A Fresh Egg a Day Keeps the Doctor Away – A Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens
Today, growing produce in a home garden is becoming quite the trend. Not only is growing your own food a healthy option, but it is a great way to stay busy and interact with the outdoors. Wouldn’t it be nice to have farm fresh eggs for breakfast every morning to go with your delicious, homegrown produce? With a few chickens and a bit of equipment, you can simply walk into your backyard and pick breakfast out of the coop. Starting your own backyard chicken farm can be fun and easy, as long as you know what you need to get started. From poultry feeders and waterers to chicken housing and cages, here is a guide that includes just about everything you need to tend to your flock from chicks to full-grown birds.
WHAT DO I NEED TO RAISE BACKYARD CHICKENS?
To get started, make sure you have equipment available to provide your chickens with food, water and shelter for laying. This means you will need chicken feeders and waterers, as well as a coop or hutch.
Feeders: Poultry feed needs to be kept clean so your flock isn’t feasting on dirty food and you aren’t fighting a rodent infestation problem. Feeders should be cleaned out every day and refilled with fresh feed. When cleaning your feeder, make sure to let it dry thoroughly before refilling so the new feed remains dry. We recommend purchasing a red feeder because they attract birds, making them feed more often, maximizing weight gain and egg production. Feeders are available in a range of sizes and shapes to accommodate the needs of your flock.
Waterers: A fresh supply of clean water should always be available to your birds. In order to prevent disease, go ahead and clean out your waterer at the same time you are cleaning your feeder, and then refill it with fresh, cool water. Like feeders, red waterers encourage birds to drink more, keeping them healthy and hydrated. Special care should be taken with baby chicks from one to seven days old, as drowning can be an issue. Drinker kits, fountains and waterers are all options for chicken watering. You should choose the waterer for your flock according to its size and average age. If you aren’t sure what type of waterer will work for you, contact us for a little help.
Housing: Though chickens don’t mind living outside most of the time, they still need some shelter to protect them from the elements and predators. Chicken housing doesn’t have to be complicated. You can even just fence in a little patch of your yard and offer them a run in shed. Whatever shelter you choose, be sure it is well ventilated and able to warm the chickens up if temperatures drop too low. A rule of thumb when housing chickens is that each bird should have 3 to 4 square feet of indoor space and 8 to 10 square feet of outdoor space.
Laying Nests: If you want to make sure you have freshly laid eggs for Sunday brunch, your birds will need a place they feel comfortable laying them. One nesting box should be provided for every four birds and placed somewhere they are used to. We recommend that you keep your nesting spaces on a slant, so freshly laid eggs will roll away from the chickens, keeping them clean and protected. Easy access to nesting spaces is important, as it will make egg collection easier and minimize breakage.
When you are caring for both chicks and full-grown birds, it is beneficial to keep them in separate spaces until the chicks are six months old. Chicks haves much weaker immune systems than older birds and are more susceptible to any bacteria or viruses the chickens could be carrying. Remember, healthy birds mean healthy eggs, so if you have a question on proper chicken care, check with a more experienced chicken farmer.
Egg Handling: Once your chickens are healthy and comfortable, they should start laying plenty of eggs. When you go out to the coop to collect them, it doesn’t mean they are ready to be turned into omelets. They are a few steps you have to take to ensure you have clean, quality eggs.
If you plan to eat or give away all the eggs your chickens lay, egg care is quick and simple. Eggs have pores in their shells that can let bacteria in when the egg is soaked, so the cleaning process should involve as little water as possible. Warm water will help keep shell pores closed, so if you do need to get them wet, make sure the faucet it turned to hot. Eggs should never be left to soak. Instead, a quick run under the faucet and a pat down with a clean paper towel is the best method to clean your eggs with water.
There are some preventative measures you can take to avoid having to clean the eggs much at all. First, clean your nest boxes out completely and replace the hens’ shavings every time you collect eggs to ensure the next batch of eggs is laid in a sanitary environment. If you decide to use nest pads, cleaning out the boxes is very easy. Simply remove the pad, wipe it off and replace it. Once eggs are laid, gather them quickly to prevent them from being damaged by a hen or getting dirty.
If you plan to sell the eggs you produce, the cleaning and quality assurance process is a bit more complicated, so check with your state’s Department of Agriculture for the most updated list of procedures before you bring your eggs to market.
Backyard chickens can produce delicious, fresh eggs for years to come, so why not start a little farm that can be fun to tend to, as well as productive? Provide your chickens with some food, water and shelter and they will certainly pay you back for it!
Do you currently raise backyard chickens? What tips and tricks can you share with people looking to do the same?