Backyard Chicken Keeping: A Beginner's Guide

by Amelia Quinn

backyard chicken

backyard chicken

Backyard Chicken Keeping: A Beginner's Guide
Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

Raising backyard chickens has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years. Many homeowners are drawn to the idea of having fresh eggs available daily while enjoying the entertainment and therapeutic effects of observing flock dynamics. Whether in urban farms or suburban yards, chicken keeping allows people to participate firsthand in sustainable local food systems.

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of starting and maintaining a flock of backyard chickens. Key considerations like housing, nutrition, health, and legal aspects will be covered to help new urban farmers successfully start their first backyard chicken-keeping adventure.

Choosing the Right Breed

One of the most important decisions when starting backyard chicken keeping is selecting breeds that suit your needs and lifestyle. Key factors to consider include egg production, temperament, hardiness, and permitted breed restrictions.

For beginners, tried-and-true breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Dark Brown Leghorns are top choices. These are hardy dual-purpose breeds known for their consistency in laying brown or white eggs throughout the seasons. They also make ideal family pets due to their friendly, curious demeanors.

Another popular option is Sex-Link hybrids. Available as either pullets or chicks, these crossbreeds like Red Sex-Links are easy to use due to distinctive feathering colors. Homesteaders can count on around 300 eggs per year through maturity.

For those seeking ornamental barnyard birds, situations permitting consider Ameraucanas. Their characterful blue-green eggs are a fun addition to any farmstand, though overall production rates are moderate. Temperaments may vary depending on bloodlines.

No matter the breed, aim for dual-purpose hens when backyard chicken keeping for eggs and pest control. Stick to breeds your municipality legally allows you to avoid conflict down the road as well. Proper housing suited to the size and needs of selected breeds will ensure long-term happiness and health.

Housing and Accommodations

Providing adequate shelter is key to successful backyard chicken keeping. A well-designed coop and spacious yard area will keep hens safe and content.

For the coop, allot at least 2-4 square feet per bird indoors. Choose a dry, ventilated space raised off the ground for protection from predators. Include nesting boxes that can be cleaned easily, perches for roosting at night, and space below for scratching.

As for the yard, aim for at least 10 square feet per hen whenever possible. Fencing should be secure yet not prohibit natural foraging behavior.
Welded wire fence buried a foot in the ground prevents digging predators.

Within the yard, having both covered and open areas allows hens choices for sunning or taking shelter from the weather. For dry bedding, wood shavings or straws work well and are comfortable for roaming. With ample accommodations in place, your flock's basic needs indoors and out will be satisfactorily met.

Nutrition and Food

A balanced diet appropriate for each chicken's life stage is important for their health and productivity. Laying hens in particular have high nutrient needs to support egg formation.

Commercial feed formulated for laying chickens should be the staple. It provides a complete ration including proteins, vitamins, minerals, and the extra calcium needed for strong eggshells. Feed young pullets a starter feed until around 20 weeks old when they reach sexual maturity as layers.

Maintain constant access to fresh feed. Replace it daily and make sure feeders are sized properly to avoid waste. In addition to the prepared feed, oyster shell grit or alternatives can be offered free-choice to aid digestion and support calcium intake as well.

Greens like lettuce, carrots, and apples are also appreciated as occasional treats. Foraged insects, grubs, or kitchen scraps provide natural supplementation to the core diet. However, avoid avocado pits, chocolate, or other people foods potentially toxic to chickens.

With a balanced nutrition plan in place along with reliable feeders and a clean water source, your flock's dietary needs will stay met year-round for sustained health and productivity.

General Health and Wellness

Proactive healthcare helps ensure many enjoyable years of backyard chicken keeping. A few best practices can prevent and identify issues early:
Inspect birds daily looking for injuries, parasites, or behavioral changes. Isolate any sick individuals.

Provide a dust bathing area for natural grooming and delousing. Diatomaceous earth is a natural, non-toxic dusting agent.

Trim beaks if overgrown and trim toenails when they can no longer firmly grip the roost.

Administer medicated chick starter feed or treated water periodically to control coccidia and other common parasites.

Vaccinate for Marek's disease if a potential concern where you live.

Clean shelters, replace stale bedding and sanitize feed/water containers weekly. Proper hygiene reduces disease risk.

Isolate new arrivals initially in case they bring illness. Quarantine sick birds until fully recover.

With routine healthcare like deworming, vaccination, clean shelters, and early problem identification, your flock should remain healthy and productive for many years of backyard chicken keeping.

Flock Management

Backyard chicken keeping requires some daily hands-on care of the flock. Here are some tips for their management:

Establishing a clear pecking order is important for harmony. Monitor interactions and remove any bullied birds if needed.

Collect eggs from nesting boxes daily to encourage continued laying. Check for cracked or soft shells as signs of illness.

Clean coop shelters, roosts, and nesting areas regularly to keep them fresh and hygienic between whole deep cleanings.

Protect hens from predators by reinforcing fencing, closing Pop-holes they could escape from, and removing avenues for climbing predators. Promptly address intruders.

Keep accurate headcounts regularly, noting any injuries or illnesses. Search surrounding areas if numbers appear down.

Trim toenails and beaks when needed as mentioned in the health section.

Move feed and water sources easily each day for good exercise and even soil fertilizing as they forage.

Simple daily management like the above supports continued egg production and overall flock well-being for urban farmers enjoying backyard chicken keeping.

Expanding Your Flock

Once you've gained experience with a starter flock, some choose to expand their operation sustainably. Here are a few considerations:
Limit flock sizes to what your space can healthily accommodate. Overcrowding stresses birds and spreads illness.

Add a couple of young pullets each year to replace older layers winding down production. This maintains a balanced age range.

When integrating new birds, house them separately for 1-2 weeks to check for illness before exposing the resident flock.

Expand gradually versus all at once so infrastructure upgrades if needed don't overwhelm.
Evaluate adding different breeds to cross-pollinate egg genetics or fit various roles like pest control.

Consider a drake or two if the area permits a small flock of ducks or geese for egg and meat variety. Their care needs differ from chickens.

With controlled, thoughtful expansion that doesn't exceed your capabilities, urban farmers can progress their farming hobby through more sophisticated backyard chicken-keeping systems as their experience and interests grow. Patience remains key.

Legal Considerations

Before starting backyard chicken keeping, it's important to research applicable laws and regulations in your area. What's permitted can vary by city or county.

Contact your local government to learn zoning codes surrounding small livestock or "hobby farms." Neighbor complaints may require re-homing birds if rules weren't followed.

Understand any permit requirements like coop inspections, waste handling stipulations, or noise ordinances to avoid violations.

Limit flock numbers in compliance with local caps, usually 4-6 hens without a permit. Roosters are mostly disallowed due to crowing noise.

Consider neighbors and zone coop adequately away from property lines to prevent complaints about odors or trespassing chickens.

Adhere to all ownership age limits if under 18 and rules about slaughtering poultry on residential plots.

Following jurisdictional guidelines protects your legal right to enjoy backyard chicken keeping for years to come. With forethought given to such considerations upfront, issues down the road can be avoided.


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