Keeping a flock of backyard chickens, and getting kids involved in raising them, is one of the most wonderful things that you can do as a family. Kids and chickens go hand in hand. From the fresh eggs, to learning about the importance of taking care of living creatures, and understanding where food comes from. Not to mention, as an added bonus they help make breakfast and baked goods oh so yummy! Today, I thought I ‘d share some tips for those of you interested in getting started with backyard chicken keeping. It truly is an amazing adventure!
Pick kid friendly breeds. My top favorite breeds for kids would have to be the Buff Orpingtons and rhode Island Red. Both are great egg producers. I’m especially fond of the Ameraucana Chickens primarily for their blue egg producing abilities.
Start with a small flock, 4 to 8. You only need a small flock to deliver you a couple dozen eggs per week. It’s also easier to bond with a smaller group of chickens too. Roosters are not necessary for eggs, so be sure to select all females. Introducing Roosters adds a whole added layer of complexity, not to mention a whole lot more noise.
Start with baby chicks verses full grown chickens. This way it is much easier to end up with friendly chickens. Raising them from little chicks allows you to bond with them as they grow, and you’ll find that they will often follow you around as they become older.
Handle the chicks often. Be sure to spend time with your small chicks, and handle them often. The more the merrier – Invite the neighborhood kids over, and your children’s friends to spend time holding the chicks. You’ll find socialization will help down the line.
Encourage cleanliness. I remind kids to always wash their hands after handling chickens. From accidental poops while holding, to touching areas of the chicks enclosure, it is best practice to wash those germs off.
Everyone helps with chicken chores. One the best things you can have kids do is gather the eggs from the nesting boxes. As they get older, the responsibilities can increase by filling the feeders, refilling the waterers and eventually helping you clean out the chickens’ coop and attend to other chicken needs.
Getting your chicks settled in. Here in MetroWest Boston area, you’ll need to ensure that your chickens are warm enough. When they are little you’ll need to provide them with a light source, and keep them indoors. We use our garage during this introductory phase to keep them safe from the elements. We have chosen to use an infrared heat lamp that we raise and lower depending upon their stage in growth. There are other lighting options available as well. When the chicks are days old, a light right above them is necessary to keep the heat up to mid 90s, as they develop the light can be raised. A good rule of thumb is to see where they are located in relation to the light. If they have scattered away from the light when they are sleeping, then it’s likely too hot. Where as, when they are directly under the light sleeping they are just right. Once the chicks are around 6 weeks old you can begin to introduce them to the coop. We’ve found it to be a phased approach, making sure that the weather is warm enough, and that they all seem ready to move into their permanent location.
Where to buy your backyard flock. We’ve done both mail order, and local supply store like Agway. I recommend going to the store to pick out your hens. It’s fun for the kids, and gives you the opportunity to ask the staff last minute questions. The downside to store chickens is that you usually don’t have as many breed options to choose from. Online orders are fun too, because your chicks will arrive at the post office. I love opening the door to my post office to the sounds of little chirps! Here are some places I recommend purchasing chicks from both locally and by mail.
Local Farm Supply Stores:
Ericksons Grain Mill
2 High St
Acton, MA 01720
Great Road Farm & Garden
687 Great Rd
Littleton, MA 01460
Check in with your town. Most towns around MetroWest are accepting of backyard chickens, but there are some towns that have rules & regulations around chicken keeping. Check in with your town hall to see if your town has any restrictions.
Buying a coop. Make sure that you buy a big enough coop to comfortably fit your hens. They’ll be spending lots of time in their home once they’re full size. It’s hard to imagine how big they will become, when they fit into the palm of your hand as a chick. So do yourself a favor and check-in with your local farm supply store on best recommendations. We’ve done a lot of coop additions over the years to give our girls more room to roam around, without the worry of those pesky predators breaking in and grabbing them. We have a run that attaches to the coop that’s fully fenced in from all sides, so even the hawks can’t get to them. We have also dug into the ground and added more fencing to prevent critters from digging in and getting into the coop.
Wildlife and your hens. Depending upon where you live, you’ll find that hens are a natural attractor of wildlife. From the innocent squirrel or chipmunk, to the more harmful fox, coyote, or even hawk, these wild animals can become interested in your flock. We’ve seen just about everything over the past 8 years we’ve been keeping chickens. Even a possum ended up on the side of the coop once! While this all sounds kind of scary, we’ve found that it’s manageable, and never have I felt like we’ve been in a situation where it’s dangerous to our family. That being said, we have lost several chickens to foxes over the years, and had a close encounter with a hawk. These challenges have been good lessons on working towards a safer set-up for our flock.
Have fun. The biggest takeaway here should be that raising chickens are fun, and quite easy! I like to say my cats take more work, than my backyard hens. We can easily leave for the weekend, and set the chickens up with food and water, and they’re happy as can be. Happy backyard hen adventures!