In just a few weeks, the farm will have a few new residents! 18 of them in fact. Cute, fuzzy, little balls of fur that will grow to be our latest flock of chickens at the farm.
More and more people are finding out how incredibly easy and beneficial it is to raise their own backyard flock of chickens.
Contrary to what some have heard, chickens don’t have to be loud or messy. And, they provide so much more than just eggs!
We raised our first batch of baby chicks back in 2011. To this day, it remains one of the best decisions we ever made at the farm.
We started out with little knowledge, and learned what we could from books and on-line research. (One of our favorite books : A Chicken In Every Yard )
But today, 6 years later, our chickens have been surprisingly easy to raise, and provided more than we could have ever imagined. Beyond a steady supply of farm fresh eggs, they have helped us control bug and insects. They have also given us excellent compost material and fertilizer for our garden. But best of all, they continue to bring a lot of character and company to our little homestead.
The process of raising backyard chickens is quite simple. it consists of providing the basic necessities of life – food, water, shelter – and a little space to keep them happy. (We have included links at the bottom to some basic supplies for beginners.)
Raising Backyard Chickens
The easiest way to start raising backyard chickens is to purchase day-old chicks. You can usually find them at your local feed or farm store, or buy on line from a hatchery. We purchase only hens. Roosters, although beautiful, are not good for small backyard flocks. They are noisy, can be mean, and also complicate the egg laying and harvesting process by fertilizing the eggs. And if you have nearby neighbors – a roosters early morning “crowing” can cause a bit of a nuisance.
To raise your chicks for the first 8 weeks, you will need some form of a brooder. A brooder is really nothing more than a secure place to keep them safe for the first 8 weeks of their life. Then they will be ready to go in their permanent coop. You can create a small brooder from a big stock tank or some wooden crates. We made ours from pallets and barn wood.
We use a heat lamp attached to the brooder to keep the temperature around 90 to 95 degrees during the baby chick’s first 5 to 7 days. With no feathers, its important to provide a source of heat that their little bodies need to survive. As they continue to grow – we reduce the temperature by about 5 degrees each week until they feather out and can provide their own body heat. We start our chicks with a good organic starter feed, and use that until they are about 5 weeks old, slowly mixing and switching to an egg layer feed. It is amazing to watch how quickly they learn to use the water and food feeders.
The Move To A Coop
At about 8 weeks, we move our chicks to their permanent home, the coop. For coop space, 3 to 4 square feet of floor space per chicken will work – and about 10 square feet per chicken in your run is a good rule of thumb.
Using that formula – you can easily keep 4 to 6 chickens in a 6 x 4 coop – and 6′ x 10′ run. We built our coop from a mix of wood and recycled materials to match the barn. It saved big on the budget, and has served our flocks well. (see: The Recycled Chicken Coop Project)
In addition to our coop space, we let our chickens free range in and around the garden after the season is over. They are amazing at keeping the insect population under control!
And last, YES, the eggs they produce and give to us are simply amazing. So maybe this is the year you start raising backyard chickens! You won’t regret it.
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