How to Pick Up Chicks (That Turn Into Egg-Laying Hens)
Kate Crowley Want a lady like this one in your yard?
Spring is a common time for folks in the Valley to think about getting chickens to begin their own "backyard flock." Hence, that whole "spring chicken" saying. Even an article in the New York Times recently highlighted rules of owning chickens in the city.
Owning chickens is fun and rewarding. Whether you're in it for eggs, meat, or just a new hobby -- being a first-time owner can be overwhelming. Here's a guide to help you though your first adoption.
Tony Kasowski Can you tell the store bought egg from the fresh egg? The one on the left is the home-grown egg; it has a nice dark orange color generally indicating higher nutrition.
See also: The Simple Farm in Scottsdale Celebrates Kidding Season with the Birth of Goats
First, be sure your city or town allows backyard flocks. You'll also need to narrow down and choose the types of hens you'd like and decide whether you're interested in raising them from chicks or possibly buying a bird (pullet) that is nearing laying age. Having done both, I can safely say that there's nothing like raising them from chicks, but without a garage or shed -- it will be very, very messy. Different breeds have different egg productions, personalities and abilities to tolerate heat. Online tools like breed selector tool and talking to other backyard chicken owners is an important process. It's easier to start a flock with three to six birds, but make sure if you purchase chicks from a feed store or online, that they have been sexed so you don't end up with a rooster.
Onto shelter: If you raise hens from chicks, you'll need varying sizes of containment (they can't start in a coop), along with special food and a safe heat source, like a heat lamp, to keep them warm. Raising chicks is not for the low maintenance pet owner. You'll need to be able to check on them a few times a day to ensure they are healthy. There's a lot to do those first 12 weeks, so check into educational materials online or locally via the Valley Permaculture Alliance.
Regardless of the age of bird you start with, each flock needs a home. Even if you free-range, you'll want a coop to contain the birds at night. The coop provides a safe place to lay eggs (a nesting box) and for the birds to say dry and warm. It should be ventilated, but not breezy. Most chicken owners attach a run to their coop. This yard-like area should be cleaned at least once a week and should be as large as possible -- at least four square feet for each bird. It helps if you can stand in the run, it makes it easier to clean and retrieve the occasional mis-layed egg. It should have lots of shade in the summertime, someplace to go if it rains, and protect your birds from predators.
Some feed stores sell very nice coops and runs for $300 and more, but you can repurpose many shelters or even use existing fencing in your yard. At some point thought you'll be buying chicken wire, so budget for that -- it can be expensive. Poop is a big concern in coops and some folks use wire in different areas to help keep the floor from becoming covered in poop. We actually put linoleum in the bottom of our coop for easy clean up. If you're handy, many online sources have plans for coops, but make sure it will be in some shade for the heat here in the Valley. Every chicken owner here will tell you that heat is the biggest challenge to birds here and you'll want to be mindful of this if you begin raising chicks in May.