How to raise pet chickens
Do you like fresh eggs? Are you looking for a new organic experience? Why not get some cute chicks and raise them in your own backyard? Raising chickens is easier than you might think, and you don't have to live in the country to raise them. Intrigued? Check out these guidelines for adding some productive and entertaining feathered friends to your family "farm."
Do some research on raising chickens from books and websites such as My Pet Chicken. Talk to others who have raised chickens for their firsthand experiences to be sure it is right for you. Generally, cities don't allow roosters (they crow at dawn) but hens are OK in most municipalities. Fortunately, these biddies don't need a male to produce high-quality delicious eggs.
Prepare a home
Baby chicks must be kept warm until their feathers come in. You can start them out in a 30-gallon plastic bin or cardboard box with a heat lamp and appropriate bedding. As they grow, they can be transferred to a pet kennel or crate (making sure they can't escape through the openings). Be sure to use a chick feeder and water dispenser to control mess and prevent accidental drowning. It is best to start them inside where you can keep a close eye on them. Keep their digs clean to keep them healthy and prevent unpleasant odors. After four to five weeks, they can transition to the outside.
Pick up chicks
Hatchlings are available from feed stores, local hatcheries and even via mail order. They can be sexed; meaning chicks available for sale can be guaranteed female with about 98 percent accuracy. Different breeds provide different color eggs in a variety of sizes. Certain breeds are hardier than others, too, and do better in specific climates. Do your henwork. Believe it or not, there's an app for that.
House your hens
Chickens naturally roost at night and will need protection from predators. A simple coop can be made with wood and chicken wire or can be purchased. The size of the coop, of course, will depend on how many chickens you plan to keep and the area you want to keep them in. Make sure your coop has some laying boxes where your hens feel safe; about a foot square with plenty of straw or other bedding works well. It is best if they can be free range during the day, then at dusk they will naturally head for shelter.
Feed your flock
Baby chicks need special medicated food called Chick Starter available at local feed stores or by mail order for around $1 per pound. After about six weeks they graduate to a scratch blend and/or lay feed that is available in pellets or crumble for about 35-50 cents per pound. Hate to waste food? Chickens will eat all of your table scraps. They are better than Fido at garbage disposing. Want to give your hearty eaters a special treat? They love fruit. A slice of watermelon in the summertime will be as welcome as air conditioning in Arizona. They'll peck away at it until nothing is left but a laser-thin slice of rind. Unlike us, they prefer the seeded variety.
Reap your rewards
At about six months of age, your hens will start laying about an egg a day depending on the time of year. In addition to providing the best and healthiest breakfast food, chickens are downright entertaining. They scratch around endlessly searching for a weed or a bug to peck and will keep your yard pest free. Hand-raised chickens are very tame and can be trained to come on command. Hens raised together tend to flock together and yes, there is a pecking order. New arrivals get the brunt of the beak. Have a garden? Chicken poop is some of the best fertilizer there is. Toss it into your compost pile or feed your grass.
Yes, you can put all your eggs in one basket! Children of all ages will enjoy these organic and productive pets. And, oh, the bounty your flock will bring you! Once you start eating fresh eggs, you'll never want to go back to commercially produced eggs again.