Wednesday, August 7, 2013

So You Think You Want Chickens?

Zanesville, Ohio –A few months ago my son got a new flock of chicks in the mail.  This inspired lots of questions from people we know, and at least one friend succumbed to her daughter’s request to get chickens, too.  While chickens are fun, entertaining, relatively easy to raise, provide fresh eggs and meat, and don’t require a lot of space, there are a few things to consider if you think you want to add chickens to your backyard.

Chickens can be raised just about anywhere, but that doesn’t mean your homeowners association will allow them in your yard.  Local ordinances and chicken laws should be checked out first.  You might also want to discuss this possible addition with any close neighbors.  Roosters don’t just crow at dawn; ours would crow at any hour of the day!  The hens may also get a little loud when laying their eggs or if they become alarmed or distressed.

You will need to research the breed of chickens to determine what will fit into your life the best.  There are egg layers, meat birds (broilers), and dual-purpose birds (raised for both eggs and meat).  Birds also vary in their heat and cold tolerance levels, size, personality, overall hardiness, egg production and broodiness.

There are some initial investment costs to raising chickens.  Chickens require a coop for shelter from the weather and predators.  Coops come in all sizes and types.  Feeding and water equipment will be needed.  The on-going expenses include feed and bedding.

You may also need a run to attach to the coop or a fence to contain the chickens while they are outside during the day.  Electric netting fence works well and can be moved around.  Chickens can be free-ranged, but be aware of that fact the chickens can’t tell your landscaping or garden plants from the weeds you’d like them to dig out.  Chickens also can’t tell where your property boundary is located and like to make dust bathes for themselves; your neighbors might not like holes in their yards.  They will also leave feathers and droppings.

There are several other things to consider.  Chickens need daily care, so someone will have to take care of them whenever you will be out of town.  Chickens and their bedding also create “litter”.  While it is great fertilizer, if you don’t have a garden to put it on you will need to come up with a way to dispose of it.  Also, hens have a pre-determined number of eggs they will lay in their lifetime.  Once a hen is no longer providing eggs, what will you do with her?  I recently saw an article that stated chickens are getting left at animal shelters because people don’t know what to do with them once they are done laying, or if they move, or if they simply can’t care for them anymore.  All of these questions should be answered before ordering the chicks.

We enjoy raising our chickens, and in a few months we will enjoy their eggs, too.  If you are considering a backyard flock, I encourage you to do the research necessary to make it work for you.  Information can be found on the Internet, at the local library, or at the Extension office.

Submitted by Lisa Crock, Muskingum SWCD program administrator.

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