Fresh eggs for breakfast, are you up for that great idea? Yeah, I guessed it right; you most likely love the idea. This is more so when the eggs are from your own backyard. It becomes even better when the eggs you get from the stores and supermarkets aren’t good enough for you.
If you have a backyard, then this dream is just a backyard away. This unutilized space is enough to rear a couple of chickens to supply you with eggs every morning.
Many people have always asked me how I started my coop that is now beaming with the lovely birds. Actually, it is pretty easy, so long as you have the zeal and the appetite for eggs.
To help you be like me, I have prepared this guide for raising chickens in your backyard. In the end, you will be confident enough to walk this path to chicken rearing.
Raising Chickens – The Why?
Lots of my friends asked me this when I was starting out my coop. And I felt like they were asking the wrong question. It should be, why not chickens? I always get them with this question.
Here are the reasons I give them for raising chickens instead of using my backyard for something else.
This is most likely one of the main reasons why I decided to raise my own chickens. And as most chicken raisers call them, “hen berries” is a joy to collect every morning once the hens start delivering them.
When you feed your chickens right, these will be more flavorful than the store-bought ones.
Chickens produce an unending supply of nutrient-rich compost all year round. They convert all the stuff you feed them on, (or they collect), into poop, which is a great fertilizer for your garden.
Natural pest control
When allowed to free range, (like in my case), chickens are meticulous pest terminators. As they roam around looking for food, they eat almost any kind of insect that they spot. At times, these majestic birds even eat some of the weeds that shoot up in your garden.
This is not what I would call a reason to rear these lovely birds. This is since I do not always want to part ways with any of them. But once in a while when I need to have an awesome tasting chicken steak, then why not?
Looks kind of strange, but when you raise a chicken from being a chick until it’s fully grown, you grow fond of them that they would follow you around. They would sit on your lap, eat from your hand and of course poop on you (oops!)
Easy to maintain and care for
Provided that you can spare about 5 minutes a day to check on your birds; then they should be alright. But once you start raising them, you wouldn’t want to be away from the chickens for very long.
All they would need is enough water, good quality food, vaccination once in a while and the space to forage for food.
Guide on How to Raise Chickens
First of all, before you get started, you need to check your local laws to confirm if they permit chicken rearing. This is particularly if you stay in an urban or semi-urban setting.
The last thing you need is being served with a warrant and your hens being collected by law enforcers. For those of you who stay in the midst of nowhere like me, the law should not be an issue.
Step 1: Prepare a place where the Chickens will be sleeping in
Your chicken will need a nice place to sleep in. This is where the chicken will be spending most of their night. Chicken normally start to sleep at around dusk until sunrise.
For starters, you will need a coop, either bought or built on your own if you are good with DIY carpentry tools.
In whatever coop option you settle on, whether to buy or build one on your own, it has to meet certain conditions.
It should be raised
One thing you should know about chicken is that they do not like sleeping on the ground. It is their birds’ instinct to sleep on the raised ground. Roosting bars are a good way of providing elevation.
Do not make any chicken sleep directly above the other. You do not want the birds pooping directly on the other.
The floors should be lined with hay, straw, wood shavings or sand
This provides a comfortable place to sleep or lay eggs. I always want the eggs to fall on the soft ground and keep my birds as happy as possible (comfort guarantees happiness).
The coop should be adequately spacious
For the perfect harmony in the flock, everyone should have their own adequate space. It should not be too large, but just enough. There might be bullies in the flock that need to be kept away from the meek ones.
Security is paramount
Just like any other investment, you need to keep this one away from predators. And there are a lot of them.
The whole coup should be surrounded by a strong chicken wire and use high-quality latches that even toddlers cannot pick. Additionally, ensure the flooring is reinforced by the wire. This is so that no predator can dig in from below.
Nesting boxes are a plus
Hens are quite choosy when it comes to where they lay their eggs. Provide boxes that are separated from the sleeping area. Always minimize the number of chickens sharing a nesting box as enmity may set in.
Light and more light
Your coop will need to be adequately lit and well ventilated as well. This is because hens lay eggs based on the number of daylight hours. When winter comes and the hours of daylight become limited, provide artificial lighting. This theoretically lengthens daylight.
If you don’t, the eggs will dry out or diminish in supply.
Step 2: Caring and Feeding Your Chickens
I have this saying that “the way to a chicken’s eggs is through the stomach.” Sounds creepy, but it works for me all the time. A well fed, and well cared for flock will happily continue laying good quality eggs throughout the year.
A healthy commercial feed for chicken should form their staple diet. These can be bought in a livestock store or even online.
Once bought, evenly distribute this feed to the chicken using a chicken feeder. This should be monitored daily for any wet or moldy food.
Always keep the feeder filled, as this always assures the chicken of plenty food and will make them never hold back the eggs.
Supplement with table/kitchen food
What I love about chicken is their free-spirited eating habits. They never say no to anything edible. This allows you to provide them with a wide variety of foods. In this way, they stay very healthy.
Instead of throwing out your kitchen refuse, toss it into the coop for the birds to have a go at it.
Clean water should be availed at all times
Keeping your lovely birds hydrated is of utmost importance. After cracking nuts and hard grains, the chickens will need to drink lots of water. Keep a large bowl in or near the coop.
This bowl should be filled at all times. And if the water gets dirty (the chickens might take a bath in it), replace it with a fresh one.
Step 3: Free rangers or to be fed?
This will definitely depend on your location and the ordinances in place. In most urban settings, this decision will already be made for you. Most ordinances do not allow for chicken free ranging. You would have to keep them cooped up.
But if you are in the countryside, and have plenty of space, then allowing your chicken to free range is a viable option. This gives you a choice of either feeding the chicken, free-ranging them or using both.
Free ranging is a very good option, and it always yields the best quality and healthiest eggs. Your chicken feeds bills are also kept low and your hens kept happiest. But it comes with its own sets of challenges, like keeping the girls and boys away from predators.
Alternatively, you can provide a balance between free-ranging and feeding. You can use the penned ranging method. In this way, the chickens can roam in an enclosed wide space (pen), then are shut in a coop at night.
Your hens and cocks will then be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. This is the method I have employed in my medium sized backyard. They are free to roam in the half-acre enclosed pen. This pen is predator proof as stray dogs are kind of a nuisance up here.
It kind of also makes it easier to hunt for the eggs they sometimes lay all over the place. Better still, I have restricted the flower gardens. The chickens, therefore, have no way of doing their digging there.
Step 4: Selecting the chicken breeds
Now that you have prepared everything that your birds will need, it is now time to select the birds you want to raise. The choice you will make will mostly depend on the purpose you want the hens to serve you.
It could be layers, broilers or multi-purpose. All in all, you always want to have the best breeds of these in your flock. Here are some viable options that have worked for me.
You can always get the breeds from an established breeder or buy at your local poultry store.
These are my favorite type of hens since they keep me filled up every morning and still have plenty to sell.
The Golden Comet
This is a gentle bird. This is low tempered and generally friendly. She lays lots of eggs (about 250 to 300 per year). This is one for the beginner. They are also very simple to care for.
The White Leghorn
How does around 280 eggs a year sound to you? Cool, right? This breed will give you that. They are both energetic and docile too. And I love their pure white feathers.
The Rhode Island Red
This breed will get you about 260 eggs in a year. All that you have to watch for is their temper, particularly when allowed to roost. They can be dual purpose too.
The Meat Breeds
There are those of us who fancy a little chicken meat in our pots once in a while. If you are one of those, these breeds could be worth for a start.
The Jersey Giant
This breed actually deserves the name giant in them. They grow to be massive, with cocks averaging about 13 pounds and hens about 10 pounds.
The Cornish Cross
Here is another fast-growing breed for your meat needs. Hens weigh about 8 pounds, while the cocks weigh about 12 pounds.
These are the expensive ones due to their tender meat. When up and about, they will be worth the investment you had on them. At about 16-20 weeks, they should be ready for “harvesting.”
The multi-purpose breeds
These breeds will be ideal to be reared both for egg laying and meat production purposes. They include:
Well known for their tasty meat and prowess in laying eggs, a Sussex is a great addition when you want the best of both worlds.
The Black Australorp
A friendly and good layer, this breed will get you lots of big eggs. For the meat, you should probably wait until they are done laying eggs. They will weigh about 5 – 8 pounds then.
Step 5: Keeping the Chickens Healthy
Fighting off pests and diseases will be one of your noble tasks as a chicken parent. They make the birds very uncomfortable and reduce their egg laying and meat capabilities. Some pests and diseases can even lead to the death of your birds.
Of these pests, mites provide your biggest challenge. These wear down the immune system of chicken and make them very uncomfortable.
There is a natural way of dealing with this nuisance that you can employ. This is by using Diatomaceous Earth. Once you notice the presence of these mites, sprinkle this on the chickens and the places they take their dust baths for a month or so.
DE can also be used to deworm the chickens. To know when to do so, watch out for poop on the eggs. You can then sprinkle the DE on their food.
Step 6: Keeping the coop clean
In as much as chicken love pooping, they expect you to ensure that their coop is always clean and fresh for them.
And it is like they will beg you to. As a reward for their eggs and meat, you need to clean the coop regularly. The wood shavings also need to be replaced regularly, just as the materials in the nesting boxes.
For me, I normally do the following cleaning job at least once a week. You could do the same as well.
- Clean the coop floor
- Refresh the nesting material
- Wash the feeders and chicken drinkers
- Clean roosting bars
- Clean the run area if there is any
Step 7: Set Up a Brooder
You may have all the layers and broilers, but most definitely, there must be a brooder in the flock. You, therefore, need to be prepared for the eventuality of having chicks in the flock too.
I love chicks and watching them grow into adult chickens is one of the most fulfilling parts of this hobby.
To accommodate the chicks, you need to set up a brooder that you will use to separate them from their mother. This is a recreation of all the conditions the mother always provides the chicks: Warmth, water, security, food, and cleanliness.
I used a cardboard and filled it with corn cob. You can use straw or hey, so long as it provides a comfortable sleeping spot. Then include a feeder, chicken drinker and a source of heat. And the whole set up is complete.
You can also learn how to make a homemade incubator here.