Town Green - August 2021
- by Christian Stephenson and Wendy Sullivan
The burgeoning national interest in locally grown food has fueled an increase in raising both vegetables and animals – especially egg-producing poultry – in the home garden.
The main advantage of raising poultry in one’s yard is to provide enough eggs for a family’s needs. Chickens can also be raised as a protein source in meals, or as charming companion animals. Poultry litter also provides a valuable fertilizer that improves home garden production and the appearance of ornamental plants.
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When considering raising chickens, as with any animal or plant, several practical questions should be considered:
Do you or anyone in your family have experiences with chickens?
Much like raising any animal, experience is the best teacher, though there are many resources to help you learn through the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension, like this publication, “Poultry Beginnings: Raise Your Own Backyard Chickens”. Raising chickens should also be a family decision. One woman vetoed chickens because of a bad experience with an aggressive rooster when she was a child.
- Are there any neighbors with chickens with whom you can consult?
A neighbor can advise with practical lessons learned, especially valuable because of similar environments.
- What are the regulations and/or restrictions about chickens in your community, with your Homeowners Association or government?
Contact your local city hall or county board of supervisors to check on zoning or ordinance restrictions.
- Can your schedule accommodate care for the chickens?
If you travel for long periods of time, you might need to develop a backup care network.
- Are you ready to put forth the financial investment into your flock?
While chickens are a relatively inexpensive form of livestock, housing and feed can run into substantial costs.
After considering the above questions, the next thing to determine is the purpose for your new flock. Do you want chickens for meat, eggs, both, to breed or as companion pets?
The breed of chickens you select will be important in determining how they are best used. The popular Leghorn varieties are good for egg production, while Jersey Giants are an excellent meat bird. Some varieties of chickens are good for dual production of either meat or eggs.
In addition to these, there are chicken breeds selected for their appearance. Silkie chickens are selected for their fluffy plumage but can also take more care than egg or meat birds. You can find more information in the MSU Extension publication, “Choosing the Right Breed for your Flock.”
Exploring chicken types in the MSU extension publications and online before shopping for chicks can be very useful especially if you are prone to falling in love with fluffy babies. You will also want to have your coop and supplies ready prior to purchasing your chicks, as they grow very quickly.
While a rooster is required for breeding chickens, they come with their own challenges. They can be beautiful but aggressive. Many of the objections to raising chickens in urban areas are related to noise complaints. Hens make very little noise, but roosters can cause disturbance by crowing. Contrary to what we learned watching cartoons as children, roosters can crow throughout the day, not just in the morning. It is not necessary for a rooster to be included in your flock to have good egg production.
Chickens require very little space in comparison to many other animals, but good housing for your flock will be important to keep them free of disease and potential predators. Adult chickens require only 3 to 3 ½ square feet of space per chicken, so a flock of six birds can be raised in an area only 18 square feet in area. It is also important to keep the area of the coop clean, so making sure the area can be accessed easily is important. Some things to consider in choosing or building a coop are:
- Will their housing/coop be portable or fixed?
Chicken tractors are bottomless portable shelter pens that can be moved around the property. Fixed coops generally need 3 – 3 ½ feet per chicken and are not moveable.
- How easy is the coop for cleaning?
Chickens can produce strong odors so a relatively dry, well-drained area comfortable year-round is needed.
- Does the housing protect them from predators?
Predators include, but are not limited to, raccoons, foxes, bobcats, domestic dogs, owls and hawks. Therefore, roofing as well as sturdy siding is needed. In addition, chickens like to have roosting perches off the ground to keep themselves safe.
- Does the housing have easy access to nesting boxes for egg retrieval?
External access to laying boxes makes egg collection easier.
- Is the housing set up to easily supply fresh water and food?
Chickens need a source of fresh, clean water as well as food that provides good nutrition for the age and type of chickens in the flock.
It is also important to consider that young chicks will require some care when they are purchased or received from the hatchery. Most chicks are only a few days old and will need a heat lamp and continual access to water and feed. This can be done very simply in a large bin placed indoors until the chicks are large enough to be introduced to the outdoor coop.
After you’ve checked off all the boxes, located a reliable local supplier of chicks, feed and other supplies, you are ready to build your flock!
Mississippi State University Extension has a wealth of resources to help guide you as you gain experience raising chickens. Many publications are available online, and your county Extension Agent is available to answer your questions and help you succeed.
Raising chickens can be a very rewarding and entertaining home activity. It is also a great opportunity to involve young people in agriculture to teach them about raising animals, agriculture, and responsibility. Mississippi 4-H programs offer the Poultry Chain project – a great way to get youth involved.
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