By Guest Author Zoe Morrison
“A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.”
Raising chickens is a simple, inexpensive hobby that has plenty of upside. The most obvious is getting fresh eggs all year-round. Just think of all the savings on your grocery bills!
But free-range chickens can also do so much good for your organic garden. Their feet act as mini rakes that cultivate your soil when they scratch the ground for food. Chickens can also help keep pests down in a natural way because they eat a variety of insects and weeds found on the garden floor.
Raising chickens is a fun way for the whole family to learn responsibility and self-sufficiency. But being livestock, caring for chickens should be taken seriously. There are a few considerations before you start on your backyard chicken coop.
Choose your chicken breed wisely
Chickens are territorial. They may respond badly to outsiders, especially other chickens outside their own breed. This can lead to aggression in the flock, and even cannibalism. There are great guides available on choosing chicken breeds for beginners. One factor to consider is your purpose. Do you want the most eggs possible? If so, look at the egg production for each chicken. Another factor to consider is your location. How is the year-round climate in your area? Consider how this will affect your choice of chickens. You’re also going to want to think about the size of your birds. Smaller breeds obviously need less space than larger, but some chickens need more privacy and quiet to stay healthy.
Give chickens enough space
Speaking of size, there is a range of size for chickens that is defined by the breed. Your chicken’s size will dictate how large their dwelling space needs to be. Generally, a chicken will need 2-3 square ft of space inside a coop, and about 8-10 square ft of space outside, in the chicken run. Chickens feel safer in flocks. As a beginner, you’ll want a flock of at least three chickens but not more than five. Doing this allows you to quickly see any problem in behavior or health concerns.
Keep them safe from predators
Almost every wild predator will go after your chickens – know the local wildlife in your area, and create proper defenses to protect your flock. Remember: Chicken runs will keep chickens in, and hardware mesh will keep predators out. Bury your hardware mesh around your chicken run to keep out burrowing animals like coyotes and foxes. If most of your predators come from the air, you should use a covered coop. You can build your own, or find a great ready-made coop at a home and garden center or hardware store.
Install a feeder and waterer
Chickens need easy access to food and water – if they don’t get what they need, it causes misbehavior and aggression among the flock. Chickens drink more than they eat, so access to water is the most essential. Generally, chickens will eat about ¼ lb. of food per day, and drink about 1 pint of water. Four chickens will consume about 1 lb. of food and 4 pints of water. These requirements will vary through the seasons. Chickens will eat more in the winter and will need more water in the hot summer months. Even if you are raising free-range chickens, ensure they have feeders to meet their daily requirements.
Keep the chicken coop clean
Many beginners to backyard chickens line the coop with newspaper, which is slippery, and can’t protect the birds from bacteria and dust. A better option would be to line your coop with hay or straw, or with pine chips to keep the coop cleaner longer.
Chickens laying in unsanitary coops exposes them to respiratory problems, joint pain, and other health conditions. Provide nesting boxes to give your chickens a safe and quiet place to lay, away from the mess of the coop. Line your chicken coop with fresh bedding and pine chips at least once a week. You should also do a deep clean at least once a year, or twice, depending on the size of your chicken flock. Remember to wear a mask when cleaning to protect yourself from the dust and mess.
Collect the chicken manure for your garden
Chickens are your garden’s secret weapons and chicken manure is a blessing to your garden. To get the most out of the manure, you’ll need to develop a regular way to collect it. Collect the chicken droppings on a weekly or daily basis. If you only have a small flock, collecting bedding and manure for composting should be done regularly – once a week. For larger flocks, you might decide to do it on a daily basis, to get the most bang for your “bock”.
Collect chicken eggs multiple times a day
Regular egg collection is essential. Collecting them frequently prevents chickens from laying eggs on the floor then breaking, or eating the eggs. Chickens are very susceptible to flock behaviors, so any bad behavior will get picked up quickly by other members of the flock and soon all the eggs will be broken. Chickens also increase egg production according to demand. You may choose to collect eggs two or three times a day to get max profit or just to make sure you don’t miss any eggs.
Tip: If you’re finding it difficult to get your chickens to roost in nesting boxes and off the floor, try placing wooden eggs, or golf balls in the nest, so they learn to mimic the behavior.
Adding a chicken coop to your backyard can have great benefits to your family and your yard. It means fresh, organic eggs every morning, and a stronger, healthier garden. Chickens also make great family pets. And as with other pets, taking care of them is a big responsibility. It’s important that your coop is large enough and secure enough to keep your chickens healthy and safe. Be mindful of your flock’s needs, the environment, and how that will impact them.
Guest Author Bio: Zoe started her homesteading adventure in 2015, when she had to give up her full-time job as a financial administrator due to an acute hernia. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as a wholesome, self-sustaining life gave her so much more than she ever thought possible. She spends her days raising chickens, blogging over at Morning Chores, upcycling furniture and clothes and rummaging around in her garden.
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