If you've been thinking about raising chickens there are quite a few things you'll need to know. Raising chickens can be done on a farm or in the city. Naturally there are some factors in locale that you need to consider.
The nutritional and sanitary benefits to raising your own chickens are beyond compare to factory raised chickens...in fact...if you knew how unsanitary the conditions are in factory raised chickens you would never buy store bought chickens or eggs.
Any chicken farmer knows that chickens are a pooping machine. They poop constantly and on everything they come in contact with. Factory raised chickens are crammed into cages and live in their own poop.
Factory raised chickens are fed chicken feed that lack the polyculture food chicken need, such as, bugs, grains, worms, greens, fruits etc...fresh food and bugs are essential to raising healthy chickens...free of chemicals, feed additives, hormones and antibiotics.
The first thing you'll need to consider is how many chickens you should raise and if you have adequate space.
Beginners Basics - Buff Orpington Baby Chick
There are several thought processes about how to house and contain chickens. Even a non-portable coop is a much better option than factory raised chicken conditions. Chickens need fresh vegetation and an ample bug supply. For this reason you will need to pay considerable attention to portability....more on this later.
But before I get ahead of myself, if you live in the city, check zoning laws or ordinances that may prohibit keeping and growing chickens on your property.
- Next, let's consider how many chickens you should raise. I would suggest starting out small, with 4-6 chicks. If you are mainly wanting eggs and don't plan on eating your birds, one good hen can produce 300+ eggs a year.
- Chicken Breeds For Eggs - Probably the number one white egg producer is a white leghorn. Black star or Red Star are excellent choices for brown eggs.
- The Buff Orpington is a good choice for both egg and meat. Buff Orpington's, White Rocks, Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds can be easily handled and are especially good around children. There are many unusual breeds if you're looking for something a little different.
- Meat Breed - Most folks will raise the white cornish rock cross for meat. This breed grows exceptionally fast and within 7-9 weeks they will be ready to harvest...and the meat is the most delicious you have ever tasted.
- Be pre-warned...if you are going to raise birds for meat...you have to be prepared to butcher the birds...not for the faint-at-heart.
Chickens aren't very picky when it comes to housing. Just so they have a place to cuddle up, whether it be a wooden box nest, cardboard box or a nice floor nesting area.
Housing - Coops - Chicken Tractor - Paddocks
You can fit a dozen hens nicely in an 8'x10' coop. This gives them plenty of space. You can buy pre-fab coops or build your own. If you have an existing small shed, this can be easily converted.
The coop need to be airy and dry, although warm in the winter months. The coop is a place for nest boxes and to roost.
Now for the hard part...chickens need vegetation and bugs...in order to do this you'll need to determine a method to house your chickens and also be able to contain them and move flock to different location in your yard.
There are several methods for containing and moving your chicks. A "chicken tractor" is a movable coop that is lacking a floor. A "chicken run" is an outdoor yard usually connected to the coop. The problem with a run is when attached to a stationary coop there is no vegetation.. The "chicken coop" is where your ladies are housed. And last..."chicken paddocks" are a series of enclosed areas where you can move your chicks to different feeding areas.
Paddocks seem to be the most preferred method to making sure your chicks are getting a constant feed source of greens and bugs...but this system can be daunting to say the very least.
Perfect Beginner Hen
Start out raising the buff orpington hens, they are the perfect beginner chicken and aren't flighty...and the buff orpington rooster is very proper gentleman.
Ideally, it's best to raise just a few chicks (2-6) to get the hang of things. You could build or buy a small coop and fence in a small section of your yard (10'x15' or 15' x 15')...next you will need a lightweight portable tractor pen or a paddock system (preferably) to confine them to various area of your yard so they can feed off fresh vegetation and bugs.
Note: Your coop need to be well ventilated, chicken will die in the summer months if they get too hot.
Your number one concern is predators...raccoons, neighbor's dog and snakes. You will need to make sure your fenced coop keeps these predator's out and remember...the predator can be very crafty in finding any weak access point.
It is a good idea to get a Buff Orpington rooster so that your hens eggs can be fertile. In no time at all, you'll be hearing the sound of little chicks chirping and peeping.
Feed & Watering Chicks
Chicken's need a constant supply of fresh water. Remember to never put water in a deep bowl for baby chicks...that is if you don't want them to drown, because that is exactly what will happen.
Train your chicks, feeding with scratch feed in a tuna can, always shaking, the sound of the scratch rattling, accompanied by "here chick-chick" soaks in real fast. This is an easy way to gather your ladies in one spot. Throw a little scratch in one spot and they'll all gather to feed. This is an opportune moment to place a lightweight tractor over them or place the scratch in a paddock to contain the chickens.
If you have a fenced in back yard, you can let them roam freely in the late evening for an hour or so. They will have a field-day eating bugs. They will then return to roost in the coop for the night.
The only drawback on letting you ladies roam freely is that they are veracious eaters and scratchers...if you have a garden or plants you want to keep safe...this is not a good ideas, if you know what I mean!
You'll want to let your chickens forage as much as possible, limiting grain feeding in the process. There's a lot of information on growing your own chicken feed to be found.
Allowing your chicken's to forage for greens, grains, fruits, bugs in addition to table scraps helps tremendously to cut back on feed cost. Not only do you save money on feed, by allowing your chickens to forage on what they love to eat naturally, your meat and egg quality and taste is far superior to store bought meat and eggs.
Do You Still Want To Raise Backyard Chickens...
Raising chickens can be very fun and rewarding...but with it comes responsibility. It is no different than raising a family pet. They have to be cared for, fed, watered, housed and protected from predators.
Folks, I haven't even scratched (pun intended) the surface on raising chickens. It's not that difficult, but there are certain things you must know about raising chickens, for your sake and for the sake of your flock.
There are tons of books on the internet on how to raise chickens but I wouldn't suggest wasting time reading books vs actually talking to people first hand that have years of experience in permaculture living that can give you real life advice.
For this reason, I'm providing you with a link to the most extensive permaculture forum on the net. Practically...well let me rephrase that...everything you need to know about raising backyard chickens can be found at The Hottest Permaculture Site On The Web