When we start to think about ways we can live a more self reliant lifestyle, we often consider raising livestock. After all, most people enjoy meat as part of at least one meal a day. Quality meat is a superior source of protein, and we need protein as a part of a healthy diet. Raising your own livestock can require a good size piece of land. However, many of us want to be as independent as possible, even while living in the city or suburbs.
Raising chickens can be the answer for many of us. Chickens can be raised for just eggs, meat, or a combination of both. There are chicken breeds that are lighter bodied and very efficient at egg laying, and then there are breeds of chickens that tend to be meatier. The heavier meatier chickens will still lay eggs and could be used as a source of meat if required. Finally, there are chickens specifically meant to be table birds. These are rarely kept alive past 10 to 12 weeks of age because they gain weight so rapidly. These chickens have a hard time moving around should they be allowed to live. Many people choose a dual purpose bird primarily for egg production, but one that can also provide a good amount of meat when egg production slows down.
What To Consider Before Raising Chickens
Now that we have discussed some options, let’s consider the feasibility of owning chickens where you live. First, check to see what local ordinances apply to chicken keeping in your area. Some places to start might be your local zoning office, extension service, city hall, or county government offices. If your neighborhood has restrictions, often times called covenants, it is good to know this before you go to the work and expense of setting up for chickens.
While it may not be required, consider letting your close neighbors know that you plan to get chickens. A strong reaction against chicken keeping may lead to a nightmare situation if an adjoining property owner feels strongly against urban chickens.
On a more positive note, you may find that your neighbor is very interested in chicken keeping too. I have seen neighborhood co-ops for chicken raising. The chicken coop is on one member’s property but the neighbors share the chores, feed expenses, care of the birds, and the fresh eggs.
Where Will You Keep Your Chickens?
Second, consider where on your property you will keep and house the chickens. You need to know that anywhere you choose, the chickens will be scratching up the ground and eating the grass along with any bugs they find. The chickens may even leave shallow craters in your lawn where they decide to dust bathe. If you live in a neighborhood, this is probably not suitable for the front yard.
Fencing will be needed in order to keep wandering pets from harming your flock. Chicken wire will keep your chickens in, but it will not keep dogs and other predators out. Foxes, raccoon, opossums, rats and hawks are common predators even in neighborhoods.
Chicken coops come in many sizes, styles and designs. Your neighborhood may require a certain style or color for any structure built in your yard. When deciding to build your own coop remember the following must have features:
- A door or roof access large enough for you to enter the coop for cleaning, or to reach in and clean. Some coops have a hinged roof.
- A small pop door for the chickens to enter and exit the coop, usually with a ramp to ground level.
- Some way to elevate the coop at least six inches so predators cannot dig into the coop from underground.
- A roost bar.
- Nest boxes for egg laying – approximately 2 boxes per 6 chickens.
- Sturdy latches to keep predators from opening the coop doors.
- Good ventilation, primarily along the roof line to allow ammonia odor to escape and to keep dust from accumulating in the coop.
How big should your chicken coop be? The standard recommendation is 3 to 4 square feet of interior space per bird. Add in space for the nest boxes and roost bars. If your chickens will need to spend a large amount of time in the coop while you are working, increase the recommendation to 7 to 8 square feet of interior space per bird.
A Word About Roosters
Third, no matter where you get your chicks – using a broody hen, ordering from a hatchery, obtaining chicks from a farmer – there is no guarantee that you will end up with all hens. Sometimes, even when ordering sexed pullets, a rooster will slip through. Be aware of the possibility and have a plan in mind. Most neighborhoods that allow chicken keeping don’t allow roosters. If you receive a rooster, you have two options: process the bird as a meat bird, or find another home for the rooster.
Welcome to the world of chicken keeping! I hope it will be rewarding for your family. Join us again next month for information on caring for your new chicks, watching them develop and what to expect.