All About Raising Chickens

By Ellen Roberts

Raising chickens is something I have been doing for my whole life. It’s not only for eggs and food, but for fun. Raising chickens for egg laying is mostly very easy. The major challenge is protecting backyard chickens from predators such as rats.

Since the turnover for chickens is only 10-12 weeks, you can get lovely meat and eggs in no time. It’s a good way of earning some quick bucks. The birds eat grain, seeds and grasses, so it doesn’t take a lot of work to care for and can provide a great educational experience for your children, too. Chickens or other birds that are raised for their eggs and meat is normally a popular family and business activity almost everywhere in the world.

For urban farmers, raising chickens is becoming more and more popular. Many people are realizing that the difference between pasture raised chicken meat and eggs and those from large confinement operations is similar to the difference between fresh seasonal heirloom tomatoes, and those picked green, ripened with ethanol, and shipped across the country. Taking care of chickens teaches more than animal husbandry. It’s a hands-on chance to learn the character- and community-building principles and practices that 4-H is all about. Raising chickens yields far more than just fresh eggs and you don’t have to live on a farm to do it! This event will give you a chance to find out about resources related to raising chickens in our area and hear from knowledgeable local chicken owners.

Caring For The Chickens

In the morning, chickens depart the coops and when the critter proof doors are opened and return in the evening on their own, after which you simply close them in. Stress free living, benefits the chickens, which results in fewer losses due to illness as well as exponentially greater resistance to pathogens and poultry specific diseases. Chickens are great creatures to spend a little time with and they really are useful. You need a baby chick to teach the young turks how to find their food and water.

They need between one and two square foot each in their chicken coop and between two to four feet each in their chicken run. Bantams need less space and the larger breeds need more, so the size of your hens does matter. Chickens make great pets, and depending on the breed they also are great egg layers. Of course, you can also raise them for meat. Chickens are surprisingly low maintenance. It may seem weird to keep chickens at first but once I got chickens it doesn’t seem weird at all.

Chickens are naturally cannibalistic and they peck at each other. Once a bird starts bleeding they all jump in and may kill her. But they are smart, funny and a bundle of curious instincts. It’s no wonder that so many chicken terms such as “pecking order” and “coming home to roost” have found their way into our everyday language. Chickens are very vulnerable to predators. Even in the city, loose dogs, cats, racoons, rats, opossum, hawks, owls, even foxes and coyotes are a danger to your backyard flock.

Chickens can tolerate pretty low temperatures. But no matter where you live, you should have a house part of your coop where the chickens can go to escape the weather. Chickens need access to the outside, too. They need to be able to scratch in the dirt and look for insects. Chick starter should be fed for the first 6 weeks. Then you can mix the started with a “developer” feed until they are 20-weeks of age.

Feed For Chickens

Feed comes in 3 forms: mash, crumbles and pellets. Mash is powdery, just as it sounds. Feedstuffs can also be analyzed in a laboratory for nutrient make-up. Poultry nutritionists or Extension agents can provide help in ration-balancing. Feed the chicks a commercial “chick starter” (18% protein) feed which you can purchase from your local feed store. I like to keep them on this for the first 4-6 weeks and gradually add other grains like cracked corn, wheat, oats.

Egg Laying

Eggs were a staple in the diet and the flock must continue to procreate. Eggs have to be found if your chickens are free range, and having a daily egg hunt can get old in a hurry. They will find somewhere else to lay as soon as you find their nest. I would encourage you to provide your birds with a good secure coop and fenced area to keep them safe from dogs etc. Egg production really drops off during winter, but from keeping chickens you will learn why we have Easter Eggs, because they go nuts laying in the spring.