Backyard Chickens: Basics for Beginners
by GRACE HIRDES
Keeping chickens for eggs can be a fun and rewarding hobby. Not only do laying hens give you fresh eggs, but they provide entertainment, pest management, and fertilizer. It can be a bit overwhelming when it comes to the details of making sure they are properly taken care of. Chickens need shelter, food, water, and access to exercise/outside time. They also need someone to collect eggs, clean their coop, and tend to nesting boxes. This can be a bit much if you’re not properly prepared for every possible situation. Here’s a checklist of everything you may need to raise your own backyard chickens.
- The coop
Pre-made chicken coops, especially large ones, can be pricey. However, you may be able to find a used coop locally by asking around or searching community websites. If you’re handy, consider turning an old shed into a coop. You can find cheap used sheds in great condition online, then easily create nesting boxes and a roost to make a nice comfy coop for your chickens. You can add pine shaving or hay to the floor of the coop to make it more comfortable.
- Nesting Boxes
Once you have your coop, you’ll need to add some nesting boxes to provide a quiet, private space for hens to lay eggs, a place for all of your hens to roost off the floor, adequate ventilation, and secure doors and windows to keep out predators.
One rule of thumb is that you’ll need one nesting box for every three hens, and you’ll want to add some hay to your boxes.
- The Run
You must be willing to provide a safe environment for your hens with space for them to roam around and partake in natural behaviors like scratching and dust bathing. You can do this by adding a run to your coop. A run attaches to your coop and should provide at least 10 square feet of space per bird. This is a general recommendation, but the more space you can provide, the better. Overcrowding creates many issues, including fighting. If you don’t have adequate room to provide hens with enough space to live a happy life, reconsider keeping chickens. TIP: Be sure to cover your run with chicken wire to protect from predators and to keep the squirrels out of the chicken feed.
- Dust Bath
You’ll also want an area with dry dirt where your chickens can dust bath or roll around in dirt. This is a natural behavior that helps chickens stay healthy. If you plan to keep your chickens on a run, you’ll need to create a dust bath for them.
- First Aid Kit
Make sure you have a veterinarian in your area who treats chickens, though keep in mind that such specialists aren’t always easy to find. Therefore, you should also be prepared with a chicken first aid kit so that you have the right tools on hand to treat illnesses and injuries.
In addition to a safe coop and space to roam, chickens need feed, water, and a source of calcium. Chickens have different nutrient needs depending on their age, so make sure you purchase the appropriate feed. You can either throw feed on the ground for the chicken to scratch and peck at or you can purchase a poultry feeder.
Chickens also need consistent access to clean drinking water. So be sure to have water in the coop as well as in the run.
Laying hens need access to a source of calcium to maintain healthy bones and lay eggs with strong shells. You can give your hens crushed oyster shells to provide with the necessary calcium.
Any of these items can be found at Stromberg’s in Winter Haven or any Tractor Supply location.