This is the sec­ond part of a three part arti­cle shar­ing with you my expe­ri­ences with square foot farm­ing… its some­thing most sub­ur­ban dwellers can do and its an essen­tial prep­per skill. In part one, I explained some of my expe­ri­ences with gar­den­ing in small spaces… in this part, I will share with you some of expe­ri­ences with rais­ing chick­ens for eggs.  This write­up is not com­pre­hen­sive about rais­ing chick­ens… if noth­ing else, it can give you an idea where to start and let you know that yes, even you can do it.

I cur­rent­ly have three chick­ens… 2 Aus­tralorps and 1 Wyan­dotte.  My daugh­ter has been involved with Farm 1them since we brought them home and part of her chores are to take care of the ani­mals… she’s still young so ulti­mate­ly its my respon­si­bil­i­ty but its been a great way to get her involved in prep­ping.  My small flock start­ed at four but I lost an Amer­i­cana to ill­ness… which is a bum­mer because she laid green eggs.  My coop is large enough to have 4 but to main­tain har­mo­ny in the flock, I did­n’t add anoth­er after I lost the amer­i­cana. The birds I have were obtained from a farmer as poults sev­er­al years ago. I asked for sev­er­al dif­fer­ent breeds that were decent egg pro­duc­ers and he gave me this mixed bag… but its clear the Aus­tralops are much bet­ter pro­duc­ers than the oth­ers Ive owned. At peak egg pro­duc­tion, I get an egg per day per hen from Aus­tralops. My next flock will prob­a­bly be a mix of Aus­tralops and Buff Orp­ing­tons (just for some vari­ety).

Chick­ens are very easy to keep and its actu­al­ly pro­tect­ed by law in some places…. they are called “right to farm” laws. Sev­er­al states leave laws or the inter­pre­ta­tion of a very vague state law up to local munic­i­pal­i­ties so check with your local munic­i­pal­i­ty or your coun­ty agri­cul­tur­al exten­sion about live­stock laws in your area; you may get an answer as sim­ple as “no coop with­in 5 feet of a prop­er­ty line” or “lay­ing hens but no roost­ers are allowed.” I checked with my munic­i­pal­i­ty and found that there is no law exclud­ing chick­ens, but there is a law against “live­stock”… so my daugh­ter named our chick­ens and they are pets, not live­stock. Since we have only lay­ing hens (no roost­er means no seri­ous noise issues) and I clean the coop reg­u­lar­ly (so it stinks less), none of my neigh­bors have com­plained… but the occa­sion­al dozen brown eggs they get may help that cause too.

Car­ing for chick­ens isn’t time con­sum­ing or hard, but its an every day com­mit­ment. Check on them dai­ly to ensure they have food and water… also, pick up any eggs they may have laid. Depend­ing on the breed, each farm 4bird will lay, on aver­age, an egg per day or every oth­er day in the sum­mer months… but as days get short­er, egg pro­duc­tion will slow down. In the win­ter months, you can trick them into think­ing its sum­mer with arti­fi­cial light set on a timer to give them an extra 4 or 5 hours of light per day. Used prop­er­ly, lights can extend the lay­ing sea­son year round (with­out any seri­ous adverse effect to the birds). In addi­tion to dai­ly checks, han­dle each bird week­ly… if you have a small flock, its easy to remem­ber the approx­i­mate weight of each bird and the look they have in their eyes and feath­ers while healthy. An ill­ness could kill your entire flock so catch­ing it ear­ly is important…and you may want to quar­an­tine a sick bird. Month­ly, clean their coop and replace the bed­ding…. it helps with bird health and keeps the yard from stink­ing. The wood shav­ings or straw peo­ple nor­mal­ly use for bed­ding can be pur­chased from local pet sup­ply places or from trac­tor sup­ply… but I use shred­ded paper. It func­tions the same and its free from my home office. Chick­en manure is too rich to put direct­ly in gar­den soil but it makes for great com­post when mixed with leaves, dirt, etc. and allowed to rot.

Hous­ing them is real­ly quite easy. I built a chick­en coop for a just over $100 that includes a 4 foot by 8 foot run (which is fenced in and pro­tect­ed over­head from weath­er), an inside roost­ing area raised up off the Version 2ground, and 2 nest­ing box­es… its a pret­ty good size for 4 chick­ens. The run area was picked clean of grass in no time and now they sur­vive most­ly off pel­lets, but they are released into the yard to scratch while I’m at home. But I warn you chick­ens are some­what adven­tur­ous (or stu­pid) and on more than one occa­sion Ive had to retrieve them from a neigh­bors yard. Pup­py fences work (to a degree since chick­ens can fly for short dis­tances… click here to see what I mean) to keep chick­ens in a spe­cif­ic part of your yard…. a chick­en trac­tor works bet­ter though. Look online for chick­en trac­tor and coop ideas… with a large num­ber of back yard chick­en rais­ers, there is a wealth of infor­ma­tion… find one that works for you.

Feed­ing chick­ens is a snap… they have a very var­ied diet and rarely overeat so keep­ing a food sup­ply for sev­er­al days in a coop isn’t a prob­lem. Because of my yard size and the prox­im­i­ty to my neigh­bors, my birds are kept in their coop most of the time which means they eat a lot of bagged food…and they are messy so IMG_8144about a quar­ter of their pel­lets end up on the ground. Despite the “com­plete diet” that comes from a bag, I try to vary their diet as much as pos­si­ble… scratch­ing in the yard is great for that. When released into the yard, they will peck at grass and insects and they absolute­ly love worms and what­ev­er grubs come up in my gar­den (free range chick­ens are fed this diet almost entire­ly). On win­ter days when I cant release them to scratch or when no scratch is avail­able (due to snow cov­er), I feed them a small plate of sprouts. Alfal­fa seems to get eat­en fastest and always gets picked clean, but they will devour most any plate I put in the run with them.

Don’t lim­it the amount of water your chick­ens have access too… and make sure you change it dai­ly if it freezes… or even twice dai­ly. I keep two water­ers on hand in the win­ter… I put in a fresh one in the morn­ing and anoth­er as soon as I get home from work, chances are the water has frozen with­in a few hours. I bought most of my water­ers and feed troughs at trac­tor sup­ply but below are links to a few items if you don’t have one near­by. Also, Ive includ­ed some links to books you will find of inter­est if you’re get­ting into chick­ens. While much of the infor­ma­tion you will need can be found through open sources on the inter­net, these books (vet book and storeys chick­en book) have most of what you will need and hav­ing a library of such books is a good idea as an ani­mal grow­er. Feel free to ask ques­tions in the com­ments and Ill do my best to answer them from my expe­ri­ences.

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