Keeping backyard chickens is a popular hobby across the United States and throughout the world. For some, they are pets. For others, they provide fresh eggs as food for their family. In all cases, chickens require unique care to stay healthy.
If you don’t already have chickens in your yard, it’s a great animal to consider. They are entertaining to watch and they provide a positive environment for teaching children to care for animals, among many other benefits.
Hesitant to get backyard hens or roosters due to the climate in your city? Don’t let this deter you from getting chickens. They can be kept in most regions of the U.S. In areas that get snow versus extreme heat, there are differences in care needed to keep your chickens safe and comfortable are noted in this article.
We have compiled ten tips to help you maintain your backyard chickens. Use these tricks and advice to make the best backyard for your chickens, provide them with the best care, and get the highest egg production.
1. Check the Laws in your AreaBefore getting your animals, check your city and state ordinances to ensure you don’t violate any regulations regarding the keeping of chickens (hens or roosters). Some areas allow only hens, not roosters. Other areas have regulations on how many can be kept within the city limits. It is important to follow these regulations to ensure you’re not breaking any laws, you’re being a considerate neighbor, and that you are raising chickens in a safe environment.
2. Get the Right-Sized CoopWhen kept in backyards, chickens will likely be in a smaller coop with fewer hens. Depending on the size of your backyard, the size of the coop and number of chickens can change. Kaytee offers a complete coop solution for chickens. These coops offer nighttime security from predators, easy access to eggs, and durable metal mesh.
It’s best to keep one nesting box for every four or five chickens. If the coop is too small for the number of chickens you have, or there are too few nesting boxes, the chickens can be become crowded. When they don’t have ample nesting boxes, they can accidentally break eggs. Breaking eggs can lead to chickens eating the eggs, which is a hard habit to break.
3. Increase Egg-LayingMost chickens start laying eggs at six months old, but some can take longer than that. Chickens then lay eggs for about two years of their life. To make the most out of their laying years, provide them with the best environment and food to lay great eggs. They lay eggs based on daylight hours, so providing a light in the coop on shorter winter days can increase winter egg production. Natural light can be increased by having windows in the coop, otherwise hanging lights work as well. Another tactic to increase egg laying is the right feed. Use a feed that is high in protein and calcium for natural egg production. Kaytee offers poultry feed for laying hens.
4. Keep Chickens in an Area Using a Pen if you don’t have a FenceLetting chickens explore free range helps them stay healthy. They create richer-tasting eggs, they forage for natural food sources, and they stay active. Chickens naturally live by the cycle of the sun, so when it starts to get dark they head home to the coop and put themselves to bed. Because of this, you won’t have to worry about corralling the chickens every night into the coop if they are free range. If you don’t have a fence, consider using a pen meant for dogs or chickens. This is not necessarily to keep chickens in a restricted area, but to keep their predators out.
5. Start with Adults instead of Chicks (If it’s your first time)Raising chicks requires specialized care, supplies, feed, and attention. A safe bet for first-time backyard chicken keepers is to buy mature chickens that are accustomed to coops and are independent animals. This will allow you to have eggs almost immediately with little daily maintenance aside from regular cleaning and filling of feed and water.
6. Pick the Right BreedSome breeds are meat breeds and some are egg breeds. There are rare dual-breeds that can be used for both, but typically people choose one or the other. Getting a couple different breeds of chickens can yield different colored eggs and a variety of feather colors for easier distinction between your hens. Some favorite breeds that are egg-laying and even-tempered include: Speckled Sussex, Light Brahmas, Cuckoo Marans, Easter Eggers, or Rhode Island Red. Explore all the available breeds from the American Poultry Association.
7. Keep the Coop Locked at Night to keep out PredatorsChickens have little means to defend themselves from predators like foxes, raccoons, or stray dogs. To keep your chickens out of danger, keep the coop secure and locked at night while they sleep and nocturnal animals wander.
8. Teach Chickens to use Nesting BoxesIf you have free-ranging chickens, they might not know to lay eggs in their nesting box. If this is your situation, look for eggs in unusual places, like by the bushes or hidden in other areas of the coop. A couple ways to encourage use of nesting boxes is to lock the chickens in the coop for a week or so to teach them the coop is their home. Another way is to place other eggs, or fake eggs, in the nesting boxes to show the chickens what to do. They will typically follow behaviors of other chickens. (Shop Kaytee Nesting Boxes)
9. Watch for Changes in Coloring or BehaviorOnce you get to know your chickens, you’ll pick up on their typical behaviors, how they look, and how much food and water they consume. If they start to lose feathers uncharacteristically, lay abnormal eggs, or their comb changes or loses color, it could indicate an illness or another issue. Make sure you have a local vet who knows how to care for chickens.
10. Consider Climate when Caring for ChickensIf your region gets a lot of rain or snow, consider raising your coop off the ground to help keep chickens safe, warm, and dry. This provides an outside shelter away from the moisture and keeps the coop free of standing water. Doing this can also be easier for cleaning to reach all the areas around a coop. If you live in an area with cold winters, make sure to have running water or a heated water source to prevent essential drinking water from freezing. If your home is in a warmer area of the U.S., make sure your chickens have a well-ventilated coop with areas of shade to keep them cool and comfortable.
Use these tips to keep your chickens safe and healthy, and they will likely provide you with delicious eggs, entertainment, and companionship. If you are looking to purchase poultry products for your backyard chickens, find a store near you that carries Kaytee products.
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