[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are very few things that come to mind on what you should invest in first when you own your property or begin prepping. Chickens should be in that top 5. They’re versatile, adaptable, and ease of growing making them a staple on any farm, homestead or even for a backyard garden. Just be sure that you can have them in your neighborhood before investing into them.
That is the first thing you should realize when raising chickens. They are going to be an investment in the beginning. The time and care you put into raising your chicks into full grown laying hens will be rewarded with more eggs than you can use, and if done right, all the chicken meat you could ever need. So don’t get discouraged at investing time and money into these little beauties, because the benefits far out way the negatives.
The first thing you will need to do is identify the species you want to raise. There are way too many to list and talk about in this article, but there are a few simple tips to keep aware of when you are choosing your breed. The best thing to do is figure out exactly what your plans are for the chickens. Do you plan to eat them or just the eggs? Are you in the countryside or are you in the city? Will they be free range or in a coop and run most of the time? These are vital questions you need to ask yourself before you even think about investing in a chicken coop.
Once you have answered these questions, you will have a much better idea of what steps you need to take to start raising your chicks. Undoubtedly, free ranges chickens are happier and healthier than those kept in a run and coop for most of their lives. That doesn’t mean you can’t have happy chickens, though. Quite the contrary and many examples come to mind of happy chickens in this environment.
The important factor in keeping them satisfied in an enclosed environment is space. You need roughly 2 to 3 square feet per bird to ensure they have adequate space in the coop. Free range birds don’t need as much space, as much of their life is spent outside of the coop. Remember that if you plan not to let them free range, you need a run for them. This is usually an extension to the coop that allows the birds a little more freedom during the day. This is an extremely important factor to the happiness of the birds. Happy chickens mean a lower risk of disease, no feather plucking(this seems to be related to boredom), and more eggs!
Diseases and How they Spread
Chickens get sick very similar to how we get sick. Usually it’s spread through contaminated water or food and the sickness can spread throughout your entire flock very rapidly. This is one of the major reasons you want to keep your coop clean, and change their water and food daily.
The two most common diseases are…
…E. Coli and Salmonella which we all know can make humans very sick as well. They are also susceptible to spreading parasites and worms, viruses, and fungi. If you suspect anything, talk to your veterinarian or animal health specialist.
Now, another important point to mention about the chicken coop are the roosts, where the chickens will ideally go to lay when they are ready. They will almost always find the most comfortable spot to lay, so your roosts should always be clean and comfy, or else you are going to find eggs in the grass and other places you don’t want them. Ideally, you would want at least one roost for every three chickens, but people have got away with less, and some swear by one roost per two chickens. The best advice I ever received regarding this is to watch your chickens. It will become obvious if you need more roosts. They will lay on the floor next to the roosts if they are all taken, or even right on top of each other!
The coop needs to be a sanctuary for them. A place where they feel safe, happy, and entertained. Much how we feel when we’re at home. Keeping the coop clean is probably the best thing you can do to keep them happy.(No animal wants to hang out in its feces) The best part about cleaning the chicken coop is all the manure they will provide you. Chicken manure, in particular, is amazing for the compost, and your garden will be so happy that you are adding it to the compost. Ask anyone raising chickens, and they will tell you that chicken manure is like gold for sustainability on a farm. Always keep in the back of your mind, “Are my chickens happy?”
With some of the basics down in regards to chicken coops(We will talk on this subject again later), let’s focus on another one of those questions. Countryside or city? Obviously, if you are raising them in the country, then you have a whole host of other problems that city dwellers won’t be able to relate to, primarily predators. While people in the city will have to think about the noise factor and that isn’t even an issue with those in the country.
In regards to raising in the city, you will want to figure out the laws. There are MANY people in the city raising their chickens, and it’s only getting more and more popular, so there may be laws in place allowing you to do this with stipulations and guidelines, while a lot of cities and neighborhoods will simply not allow them under no circumstances. If you are one of the lucky ones that are allowed to raise chickens in your backyard, then count your blessings. Most people that want to raise chickens in their backyard can’t.
There is one important factor in raising them in the backyard. Noise. There are sure to be laws in place in regards to how much noise is allowed from your property, or chickens. This won’t be an issue for you though if you have taken your time and researched exactly how to proceed and be successful with your backyard chickens.
You will want to find a breed that is docile and won’t spook at every noise that the city throws at them, and you will want to make sure that they are not a loud breed.(Trust me, you don’t want to be known as that neighbor with the loud chickens.) Now, the rooster is going to crow regardless, but with the quieter breeds, they won’t be as loud or do it as often. You could always get rid of the rooster too, but keep in mind that one of the hens will assume command and will become more vocal.
The noise factor can cause some potential problems as well in a SHTF scenario. Chickens will always make noise, and it is always enough for anyone near by to know that you have chickens. If you are keeping them in a city, you will want to prepare and have plans in place for potential looters.
For the countryside dwellers, you will want to identify the predators in your area. Wild dogs, snakes, coyotes, hawks, and owls are just a few that people have issues with. These predators will tell you how you need to build your coop, and possibly what chickens you want to raise. For the coop, you may want to bury the fencing a few feet down to keep out the coyotes and wild dogs, or you may want to reinforce the top as hawks and owls will rip through it and decimate your flock.
It’s important to remember that when a predator finds a buffet like a chicken coop, and they manage to get into it, they are going to eat all the good pieces, the organs. So they are not going to kill just one chicken, they will kill one and eat its heart, kill another and eat its liver and so on. Protecting your flock from these predators will ensure your success.
Another sound investment for raising poultry in the countryside is guinea fowls. These birds are basically alarms for predators as they will raise hell and make so much noise that you know, something isn’t right. Lots of people use these alarm birds as the first line of protection for their chickens.
In regards to what breed to choose, you have MANY options to choose from. Factors that we have discussed previously should be at the front of your mind when deciding what breed, or breeds you would like to raise. Favorite breeds like the Rhode Island Reds and most Bantoms can work in all situations. Their temperament is usually mild, and if there is a lot of human interaction when they are chicks, they tend to be even more docile. The Bantoms, in particular, are ideal for backyard gardens because of their size. Not to mention there are some very pretty Bantom breeds out there, perfect for raising and selling.
Usually, for country raising, you would want bigger breeds because you have space. A lot of country raisers go with two or more breeds for diversity in the flock. Not only that, you can raise birds that are better for slaughter and grow heavy layers at the same time. You won’t ever have to slaughter your laying breed, and your meat breed won’t breed out of control. Keep an eye out when mixing, though, as some breeds are notorious for being bullies and can even get to the point of not allowing other breeds to eat or roost. Other popular breeds include the Jersey Giants, Plymouth Rocks, Araucanas, and Sussex. All of these listed can work in most environments.
So you have your breed/s picked out, coop materials, feed, and it’s time to buy some chicks to grow while you build their coop. That’s it right? Nope. Caring for the chicks is like caring for any other baby. They need a safe space that nothing else can get into. I use large totes that we use for storage and moving. Next, they need bedding material, and it needs to be changed daily. Hay, woodchips or ever dry grass will work. This is also a good time to handle them gently and get them used to humans. You will be happy you did. Clean food and water changed daily, and you are ready to raise them. A lot of people swear by heat lamps, but I have never needed them.
I also live in the sub-tropic region, and I only buy chicks to raise in the spring and summer, so that is the contributing factor to my success without heat lamps. If you live anywhere where you believe it gets too cold for chicks, provide them with a heat lamp. Change the bedding, food, and water regularly, handle them a lot with care, and before you know it, they will be full grown and laying eggs. Get that coop up, and prepared for the new arrivals, because it happens very fast!
We will finish this off with some great tips and tricks I have learned throughout my time raising them and adjusting to a permaculture lifestyle. Hands down the best thing I ever did was build a portable chicken coop with a fence to enclose the coop and them. All I do now is take them to the spot I want them to scratch at for the day and set them up. They do the work of tilling and fertilizing the area until it’s time to move them. The portable coop is perfect for running them through a pasture after larger animals as the scratching helps work their manure into the ground as well. This is the best tip I can give you if you want to live the permaculture lifestyle. It’s a game changer.
The last trick I learned recently has been a life saver…
Living on a farm has its ups and downs, and one of those downs is the fly population. If you have been around farm animals, you know that flies are a problem. No, I haven’t discovered a way for the chickens to catch the flies – they sure do try, though. What I have learned is a maggot dispenser, though. You create a holder with holes for meat to rot in. The flies lay their eggs and maggots begin to eat away, all while they are falling through the holes to a guaranteed doom underneath the dispenser. The maggots provide a constant food source to the chickens, and as a bonus helps to keep the fly population down. This alone makes the chickens euphoric.
The internet has made chicken raising easier and easier(Where do you think I found out about the maggot dispenser and portable chicken coop?) with new methods and tricks coming out all the time. Just searching portable chicken coop will bring you 100’s of options. You will even find portable chicken coop designs for backyard purposes.
With this guide, the tips provided, and the internet at your disposal, you have all the tools you need to be successful in raising chickens. They will enrich your life, provide a constant source of food, and give you peace of mind while prepping. As a prepper that is what we are looking for, peace of mind and the sense of knowing that we are prepared for the unknown in every way possible. The best place to start that is raising your chickens…and starting your own garden.