Chickens are growing in popularity from the urban or city chicken to the standard country farmer. Raising chickens is a great pastime for all ages. Learn the difference between the breeds – laying hens and meat birds – as well as the dual purpose breeds.
"My friend Anna is afraid of chickens. Of course she doesn’t seem to mind eating the eggs or roast chicken dinners…" – Laura Childs
Except for my friend Anna, it seems like raising chickens, ’round these parts’ anyway, are a woman’s preference. Women like eating chicken and other poultry more than men and for the most part we enjoy watching and raising chickens more than the men. That’s not to say men don’t enjoy raising or eating chickens, they’re just less likely to choose one as a pet or hobby.
Is there a psychological connection? Perhaps. As women we can truly appreciate a chicken’s diverse set of gifts to the world – providing eggs, meat, aeration and fertilization to the garden, weed pulling and bug-eating. Chickens juggle as many jobs and responsibilities with as much purpose as many humans do.
It wasn’t long after I made such a statement – regarding men vs. women in the world of farming – that a few men told me I was mistaken and that they enjoyed caring for, raising and watching chickens as much as any woman. After lengthly conversation, I discovered that most of those men were also diverse creatures with many talents and gifts themselves. Maybe it is the mentally active person then, that can appreciate the diversity of the chicken while enjoying the simplicity at which they go through life.
Keeping A Small Backyard Flock of Chickens
Country Chickens – In the Coop or for the Backyard
On larger country lots, or in more rural areas, people keep two distinct flocks of chickens – one flock of hens for egg production and another flock of mixed sex for meat. The egg layers adorn our property for 3 years while the meat birds come just for a three to four warm months. We raise them this way based on breed. While some of the domestic breeds excel at providing an egg daily, others grow larger in less time and provide lots of meat for the freezer. Some breeds are labeled as dual-purpose and make an excellent choice for those looking for a more sustainable agriculture.
One Specialty – The Bantam
Chickens come in all colors and sizes to suit a wide variety of uses and tastes.
For the past three years I have loved my Bantam chickens best. They’re a small bird with a lot of personality (for a chicken). Bantam roosters are seldom mean to humans, yet they are fiercely protective of their flock against wild predators and even large family dogs. The hens are prolific layers and brooders (they’ll even attempt to hatch a ping pong ball), and their butchered size is just perfect for dinner for one (cornish hen style).
City Backyard Chickens
All over the internet now you can read stories about people raising chickens even on the smallest of city lots. It is no longer uncommon for an urban family to keep a small flock of city chickens for their family’s supply of nutritious home-grown eggs. When this first became a popular option many city ordinances and by-laws were reassessed, causing a few court cases from neighbors who weren’t impressed with roosters waking them at 4 a.m. or the smell of a chicken coop wafting over the backyard fence. Times are changing. Many large cities now allow backyard chicken coops.
Ordering Chickens for the Backyard Flock
When ordering meat birds many people will specify roosters only and as a result will pay a higher price per chick. I once took this route but in the last few years I take a mix of both sexes. I find that the flock gets along better and if I have to keep my birds around a bit longer than expected I don’t have fights breaking out. I also don’t have to worry about my boys over-sizing (and dying prematurely). Because I kill and prepare my own birds for the freezer, it works out well. I kill the largest birds first, five or six in an afternoon, giving the smaller birds more room and time to grow.
Feeding Chickens and Other Poultry
There is minimal difference in care (other than the actual feed you buy) for chickens versus turkeys or other poultry (ducks, geese, pheasants).
Here’s a few basic principles to follow when keeping birds of any sort:
- Begin with quality bird stock purchased from a local hatchery, poultry supplier or mail order.
- Give your birds room to roam outside as well as shelter from the elements and predators.
- Feed them a store-bought feed designed for the purpose of egg production or quick and healthy weight gain. Supplement their diets with as much natural food as possible (let them eat a free range diet in the summer and give them your table scraps year round). If you don’t let them wander through your garden, collect any of the trim or waste from garden fruits and vegetables and give it to them. (Potato peelings are the exception. They will eat and enjoy just about everything else.)
- Clean out the chicken coop the moment you smell it. How often will depend on how many birds you keep in the coop space. This summer I had to clean out the meat chickens coop daily for two weeks.
- Thoroughly sterilize and clean the chicken coop twice per year. Chickens can become infested with lice easily. Age the chicken manure in your compost heap for one full year, then add it to your garden soil.
- Sell or freeze (not in the shell) any excess eggs. Gently whip them, add a pinch of salt and freeze for up to six months to use in baking or for scrambled egg breakfasts.
- Don’t feed meat birds any longer than necessary. Once they’ve reached their maximum or expected size, butcher them yourself and can or freeze the meat. Overfed chickens turns to fat which you can’t eat anyway, plus fat collects on the heart first which quickly lessens the quality of life and stresses your bird.