Raising Chickens in the North State
● By Gwen Lawler Tough
Eggstra SpecialMay 2015
By Gwen Lawler-Tough
Photos: Kara Stewart
Have you done a double-take lately in your grocery store? Eggs, once the least-expensive protein that people placed in grocery baskets, are climbing in price. In 2008, California voters passed a humane treatment law requiring egg producers to give chickens enough space to stand up, turn around and flap their wings. As of January 1 of this year, chickens now have twice the room they used to have and chicken farmers will spend millions to meet the law. The takeaway? Expect eggs to increase by twice as much.
What to do? The short-term answer is to keep buying pricey eggs. The long-term answer? Buy chicks. Within six months, your family's bacon and eggs will almost cluck with the golden yolks and Vitamin K2 that free-roaming hens produce. And your children or grandchildren will enjoy a fun and feathery science experiment. Are you ready to fly? Here are some tips on getting started.
1. Start Small
Select just three or four chicks. Raising chicks is the most hands-on part of having chickens, and it's also the time when the chicks are most vulnerable to - well, anything. They can get stuck overnight behind a small water ramekin. They are usually only a few day sold when they get to the fee store, so you may lost one at this stage. But chicks grow fast. Within a week, they will start feathering out and trying to fly out of their box. That is a good thing.
2. Chicks are hot stuff
Shasta county's numerous feed stores sell thousands of chicks every spring. Don't delay. Most chicks sell out the same day that they come into the store.
3. Buy the best egg layers for the North State's climate
Breeds such as Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Sex-Links and Silver laced Wyandottes are excellent egg producers. The heavist hens, like Buff Orpingrons and Australorps, produce eggs that are large or extra-large All these breeds should produce about at least 200 eggs a year.
4. Have fun
If you are going to have chickens, you may as well enjoy some glorious girly feathers. The Silver Laced and Golden Laced Wyandottes are stunning; many people love Buff Orpington hens for their golden feathers. The Wyandottes and the Orpingtons also know how to be mothers, if given the chance. Roosters are prohibited in the city of Redding, but if you live outside the city limits, consider getting one. They not only protect their flock from numerous local predators, like raccoons, skunks and bobcats, but they make possible one of the most endearing sights on this planet: a mother hen nestling her chicks under her feathers.
5. Don't break the budget
Online chicken sites have loads of helpful information, but don't think that you need to invest hundreds of dollars to have chickens. All baby chicks need is a small box filled with cedar shavings or shredded newspaper. They mostly need warmth. If the weather outside is warm enough, you can put your chicks outside in an overturned laundry basket with openings small enough that the chicks can't squeeze through. Place the laundry basket on your lawn and place the chicks inside along with their water and feed. Observe how things are going on for a few minutes. Is it too hot? Too cold? just right? Chicks will chirp loudly if they're unhappy. When you bring them inside, flip the basket over and place a lamp in the basket that is close enough to the chicks to keep them warm overnight. Bathrooms are great places for chicks. When it comes time for something bigger than a box, look around your yard or garage for anything with might work, like a portable fire pit with a lid (to prevent an eagle from taking off with your chicks). When it comes time for a regular coop, check out garage sales for anything that could be converted with some chicken wire into a coop, like kids' old playhouses. Be creative!
Chickens and eggs bring us closer to earth. When you go out to get your eggs with your child or grandchild, it teaches them a valuable lesson. Eggs don't come from grocery stores. They come from your very own hens. This investment of time and energy pays off not only when your hens lay eggs, but when you get to see nature in all its glory right in your own backyard.