Before we discuss the how of raising backyard chickens in the city, suburbs or even the homestead, we need to take a look at the why. Why would you take up space in your yard or homestead for silly flightless birds that poop a lot – even if local city code allows it?
You can raise chickens for eggs as well as meat at a significant savings from what it would cost at the grocery store. Depending on the breed of chicken that you choose, each hen will lay around five eggs a week. Which means that a backyard flock of five chickens will average 100 eggs in a month. But there is more to chickens than just the eggs. Chicken meat is delicious and quite versatile.
Having hens roaming your yard is also good for keeping bugs under control. (In the city, this will require a fence.) They eat the insects and their larva, which keeps those creepy crawlies out of your hair.
They also help mend your soil. Their droppings are nitrogen rich and can add an essential nutrient to the dirt. Make sure to keep an eye on it, however, because chicken manure is so rich in nitrogen that it can eat away good garden material if it doesn’t have enough carbon to balance it out.
If you have ever seen a flock of hens browsing around your yard, you know they can be quite entertaining. They peck through the grass and soil, and then when one of them finds a yummy worm they all chase her around so each one can get a piece.
Most children, and adults for that matter, never stop to consider where their food comes from. Keeping backyard chickens is a way of bringing fresh food to your table – and educating your family. It’s also a lot of fun to gather your own eggs before heading to the breakfast table.
Now onto the “how.” An increasing number of cities are allowing residents to keep chickens, which don’t need a lot of space and are relatively quiet (provided there is no rooster).
Chickens have a relatively simple diet and even can free-range your yard. For the simplest way to feed your chickens, you can head to your local farm and garden store for a bag of chick start or lay mash. You also can put your girls to work on your compost pile. They can eat lots of table scraps and will pick over the things they can’t tolerate. You can also grow your own fodder, such as barley or wheat. (Learn how here.) The fodder can be used as a supplement to their existing diet or as their primary source of nutrition.
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Hens have very simple shelter needs. They need enough room to roost, nest and stretch their wings. As a general rule when you are choosing or building a shelter for your flock, each hen or rooster needs about three-square feet of coop and run. Keeping your flock warm in the winter and cool in the summer is also something to keep in mind depending on your climate. Everyone has their own ways of getting their flock through harsh weather, and a great way to get more information is to ask other local chicken keepers about their strategy.
Chicken, like any other form of livestock, will most likely get sick or injured at some point in their life. Whether it is a run-in with a predator or a simple case of bumblefoot, you will probably have to apply a certain amount of first aid to your flock. Make sure you keep the basics on hand such as alcohol, iodine and non-stick gauze. You might also consider adding things like probiotics, painkillers and small T-shirts (used to restrict the bird’s movement during treatment). (Read more about chicken first-aid here.)
For the most part, chickens will take care of their own hygiene. However, there are times when you might need to step in, especially when they are young. Very young chicks will often get “pasty butt,” which is when droppings get caught in their fine feathers and crust up around their bottoms. If this isn’t properly taken care of, it can cause serious illness. Once the chicks have all their feathers, they will begin to wallow. Wallowing is like a chicken bath. They will scratch a little whole in a dirt pile and begin throwing the dirt every which way. The point of all that, other than being incredibly entertaining for the farmer, is getting dirt next to their skin and between their feathers to get rid of any unwanted moisture or oils.
Chickens are easy to care for, entertaining and can often provide your family with great quality produce for half the price.
What homestead or suburban chicken advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: