How to keep chickens
Learn how to get started in the growing trend of backyard chicken farming.
Wed, Aug 31 2011 at 12:01 PM
Whether you want them for their eggs, meat, or just for their company, chickens can make a fun and productive addition to your backyard. A small flock of egg-producing hens can be easy and inexpensive to maintain, even in urban environments. They also provide chemical-free pest control in your yard, as well as free top-quality fertilizer. Learn how to keep chickens in your backyard with these basic tips.
Check your local regulations
Does your city allow backyard chickens? A flock of chickens is almost always allowed in rural areas, but suburban and urban environments can sometimes pose challenges. While you don't need an inevitably vocal rooster to maintain a backyard flock unless you plan to breed, even quiet hens can be subject to noise ordinances and other regulations. If chickens are allowed in your area, there may still be requirements in regards to the placement of your coop.
Anti-chicken laws shouldn't dash your hopes of owning a backyard flock. Residents in many cities have been able to change their local ordinances by petitioning their city council.
Research chicken breeds and care
You can have chicks shipped right to your door by a hatchery, or find a nearby farm that sells them. Humane farms that raise free-range chickens are an ideal source for healthy, happy chicks. Don't just blindly buy the first batch of chicks that you see at your local hatchery. Different breeds of chickens have vastly variable characteristics from their suitability to certain climates to the frequency and reliability of their egg-laying.
Hybrid breeds like Hy-line Brown, Indian River and Golden Comet are often recommended for easygoing personalities and eggs that you can count on. Breeds like Cornish hens and White Rock Cross hens are raised for their tender meat, while ornamental varieties including the stunning black-and-white Sebright Silver or the humorously puffy Padovana are great choices for people who want to keep their chickens as pets. Be sure to purchase sexed chicks if you want an all-female flock, or you could unwittingly end up with loud roosters on your hands.
Familiarize yourself with the basics of chicken care before you acquire your chicks. There are many books and online guides available that explain how to keep chickens including what to feed them, how to provide medical care and how to clean their coops.
Purchase supplies and prepare your backyard
If you plan to purchase day-old chicks or hatch them on your own, you'll need special supplies for their first sixty days including brooders, lamps for heat and specially designed feeders and waterers. Brooders are the chicks' first home, and can be as simple as a cardboard box. According to BackyardChickens.com, many backyard chicken owners use rabbit or guinea pig cages or even glass aquariums.
Clean litter like pine shavings is used to line the bottom of the box and by the time the chicks are four months old, they'll need a dowel or stick as a low roost about four inches off the floor. A 100-watt light bulb with a reflector, like the clip-on utility lamps sold at hardware stores, will keep the chicks warm and chick waterers will prevent them from soiling or drowning in their water source. Corral the chick feed into one sanitary spot with a commercial feeder or an appropriate DIY substitute.
Once they're grown, your chicks will need a coop. You could build your own using free plans found online, or purchase a pre-fabricated chicken coop like these 8 awesome urban options. The coop will provide a place for your chickens to rest that is protected from predators and the elements. You'll need about four square feet per chicken inside the coop, and one straw-cushioned nest box for every four laying hens. Be sure that the floor is sturdy enough not to sag under the chickens' weight, and that the roof and walls are adequate against the weather in your region.
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