Keeping A Small Backyard Flock Of Chickens

Learn how easy and inexpensive it can be to keep your own small flock of egg-laying chickens in your yard. Here is information about getting started, keeping it up, and the cost.

It can be easy to have a backyard flock of chickens. Of course, you will need to decide if it is appropriate for the neighborhood that you live in. Different neighborhoods have various restrictions, and you will want to check your neighborhood association rules first, as well as any pertinent city codes. If you live in the country, this will not be an issue, although I can assure you that if a rooster is part of your flock, you may not be on good terms with your closest neighbor for very long.

Chickens are inexpensive animals to keep, and many are prolific egg producers. Sex-link and Rhode Island Reds are good egg producers, among others. Your local feed store will have someone knowledgeable on staff who can tell you which chickens in stock are the best layers. They will also ensure that you only receive hens. We also considered the color of the chickens, and have a very bright flock to liven up our yard. While you will not become wealthy selling your eggs from a small backyard flock, you can make friends and neighbors happy by giving them your surplus eggs, which you will almost certainly have if you have more than two or three chickens. A good size for the average backyard is six chickens. If you live in the country, you may want to have more.

Chickens are interesting creatures that provide a country ambience to your immediate surroundings, regardless of where you live. Kids love them, although they must be watched to make sure that they do not bother them too much by chasing them and trying to catch them, which is an activity that many children seem to enjoy. Depending on the breed, you can usually train your dog to leave the chickens alone as well. The dog should spend time with both you and the chickens, and the two of you will come to an understanding that the chickens are pets, and not food. Our dog understands this, and will not bother the chickens when we are outdoors, but simply cannot be trusted to be with the chickens when she is unsupervised. Other animals that you own will definitely need to be taken into consideration before you commit to having chickens as part of your backyard experience.

It is very inexpensive to get started with chickens. Chicks usually cost $2 to $3 dollars apiece, and you will want to buy chick feed and wood shavings, as well as containers for their food and water. Always make sure that your chicks have fresh water. Do not underestimate the amount of food that your chickens will initially eat. We were astounded that six tiny chicks could eat their way through an entire five-pound bag of feed in two weeks. While the chicks are small, and are soft and downy, as opposed to having feathers, they should be kept in a warm place until their feathers grow in. Many people buy their chickens in the spring, and in most climates, spring nights are too chilly for chickens. We kept ours in the bathtub for a couple of weeks (easy to clean!) and then put them in the coop with an overhead light and shelter to keep them warm at night. Chicks do not stay tiny for long, however. At six to eight weeks of age, they appear to be almost full-grown. This is a good time to let them out of their coop and allow them to run around the yard. Note: Chickens are not for you if you have a perfectly groomed yard and wish to keep it that way. Chickens are notorious for destroying grass in yards, since they enjoy scratching and pecking at everything in sight. Once your chickens are ready to leave the coop and wander around the yard, you will understand where the phrase "flown the coop" came from. At six weeks, chickens are ready to test their wings and will leave the coop seconds after you open the door to go and forage for worms and insects. Chickens will return home at night to roost without being rounded up, which is convenient, because it can be difficult to catch them!

As far as the coop itself is concerned, you can be creative. Our family bought chicken wire and fenced in the underutilized area under our son's playscape. It makes the perfect enclosure, although it would be too small if we were not letting them spend their days in the yard. If you do not want free-range chickens, you will need to build a larger coop, so that your chickens will be comfortable and happy. In any coop, you will need to provide roosting areas and nesting areas that are off the ground. This is where the chickens will hopefully choose to lay their eggs. Not all chickens are so cooperative, and if they decide to lay elsewhere, every morning will be an Easter egg hunt for you after they have reached six months maturity and can lay eggs. However, chickens that have a coop are most likely to want to lay their eggs in the coop, since that is where they are accustomed to resting.

You will want to make sure that the coop protects your chickens from predators such as snakes and raccoons. Make sure that there are no spaces under the fence for undesirable animals, such as rats, to get through. Clean out the wood shavings when you notice any sort of odor, and replace with clean ones. Once your chickens reach about eight weeks of age, you will also want to replace the chick feed with regular chicken feed, which can be bought in very economical 50-pound bags. Squirrels love chicken feed, so be sure to close it up tightly in a plastic bin with a well-fitting lid. This feed will need to be supplemented with oyster shells for egg laying chickens. You will find that once you start letting your chickens forage in your yard for food, you will need to buy less chicken feed. This is one of the advantages to letting your chickens into your yard. You will also experience less of an insect problem. Eggs from chickens who have been allowed to eat a natural diet are also higher in nutrients. Do not be alarmed if the shells and yolks are slightly different from what you are accustomed to buying in the supermarket. Yard chickens do not eat the same diet as commercially raised chickens, and the different breeds will also influence the color of the egg. It is still good, even if the yolk appears darker, or the outside of the shell is a greenish color.

People have been keeping chickens for many years, under many different circumstances. While you can access the 4-H site and get much more information about exact ratios of feed and so forth, do realize that it does not have to be an exact science. Many people raise chickens very easily, and with a minimum of effort. Chickens also have the advantage of being a great conversation piece. Visitors will notice your chickens long before they notice the unique sculptures in your garden. You will be surprised at how many new friends will ask for fresh eggs. Enjoy your foray into small-time chicken farming!

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