THE EGGS COLLECTED FROM FREE-ROAMING HENS are unlike any you buy in the supermarket, boasting yellow-orange yolks and pure, clean flavor. Egg-laying chickens are a good source of sustainable, nutritious protein. Here are some important things to keep in mind when planning your own backyard flock.
The first step is to call your city or county planning department to find out any important information about raising chickens in your neighborhood, such as the number of chickens you can keep, whether or not you can include a rooster, the distance the coop must be from dwellings, and other considerations. It's also a good idea to let your neighbors know what you are planning. Before you bring the chickens home, contact an avian veterinarian in your area so you have a local resource for care and other advice.
To keep your hens fit and productive, feed them the best food you can, provide fresh water daily and clean the nest boxes frequently. If possible, let your chickens roam freely in a fenced yard or in a covered exercise pen that you can move around. A healthy chicken will lay at most one egg per day, but it is rare to have a flock that is 100 percent productive. The egg yield will depend on the individual hens, the relative health of the flock, the number of daylight hours and many other factors that can all change throughout the year.
When installing a coop in your yard, choose a site that's well drained so moisture won't pool around it. Chickens enjoy sun, so a location with some sun exposure is ideal. The size of your coop will depend on the number of chickens you plan to keep: in general, a minimum of 3 to 4 square feet per hen, inside and outside, is recommended for standard-size birds. Make sure your coop is predator-proof, so raccoons, dogs, cats and other animals can't gain access to your chickens.
There are dozens of chicken breeds that are appropriate for a home-based coop. Your choice will depend upon bird size, temperament, feather color, productivity, eggshell hue, constitution and hardiness. It's a good idea to purchase several chicks to start your flock. Chickens are social animals that, with adequate space, will thrive in larger groups.
Finding young chicks to raise is becoming easier and easier. A local farm, feed store or dedicated hatchery that offers chicks can now be found near almost any community. The experienced chicken keepers there can help you select a good breed for your space and climate. You can also ask farmers selling fresh eggs at your local market if they offer chicks or can recommend a good source. If you are unable to locate a nearby source for chicks, there are hatcheries that will safely ship baby chicks immediately after they hatch.