Raising Your Own Backyard Chickens: The Basics
As more people become concerned with where there food is coming from, backyard chickens have been exploding in popularity. We started raising our own chickens after watching the documentary Food, Inc. Needless to say it changed our lives and the way we look at our food.. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
Chickens are the easiest farm animals to keep. The benefits far out weight any drawbacks. As awesome as the family dog or cat is, they will never produce anything you can eat. Below are some of the incredible benefits of raising chickens.
Fresh Eggs – Fresh eggs anytime is the biggest reason for raising chickens. With raising your own chickens, you are aware of what they eat and how they are cared for. Your homegrown eggs will be larger than store bought eggs. Your yolk will be more bright orange than the usual yellow of the store bought variety which is reflection of the chickens more natural nutritional diet and the taste is incredible. Personally, I use to slather ketchup over my eggs and didn’t think much of them. Now a simple fried egg with a little salt and pepper is the best breakfast ever!
Fact: The average grocery store egg is already 30+ days old by the time you buy it. It’s washed in bleach and the chickens are not well fed or well cared for.
Productive laying hens will produce 3 to 5 eggs each week with the highest yield during summer months. With shorter days during winter, egg production will drop back or stop. To keep your kitchen in fresh eggs, it’s recommended to have at least one hen for every member of the family.
To see how our flock is laying, check out our Egg Production Log.
Pest & Weed Control – Having chickens in your yard is great pest control. They love bugs of all kinds and are natural foragers. 70% of our chickens diet comes from bugs and weeds. Another big source of food is kitchen scraps! They are literally cute mobile garage disposals. They eat anything from breads, grains, salad scraps, apple cores and even cooked meats. We leave a bowl on our counter top, fill it up over a day or two and bring it out to them. Additionally we do offer pellet feed but when we run out they can easily go a week or more without it, foraging off the land and our scraps.
Watch your garden! They will eat most vegetation so you want to make sure they don’t have access to your garden or flower beds. In the spring, place your chickens in the garden area to get it ready for planting. Their pecking and scratching helps rid your garden of weed seeds and grubs while loosening the topsoil.
Fertilizer – Chicken manure makes a good fertilizer for vegetables, trees, flowers or fruit. We allow our chickens to free range in the orchard. This allows to not only fertilize the our fruit trees but devour any excess falling fruit. Chicken manure is also a great for gardens. Simply mix it with your soil in early spring to prepare your garden beds.
Pets – Chickens are excellent pets. Breeds like the Cochins, Orpingtons or Silkies are good for this. Buff Orpingtons are my personal favorite. They are incredibly friendly and are good layers. Chickens are also great way to teach young kids responsibility as well as the cycle of life.
Meat – Like eggs, raising your own chickens will provide a healthier, tastier food source if you choose. You can use roosters or hens for meat. Your best choice for meat chickens is Orpingtons and Plymouth Rocks.
We’ve culled some of ours (retired layers) and while it is very different; I was surprised to find the process is much easier, quicker, and cleaner than I ever thought it would be. A few minutes into processing a hen, it looks like something you’d find at the grocery store. If you are not comfortable with the killing & processing, like me, you can always offer share your raised meat chickens with someone else in exchange for them handling that aspect.
Smell, Noise & Sex – Smell isn’t a problem if you care for them properly and keep your chicken coop clean. Noise is an issue if you have roosters; hens cluck and squawk but are much quieter. Some breeds are quieter than others. You don’t need a rooster in the flock since hens will lay eggs without one. You only need a rooster if you plan to hatch your own chicks of for general flock protection. Sex won’t happen if you don’t have a rooster. If you do, it can be rough and rowdy but thankfully it’s usually not loud and doesn’t last too long. Another potential life lesson for the kids perhaps.
Eggs – While nothing beats a fresh egg, they do require some work. Eggs must be gathered often; no more than every other day. If you don’t gather eggs regularly, the hens will not produce more; they will nest instead. Or if they are bored or under fed they will break the eggs and eat them. This makes for a hard habit to break, especially if you don’t know who the culprit is. Adding dried egg shells back into their diet gives them the extra calcium to build strong eggs as well curb this urge.
Zoning – Before you start buying chicken supplies and the chicks, you need to check with your city or region. Your city may not allow farm animals in residential areas or you might need a special permit. If your city does allow chickens, then there will be a maximum number you’re allowed to keep. Each area may or may not allow roosters. We haven’t had any complaints from our neighbors against our flock of 18, it helps that we pass along surplus eggs. 🙂
Source – Finding a source for chickens is easy unless you are looking for more rare breeds. Start by checking with any farm stores in or near your city. You can also look on Craigslist, and the local want ads. Ordering by mail is an option, but we don’t recommend it simply because we feel living creatures shouldn’t be put in the mail. Others may disagree but it’s been our experience that there’s always plenty of breeds up for grabs at the local pet stores.
Once you decide to raise chickens, the next step is building or buying a coop. Even if your chickens free-range, I recommend building where they can nest and take cover in inclement weather. Chickens can overheat in a hot weather rather quickly so having a shady retreat is essential. Chicken coops are easy to build and fairly inexpensive. Additionally, they are available used on Craigslist and often available for free. We built ours with used lumber and attached a chain link dog run to it. We also added additional security measures to the coop to prevent predictors from gaining access.
Backyard chicken farming is a great introduction to raising livestock for people with limited experience. Chickens are easy to care for and need minimal space. They are such a joy and beautiful to watch.
Stay tuned for our upcoming posts! Hatching and Raising New Chicks, Introduction to Our Coop, Predator Proofing and Chicken Supplies: What You Need to Get Started!