So, you want to learn how to raise chickens? You’re not alone. A growing focus on local food and sustainability has spurred a renewed interest in raising backyard chickens – especially in larger cities.
There are dozens of reasons to consider inviting a few chickens home to roost. The obvious one is that chickens make delicious, fresh eggs (and chicken!). Chickens also make friendly, entertaining, easy-to-manage, low-maintenance pets, lots of high-quality compost, and, sometimes, they even make your neighbors jealous.
If you’ve decided you can’t live without a chicken flock of your own, here is a basic guide to raising chickens:
Choosing a Chicken Breed
Chickens are a practical source of food and beautiful to have around, so choosing the right breed depends on what your goals are. If you’re looking forward to making a fresh egg omelet every morning, you might consider one of the Mediterranean class chicken breeds, which are known for egg production. These include Leghorns, Golden or Silver Campines, Buttercups, Hamburgs, Blue Andalusians, Minorcas. If you’re eyeing your chickens for their meat, the Cornish Cross is a fast-growing hybrid with a plump breast. Dual-purpose breeds are probably the best option for those starting out. These include Brahmas, Cochins, New Hampshire and Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, Ameraucanas, Barred Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons,
Build a Chicken Coop
Chickens are low-maintenance, but they still need a coop to call home. Proper housing protects your chickens from predators and the elements, and it gives them a warm, comfortable place to roost. You can purchase a chicken coop kit and options to customize your chicken coop. There are so many different chicken coop designs, you may get confused by all of the options, but here are some of the basic things to remember:
Chickens need space. Large chicken coops are usually designed for up to 15 chickens, medium coops for around 10 chickens and smaller coops for 5 or fewer.
Security: Security is critical if you want to keep your chicken friends around, so make sure that any coop you build or buy has locking doors. Some coops come with automatic door timers that open in the morning and close at night, allowing you the freedom to sleep in or go out.
Electricity and Heat: This is a nice-to-have for your feathered friends, because they can withstand cold weather on their own. The main reason to consider heating a coop is to keep their water from freezing. Adding light to your chicken coop is also not a necessity, but it can encourage egg production when the days grow shorter. To encourage your chickens to continue to lay eggs in colder months, keep a light source on for 13-14 hours.
Run Space: When your chickens are feeling cooped up, chicken runs give them the fresh air and security they need. Chicken runs are a wire-mesh enclosure that protects chickens from predators. Make sure the chicken run you choose is sturdy and offers plenty of space for your flock to stretch its wings.
Chicken Coop Wheel Base: Sometimes you need to move your chicken coop, and that’s not fun if you don’t have a wheelbase underneath. A wheeled chicken coop could be considered a luxury, but you will appreciate having the ability to relocate your coop with your own muscle power.
Roosting Area/Nesting Boxes: A roosting area is an elevated perch where your chickens can get some shut-eye. You’ll also want to add dried straw or pine wood shavings in the nesting boxes for maximum chicken comfort and to create a soft, protective bed for their eggs.
To keep your chickens plump and happy, you will need a chicken feeder (a large canister with a shallow pan at the bottom). Fill the canister with store-bought chicken (usually labeled as “layer” pellets.) To make sure your chickens are getting the nutrition and variety they need, you should also supplement your chicken feed with cracked corn, bugs (you can let them do the foraging, unless you’re into that), and pretty much any fruits and vegetables from your own kitchen. They will even eat cooked beans and pasta, if you don’t mind cooking for your flock.
Like every pet or person, chickens need a regular supply of fresh, clean water. You can use a 5-gallon bucket or a shallow plastic dish. There are also several automatic watering systems that ensure your chickens are never parched.
Raising chickens is a lot of fun and offers plenty of perks. Just don’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched…Check with your city or Homeowners Association about local zoning laws or covenants before you invest in a backyard chicken coop. The last thing you want is to have to evict your entire flock.