Raising chickens is an amazing adventure. Chickens, by far, are one of the most beneficial domesticated creatures in the world. They are not only amusing to watch; they are also natural tillers and soil builders of the land. And of course, they are amazing food producers.
What to Know about Raising Chickens
Once upon a time, just about every American harvested their own meat with a combination of hunting wild game, raising chickens or other livestock, and fishing. And I believe they were healthier for it. The health benefits of raising chickens are unparalleled because they produce exceptionally nutritious eggs and meat.
It is quite simple to begin and maintain raising chickens. I believe that simplicity is why there is a comeback to the backyard chicken coop.
Why Raise Chickens for Meat?
The preferred free range meat to raise has long been chickens. The benefits of raising your own chickens far outweigh the time and resources it takes. The eggs alone are worth the modest amount of effort involved.
Fresh eggs are one of the healthiest proteins available. For that reason, they are a large part of my family’s diet. Free range chickens produce eggs that provide essential amino acids for humans and contain an exceptional amount of vitamins and minerals necessary for excellent health.
Free-Range Chicken for Good Health
Chickens that are allowed to forage and scratch up protein-filled bugs are much healthier than caged, exclusively grain-fed birds. As a result, free-range chickens produce healthier meat for you to eat. Healthier how?
Free-range chicken has less cholesterol and fat, more folic acid, and more Omega-3 fatty acids than factory-farmed birds. Furthermore, you know when raising your own chickens that they are not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Nor do they contain Genetically Modified Organisms.
Not only are chickens fantastic fuel for the body, they aid us in land management. Chickens naturally till the soil as they scratch and peck the land.
Some people do not let chickens in their gardens, but if controlled, the chickens can be very beneficial. As your vegetable garden gets mature, their scratching and pecking adds aeration to the soil.
Most of the time, chickens will not eat the mature vegetables; they would rather scratch for insects. The manure also aids in the fertility of the garden. Just keep in mind that you will need to add mulch to the fresh manure to hold nitrogen and other nutrients in stable condition.
If you want to keep chickens out of your garden, you can add their manure into your compost bin. With chickens in our backyard, we rarely waste any food. They thankfully consume leftovers from the kitchen as well as weeds from the garden.
An Urban Chicken-Raising Movement
For these reasons, raising chickens, even for those in urban neighborhoods, is becoming more and more the norm. I could not be more excited about this movement back to the self -sufficient pattern of hunting and gathering for one’s own sustenance.
Children learn through example and experience how to be self sufficient, and they gain confidence by contributing to the welfare of the family. To me, raising chickens with our kids promotes family unity, usefulness, and service to others and teaches them how to eat healthy.
How to Get Started with Backyard Chickens
To get started, first choose what breeds you would like to raise. My favorites chickens include time proven varieties such as Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and New Hampshire Reds.
I love the fact that my ancestors were caring for the same type chickens that I am raising. These breeds are also a good dual purpose chicken in that they are great egg layers as well as great table birds (meat birds). Many people favor Buff Orpingtons and Americaunas.
The Buff Orpington is a good layer and a gentle breed, but they are also escape artists and hard to coral back into the coop.
Americaunas are valued for their gorgeous light green eggs. Most local co-ops will have baby chicks for purchase, or you can purchase them on-line. If you purchase them on-line, expect an early call from the post office upon their arrival.
Gather Your Supplies
While waiting for your baby chicks to arrive, gather supplies. Just like us, chickens need shelter, food, and water.
Find a brooder, a lamp for heat, a brooder-sized food and water dispenser, and wood shavings for the bottom of the brooder. I have a homemade brooder with a light that I can adjust to the best height to give the perfect amount of heat to my chicks.
My chicks tell me by their behavior when to adjust the heat. I know that the chicks are too hot if the they hover toward the edge of the brooder. On the other hand, I know they are too cold if they are all clustered together under the lamp. The chicks will need less heat every week and will soon outgrow the brooder.
After about a month, the chicks will be feathered out and in need of a larger space.
Chicken Coop vs. Moveable Pen
I have a chicken coop, but since grown hens occupy the coop, I must move my chicks to a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is a moveable pen that allows your chickens to forage on new grass or vegetation every day or every few days as you move it around your yard. This could be a permanent location for your chickens if you do not need but a few eggs a day. I use my chicken tractor as a temporary shelter for my chicks to allow them to grow enough to defend themselves from the older hens in the coop.
Tips for Building a Chicken Tractor
Chicken tractors are not hard to build, and plans are available for the choosing on the internet. We built ours from scrap wood and old bicycle tires, and it has lasted for years.
When building a coop or tractor, the rule of thumb is to give each chicken 2 to 3 square feet inside the hen house and 4 to 5 square feet in the chicken run or outside the hen house. They will need a place to roost, chicken pellets for food, and plenty of water.
When Will You Start Getting Eggs?
Look for your first eggs five or six months after you bring your carton of peeping chicks home! The arrival of that first egg is an exciting day–at least, it is in my household. The first eggs are about half the size of a normal egg, but they taste delicious.
Your chickens will lay eggs as long as they get enough light (14 hours a day) and the chickens are not stressed by not having enough water or food. They seem to lay better for me if I feed them table scraps and extras from the garden.
When and Why Do Chickens Start Laying Fewer Eggs?
Their laying will considerably slow down in the winter months due to lack of light unless you decide to place an artificial light in the coop.
There also comes a time when the chickens will molt. This happens after twelve to fourteen months or so. At molting time, chickens give their energy to changing their suit of feathers. After several months, they will begin laying again.
After about 18 months, their laying will slow considerably and it will be time to think about getting a new set of baby chicks and start the process over again. Of course, you could get a rooster and an incubator to raise your very own baby chicks as well!
Raising Chickens Is Worth the Effort!
I have never met anyone that is sorry that they are raising chickens. There is just something about knowing what has gone into (or not gone into) the food that inspires folks like me to raise chickens, harvest eggs, and bring to the table the vegetables and fruits that we have grown or foraged.
Through the years, I have made it my ambition to provide healthy fabulous tasting food for my family. Wild game, fresh heirloom vegetables and fruits, fresh eggs, and old hens and roosters have become a part of everyday food for my family. This healthy, freeing lifestyle brings us one step closer to the self-sufficiency that our ancestors enjoyed.
Bring chickens to your backyard and enjoy them from the yard to the table. I think it is time for me to get into the kitchen and prepare venison steaks with asparagus and a fried egg on top.