Having a flock of backyard hens will provide more than just delicious eggs for your homestead. Few things in life are more enjoyable than sitting on the back porch on Saturday morning, cup of coffee in hand, watching a flock of backyard hens playing in the yard. Their antics are a constant source of entertainment. They are continuously busy scratching and darting around looking for bugs, worms, and other little tidbits. The excitement that breaks out when one of them finds something good is always very amusing!
Have you been considering getting a flock of backyard hens for your homestead? If you are ready for delicious eggs, endless hours of entertainment, and free bug control, this article will tell you everything you need to know!
Starting With Day Old Chicks
When starting a new flock of chickens, I recommend starting with day old chicks from a reputable farm or hatchery. Day old chicks are less likely to carry the diseases that older hens can. They are also a much cheaper way to get started than buying grown pullets or hens. The only drawback is waiting for them to be old enough to lay eggs. Laying age varies from breed to breed, but you can generally count on them to start laying at around four months old.
When you bring home your chicks, you will need to have a warm area prepared for them. They will require supplemental heat from a brooder or heat lamp until they are fully feathered. You will need to provide chick starter crumbles and chick grit for them, as well as water in a special chick waterer. Their bedding should be shavings that are large enough to prevent your chicks from eating them. Your chicks will be ready to go outside to the chicken coop when they are fully feathered.
Starting With Pullets Or Grown Laying Hens
If you decide you are in a hurry for eggs, or you just don’t want to deal with raising baby chicks, you can start out with pullets or grown hens from a nearby farm. Keep in mind that older chickens have had the opportunity to be exposed to more sickness and disease. You need to inspect the livestock of any farm you are considering purchasing chickens from. Do not purchase any chickens from a farm where the animals look sick, stressed, or are kept in unclean quarters. Never buy chickens at a livestock auction.
Do Your Backyard Hens Need A Rooster?
The short answer is, no, they do not. Your hens will lay eggs without one just fine. Roosters can be aggressive and loud. However, they also protect your hens and are very entertaining. If you think you are ever going to want to raise your own chicks, you will need one. It really just comes down to personal choice.
What Breed Of Chicken Is Best?
There are too many breeds to name here. Do some research to see what breed will be best for your climate and homestead needs. Each breed of chicken has unique strengths and qualities. White Leghorns are excellent layers of high quality white eggs. For lovely brown eggs check out Rhode Island Reds, Marans, and Buff Orpingtons. If you want pretty blue and green eggs look for Easter Eggers. For a super sweet, friendly chicken consider getting Silkies. They are not great egg producers, but they are the sweetest little chickens I’ve ever had.
Housing For Your Backyard Hens
Your girls will need an indoor coop to get out of the weather and to keep them safe from predators at night. It is recommended to have about 4 square feet of space per adult chicken. They will need roosts to perch on at night, and one nesting box for every 4 or 5 hens. Don’t be surprised if they all fight over the same nesting box though! That’s what mine do.
Be sure the coop has good ventilation, but cover the ventilation holes with wire to keep rodents and snakes out. Heating the coop is not necessary unless you live in a climate with extremely severe winters. Just give them lots of straw to snuggle up in during the winter. Heat lamps can be very dangerous, so research them thoroughly before you decide to use one.
For bedding in the coop, there are several options. Some people prefer shavings while others like straw or sand. Personally, I prefer to use shavings in the summer and straw in the winter for extra warmth. No matter what bedding you choose, you will need to remove solid waste and any wet bedding daily, especially around waterers and doors and underneath the roosts. Follow up with a little fresh bedding on the top. Change the bedding out completely when it becomes wet or clumpy.
Allow 8-10 feet of space per adult bird in their outdoor run. You can get away with less if you plan to let your chickens free range during the day. It’s a good idea to bury wire fencing extending out about 2-3 feet all the way around the outside of the run. This will prevent predators from digging under the fence. Also consider covering the run to keep out flying and climbing predators.
The floor of the run can be gravel, sand, or deep litter. Your hens will quickly destroy any grass growing there. I like to use a deep layer of leaves in the bottom of mine since leaves are free and abundant in my area. The chickens love to dig around in the leaves looking for worms and bugs, and I get the added bonus of lots of great compost to use in the garden every spring.
Feeding Your Backyard Hens
Your hens should have access to layer crumbles or pellets at all times. They will enjoy eating vegetables and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, too. For treats, my hens love mealworms, dark leafy greens, pumpkins and squash, fruits, pasta and rice. In the winter time, and when they are molting, give them some extra protein in the form of cracked corn and sunflower seeds.
Water For Your Hens
Your hens will drink about 1 ½ gallons of water per 12 adult chickens daily. They must have access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times. I recommend getting a waterer that you can hang from the ceiling of their run or coop. Keeping the waterer up off the ground helps to prevent them from kicking litter and bedding into the waterer.
Your hens will need a dust bath to fluff up their feathers and to help get rid of lice and mites in their feathers. The dust bath can be something as simple as an old tire filled with sand. Try to situate their dust bath somewhere that you can sit and watch them when they’re using it. It is very entertaining to watch a chicken in the dust bath!
Controlling Parasites In Your Backyard Hens
Good sanitation, clean feeders and waters, rotating pasture, access to a dust bath, and avoiding overcrowding will prevent most parasites from taking hold in your flock. Only use a de-wormer if you actually see worms, or if your chickens look scruffy, are losing weight, or are laying fewer eggs. Check with your vet for de-worming recommendations. Different types of parasites will require different treatment.
So, what are you waiting for? Spring is the perfect time of year to start your own flock of backyard hens. But be warned, chickens are considered the gateway animal for homesteaders! Before you know it, you’ll have a couple of goats, some ducks, and maybe a pig or two…