Raising Backyard Chickens

Cancer survival spurs family’s first poultry project to raise backyard chickens, including building a chicken coop.

| January/February 2012

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.

Getting started

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.

5/11/2015 10:30:48 AM

We use dog kennel panels that we found on Craigslist. Probably more expensive than some other methods, but if put together properly, they will last for years with little or no maintenance. We buy the 6 foot tall panels and keep the runs at 6 feet wide. This allows us to buy the lighter weight 6 foot chain link for the top of the run. In our area anyway, anything over 6 foot, say 8 or 10 foot, is a much heavier "fabric", and the top becomes much more of a chore. We also fund that adding a cross brace every 4 feet or so, not only nicely supports the chain link fabric across the top, but allows for the installation of a shade cloth. Just remember to remove the shade cloth before the snow flies.

5/11/2015 8:05:20 AM

I share with anybody who raises poultry to follow these simple guidelines to ensure success: 1. Make certain there is ample room inside the barn. I have several roosters who all get along perfectly as a result of plenty of space. If the space is too small, problems ensue for hens and rooters. Due to confined space in industrial egg/meat production facilities, all chickens have their beaks cut-off, 2. Allow the flock to free range. Yes, I occasionally lose one due to hawks, but that's the circle of life and the chickens quickly learn how to take defensive measures. Roosters are essential for protection. 3. Make sure your birds remain parasite free. Every six months whether they need it or not, I use IVOMEC Drench for Sheep. Why Ivomec? It's effective against ALL internal and external parasites except tape worms. It's easy to administer with 13ml per liter. It's VERY SAFE and virtually impossible to over-use. ALWAYS use the full amount otherwise you will breed parasites resistant to this amazing medication. 4. For simplicity, I use an automatic door opener.

9/22/2014 9:12:11 AM

We started raising chickens this spring. It started as an experiment with 10 production broilers. I wanted to see if chicken raising would work for us. I had a similar experience with straight run chicks. We cannot have roosters here in 1/5 acre in a small city subdivision, but I have 18 hens. 7 we purchased as adults from a livestock auction and the other 11 are a mix of australorps, barred rocks, and Ameraucanas. I would not recommend processing chickens if you do not have some type of mechanical plucker or a LOT of man-power. I learned very quickly that plucking chickens in 100 degree heat is as close to hell as I ever care to get. Plucking by hand is tedious, time consuming and labor intensive.

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