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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.

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Here Are Some Solutions For Pecking Problems And Keeping Happier Chickens

Chickens are a lively addition to any homestead. But it’s not all fun and games when you welcome a group of hens to your yard. Some flocks fall prey to pecking spells, where chickens begin attacking each other. Hen pecking can be an annoying problem at best, and devastating to the health of your flock at worst. Follow these best practices to keep the peace with your egg layers.

Manage stress levels

Chickens are just like people: they act out when they’re stressed. Pecking is often a symptom of a much larger problem with your hens. Address the source of the stress and your pecking problem will end.

Unfortunately, chickens aren’t able to tell us what’s going on. You’ll have to do a little detective work to spot the source of your hens’ woes. Do your chickens have at least four square feet per bird? Do they have mites or lice? Are they too hot or too cold? Are they hungry? Did a fox move into the area?

Whatever the reason for their pecking, aim to please your hens to stop pecking at the source.

Peck deterrents

Addressing underlying stress is the best way to combat pecking long term. But how do you protect your hens while getting to the root of the problem? Try store-bought peck deterrents like Pick No More. It will minimize the chances of pecking while you try to cure the hens’ anxiety.

Dust baths

Chickens will often peck when they feel dirty. Prevent pecking by giving your chickens baths. Not normal baths, of course: give your chickens access to dust baths. Your hens may have dug holes where they give themselves dust baths. If they don’t give themselves dust baths, or if digging has been discouraged, create your own dust bath. Mix sand, soil, and wood ash together in a sturdy 2’ x 2’ box.

Pecking alternatives

Remember, chickens are just like people. Chickens can get bored, and sometimes they start pecking when bored. Life on the farm doesn’t have to be boring for your hens. Provide DIY toys that let chickens use their natural instincts. Give them plenty of free range time, as well as toys like branches, string, or chicken swings.

Pecking is an irritating habit that wreaks havoc on the homestead. Instead of opting for inhumane alternatives like beak-cutting, target the source of your chickens’ stress to combat pecking.

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