Love Where You Live – Keeping Chickens
Though it has become more and more popular in the past few years to keep chickens, the pandemic has made urban homesteading appealing to a broader group of people. One of our agents, Raechel Taylor, is an expert in all things chicken and wanted to create a blog post with some tips to help first time keepers.
First Thing’s First – City Ordinances and HOAs
There are only a few municipalities in Colorado that don’t allow chickens at all, but most have at least some rules that apply. The three most common city restrictions are limits to structures, limits on roosters, and limits on the total number of animals at a residence. If you have any questions about your city, Raechel has already compiled all the rules and regulations and can give you great guidance on what is allowed in your area. Here’s her contact info if you have questions!
HOAs are another story, and of course vary widely. If you do have an HOA make sure to check with your HOA board regarding rules in your neighborhood.
Infrastructure – The Coop
Raechel recommends that you have your coop completely set up before getting chickens. It may not be the exciting part of the project, but getting everything set up using some of these tips will help save you lots of time and effort in the future.
- Consider the space required. At minimum, each chicken should have 1-3 square feet of space in the coop and 3-5 square feet of space in the run.
- Coop Design. If possible, go with a coop that is designed for you to be able to walk into it. Though this may be bigger than you were originally picturing (most people think of the cute little dog house sized chicken coops for sale at big box stores – we don’t recommend these) it will be so much easier to access chickens, collect eggs, and clean the coop. Chickens are MESSY, and if your coop allows you better access you will be able to keep it cleaner. This translates to healthier and happier chickens, and avoids a stinky coop! Though you will undoubtedly see many Pinterest-style coop decoration and design ideas, don’t get too fancy! Making it easy to clean should be your top priority. If you want the benefit of insect control and fertilizing your yard, look into designs for simple chicken tractors. These are chicken runs that are lightweight and easy to move so the chickens can graze wherever you would like on your property.
- Security. Make sure your coop and run are totally secure – you might be surprised how persistent predators can be. When installing chicken wire, we recommend to dig 6-12″ below the coop and run wire that far down as well to avoid predators digging down to access the coop and run.
- Insulation, Heating, and Ventilation. If you’re going to add insulation, make sure to drywall over it! Insulation is toxic to chickens, and they will peck at and try to eat it. Heating your coop has positives and negatives, so this is more of a personal preference. Raechel doesn’t heat her coop because of the risk of fire, but knows a lot of people that do. Make sure you do your research beforehand so you can make an educated decision on what’s best for you and your family flock. As far as ventilation goes, you want to make sure there is enough ventilation to keep the coop fresh and chickens healthier, but not so much that the chickens will freeze in colder temps. Two windows at the very top of the coop work well for the breeze to go through and air out the coop without chilling all the girls.
- Enrichment. Chickens are unique animals to keep, because they really do straddle the categories of farm animals and pets. Many have curious personalities and love to interact with humans and their environment. Even if you plan on raising chickens primarily for eggs or meat, it’s a great idea to provide enrichment for your birds. Chickens love mirrors, things they can hop or climb on, and toys they can peck.
- Cleaning. There are many bedding options available for the coop, but the easiest are pine shavings (avoid cedar), straw, and newspaper/recycled paper. Every day maintenance will be changing water, discarding old food/scraps, and spot cleaning. Depending on the size of your flock/coop, you will have to change bedding once a week to once per month. For long term health, do a total deep clean of the coop at least once per year.
Once you are up and running, chickens are actually pretty low maintenance, especially if you plan ahead!
Finally, the Chickens!
Choosing a Breed
If you have already done some research, you know that there are many chicken breeds to choose from. In fact, the American Poultry Association recognizes 53! To begin, think about your goals. Are you looking for chickens primarily for meat, eggs, or pets? If you are getting chickens primarily for eggs, consider that they do not actively lay for the entirety of their life span. Most chickens will start laying when they are about 6 months old, and can lay for 5-7 of their lifespan of 10+ years. Breeds that are especially known for prolific laying are Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, and Orpingtons.
If you are looking for chickens to raise for meat, look at broilers, which are breeds that grow quite fast. Example breeds include Cornish Cross, Buckeye, and Jersey Giants.
If you are looking primarily for pets, look at temperament. Silkies are less prolific layers, but are generally very mild-mannered, for example. The last thing to consider is cold-tolerance. Depending on how well your coop is insulated and whether you will be using supplemental heat or not, you may want to consider breeds with demonstrated cold tolerance for Colorado winters.
Chicks or Chickens?
Though most people probably envision starting with chicks, it is possible to start with adult birds. Here’s a handy chart with some pros and cons:
Raechel’s Care Tips
- Chickens love table scraps! Don’t give them citrus or meat, but they will help turn your scraps into lovely compost.
- Don’t worry about keeping the water pristine. Chickens actually need grit in their crop to help them digest their food, and will consume gritty materials from the ground anyway!
- Consider ambient heat plates instead of heat lamps if you are heating your coop. They are much safer and have a lower risk of fire. If you do use heat lamps, make sure they are set up properly and safely.
- You can order chicks online! Some breeds are able to be sexed early (look for pullets aka young hens). Some breeds, especially the more exotic ones, are not (these are referred to as straight run). If you order straight run, know you might get roosters, and have a plan for what to do with them. If you have questions about rehoming roosters, Raechel can suggest places that can provide a home for them. How does she know this? Probably because out of one straight run flock of 10 chicks she bought, 7 of them ended up being roosters! Eek!
- If you want some cheap entertainment, chickens’ favorite snacks are corn on the cob, watermelon, and dried mealworms. They’ll do almost anything for them!