May 11, 2012 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
Allen asked me if I raised chickens. I told him a bit sheepishly that I was too nervous–worried I would do something wrong which would result in the hens becoming ill, and that I feared I could not keep them safe from predators, including my 11 year old Dachshund. I was too chicken to raise chickens.
Overcoming My Fear of Fowl
In his warm southern gentlemanly manner, Allen reassured me that chickens were much easier to raise than I had thought. Maybe I didn’t have to become a chicken expert or listen to all the Chicken Whisperer’s radio programs, or quit my day job to keep the chickens alive and healthy. After all, I had raised two children without any prior experience and they turned out pretty well.
Allen and a representative from Purina enlightened me with some fine feather facts while we observed the many breeds of heritage poultry running about outside the farm’s numerous spacious coops. Allen raises a variety of heritage poultry and was the founder of the The Heritage Poultry Conservancy, whose mission is to preserve and support all threatened breeds and strains of domestic poultry through education, stewardship, and good breeding practices.
Some Chicken Basics
1. You select your breed as you would your plants: by climate zone. Some breeds are better suited for cold climates, some for warmer ones.
2. The coop design is very important. A good design will make it easier to keep the coop and the chickens clean and disease free.
3. Chicken poop is free fertilizer and pest control for the garden. (However, it contains a lot of nitrogen–you must compost it first so it doesn’t burn the roots of your plants.)
Now I am not by any means suggesting one can just dive in without any knowledge and begin successfully raising chickens, only that it might be a bit less daunting than I previously believed.
Chicken Cheat Sheet
To keep your hens healthy, they need daily care and attention. Here are some basics:
Keep them hydrated.
You may need a heat lamp in winter to keep water from freezing.
Feed your chickens quality feed formulated for their specific needs.
Layers, for example, need a feed that includes additional calcium and other minerals.
Keep them clean, dry, and protected from extreme hot or cold.
The coop should also be well ventilated.
Don’t crowd the girls: give them enough space to run free.
Chickens can get stressed or injured from fighting if kept in spaces which are too confined. Give each chicken a minimum of two square feet of shelter and another three square feet of outdoor run area.
Photo: Williams-Sonoma Agrarian.
Prefabricated chicken coops are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs. The coop is where your hens will enjoy a safe place to live, protecting them from the elements and predators. It is also the place where they will lay their eggs and roost at night.
You can purchase one or make one yourself if you know what necessary features to provide.
• Begin by checking local zoning ordinances: you don’t want to run afoul of the law…
• Size matters: the more chickens you have, the larger the space you will need. Consider your climate.
• Chickens require a dry and draft-free shelter with both shade and sunlight. If you reside in an area where temperatures drop below freezing, you will need a heater.
• Depending on location, you may need to protect the hens from predators with a fully-enclosed coop and pen.
Beautiful, but is it practical? The Nogg lets hens roost in style.
• Purina Management & Nutrition page–or download a free copy of Managing a Small Flock.
• P Allen Smith weighs in on Raising Chickens and Which Breed Is Right For You?
• Join the ChickenChat on Facebook.
• Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart offers a comparative list of over 60 breeds.
• The Heritage Poultry Conservancy (Founded by P Allen Smith in 2009.)
• The American Bantam Association.
• The American Poultry Association.
• The Chicken Whisperer: This guy know chickens. You can listen to his live radio broadcast.
• Williams-Sonoma Agrarian’s Raising Chickens primer.
Disclosure: I attended the second annual Garden2Blog and received transportation, accommodations, and meals during the event. Event sponsors provided samples and product giveaways at no cost or obligation. All opinions are my own and I did not receive any additional compensation for this post.