Raising Chickens In Your Backyard
You've heard how much healthier eggs from free-roaming, organically fed chickens are for your family. There's a simple way to get the healthiest, best-tasting eggs around - keep a few chickens in your backyard!
Sound crazy? More and more people are keeping ubran chicken flocks, and more towns are changing their zoning laws to meet the demand. That's because chickens are inexpensive to keep, don't require a lot of your time in order to thrive, and don't need much space. In fact, a small flock of three or four hens can be less trouble and expensive than a dog - and as pets, they can be just as endearing in their own way.
Why Keep Chickens?
Beyond providing a homegrown source of fresh, tasty and nutritious eggs, there are other advantages to keeping chickens. Here are a few:
• Chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain
• Foraging chickens provide all-natural pest- and weed-control
• Chicken dung makes an excellent fertilizer for the garden
• Chickens make a great first-alert, warning you of an intruder’s approach
• Chickens have fun personalities and make great pets
Getting Started• Find out if chicken keeping is legal in your area. Even a small backyard can house a few chickens, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to have them. Check your local chicken laws and ordinances before you do anything else. Your city council or local zoning or health boards will be able to tell you if you can have chickens, how many you can keep, and whether or not you’re allowed to have a rooster (some neighborhoods will allow residents to keep hens, but not roosters due to their propensity to crow in the early mornings).
Keep in mind that even if your area allows chicken keeping, your Homeowners Association may not, so you’ll need to check with them, too. It’s also a good idea to give your neighbors a head’s up regarding your wish to keep chickens in order to avoid misunderstandings.
• Determine how many chickens you can/want to keep. Chickens are social animals—you should always get at least two (it’s better to have three, in case something happens to one). How many you do decide to go with will depend on how much space you have available for them (an outdoor chicken run should allow about 4-5 feet per chicken) and what your needs are. Keep in mind that backyard chickens generally lay about one egg every two days, so three young, healthy hens would probably produce somewhere in the neighborhood of nine eggs per week between them.
• Decide if you want to start with eggs, chicks or chickens. If you’re new to chicken keeping and your main objective is a few hens for egg production, then your best bet is to start with partially grown chicks. Hatching eggs requires access to an incubator, and there’s no guarantee that all – or any – of the eggs will hatch. Mature birds are more expensive and more likely to carry diseases, while chicks get to know you and become family pets more readily. The downside to chicks is that they do require more care to get them through the critical growing stage, which is why partially grown chicks are more desirable.
What You'll Need
If you want to keep your flock healthy and safe from predators and traffic, you’ll need some basic supplies. Here are the must-haves you’ll want to get before bringing your new pets home:
• Chicken Coop. Once feathers have replaced their down, it’s time for chicks to move into a chicken coop or henhouse. This doesn’t need to be a large structure – just enough to provide shelter from the elements and a safety from potential predators. A good rule of thumb is to allow 2-3 square feet per chicken inside the coop. Today’s chicken coops go beyond the traditional board house – they can be made from many materials, including plastic, and come in many sizes. An easy way to go is to purchase a prefabricated coop.
• Chicken Run. A chicken run or chicken fence is especially important in urban settings to prevent your chickens from wandering into traffic or into a neighbor’s yard where they might run across a strange dog. A fenced-in area will also keep your flock from gobbling up your garden if you have one. Chicken runs don’t need to be imposing structures – poultry wire and lightweight, easy-to-install moveable kits are a good choice.
• Chicken Coop Flooring. Commercial litters are available, but pine shavings work best. Clean once a month or go with the hassle-free Deep Litter Method. This method allows the coop litter to build up over time, creating a chicken dung/litter compost that keeps the chickens warmer, is great for your garden, and only needs to be cleaned about twice a year. (The entire coop will need to be disinfected about once a year.)
• Food & Water. Most people opt to use chicken layer feed or pellets, which can be cast on the ground for the chickens to forage. Watering containers and feeders can be homemade or purchased from an agricultural feed store. Want to give your chickens a treat? They’ll be happy with old vegetables, bread and chicken scratch (cracked corn, milo and wheat). They’ll also happily keep down your insect population!
• Chickens! Hatching eggs, chicks, and mature birds can be purchased through online and local dealers. Agricultural feed stores often carry chicks in the spring, and they’ll be able to answer your questions on care, sex and breeds.
Now that you’re aware of the basics, you’re ready to enjoy the best eggs you’ve ever tasted and hours of entertainment with your new, low-maintenance pets.
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