Eggstatic About Chickens
By Fran Faulkner
It all started a few years ago with a desire to do some organic gardening. An article about chickens in your garden, 15 chickens and a turkey later and I have no regrets! Raising backyard chickens has been possibly the most rewarding human-animal relationship I’ve had. Are you still on the fence? Let’s see if I can help you hop to a decision.
The benefits of having pet chickens seem never ending. Chickens are surprisingly low maintenance. They need a balanced diet, housing/protection, and a constant supply of fresh water. What you put into your flock, they will give back ten-fold! By using the ‘deep litter’ method in the coop, the chickens do all the work, turning old coop bedding into compost for plants. Chickens eat pests minimizing pesticide use. My chickens will dig to China to find grubs in the soil (they’re humongous, by the way!). They may even eat small snakes and lizards. Chickens eat kitchen scraps. I have no garbage disposal and am slightly surprised to say…I don’t miss it. My chickens even get my leftovers from dining out, not without weird looks from the server. Chickens lay eggs…hello! If you choose to eat your chickens, you know they lived well and organically. Better diet and environmental enrichment will lead to a better egg or a beautiful dinner hen. Chickens are also great entertainment! I love to watch my chickens chase or catch bugs in mid-air, play for yummy treat rewards and practice sparring each other. A few of my chickens are very docile and enjoy the attention!
So, now you might be wondering “what do I need to get started?” Preparation is key. Before you start looking at fluffy chicks, housing needs to get set up. When looking at coops or planning to build your own, an ideal environment should include the following minimally:
- 3-4 square feet per chicken (although they do love more wing space)
- 1 nesting box for every 3 chickens (but my chicks all fight over the same one)
- Roosting bars (they sleep up high so install bars higher than nests to avoid sleeping in the nest)
- Ventilation (important for both hot and cold months)
- Easy access for cleaning and egg collecting (my coop has 2 doors; one my size and one bird size)
Depending on the efficiency of the hens’ housing, cleaning may be done once every couple of weeks with a deep cleaning once annually. Next thing to consider is what kind of diet your new babies need. From the day a chick is hatched to 18 weeks old, Purina recommends feeding starter feed (I prefer the medicated to not). After 18 weeks old, there are more options, such as layer feed (formulated for egg production) or flock raiser (for mixed flocks like mine…the turkey’s a trouble maker). Your local feed supply store can provide more information on flock specifics or at least point you in the right direction (Red Barn is my one stop hen shop). They may also be able to assist in pickin’ your chicken! You will quickly find that most chicken keepers are more than willing to lend a hand. OR, try a chicken pickin’ app that, after a series of questions, gives a variety of chicken breeds perfect for you and your family (MyPetChicken.com).
However you get your flock, be sure you make an educated decision, check your local ordinances and be polite to your neighbors. Until then, keep on cluckin’!