Want to Raise Your Own Chickens?
Benefits of Raising Your Own Chickens
If you’re like many consumers, you know the difference between fresh eggs and eggs you buy from the grocery store. What you probably don’t know is those egg layers are excellent garden and yard workers as well! Chickens have a keen eye for insects in the garden on your plants or around the yard. Fire ants, ticks, and produce pests beware! These animals are also great at keeping your soil healthy. Not only are they active workers that constantly churn up the soil, but they provide manure that keeps the soil fortified with the minerals it needs. Chickens are also great at cleaning up the rotten and damaged fruits and vegetables you have laying around. On top of all of that, they are an excellent learning opportunity for kids to be involved with!
Preparing for Backyard Chickens
If you’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in some backyard chickens, there are some things you’ll want to do before you bring your birds home.
Make sure you’re allowed to have them. Many neighborhoods may not permit backyard chickens – you’ll want to check that yours isn’t one of them.
Choose your birds! Determine the number of chickens you’ll want to keep based on the amount of space you have and the number of eggs you’ll be expecting to collect. Typically one laying hen produces two eggs over the course of three days at their peak production. Once you’ve decided the number of chickens you want, determine which breed you’ll want to have. Two breeds that are commonly raised in North Carolina are the Barred Rocks and the Rhode Island Reds. Keep in mind that you do not need to have roosters in order for your hens to lay eggs, purchasing only females will increase your total egg production.
Get your chicken coop. Your chickens will need a place to go to avoid predators, drink, eat, roost, and lay eggs. Build or purchase a chicken coop that provides a dry, closed off shelter with an outdoor area that is fenced off. Be sure to consider weather conditions and take necessary precautions for particularly hot or cold conditions. The enclosed coop should provide 2.5 to 3.5 square feet per bird while the outdoor space should include 4 to 5 square feet per bird. Do not overcrowd your chickens, this can be a big issue in terms of pecking order! You’ll need to make sure there are several nesting boxes in the coop for your birds to lay their eggs; typically about one nesting box per four or five hens. It’s also a good idea to think about making enough room for shoveling manure.
Purchase feeders and waterers. There are a lot of affordable options out there for purchasing feeders and waterers. Make sure that you have enough room in your feeders and waterers for each bird to have ⅓ pound of feed every day and free access to water. Make sure you do your research on the type of feed to provide based on the age and stage of production.
Buy your birds! There are three options for buying chickens. You can buy young females called pullets, ready-to-lay hens, or day-old chicks. Avoid hatching your own eggs for chickens to add to your flock. Keep in mind that chickens begin to lay eggs around 16 to 24 weeks of age. Whatever you do, you’ll need to keep a cycle of birds entering the flock in order to maintain egg production. The egg production of hens is highest in their first year, then it declines each year. If you purchase your own chicks, you’re going to need to provide a separate space from the rest of the older flock. Consider raising them in a separate housing unit. Provide a heat lamp, waterers, feeders, and a layer of shavings to keep them dry.
How to Maintain
Once you’ve brought your chickens home and introduced them to their new living arrangements, you’ll need to make sure you keep them healthy and happy so they’ll keep laying eggs for as long as possible.
Make sure to provide feed, water, and hay on a daily basis. Topping off feeders and waterers is never a bad idea. Access to food and water keeps the chickens laying consistently. Keeping hay in nesting boxes prevents eggs from being broken plus it generally stops the chickens from pooping in the nests, so the eggs stay clean! While making plans for trips out of town, you’ll want to be sure you have a chicken sitter to take care of these responsibilities.
It’s important to keep things clean in a chicken coop. Regularly shoveling manure will keep the chickens cleaner and healthier. Not to mention it will keep you from slipping! Eggs need to be kept clean as well. Once collected, they should be wiped with a dry or warm, damp towel depending on how dirty they are. After cleaning eggs, make sure to put them in the refrigerator right away.
Take care of those chickens and you’ll be making fresh omelettes in no time! For more information, visit the NC State Extension Poultry Page or contact N.C. Cooperative Extension, Davie County Center at (336) 753-6100.