Raising Backyard Chickens

For several years I’ve daydreamed about raising hens in my backyard to lay fresh eggs.  It might be because I’m an animal lover and I love expanding my family with additional pets.  It could also be because eggs are one of my favorite foods to eat; I probably eat eggs for breakfast 6 out of 7 days of the week, plus at lunch or dinner if the opportunity presents (ramen with an egg on top anyone?)  Or it could also be because as an adult I’ve been growing my own vegetables and herbs in my garden, so this seemed a natural progression toward farm-to-table self sustainability.  In reality it’s a combination of all of the above. 

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But why didn’t I raise chickens earlier, you ask?  The one obstacle in my path was my husband (says the wife, candidly but with love).  Having been raised in New Hampshire, my husband grew up with chickens in his backyard, as well as sheep, pigs . . . And I suppose the idea of owning chickens wasn’t as romantic for him as it was for me.  He reminded me that raising hens took a lot of work (not to mention the smell of the coop!)  But then we took a trip over the Fourth of July weekend to Maui, where we stayed upcountry visiting farms (among other places that attract foodie-minded people), and that’s what changed his mind.  There’s a community of like-minded people just like us raising chickens for fresh eggs, and having fun in the process.  I’m so happy that we’re finally on the same page about having chickens in our backyard because even though there’s a lot of work involved, it’s also incredibly rewarding. 

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So we spent some time researching, and this is what we came up with:

  • KNOWLEDGE: This youtube video gives a comprehensive summary for beginners about raising chickens:  Backyard Chickens 101. Watch this first so you know what to expect!  Here’s a brief and non-exhaustive run down:
    • Chickens need fresh food and water daily
    • There are pros and cons to buying chicks v. adult hens
    • Hens will only lay eggs from 20 weeks of age to 2 years, but will live for longer than that
    • You need to clean the coop often (at least several times a week)
    • What to do with all that chicken poop?  Start composting!
  • HATCHERY: If you live in Hawaii and don’t have a friend or family member to get chicks or chickens from, the only commercial chicken hatchery is Asagi Hatchery; however I decided to buy our chicks online from Meyer Hatchery because this hatchery offered the specific breed of chicken I wanted to purchase.  The chicks were shipped overnight express mail and I called the post office in advance to provide my phone number so that they were able to call me as soon as the chicks arrived.  I picked the chicks up directly from the post office.  All the other customers and postal workers seemed amused by the cheerful chirping sounds coming out of the box.
  • BREED: The breed of chicken I chose to buy is called Easter Egger, which is a hybrid chicken specifically bred to lay different colored eggs ranging from light green and turquoise blue, to rose and cream colored, to dark brown eggs.  And if the sight of pretty colored eggs isn’t enough to entice you, this breed is known for being very family friendly, a major plus for us since we have a dog and a baby at home. When I say family friendly, I mean that they are docile, will approach humans and other animals, and enjoy interaction.
  • COOP/RUN: We bought this coop from Amazon..  When you live in Hawaii and real estate is limited, you need to choose a coop that doesn’t take up too much square footage!  We liked this one because the “run” (caged-in area where chickens eat, drink and roam around) is partially located beneath the “coop” (the actual house where they sleep and lay eggs), taking advantage of vertical space.  [Consider enclosing the chicks in a box for the first couple of weeks until they’re bigger.  It helps guide them directly to the food and water.  We’re doing that plus keeping them warm with a 90 watt red colored bulb, even though it is August, and we live in the hot neighborhood of Kaimuki.  You don’t have to do these things, but we’re doing so because we want to try increase the chicks’ chances of survival as much as we can.]
  • FEEDING/DRINKING SUPPLIES: We also bought all supplies necessary to feed our chickens from Amazon.  This includes organic chick feed (food), chick grit (small rocks that all chickens, whether chicks or adult hens, ingest to aid in the digestion of their food), a chicken feeder, and a chicken drinker for water.  We purchased hanging feeders and drinkers so that the birds have more space to roam around on the ground (again, we like taking advantage of vertical space.)

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Our chicks just arrived today, and already it’s been a fun adventure!  We’re still learning what to do and we’re having a blast figuring it out.  Plus the little chicks are even more precious than I imagined.  We’ve got our compost bin set up and are composting all of the chicks’ waste, as well as our kitchen scraps.  Hopefully we’ll start seeing eggs in about 4-5 months!

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