Monday, March 19, 2012

Hatching The Best Laid Plan For Keeping Chickens

If you’re thinking of keeping chickens at home and joining the backyard chicken movement, now is the time to spring into action.

Spring brings more light and warmth as well as longer days, which equates to more egg production than in winter. Warmer weather is a good time to get chickens acclimated to your yard and their coop, and this is the best time of year to get your new 16 week old layers.

The main benefit is fresh eggs of course, but raising chickens is a fun family hobby and a way to teach children about the food chain and responsibility. The chickens will also provide hours of entertainment, as they all have their own quirks and characters.

"It’s really created a nice sense of community in our neighbourhood," said Barry Roth, who raises chickens with his wife, Barbara, and children, Tilley, 10, and Jake, 8, at their home in Devon, UK, "Our neighbours love them and all want to get involved. They fight over who looks after them when we go away for holidays."

Here are four things you need to know about keeping chickens:

-- Make sure chickens are permitted.

Regulations in some counties, cities and neighbourhoods may keep you from raising chickens in your backyard, so always check. In the US, call your local zoning office. Regulations related to the coop’s distance from the property boundary also may apply, so you need to check them out. In the UK, raising chickens is permitted as long as they are not a nuisance to your neighbours (Giving free fresh eggs normally keeps even the most disgruntled neighbour happy).

-- Determine how you want the chickens to live.

One decision is whether you want them to be “free range,” stay in the coop, or both. We let our chickens free range, being let out first thing in the morning and lock them up again at night, but we have a large garden and accept the risk involved with predators. They will keep your garden clear of bugs, but they can make a mess of your flower beds, so be warned!

Most backyard hens are kept in a hen house or coop with a covered run, which should ideally be moved around the garden every day to avoid a build up of poultry poop and the problems that come with that. If you do let your chickens run free in your garden, make sure they cannot get into your neighbours garden and cause damage, as you will be liable if they do. It is your legal responsibility to keep them in your garden and not your neighbours responsibility to keep them out.

Buying chickens varies a lot depending on whether you rescue a older battery-farmed bird (which are normally free) to a rare-breed organic bird that can cost up to £100 each. A regular layer will cost you about £10. Feed costs also vary depending on whether you go organic or not. Find your nearest animal feed supplier to check current prices for Layers Pellets.

-- Don’t count your chickens before getting a coop or hen house.

It’s very easy to get carried away by these really cute fluffy chicks, but they get really big fast. Always make sure you build the hen house or coop first before getting any feathered friends. I don't recommend getting chicks, as you may end up with boys, and then you're in a dilemma as to what to do with them when they get older (No one wants a Cockerell and putting them in the pot may be your only solution, and that may be a step too far for you). Get 16 week old hens that have just starting laying.

Hen houses or coops can range from old sheds, dog kennels or hutches to very elaborate custom-built structures and prefabricated poultry palaces. Making your own hen house is a lot of fun and one of the best things about keeping chickens.

We adapted a have 8-foot-square shed into a hen house and houses 12 chickens. It's 3 feet off the ground to keep out predators and vermin (And under the hen house is also a great place to create dust baths for the hens).

You can buy a hen house or coop from most garden centres these days for around £150 or you can go all trendy and get an Eglu. But it's not cheep at £400+ for the house, run, two chickens and some feed. I prefer to make my own.

-- Consider the coop’s location.

You don’t need a lot of space, but you must be able to move the hen house or coop around to avoid a build up of poop and bugs. Just make sure you clean out the house every week and smells won't ever be an issue. Also make sure you store the chicken feed in a secure metal container as that is what attracts vermin. Having water nearby is also a big bonus when keeping chickens, but that shouldn't be a problem for most backyards.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Raising Chickens - Jennifer Aniston's New Friends Are Chickens

raising chickens at home

We all know that former Friends star Jennifer Aniston is a dog lover, but now it seems she has discovered the joys of raising chickens.

Jen found she had inherited a chicken coop on the new property she recently purchased, and it included a flock of chickens!

The former “Friends” actress seems to be taking their care very seriously, and commented that she's really enjoying the company of her new feathered friends. She said, “They’re very social animals, and they like it when you visit them with a cup of coffee in your hand. They also love pasta.”

More than a few people have quit eating meat once they get to know their chickens up close and personal, so I wonder if Jen will soon be announcing that she is a vegetarian now she has started raising chickens of her own and getting to know their individual characters?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Build Your Own Chicken Coop or Hen House

One of the greatest pleasures of keeping chickens is building your own chicken coop or hen house. Not only does it save you a lot of money, but it is a lot of fun and will give you an enormous sense of achievement once it is finished - You also get to customize your coop just the way you want it!

best chicken coop plansThere are many chicken coop plans available to buy online, but the ONLY one I recommend is Bill's excellent ebook, which provides you with no only the best chicken house plans, but really great advice on every aspect of building and maintaining it.

But don't take my word for it. Read the genuine testimonials from a couple of very happy customers below...

best chicken coop plans
"...If you are considering keeping chickens in your back yard, you MUST read this book. Whether you have a tiny courtyard or acres to play with, Keene’s advice will stand you in good stead and help you build the right chicken coop. The focus of the book is on being well-prepared for your flock before they even arrive. Keene ensures that you consider every issue before you spend a cent on birds, feed or equipment. He discusses which species is appropriate for your garden, what they should eat and, as the title suggests, how you should house them. Anyone with basic do-it-yourself tools and a patch of land could follow his instructions. The drawings and diagrams are easy to interpret and the lists of materials and tools needed are very helpful. Keene also appreciates that the value of using recycled materials in your chicken coop – cheap and environmentally friendly. Keene encourages responsible husbandry – his reminder of tasks to be completed weekly, monthly and sixth monthly should be replicated onto the calendar of any careful poultry keeper. The level of detail is just right, from a list of the color of the egg you might expect from you hen to a description of healthy hen’s poop! If you follow his tips, your happy hens will be very productive. Next we need a cookbook for ideas to use up all the spare eggs…" Tracy Ann - Amateur Chicken Farmer from Devon, UK

"Have you been planning to make a cozy, comfortable and tidy coop for your chickens? Well, follow the guidelines in this wonderful resource! My chickens are happy with their new home! Bill's book helped me make a well-planned, easy-to-clean-and-maintain coop for my chickens. I got practical tips on locating, positioning, protecting and maintaining the climate in the coop. Like me, it will help you too to choose the appropriate size, building design and materials for construction. This book not only helps you save while you build, but also enjoy the freedom to customize the coop to your individual specifications and needs. With valuable inputs on light and ventilation, I was able to ensure that the coop position was such that it allowed enough light in, but did not make the coop draughty. I particularly enjoyed the creative and innovative ideas thrown in about building low cost nesting boxes with material lying around the house. It set me exploring my own creativity and resourcefulness! An informative and easy to follow read, this book will guide you in building your own coop at a fraction of the cost of purchasing one! " Rachana Misra - Go Green Farms™ Owner

best chicken coop plans

Raising Chickens From Eggs Is Child's Play

Raising Chickens - It's baby chick season, and thousands of newbie chicken owners will bring home days-old chicks for the first time.

Over the past few years, there has been a growing nationwide trend of urban residents choosing to keep backyard chickens. Even for inexperienced poultry people, raising chicks to egg-laying maturity (16 weeks) is fairly simple if you know what you're doing and follow a few simple rules.

Here are the basics to help you get started;

Which to buy first: the chick or the egg?

When buying chicks for the first time, there are some important things to note. Most communities have ordinances prohibiting roosters (Myth Buster - Hens DO NOT need a rooster to produce eggs), so many chicken owners prefer to buy only female chicks (Always check you are allowed to keep chickens in your area).

Unfortunately, determining the gender of baby chicks is virtually impossible, so when purchasing chicks, those labeled “straight run”will include both female and male chicks, so you need to have a plan of action if you have boys as they don't lay eggs and will make loud noises when they're older. One solution is to raise the cockerels for eating, but not everyone is comfortable doing this. If you do eat meat, then you should consider this option as you know the chicken has led a good life.

Pullets are supposed to be all females, but it has been known for an occasional chick to turn out to be a cockerel. Sex-linked chicks are cross-bred chickens that produce gender-specific color variations at birth, so purchasing black or red sex-link chicks ensures a flock of just hens.

Most farm stores also sell home incubators for people who want to hatch their own baby chicks, and a search of local online classified ads will produce several potential local sources for fertile hatching eggs. Those who go this route should know that success rates for home incubation is not 100%, so be prepared for this. Maintaining proper heat and humidity levels is critical, and the eggs need constant monitoring for 28 days.

Providing the basics for baby chicks

A baby chicks primary needs are the same as any living animal: shelter, food and water. Shelter for chicks is a warm, dry box called a brooder. A cardboard box will work just fine for "one-time use." A plastic storage tote or a wooden box is a more durable alternative.

The farm stores that sell chicks are good sources for inexpensive feeders and water containers specially designed for chicks, but a small plastic or glass container will also suffice. Chicks are messy, so food and water should be changed at least a couple times a day. Bedding made of wood shavings or several sheets of paper will help keep the brooder and the chicks clean. Replace it every two or three days or as needed.

Warmth is easy to provide with an inexpensive reflective heat lamp, available at any hardware or farm store. The lamp should be about a foot above the baby chicks and the temperature in the brooder should be between 90 and 95 degrees.

The best rule of thumb when raising chickens is to always watch your birds behaviour, and chicks are no different. They will tell you if they are too hot or cold. If they are cold, they will be huddling under the lamp, chirping loudly. If they are hot, they will be as far from the lamp as possible. Ideal temperature is reached when the birds appear to be acting normally, some eating, some drinking, some sleeping, etc.

Raise the heat lamp a little every week to help the chicks adjust to normal temperatures. After four or five weeks, they should be able to survive without supplemental heat as long as they are kept in an area that is dry and free of drafts.

At about four weeks, the chicks will have enough feathers that they can flutter up like a helicopter. At that point the brooder needs a screen or lid on top to keep the chicks contained. The chicks can be moved outside at about six weeks, but they still need shelter and possible supplemental warmth depending on weather conditions. They will also need a protected enclosure to keep them safe from predators like raccoons, foxes, and neighborhood cats and dogs.

Depending on the breed, chickens will start laying eggs between five and nine months. The combs and wattles of hens will be bright red and fully developed when they reach egg-laying maturity.

Health and safety tips for handling baby chicks

Baby chicks can carry salmonella germs on their bodies, feet and feathers. That's why it's so important to practice proper hygiene when handling chicks, especially for children.

Baby chicks are fluffy, cute and fun to hold, but when you handle a chick, the salmonella germs get on your hands. If you touch your hands to your mouth you can get sick, so always follow these tips for handling baby chicks:

[1] Wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling chicks.

[2] Make sure young children wash their hands after handling chicks.

[3] Never hold baby chicks while you're eating.

[4] Do not nuzzle or kiss baby chicks.

[5] Do not use the kitchen sink to clean a chick’s cage or feed or water containers.

[6] Keep chicks out of family living areas.

[7] Chicks and ducks are not good pets for children under 5 years old.

Follow these simple rules and raising chickens will be both fun and safe.