When people begin the journey into growing and raising their own food, their first step is to grow a home garden. Many who do want to know more ways they can raise food of their own to replace what they would normally buy in a store. A next step is to raise chickens in your backyard.
Yes, you read that correctly. Raising chickens in your backyard is a truly rewarding experience. And, with careful research and planning, it is one that might be easier than you think. The winter months are the perfect time to do research and make plans. In this two-part series, we want to help walk you through some of the steps you will need to take in order to have chickens in your homestead by spring time.
Is it Legal?
The first step in raising chickens is to determine whether or not it is legal in your city. Your city’s website may have this information, or you can call to make sure. You might be surprised to find that it is in many places, as long as you don’t have a rooster (and some city ordinances even allow roosters). The main concern within any city is that the chickens aren’t a nuisance. As long as you keep the coop clean and allow your chickens the opportunity to roam on a daily basis, you shouldn’t cause any disturbances.
Do I Have Enough Space?
An important thing to consider as you’re planning for chickens is the amount of space you will have available for them. For each chicken that you have, you will need approximately 2-3 ft in the coop and 4-5 feet per chicken in the run. Space is important for chickens: if they do not have enough, they can grow stressed and irritable.
Designing the Coop:
The most expensive part of raising your own chickens is building the coop. But, because it is a structure that will last, it is worth the investment. Many people try to build their coop from scrap wood they have lying around. While we encourage you to do this, it’s important to do it with a plan and design in mind so that you don’t have your coop halfway built and realize the wood you have won’t work. You can find a plethora of designs online, ranging from simple to extravagant. Another economical option is to purchase a coop off of Craigslist, or a group on Facebook. Before you buy, ask for specific dimensions, condition, and to see the coop in person if possible.
When building the coop, there are two main options: a “tractor” coop versus a permanent one. Both have specific advantages. A tractor coop tends to be smaller, and a little less expensive to make. It needs to be moved daily, but will help to fertilize your yard. A permanent coop will be a bit more extensive, but it is more secure against the elements and against predators. When you clean out a permanent coop, you can use the old floor for compost.
Two more important considerations in the design of the coop is where you will try to encourage the hens to lay, and where they will roost. Any sort of shallow container with built up pine shavings will work for nests (although, your hens may have a mind of their own and choose to lay in other places.) For roosting, provide your backyard chickens with pieces of wood that are three to four inches wide throughout the coop.
Plan for Feed/Water
In the second part of this series, we will share more of what chicks need in their first two months. But, as you are planning long term for your chickens and wanting to design the coop, it’s important to decide what you will do for food and water. Most people purchase layer feed pellets at their local farm or tractor supply. These supply stores will also carry containers for feed and water that make it easy for you and your chickens (just make sure to include a way to keep your water off the ground so that it doesn’t get dirty as quickly. Even a few pieces of scrap wood can help!)
For a tasty treat, your chickens will eat many of the scraps and leftovers from your meals: mainly fruits, vegetables, breads, and grains. If you want your chickens to be completely vegetarian fed (which can help lead to a premium price if you want to sell the eggs), you will need to plan accordingly.
Do you raise your own backyard chickens? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Stay tuned for our next post in this series, which will cover choosing the breed of backyard chicken you want to raise, where to buy, how to care for hatchlings, and caring for your chickens.