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Chickens in the City, in Suburbia or in the Country; Raising a small backyard flock!
Keeping a small flock of Chickens!
There is very little as useful, satisfying and fun as raising a small backyard flock of chickens. Not only can a happy, productive flock of laying hens become pets but they can also earn their keep by supplying fantastic tasting fresh eggs.
However, before jumping right into the middle of urban animal husbandry, even though it is really easy, you should do a little reading, research and planning.
Before spending, even a dime you will need to investigate your local by-laws and regulations. The animal control office or city hall will have the answers for you. Unless you live in the country far from neighbors do not keep a rooster. Roosters are a noisy bunch and will fall under most municipality's noise/nuisance ordinances. Hens are normally very quiet and for some reason their squawks do not carry the same as the crowing of a rooster. (Another often unknown fact --- you do not need a rooster for chickens to lay eggs.)
Visit the library or go on-line and read up on raising poultry. Caring for chickens is not hard, it takes some common sense but there are still things that you will need to know. Questions like: How many chickens will supply me with enough eggs? What type of chickens should I buy? How much feed will I need to give them daily? What do I feed them? How do I prepare adequately for my chickens year-round? (shade in the summer and heat in the winter)
Tips: Great and easy layer pullets for beginners to keep are the friendly and very mild tempered Rhode Island Reds or Barred Plymouth Rocks.
You will need:
A backyard, preferably a fenced in one: remember you might not have a problem with YOUR chickens walking around in between your rose bushes and flowers, the guy next door might... You might think it's so cute when one of YOUR hens meets you in your driveway at the end of the work day... the high-heeled executive next door might not think it's that great if she slips in some of the "residue" the chickens will leave behind... so if your yard is not fenced in talk your neighbor, it will save a lot of hard feelings after
A chicken coop and/or tractor: very necessary if you do not have a fenced in backyard, Your chickens will be safe and sound inside, check out the link for tractor above it is one of the best explanations of how to safeguard your chickens from the neighborhood dogs and cats and the 'hungry-for-fresh-chicken-legs-guy-next-door' just kidding on that last tip
1-2 nesting boxes: you will need one for every 3-4 chickens, hens happily share one nesting box. Sometimes when production just can't wait for a vacancy two hens will crowd into the box at the same time
Straw or wood-shavings: as padding for the nesting boxes, this needs to be replaced every two to three weeks, especially if an egg were to break inside the box. Have some loose straw in front to the nesting boxes too, so the girls can pick a straw or two or three to add or to reconstruct their 'nest'. You will also need to have bedding for the floor this also needs to be replaced on a regular basis, every week or two, depending on size of your flock
Chicken feeder: everyone has a preference for their chicken feeders. The only thing to remember here is that the feeder should have a covering on the top so that if the chickens land on the feeder they can't mess into the feed
Chicken waterer: same goes for the waterer... as long as the girls have access to fresh clean water 24/7 the style doesn't matter.
Feed: Most chickens absolutely love kitchen scarps, everything you eat they will eat.... with the exception of raw potatoes and avocados (boiled up peels are fine though). However they can not survive on just scraps alone and to keep the little ladies healthy and happy you will need to give them grain and or crumble/pellets. These feeds are a balanced diet and come in medicated and non-medicated form--- it's controversial if they need the additives in their feed or not. Read up on it and remember the feed store staff can also help you make up your mind to which is better for them in your opinion.
Grit: Chickens are birds and birds need grit in their stomach to grind up the grain and feed etc. This look like rough playground sand. For healthy pullets have a container filled with grit so that it is available for them when-ever they want it. It doesn't cost much at all and takes a long time to use up. (have it in a container with an overhang so that the little darlin's don't sit and leave their mess in it)
Oyster shell: The girls will happily supply you with an egg 5-6 days per week as an average, after they're about 8-9 months old. To produce eggs with strong shells they need calcium. If they can't get it from their diet they will supplement it from their own bones which is not good. For healthy chickeys have a container filled with ground up oyster shells available at all times. It is not really that expensive and a bag last a long time. (my 50 hens and 11 lady ducks took 4.5 months to go through a 10kg bag) (have it in a container with an overhang so that the little darlin's don't sit and leave their mess in it)
Flock of 4-8 laying hens or
pullets: To know that on average most layer chickens will lay 5-6 eggs a week might help you determine how large of a flock you need to keep. Supplying the neighbor on each side of you with an dozen eggs, now and then will keep them from getting ticked off if one of the hens might seek adventures in their yards. (Remember if you live in a cold climate
will need a cold-hardy breed of chicken)
Heat lamp: If you live in a cold climate you will need a heat source in winter. If the chicken coop is not too big and draft free, a heat lamp that is secured over the waterer (to keep the water from freezing) is usually enough to keep the hens snug as bugs in a rug.
A resource book: for advice on raising chickens (helpful but not absolutely necessary especially if you have access to the internet),
The hens need a solid, safe from predators coop or tractor. A place where they are sheltered from bad weather, protected from heat and sun, where they can roost, sleep and lay their eggs. There are as many different styles of coops as there are types of chickens. There are free plans available on the Internet and most of them can be built with minimal building skills. The difference between coop and tractor is that a tractor is built to be mobile either to be carried or wheeled to another location, which will give the chickens fresh grass to peck at continually. If you move the tractor weekly added benefits are that the grass is that the chickens will have nibbled the grass nice and short and have done some aerating with their scratching and have fertilized the area too... what more can you ask from these little helpers...? Again check the ‘net for plans for chicken tractors.
As for the coop or tractor size, a good rule of thumb is at least 3 square feet inside the coop per chicken.
For safety, most chickens prefer to roost up high rather than spend the night on the floor. So it's important to have roosts available in different places at different heights. Each chicken will eventually find it's favorite spot and return to the same one every night.
Tips: Even though hens are quite resilient, a chicken coop in a cold winter climate will need space where to install a heat lamp. The coop or tractor should have good air flow but be draft free. Bedding on the floor should be either straw or wood chips. (cedar chips have too strong of an odor and is not considered good for their respiratory systems)
Obviously one of the main reasons to keep chickens are the eggs. For this, your feathered girls will need to have nesting boxes. These, padded with a thin layer of straw or wood chips, need to be large enough for the hens to have enough room to curl up into, but still snug enough to be cozy. 15X18X15 inches /37.5x37.5x45cm is a pretty good size. 3-4 chickens will happily share one nesting box.
The easiest feed is either pellet or a crumble feed which are available at a local farm feed store.
Tips: Laying pullets need a high protein food preferably with an 18%
protein content. (if the protein in lower they will eat more which will make this venture less profitable) Feed enough in a covered feeder so that the hens can
all up within the day. Chickens also love, love, love table scraps and garden weeds,
cracked corn and most everything you eat. (with the exceptions of
avocados and chocolate, and a lot of onions
and garlic can give eggs an odd flavoring) Save all your veggy peels for them, however remember that potato peels need to be boiled. They don't really care for citrus peels so you should throw those into the composter instead.
Fun Facts about eggs
Eggs are not the villain that they were made out to be re: cholesterol and heart disease. There is no proven link between egg consumption and heart disease. The many medical studies done in recent years found that an egg/day should be considered as good nutrition. Eggs have a high ratio of nutrients to calories. They clock in at 75 calories each and have less than 5 grams of total fat. They are filled with 13 essential vitamins, minerals, high-quality protein, healthy unsaturated fats and antioxidants. And best of all eggs are one of the most versatile food available.
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