by Julie Dees
New homesteaders or those returning to the farm life are often wary of raising livestock. Trying to keep your crops and plants alive and thriving is tough enough. The responsibility of a living, breathing creature (other than your child) being completely at your mercy can be a daunting prospect. Raising chickens can be the answer to help ease you into it and open that gateway to keeping other livestock.
Benefits of Keeping Chickens
There are a lot of benefits to raising chickens and they are gaining popularity for many reasons. Along with your daily egg for breakfast, they are also great for companionship and amusement. Some birds will become pets, acting like dogs and following you around the farm.
Chickens can be useful in keeping the fly population down and even help with bug removal in the garden. Of course, you have to keep an eye on them as they will help themselves to fresh produce, flowers, and greenery whenever possible.
Keeping chickens can also add to your homestead’s income. Many breeds are known to be dual-purpose birds. This means that they are as prized for their meat as they are their eggs. Aside from selling the extra eggs, you can sell butchered and prepared chickens for the meat. Adult or started birds, baby chicks or hatching eggs, or even composted manure can also be sold or traded.
Basic Care and Equipment
Chickens don’t need a lot of specialized equipment. They have pretty basic requirements. Shelter with something to roost or perch on, fresh water, and food are their top priorities.
It is rare for chickens to need a heated environment, even in snowy, northern climates. As long as they are provided a dry, draft-free place to shelter, they are usually pretty happy. The key is to keep them from getting wet and chilled and they’ll be fine. They huddle together on the roost at night for warmth.
The opposite is true for hot locales. The birds need space to spread out, plenty of deep shade and fresh, moving air. Providing them water to stand in or misters to cool the air is also helpful. Heat is far deadlier to chickens than cold temperatures.
Fresh, clean water is something your birds (or any other animals or people) can’t do without. They can survive without food for a couple of days, but not water. As far as feed goes, you can either provide them free-choice or have them on a set schedule. It is up to you as long as you do feed them well!
A few other things that should be on your chicken list:
- Oyster shell – your laying hens need that extra calcium for the egg shells
- Grit – chickens don’t have teeth so they pick up grit to grind food in their crop
- Laying box – just about anything will do for a laying box – add some straw or shavings and your girls will do the rest. Make sure it’s easy for you to gather the eggs.
The Gateway is Now Open
Chickens are easy to care for and are widely known to be the “gateway livestock”. They get you started with a couple of hens and pretty soon you’ll find you’re raising a zoo in your barnyard. It is a healthy addiction and is just the way it works.
And so you know, goats are usually the next creature in this natural progression. Good luck and have fun as you build your flocks and herds.
So do you have animals already in your care? If so, what did you start out with? We’d love to hear your story.