Raising backyard chickens will provide you and your family with a steady supply of eggs. You also will have a flock of family friendly pets who require basic care and attention. Raising chickens is a hands-on experience. You must build or buy a coop and provide ample space in your yard. Compliance with local ordinances regarding livestock is also important.
Check the Legalities
City and county ordinances are the starting point for raising chickens. Also check with your homeowners association for special rules against raising livestock. Many areas limit the number of chickens in backyards and also limit or outlaw roosters. Roosters are loud and will disturb any close neighbors. You likely will find a space requirement between residential structures and the coop area.
Build Your Coop and Run
Build a coop that provides a minimum of 3 square feet per chicken. Include a roof, roosting poles and nesting boxes. Prefabricated coops are easy to acquire. Plans with instructions are readily available online and in bookstores. Insulate the coop for cold weather environments and surround the coop with a run. Use chicken wire fencing to enclose the area where your chickens will forage and move around during the daytime. Bury the chicken wire and cover the run with wire to discourage predators. Neighborhood cats, dogs and raccoons are all threats to your flock.
Provide the Best Feed
Use starter feed for the first three months of your chickens' lives. The starter feed has extra protein designed to help add weight and health in the early phases. After three months, switch to normal chicken feed found at most feed stores. Fill your feeder daily and add extra food scraps as you desire. Chickens are opportunistic eaters and will consume table scraps and egg shells in addition to their normal feeding. Allow them to forage for plants and insects in your yard as well.
Monitor the Health of Your Flock
Clean your run and coop weekly to maintain a healthy living space. Check your birds for signs of weight loss and health problems. Food grade diatomaceous earth is a common addition to your habitat. Sprinkle it in the nesting boxes and dry areas of your coop. Keep dry pine shavings, straw, hay or sand as bedding in the coop for general health as well. Quarantine any chickens who have health issues to prevent the spread to the flock.
Control Flies and Odors
Regular cleaning of your coop is the key to controlling odors. Keep the coop dry and remove old bedding and feces several times each week. Hang fly traps around the coop and open the coop doors daily for ventilation. Also separate manure and compost from the coop area to remove organic odors.
Chickens are not always nice to each other. Some will fight and treat one or more of your flock with acts of violence. This is not uncommon behavior with backyard chickens.
Zach Lazzari is a Montana based freelance outdoor writer and photographer. You can follow his work at bustedoarlock.com.