June 2, 2014 – Modesto, CA
Whether or not a ‘back to the earth’ sentiment is important to you, healthy eating probably is. People all over the country are growing organic produce in their backyards and now many are raising chickens for fresh eggs. Now, three hens can provide a family of four with plenty of eggs, but as you’re imagining the delicious smell of those scrambled or sunny-side up delicacies, here are a few of the considerations you should ponder in raising backyard chickens.
You’ll need a henhouse. Allow at least 1 ½ to 2 square feet per chicken inside and eight to ten square feet of yard outside. Make sure you have the floor sit at least 2 ½ feet off the ground. This prevents rotting and provides shade to the birds during the summer. Some people recommend cedar for the floor but the rest of the structure can be pine. Avoid use pressure treated wood as it contains unwanted chemicals. Grating can help with necessary air circulation and you’ll need a door or two for the hens and another for people to have access to clean the coop. Provide a nesting box for each three birds. Finally, because the hens are vulnerable to predators, especially at night, be sure to secure the henhouse and the pen area (some critters like to dig under fencing). Clean your coop at least twice a month and clean your hands and shoes afterward for good hygiene.
Each chicken requires about ¼ cup of organic feed per day and a good supply of fresh water. Most hens start laying at about six months and will lay at the highest frequency during the following year. This will give you about four to seven eggs per week for each but will vary with the seasons – tip: use a red lamp in the coop during the winter months to stimulate egg production. Aside from the initial one-time cost of setting up your henhouse, backyard poultry farmers estimate a cost of about $3 per dozen for their eggs. Recent studies have shown that these eggs, coming from chickens given enough space to peck for food are significantly more nutritious than industry-produced eggs. They contain two to three times more omega-3 fatty acids and one-third the cholesterol. In addition, they contain less saturated fat, more vitamin E, beta carotene and vitamin A.
Of course, your chicken’s waste make a great addition to your compost pile as well or use it in your garden as fertilizer. In addition, those hens will gladly pluck up any unwanted insects and pests in your yard.
So, there are many breeds available to choose from and no, you don’t have to have a rooster to get eggs. In fact, unless you want more chicks, hens are all you need. Keep in mind that each breed has a different personality and rate of egg-laying. Some authorities say that the brown egg laying breeds tend to be more social and docile. Some people prefer to raise their birds from chicks. They assert this helps the chicks establish a pecking order and become used to having humans around. If you take this path, you’ll need to provide the chicks with additional heat and special feed until they’re older.
Are they noisy? Actually, no, not if you stick with hens. Even roosters only crow in the morning. Hens will cluck after laying but it’s considerably less noisy than a dog’s barking. How about odor? Well, if you raise thousands of chickens, you’re going to have a pretty good stink, but backyard operations are no worse than having a dog. In fact, an average dog produces 12 ounces of solid waste daily while an average hen will produce only 1.5 ounces.
So check your municipal code about raising chickens and see urbanchickens.org for more information. Are delicious healthy eggs from your own backyard in your future?