Healthy Sustainable Lifestyle
Backyard Chicken Primer
Raising chickens in your own backyard has become not only popular, but a movement that has swept across the country. It has become a symbol for a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Today’s issue will take a look at some basic considerations to prepare for your chickens.
August 13, 2015
When you look at egg cartons in the stores you may come across some terms that leave you with the feeling that the chickens that laid these eggs or the chicken you are going to eat has lived a healthy and happy life. That may be, but not always. A few definitions are in order.
- Generally used to refer to egg producing hens which are allowed to roam around an enclosed building and commonly have no access to the outdoors
- Can be force molted through starvation and beaks can be clipped
- Birds have some access to outdoors, but this may be limited by spatial or time boundaries
- Cut beaks and force molting by starvation allowed
- Requires documentation to prove
- Is not an approved USDA classification
- All poultry is hormone free by federal regulation
- USDA does not allow this term
- USDA generally uses this term on poultry and not on eggs
- Growers can use label if they can prove it does not contain added colors, flavors, etc.
- Not a USDA classification
- Voluntary program, raised without growth proponents and antibiotics, and not fed animal byproducts
- Has nothing to do with how they are kept
- USDA does not regulate this term
- Means not fed animal byproducts or dairy products
- This USDA certification is the hardest to get due to all the paperwork
- Birds are kept un-caged and kept on an organic diet of vegetables that are pesticide and antibiotic free
- Each ingredient in the feed has to have its own certification
- De-beaking and force molting are allowed
- The USDA does not regulate the term
- Humane Farm Animal Care regulates the program
- Birds are allowed natural behaviors; nesting, perching and dust bathing
American Humane Certified:
- Kept in larger commercial battery cages (hen space the size of a legal sheet of paper)
- No force molting by starvation, beaks can be clipped
United Egg Producers Certified:
- Means almost nothing except not forced molt by starvation
Food Alliance Certified:
- Means about the same as “Free Range”
- Has specific requirements with densities, perches, and nest boxes
Animal Welfare Approved:
- Highest standards of them all
- Strict regulations on nest box availability, perches and stocking densities
- Molt naturally, beaks cannot be clipped
If this all seems a little confusing to you, you’re not alone. A lot of these terms would make one think of other things than what is really allowed. These certifications are a good reason to raise your own chickens: so you are aware of the daily stresses and health of your animals.
This article will take a look at preparing to raise chickens. In some areas, this may not be an option due to space, time, money, city ordinances or all the above.
If you are able to get beyond all these things then it is time to start.
First thing to do is check with the local municipality to see what type of permit is required to raise chickens in your backyard. Most will have a limit on how many you may raise and a lot of times roosters are not allowed due to noise.
Where I live, we have these requirements to go by:
1. No more than four chickens shall be kept on any residential lot.
2. No person shall keep any rooster.
3. This permit does not allow a holder to sell eggs or slaughter chickens.
4. The chickens shall be provided with a clean, covered, well-ventilated enclosure that is secure from predators.
5. The chickens must be kept in the covered enclosure or within a fenced area at all times.
6. No enclosure shall be located closer than twenty feet to a side yard line and five feet to a rear lot line.
7. No enclosure shall be located closer than twenty five feet to any occupied residential structure.
An annual fee of ten dollars is required for a license.
You can check your local municipality’s website for the regulations on chicken-keeping in your area.
Now that we know what the requirements are, we should look at selecting a breed. Without getting too in depth we will look at just some of the more popular breeds for starting out.
The first one to consider would be the Rhode Island Red.
They lay large to extra large brown eggs, the hens are a large breed weighing about six pounds.
They do well free-range or in a coop. Basically a great breed to start with.
The next breed is New Hampshire Red.
This breed came from the Rhode Island Red. It has many of the same qualities as the Rhode Island Red, but has not been as overbred as the Red, and is much easier to handle.
This is a great breed for a person just starting out with little to no experience.
The next breed is Barred Plymouth Rock.
They are larger than the Rhode Island and the New Hampshire Reds.
They lay a brown egg and are known for their black and white barring in their feathers.
The Delaware is a heavy breed chicken, with a mild temperament and are good around children.
The hens lay a large brown egg and are a nurturing breed.
These four breeds are the top picks for a backyard flock. There are other worthy breeds to consider, but this is just a start.
After thinking about what breed to select, the next consideration will be, what do my chickens really need?
Depending on if you start with very young chicks or grown birds (six weeks of age), will depend on your list. We will look for now at grown birds.
- Coop with nesting box and roost
- Feeder and feed
- Water and water dispenser
The amount of available space will determine how many chickens and how healthy and happy they will be.
A heavy breed like Rhode Island Red requires 1’ roosting space, 4’ coop space and 10’ of run space per bird. Four birds would equal 16’sqft coop space, 40’ of run area.
- Coop should have good ventilation with no drafts
- Protection from predators
- Protection from weather
- Door to outside for cleaning and gathering eggs, plus a small door for the chickens
Many choices can be gone over when it comes time to decide on a home for your chickens, the construction materials, security, ventilation, nest boxes, and a place to roost at night.
The only limitations are what you can imagine for your birds and the money it will take to build it.
Figure two square feet per bird with an outdoor run, and four square feet per bird if kept in the coop all the time.
Look for good roofing materials that will hold up under the climate you are in. Build secure doors that can keep your birds locked in and keep predators out.
The coop should be raised up off the ground to avoid animals that are ground-dwelling. Provide secure walls with good ventilation, but not drafty.
The pen or run should have
- Plenty of space
- Protect from above and below
- Part should be covered for shade and part open for sun
- Use 2”X4” welded wire on all sides, and extend 1’ past the base for deterring digging animals
- Cover the welded wire with ½” X ½” hardware cloth, 2’ up to protect from ground base predators
- Over top, place wire mesh or bird netting to protect from above
- Attach pen firmly to coop
Size of coop determines extras inside:
- Roost – can use a 2”X4” board, no higher than 3’ from ground
- If large enough, put feed and water inside. Keep feed dry, hang chest-high of birds.
- Type of feed depends on age
- Water is most important
- Nest boxes, no smaller than 12”X12”, best 14”X14”, with sloped roof over to discourage roosting
- Dust bath box
Other requirements must be met if you’re bringing home baby chicks. That will be covered in another issue, along with other important things to consider and ways to keep your chickens happy!
All information for this article has come from a very good book,
The Backyard Chicken Bible by Eric Lofgren
I would recommend this book for anyone starting out or well seasoned raising chickens.
Lofgren, Eric. The Backyard Chicken Bible: The Complete Guide to Raising Chickens. N.p.: Betterway Home, 2014. Print.
ABA – American Bantam Association
APA – American Poultry Association
BA or LORP – Black Austrlorp
BB – Buff Brahma
BBR – Black Breasted Red
BCM – Black Copper Marans
BF – Bantam Fowl
BJG – Black Jersey Giant
BLRW – Blue Laced Red Wyandotte
BO – Buff Orpington
BOB – Best of Breed
BQ – Breeder Quality
BR – Barred Rock
BSL – Black Sex-Link
BTB – Black Tailed Buff
BTW – Black Tailed White
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