Getting Started Raising Chickens – Student Post by Kevin
Chickens are becoming more expensive to keep with higher grain and building material costs, but still pay off in terms of benefits to the land and adjoining systems of vegetable production or human food waste disposal. This is to say that chickens fill many niches in at least these two steps in the food supply chain, and with city ordinances in many places being modified to permit small flocks, even city dwellers can find a chicken situation to fits their needs. While these ordinances might limit flock size to a half dozen, prohibit roosters, and outlaw home slaughter, there is still room within them for production at a scale that far surpasses the needs of an individual family. Joel Salatin, a well known farmer and founder of Polyface Farm has said that chickens are even great role models for our kids – they get up early and always stay busy.
Some of the other benefits to chickens aside from eggs and meat include their nutrient rich manure, pest and parasite control benefits, and companionship. Once you’ve decided you can’t wait any longer, evaluate your space and decide which flock size and type best fits your needs, while considering the limitations of your space. Once you have a size and type in mind, you can figure out what parameters your shelter or coop will have to meet, and you can decide on a design that fits your flocks needs, your style, and your budget. Once the coop is built and the chickens have settled in, it really takes minimal work to keep them happy and productive. There are a number of resources on the web that provide simple, cost effective coop designs to get you started. These include: Backyard Chickens is a great site, with a lot of useful ideas. And there is a resource page on Beginning Farmers that has links to lots of other great sites.
When considering a flock for ether a household or farm operation, the breed of bird will be important. The variety of laying hens available can be staggering at first, but deciding on birds becomes quite fun after a small amount of research. Again, the Beginning Farmers site, has lots of resources that may be helpful. Heritage breeds like Barred Rocks are popular with any size operation these days with their dual purpose capability, cold heartiness, foraging abilities, and friendliness.
More important than breed selection is shelter and the ability to properly and humanely care for your flock once you have them. Farmers will tell you that having too many birds to shelter can cause an emergency if really bad weather takes you by surprise. I have more free space than most backyard birders, so my A-frame coop serves as a bedroom for the hens as it moves around the property. Coops can be very simple for a smaller flock with only one or two nesting boxes to give the hens somewhere secure to lay their eggs. Simply enough area to squeeze in and stay dry and out of the wind is enough to keep hens alive thru the worst winds or biting cold winter nights. Anyone will tell you that livestock must be kept cool in summer more than warm in winter. A heated water dish, warm water deliveries and warm breakfast of heated slop can help them stay cozy as water supply is actually quite important as well as finite in frozen northern winters.
Enjoy your chickens, and your research. I sure have!