In Praise of Poultry
Raising one’s own chickens is nothing new; during times of questionable food security, such as during the Great Depression, and even more recently when some food supply chains were stressed from COVID-19 restrictions—self-sufficient homeowners turned to a trusted source of food—backyard eggs. As a high-quality source of protein, for many, raising chickens for their eggs just makes good sense.
Check Local Laws
While many communities allow homeowners to raise chickens in their backyards, Laura Henderson of Craig, Colorado advises those who are thinking about keeping chickens to check with the local authorities first. “Call the local zoning authority.” Henderson suggests, “They can tell you if keeping chickens is permitted and whether you’ll need a permit. Some communities limit the number of chicken you can keep if you live in town, and others might not let you keep a rooster because early morning crowing doesn’t always make for happy neighbors.”
One of the first things Laura Henderson learned when she started raising chickens is that they produce fewer eggs during certain seasons. “A friend who lives in the country gave me five hens just before Christmas a few years ago, but for the first three months, I was lucky to get one egg every other day.” Henderson said. “Once spring arrived, however, they started laying like crazy, and some days I would get a dozen eggs or more.” She found out that hens tend to lay more eggs when the days are longer.
You Don’t Need a Rooster
Until Beth Thompson of Tulsa, Oklahoma started raising chickens in her backyard, she thought she’d need a rooster in order for her chickens to lay eggs. “I purchased six baby chicks from the feed and seed store and as they grew, it became obvious one was a rooster.” Thompson said. “I had to rehome the rooster to a farm in the country, because roosters aren’t allowed where I live, but hens don’t need a rooster around in order to lay eggs.” She said. “When my hens got about six months old, they started laying eggs.”
Mix it Up
When Beth Thompson added another chicken to her backyard coop, she opted for a fancy chicken. “My first chickens were all white leghorns, the common kind you see everywhere,” she said. “But, I’d been looking though poultry magazines and seeing the most beautiful chickens. I wanted to add a little color to the brood, so I bought an Ameraucana hen. She has beautiful gold and brown feathers, but even more interesting is that she lays blue eggs.” Thomson added that the shell color didn’t change the taste of the egg. “They taste just as good as the other eggs.”
Be Ready to Doctor Your Chickens
As long as chickens are fed a nutritious diet, they’re usually pretty healthy, but Linda Hime of McPherson, Kansas advises new chicken owners to keep a stock of chicken-tending supplies on hand. “Always have everything you need to doctor your chickens quickly if they get hurt or ill.” Those supplies might include antibiotic ointment, gauze, dog nail clippers (for beaks and nails, electrolytes (for dehydration), and any other medications and ointment recommended by your veterinarian. “Most of all, have gloves—you will need them,” Hime told us.
Watch for Vent Prolapse
A chicken’s oviduct (where the egg comes out) may prolapse or bulge outward if she passes a very large egg or she suffers from a nutritional deficiency. Linda Hime is currently treating one of her hens for vent prolapse by bringing her indoors daily and letting her soak in “nice, warm water” before gently cleansing the area with a mild antibacterial soap and applying some Preparation H and Vetericyn (available on Amazon). She explains to new chicken owners that recovery from a vent prolapse can take time so being consistent with the treatment is vital.
Feed Them Right
A lack of calcium in your chickens’ diet can lead to thin shells on the eggs they lay and to other physical problems. Marina Jade Kistler of Lindsborg, Kansas feeds her chickens Grubblies. “It’s supposed to help their eggshells be stronger,” Kistler said, “and it has made their feathers so soft!” Kistler’s chickens are pretty lucky: they also frequently enjoy fresh fruits and veggies.
A Doghouse Can Double as a Coop
Investing in a large chicken coop setup can cost a few thousand dollars, but Ann Taylor of Lindsborg, Kansas suggests using dog houses with straw inside if you’re new to raising chickens and don’t have a lot of money to spend. “That what the farmer who sold my chickens to me recommended,” Taylor said. “He had nine or ten medium-size doghouses in his chicken pen and he had installed small, hinged doors on the back side of each where he could reach in and collect the eggs.”
Keep it Clean
No matter what size chicken coop you end up with, for the healthiest hens, Ann Taylor advises keeping it clean. “Clear out the old hay at least once every two weeks and put in clean dry hay,” Taylor said. “Keeping the coop clean will reduce the risk of diseases and parasites.” Taylor also rakes up the chickens’ droppings from the chicken yard. “I put the droppings in my compost pile to compost and then I use the compost to fertilize my vegetable plants,” she said. “It’s the best fertilizer and it’s a way of recycling.”
Cover the Chicken Yard
Within two months of getting her chickens, Ann Taylor lost one to a hawk that swooped down into the chicken yard, picked it up and flew away. “I had built the sides of the chicken yard 6 feet high to make sure no dog could jump in and get the chickens, but I didn’t even think about a hawk getting them.” Taylor immediately installed chicken wire over the top of the chicken yard to prevent a recurrence.
Use Nesting Boxes
After her hens started laying in the spring, Laura Henderson was surprised to find two eggs in the chickens’ feed trough. “I guess the hen was looking for a place to lay her eggs and it probably seemed as good a place as any,” Henderson said. “If you find eggs where they shouldn’t be, pick them up and put them in a nesting box.” Nesting boxes are simple crates located in the chicken coop, measuring about 12 inches by 12 inches square and about 12 inches high with an open top. Each hen should have her own nesting box that’s filled half-way with hay. “Hens like laying eggs by other eggs, so putting them in a nesting box will encourage them to lay their eggs there.”
Network with Others
When Laura Henderson first started raising chickens, she had a number of questions, so she went online and discovered BackYard Chickens, a forum where she could network with other chicken owners and get her questions answered. “I used to be the one who asked all the questions,” she said, “but now, I’ve learned quite a bit and I enjoy helping others get started raising chickens of their own.” Henderson also shared that people who raise chickens seem more than willing to help others who are just starting out. “We’re like a big family," she said.
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