With the recent resurgence in interest in the backyard chicken flock, it seems more and more people are choosing to seek out the simpler bygone ways of living, much like their ancestors. Whether you own just one acre of land or hundreds of acres, you are sure to be sitting on all the makings of adding chickens.
Although you will need to make sure you’re zoned for a flock, and that your coops and feeding/watering setup are sufficient, the effort involved in raising chickens is pretty much minimal. There is also the fact that having chickens can be quite enjoyable and entertaining.
In order to keep the addition of a flock to your home or homestead off to the right foot, we will look at the top three fundamentals that you will need to consider.
If you are a first-time chick mama or papa, it is suggested that you start your flock with chicks, or bitties, and allow them to grow up together. This is to prevent any chance of the “pecking order” taking a turn for the worst. Chicken life, as well as flock life, is based on a hierarchy, and as such, when you introduce chickens from other flocks, the fighting that can ensue can at times become quite bloody and life-threatening.
There is also the fact that you will want to make sure the coop you provide for your flock will be sufficient for the number of members in your flock. The common suggestion is that your coop should accommodate each bird with two square feet. Overcrowding of a flock has shown to significantly affect the health of its members, so it is crucial that your flock has plenty of room to stretch their wings and roam about.
You will also need to do a little bit of research to determine the breed that will be most compatible with your climate. Some breeds are cold-hardy others more heat-hardy. There are those few exceptions that are both cold and heat hardy. Either way, it will be in your and your flock’s best interest that you make sure.
Placing Your Perches
Whether you decide to build your coop yourself or purchase one that is “pre-made,” you need to make sure that the size coop will accommodate your flock with sufficient space. This not only means within the coop itself, but also where they will be roosting.
Some flock keepers choose to use something such as an old ladder with has narrow, round rungs. While others, like myself, choose to use wooden 2×4’s which create a horizontal roost on which the chickens can snuggle together for both safety and warmth while at the same tie covering their feet to keep then warm. It is vital that your roosts need to be at least twenty-four inches off the ground. Chickens are hardwired to sleep at least that far, if not farther, off the ground, if possible.
It doesn’t matter if you reside way out in the country, or in a small suburban, predators will remain a cause for concern. My step-uncle said it best—everything on the planet likes the taste of chicken. Some of the more common predators to be concerned about are dogs, hawks, owls, foxes, weasels, and raccoons. Any, and all, of these predators would love to be able to chow down on your flock if given a chance. So, don’t present them with that chance.
Build your coop from day one with the intention of keeping these predators out. Many people use chicken wire, but this geared more towards keeping your chickens in, rather than predators out. To indeed provide the safest environment for your flock, you will need to use hardware cloth.
As for your perimeter, that can be a little more tricky. If you choose to free-range your flock, you will have to rely on your flock using their natural instincts to keep them safe. You will need to consider the idea of a rooster, as they will both protect and gather the flock when they are free-ranging. A rooster will spend the majority of its time sussing out any threats that may present themselves, and when needed, alert the flock.
When considering starting your flock, make sure to search out and identify any local feed stores. You will need to locate a local feed store, early on, and make note of the chicken supplies that they offer. One that has employees that, they themselves, manage a flock of their own so that you may ask any questions you have.
Many feed stores are a great source for your flock starting needs. In the spring, they offer chicks for sale, which can go a long way to making the starting of your flock a less arduous adventure. There are over 200 breeds of chickens that you may choose from for your flock, depending on whether you want only a breed that is a good egg layer, or a breed that is more of a meat bird to be slaughtered and eaten. In fact, there are those breeds that offer both. One such breed is the one I chose for my backyard flock—that of a Black Australorp.
Not matter what breed you decide on, as long as you take the time to make sure your coop and your setup are sufficient, your backyard chicken flock will thrive. As said before, a backyard flock is a very low maintenance endeavor, but the rewards are many. You will have eggs to eat, and you will quickly find that they are funny and fascinating creatures that will give you hours of entertainment.