By Nicholas Oakley, BSc, DVM
Why should I start a flock?
The practice of raising chickens for both eggs and meat has a long history, both commercially and recreationally. Today, large numbers of flocks are being established in backyards across the United States, and even greater numbers of Americans are seeing the value in raising these interesting creatures. Whether you are searching for a unique companion for your farm, or hoping to have fresh eggs and meat for your family, backyard chickens can make a great addition to your property.
How To Get Started:
- Zoning Regulations/Bylaws
To get started, you should first identify any zoning regulations and bylaws governing the ownership and/or use of land for chickens. This initial step is very important, as the rules and regulations will vary by community and this may stop your dream of chicken ownership from ever taking flight.
A well designed and properly constructed coop is essential for the health, safety and comfort of your chickens. If you are interested in housing chickens, it is crucial that their new home is appropriately designed. Online resources are invaluable when seeking design plans for coops, or even more simply, a fully designed coop can be purchased from a company that specializes in chicken coop construction.
- Space Requirements
Chicken coops are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate any size backyard. There are a variety of guidelines that outline the amount of space chickens require within a coop, and it is recommended to check with your local veterinarian if your yard is less than spacious.
- Predator Control
Keeping your chickens within a properly designed coop is essential for their safety, and a secure coop will also help to keep predators out. Chickens are the prey for a large number of predators and the fencing should specifically prevent entry of cats, eagles and snakes. By preventing the entry of these smaller animals, many other larger species will be unable to enter. Essentially, there should be very small openings between the links of the coop fence, as well as a cover to protect from other birds in the area.
- Getting Chicks/Eggs
The next step (and the most exciting) is purchasing some chicks or eggs. For the beginner, it is recommended to start with baby chicks or pullets (a young hen under 1 year of age). Pullets provide the opportunity to skip raising baby chicks and start with the easier part of management. If you are interested in baby chicks, you can look to your local feed store or order directly from a poultry hatchery. If you do decide to visit your local feed store, you should remember that you won’t be able to tell the sex of your baby chicks. This will mean that you will most likely end up with a rooster or two. If you seek out eggs to hatch yourself, you will require an incubator to ensure that the eggs stay warm. You must also assume the responsibility of mother hen, and need to rotate your newly acquired eggs daily for the 21 days until they hatch.
- Feeding Your Chickens
Your local feed store can provide your flock with balanced feed, and the options available can vary based upon the age of your chickens. To reduce the amount of feed spoilage, it is recommended to buy only enough food for a 30 day window. You will also need to pick up specialized, rodent-proof dishes for feeding and waterers that can be changed daily. All of these products are available at your local feed or co-op store.
What Comes Next?
When you ensure that your flock is healthy, you help guarantee that your flock is producing high quality eggs and meat. Utilize your veterinarian to access a wealth of information about chicken ownership and work with them to keep your flock healthy for the years to come. If you have questions about starting your own backyard flock, or you already have established a flock and need some advice, please feel free to contact me at DrOakley@bernardsvilleanimalhospital.com