Chickens

9 Tips for Raising Chickens 

Words:Lizabeth Scordo
Photography: Pexels.com

Craving fresh eggs for your next power breakfast? Here’s how to raise chickens in your backyard. It’s easier than you think.  

While raising chickens used to be reserved for real farmers (you know, the kind who wear overalls and own an actual tractor), these days more and more people who’ve never worked on a farm—from urban hipsters to suburban families—are jumping on the chickens-in-my-backyard bandwagon. So, you may be wondering, is it worth a try?

Jennifer Poindexter, content writer for homesteading site MorningChores, which shares ideas for living a self-sufficient life, says definitely. For the last five years she’s lived with her husband and three sons on a two-acre homestead in the foothills of North Carolina where they grow their own fruits and vegetables and raise rabbits, honeybees, ducks, guinea fowl, goats, and, of course, chickens.

“We started with chickens first because it’s not hard and they are useful little creatures that provide food, fertilizer, and, actually, great entertainment,” she says. “And you’ll notice that your chickens’ eggs will have a richer taste. It’s the difference in the natural feeding and them being able to just be chickens.” Here, Poindexter’s tips on how get started raising birds in your backyard. 

1. Check your local laws 

Some cities completely ban backyard chickens and some allow residents to keep as many chickens as they like. Many local governments, however, require your chicken community be ladies only. “The biggest issue is roosters,” says Poindexter. “For the most part hens don’t make a lot of noise, but a rooster will start crowing at 4:30 in the morning and people get upset about that.” The good news is you don’t actually need a rooster because hens can lay unfertilized eggs on their own. And you don’t have to worry about walking in on your birds having sex, always a plus.

2. Decide how many chickens you want and plan your coop accordingly 

While Poindexter currently has 25 chickens, she suggests three or four as a good starting number for an average-size yard, since hens lay about an egg a day. (Two is also OK, but don’t just get one. She’ll be lonely.) In terms of coop size, the standard minimum is 10 square feet per chicken, though the larger you can make the structure, the better. A coop should include a roosting bar for sleeping, at least one nesting box where the chickens will lay their eggs, and it include a run if the chickens won’t have constant access to a separate outdoor area. (More on that later.) Also make sure there’s plenty of ventilation, which is why, of course, god invented chicken wire.

3. Set it up

As for the style and layout of coops, the possibilities are as endless as egg recipes. Poindexter and her husband built their own on the cheap using no-frills materials including wood pallets they grabbed for free (businesses are often happy to let you take them rather than to pay to have them hauled away) and an old, pre-assembled metal roof. But you can poke around for other cool designs and build an even fancier one. For those who fall into the less-handy category (or just don’t want to spend the time) buying a pre-fab coop for a few hundred bucks is probably your best bet. 

4. Now get some chickens 

Although there are online vendors, many farms will deliver chickens to your home for a fee.  Poindexter also suggests looking on Craigslist, which has a surprising amount of chickens for sale. They’ll usually run you about $10 to $20 each. Good breeds for laying eggs include Dominique, Sex Links (yes that’s their actual name) and the fruitful Rhode Island Reds, according to Poindexter. But be warned about the latter: “During the warmer months you might get two eggs out of a Rhode Island Red a day,” she says. “The only issue with them is they have attitude.” She also suggests familiarizing yourself with common chicken ailments so you can keep an eye out for any problems and nip them in the bud. 

5. Don’t keep them cooped up

Many coops come with some sort of attached run—a confined outdoor area off the structure where the birds can cruise around in the fresh air. If you’re building your coop on a rooftop in the middle of a city, then a run is probably as good as it gets in terms of allowing them to run free. But if you have a yard, consider letting the hens use it. “I like them to be able to be out and roam and do what chickens are meant to do,” says Poindexter. “And the happier and healthier they are, the better nutrition it is for you.” You can also fence in a portion of yard they can access as Poindexter does during gardening season when she doesn’t want them feasting on her bounty Just make sure you clip their wings first so they don’t take flight. 

6. Feeding them properly make take some trial and error

Since chickens prefer to eat whenever they god-dang feel like it, filling up their trough with plenty of feed a couple times a week should usually do it. Ideally you want to see a little remaining when it’s time for the next feeding, so adjust accordingly, and, of course, always make sure they have access to water. As for what to feed them, though they need the proper mix of nutrients, says Poindexter, “they’re not particular and they’ll eat anything.” She mostly feeds her birds grass clippings, table scraps, ground eggshells for calcium and store-bought layer feed for extra protein. And if your chickens are having a deficiency of any kind or not getting enough food, you’ll figure it out quickly. “They’ll stop laying eggs. They’re really good at letting you know what you need,” she says.

7. Keep it going

You’ll need to do weekly maintenance on their coop, but you might get free fertilizer out of the deal. Poindexter uses something called the deep litter method, layering wood chips (which she gets for free from a local tree trimmer, but mulch works, too) on the coop floor and around their portion of the yard. The chickens scratch around the chips, unknowingly composting their poop and turning it into really good fertilizer. You should be replenishing the wood chips or mulch every week as well as cleaning the roosting bar and making sure they have clean nesting material (usually straw, hay or shredded paper) or else they’ll stop laying eggs. 

8. Don’t worry too much about weather 

“If you live in a really warm place you need to make sure they have shade during the summer,” says Poindexter. As for winter, she advises against using heat lamps due to fire risk and the fact they’re probably not necessary anyway. “The cold doesn’t really impact them. They will actually fluff up and their feathers insulate their body.” 

9. Finally feel good about your scrambled eggs

“When you raise your own chickens you know what they ate and you know what you’re eating,” says Poindexter, who points out that while large poultry farms usually keep humane enough conditions to comply with regulations, that doesn’t mean it’s pretty. “If you are a backyard chicken keeper and you go in one of those chicken houses you think, ‘This isn’t humane at all.’ Even if they’re not in cages, they aren’t able to be normal birds and they’re not as healthy. When you raise your own, you know that your chickens have a good life.”

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09 2016 The Red Bulletin

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