Lee Valley & Veritas

Gardening Newsletter
  Volume 9, Issue 1 - January 2014  
 
Keeping Backyard Chickens
So you're thinking of getting chickens, are you? More and more forward-thinking cities including London, Seattle and New York are amending laws to allow backyard chickens.
Other cities refuse to, fearing that doing so will lead to people demanding a multitude of farm animals in their backyards. Chickens: the gateway livestock.

If you're curious about chickens because yours is one of the cities that allows them, here are the answers to a few questions you might have.
 

Want chickens?

 
Can I get just one chicken? Nope. Chickens are very social creatures and having just one is cruel (in my opinion). If you're thinking of getting chickens, four is a good number to start with.

Don't I need a rooster for my hen to lay eggs? Nope. Hens are like ladies, they're born with all of their eggs. A rooster's job is to fertilize the eggs. And take out the garbage.

What's the difference between brown and white eggs? Basically brown chickens lay brown eggs, and white chickens lay white eggs. Then there are Ameraucanas, Easter Eggers and Marans, which lay blue, green and dark chocolate brown eggs respectively.

How soon before I get eggs? Female chickens start laying when they're four- to six-months old. You can avoid all of the waiting (and the job of raising cute little chicks) by buying pullets.

What's a pullet? Yeah, I knew that'd be your next question. A pullet is a female chicken that's several months old and ready to lay eggs! No waiting required.

Where does one get chickens? A lot of towns have farm animal auctions. Also, if you live anywhere near the country, chances are you live near someone who has chicks or chickens for sale. Google it. Kijiji it. Craigslist it. You'll find them. The time to buy chicks is around Easter, so start looking a couple of weeks before then. Murray McMurray Hatchery is one of the best sources for chicks around and delivers anywhere in North America. In Canada, you can get them by mail from Frey's Hatchery Ltd.
 
What chickens eat
 
What do chickens eat? Chickens eat chicken food. Yes, actual food made for chickens. Just like cats eat cat food, and dogs eat dog food plus whatever they can lick off the dishwasher door. You can buy chicken food at your local farm store. And again yes, you do have a local farm store, you just don't know about it yet. Where I buy my feed, it costs around $15 (Cdn.) a bag for regular feed and $22 (Cdn.) a bag for organic feed. A 24kg bag feeds four chickens for about a month. They also eat all of your food scraps including wilted lettuce, vegetable peelings, fruit and stale bread. Chickens will also eat other chickens. They're carnivores and will attack one of their coop mates if they sense that they're weak.

Where do they live in the winter? A trailer park in Florida mainly. Or … in the coop where they live all spring, summer and fall. Chickens, like every other bird you see in the winter, are covered in feathers that provide great insulation. Basically it's like walking around in a duvet all day long. In fact, cold weather breeds such as Rhode Island Reds are actually more comfortable in cold weather than the extreme heat of summer. More important than the temperature of their coop is the humidity. Chickens are susceptible to respiratory illnesses, and high humidity will kill them more quickly than the cold or the heat. Make sure their coop has lots of ventilation so that moisture can escape.

How often do you need to clean out the coop? The inside of the coop needs to be cleaned out at least three times per week. Just remove the droppings that fall out of them when they're asleep on their roost and replace all of the pine shavings every month or so. The pine shavings in the indoor run where they play during the day need to be cleaned out only twice a year. It's called the deep litter method. The chicken droppings and pine shavings decompose naturally, providing good insulation for both summer and winter weather. Just top up with pine shavings as needed. If the chickens have an outdoor run, it should be covered in straw. This needs to be cleared out and replaced with new straw once a month.

What do you do with all those droppings and straw? Whether you live on a big farm or have a small backyard, you can compost the droppings and straw. It's the perfect combination of carbons and nitrogen for making hot compost in as little as a month! It's amazing!

Do chickens stink? Nope. Not at all. Their droppings do though. Occasionally when their outdoor run gets soaking wet from rain, there's a bit of a funk in the air but it goes away as soon as the straw dries out.

Do you have to take chickens to the vet? Some people do … most people don't. The most common problems are bumblefoot (a bacterial foot infection), a prolapsed vent (the oviduct turns inside out and protrudes), mites and respiratory problems. They'll also peck at weaker chickens until they see blood and then they'll REALLY peck at them. All of these problems can be treated at home with antibiotics and other supplies you can get at your local feed store. What local feed store? That one I told you about earlier.

What else do you need to know? Chickens are the hip, happening thing to have right now but they aren't for everybody and they're a responsibility, not an accessory. If you still think you're interested in keeping chickens, consider these last few things:
 
Quick tips
 
Want one last reason to consider getting your own backyard chickens?
 
Colored eggs
 
Eggs that come out of the chicken already colored for Easter.
 
Karen Bertelsen

Karen Bertelsen is a Gemini Award nominated television host who has appeared on some of Canada's major networks including HGTV, W Network, Slice and MuchMoreMusic. Three years ago she started the blog The Art of Doing Stuff (www.theartofdoingstuff.com) as a creative outlet for her writing and endless home projects. The Art of Doing Stuff now receives over half a million views per month and has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Style at Home and Canadian Gardening magazines.
 
 
 
 
     
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