Farm Life in Orange County: What You Need to Know about Raising Backyard Chickens

One of the first things we did when we bought our ranch property was buy 4 baby chicks from the local feed store and set up a chicken coop. I had chicks growing up and lost interest in them by the time they had grown into chickens, but had fond memories all the same. Honestly, it is one of the best decisions we made – and now 3 years later, our flock has grown to 10 chickens and even a rooster. They bring us so much joy and laughter (and sometimes frustration) but best of all…daily eggs!

Have you been thinking of getting backyard chickens? It’s become increasingly popular, especially lately with grocery store shortages and people wanting to control where their food is coming from.

 

WHERE TO PURCHASE CHICKENS

backyard chickens

You can buy chicks online here and have them shipped to you, but I recommend buying them from a local feed store if possible. If you’re a resident in Orange County, I HIGHLY recommend Wagon Train Feed Store for the following reasons. First, if you’re looking for laying hens, they will often buy back the roosters if you end up with roosters (you can’t tell the sex when they’re just hatched and you have to wait and see). Second, you may need advice along the way and it helps to build a relationship with a local shop so you can call and bug them when you need to.

 

BUYING A COOP

chicken coop

Just spend the money. Unless you’re REALLY handy. Or buy a kit and build the kit if you need to feel like you did it yourself. But honestly, too much can go wrong if you try and “wing it.”

Humor aside, chickens need specific stuff- nesting boxes, roosting bars, the doorway should be big enough for you to duck inside if you need to. Floors of the nesting boxes should slide out for cleaning, lots of conveniences that people who have had chickens for years learned along the way and incorporated into the design of the coops you can buy for the same amount or close to what you would spend on supplies. Just buy one. This is a really decent one if you’re just getting a couple of chickens and it’s super affordable. Here is another option that’s larger and would hold more chickens if you’re planning to grow your flock.

 

LAYING EGGS

backyard chickens backyard chickens

Chickens don’t lay eggs right away – in fact, they don’t lay eggs until about 17-26 weeks depending on the breed of hen. If you don’t want to wait that long, many rural animal shelters have chickens for adoption. But I think raising them from chicks makes them gentler and tamer, more apt to let you pick them up and more like pets. But it’s your call.

 

WHEN A CHICK PASSES AWAY

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Sometimes your chicks will pass and it feels just as sad as any pet death. Maybe not as catastrophic as Rover the dog or a family pet you’ve had for years – but it’s never something you would wish for. Only one of our chickens died in 3 years, which is not too bad of odds actually. Because we’re perched in the hills on the coast of California, it’s typical to have dogs, cats, coyotes and even mountain lions roaming around our property – even so, we’ve have only lost one chicken! With this being said, I would like to remind you that unfortunately your chickens are not immortal – but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get attached to them. Enjoy your chicks and celebrate the life they have. If they do pass, you can have a funeral for them, especially if you have young kiddos, to help reconcile any sad feelings.

 

HOMEGROWN FRESH EGGS

backyard chickens

Homegrown chicken eggs do NOT taste like store bought eggs. Not even like the free range, super expensive store bought eggs. The yolks are bright orange and very thick and the eggs just have a bolder and fresher taste than anything you’ve ever had before. Plus picking them up warm from the nesting box and going inside to cook them is a surreal experience. Here’s a fantastic cookbook that will show you really creative ways to use eggs in cooking and also has plenty of tips on keeping chickens too. And you will definitely need one of these- this countertop egg cooker is the easiest thing in the world for making simple eggs – hard boiled, soft boiled or poached, you just set it and leave it. I use mine all the time whether I am making brunch for the whole family or if we get an excess of eggs, I’ll hard boil some to have on hand for salads or avocado toast toppers. SO easy.

backyard chickens

ENJOY YOUR CHICKENS, THEY’RE SO CLUCKING FUN!

Chicks need to be kept warm for the first few weeks and looked after before they can be moved to a coop. The chickens should have some open space to forage if possible during the day and their straw in their coop should get cleaned out once a week at least (or it gets stinky). They can lay up to an egg per day or sometimes no eggs for a few days each chicken. And their eggs come in different colors depending on their breed. They each have their own personality and it’s really fun to sit outside and watch the “chicken show” as they interact with each other. Having chickens is a great learning experience for young kids and a wonderful opportunity for responsibility, chores and accountability. I could not recommend it more. If you have any questions about starting your own chicken community, comment below!

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