Are You Ready for Chickens? Chickens 101

| 3/31/2011 3:39:17 PM

Tags: modern homesteading, chickens, chickens 101, keeping chickens, raising chickens, backyard chickens, chicken 101, raising chickens 101, chicken 101, Victoria Gazeley,

chickChickens - they're one of the main reasons I wanted to move to a rural property - so I could raise chickens and for my son to be able to collect fresh eggs.  Seems odd that so many of us relate to this seemingly simple act, but ask most people about their rural living dream and it usually includes a small flock of chickens.

But how do you know if you’re the ‘chicken type’?  How do you know if you’ve got the right personality for looking after livestock, even relatively simple livestock like chickens?  Let’s face it – in generations past, chickens were part of well rounded family farms, and pretty much a necessity.  They ate table scraps, weeds and bugs, and in return gave protein rich eggs and meat, as well as nitrogen rich fertilizer, to their keepers.  It was a pretty efficient system.

Now, of course, we’ve complicated things with all the equipment and paraphernalia that we ‘have to have’ to raise chickens.  Which, of course, is a bunch of bunk.  But there is a lot to learn in order to do it right, and to do right by your captive charges.  When we take animals into our care, we do have a responsibility to give them the best life possible.  But what does that look like?

If you’re pondering a backyard flock, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself.  These are the questions I’m working through right now, as we decide ‘chickens or no chickens’ - I think I have commitment issues...  How about you?

Do you have enough space to give them a healthy life?

There are as many ways to raise chickens as there are chicken breeds, but some seem much more humane and healthy than others.   Taking into account local predators, climate, location, and feed, chickens need the same things we do – food, water and shelter.  Of course, with different individual requirements and much more rudimentary shelter, but you get the picture.  But this is where all of the chicken systems diverge.  Some involve keeping the chickens in small pens 24 hours a day, which requires a lot of cleaning and, I have to say, can’t be too much fun, or very good for, the chickens.  Then there are systems with larger runs attached to coops, which gives the chickens more space, but still not much variety in their pecking and scratching.  The next level is that of the chicken tractors, where the chickens are moved into a contraption that gets wheeled around the property, allowing them fresh grass and bugs and constantly rotating ‘manure’ deposits.  Some chicken tractors are attached to tiny coops, but usually the birds are moved into a larger, secure shelter in the evening.  Then we have ‘paddocking’, which is a system of allowing chickens to ‘free range’, but within rotating areas delineated by temporary fencing, then moved into secure shelter at night.  Sounds great, allowing for grassy areas to grow back between pasturing stints, and more secure than true free ranging, where the birds can get into areas you maybe don’t want them to.  But my concern here is with predators – it’s easy to secure a small area, but much more difficult to do so in a large paddock.  So, space is critical for healthy birds.

Both small and large systems have their advantages and disadvantages – it’s up to you to decide your priorities and how much time and energy you’ll be able to dedicate to your flock.

Victoria Gazeley
6/3/2011 7:11:34 PM

If you're looking for chicks or poults, it's best to contact a hatchery closest to you. A simple Google search should do the trick. Look for stringent health and biosecurity standards for large hatcheries (we ordered from Rochester Hatcheries in Alberta, Canada - the closest to us on the West Coast). It will also depend on what breed of chickens you'd like (try Mother Earth News' 'Pick'n Chicken' app or any of the articles on MEN's website to do with picking chicken breeds). We decided to go with a hearty, easy-going hybrid breed (IBA Brown) for our first foray into chicken raising, as they're apparently well suited to our climate. MEN has a lot of resources on the site for beginner chicken raisers - good luck with it! I'm so happy we finally took the plunge...

Jon Drageland
5/19/2011 12:20:53 PM

I live in a suburb area on Long Island N.Y. and want to keep 3 free ranging chickens. Where can I buy individual chickens of different breeds?

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