By Rui Santos.

Did you know that day-old baby chicks grow into egg-laying hens in just about 18 weeks? It takes nearly the same amount of time for day-old chicks to grow into adult hens as it does for a school year to end and Halloween to arrive. That is not a long time.

Santos farm Chickens

How many chicks/future hens should a new backyard hobby farmer raise? If you can, I recommend buying at least six chicks at a time. Chickens are social creatures that need each other for the company. Plus, there is always the sad possibility that a chick may die during the first weeks of life.

Choosing the best breed of chicks/hens is an interesting project. Do your research before selecting the breed you intend to raise. While there are many different breeds from which to choose, keep in mind you live in a cold-weather climate. The Rhode Island Reds breed, as well as Barred Rocks, and Golden Comets are all friendly and do well in New England. You want hens that can live comfortably in the winter and continue to lay eggs in their sheltered coop.

When your growing baby chicks are ready they’ll need a house or coop in which to live. Each hen needs at least three to four square feet of space to allow for roaming. Hens like to move about as they constantly scratch on the floor. Crowding hens can lead to problems like egg breakage, fighting, and stress that will reduce egg production. The very worst type of hen is the egg-eater. Hens with this habit, often caused by stress, will destroy all the pleasure of raising chickens.

The coop needs to be well-ventilated, with a dry litter floor {wood shavings are preferable}, and an unlimited supply of feed and water. You need to regularly clean out the coop by shoveling out the old manure. That manure is invaluable in creating good compost for your vegetable garden. (Stay tuned for more on this project in a future post).

Hens will follow you almost anywhere if you feed them on a regular timetable. They are gentle if treated well, and will give you the present of a fresh egg every day. Each healthy hen will lay one––and only one––egg every day. Most hens will lay 250-300 eggs in their first year of production, which slows during the dark and cold winter months. You will need to gather those eggs daily to minimize breakage. Hens can regularly produce eggs for up to three years, but they can live for up to ten years.

Egg Yolks

Look at those yolks!

Fresh eggs are delicious, awesome in flavor, and taste so much better than the traditional store-bought eggs, which can be up to two months old. Six hens will provide you with three and a half dozen eggs each week. That’s a lot of eggs for your family to eat every week. How about learning to make this delicious frittata – it takes 8 eggs!  If you have extra eggs give them away to your friends or neighbors – which they will joyfully accept.

Rui Santos and his wife JoAnn own Santos Family Farm in Kingston, MA. The farm, established in 1941, has continuously raised hens for over 60 Years.