This week will start off a short series to give you a glimpse into the world of chicken keeping! Today we'll talk about the basics and benefits like what you need for a coop and what to do with the poop.
Buying chickens can be easy depending on your patience. If you are willing to wait about 6 months for your eggs, you can buy day-old chicks for around $3 each. If you’re willing to pay more you can get 20-week-old, ready-to-lay pullets which, as implied, means you’ll get your eggs a lot sooner. It is best to have at least 4- 6 chickens for their social nature and for a good amount of eggs.
However, if you plan to buy chickens every year, it might make more sense to just hatch chickens yourself. Before doing so, be sure to check your zoning regulations as some places may not allow roosters for fertilization. Hens can still provide eggs without a rooster, but those eggs won’t develop into chicks.
Whether you decide to buy chickens or raise them, you will need a coop to house your egg-makers. You could build it yourself using wood or some other type of material, and you will definitely need hex netting to prevent the chickens from being too free-ranged. The coop must be spacious to allow them to run and to exercise; there needs to be 2 square feet / hen as well as 1 nest box / every 3 hens. There should be adequate sunlight and windows near the top for good ventilation. You might also consider running electricity through the coop to prolong daylight hours during the winter. If you don’t have the time or the know-how to construct a coop you can just purchase one to save you the trouble.
Let’s talk benefits: chickens can be loud, paranoid, and even hostile, but there are more pros than cons. The most obvious pro is free eggs that are better for you than store-bought eggs, but what about the pros you may have not considered?
If you are the type of person who is interested in keeping chickens, you probably have a garden or two that could benefit from a hen’s natural instincts.
After the season has ended, let the chickens into your gardening area and they will clean it for you; they will eat the overripe vegetables, uproot stalks of weeds, and scratch the dirt to consume worms or any insects.
It’s good to not take crap from anyone, but it can help your garden if you take it from your hens. Chicken manure is one of the most sought-after kinds because of its high nutrient level, and if you have chickens you’ll have first-hand access! When you’re cleaning the coop, take the poop and some of the bedding (about a 2:1 ratio of poop to bedding). Now manure takes time to get good so, over the course of about a year, soak the mixture and stir it to add air. Heating the compost will help eliminate any bacteria so it will help your garden rather than hurt it. It is best to maintain a temperature of 130 - 150 degrees for 3 days. Of course it’s not a rule that you have to use the manure, but the option is available to you (you could even sell it if you wanted).
I’m not saying taking care of chickens is a non stop thrill ride, but the nutritional and educational value is worth the sweat and possible smell. There is so much more to learn about hens so stay tuned for next week's blog that's all about egg collecting, cleaning, and storing!