Along with vegetable gardening, raising chickens in the backyard is one of the easiest and most beneficial projects for modern families to embark upon. Not only are chickens easy to maintain but there is nothing more satisfying and healthful than being able to harvest fresh, organic eggs. Having chickens can be very educational as well. Children benefit greatly from learning how to care for different kinds of animals and they will thoroughly enjoy the different personalities that chickens exhibit.
Keeping Laying Hens in the Backyard
The first thing to consider when starting a small poultry flock in your backyard is city ordinances. In many urban and suburban areas, a certain number of chickens are allowed. Sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping your birds a specified number of feet away from other houses.
After you make sure you are within the boundaries of the law, the next decision to make is how many chickens to get and where you will keep them. Since chickens are social creatures and don’t do well alone, you should plan on having at least two. That being said, it’s probably not a good idea to have a rooster – hens lay eggs without one and you can be sure that your neighbors will not appreciate the noise. It’s also a good idea to limit your flock to three or four hens. An average sized backyard will support a small flock nicely without generating too much noise or odor. If you have a privacy fence, your neighbors may not even know they are there.
The Chicken Coop
Providing adequate shelter from the elements and protection from predators are probably the most challenging components to caring for chickens, but good quality chicken coops that address these needs can be readily purchased from reputable dealers online or at local feed and poultry supply stores. Although the choices can range from very simple and modestly priced to very fancy and extremely expensive, a simple coop that houses two to four chickens can be purchased easily for about $100 to $300. In general, a coop will need a covered, weatherproof area that gives each chicken at least one square foot of nesting space for laying eggs. This nesting area will need to be lined with pine straw, shavings or hay for warmth. In addition, each chicken will need about four to five square feet of outside room to scratch, roam and peck the ground.
Nature’s Pest Control
One of the beneficial things about chickens is their natural habit of scouring their allotted area for all manner of bugs including crickets, worms, ticks, mosquitoes and ants. You can also count on them to enrich the yard with some of the best fertilizer around. If your chickens will have access to the whole yard, clipping their flight feathers will be a necessity in order to prevent them from flying away. However, if you have landscaping that needs protection or dogs or other animals that may prey on your chickens, you may opt to take advantage of readymade wire enclosures, called runs, which can be easily attached to your coop. These runs come in a variety of sizes to accommodate your flock’s space requirements. It’s important to note that if your chickens will not be allowed to roam a large area, it would be of benefit to make sure your chicken coop and run is portable enough to be moved easily. The mobility of coop and run will ensure that your chickens have fresh ground to peruse.
Tending to the nutritional needs of chickens is easy and economical since they will eat just about anything. Two items to have on hand is commercial chicken feed as well as grit, which chickens consume and store in their gizzard in order to grind their food. Both of these products can be bought at pet supply or feed stores. Chickens that have access to an average sized yard will need less feed than chickens confined to a pen. Grit, which is necessary for proper digestion, should also be kept available to them; they will only consume what they need. If your chickens have dirt to scratch around in, then they are probably getting plenty of grit, otherwise supplementation is necessary. Along with bugs, seeds and other food that they find in the yard, chickens will eat fruit and vegetable peelings, bread, cereal or a number of other scraps from the kitchen. Chickens also need plenty of water, especially in the summer. A large container of clean water that is not easily tipped over is an important addition to your chicken coop.
Cleaning the Coop
Although chickens are not the cleanest critters, keeping the coop clean is not difficult, especially if your chickens are able to roam the yard most of the time. Every week or two, it is necessary to remove all material from the nesting areas and replace with clean pine shavings, hay, straw or other lining material. Every few months, it’s a good idea to spray the coop down with a solution of one part bleach, one part dishwashing soap and ten parts water. Be sure to let the coop dry thoroughly before replacing lining material.
People everywhere are discovering the advantages of keeping a flock of laying hens in the backyard. Besides the obvious benefit of being able to enjoy fresh, organic eggs, chickens serve as natural predators for unwanted insects as well as providing rich, organic fertilizer for yard and garden. Fun and easy, raising chickens is a great project that the whole family will enjoy.