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.


Rob Carr said...

The best option for me is having my coop is one set area, with an outside perch to sleep on. Put wood chips underneath the pirch. Between the wood chips, chicken scratchings, and the sprinkler system, my poop takes care of its self. Every spring before I take everything out to the garden before I till, and lay down new chips. Raising my own eggs and chickens is far more rewarding than I had expected.

Nice to meet you, my name is Rob

Peter Skuse said...

Hey Rob. Good to meet you too and thanks for your contribution. I'd love to hear more details about your system as it sounds real interesting. Some pictures would be great as well. If you would like to share, I'd love to put it up on this blog. If you're interested please email me at peterskuse(at)gmail(dot)com Pete