So you’ve heard the tender clucking of backyard chickens in your neighborhood, and now you want some of your own.
You’re not alone. As an increasing number of rural, suburban and even urban dwellers seek to become closer to the sources of their food supplies, many are taking it beyond the simple home garden and turning to livestock. And of all the animals you can raise on your own, perhaps none are as practical and gratifying as raising backyard chickens.
Backyard coops are becoming highly popular, whether it’s a full, multi-level coop on a larger property, or just a tiny doghouse version for a city yard. And as more citizens want to raise chickens, more municipalities are building the practice into city regulations, allowing even urban residents a limited number of hens.
Home chicken coops can be a great source of fresh eggs, entertainment, meat if you’re so inclined, and a firsthand lesson about where our food comes from. Raising chickens is relatively easy, affordable, and with a little upfront work and investment, can be a fulfilling addition to your life.
All that said, getting started does require some groundwork and a little research up front. Here are some important things to consider right from the start:
What should I know about raising chickens?
Probably the first thing you should find out is if it’s legal in your city. As mentioned above, many have created regulations allowing up to 5 hens in urban areas, but you’ll need to investigate your local laws. Rogue chickens can anger the neighbors and otherwise give chicken-raising a bad name.
The next thing is to figure out how many chickens you’ll have and how much space you’ll need for them. Chickens are social animals, so you’ll want somewhere between 3-6 hens. No roosters? Nope. Many cities prohibit roosters, and hens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs on a regular basis.
Depending on size, generally allow for 2-4 square feet per hen in your coop. The coop, or hen house, is your actual housing structure where the chickens will sleep and lay eggs. Aside from the coop, you’ll want an outdoor “run” where they can mill about, peck at the ground and do cute chicken things in the daytime. Allow 4-5 square feet per hen in the run, but the more space the better.
Placement is also important. Find a dry piece of land, preferably on high ground to avoid unwanted moisture, and one that gets direct sunlight, since warmth and sun are triggers for egg-laying.
Finally, you should know that, while not especially difficult, keeping chickens is a responsibility just like keeping any animals. You’ll need to feed, water and collect eggs every day, and clean out chicken manure regularly. Make sure you’re up for it.
What are the important elements of a successful chicken coop?
As stated above, space, sun and warmth are important to a happy family of hens. But you’ll also want to keep your chicken coop dry and well ventilated, while still protecting from drafts. In the winter, you may also consider interior lighting to keep the chickens laying eggs.
Another important factor is safety. Not for you, for your chickens. Chickens, as we know, are delicious. They sleep very soundly and are choice little balls of easy meat for birds of prey, varmints and even other urban pets. They’ll need an enclosed space, and a fenced run. Consider burying fencing a foot or so below ground to keep out digging predators, and enclosing the top of the run with wire or net to prevent aerial attacks.
The coop needs to be lined with “litter,” which is typically made of wood shavings or straw a few inches deep. A coop should be outfitted with waterers (chickens have a surprisingly big thirst) and feeders, of which the hanging type keeps them from making too much of a mess. Chicken feed runs about $20 a 50-pound bag.
And for every 3-5 birds, you’ll need one nesting box in a quiet, dark corner of the coop so they can get comfortable and start laying.
What about the chickens?
While industrial farms use specially bred chickens for either meat or laying eggs, there are endless varieties of breeds you can raise. Catalanas, Cochins, Redcaps, Wyandottes, and on and on. Each with their own advantages, personalities and unique looks.
Baby chicks cost only about five bucks each, and while they lay eggs regularly for about five years, they can live up to eight or longer. So do a little research, find out what kind of chicken company you want to keep, and embark on your chicken raising. Who knows, maybe you’ll take to the ways of the home farm and pick up a few rabbits…maybe goats…how about a pig or two?