Dr. Hilary Slaven
There is nothing better than waking up, walking outdoors, and collecting fresh eggs for breakfast. The contented clucking of the hens and the freshness of the food–wonderful. In recent years, we have seen a lot of clients moving toward having a chicken coop in their backyard, even in town! This is egg-citing, to say the least, and merits some discussion of how this can be a successful venture for our town clients.
Here are a few basic tips for backyard hens:
- Be sure that your town law allows for chickens inside the city limits.
- Do your research. Know the investment of cash and time involved to build and sustain your flock. Great books out there: our recommendation is Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.
- Consider purchasing a pre-made coop, or study one and build your own. Moveable housing is a good option, because it allows for chickens to be contained but also allows them to forage for food. Chickens that cannot forage can act pretty nutty! Foraging also allows for chickens to get extra nutrients from the ground.
- Chicks need warmth and a growing feed for the first few weeks of life. Many owners will keep chicks inside their home or garage until they are old enough to move to the chicken coop, usually around 6-9 weeks of age. Baby chicks need access to a heat lamp and grower feed. Look for chicks to be evenly distributed around the box — this is a sign that their body temperature is just right. If they are huddled under the heat lamp, it is too cold. If they are gathered away from the lamp, it is too warm.
- Chickens start laying eggs around 6 months of age and need to be on an egg-laying diet with supplements of calcium, such as crushed oyster shells. They also need plenty of fresh water, as each hen can drink up to 4 cups of water a day. As the hen gets older, it is normal for egg production to start to drop eventually.
- Keep your enclosure clean and dry. Changing bedding regularly keeps ammonia levels low and helps prevent respiratory troubles. It also keeps hens clean and helps prevent mites and other skin issues.
- What you feed can affect how stinky your coop becomes. When you have neighbors, this can be a significant issue. Feeding a ‘vegetarian-based’ feed can help reduce the aroma and maintain good relationships with your friends over the fence.
- Don’t crowd your coop. Too many hens in a small space can cause chickens to be unhappy. They may start picking on each other (literally), lay fewer eggs, and can be more unhealthy.
- Eggs carry Salmonella bacteria. Be cautious about allowing children to pick up eggs and play around the coop — be sure to have normal hand washing, etc.
Chickens are a lot of fun to watch and are easy to handle. This can be a very rewarding hobby for you!