Raising Chickens for Eggs: The Essentials

Raising Chickens for Eggs: The Essentials

Raising chickens is big on the homesteading front, since it’s logical complement to gardening and preserving. Plus, in the age of COVID-19, it feels good to be a bit more self-reliant. And, in truth, chickens can be a blast. They are fun and funny, my kids loved them and, yes, fresh eggs are as delicious as they say. But it pays to do a little planning. Here’s the essential information about raising chickens for eggs.   

Do I need a license to raise chickens?

Not all places are chicken friendly. Some spots, like Charlotte, require a permit, but check your county and city zoning departments for the rules that apply to you. Even places that allow chickens, like Raleigh and Durham, typically limit the number of birds you can raise. Additionally, there are usually property setbacks or noise and waste disposal requirements you’ll need to follow.  

Tip: Neighborhood associations and HOA covenants are often more restrictive; many prohibit chickens. Check with yours to find out for sure.

Which chicken breed is best? 

This is the fun part — you get to decide! Look for breeds that do well in the heat, like the Rhode Island Red. There are breeds with calm temperaments, like the Plymouth Barred Rock, that are great for kids or first-timers. Your local farm store or on-line hatcheries will be glad to help you choose the best breed for you.

Image courtesy of Capri23auto from Pixabay.

Where do I get chicks?

Buy chicks at your local farm supply store, or order direct lyfrom a hatchery and have them mailed to you. Crazy, right?  Look for a hatchery willing to ship small numbers, and one that will let you mix breeds in a single shipment. 

Image courtesy of Colleen McGarry from Pixabay.

Which eggs are the better for you? 

There’s virtually no difference in the nutritional value of different eggs.  But, since each breed lays eggs of a specific size and color, you can curate your flock to deliver exactly those you like best.

Tip: If you’re feeling adventurous, try an ARAUCANA, known for their green-blue egg shells. FYI — the yolks are still yellow.

How many chickens do I need for eggs?

Plan on raising at least three chickens. Why? Chickens are social, meaning they do better when they have company. The exact number depends on how many eggs you use each week. On average, three laying hens will feed three to four people. But because I’m a big baker, we needed twice that number.

Tip: Pass on the roosters. They are beautiful, but also noisy and often feisty. More importantly, your hens don’t need them to produce eggs. Seriously.

Where should I keep chickens?

If you are raising chickens for eggs, it’s essential that your chickens are safe and comfortable. That means the flock needs both a coop or hen house, as well as an enclosed run. It’s important to place your coop someplace that’s well-drained all year. Optimally, pick a site where the birds will have a mix of sun and shade.  

Tip: On the coldest winter nights you’ll likely also need way to heat your coop. So maybe consider access to power for the coop in your planning.

Image courtesy of Stephanie Edwards from Pixabay.

How much space do chickens need? More than you think. 

Decide on the breeds and number of your hens first, because those things determine the rest. Your coop should be big enough to provide at least three to four square feet of space per chicken.  

Inside the coop, you’ll need nest boxes and roosting bars. Fortunately, several hens can share a single nest box; they don’t need individual nests. And the roost is a simple bar where your chickens will perch and sleep at night. You need approximately eight inches of bar space per bird.

Tip: Don’t put the roost directly above the nests — your eggs will be covered in poop.

Hens also need a sizable “outside” run where they can freely move around during the day. Runs should be minimum of eight to 10 square feet per bird (in addition to the coop). The shape doesn’t matter, but bigger is definitely better.

Finally, you should think about your chickens’ safety. Hawks, snakes, possums, foxes, and other predators will gladly eat chickens and eggs. To avoid unpleasant surprises, enclose your coop and run (including the top) with a small-gauge wire (chicken wire or hardware cloth). Be sure to bury the wire a good four inches into the ground.

Again, check with your local farm supply store or hatchery. They can guide you and help you find plans for your flock’s coop, run and safety.

What about food?

Image courtesy of jnprice73 from Pixabay.

Get friendly with your local farm supply store; you’ll likely be there on a regular basis to ask advice on this question. Your birds need waterers and feeders, and of course, feed — plenty of feed. And just so you know, there are different kinds of feed for birds of different ages. You’ll want the right blends to nourish your birds throughout their lifespan.

Are you hooked yet?  Let us know if you’re itching to learn more about raising chickens for eggs. Meanwhile, check out North Carolina State’s poultry advice for added tips and resources!

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