May
24 - 2011

Raising Backyard Chickens: What You Need To Know

The following is a fabulous guest post by Mikki Hogan! I was thrilled to read this post because our city council is considering new rules that would let us have chickens with a super-streamlined permit process … fingers crossed (and yes, I already wrote to my councilwoman!)

When I first discovered I was the new owner of a flock of chickens I nearly froze in my tracks. After all I was a city girl born and raised who knew absolutely nothing about chickens.

As the days turned into weeks I grew fonder of those feathered friends and the chore of feeding them every morning became a joy. After devastation, disguised as two dogs, destroyed all but two of my flock I wanted nothing more than to start again.

This feat was not an easy one as I learned mostly through trial and error. But as my knowledge base grew so did the wellbeing of my flock. And so I aim to share the tips I’ve learned along the way for raising healthy, happy chickens without all the mistakes!

The Coop

Believe it or not your flock begins with a coop. The coop is your chicken’s shelter and nesting area. While you’ll see many elaborate designs you don’t need to spend lots of money to provide the perfect environment. The basic needs for a coop include four walls, a floor, a roof, an entry for you and your birds, a perch and a place to lay eggs. You can build your own coop, buy one already made or convert an existing structure like a shed, large dog house or storage building.

To keep your birds dry and warm cover the floor of your coop with pine bedding. Typically you want a thick enough layer of bedding that you can’t see the wood below it. For the nesting boxes you’ll need to use wheat straw that is available at most lumber supply stores and want to have enough straw in each box for them to burrow a nest.

Choosing Chickens

When it comes to starting your flock you have three options, buy fertilized eggs to hatch, buy chicks or buy adult hens that are already laying eggs. If you plan to have free range chickens it’s best to start with eggs or baby chicks so they stay home when they start ranging around the field. While there are many attractive breeds to choose from eggs all you need for the purpose of laying are your standard chicks available at a local feed store.

When deciding how many chickens keep in mind that hens do better in flocks of 6 or more so whenever possible you should start there. Second consider the total number of eggs you’ll want to manage in a given month. Each hen will lay one egg a day so with 6 hens this will give you an average of 3 dozen eggs a week.

Food and Water

When selecting food the “brand” name doesn’t matter but the type of food does. For young chicks under 10 weeks you need Starter Feed. Then they switch over to Finisher until all their feathers have come in.

Once your last chick has all her feathers you’re ready to switch them over to regular Layer Feed mixed half and half with some Cracked Corn for free range chickens and add in Scratch Grain for penned chickens.

For real young chicks it’s best to use a covered water container to prevent drowning, however once they are large enough to stay out of the water I recommend switching to an open rubber bowl for two reasons, easier to keep clean and easy management during freezing weather. As for feeders, young chicks benefit from having a dish to easily get their food but as they grow sifting the ground for food is a natural desire. You can utilize this tendency by scattering their food along the ground.

What’s the Cost

Setting up your coop will vary greatly depending on the size, materials and manufacturer you choose. Your chicks will typically cost between $2 and $3 at a local feed store but can run higher if you buy them privately. Adult chickens typically cost $6 and are readily available privately from individuals seeking to reduce their flock size.

The average cost for a bag of chicken feed will run between $6 and $9. Cracked Corn is typically $10 a bag. If you combine your Layer Feed and Cracked Corn half and half then one bag of each should feed a flock size of 15 for a full month on one standard feed scoop a day.

Pine bedding costs $6 for a 50 cubit bag on average, though can cost more depending on where you purchase it. Wheat straw is around $3 per bundle and will last roughly three months when lining up to 7 nesting boxes.

Is It Worth It

For my flock of 26 my average monthly costs are $50 including supplies for the coop and daily food for the birds. Of my 26 birds, 20 of them are hens giving me an average of 12 dozen eggs a week. My family typically consumes an 18 pack of eggs each week, which costs us $10 at the local grocery store.

If I keep out three dozen eggs for my family that leaves me 9 dozen extra, which I can typically sell for $3 each to friends, family and neighbors who don’t have chickens. With saving $40 a month on eggs and earning an average of $100 a month from extra eggs I’d say it’s definitely worth your effort to raise a few backyard chickens of your own!

About the Author

Mikki Hogan is the publisher of TheAllergySpot.com, a website devoted to treatment for allergies. She lives in a quiet country setting with her four children and one grandchild. Among the many joys of country life, Mikki and her family have come to truly appreciate the process of raising chickens and the many benefits that come with it.

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