Your Guide to Backyard Chickens
Raising chickens has become more and more popular over the last few years, even with people who live in more urban areas. Chickens can make great pets, or they can be raised for their meat and their eggs. While it may seem daunting at first, raising chickens can be a fun hobby. There are some drawbacks, of course—chickens can definitely make a mess—but in the end, raising a small ball of fluff to a productive, egg-producing hen can be very rewarding.
Picking a Chicken Breed
Chickens are very interesting and can be a lot of fun to watch. Most people aim for a flock with 4-6 hens plus 1 rooster but if you have a very small yard you can start with only 2 or 3 hens and a rooster to see how it goes.
Take some time to research chicken breeds before buying chicks. Some chickens are indifferent to humans and will pay little mind to you unless they can see you have food for them. Some can be aggressive. Small bantams or banties can be vicious especially when they are sitting on eggs or have small chicks. They will raise the young of every hen in the flock but they will fight to the death to protect them. Other kinds of chickens can become very affectionate and will follow their people around. Calm breeds that are more docile are the easiest to keep and are basically trouble-free. Rhode Island Reds and Comets are good starter breeds because they are cold-hardy, loving, and gentle birds that will continue laying eggs right through the winter time as long as they have access to plenty of food and warm water.
Younger chickens may need a heat source once the temperature starts dropping. In the harshest climates, the lamp might be needed for all chickens. Making sure that you are starting with healthy, strong chicks is key to building a happy flock. A little research before you get wooed by a little yellow chick can keep you from buying the wrong chickens for your area or needs.
Enough Space for the Chickens
No matter what size your yard is, you will want to set aside some space for the chickens to have a nice home. Most chickens live in chicken coops. A coop gives chickens protection from the elements and from predators, a cozy place to roost, and boxes to lay their eggs. Modern chicken coops are mobile, which means that you can move your hens to different spots in your yard from time to time. The benefit there is the ability to allow the grass to grow back in one area while the chickens are busy picking bugs and juicy worms from their new area.
If you plan to keep them penned all of the time, they should have enough room to run around outside of their coop. If you are going to allow the chickens to run free during the day, you can get by with a smaller coop area.
Landscaping and Other Considerations
Before you move your chickens in, you must consider the perimeters of your yard. You may want to set boundaries so that they do not wander off. This can be done by setting up fences. To make sure they do not squeeze through gaps in fences, put up chicken wire. If your chickens frequently escape the fences, it may be time to clip their wings or raise the fence.
The landscape where your chickens roam is important, and you should be prepared with the right tools to take care of your lawn and garden. Remember, chickens will peck at and taste virtually everything they can reach, so choose the plants you keep near your chickens carefully. Avoid any plants that are overly expensive. None of the plants near the chickens should be toxic in any way.
Water and Feed
In addition to the coop and a penned-in yard, your chickens will need food and plenty of clean water. There should be several options for fresh water scattered throughout the yard. Chickens kick up a lot of debris, so the best way to get clean water to your chickens is by using hanging waterers.
A healthy diet for chickens includes plants, seeds, and proteins from small bugs, worms, or even small rodents. Providing a diet composed only of commercial chicken feed will not be the best choice for your chicken’s health, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid feed altogether; just ration your feed and mix it with other sources of food. They can supplement their chicken feed with bugs by scratching and foraging. Remember that there are different types of feed for different stages of life.