Monday, February 13, 2012

Backyard Chickens

Most of you have cracked open a store bought chicken egg to find the yolk a pasty pukey pale color and the white so thin it spreads over the whole frying pan. The taste is worse than the appearance. And yet for most people this is their only option, they think. However, I'm going to share with you some tips for you to raise a few hens of your own and enjoy the benefits of eggs that are like nothing you ever dreamed.

First, if you live in the city, you must make sure that your city ordinances allow you to keep a few backyard hens. Most cities will not allow you to have roosters but most don't mind a few quiet hens.

Second you need a place to keep your hens. The ideal number of hens for a family of 4 is 6 hens.  They will provide more than enough eggs for your family and maybe enough to share with your neighbors too. This is always helpful to maintain neighborly happiness! If you are handy with building things you can whip up a simple coop in a short amount of time. There are lots of plans on the internet for small chicken coops that are easy to make. If you aren't handy, then get a huge dog crate from, garage sale, friend or from your garage if you happen to have big dogs. Put some hay in it and they will be happy to lay their eggs in that. Put it under some sort of shelter and let them free-range your yard. This is the easiest solution. However, if you are like most homesteaders you also have a garden, and chickens love fresh garden produce as much as we do, so you probably are going to want some sort of fence for them. You can pick up some chicken wire and fence off a corner of your yard for them and throw them the extras from your garden and they will be happy and lay the best eggs you have ever eaten.

You need to feed your hens. If you just let them scratch for their food they will eat up the bugs, grasshoppers and plants but normally this isn't quite enough for hard-working hens and they need some sort of chicken food. Laying hen food is the best but you can also feed them hen scratch or cracked corn.

If you start with chicks you need a whole different system for raising them up to adulthood, or they probably won't make it. Chicks are rather fragile. We will talk about them in a future post. I suggest starting with pullets (young adult hens) or full grown hens.  Hens will lay eggs without a rooster. You only need a rooster if you would like to hatch out the eggs at some point, or if you enjoy being woken up early in the morning by the crowing. I personally find that a very peaceful sound and enjoy hearing them crow.

With good feed, a good laying hen will lay almost an egg per day, sometimes a little less. They each have different times of day that they lay their eggs but most will lay before mid-afternoon. Sometimes they don't like it when they see you gather the eggs and will try to hide their next day's egg. It can be quite an adventure especially for younger children, going on the daily chicken egg hunt!

More info coming soon.

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