Getting Started with Backyard Poultry

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If you’re thinking about getting started with backyard poultry you’re not alone. Thousands of people across the country are starting their very own backyard flock and you can too!

There are many advantages of having your very own backyard flock, and you no longer have to live on a farm to enjoy these benefits. Chickens provide families with fresh, nutritious eggs. Chicken manure is a valuable addition to your compost bin and adds needed nutrients to your garden’s soil. Chickens also help reduce your household food waste, because they eat a variety of table scraps. They also eat insects helping to reduce your backyard insect population. While it may be surprising to some, chickens make great pets!  In fact, they are amusing to watch and bring enjoyment to the whole family!

The first thing most people think of when starting a backyard flock is the loud crow of a rooster at daybreak every morning. Well, I have good news for you. You don’t need a rooster to have fresh, nutritious eggs. You only need a rooster if you want little baby chicks running around the backyard.  In fact, the hens may actually lay better if there is no rooster around to disrupt their routine.

The second thing people think of when starting a backyard flock is the odor. Yes, chickens can stink if not properly taken care of, just like any other animal including dogs, cats, rabbits, and hamsters. Proper maintenance can significantly reduce, and even eliminate the odor caused by keeping backyard poultry. It all comes down to responsible pet ownership. Now that we disproved the top two myths regarding the keeping of backyard poultry, let’s get started!

So what’s the first step before you start your journey of keeping backyard poultry? First, you need to check your local laws to see if keeping backyard poultry is allowed. You will not only need to check the county and city laws, but also your neighborhood covenants if you have a homeowners association. Many cities across the country are changing their laws to allow their residents to keep a few hens in their backyard. If backyard poultry is allowed, you then need to spend some time reading and researching what cost and care requirements you should expect when keeping backyard poultry. Then, you need to decide if you’re going to hatch your own baby chicks, purchase them from a local farm or breeder, or order them from one of the many national hatcheries. This will determine what equipment you will need to get started.

Hatching baby chicks from an incubator is fun and educational for the whole family. I highly recommend it for anyone with children. Though hatching eggs from an incubator has its occasional challenges, it’s well worth it.

Just as we try to buy our fresh produce locally, buying your fertilized hatching eggs, or baby chicks locally can become a fun day trip. The wealth of information you can get from the local farmer or breeder can be priceless and may also save you time and money.

Many purchase day old baby chicks from hatcheries all across the nation. They are delivered directly to your local post office for pick up. The baby chicks can survive up to three days from the nutrition they receive while inside the egg before they hatch. This allows shipment to almost all locations across the country. One advantage from ordering your day old baby chicks from a national hatchery is they will sex the baby chicks for you. If you don’t want any roosters, you want to purchase pullets, female chicks, rather than cockerels, male chicks.

Once you have your baby chicks they will need a special home for the first few weeks called a brooder. The main purpose of a brooder is to keep the baby chicks warm and dry. Brooders can easily be made from almost anything. Many use an old cardboard box, while some use their bathtub. I prefer a 45 gallon Rubbermaid bin for the average homeowner, but the GQF Poultry Box Brooder is a gem! Baby chicks also require a heat source in the brooder. A light bulb or heat lamp can provide sufficient heat.  An important note is to allow the baby chicks to self regulate their temperature as needed by providing them with enough space in the brooder to move close to or away from the heat source. There are many choices for brooder bedding, but cedar shavings should NEVER be used.

Depending on the temperature the chicks will be ready to go outside at around six weeks old. This brings us to our next topic, the chicken coop. Just like a brooder, a chicken coop can be as simple or as extravagant as you want it to be. I have kept many chickens using just a large breed plastic dog house. Though coops designed for chickens are more user friendly, the design of the coop should not make much difference in the number of eggs you get from your backyard flock. The coop and run need to provide  a fresh supply of water, dry source of food, shelter, and protection from predators.

Chickens have many predators. I always tell people that there will always be something that will love your chickens more than you do. You will need to protect your chickens from predators that come from above and below. The more common predators you will encounter from above include hawks and owls. Any type of netting across the top of your coop, and run area can solve this problem easily. Predators from ground level or below include raccoons, opossums, weasels, foxes, and even neighborhood dogs and cats. Hardware cloth attached around and below the coop works well for some, but a good strong fence buried about a foot deep is another option to deter digging predators. Some even burry old roofing tin about a foot deep around the chicken pen to keep digging predators out.

Once you have your coop and run established keeping backyard poultry can be fun and rewarding with minimal work. Owner’s responsibilities include keeping a constant supply of feed and water, gathering eggs daily, and cleaning the coop and run as needed.

If you have ever thought about starting a backyard flock of chickens there is no better time than the present to join thousands of others that are enjoying the benefits of keeping a small backyard flock.

Please visit the Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer blog often because I will be starting an educational series called “Chicks are Easy”. This also happens to be the title of my book I hope to release this fall. I just hope the title does not make the book find it’s way into the “Relationships” section of the book store! Thanks for stopping by!

Chicken Whisperer

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