So, you're looking into bringing home a new member of the family. You want something a little more unorthodox than your typical dog or cat, but nothing as crazy as a pet snake. Why not consider backyard chickens? Don't brush the idea off so fast; backyard chickens help kids understand pet care, they can provide eggs, and they're overall pretty great additions to your home. Not everyone knows how to raise chickens, though, and that's where we come in.
Hold your horses on bringing a new little chick home. Sure, they're cute, but there are lots of things you need to know first.
Remember that you're not purchasing your typical animal. Law enforcement has rules in place for the safety of your home, your neighbors, and the animals. Check your local legislation to make sure you're not breaking any laws. Some states will only let you keep certain kinds of fowl, so be sure you do your research.
More crowded areas, like cities, typically won't allow you to keep fowl like roosters. Cityfolk probably won't appreciate your little guy waking everyone up at the crack of dawn (think that episode of Friends). If you're in the middle of the country, though, then things could change.
People have this issue with any pet. Depending on where you live, the quality of life for your animals could suffer. Do you have ample room in your backyard for your chickens to run around (they are called backyard chickens, after all)? Is there enough space in your backyard for a proper coop? Does your property have an appropriate fence?
Backyard chickens, especially if you're planning to get more than one, need a good size coop to stay in. You don't want them to become overcrowded, so figure out how many you're getting and what size you'll need for them. You'll also need to consider how you're going to get their coop. You can purchase one or hire someone to build it for you based on the number and breed of your chickens. Chickens are vulnerable at night, and if you let them just hang around outside, they'll be susceptible to attacks from predators.
Getting a pen for your backyard chickens is also a good idea because the chickens shouldn't run around without supervision. Even if you have a fence at home, chickens often dig up yards in pursuit of food.
Now that you've read up on your state laws and readied the backyard for your chicken, you can look into which kind to get.
One of the first things you should figure out beforehand is what kind of chicken you'd like. Are you buying a chicken because you thought it would be cool to have one at home, or do you want your chicken to produce eggs for you? Remember that some breeds are also more anxious than others. First-timers should look into getting the easier breeds like Speckled Sussex, Cuckoo Marans, and Light Brahmas. They're not as skittish as the others and each lays eggs.
Sure, little chicks are adorable, but it's recommended that you get an adult chicken when you're first raising chickens. Chicks will need specific feed and tender care. Adult backyard chickens will also give you eggs without waiting.
Well, this really relies on what you're using your chickens for. If you're totally inexperienced but thought they would make a cute pet or useful for eggs, then two or three is a good place to start. It's also worth considering how many eggs you consume in a week. Hens typically give you about 4-6 eggs in a week. Backyard chickens also need a few of their kind to combat loneliness.
You should be able to find your chicks or chickens from farm supply stores or your local farmer. It's also important to know your local farmer since they'll be able to help you get the best poultry and help you with any questions you may have.
Upon purchasing, look at the eyes of your chickens. Healthy ones will have bright eyes and clean feathers. They also shouldn't be closed off from the others or look particularly tired or uninterested in what's happening around them.
So, we have everything we need and know the basics. Now you need to educate yourself on raising chickens properly so they'll live long and happy lives in your care.
As we said, chickens are known for scouring for food. So, more often than not they'll probably get a good deal of their diet from your backyard. But you'll still need to give them proper chicken feed. Check in with your local store or farmer and find out if your breed needs anything specific.
Just like with humans, chickens will need a good amount of water to keep them happy. Don't just plop a bowl of water down in the coop, either. You'll need to go hunting for special waterers that ensure your chickens always have some at the ready.
Since they'll be spending most of their time outside, it's crucial to protect them from the elements. This is especially important if you live in an area that's prone to harsher weather or climates.
A good thing you can do for yourself when raising chickens is to check them regularly. Are their feathers still clean and their eyes still bright and clear? You'll know there's an issue if:
If you notice any of these symptoms then you'll need to take them to the vet for help. Remember to bring them to the vet as soon as you see anything weird because you don't want them to die or infect the others in the coop.
There are a few things you can do to improve their production. Make sure they:
Something to keep in mind is that you can't force them into laying eggs. There also isn't a specific time when they'll do it. Just leave them to it.
First off, this is totally normal. It's called the "pecking order" and your chickens will basically use this to set their place in the hierarchy. Avoid any issues by providing enough space for them to roam around. It also won't hurt you to have more feed and plenty of waterers around the coop so there aren't any ruffled feathers.
Additionally, if you get a new chicken, introduce them slowly because flocks tend to be territorial and might cause problems for the new member otherwise. It disrupts the pecking order and at times, the dominant backyard chickens can kill the new guys.
Typically, a nesting box can house 3-4 hens. Use straw to line them and ensure they're not overcrowded or you might wind up with broken eggs. You can encourage them to use the nesting boxes more often by:
Coops are the home your backyard chickens will spend a good deal of their time. So, make sure you give them all they need with:
How can I make the coop predator-proof? Guarantee that your chickens are safe by making sure the coops have roofs on them, have good locks on them that can't be gnawed through, and repairing any problems that might pop up from normal wear and tear. Another important step is to use hardware cloth. Replace chicken wire with it or line the coop with it a few feet underground. This prevents predators from ripping through the wire or digging under the coop.
If you're not used to having these guys at home, there are a few things you ought to know. Just like with any new pet, backyard chickens come with their fair share of struggles.
Cityfolk also aren't exactly used to caring for farm animals. Remember that when farmers see sick chickens, they sometimes know it's best to kill them before their diseases infect the rest of your animals. Not everyone has the stomach to do this, especially if it's your first time taking care of backyard chickens.
Something else to keep in mind is that you can't always protect your chickens from the predators lurking about. Coyotes, neighborhood dogs, and other predators can attack your beloved backyard chickens and leave you with an animal who's injured or worse.
Okay, yes it's gross to pick up your dog's poop or scoop it out of the litter box, but it doesn't happen all the time. Chickens, on the other hand, will take poops all the time and they'll soon start to fill the coop. Laying down more straw doesn't really fix the issue because the odor can get worse. You can also shovel it out of there, but when they keep doing it you'll soon grow tired. Not to mention, fecal matter attracts flies. You can also inadvertently bring poop into your home by stepping in it during the cleaning process.
Chickens need space to be themselves. They're built for being on farms and having plenty of room to run around. When they're in a coop in a backyard or stuck in a suburban area, they can fly the coop. This means you'll be left to try and find them or hoping that another animal didn't get to them.
Based on the breed you get, sometimes chickens can be skittish. Be sure you do your homework on which breeds are best for you and what you can offer them. The last thing you want is for your animal to be unhappy or constantly hiding from everyone.
Backyard chickens are something you really need to sit down and consider. Don't act on a whim; remember that these little guys will need just as much love and caring as any other animal. Make sure you do your homework, know your property, and ensure that they'll have a good time.