If you’re thinking of raising some chickens, but you’re not 100% committed to the idea yet, this may help you over the edge and into the coop.
- Raising chickens is a rewarding and fun hobby – most of the time.
- You’ll have fresh eggs on hand – most of the time.
- You can raise chickens just for the freezer and your family meals as well.
- You might also like to let them wander around your property to keep bug population down, aerate the soil and fertilize the grass and garden.
Your personal reasons to consider raising a flock chickens – plus your available current space – will greatly influence (a) how many chickens, and (b) how much time and space will be required.
Although it is not true of all commercially raised poultry, it has been reported that many:
- live out their lives in a computer-controlled, artificial environment. Everything – light, temperature, humidity, clean up and feeding – is geared to generate quick and efficient growth or egg production;
- are fed ’growth stimulants’ (which traces of are then passed into our own bodies), or will eat out of boredom, and;
- many commercially raised birds are packed into their cages so tightly that they can’t turn around or are raised in crowded living conditions resulting in stress.
Although many believe the striking difference in taste between commercial and home grown poultry relies solely on freshness, the ‘time to market’ is not always the culprit. An increase in awareness on commercial food packers’ care and feeding practices of live poultry, and not just the processing and distribution, has a lot to do with the quality of the end product.
The last distasteful statement isn’t made from a purely humanitarian stance. I firmly believe that an animal’s stress level affects not just the taste, but the nutrient value of the end product. We, in turn, ingest all those stress induced hormones when we consume the poultry. I have not found a study or results to prove this statement but I truly believe we’ll be seeing evidence of this in the near future.
What’s Needed to Raise Chickens
You’ll need a coop or outbuilding of some sort, plus a protected run to keep them safe from predators and extreme weather.
If you start out with young or day old birds you may also need a heat lamp until they’re well established.
The breed of chicken you get may be determined by a number of factors. Do you want egg layers, dual purpose or strictly a meat bird? If you’re raising egg layers there are a multitude of breeds to choose from. I choose the large black varieties because our hobby farm is in Northern Canada. The larger my hens are, and the more they attract the sunlight based on their color, the easier it is to keep them warm.
Wherever we’ve been located over the years however, I’ve always snooped around, talked to the locals and found out what works best for them. If you’re shy and don’t approach strangers easily, ask at the feed store.
How to Start Raising Chickens
You can start with day old chicks or started birds. If you have a country auction house nearby you can also start with birds ready to lay or be finished off for the freezer. Please don’t be startled when I say ‘finished off’ – it simply means that you put the last bit of goodness into your meat birds a few weeks before they’re put into the freezer.
If you think you might like a large flock, or have a school aged child at home, or a home schooled child who is ready to learn about egg incubation, you can also buy fertilized eggs and hatch them yourself. This is really easy and is a great lesson.
Young chicks go into the coop, under a heat lamp with food and water at all times. You should check in on them many times throughout the day and adjust the lamp height, as well as ensure that none of the chicks have drowned themselves in inadequate watering bowls, etc. The temperature required is about 95 degrees for the first week of their lives. If your barn or coop is drafty, keep the chicks in a box (wood or even a large cardboard box) to ensure they aren’t being exposed to chilly breezes.
What To Feed Chickens?
Chicken feed comes in pellets, mash, crumble or scratch grain.
Scratch grain is the cheapest but not necessarily the best feed for your chickens. It won’t provide them with all the nutrients they need to keep them in top laying performance, but can be a nice treat on occasion. Feed in the form of pellets is the easiest and least wasteful of the others, but I often use a layer’s mash as it contains a higher level of calcium for the hens (which they need in the formation of egg shells).
How About A Rooster?
I guess I forgot to mention another reason people like raising chickens in the list above. For the sheer joy of hearing that country crowing from a rooster every morning!
Nature’s alarm clock comes early.
You don’t need a rooster (you probably also don’t want to be woken up 7 days a week at daybreak).
Even if you’re raising egg layers you still don’t need a rooster to get your hens to lay.
As a matter of fact it’s better not to have a rooster for your layers.
Roosters are forever mounting the hens and can be rough on the girls.
Sometimes roosters can be overly aggressive towards humans.
And, all your farm fresh eggs will be fertilized (which actually isn’t a big deal if you’re collecting and storing your eggs in the fridge every day.
So Tell Me Again, Why Raise Chickens?
Because it’s fun (or any of the other reasons above), as well as educational. There is actually a lot more to learn about raising chickens if you’re really interested.