I’ve become addicted. Addicted to chickens. And it’s only been a little over 6 months since they came into our lives.
After a bit of research, and watching a few friends hop on the backyard chicken bandwagon, I decided that I wanted chickens too. Since you can have up to 5 hens in San Diego as long as you’re within the city guidelines, I knew I wanted to get a few. I just didn’t know when. So when I received a chicken coop as a birthday present from the kids and husband (all my son’s idea) I was ecstatic.
Sure I just had a baby – Norah was 6 weeks old at the time – but the chickens wouldn’t be too much work, right? The weekend of my 31st birthday we headed out to City Farmer’s Nursery to pick up some chicks. We had called ahead of time and were told they had 3 week old chicks ready to purchase. And as soon as we got there we realized that we had a lot of chicks to choose from. So I let the kids choose what they wanted. Ethan chose a Rhode Island Red he’d later name Red. And Molly chose an Ameraucana she named Flower Rose. A few months later we’d come to find out that Flower Rose was really an Easter Egger but more on that later…
Since the day they were taken home, the kids and I have been ever so joyed at their antics and shennanegans. Joseph however isn’t amused. Maybe it’s because of all of the poop and flies they brought our way? Eh… no big deal when you’re getting fresh eggs!! Of course it took 6 months to get our first egg. And only one chicken is laying so far…But boy do our chickens give us more than just eggs. And raising chickens in San Diego with kids is a learning experience that’ll last a lifetime. Below are some tips we’ve learned so far!
Raising Chickens In San Diego With Kids
What Type of Chickens?
First things first… decide on how many chickens you want and what type of chickens you want. There are a lot of different viewpoints on what chickens are best. 5 hens will supply approximately 30 eggs a week which would meet the needs of a typical family of four. Since only my son and I are egg eaters in the morning, we went with two hens for now. But I have plans to expand our flock to four hens in the near future (fair warning… the impulse to add to your flock grows strongly after they start laying).
Different types of chickens will lay a different number of eggs each week. And the color of the eggs depend on the type of chicken you get. Our Rhode Island Red lays brown eggs. But our Easter Egger is going to be a surprise since Easter Eggers are the mutts of the chicken breeds. We don’t know what color she’ll lay (blue, green, etc) until she starts laying. Ameraucanas lay blue eggs while Olive Eggers lay green eggs! You can look up the various breeds on quite a few sites.
We used My Pet Chicken to narrow down what breeds we wanted in our home. As I mentioned before, we chose a Rhode Island Red (RIR) who was supposed to lay 4 times a week and an Ameraucana turned Easter Egger who was supposed to lay 3 times a week. My RIR lays 4 days on, 1 day off. And we’ll find out what the Easter Egger lays once she starts.
Bringing Home Chicks
Once you decide on how many chickens and what breed chickens you want, then you need to decide how old you want the chickens to be. Will you be hatching them yourself or buying baby chicks who are a few days to weeks old? Deciding that is dependant on how prepared you are and if you have the equipment needed to take care of babies or just want to jump into full grown hens.
We chose to purchase 3 week old chicks from a local place because a. we only needed 2 chicks and most places that ship chicks require a minimum of 3 chicks (most places require more to reduce shipping costs) and b. it was fun to have the kids pick out their own birds. When shipping chicks, they need to stay warm so sometimes warmers are added to the package if you don’t order a lot of chicks so they don’t perish during their travels. I didn’t want to have the kids open up a box with the chance of any babies dying so local was easier too!
Once we brought them home we couldn’t just put them in the coop and let them be. We kept them inside the house in a little galvanized tub with their food and water along with some pine shavings. Then we covered the tub with some chicken wire and clips to keep them inside. They stayed in there for a few weeks until they were old enough to go in their coop; when their feathers grew out. The kids would take them out daily to let them wander our yard but made sure to stay close to them and watch for any predators (like the red tail hawks in the area).
From the time we took our chicks home until they started laying eggs we fed them Start n’ Grow. Alongside the Start n’ Grow we feed them lots of fun treats. Basically anything we eat, they eat with the exception of chocolate/sweets, avocado and avocado pits, and anything you wouldn’t eat (moldy or rotten). Everything else is fair game.
Our chickens eat just about anything we put out but do have their preferences. They have a newfound love of red grapes and raisins but will take longer ot eat the green grapes or dried cranberries (weird, right?). They rush to the door when I have the leftover wax worms from our leopard gecko. And they leap in the air to catch blueberries when we have them. This is all on top of the greens and bugs they get while free-ranging in the back yard.
Once the first chicken started laying, I started to also offer crushed oyster shells. Oyster shells (or egg shells cleaned, dried, and crushed up) can provide much needed calcium for the birds to keep their shells thick.
Before we got our chicks, as I mentioned, my husband purchased a coop online for my birthday. He knew I wanted 2-3 chickens and made sure that the coop he got had the space for those chickens. It’s suggested that at a minimum you have 4 square feet of space for each chicken in the coop. And 10 square feet of room in their run (unless they’re free ranging in your yard like ours are). Basically they need room to spread out.
When choosing the coop for your birds, make sure you factor in chicken math. You know… when you start with two but end up with 5 because they’re so addicting? Yes. It happens. I promise. So if there’s even an inkling of wanting more chickens, consider getting a larger coop. Or plan to upgrade later. We’re planning on upgrading shortly and expanding our coop.
There are various materials you can use for your coop floor and for the roost and nests. We chose to go with pine shavings in our roost and nest areas and dirt outside. Since we had a bit of a rodent problem trying to get the chicken feed, we put chicken wire on the bottom of our coop and weighed it down with some bricks then covered with dirt.
Depending on the breed, you can get anywhere from 3-6 eggs a week from your chickens. Our Rhode Island Red was told to average about 5 eggs a week and has been producing 6 in 7 days. She lays one egg 4 days in a row and then skips a day, then starts laying again. Since it takes about 25-28 hours for an egg to form, she lays at different times of the day.
When researching the breed you want, consider how many eggs they average in a week and what you are looking for in your chicken. Their egg shell color also varies. Our Rhode Island Red lays brown eggs and our Easter Egger lays light bluish eggs. (While finishing this article, our Easter Egger laid her first egg! Photo above.)