Chickens are one of the best choices when it comes to raising your own animals for food (along with pigs, goats and rabbits). They come relatively cheap compared to other animals, even compared to most pets. They offer you two separate sources of food- they can be used for their meat, or for their eggs. There are also some hidden benefits to having chickens- their droppings make amazing fertilizer, and chicken are fairly effective at reducing the bug and weed populations of an area. Chickens are generally a welcome addition to a farming or permaculture environment.
IS IT LEGAL TO HAVE CHICKENS?
The first thing you will need to do is find out if you’re legally allowed to raise chickens on your property. Each region will have its own laws and ordinances dealing with the subject. Generally the more property you own the less problems you will have, but there are always exceptions so be sure you’re not breaking any local laws.
Like my old, senile Grandpa Moe used to tell me, “Rambo”, he said, “make sure you choose the right chicks.” He was making a different point, but the maxim still holds true- the type of chicken you select is very important.
To get started, you can buy chickens or chicks (baby chickens) from other farmers in the area. You can also buy them at feed stores, especially around the springtime. You can also buy fresh eggs and hatch them yourself (you will need an incubator for this).
When starting out, remember less is more, as you don’t want to crowd your chickens. When buying chicks make sure that they’re healthy- look for clean beaks and feet, with no discharge from their eyes or nostrils, and make sure their breathing is clear, with no wheezing or sneezing.
If your main focus in on egg production, you’ll want to consider one of the Mediterranean class breeds such as Leghorns, Golden or Silver Campines, Buttercups, Hamburgs, Blue Andalusians or Minorcas.
If meat is your priority, consider the Cornish Cross.
If you’re looking for a nice mix between the two, consider the New Hampshire and Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Brahmas, Cochins, Wyandottes, and Ameraucanas.
If you’re raising chickens from birth, you’ll need your own incubator. Read this article to learn how to build your own chicken egg incubator.
During the first 2 months of a chick’s life, their living conditions can be pretty simple- a cardboard box or rabbit cage will suffice. Use pine shavings on the floor, with the temperature of 100 degrees, gradually decreasing by 5 degrees or so every week. Chick crumbles and a waterer will be enough to feed them. Medicated crumbles will help avoid stomach parasites that can wipe out your chick population. Your chicks should have ample time being outside and playing with people, so they can get comfortable with the outdoors and humans.
After 2 months or so, when your chickens have grown out their feathers, it’s time to move them into a chicken coop. You’ll want 2-3 square feet of room within the coop for each chicken, as well as 4-5 sq/ft of outdoor space for the chickens to roam. Cover the floor of your coop with pine shavings. Have a feeding area with a waterer where the chickens can eat. Chicken pellets and chicken scratch are the meal of choice for chickens, with occasional vegetables and bugs thrown in there as a treat.
Check out this article to learn how to make your own chicken coop.
Check out this article to learn how to make your own chicken feeder and waterer.
PROTECTING YOUR CHICKENS
Anyone raising chickens will inevitably face the age-old issue of how to keep them safe. Chickens out in the open will have many natural predators, such as foxes, coyotes, racoons, etc. Many of these can jump over high fences or dig underground. The best defense is to bring your chickens into a secure area at night, as most of their predators tend to be nocturnal. If you want to have your area secure at all times, consider a high fence, with chicken wire buried underneath, and some big dogs. These precautions will help protect against most of chickens natural predators (especially the dogs).
Also make sure your chicken coops are clean, to avoid the spread of things like mites, lice, or bacterial and viral infections.
Good luck and stay prepared!