Backyard Chickens - Caring and Raising Your Flock
What does it take to raise backyard chickens?
If you’re thinking of raising backyard chickens, there are a lot of factors to consider before buying your first baby chick. While they may be cute, feathery soft, and irresistible in the store – practically begging you through soft chirps to take them home – they also require some work, supplies and commitment to ensure they are well taken care of, happy, and productive.
We admit, raising chickens is a blast and something everyone can enjoy at any age – from kids to seniors and everyone in between. Whether you live in town or in the country, having your own backyard chickens brings benefits beyond solely having fresh eggs in your refrigerator. But chickens are animals and like many, they can be noisy, dirty, and even a bit ornery to each other. But we still love them and have compiled a comprehensive list of the benefits and challenges that can come when raising backyard chickens.
First, let’s discuss the many benefits of raising backyard chickens, which can be both fun and useful at your home or farm.
Benefits of Raising Backyard Chickens
- Chickens lay eggs. These eggs are fresh, taste great, and are full of nutrition because you control what goes into egg production with the food you give your chickens. You can also try your hand at selling fresh eggs to make some extra money, which is a great idea for kids. Expect one egg per day from each hen you have. Some breeds do not lay eggs daily, but will lay 3 to 4 eggs weekly.
- Chickens create excellent fertilizer. Chicken manure contains a good deal of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – the primary ingredients in lawn and garden fertilizers. Chicken manure can be composted and added to the soil of your garden, flowers, trees, shrubs, and lawns. The all-natural homemade fertilizer will save you money and help produce great results. Speak to the experts at your local Grange Co-op to learn more about composting.
- Chickens make great pets. Believe it or not, chickens have their own individual personalities and are affectionate toward humans. Each is its own bird, as they say, with some being sweet, shy, grouchy, or playful. You will find yourself having a lot of fun with your unique flock of backyard chickens.
- Chickens help clean your yard. These hard-working birds will clear harvested garden beds of weeds, and eat fallen fruit from trees before they start rotting and attract bugs.
- Chickens are like a natural garbage disposal. Chickens can eat many of the food items we would normally throw away, including food scraps from salads, vegetable peelings, rice, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Chickens are fairly easy to take care of. A low-maintenance animal, chickens basically need to be fed, watered, and given a coop to nest in. You may find this less work in comparison to other livestock.
- Chickens help control bugs and weeds naturally. Without the use of chemicals and insecticides, you can control over-population of crickets, grasshoppers, snails, slugs and other pests in your garden as chickens eat them up.
- Fresh, home-grown meat. If raising your chickens for meat, home-grown chickens taste better and are healthier than factory farmed poultry. You’ll enjoy more flavor, less fat and calories.
If this sounds great, you’re absolutely correct: raising chickens is fun, rewarding, and chock full of benefits for you, your family, and your home. But nothing worthwhile is without its challenges, next we'll discuss some precautions to raising backyard chickens.
- Get used to a little more noise. Chickens can be noisy with the familiar barnyard sound of “buck, buck, buck, bugawk.” But they can also provide quieter sounds of cooing and clucking that many find relaxing and even enjoyable. Also, some chickens are definitely noisier than others so research before you buy.
- Chicken fertilizer comes from chicken poop, which means that chickens will poop a lot. As stated in the above benefits, chicken poop is a wonderful fertilizer, but it will require some work to clean up and utilize. Products like Manna Pro Coop ‘N Compost may help in this process.
- Chickens will really dig living with you, which is to say that they will dig a lot in your yard. Chickens scratch when they dig for bugs and can really tear up their space.
- Chickens can carry Salmonella. Chickens have the potential of carrying Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their feathers, feet, and beaks. It’s important to wash your hands after handling chickens or touching places where they live to avoid the risk of illness.
- Is it legal? If you’re raising chickens in town, check your local ordinances and zoning code regulations to make sure you can keep chickens legally. For example, in Medford, Oregon, residents can raise chickens and roosters within city limits but “the environment they are kept in must be kept odor and debris free; and the chickens cannot cause a noise disturbance to neighboring properties.”
- Chickens require health care. Just like other pets or farm animals, chickens can get sick or injured, which may require professional pet care. The most common chicken illnesses include poultry bumblefoot, a prolapsed vent, mites, and respiratory problems.
- Chickens do grow old and die. As they grow older (the lifespan is generally 8 to 10 years), egg production decreases and you will need to continue caring for them responsibly, or decide whether or not to use the chicken for meat production. (Generally peak egg production will start when the chicken is 1 year old and last for 2 to 3 years)
- Chickens can be mean to each other. Unfortunately, you will have to deal with some chickens bullying each other. They will peck at each other and even draw blood, which can make them peck more until one dies.
- Chickens need cleanup. Chickens can be dirty and also create messes, so you will need to regularly clean chickens, coops, and bedding material. Pine bedding and straw are ideal, never use cedar shavings as the cedar oils and scent can be toxic to chickens.
- Dealing with predators. If your yard is accessible to predators such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, possums, coyotes, or other animals who pose a threat to the safety of your chickens, you may consider making it a mandatory part of your routine by bringing them in each night for their safety.
- Chickens require basic maintenance. You’ll need to make sure your chickens have enough chicken feed, water and grit (small rocks to help them digest their food). These tasks are not difficult and often a perfect set of simple chores for kids raising chickens.
- Chickens need shelter, called a chicken coop. You can order a coop on our website, or pick up in-store at your local Grange Co-op. Chickens don’t need a lot of space, but they need room to stretch their legs.
- You can’t have just one chicken. Chickens are social animals and need other chickens for companionship. One chicken by itself can die of loneliness so we always encourage a small flock for the happiest, healthiest backyard chickens.
Now you know what it takes to care for your own flock of backyard chickens. Still have questions? Browse our collection of GrangeKnows articles on raising chickens! You can also visit any Grange Co-op store to speak with one of our Grange Experts for all your questions.