Raising Backyard Chickens, by Kevin T.

The following are some of my suggestions on backyard poultry flocks, based on my experience:

Before you take possession of your birds consider where you will keep your flock. A backyard can work just fine, if your local zoning abides it. If you are going to let your birds roam outside their coop then you will need to fence your yard in to keep the birds in and four legged predators out. Fencing can be as simple and as aesthetically pleasing as you want. If you have an existing solid fence you are in luck. If you do not have any fence in place, consider the cost and what you have available. Wire fence comes in many forms. Typical rural fence, sold as “pig” fence which keeps large livestock in their pastures could work if you put chicken wire along the bottom to keep your birds in. If you are starting from scratch you could use 48 inch chicken wire and T-posts every eight feet or so. Some folks prefer to use an electric fence to keep the birds in and the pests out. Don’t forget a gate so you can get in and out with your wheelbarrow. I have found wire, posts and gates at yard sales and farm auctions.

Next you must consider what you will house your birds in. Take into account how many chickens you want to start with. I would recommend an even dozen to start. There are plenty of designs out there to facilitate a small backyard laying house. Another method is a “chicken tractor’ which is a large cage on wheels. The idea is that the birds are free ranging inside the pen and the pen can be moved around inside your property to keep the grass fresh. Things to consider are ease of cleaning and egg collecting. Some designs have a mesh floor raised off the ground so you can scoop up the future compost without going inside the building. There are designs with the laying nests accessible from the outside, so you don’t have to go in the coop to retrieve your eggs.

Chickens do poop and you need to clean it up promptly to keep the smell and the flies down. Also what are you going to do with the end results? Will the garbage man take it away? Can you compost the litter for your garden?  The litter makes excellent compost but there is a bit of a smell that may cause a problem in the urban environment.
Also you will need to consider what bedding to use. You will need to cover the floor with something to collect the waste. I use wheat straw since I compost the litter. In the past I have used wood shavings with good results, but consider how the wood chips might affect your garden.

To keep the flies at bay a proactive approach is best. I try to keep the coop clean by cleaning out the litter every week. Some flies will hatch though so to get the varmints I hang glue strip fly catchers inside the coop. Just hang them from the ceiling where the chicks can’t get caught in the sticky tape and the tape won’t catch you. You may need to replace them during the fly season as the tape fills up. Also the flies can be trapped using the stinky bait method. You can purchase the bait and trap from your local store. It is usually a plastic jug half filled with fly bait and hung around the coop where flies congregate. Once the trap is filled it can be disposed of or emptied, refilled and reused.

You will need some basic tools. A pitchfork, a flat shovel and a yard rake are the bare essentials. If you go with a bigger coop and a larger flock you will find that a wheelbarrow is essential to haul the litter and the straw bales or wood chips.

Now that you have a fenced in place for the chickens to run and a coop to protect them you need to select your birds. You can order live chicks from any mail order bird supplier and pick them up at the post office. The local agricultural supply outlets usually order chicks and birds in the spring. As a new birder I would recommend you start with grown birds. The mortality rate for the baby chicks can be high and if you start with the grown birds you will be ahead until you have some experience raising birds. Look on Craigslist under Farm and Garden for birds in your area. You can also look for a local sale barn or poultry swap meets in your area. There are merits for the various breeds and they all have their supporters. Heritage breeds are becoming more popular and are a way to preserve history right in your own backyard. The idea is to keep the genetics of the old time birds from going extinct. Look on the internet for ideas for different colorful breeds. I would recommend starting out with hens only. The flock of hens will provide you with unfertilized eggs and be much quieter than a flock with a rooster. The rooster will crow at all hours, day and night and the neighbors may not appreciate the noise. You can branch out into trying to raise chicks at a later time if you so desire.

You have to feed and water your fine feathered friends. Any agriculture supply store will have laying feed for your chickens. You will also need to offer crushed oyster shells and cherry stone to your birds. The cherry stone goes in their gizzard to grind their food and the oyster shells provides calcium and gives the eggs a tough shell. You will also need a place to store your grain. I buy chicken feed in 50 pound sacks and store it in blue barrels with lids in my garage. The bigger the barrel the more feed you can store.
I hang my feeders and self waterers about eight inches off the floor using light weight chains. You can buy the feeders and waterers at the ag store or the net. The birds will eat lots of feed and drink plenty of water, especially in hot weather. For the cold weather there are insulated and heated water containers so the birds can always get a drink. Keep the waterers clean by frequently spraying them out with a water hose. Algae may grow inside the plastic waterer, so add a drop of bleach and let it go to work by setting the waterer in a secure place where the chicks can’t get to it. In a few hours rinse the waterer thoroughly and set it back up in the pen.

Other things to consider. The chicken coop should be locked at night to keep the predators out. Tragedy can be averted by keeping your coop locked up tight at night. My coop has a small chicken sized door that is locked open during the day for the girls to have free access and has a hasp with a spring loaded snap to keep Mr. Raccoon out at night. Ventilation is provided by two doors on opposite sides covered with chicken wire and securely closed at all times. In cold weather there are solid doors to keep the snow out and are wired open in good weather.

Once you have your flock established in their coop you can sit back and watch the eggs roll in. You should check for eggs in the morning, when you refill the feeders and check the water, and in the evening before you lock them up for the night. You may want to check more often in the warmer months. Our eggs go straight into the fridge and once a day the chief egg washer cleans them up and puts them in the carton. Eggs have a natural oil on them that protects the inside. If the eggs are clean you can hold off washing them until ready for use and they will last longer. Cartons are another matter. You can have family and friends save egg cartons for you to get started, or you could buy a gross of cartons from a retailer. Be sure and get the bigger sized cartons so the lid will close over the eggs. Some of our girls lay monster sized eggs. Cartons can be reused several times until being sent to the recycle bin. If you have enough eggs for your own consumption you might consider giving them away or trading or selling them. Check your local laws for the rules on selling eggs in your area.   

This is a short list to get you started. Use your local County Extension office, library and the Internet for resources to get more information. Chickens are easy and rewarding to raise. They don’t take lots of room or time, and they provide eggs for the table. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money to get started. Of course you need to check local zoning and have good relations with the neighbors to make sure you can raise a flock where you are. Good "Cluck" with your birds.