Backyard chickens are a wonderful benefit to any household. Not only are they fun pets, they provide you with delicious, fresh eggs! If you live in Arizona and are thinking about getting chickens here are some tips:
Know the Rules
Every city has their own local ordinances so please be sure it is legal for you to keep chickens on your property. We have heard of poultry owners who were forced to give up their flock because they were not aware it was illegal in their city. This azcentral article has a general listing of laws in the Phoenix-metro area, but it is wise to double check the ordinance by contacting your city government. Also keep in mind that there are often specific rules for roosters as well. Even if you don’t plan on having a rooster, make sure you know the rules because sometimes what looks like a hen can later turn out to be a rooster.
Which Breed is Best?
There are numerous breeds to pick from so one must consider a few basic factors when selecting a breed. First, do you plan to raise the chickens for meat, eggs, or both? The Cornish Cross is considered the standard meat bird in the poultry industry. Red Rangers make good broilers too. Some of the top egg layers include Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds (RIR), and Ameraucanas. Chickens that are good for both meat and eggs are referred to as “dual purpose” and include breeds such as the Orpington, Wyandotte, Plymouth Rock, Delaware, and Australorp. Each breed is prone to certain temperaments and known to lay different colored eggs.
In a harsh climate like Arizona, another critical aspect to consider is heat tolerance. Smaller chickens, such as banties, and those with light colored plumage tend to do better in hot climates. In general, heavier breeds do not fare as well. Examples of heat tolerant breeds include: Andalusian, Naked Neck, Plymouth Rock, and Ameraucana.
For our original flock, we selected Orpingtons and Wyandottes due to their gentle temperament, good egg production, and size. Because they are large birds, they are susceptible to hot temperatures, but they are able to tolerate the summer with some help (read more here). Over the years, we’ve tried a variety of breeds and our personal favorite is the Australorp.
Selecting a Brooder and Coop
For the first 6 weeks, baby chicks need to live in a controlled environment called a brooder. You can purchase one from several online retailers or build your own. We built ours using scrap plywood and chicken wire. The size you need depends on the number of chicks you have and how long you plan on keeping them in the brooder. Young chicks need at least 1 sq-ft per bird. Beyond 6 weeks of age, they should have at least 2 sq-ft per bird. Make sure you also have a reliable heat source (always remember fire safety!), check their thermometer frequently, and adjust the temperature according to their age.
Once your chicks are all grown up, they will be ready to move into the coop where they will learn to roost each night. Again, the size of the housing area depends on the number of chickens you have. The bigger the better, but at a minimum, each bird will need 4 sq-ft inside the coop and 10 sq-ft in an attached outdoors run space. You will also need 1 nest box for every 3-4 hens. Coops can also be purchased through online retailers, local feed stores, or you can build your own. We built ours from recycled materials and an old children’s playhouse.
Where Can I Purchase Chicks?
Many local feed stores will often have chicks available in the spring for purchase (we are big fans of Shoppers Supply). They will usually only carry a few select breeds so if you cannot find what you are looking for, you can also purchase your chicks online. Online hatcheries will have more breeds to pick from and you can specify which sex you want. They ship live in the mail and typically arrive in 1-2 days. In the past, we have purchased chicks from Ideal Poultry and Cackle Hatchery. You can also buy locally through ads such as Craigslist, but as always, caveat emptor when purchasing animals from strangers. Consider vaccinating your flock to protect them from serious illnesses that can cause high mortality rates. Many breeders provide vaccination as an inexpensive service or you can opt to do it yourself. And of course, once you have acquired your initial flock, you can perpetuate it in your backyard by breeding them yourself!
For detailed information on raising chickens, we recommend reading the following books (our favorites are by Damerow):
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens [Damerow] *
- Raising Chickens For Dummies [Willis, Ludlow]
- Chickens In Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide [Luttmann]
- The Chicken Health Handbook [Damerow, Smith] *
You can also ask questions and learn a lot from these online forums:
- http://www.backyardchickens.com/f/ * We are BYC forum members
And of course, you’re more than welcome to ask us questions here!