How are you spending your time right now? Are you just surviving? Working a side hustle? Learning new skills? We’re not going to judge how you are spending your time, but if you’ve been sitting at home, wondering how to become a crazy chicken lady (or man), please welcome our guest writer, Joanne T. Joanne has six tips for raising chickens in Lake Country and Waukesha County. Read more below.
How to be A Crazy Chicken Lady in Lake Country
“Life on the farm… actually it’s just my backyard.
I never dreamed of being a crazy chicken lady/mom/PA, homeschool teacher in the middle of a pandemic, but here I am killin’ it. My first foray into backyard chicken rearing started 7 years ago when, presumably in a post-partum fog, I made the inexplicable jump from no pets to backyard chickens.
First advice, no matter how cute those chicks are at the feed mill or tractor supply, scope out your local ordinances for rules on chickens before even uttering the words “baby chicks” in front of your kiddos. I may have loosely interpreted our local 2 chickens per household regulation as 2 chickens per family member my first time buying chickens. I may have also gotten busted by a nosey neighbor and the village hall for violating the regulation. $125 and two village board meetings later and I was issued a conditional use permit for 6 chickens.
Secondly, chicken coops are not cheap. Royal Roost will rent you a chicken coop and laying hens for the summer if you want a trial period before committing to becoming a crazy chicken lady. You may find a coop on craigslist or the marketplace, but building one is also a great option. Build it bigger than you think you’ll need.
When you see how many cool breeds there are, you’ll become a collector and will need more space. Don’t underestimate the coop build though and do some research on critter proofing it to save yourself some tears later. Chickens taste good and predators like raccoons, mink, foxes, neighborhood dogs all know this.
Baby chicks will need to be transferred to the coop around 6 weeks old when they are fully feathered, so it’s important to have your set up ready for them. You’ll also need
layer feed for chickens over 5 months old (chick feed for the younger chickens), a waterer, pine shavings for bedding, and laying boxes.
Hens start laying eggs around 5 months old and will lay about 1 egg per day depending on breed. Bantam hens are smaller and do not lay as many eggs. You do not need a rooster for egg laying.
As the days shorten, egg production tapers off and you can use artificial light on a timer to extend your egg laying season. They will lay in the winter, but it is more sporadic. If you want eggs this summer, you should buy laying hens rather than chicks. Sometimes you can get laying hens from a feed mill, or even on Craigslist. There is also a “Chickens of Waukesha County” Facebook group that is very helpful. Egg production also slows as the hens get older. Prime egg laying occurs in the first few years.
Buying chicks can be confusing. “Straight run” chicks are not sexed. This means you will end up with
roosters and will need a plan that either involves trying to give them to someone who wants them which can be difficult to find, or a stock pot (also difficult). It’s important to set kids expectations early for the inevitable moment when you must find a new home for roosters.
Pullets are female chicks that have been sexed, but the occasional rooster will still accidentally end up being sold as a hen. You’ll know after a few weeks when the chick develops a comb, but you will likely be in denial because it’s probably your kiddo’s favorite chick. You’ll know for sure around 5 months when you hear the undeniable
You can keep chickens in a pen attached to the coop, but know that they will eat all of the plants in the pen, and it will be a muddy section in the yard. Benefits to free ranging your chickens if you can are that they eat ticks and bugs and it will save you money on feed. Eggs from free range chickens also contain your daily allotment of Vitamin D!
Chickens are also fun to watch and provide entertainment. Mine come running to me in the yard and beg for table scraps. However, they do not discriminate between a garden and an acceptable location to dig, so they will mess up your landscaping.
Also, chickens poop.. a lot.. and will often pick your driveway, or right outside your front step where you’re most likely to step in it. That’s nature! Unfortunately, chicken poop is too acidic to put directly onto your garden.
My husband will tell you that raising chickens guarantees that you will have the most expensive eggs on the block due to cost of feeding them and keeping them warm in the winter, but I think the cost benefit ratio favors continuing to raise them.
My kids have learned so much about nature, science, and taking care of animals through this experience and we even did a pandemic home school unit incubating and hatching chicks! Chickens are work and require some advanced planning when you want to go on a trip, but the life lessons that the kids and I are learning make the effort worthwhile. After all, what other pet can you get that produces your breakfast?