Thinking of raising backyard chickens? You have come to the right place! Wardle Feed & Pet Supply, Denver’s Oldest Feed Store, provides everything you need, all in one place… baby chicks, feeders, waterers, coops and feed. We even offer classes on raising chickens at our monthly chicken swap, which is essentially a buy sell and trade get together. Held every third Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm, farmers from all over come by and sell animals such as baby and adult chickens, goats, ducks, pigs, turkeys, geese, and rabbits. Best of all, admission for buyers and sellers is free!
If you are new to backyard chickens, you may be wondering if raising chickens is right for you. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions which may help you decide.
1. Should I raise backyard chickens?
The popularity of backyard chicken raising the Denver metro area is unprecedented in our generation. It all seemed to start a few years ago when the city of Denver changed its rules and began allowing up to eight hens (female chickens) per household. Many other cities soon followed and eliminated their bans on owning any chickens in residential areas. Now, city dwellers everywhere have become very interested in learning how to be more self-sustaining and to produce more of their own food right at home whenever possible. Some of the best reasons, to raise your own chickens is that you will get the freshest possible eggs every day, your children will learn how to take care of farm animals, and you will be able to enjoy a whole new type of animal that has only been allowed on farms in the past. You will also be in control of food your chickens have eaten, how they have been treated, and can be sure that they are not filled with unhealthy hormones or antibiotics.
2. Is raising chickens very difficult?
No! You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that chickens may be among the easiest and best animals you will ever own. Compared to other pets, such as dogs and cats, they are probably way easier. Chickens generally don’t make much noise, don’t bite children (although if you put your finger close, they may peck at it), run away, chew up things, or fight. If you get them when they are babies and hold them, they will probably love to follow you around and hang out with you.
3. Is it legal for me to have chickens?
Most of the cities in the Denver metro area now allow a certain maximum number of chickens. Before you buy, call your city (or county if you live in an unincorporated area) or check its municipal or zoning code online to verify that you can own chickens and what is the maximum number of chickens allowed. No cities are allowing roosters (male chickens) unless you are zoned correctly. Also, don’t forget to check the rules if you are in a homeowner’s association or your housing community has restrictive covenants.
4. Should I buy baby chicks or adult chickens?
There is no right answer to this question but here are some things to think about. If you get babies, you will need to keep them warm and indoors for about twelve weeks, or at least until they have their feathers. If you and your children carefully hold them regularly, they will probably learn to be very social and friendly. They will still develop a pecking order but will most likely all get along very well with each other. If you buy adults, or if you add young chickens in with established adult flocks, they may not get along well. The older chickens will establish their pecking order and occasionally will not allow the younger ones to eat or they will bully and attack them. You may be able to avoid these problems by putting the younger ones into the coop for the first time at night in the dark when the older ones are nesting. Hopefully they will all wake up in the morning and get along well. Sometimes it is wise to quarantine the new ones for up to a month before adding them to an existing flock to make sure that the new ones are not sick and don’t spread disease.
5. When should I buy my chickens?
Wardle Feed sells baby chicks from February to Labor Day. Keep in mind that you have to keep them indoors until they get their feathers and are big enough to be outside, which is about 12 weeks or so. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will begin farm fresh eggs and wonderful birds.
6. Where should I buy my chickens?
BABY CHICKS: Depending on the time of year, there are many places to buy baby chickens. Wardle Feed sells high quality baby chicks (“pullets”) from February to Labor Day. Some of the big box stores sell them until Easter. There may also be mail order companies which will ship them directly to you. You may even be able to find some on Craigslist.org. What matters is that you buy healthy chickens which are likely to survive. Wardle Feed buys their baby chicks exclusively from Fulenwider Farms in Hudson, Colorado. Fulenwider has a local, large, well kept, and state of the art chicken farm. They practice humane treatment of all their animals. They are fanatics about protecting their flocks from disease so you will not be able to take a tour of their poultry facility because you could accidently track in some germs which would sicken or kill their birds. Wardle Feed gives you an exchange or money back guarantee on your pullets for THREE days and rarely ever has any returns because of the extremely high quality of the Fulenwider Farm birds.
ADULT CHICKENS: There are several places to possibly buy adult birds. For example, Wardle Feed holds a chicken swap every third Saturday from February to October (weather permitting), from 8 am to 2 pm. This is an animal and normally, many folks show up with laying hens to sell. Admission is free for buyers and sellers. You can also look on Craigslist.org and watch for other chicken swaps around town at other feed stores.
7. What breed should I buy?
There are lots of breeds and colors to choose from. Most are pretty good egg layers. Decide first if you are buying your chickens for eggs or meat, then pick your breed accordingly. Wardle Feed sells many different breeds of baby chicks but their availability depends on what has hatched each day at the Fulenwider Farms’ incubators. Baby chicks sell very quickly so stop in or call ahead anytime to find out what breeds are in stock. You may find it fun to get a few different types of chickens so you can have a variety of egg colors, such as pink, green, brown, cream or white. Before you buy, ask about mixing breeds and whether they will be ok together. Here is a chart with some of the breeds and their characteristics:
8. When and how many eggs will I get?
Once they start laying (usually at about 19 to 24 weeks old), you should get around 5 eggs per chicken per week. However, there are times your chickens will lay fewer eggs, especially in the cold of winter or during times of stress. They will also eventually “molt”, which is when they stop laying for a while and grow new feathers. Once their molt is complete, they will start laying eggs again. Chickens will molt about one time a year and this may last for four to six weeks.
9. Do I need a rooster to get eggs?
No, a rooster is only needed if you are going to try to get fertilized eggs to hatch your own chicks. Hens have been bred to lay eggs and should do so for at least two years before their egg production starts to drop off.
10. What about predators?
Foxes, coyotes, eagles and raccoons love to eat chickens. So will dogs, including yours. Therefore, you should take precautions to keep your chickens protected, especially at night, since predators may be all around us in the city nowadays. Since your chickens will roost at night, if you have a secure coop, you can simply close up the coop to keep the predators out.
11. What equipment do I need and how much will it cost?
You will be surprised at how little it costs to get started with your new chickens. For example, if you decide to buy five baby chicks and you use an old storage tub or cardboard box from home, but have no other equipment or supplies, you can spend as little as about $50 to get set up.
Once your chickens have feathers, you will need to put them outside and start thinking a little bigger. They will need a bigger waterer and feeder for sure. These range from $15 to $35 each. They will also need a safe place to stay (“chicken coop”) and inside their coop, a place to nest when they lay eggs (“nesting box”) as well as a place to roost at night. You can either build or buy a chicken coop, which ever you prefer. Wardle Feed sells and delivers both high quality pre-built coops and complete, build-it-yourself coops in a box. There are websites which sell chicken coop plans if you decide to build one yourself and want some guidance. If you do decide to buy a chicken coop, you should budget $299 to $599 for a coop that will comfortably hold up to five chickens and will last for years. Plan on spending a little more than this if you are raising larger flocks of chickens.
12. What about winter time?
Chickens are more comfortable when it is cooler, such as around 40° to 45° F. They will stay close together when they are roosting but it when it gets very cold in the winter, you should consider either closing the door to their roosting area and/or leaving on a 100 watt light bulb on to keep them a little warmer. You should also consider buying a water heater so that you don’t have to worry about their water freezing (do this early before they are sold out for the winter).
13. How much will it cost to continue to feed my flock once they are laying eggs?
You should always use a good quality feed. There are many choices such as commercial feed blends and specialty organic blends. If you use a standard commercial feed, such as Egg Maker® from MannaPro®, you may spend about $2.50 per month per chicken. If you buy the most expensive organic feed, such as Ranch-Way Feeds® Easy Feed Organic Layer you may spend about $6.00 per month per bird. Also, you may need to occasionally mi x in some oyster shells to make sure your flock’s eggs don’t have soft shells. A 5 lb. bag of oyster shells is about $5.49, and should last for several months or more with five chickens. And, chickens love to nibble on a little bit of Scratch, which is a mixture of milo, cracked corn, and wheat, as a special treat each day. A bag of hen scratch is about $12.99 and should last two months or more with five chickens. Chickens also love household food scraps, such as any vegetable matter. Avoid feeding them garlic or other spicy foods or their eggs will pick up that flavor. Also, avoid hard squashes such as pumpkin, acorn, or Hubbard, as they may bind up your birds’ intestinal tracks.
14. How do I learn more about raising backyard chickens?
Wardle Feed regularly offers a class called, Chicken Keeping 101. The class is taught by a local poultry expert from Fulenwider Farms and covers everything you need to know about raising chickens, including a question and answer session. Or, call us at Wardle Feed anytime and our friendly, well-trained staff will answer your questions. You can also buy books and videos online or rent them from your local library.
Still have more questions? Ask us right here!