Considerations When Starting Your Own Flock of Backyard Chickens

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Three chickens pecking at groundSpring is here and birds fill the air. It’s a refreshing sound as winter draws to a close, temperatures rise, and new growth becomes obvious all around us. Birds everywhere are foraging for food, building nests, and getting ready to increase in numbers very soon. But wild birds aren’t the only ones triggered by these seasonal changes and increased daylengths. Backyard poultry flocks will be doing the same. And the keepers of those backyard flocks will be rewarded with increased egg production, newly hatched chicks, and fresh sources of protein without having to venture far from their own homes.

Maybe you too have considered keeping a small flock of backyard chickens. Before you go out and buy those first chicks or expect your first eggs or birds for processing, there are a few key things you should consider.

  • What might restrict me from keeping chickens?
  • What are my goals and the intent for the flock?
  • What type of housing will I need?
  • Who will care for my flock?
  • How do I protect my investment?

It’s important to know how your home or farmstead is zoned. Municipalities may place restrictions on keeping birds in your area. Do your research and learn what is acceptable and unacceptable for your specific location before purchasing your birds. Some ordinances may ban the keeping of poultry altogether, while others may require permits, restrict flocks to a certain number of birds, or not allow roosters. In certain cases, the way you house your birds may also be regulated.

Once you’ve determined that you can legally own birds on your property, you need to determine your goals and intent for the flock. What are you looking for: eggs, meat, or both? Chickens have been bred and selected for generations to excel in one of the two areas or be moderately productive for both traits. Research your breeds before purchasing and select one that will meet your needs.

Be sure you have proper housing for your birds. If purchasing newly hatched chicks, you’ll need to have a brooding setup to provide supplemental heat until birds are well feathered or outside temperatures increase. Desirable temperatures will vary based on the size and age of your birds, as well as the breed’s hardiness to hot or cold climates. As a general rule, newly hatched chicks will require a temperature of 95oF. Desired temperatures will then drop 5o per week of age until ambient temperatures are reached. Housing should provide protection from the elements and predators. Knowing your local predator populations will be beneficial in determining whether your birds will have access to an outdoor run or be allowed to free range for periods of time throughout the day. Remember that state law requires that poultry be kept on your property and allowing them too much freedom can potentially lead to property damage and nuisance claims. Housing for mature egg-producing hens will also require nest boxes and roost bars.

Will you be caring for the flock yourself or will this be a team effort with family, friends, or neighbors? Chickens require daily care. If you are keeping layers, eggs should be collected at least twice daily to ensure that they are kept fresh and to deter predators. If you cannot dedicate yourself to a daily routine, be sure you have a support system to help you when you need to be away or simply aren’t feeling up to the task.

And lastly, how do I protect my investment? You may not think of these chickens as an investment. Maybe they’re a “hobby” or a “pet,” but when taken care of properly they can be rewarding in many ways. Selecting the right birds and housing will not be enough to make you successful. Be sure you have proper biosecurity measures in place to protect the health of your flock and ensure that they are both healthy and productive. A healthy flock makes for a happy owner.

As you venture into the world of backyard chickens, remember these things and give it all you’ve got. The chickens will do the rest of the work and you’ll reap the rewards. If you have any more specific questions, please reach out to your local Poultry agent today.

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