So anyone in a three house radius from us knows we have chickens. They’re not exactly loud but they’re not quiet, in fact, some of my neighbors’ dogs create more of a racket than my three hens. If your town/city doesn’t allow chickens I’m sorry you have to miss out on them. My chickens provide eggs, entertainment, and a ‘you have what in your backyard?!’ uniqueness to our little homestead.
While chickens are low maintenance pets/livestock they still require some special care. So I’ve created this list of chicken keeping commandments to help the new and old chickens keepers from making any of my own mistakes.
- Predator Prevention – This needs to be done before you even purchase chickens. I’ve lost two hens to a raccoon and believe me he got in through a hole in the fence that had been there for ages and I never thought to fix. I live in town so raccoons never crossed my mind, dogs and cats were my main concern until this past fall.
- The best way to prevent them is to be aware.
- Use 1/4” hardware cloth, not chicken wire.
- 1/2″ washers with a small inner hole and screws are best for attaching hardware cloth. Some have drilled through pennies to be sure of a good fit.
- Fresh Water is Key – If the water is stale they won’t drink it and when they become dehydrated they stop laying and if your chickens stop laying during laying season without being broody something is wrong. I use this water fount to keep my hens with water for at least two days in the summer and maybe four days in the winter. I also have this water heater to keep the water from freezing when it’s stupid cold.
- Quality Feed – Cracked corn is not chicken feed! They need a balanced chicken feed with a minimum of 16% protein for laying season, and a max of 20% protein for finishing meat birds meant for the freezer. My girls get layer pellets and for snacks, we give them about a cup of cracked corn or fancy scratch and once in a while dried mealworms. The best treats are leafy greens and other vegetables from the kitchen, they go nuts for salad greens and lettuce when they just start to wilt. I’ve also made them oatmeal and rice before as winter snacks, I’ll stir in bits of fruit or veg and top it with mealworms. My hens are spoiled.
- Free range with commercial feed to supplement is best but not everyone can free range. My girls are getting a new moveable chicken tractor this spring so that they can get access to fresh grass and grubs.
- Homemade feed is an option and there are plenty of formulas out on the interwebs that you can find quite easily. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens has a table listing the best ways to get protein and other things into the feed.
- Be Choosey – If you want a flock of laying hens that give you unlimited eggs then Cochins, Lakenvelder, or Sultans are not breeds that you should get. The best layers are Anconas, Fayoumi, Leghorns, and Minorcas. The best meat breeds are Cornish (hence cornish rock crosses sold as broilers), Delewares, and Shamos. Dual-purpose breeds give a decent crop of eggs while still being broad-breasted; Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, and Rhode Islands are some examples of dual-purpose but most American breeds are technically dual-purpose. I personally have a Golden Laced Wyandotte and two Blue Wheaten Ameraucanas, so I get Easter eggs all season! When we get our little piece of paradise we’ll get a dual-purpose flock with pretty ones thrown in for the egg colors.
This is what I have so far, as I learn more this list will grow and facts will be added. I’ve linked items I personally own and for more information on safe treats. I have a link to a reputable chicken keeping forum for a list. I am by no means a ‘professional’ chicken keeper but I have made mistakes and have learned from them so now you can too.
In non-chicken related news, Kathleen has discovered a love for avocado and cheerios on strings are the best toy/food ever. She turns 9 months the day after Valentine’s so I’m starting to think first birthday party and where to have it and how much cake I need. First world problems right? Spring is around the corner, so stay tuned for seed starting tutorials and our preferred vegetable varieties for our area. Any questions about chickens? Leave a comment and I’ll answer to the best of my ability or find the answer for you!