Raising backyard chickens has become a popular trend in the urban farm movement. “Buy local” takes on a new meaning when you can raise your own small flock of chickens to provide fresh, healthy eggs from your own backyard. Keeping a mini-flock of chickens has many benefits for you and your family including healthy eggs from well cared for chickens, free fertilizer for your garden and lively pets for your children to help care for.
I keep a small flock in my backyard. We enjoy the nutritious eggs and we enjoy the entertainment they can provide. I don’t exactly know what it is but, my chickens make me happy! I can talk to them and they communicate back to me in a soft coo. I watch them forage for worms, insects and devour fresh weeds and they make me laugh. We call them “The Girls” and we are proud to show them off to our family and friends.
I had to research how to select my flock, house them, feed them and maintain a healthy hen house. A great place to start was the library. I also searched for information on the Internet. The University of Kentucky has a guide for getting started with small and backyard flocks. I have my favorite websites I refer to: www.backyardchickens.com or www.mypetchicken.com.
My first question to answer was, do I want chickens that lay white eggs or brown eggs? I chose brown eggs. There is no difference between the colors. Next I had to decide what breed is best for our hot humid summers and freezing winters. I chose Rhode Island Red. I learned through my research that I did not need a rooster for egg production. So I only keep hens for fresh eggs to eat. If I wanted to hatch my own flock every year I would need a rooster to fertilize the eggs. When you purchase your chicks in the spring you can expect your first fresh eggs by the time fall begins.
What do your feed backyard chickens? A balanced diet of commercial feed and a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits should be given to chickens daily. Table foods like oats, bread, beans and cooked pasta can be given as treats. Kitchen scraps such as lettuce leaves, cabbage, carrots, apples and watermelon are great to toss in the chicken yard. They love to scratch and forage the ground if you spread out cracked corn. In the warmer months worms and insects don’t stand a chance when a chicken is within their range. If you have chickens for egg production the commercial feed contains calcium they need for eggs but you will probably need another source. Ground oyster shells are easily absorbed by chickens as a calcium supplement. Offer it separately from their feed. You should also have a separate feeder or pan of grit to aid in their digestion. Grit? What is that? Grit is tiny rocks chickens need so their gizzards can grind up food. Chickens require fresh water daily. Make sure the water is clean and covered to prevent your chickens from drinking dirty water.
Today you can find pre-built chicken coops for sale at home centers and farm supply stores. You can also build your own with plans found on the internet or in books from the library. We built our own “Chicken Shack” that serves as a coop for the chickens but also houses supplies and tools for taking care of the girls.
If you are considering starting your own backyard flock, read all you can on the care and maintenance of chickens. Talk to anyone that has cared for chickens to get some practical advice on what has worked for their flocks and perhaps you will be enjoying your own backyard chickens this spring.
Some books from Boone County Public Library that can help you started:
A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store’s Guide To Chicken Keeping by Robert Litt
Choosing and Keeping Chickensby Chris Graham
Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock by Judy Pangman
Vicki Durham is a Public Service Associate at the Main Library. She is a certified horticulturist and spends as much time with Mother Nature as Father Time will allow her.