This is probably the biggest question most people have when considering raising a flock of chickens. If the thought of farm-fresh eggs isn’t irresistible enough, just having that cute flock in their yard should win you over. Of course, there is the cost of setting up, and the cost of maintaining to think about. All things considered, my family has seen it well worth the “hassle”, and years of experience have shown us many tricks of the trade that I think you would be interested in knowing. Be sure to read the last section on tricks for getting more eggs!
Setting up the set-up
Sure, you can pay up to $2,000 and beyond for a picture-perfect hen-house and yard, but we find that you can get something a lot better suited to your own needs and pocketbook if you build it yourself. Our best hen-house that we have built (the one we currently have) we made from a bunch of cedar fence-boards that someone gave us. All we had to buy was the corner posts, some 2×4’s and fencing. I think our total for the original hen-house and yard was less than $200. It is very sturdy, and by far the best-looking hen house we have ever had.
There are numerous sites and plans for building chicken houses on-line, just look them up, and start building!
Protecting BEFORE the predators hit!
One of the biggest cures for predators is prevention. If the critters don’t know what your chickens taste like, they won’t be bugging you. On the other hand, if you have your set-up so that anything that’s hungry can come and just pick up a free lunch, you’ll be seeing a bunch of their friends and family come through for theirs. (Who says animals can’t talk to each other?)
The best way to protect your chickens is to build your hen-house very sturdily, and BE SURE to shut them in the hen-house at night. An open yard is an open door, and even if you have the top fenced over, critters can still get through if they’re hungry enough. Yes, you may have to round up your chickens in the evening s for the first week or so, but then they’ll figure out that’s where they sleep, and you’ll just have to go out and shut the door at night, and open it in the morning.
Prevent disease before it happens
What most people don’t know, or pretend not to know is that happy chickens make for healthier chickens. Here are a couple tips to helping them be as happy and healthy they can be.
-Be sure the chickens have a place they can go to get direct sunlight. (Note: I’m NOT saying to have their pen in full sun, that’s a good way to kill your chickens, just be sure they have a corner or some place they can go and get their sun-baths. It helps to build up their immune system to different sicknesses)
-Get them off the dirt in their house, put a good thick layer of litter on the floor. I use pine shavings, and I put it THICK. In the morning when you check your chicken’s feed and water sprinkle a handful of seed (or oats or something they don’t normally get) over the litter, and they’ll toss and aerate the bedding. A good layer of bedding stirred up every day will last you a good six months here in the south, and possibly a year in the North. This helps protect against certain mites and parasites, as well as add warmth in the winter.
Getting the most eggs possible without wearing out your chickens
Many people say to just leave your chickens alone, and don’t try to get any more eggs than you’re getting or you’ll make your chickens sick. I say “Nonsense!” My family has raised chickens for years, and I know several others who have as well. The key is this: give your chickens what they need, and they’ll more than supply for yours.
–WATER!!!! Never, ever, EVER let your chickens run out of water. It drains them physically, and it can affect their egg production up to a week afterwards. In the Summer, refill their water at least twice per day, and in the winter always check and make sure their water is not frozen.
–Free feed. I know, it’s too expensive to let your chickens eat what they want, when they want. They’ll eat a WHOLE lot more than if you just measure out their amount every morning. Let me clarify something, a while back, I decided to see if this statement was true. I found that the first few weeks, yes, they ate a LOT of food, but then they backed up to where they were eating about the same, and some days even LESS than I was feeding them to begin with. And their egg production went up! My theory is that some chickens need more or less than others, but when they only get their food at one time per day, they gobble all they can hold, whether they need it or not. Now I have an automatic feeder that allows the chickens to eat as much or as little as they want all day long. It’s amazing the difference in the chickens, and in their laying. (note: they eat more at certain times of the year than others, but it all evens out in the end.)
–Feed lay pellets. I know it may be a little more expensive than corn, but around here, it’s still well under $15 per 50# bag. The importance of feeding lay pellets is because of the protein content. Chickens don’t get that protein from corn, and since they are not in the wild, they can’t run over several acres in a day eating tons of bugs. I’ve gone to feeding just lay pellets, and again, the egg production went up. I’ve also done milk maker (which has a very high amount of protein) and corn, and that works okay too.
-Put a light on them. I know, many people think it’s cruel to put a light on your chickens, but I’m not talking about leaving a light on all the time, etc. Chickens automatically go into molting season when the days start getting shorter, and since their bodies are going through a general re-charge, they stop laying. Now, in the wild, where they have to scrounge around for their food, they need that whole winter time of not laying eggs to rest and re-fuel for the spring laying. In captivity, they never lack for food or water, and aren’t stressed by the constant fight to stay alive amid predators and natural causes in the wild. I do let my chickens naturally go into a molt and recharge for about a month, then I put a light on a timer. I NEVER leave my light on all night. I think that’s plain mean. As the days get shorter, I adjust my timer so that the chickens wind up having about 14 hours of light. It works very well, and again, I get all the eggs I need.
Following all these tips, this spring my chickens were laying an all time high of 36 to 40 eggs per day. The thing was, I only had 35 hens! They more than paid for their feed this year! They always do pay for their feed, but this year we had more than enough for our needs, more than paid for the feed, and we were able to sell a bit also. And you know, they don’t look bedraggled, or sick, or anything else. As always, a little extra care goes a long way.
Have fun getting the most out of your chickens!