People today really want to get back to a sustainable way of living. One way to do this is to raise chickens in your own backyard. Here are some of the basics on what you need to raise chickens at home.
Chickens are not hard to keep, and they will provide you with many benefits. Chickens provide fresh eggs and meat. They recycle your excess table scraps and keep your property bug free. They provide great fertilizer and eat lots of weed seeds. They have quirky little personalities and are very fun to watch as well, so entertainment is a benefit too.
One of the first things to consider when you want to raise chickens at home is what breed of chicken you want to raise. There are many different types to choose from and deciding which breed to get is a fun part of the process.
The next step is to think about housing for the chickens. You will need to consider just how much space you have available in your backyard. Then you need to decide how much you have to spend on housing. You can build a coop, purchase a nice pre-built one, or just use what you have. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just secure, dry, ventilated and warm.
Once you have selected a location for the chicken coop, you will want to stock it with water and feeding dispensers. Again, you can buy these at the local farm store or use what you have. Keep it simple and recycle. The chickens won’t care as long as the water is clean and the food is plentiful.
For bedding material, straw, hay or bark chips will keep the area clean and easy to maintain. You need something that will keep them warm and absorb the poo.
You’ll need to install a nesting area if you are raising egg layers. Wall hung nest boxes are great, but you can improvise with plastic crates, buckets and even wood or cardboard boxes. Our hens favorite nest is an old mailbox filled with straw. Just keep them full of nice dry wood chips, hay or straw. The hens will show you what they like by filling their favorite nests with lots of eggs. They like privacy, so pick a back wall that doesn’t get a lot of light.
A roosting area should be placed on a back wall too and located several feet off the ground. Chickens do a lot of pooping at night, so you can keep a droppings pan under this area to make it easier to clean up. You can use any wood about 2 inches around as roosts. 2×2 lumber is a good choice, but some tree branches will make them just as happy. Give each chicken at least a foot of room on the roost so they don’t have to crowd. Using treated lumber is not a good idea, as it can contain arsenic and other chemicals not good for your chickens or you.
When your new chickens first arrive, it’s a good idea to keep them in the coop for a few days while they get used to their new surroundings.
Feeding your chickens pellets or mash is one food choice, just make sure it has at least 15 percent protein. You can also go organic and feed only a balanced mix of grains, sprouts, etc. They can also be fed most kitchen scraps, which will help to cut down on food waste. They will eat veggies and greens as well. Free ranging or pasturing will give you the happiest chickens and nicest eggs.
If you don’t free range, you should provide oyster shell and grit. Both of these are necessary for the chickens to digest their food and produce good eggs.
The chicken poop can be composted using the deep litter method. This is done by adding another layer of pine shavings, hay or straw once a week, and mixing the litter up. The chickens are great at helping with this.
When the litter gets about 10 inches deep, the coop should be cleaned out. The litter should be used as compost in your garden, where you can then plant more good food for you and the chickens.
The deep litter method works best when you use the ground itself as the floor of the coop, as this creates the right conditions for composting the droppings. It can be used on any floor as long as you keep it stirred up and cleaned out on a regular basis.
As you can see, raising chickens doesn’t have to be hard. Keep it simple and keep it clean and you and your chickens will both be happy.
PS: Don’t forget to check local ordinances to make sure you can have chickens and how many you can have.
Photo of Buff Orphington hen on nest.