Whether they’re kept as pets or as a source of fresh eggs, backyard chickens are a growing trend of the American home. If you have a bit of space, some money, a lot of time, and a dedicated daily routine, you too can experience the fun of having chickens.
Choosing the chicken or the egg
The important first step of raising chickens is choosing the best breed for your needs. There are hundreds of chicken breeds so it’s best to begin narrowing your search by the demands of your climate and your reason for keeping chickens.
Your geographic location is the determining factor when choosing a breed. Some breeds don’t do well in cold winters and others don’t thrive during hot summers. Be sure the breed you choose is suited to your weather, and ensure that you have a solid coop. If you want, you could build your own with some DIY chicken coop plans.
If you relish fresh eggs, you’ll want a breed known for their excellent laying abilities. Egg-laying breeds can also be typed by the egg color, ranging from blue to olive green to multi-colored.
Keeping chickens as pets is as much fun as keeping laying hens. Although any chicken can be kept as a pet, it’s best to choose one of the more docile breeds for a pet chicken, especially if children are involved. Also, egg-laying talent and a good personality are combined in several breeds of chickens so there is no need to choose between eggs and personality—you can have both!
Other backyard farmers prefer raising rare or endangered breeds. Contributing to the preservation of a heritage chicken breed is extremely worthwhile but the conservators of these breeds discourage dabbling. Even at the amateur level, only people deeply committed to preserving historic species should become involved with these breeds.
When purchasing hens, be sure to buy more than one chicken. Two hens is the absolute minimum necessary number of birds, with three chickens being the best minimal option for those wanting a very small flock.
In the world of chickens, more is definitely better. Chickens are social creatures and true flock members. Without a flock, they are not happy and soon become agitated and nervous.
Egg-laying flocks are usually larger than flocks of pet chickens. To ensure fresh eggs every day, there should be two laying hens for each human family member. And remember, hens lay eggs without the presence of a rooster. If you like quiet mornings, keep your hen house filled with girls only!
Your backyard farm
The most important equipment of your backyard farm is the chicken coop and the enclosed yard or run. Both of these must be built with the safety of the flock in mind, and many necessary safeguards are unseen.
For instance, wire fencing is placed 1-2 feet below ground around the perimeter of the coop and enclosure to discourage predators from digging their way in. The spacing in the woven wire fencing should be less than ½ inch, a size that keeps deadly raccoon arms away from the chickens.
Along with the chickens themselves, purchasing or building the coop and enclosure is a large part of the initial investment. In addition to these costs, there’s feeding and watering equipment to purchase and stocking the panty with several types of healthy chicken food. Most beginning backyard farmers soon realize that chickens involve significant start-up expenses.
The life of a backyard chicken farmer is not recommended for the lazy because the daily care is a constant effort. For instance, if you raise your flock from chicks to young adults, you’ll spend hours with them each day (and night) for more than a month as you prepare your brood for outside living.
This daily work continues long after the chicks reach adulthood. When allowed to reach maturity, chickens live to be 8-10 years old. Keep this in mind when you’re tempted to add to the size of your flock!
Raising chickens takes a lot of work but it is worth all of the cost, time, and effort. Along with providing delicious eggs, each chicken develops a distinct and usually affectionate personality. Getting to know them as individuals is one of the hidden joys of raising chickens in your backyard.