Grow Your Own Meat and Eggs With Backyard Chickens
There is nothing quite as satisfying as collecting eggs from a group of friendly chickens. With the cost of living continually rising and insecurity as regards where your food is coming from and how it is grown, it is reassuring to run a few chickens and know exactly what they are fed on while they're producing eggs for you.
Running a few chickens in the backyard is not that difficult. In most situations they need an enclosure of some sort. Not many environments are totally free of predators and a fenced area will give you peace of mind through the night or over holiday periods.
Clean, fresh water is essential and there should be no danger of the flock running out of water. There are various types of automatic feeders and waterers available nowadays and once the outlay has been made, the items will last for a long time. To get the most benefit from your chickens, they should be fed well. Generally bulk purchases are cheaper. Keep grain or pellets in a rodent-proof bin so that pests will not consume your expensive feed. It will also prevent contamination of the food from the rodents' droppings. If you buy pellets, buy the appropriate ones for your chickens ie chick crumbles for baby chicks, laying pellets for laying hens.
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and labour. Because it hangs, it will not
become contaminated with food and
Chickens will devour most of the food scraps from the kitchen. They will especially love vegetable peelings and the outer leaves of most green vegetables. They will eat most leftovers and bread. If they can forage for some of their own greens, so much the better. Green pickings (and sweet corn) will result in rich yellow yolks in the eggs. Good husbandry will help prevent outbreaks of diseases such as coccidiosis.
If your chickens start laying soft-shelled eggs, they will benefit from being given some shell grit. This can be bought, collected on your next seaside holiday or produced from the eggshells of your chickens. When you are baking, keep aside the eggshells and, once you have a good collection, place them in a warm oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Leave the eggshells in the oven overnight (after you've turned it off) then crush them with a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin and add to the feed. As well as providing grit, the eggshells are high in calcium.
The chickens will need a shelter of some kind. This can be a purpose built hen house or something as simple as a garden shed. It needs to be equipped with 'perches'; poles or rails for the birds to roost on through the night. The perches should be a good size for the hen's feet. She needs to be able to get her toes around the pole so she feels secure and safe as she sleeps. Two or three perches can be placed at different heights so the chickens can flap to the lowest then move on up if they want to.
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It will not rust or rot. Because the
roof slopes, the birds will not roost
Nesting boxes can be placed on the floor of the henhouse. It can be large enough for several hens as most hens will happily lay their eggs together. It should be well furnished with straw, sawdust or shredded paper. Keeping the nest lining clean will help ensure clean eggs. Most hens prefer a somewhat dark place in which to lay so you might like to hinge the top of the box or have an opening at the side.
Unless you want to raise some baby chicks, you will not need a rooster. Roosters in suburbia are not always welcome and even on an acreage, their early morning crowing can become annoying.
There are many breeds suitable as backyard chickens and your choice will probably depend on what is available in your area. ISA Brown chickens are good layers and quiet, friendly chickens. Leghorns, Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rocks are other options.
Try to purchase chickens that look healthy with bright plumage, not ruffled or half naked. They should be show an interest in their surroundings. Some breeds become quite tame very easily and will come clucking up when you appear in case you're carrying some goodies for them.
Once you have had the benefit of fresh eggs from your own hens, you'll wonder why you waited so long to get some chickens.