With winter finally receding, spring offers a grand opportunity to start a flock of chickens of your own—and finally get in on the freshest version of the eggs you’ve been savoring from the farmers’ market for years. Whether starting with chicks or adopting grown birds, keeping backyard chickens requires research, preparation and work. Lynn Faurie, co-owner of B&L 4E Farm in Milton, has tips from inside the coop to get you started.
1. Research breeds and local regulations before you buy
While ornate breeds tout good looks and crowd appeal, plainer breeds typically deliver more eggs. “It’s important to decide exactly what you’re looking for in a chicken and investigate the qualities of each breed,” Faurie says. “Heritage breeds are beautiful, but take longer to lay. On the other hand, breeds like Golden Comets, Leghorns or Rhode Island Reds lay much faster.” These factors can help you determine how many hens you’ll ultimately want in your flock (faster producing breeds can lay upwards of 250 eggs per year). Another determining factor will be your town’s regulations on keeping chickens—call your local clerk’s office ahead of time to ask about any limits.
2. If you want eggs, look for ‘pullets’ only
It’s common for both male and female chicks to be sold together as “straight-runs,” Faurie says. Finding a supplier that can gender chicks beforehand will save you from any surprises—and noise complaints—in the long run. “Every year, we get calls from people wanting to get rid of roosters they bought as chicks without knowing they were male,” Faurie adds. “Go to a reputable place where you know you’ll get females.” Immature hens are called “pullets,” while the males are called “cockerels.”
3. Prepare the coop before the birds come home
From dietary needs to coop construction, you’ll need plans in place before you bring home your new birds. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help, Faurie says. Books, online guides and even local workshops (like Cornell Cooperative Extension’s “Backyard Chickens for Beginngers” courses) can help you make vital choices concerning your chickens, such as how to build or where to purchase the right coop, where to place nesting boxes, how to feed organically and more.
4. Take precautions against predators
It’s a tough world out there for chickens—foxes, coyotes, weasels, hawks and other predators large and small will persistently try to hunt the virtually defenseless fowl. Whether you’re using mesh to cover outdoor runs or recruiting the help of a chicken-friendly guard dog, you’ll need to take precautions to keep the flock safe. “In this area, the number one thing that discourages people from continuing raising backyard chickens is seeing a slaughter from a wild animal,” Faurie admits. “It’s nice to have chickens roaming free out in the pasture, but you’ll quickly learn that’s the easiest way to risk their lives.” Ensure the coop is locked tightly at night, cover even the smallest of gaps in fencing and walls and install chicken wire into the ground along the perimeter of the enclosure to ward off burrowing predators.
5. Keep the flock well-lighted, watered and clean
With good conditions and care, your backyard flock will deliver tasty eggs in no time. Natural daylight on their feathers, fresh drinking water around the clock and clean nesting boxes are essential to egg production. While mature hens will produce eggs all year, they usually slow down in the winter months (sad news for holiday baking season). “To help them keep up with shorter daylight hours, use a light inside the coop with an automatic timer,” Faurie says. Hens also “prefer their privacy” while laying—but Faurie suggests checking the coop for cleanliness and eggs at least once a day.
About the farm:
B&L 4E is a certified organic farm founded in 1910. Specializing in pasture raised beef and chicken, the farm also offers chicken eggs all year round from its flock of nearly 60. This spring, the farm will welcome a few hundred more baby chicks. (Pictured: Farm owners and operators Barbara Masterson, left, and Lynn Faurie.)
B&L 4E Farm
561 Old Indian Road, Milton
(845) 795-2207 Mon.-Sun. 8am-6pm