, a coop doesn't have to be tall, as a matter of fact, the shorter the better. This is for the safety and well-being of the hens. 
When starting to roost at night, a hen will find the highest point to rest upon. She will become dormant, nearly comatose.  Don't make the mistake of creating high roosting areas. The hens compete for their spots and will cause other hens to fall out in the process, plummeting to the ground breaking bones and possibly causing death. 

A hen's temperament varies from breed to breed. 
Do your research carefully.  Do you want hens you can handle, that are very docile, and don't mind being petted, or do you want broody hens that will set on the nest to hatch the eggs.
Broody hens are just that, they become protective of their eggs and will peck and growl, yes growl, in chicken language when you reach in under them to gather the eggs.  They are just doing their job, so don't get angry with them and don't force them off the nest.  You know if you set too long, your legs "go to sleep". Can you imagine how their legs feel after sitting on a nest for days on end. 
The best way to handle broody hens is with soft leather gloves.  Approach the nest with a smile on your face, talk softly, gently slide your gloved hand under the hen to collect the hens,  Make sure you get them all, buy raising the hen up slightly from the nest.

Egg Color
Does egg color really matter?  Believe it or not yes, it does.  No, the eggs do not and I'll repeat, do not taste any different because of the color of the shell.  Egg taste comes from what you feed your hens.  Period.

However, from our experience of selling eggs, some people will not eat white eggs, while others will not eat brown eggs, and boy, if I proudly show off our beautiful colored/tinted eggs to some folks, the look on the face is as if I've shown them something horrifying!  So, keep this in mind when you decide on which type of breed you want, if you are going to sell the eggs. If you just want a few hens around to supply your family with fresh eggs, then the color will not matter.

Let's Talk Rooster
Rooster are extremely colorful, handsome and proud chickens.  They are the iconic symbol of American farms. To hear one crow at dawn's early light is pure delight and will always bring a warm smile to my face. 
Yet, as stated earlier, you do not need a rooster in order for the hens to produce eggs.  Roosters just fertilize the egg.  At birth, a hen is born with a certain amount of egg cells that become the eggs she will produce over her lifetime, there is no need for a rooster.
Rooster are protectors, some can become very mean and attack you when you visit your hens.  When a rooster mounts a hen, he'll clamp on to her back, cause skin tears and unhealthy feather production.  And don't even think about putting those so called chicken vests on your hens to protect them.  The "vest" does more harm than good.  If a rooster's claw gets caught in the vest, he will fight the hen to get loose and if the other hens see the fight, they will join in to protect the hen. In addition, this "vest" blocks the hen's ability to reach their pruning gland at the base of their tail and prevents them for taking a dust bath that keeps them free of mites and other pests.
A rooster, believe it or not, causes stress in a hen house. And this is the main reason why we do not have a rooster in our chicken house. 
If you must have rooster, then keep him separate from the hens, unless you are using them for breeding purposes.

Last but certainly not least, what you will feed your hens does make a difference.
It's true hens will produce eggs if they are given the minimal resources; fresh water daily,  packaged chicken feed/scratch, and the ability to graze on grass and scratch for bugs.
For most folks and major egg producing co-ops, this is the norm and there's nothing wrong with it. 

But here at Miss Mable's Farmhouse, the norm, just won't do for us.
Our philosophy is simple: Healthy chickens = healthy eggs.
What we put into our bodies makes a difference and the same is true for the eggs that come from our hens. We eat their eggs and so do you, so we’re going to make sure they are the best you can get.
First, since we sell true, organic eggs to our local community, it was necessary to learn the organic way of feeding them. I grow their food: fresh greens: kale, turnip, collard and mustard, herbs: oregano, thyme, lavender, basil, rosemary, and spearmint, and seeds: sunflower, pumpkin, and millet for healthy bodies, skin, and feathers.
My husband, William, makes an annual trip to Lake Michigan to provide them with fresh lake trout and coho salmon as a natural source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids which helps with lowering cholesterol and heart disease in humans.
In addition, they are fed fresh fruit, vegetables and are allowed to free roam to scratch for insects, bugs, and worms.
Research has proven chickens that are kept in a natural environment and supplemented with fresh foods produce tastier, healthier eggs with brighter, more colorful orange yolks, that stand high in the skillet and less water in the whites.

Thanks for taking the time to learn about the basics of starting your own flock.  Good luck!  Don't get discourage, you can do this.
You are more than welcome to leave your comments below or ask questions.

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