How many chickens should I get?
Well, how many eggs do you want? Young chickens from good laying breeds will lay almost an egg a day except in the really dark, short winter days (I never feel like doing anything productive either). Say that five chickens lay 6 eggs a week—that’s 30 eggs a week—enough to have as many as you want and give lots away as gifts.
Don’t get fewer than three—they like company. Also, consider the winter: three hens will keep you in eggs most of the year, but having a few more is advantageous in the winter when egg production slows. And don’t get more than your coop can comfortably hold.
We have 24 chickens right now, which is absurd for a two-person household. But we give a ton of eggs away, and just like having that many birds around. You can be more sensible (most people are) and get five or six.
Tonia here: Sarah and Bob, the couple renting our cottage, brought three chickens with them when they moved in, and that is plenty for them plus they have extra eggs that they share with us occasionally. They plan to get more eventually, and we plan to get a flock of our own as well.
Are chickens loud?
Roosters: yes, shockingly. Hens? mmm. not really. Way less obtrusive than, say, one of those little yappy dogs that barks all day long. Chickens tend to cluck when the sun rises, when our car pulls in next to the coop, and they make loads of happy noise when they see us walking towards them with a bucket of greens.
95% of the noise happens when a chicken lays an egg: they actually announce it with that stereotypical chicken noise: Cluck-cluck-cluck-CLUCK-repeat. It goes on for about two minutes or so, once a day per hen, and I think it’s adorably prideful. Neighbors can be placated quite effectively with eggs, I hear.
Are chickens legal?
Probably. New York City, Oakland, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Seattle and Portland are all legendarily chicken-friendly. Check online, or your neighborhood or city ordinances should tell you what’s legal in your area.
Typically there’s a maximum number of hens permitted, and rules about whether or not you can have roosters. But the only people who know you have chickens (or how many of those chickens you have these days) are your neighbors—and if they don’t mind, neither will the city.
Do I need a rooster?
Nope! Lady chickens ovulate regardless of whether or not there’s a gentleman around, much like, well, lady people do. Hens will lay eggs reliably without any rooster at all. Without a rooster, the eggs they lay will not be fertile, so they’ll never hatch into baby chickens.
With the services of a rooster on hand, however, a hen will lay eggs exactly as before, but the eggs will be fertile. We’ll talk about hatching elsewhere, but in a nutshell: fertile eggs, kept warm under a hen that doesn’t budge from her nest for 22 straight days, hatch! Even IF you have a hen-rooster combo, so long as you collect your eggs daily there’s zero chance of ending up with, you know, teeny tiny chicken in your frittata.
Still, roosters are pretty cool. We don’t have one because they are loud, loud, loud, but we’re bummed about that a bit. Roosters actually do all sorts of good things for the flock. And consider their fearlessness in the face of mad karate skills and the homestead security they could provide. We had a rooster (briefly) that attacked Bill like it was his job, but protected and flirted with me. It was adorable.
I heard homegrown eggs are healthier for you than regular eggs. How is that possible?
Whether you’re eating the egg or the whole bird, the nutrient profile of homegrown chickens is healthier than that their cage-grown counterparts. Not only are you sparing yourselves the questionably sound ingredients in the antibiotic and additive-laden food given to industrial layers, studies show a healthier fat profile and increased amounts of important vitamins in eggs laid by chickens with access to healthy food and outdoor space.
The benefits of a healthy diet and exercise on the chicken benefit the egg. If you are what you eat, you are what what you eat eats too.
Do the eggs taste different than store bought eggs?
Like the unparalleled heirloom tomato, once you start eating homegrown eggs, you’ll never want to go back to what you were eating before. If you were sitting in my kitchen I could make you an omelet to prove it, but there’s actually a visual difference you can actually see from where you’re sitting:
Homegrown eggs are famous for a deep orangey-yellow yokes and absolutely unbelievable flavor. Novella Carpenter notices in her book “Farm City” that the flavor of her eggs improved when she added greens and vegetables to her chickens’ diet, which is something Bill and I can vouch for too. Healthy chickens who exercise and eat a diverse and nutritious diet produce rich, deeply-flavored gourmet eggs.
Is it safe to raise your own eggs?
YES. A thousand times yes. Is it safe to buy eggs from Safeway? Not always. Salmonella outbreaks have been widespread in 2010, caused by repeated violations of safety protocols that were widespread and deeply inhumane. You can learn more about it here, but know it’s pretty heartbreaking stuff. We’ve seen over and over again that profit-focused factory farming taken its toll on quality and safety of what’s produced and on the lives of the animals that produce it.
Unhealthy eggs come from sick, overcrowded, unhappy chickens and breathtakingly large-scale farming practices. Healthy chickens that have good food, fresh water, exercise, sunshine and a clean indoor and outdoor space are a completely safe source of food. Small scale home farming improves your health and the health of your family.