Covid-19 has taken its toll, on our health, our food and our finances. Already, many of us have made cutbacks, sometimes sacrificing the highest quality food in order to lower costs. But what if there was a way to obtain ethically-sourced, top-tier food without overspending? It sounds too good to be true, but raising chickens is one way to make this a reality. If you think raising chickens is a practical, penny-wise option for you, or if you’re still unsure, here are some of the basics to consider.
Backyard chicken breeds
Before purchasing any chickens, you need to pick a breed that will best meet your goals. Some chickens produce lots of eggs, some are great meat sources, and others may be good pets or showbirds. If you are looking to cut food costs, chances are you want a breed that is best for eggs, meat, or even both. Here are some great beginner birds to consider:
- White Rocks
When selecting a breed for eggs, you can consider both the amount and colour of the eggs that a particular breed will produce. The Araucana is a great example of a bird that produces lots of eggs that are also a fun colour. This beginner-friendly bird produces about 150 blue eggs per year. Plus, their ear tufts give them a unique look that you won’t see on any other breed.
Backyard chicken feed needs
Chickens have different feed needs depending on their age and use. Generally, chicks will eat starter feed until they are 6 weeks old, then they will switch to a grower feed; often, you can find feed that works as both starter and grower feed. After they are 18 weeks old, they can begin a layer feed.
In addition to feed, you may want to give your hens supplements like calcium or grit to support health and egg production. You can add table scraps to their diet to cut costs, but they should still be primarily eating feed, and you must be careful to avoid certain scraps.
Housing requirements for backyard chickens
Chickens will need both a coop and an outdoor run. The size will differ depending on the size of the chickens and the number of chickens you have, but on average a coop must have about three square feet per bird in the coop, and eight in the run. Besides this, there are some specific items that you’ll need to buy for the coop in order to keep your flock happy and healthy. These include:
- Feeders and Waterers. Feed and water must be contained so that they do not become contaminated.
- Nesting Boxes. There should be one box per three or four hens, and they should be about 12 by 12 inches for a standard hen.
- Artificial Lighting Sources. These are especially important for egg production; chickens should get at least 14 hours of light every day.
- Perches/Roosts. These shouldn’t be any more than two feet off the ground, and should be made of a material that is easy to grip like wood.
If you are raising chicks, you will also need a brood box to keep them warm while their feathers are growing.
A healthy chicken is a happy chicken
Fortunately there is no evidence that chickens can contract Covid-19, but they are still susceptible to other ailments. Luckily, it is relatively easy to assess your flock’s health, and chickens have many tell-tale signs of illness. For instance, sick chickens may go into hiding, have abnormal stools, lethargy, or trouble breathing. If a bird is unwell, separate it from the flock right away and contact a veterinarian. To protect your flock from future illness, always wash your hands before handling any chickens, and disinfect with a 10% bleach cleaning solution.
Community standards when keeping chickens
Owning chickens will have an impact on the people around you. Chickens are quite noisy at times and are up right at dawn, which can be problematic for your neighbours. This is especially true during this coronavirus crisis, since many are working and learning remotely from home. Look at all local regulations about ownership of backyard flocks before buying chickens, particularly regarding roosters, as they are frequently prohibited in residential areas. A good idea is to place the coop in the area of your yard that is farthest away from your neighbours, and discuss your plan with your neighbours directly. You could even offer them a fresh batch of eggs to keep them sweet.
To flock, or not to flock
Covid-19 has created a situation none of us have experienced before, but it has made it quite advantageous to start a backyard chicken flock. Consider the factors above before buying a flock to make sure that it’s the right decision for you, and if it is, you can prepare to reap the financial benefits, as sure as eggs is eggs.