Raising Backyard Chickens
Cancer survival spurs family’s first poultry project to raise backyard chickens, including building a chicken coop.
Barnyard birds like to roam around and stretch their legs.
Our lives aren’t the same anymore; not since we started raising backyard chickens. And I’m happy to report that our chicken adventures were inspired by and began right in the pages of this very magazine. In the January/February 2011 issue of GRIT, I was so inspired by the articles on chickens, I convinced my wife, Elaine, that we should make our initial foray into raising backyard birds on our 38-acre rural parcel in Botetourt County, Virginia. One of the reasons for wanting to do so is because Elaine is a recent breast cancer survivor, and she hired a nutritionist to help her discover a better diet so the odds would lessen that cancer would return.
One of the foods that the nutritionist told her to avoid was meat from animals that had been factory farmed. Besides encouraging Elaine to buy free-range or organic chickens for their meat (which we have been doing), the nutritionist also told us that those same chickens produce eggs high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which offer health benefits for cancer survivors as well as, obviously, the general public. Thus we took the plunge to begin our chicken-raising careers.
Like any new venture involving animals, much preparation had to occur before our 2-day-old chicks were to arrive.
Our first step was to visit the local Southern States Cooperative where we met the resident poultry expert, Lynn Sowers. She showed us copies of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow, and Chicken Coops, by Judy Pangman. These books greatly broadened our knowledge of chickens and gave us ideas on how to design a coop that would be just right for our backyard.
Next, it was time to start the run. I am an avid hunter and frequently pursue deer, turkeys, squirrels and other game behind our house. I have observed 13 different predators there, ranging from raptors (hawks and owls) to omnivores (raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, foxes, bears and bobcats) to the creature I feared the most in terms of attacking our chickens: minks.
Every step of the way, my foremost thought was how would those 13 predators try to access our run, and what could I do to prevent them? At least I knew how to sink posts, which is the first thing Elaine and I did, followed by stapling 1-inch hexagonal chicken wire – to hopefully exclude a mink – to each post, leaving only a space for a door.
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