How to Raise Backyard Chickens
If you like the idea of eating fresh eggs and you have adequate outdoor space, raising chickens could be for you. Before you commit, consider the following:
1. Check town or city ordinances. Before you purchase your chics, make sure you are legally allowed to keep chickens in your community. Some will allow hens (females), but not roosters (males). In addition, it might be a good idea to let your your neighbors know what you are doing to alleviate any of their concerns or fears. Chances are they will experience some of the same sounds and smells you will. Giving them some of your eggs as a gift can also help!
2. Decide what kind of coop you need. Resources abound on the internet to help you figure out which way to go. You can make the coop yourself or order one ready-made and receive it in as little as three days. According to Derek Sasaki, of Mypetchicken.com, regardless of the type of coop you have, chickens need a run, and if possible, the ability to free range. Each bird needs at least 4 square feet of living space—more if you just have a coop. And you must be sure to protect them from predators. Even in an urban or suburban environment, small animals or birds will attack the chickens. You must keep your coop in a partially shaded, dry spot – never leave it in direct sunlight. Hens love to peck at the ground so ideally the coop should be placed on grass or, if grass is unavailable, dirt.
3. Determine what type of chickens you want. You can get chickens delivered to you at 3 life stages: egg, baby chick, or fully-grown. Each has its pluses and minuses (read more on the websites listed below). Sasaki sells more baby chicks than any other type. The variety of chicken you choose will determine egg color and size as well as laying ability. You can mix and match different types of chickens and roosters but know that there will always be a “pecking order,” and it can take a while to acclimate your hens in the coop and establish who’s on top and who’s on the bottom.
4. Feed your chickens. Nutritional needs of chickens vary according to their stage in life. For new chicken keepers, Sasaki recommends feeding them commercial feed (you can buy organic) so you know they are getting all their nutritional needs met. Angel Dean, an artist and backyard chicken keeper in Providence, R.I., makes her three Speckled Sussex hens a special mix of commercial dry food mixed with grits, yogurt, applesauce, diced tomatoes, mealy worms, lettuce and collard greens. She insists the brilliant, deep orange yolks of her light brown eggs are due to this daily diet and her neighbors are always delighted to receive a dozen. You don’t have to worry about overfeeding chickens—they only eat as much as they need. Just make sure you don’t feed them garlic or onion unless you like your eggs with that taste!