Q&A #6: All About Our Backyard Chickens

Sometimes I feel like there’s a split between what I share here on the blog and what I share on Instagram… specifically our backyard chickens! In an effort to be more transparent about every facet of our life AND to make life a little easier on myself, I’ve been trying to merge to the two more and more. Plus, apparently consistency is good for this blogging and social media thing? ANYWHOO. I get sooo many questions about how to keep backyard chickens, so it was high time for me to dig in and answer ’em all for you.

Q&A: Answering Your Questions about Our Backyard Chickens! #urbanfarming #backyardchickens #chickens #fancychickens #chickencoop #chickenkeeping #Q&A #questionandanswer

Q&A: Answering Your Questions about Our Backyard Chickens

Let me preface this Q&A with a disclaimer: I am by no means a chicken expert. Everything I shared in this post is something that’s worked on my own flock, but please keep in mind everyone is different.

Why are your chickens named after figure skaters, did you ice skate as a kid?

This is probably my most ASKED question when it comes to our flock. I never actually figure skated as a kid. Mostly, I just really loved watching the ’90s era figure skaters during the Olympics. When I was a designer at Anthropologie, I designed fancy chicken holiday ornaments one year and fell FAR down the rabbit hole of fancy chickens… and became obsessed. Then, for some reason, I thought it would be funny to name my fancy chickens after figure skaters if I ever got them… so here we are!

Right now I have 7 chickens:

  • Dorothy Hamill, an Easter Egger
  • Nancy Kerrigan, a Columbian Wyandotte
  • Michelle Kwan, an Easter Egger
  • Tonya Harding (aka Small Fry), a Serama/Bantam mix
  • Tara Lipinski, an Easter Egger
  • Katarina Wit, an Easter Egger
  • Kristi Yamaguchi, a Dominique

Where did you get your chickens?

We’ve added to our flock a few different times over the course of the two years we’ve been chicken keeping. Dorothy and Nancy both came from  Portage Bay Grange. Michelle Kwan was a rescue from a friend who’s flock got eaten by coyotes. Tonya came to us after a friend of one of my Instagram followers found her and couldn’t find the owner. Tara, Katarina, and Kristi are our most recent additions and were given to us by friends who were moving and couldn’t take the girls with them.

I thought about having some chickens, but I’m concerned about the time commitment.

In the grand scheme of our tiny zoo, the chickens require the least amount of effort and time. Once a week, I refill their water and food containers. Every day or every other day, I give them treats like cabbage, veggies, mealworms, or cracked corn. I tend to spoil them though cuz I really love seeing them run to the treats; it just cracks me up. Also, giving them treats when I collect eggs helps to ensure that I don’t step on anyone!

Then, every 2 weeks, I clean out their coop which means scooping poo, adding diatomaceous earth, refilling their oyster shells, etc. I like to interact with the ladies a few times a day, but honestly… you don’t really have to.

Q&A: Answering Your Questions about Our Backyard Chickens!  #urbanfarming #backyardchickens #chickens #fancychickens #chickencoop #chickenkeeping #Q&A #questionandanswer

How often do your chickens lay eggs?

This actually varies based on the breed of chicken! Nancy, my Wyandotte, should lay about 200 eggs a year (she’s a slacker though). The Easter Eggers lay around 250 a year, while my Dominique lays between 230-270 eggs a year. Meanwhile, my bantam is a mystery! Every once in a while, I get a tiny egg from her and it’s always a fun surprise.

The thing to keep in mind with chickens, though, is that they need daylight in order to lay. This means that during the dark, cold months of winter here in Seattle, egg production slows down a lot. When it’s warmer though, we get SO many eggs. It all balances out.

I’ve heard chickens can draw in rats. Have you had this issue?

I’ve heard this a lot, but have not noticed an uptick in our pest issues (more on that here). We have a monthly pest control service come to the house because of our past issues from before we had chickens. If you’re especially worried about it, there are feeders that are more pest-resistant. I’ve been considering switching to this rat proof chicken feeder, but so far our system is working.

What is the best breed to start with for a chicken newb?

I absolutely ADORE Wyandottes as a breed. Nancy is just the sweetest, most docile chicken ever. I’ve also heard great things about Opringtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Barred Rocks (we had one that turned out to be a rooster, but I loved him!). If you want blue eggs, look into Easter Eggers.

Q&A: Answering Your Questions about Our Backyard Chickens!  #urbanfarming #backyardchickens #chickens #fancychickens #chickencoop #chickenkeeping #Q&A #questionandanswer

Who watches them when you’re away?

Sean’s dad! But if it’s just for a weekend, they are all set and don’t need anyone to check in on them. I have an outdoor camera situated so I can check in on the flock and make sure everyone is ok.

I want to make a chicken run roosting ladder from tree limbs. Any advice?

My biggest piece of advice is to make sure that the branches are the right thickness for your chickens’ feet. Hens like to sleep with their feet flat instead of gripping the perch. So make sure the width is 2-4 inches. Also, offer varying heights so that your heavier girls don’t hurt themselves when dismounting!

What happens to the chickens when it gets really cold?

This past winter, I went WAY OVERBOARD caring for our flock during the winter. Sean’s eyes were basically stuck in a permanent rolling position. I always add extra pine bedding to their coop to provide more insulation. Also, I have wrap outdoor rugs around the coop and use an old painting dropcloth as a door to the coop. Our entire chicken run is covered, which means I don’t have to worry about them getting frostbite on their toes.

When it snowed, I got this brooder to keep them warm in the coop AND set up a camera inside so I could spy on them. Every night, I brought in their water so it wouldn’t freeze. Then in the morning, I brought them warm water and hot oatmeal.

Q&A: Answering Your Questions about Our Backyard Chickens!  #urbanfarming #backyardchickens #chickens #fancychickens #chickencoop #chickenkeeping #Q&A #questionandanswer

What’s the life expectancy of a chicken?

Again, this usually varies by breed and by how many eggs she’s laid in her lifetime. By this I mean that if you use heat lamps to make them lay eggs consistently in the winter, you’ll shorten their lifespan. My girls are heritage hens, sos they will live for about 8-10 years and will lay for 2-3 years.

How many backyard chickens do you need?

This depends on how many eggs you want to eat and how many laughs you want to have! I feel like 4-5 is a good place to start.

How much space do they need?

A good rule of thumb is 2-3 square feet per chicken in the coop, one laying box per 3 birds, and and 8-10 square feet per chicken in the run.

Can they wear sweaters?

I mean… for photos, yes? But chickens stay warm by fluffing their feathers and trapping warm air in between. If you put a sweater on them, they won’t be able to do that!

Q&A: Answering Your Questions about Our Backyard Chickens!  #urbanfarming #backyardchickens #chickens #fancychickens #chickencoop #chickenkeeping #Q&A #questionandanswer

To submit more questions about keeping and taking care of backyard chickens, leave them in a comment on this post, shoot me an email, or DM me on Instagram!

Photography by Jojotastic.

Behind The Blog

Joanna Hawley-McBride is a Pacific Northwest-based social media strategist, content creator, and former textile designer. Joanna is the founder and editor-in-chief of Jojotastic, a lifestyle blog focused on Joanna’s work-in-progress cabin, finding the best pair of underwear through #UnderwearThesis, and empowering women to explore nature — all in her signature unfiltered style. Her work has been featured in Domino, CNBC, and Eating Well.

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