In recent years, there’s been a trend toward raising chickens at home – even suburban backyards can be host to a chicken habitat! The payoff comes in fresh, healthy, nutritious eggs that hav- lower cholesterol and more vitamin E, beta-carotene and omega-3’s than factory-farmed eggs. However, if you’re going to raise chickens for either meat or eggs, there are a few things you should know first.
Begin by checking your town’s zoning laws and health regulations – many towns and cities prohibit chickens within city limits, or put restrictions the number of birds you can raise. Other towns might ban roosters specifically, due to the noise factor involved. If your hometown allows the birds, however, then you’re off and running.
Feed stores often have day-old chicks during springtime, giving you a start for your new flock, or you can hatch fertilized eggs in an incubator (easy to build!). Your brooder doesn’t have to be much more than a sturdy cardboard box or a rabbit cage, with pine shavings for the floor. Keep the chicks’ brooder at 90-100 degrees for the first week, with temperatures coming down 5 degrees per week. A 100 watt light bulb (with metal reflector) in the corner is a good heat source. Feed them chick crumble and invest in a waterer; handle the chicks daily to get them used to people.
When the chickens are older, figure on 2-3 square feet per chicken for an inside run, and 4-5 square feet per bird for an outside run. Use pine shavings for the coop’s floor, and feed the birds chicken layer feed. Vegetables, bread, insects and chicken scratch (wheat, milo, cracked corn) make great treats to supplement the birds’ diet.
There are plenty of designs for brooders, incubators, chicken coops and outside runs available on the Internet. One thing that’s important to remember, though, is cleanliness (especially for chicks); disease can spread quickly through a flock of birds, especially the youngest ones, and wipe out the flock in no time. Chicks think nothing of pooping in their own food, so you’ll need to clean and refill their feeders often. Also, medicated feed is available to help stave off the risk of coccidiosis and other diseases that can hit fowl.
However, if your town and your neighbors are okay with urban chicken husbandry, you can soon find yourself with a whole flock–and a great food source!