Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The ABC's of Raising Backyard Poultry

Backyard poultry is a fun enterprise whether it is a project for your children or a project for you. There is so much to think about when it comes to raising live animals such as a small flock of chickens. Breeds, purchasing birds, and equipment are just a few topics that should run through your mind.

When people think about chickens they think about three main topics: odor, mess, and noise. All three can be curtailed depending on how you decide to run your small flock operation. First, chickens can smell just like dogs and cats can if they are not taken care of. Maintenance and daily manure removal from the chicken coop or housing can reduce odor and mess issues. The noises from the chickens mainly come from the loud crow of the rooster. Many people believe that you need a rooster to have eggs every day, which is not true. You only need a rooster if you want your eggs fertilized to eventually have chicks. Some research has even proven that hens might actually lay eggs more consistently when there is no rooster in the flock.

When you are starting to think about raising chickens, you need to check your local laws to see if you are allowed to raise poultry in your backyard. County, city, community laws and ordinances all need to be looked at when determining if you may raise chickens. In the past few years, more and more cities and towns have been allowing chickens in the backyard.

The first decision you need to make is why you want to raise poultry. Do you want meat or eggs? Depending on how you want to use the chickens will determine what breeds you will need. Each breed has different characteristics. For example, Leghorns are known for producing large amounts of white eggs, while Rhode Islands are known as a dual purpose breed and have brown eggs.

After deciding on what breed you are interested in you will have to decide on the age of the birds you would like to purchase. Hatching chicks, purchasing birds from a breeder or buying from a hatchery are all possible options. Hatching chicks can be a challenging but learning experience. If you have children, hatching might be a great educational experience for them. Many people forgo the hatching stage and purchase day old chicks from hatcheries. The chicks can survive up to three days on the nutrition that they received from the egg before hatching. This means that sending chicks in the mail is a possibility. Purchasing day old chicks from a hatchery will allow you to choose only pullets if you are not interested in buying a rooster. Just remember when buying chicks, purchase from a quality source such as a National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) participant.

Once chicks are received, you will need a brooder to keep them warm and dry. You can easily construct a brooder using cardboard box, bathtub, or plastic bins. Round the corners of the brooder to eliminate any piling that could happen when birds get too cold. Inside the brooder will need to be a heat lamb to keep the chicks warm as well as a food and water source.

After about six weeks, chicks will be ready to go outside. Make sure you have the proper type of facilities for your chickens. The chicken coop can be very basic, as long as it is efficient for the birds to use. Fresh water, dry food, shelter, and nest boxes for eggs are all important for the chicken coop. Predators are also an issue that will have to be taken in consideration when building the chicken coop. Owls, hawks, raccoons, weasels, fox, dogs, and cats are possible predators. A strong fence buried about a foot under the ground is an option that many poultry owners decide to do to deter predators.

Raising chickens can be a huge benefit to your household. Chickens, of course, can provide the family with fresh eggs and meat. Table scraps and insects are no longer an issue. Chickens will consume your household food waste as well as reduce insect population in your backyard. Chicken manure could be a valuable part to your compost, which will add rich nutrients to your garden. Raising poultry can truly be a rewarding experience for the whole family.

Brooder and chicken coop plans as well information on raising and caring for poultry and more information can be found by contacting your local Cooperative Extension office or by visiting Penn State Start Farming.

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