I do not have chickens. And until recently, my knowledge of chickens consisted of my weekly carton of eggs from the grocery store and an old black and white photograph from my great grandfather. Though the photo is creased and ripped, the image is still clear – a modest chicken coop with a flock of hens.
My great grandfather was a chicken keeper, among many other things (beekeeper, orcharder, woodworker). I grew up on stories of him told through my grandpa, and though I never had a chance to meet my great grandfather, I always felt connected to him.
Perhaps that was why I was so excited to attend Lehman’s recent chicken class. I not only had the opportunity to learn more about a self-sufficient skill, but one that my great grandfather possessed.
Attending the Chicken Class at Lehman’s
Lehman’s offers a variety of in-store classes from pie baking and cheesemaking to raising bees and of course, chickens. Each class is taught by an expert, someone who has experience with that skill and understands what it is like just starting out. AJ Miller, a local Amish chicken keeper, taught the chicken class and his wealth of knowledge is impressive.
Why Raise Your Own Chickens
Within the first five minutes of the class, AJ explained his own reason for raising chickens and it came down to knowing his food source. Wanting to live a healthier lifestyle, he and his family decided they would raise what they eat. They now live on a certified organic farm
As AJ pointed out, when you are close to your food source, you know where your food comes from and how it was cared for. But can you say the same about the food you get at the store?
While not everyone is able to live on a farm, you can easily raise a small flock of chickens in your backyard, and I found this very encouraging. (Start small, then go from there.)
Housing and Feeding Your Chickens
Throughout the class, AJ shared helpful facts and tips, like:
If your baby chicks are noisy, then they’re probably cold.
Chickens need at least 14 hours of daylight.
Apple cider vinegar is great for chickens.
But even more importantly, AJ gave the foundation of where to begin: providing a safe shelter for your flock. No matter if you live in a rural or urban area, predators will try to get in (foxes, rats, raccoons, critters of all sorts). So having a safe, secure coop is a must. But you also want to make sure that you give your chickens the space they need as well.
What you feed your chickens is equally important. As AJ said, “what you’re feeding your chickens is what you’re going to eat.” (Now that’s food for thought!) He recommended only using organic, non-GMO feed, preferably from a local source. While it’s more expensive, it is a better quality without worries of fillers, which will essentially help your chickens live healthy and happy.
Healthy Eggs, Roosters and Other Thoughts
Many people raise chickens for eggs, but how do you know if the eggs you’re collecting from your flock are healthy?
AJ answered this question by cracking open one of the eggs he got from his farm that morning. As he explained, healthy eggs will have a solid shell and a yellow yolk that will not fall apart and run all over when cracked into a pan. If the yolk is runny, this may mean your flock is not healthy.
There was one nagging question in the back of my head as I listened to AJ: What about roosters? I had heard my grandpa tell many stories of mean old Charlie, the rooster my great grandfather kept, and how Charlie would chase my grandpa around. To be honest, this caused me to steer clear of roosters so far in life, so I was thrilled when AJ addressed this issue.
Well, it turns out you don’t need a rooster if you don’t want the eggs fertilized. This can help you avoid a lot of hassle and noise. Loud roosters crowing early in the morning probably won’t be appreciated by your neighbors, after all.
Overall, I left the class feeling well informed. There was so much I learned in those couple hours, and learning from an experienced chicken keeper was invaluable.
Make sure you check out Lehman’s store events page to see a list of upcoming classes! (AJ will be teaching this beginner’s class again at the Country Living Workshop June 30th at Lehman’s – there is still time to sign up!)
Editor’s Note: Are you raising chickens for the first time? Leave a comment below and let us know how it is going.