Spring is on the way and many of us are snuggled in a cozy quilt or afghan planning our gardens and what new things we will do in 2024 to make healthy, sustainable, and satisfying food for our tables. Homesteading, while once a necessity, is now more than ever becoming a choice for conscious consumers and community members. If that’s you, one of the best and most fun ways to start next-level home food production is with a flock of poultry. I have been guiding people in Southern California through the maze of flock fads including chicken breeds, housing, diseases, hardships, and successes for over 25 years, and am excited to help you decide if a home flock is right for you and how to make a plan that will limit your challenges and celebrate your accomplishments. Now is the perfect time to start a strategy—let’s get started.

What are the top issues to consider if you are thinking of starting a home flock?

First, are you allowed to have chickens in or at your home? Many municipalities have updated and adjusted their rules for chicken ownership. Local city and county leaders are supportive in acknowledging that chickens are as positive to our local families as gardening but be advised to check the guidelines for your home including any HOA rules or lease addendums to verify there are no restrictions that prevent you from housing a flock legally. Property regulations will help you define how many birds you can have, what the setbacks are for your housing design, and if you are allowed a rooster. A little extra advice: Go talk to your neighbors. I suggest asking if they like chickens, if they would like to share in your glorious eggs should you have an abundance, and if they have any concerns. Being open and kind with your neighbors is the easiest way to prevent a code violation call.

Once you find it is permissible to have chickens, now what? The next thing to decide is whether to raise new chicks or start with ready-to-lay hens. If you choose ready-to-lay hens, your initial investment will be more, but the return is faster. If you choose to raise chicks because they are SO fluffy and because you can choose your breeds, the benefit of raising them together may result in fewer pecking order disturbances. (Yes, pecking order is real and is a whole other topic.)

Acquiring ready-to-lay hens will lead you to local breeders and retail establishments. Preparing your chicken palace for the adult hens should include the following checklist of items.

  • Material for the coop area and the run area (bedtime roosting and laying areas versus outside in the sun running around areas)
  • Safe roosts
  • Nesting boxes
  • Feeders
  • Waterers
  • Pest management
  • Predator protection
  • Enrichment
  • Biohazard controls
  • Ease of use, and of course,
  • Adorableness (That is on my list but not a necessity)

Housing for baby chicks can be as elaborate as an official metal brooder box, or as simple as a storage container. If you ask 10 chicken people what they use, you may get 10 different answers and all will likely work. I have learned that some things work better than others and reduce the chances of struggle for you and the babies. The essential pieces are that the container has sides to limit cooling breezes, protection from predators, bedding to provide footing and waste disposal, food, water, and heat. The heat source can be as simple as a heat lamp (secured in at least two ways) or as fancy as a heating plate (expensive, but super safe). The heat source in coordination with housing must be able to keep the babies comfortable at around 100 degrees for that first week. The heat must be adjustable by position or thermostat down five degrees per week until we are close to the standard temp in the room and they become fully feathered. Committing to babies is an eight-week, very enjoyable, and sometimes messy situation but it gives you time to create the outdoor coop that works best for you.

For the next steps in planning or managing your home flock please check in with the San Diego chicken folks at your local feed stores and homesteading and flock groups on Facebook and vetted sites like thechickenchick.com, tillysnest.com, hawthornecountrystore.com, and motherearthnews.com.

Article originally published on ESD Express, Jan. 25, 2024. Support Edible San Diego's online media programming by becoming a digital subscriber and receive exclusive early access to stories like this one sent straight to your inbox.

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About the Contributor
Heather Thelen
Heather Thelen is owner of Hawthorne Country Store. Heather is passionate about helping people with their pets, livestock, and homesteading needs.