Backyard chicken keeping has become a very popular hobby. Who wouldn’t want a reliable source of fresh, organic eggs for breakfast every morning? Keeping chickens is relatively low maintenance once you get set up, but there are a few things to consider before you decide whether or not chickens are the right pets for you.
Chickens don’t need a lot of space, but you will need to have at least a small backyard so that they can spend some time free ranging. If chickens are kept in a coop all day, they can develop bad behaviours like pecking and feather plucking. They will also need to supplement their diet by foraging for plants and insects. Make sure your yard is securely fenced in so that your chickens don’t wander onto your neighbour’s property.
Where will my chickens live?
You will need to either purchase or build a chicken coop. A coop typically consists of both an enclosed hen house to provide protection from the elements, and a screened-in run to give your chickens access to the outdoors. You’ll want to make sure that each chicken has a minimum of 4 square feet of space in the hen house and 10 square feet of outside space in the run. Other features that a coop should have include roosts for your hens to sleep on and nesting boxes for them to lay their eggs in. Make sure that the coop is well ventilated. The ammonia from chicken droppings can build up and cause respiratory problems, so the air in the hen house needs to be able to circulate. You’ll also want to ensure that your coop is sturdy and has no openings for predators to sneak in.
What will I feed my chickens?
When you start keeping chickens, you may be confused by the different types of feeds that are available. Chicken feed is formulated for each stage of a chicken’s life. There are different commercial feeds available for chicks, pullets that have not yet started to lay eggs, and mature egg laying hens. Always keep a supply of chicken feed available to your birds so that they can eat as much as they need. When your chickens are free ranging in the yard, they will also eat grass, weeds, grubs, and insects.
You may also need to occasionally supplement your chickens’ diet at various times. When a chicken is moulting, for example, it will need added protein to help with the growth of new feathers. You may want to add some, mealworms, or black oil sunflower seeds to their diet during a moult. In cold winter weather, you may want to give them a high carb treat such as mixed corn to help them stay warm at night.
How much time will I spend taking care of my chickens?
Once you have your coop in place, chickens are relatively low maintenance pets. You’ll want to make sure they have fresh food and water at all times, and you’ll need to be available to let them out of their coop for free ranging time and to shut them back up at the end of the day. Depending on the time of year and the type of bedding you use in the coop, you’ll need to clean out the old bedding and replace it with fresh bedding every 1 to 3 weeks to keep your hens healthy and odours to a minimum.
Keep in mind that chickens do need someone to tend to them every day, so if you go on holiday you’ll need to find a chicken sitter to take care of them.
Keeping chickens is a fun and rewarding hobby. With a little bit of research and preparation, you will soon be enjoying the benefits of having your own backyard flock!