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Chickens and Bantams. Poultry Management
Poultry keeping Books
Back yard Poultry Keeping.
I have been a keen backyard poultry keeper for many years and it has given me a lot of enjoyment and a goodly supply of healthy eggs from happy hens. Before you contemplate keeping hens, check out the local bye laws to find out if you are zoned for poultry keeping. Think hard before you add a cockerel to your flock unless you enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn every day and you have no immediate neighbors. A cock is not necessary unless you intend to breed chickens or you prefer fertilized eggs which are supposedly better for you and keep longer. i couldn't tell the difference and I found the cockerel tended to make the hens broody and they would slope off a make a nest somewhere. Never keep more than one cock together for obvious reasons.
That said, the choice of which breed of chicken is large. Pure breeds like the popular Rhode Island Reds, Buff orpingtons, Light Sussex etc, tend not to lay as many eggs as the hybrid hens bred for laying. The old breeds are prettier but it is your choice. White eggs are equally good as brown but many people prefer brown. There are even breeds that produce speckled eggs or even Blue shelled ones like the Araucana. Some supermarkets even give you a choice of white, brown or the pretty blue ones.
There are many smaller birds, the Bantams which come in many beautiful shapes and sizes. The tend not to lay as many eggs and they are much smaller. These are usually not kept for egg laying purposes But as beautiful inhabitants of your garden.
Once you have decided on the breed and number of birds, the question of how to house and tend them. Six hens in a back yard is quite enough as you will get almost an egg per bird per day which mounts up to a lot of eggs!. I think it is cruel to keep hens in little cages as they are happiest when given the chance to peck and scratch and explore.
Hens need a good weather proof house with nesting boxes ideally one per bird and a good perch so that they are comfy at night and off the floor.. It should have a door that can be closed at night against predators and vermin. The floor should be slatted so that droppings fall through and may be collected from underneath and added to the compost heap. They should be kept safe from extremes of temperature. At dusk the hens like to return to roost. Make sure the rails for the hens to sit on are not too narrow or the hens won't be comfy.
Hens need access to fresh clean water at all times.
Hens need regular feeding of good quality grain or pellets at least once per day. They are best allowed grass to peck at or a cabbage hung up in their run so that they have something to occupy themselves as bored hens can develop habits like feather pecking and can get really cranky.
Hens need access to the ground, preferably with plants growing on it so they can move around freely. An Ark is ideal as it can be moved around from place to place. If this is impossible, litter in the form of straw or wood shavings should be provided. Barley straw with sharp awns is not suitable. Be careful never to use litter that is suffering from mildew as it is easy to pick up a nasty disease called Farmer's Lung.
Happy hens are a delight to watch and become very friendly .If you decide you have the room and the inclination to keep them I hope they will bring you much happiness.
More info.: http://www.backyardchickens.com/