Raising Backyard Chickens

Raising Backyard Chickens

Raising chickens in your backyard is quite an experience.  It has its Pro's and Con's but when done correctly, it can be a very rewarding and fun experience.

There is so much to know about chickens in general that it is almost an art.  Since you rarely find all the information that you need in a single place, Google is always very helpful in refining your search and helping you to locate much of the information that you seek. We are confident that this guide will help lead you in the right direction.

What is your motivation?

This is a very important question that you need to ask yourself before moving forward with the idea that you want chickens. Some people raise chickens for their meat while others are just after their incredible eggs, and a small few just want them as pets.  Whatever your reason, you need to consider the commitment that you are making when bringing home a pile of chickens.

If your motivation is simply eggs, a handful of eggs per day may not be worth the cost or effort that you will spend to maintain a flock of chickens.  I believe it is a sliding scale when figuring the cost savings on eggs that you could just as easily buy from the store.  Here are a few more questions that you should consider before you proceed:

How many and what breed of chickens do you want?
There are many breeds of chickens.  Some are better for their meat, while others are better for laying eggs.  It is important to do your research to find the breed that best fits your needs.  The quantity that you get will depend on several factors addressed in the questions below.
Do you have adequate room in your yard?
Does your property zoning allow farm animals?
Are you able to invest the time, effort, and money?
Do you have someone who can fill in when you are unable?
Will your neighbors complain about noise or smell?

RESEARCH first then pick your category and choose your breed.

Now that we have that out of the way, it's time to choose which breed of chicken best fits your needs.  While there are hundreds of breeds to choose from, many of those breeds have been genetically designed for specific purposes such as egg layers, meat chickens, show chickens, etc.  You may want to choose a breed that is both a good egg chicken but also is a good meat chicken in case it turns out to be a less-than-stellar egg layer. When it comes right down to it, all Chickens are going to fit into one of these four categories:
Multi-Purpose Breeds - As described above, these are chickens that can serve more than one purpose such as an egg layer and a meat chicken.  Generally, People that raise backyard chickens for the purpose of providing eggs tend not to want to butcher and eat their own chickens. Everybody is different.

Egg Layer Breeds - These are chickens whose main purpose is to provide eggs.  Lots of eggs! According to the research that I have done, a good egg-laying chicken can only lay up to 6 eggs a week maximum, however, a fair average is 4 to 5 eggs per chicken, per week. Egg production drops each year when they molt in the early fall and as daylight hours are lost. They need at least 12 to 14 hours of light each day to continue laying eggs. (This is not true! My ISA Browns each lay an egg every day of the week religiously!)

Meat Chicken Breeds - These are breeds that are bred and then butchered or sold specifically for their meat.  They grow faster and larger than the average chicken and are slaughtered at seven to nine weeks of age.  

Heritage breeds:  These are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by our forefathers. These are the breeds of a past era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. These historic breeds retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency, fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts, and the ability to mate naturally with resistance to diseases and parasites.  

RESEARCH first then decide what age group of chickens you want.

Why is this important?  Hens will start laying eggs as early as 5.5 to 6 months of age.  If you start with newborn chicks, you will need to feed and take care of them for that amount of time before you will receive even one egg.  If you are looking for an instant return on your investment, then starting from chicks is not the option for you.  You instead would want to start with pullets or Adult hens.  With that said, you also don't want to acquire an adult that is too old.  Depending on the breed, Hens begin laying at around six months of age and some can continue for 5 to 8 years
with their peak production occurring in the first two years.  This means if you get a Hen that is 3 years or older, she has already passed her peak production window and will likely yield fewer eggs than a younger Hen.  Below are the life stages that you need to choose from when selecting your chickens.

Hatching eggs - These are fertilized eggs that you will incubate until they hatch.  Once hatched, you will still need to raise them for 5.5 to 6 months before they are able to produce eggs.

Chicks - Typically, chicks are 1 day old and very inexpensive to buy.  You will need to raise them for 5.5 to 6 months before they are able to produce eggs.

Pullets - Pullets are hens that are under 1 year of age.  They are considered teenage Hens and will start producing eggs at 5.5 to 6 months old.  Pullets are typically the most popular age group for backyard chickens.

Adults - Adult Hens are at least 1 year and older.  If you get an adult Hen, it's best to choose one that is as close to 1 year as possible because they will typically lay more eggs over a longer period of time.

Note:  For most breeds, it is difficult to accurately determine the sex of a chick until they are 6 to 8 weeks of age. This means if you choose to start with "Hatching Eggs" or "Chicks", you may end up with some roosters in the mix.  Therefore, if you are looking for all Hens, we recommend that you start with "Pullets". Pullets of course will cost more than Hatching eggs or Chicks, but you won't end up with unneeded roosters.

Shelters and Tractor cages.

Regardless of whether you are on a farm or raising chickens in your backyard, the basic needs of your chickens are going to be the same.  Having an adequate shelter is important for the well-being of the chickens but it also directly affects their behaviors and egg production. Even in cold weather, chickens can be comfortable and productive as long as their living conditions meet their basic needs. Chickens can tolerate subfreezing temperatures, but keeping them warm and dry through the winter will help them stay healthy and productive all season long. Besides temperature there are a few other considerations to keep in mind:
Adequate space for each chicken
General Space Guidelines Per Chicken -  Standard breed Chickens: 4 square feet of coop space per bird; 8 square feet of run space per bird. Standard Heavy Breed Chickens: 8 square feet of coop space per bird; 15 square feet of run space per bird.
Plenty of food and Water
Nesting Boxes for each Hen
Chicken Roosts
Water, wind, and predator proof surroundings
External Space / Tractor Cage

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