style=”text-align: center;”>(owners of “Just Us Hens” in Portland, Oregon)
Why Raise Chickens?
• Easy and inexpensive to maintain (when compared to most other pets)
• Eggs that are fresh, great-tasting & nutritious
• Chemical-free bug and weed control
• “Manufacture” one of the world’s best fertilizers
• Fun & friendly pets with personality (yes, you read that right)
For Jeff, I suggest you raise a friendly dual-purpose chicken. If you want a chicken that will provide delicious tender meat for the table and lay great eggs, I recommend the Buff Orphingtons. They have a docile and sometimes affectionate disposition that makes them great around children. In addition, these birds are a beautiful gold so you can show them off to friends and family. Below is a link to a great blog about a family who raised 5 of them at home. One other good breed for your purpose is the Wyandotte (If you want variety)
Your local feed store will sell chickens, feed and anything else you may need. They can also give you advice on anything important you might be overlooking.
Southern States, Asheville Service
464 Riverside Drive, Asheville – (828) 253-9351
Chickens are one of man’s closest domesticated friends and have grown to eat many of the foods we eat. But chickens cannot be assumed to just “get by” on anykind of food. They would probably “get by” on our junky minimum, but they won’t be as healthy as they could be, and they surely won’t be much good for egg laying, unless they are fed the basics of what they need. In addition, mold or salt in table scraps and old grains can quickly kill a chicken.
WHAT CHICKENS NEED (It’s simple!)
1. Grains (whole, living grains are way better than cracked, and a mixture is way better than pure corn)
2. Greens (grass! weeds! fresh veggie paringsfrom kitchen!)
3. Protein (in summer, they get enough bugs — but in colder weather they need a protein supplement, including perhaps the following: yellow-jackets from restaurant traps, soybeans, worms, milk, meat, fish meal)
4. Water, Water, Water.
It is very important to remember that chickens need lots of water, especially when laying. They can actually die of salt toxicity in a few hours if not given water at all times. A good way to ensure hydration is to put the water dish right by the door of their coop, where they can get it every time they pass by. They won’t drink dirty water; so make a point to keep it fresh.
About protein… Producing a huge capsule of protein in the form of an egg every day doesn’t leave much room for irregular or sparse protein consumption. A 5-ounce egg is to a five-pound chicken what a 9-pound egg would be to a person weighing 150 pounds (use your imagination). To produce this capsule of pure protein is basically something like giving birth to a baby, every day! Needless to say, that protein needs to be replaced through their diet.
Here is a recipe that will provide optimum nutrition during
the winter and is simple to make. Of course there are feeds that can be purchased as well. It is important to note that this is an ideal type mix and there is definitely room for creativity as well as ways of making large batches at once and storing them.
GRAINS- Scratch grain mix, from feed store, containing many kinds of grain ($5/50 lb). Extra yellow corn (cracked) provides them warmth in the winter, so I’m told. Grains must never be wet and moldy, this can kill your chickens!
GREENS- Grass forage, garden clippings, kitchen trimmings (thrown in the compost pile near their coop)
PROTEIN- Soybeans, oats, and sunflower seeds or some nut/seed.
Every morning (quantity for 5 chickens): 1/3 cup of boiled soybeans (make a batch every week or so: Soak 2 cups of dried soybeans in three or four times the volume of water overnight; bring to a rolling boil in the same water for 15 minutes; Drain; Store in a fridge) mixed with 1 cup of instant oats, some sunflower seeds, milk or water to moisten. Crushed oyster shell can also be added to provide calcium (5$/50 lb).
When purchasing feed or grain it is good to note that it can lose its nutritional value over
time, so purchase it fresh. Remember too, store feed away from moisture and direct sunlight. Immediately remove stale, rancid or moldy food from feeders.
Alleviating heat stress in chickens during summer months
Poultry are prone to heat stress during periods of high temperatures and humidity. While chickens do acclimate to heat over time, sudden heat waves can cause trouble. When under severe heat stress, production efficiency drops and mortality risk rises. All chickens are susceptible to heat stress, but particularly older birds.
A chicken’s normal body temperature hovers near 104 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not difficult for them to maintain a healthy body temperature when the air is at least 10 to 15 degrees below that (89 degrees and below). Without sweat glands to cool their skin, birds rely on their respiratory system. Chickens pant to cool themselves, as the panting evaporates water from the throat to lower body temperature they become dehydrated.
Water is instrumental to chickens surviving hot weather. Have very cool, clean drinking water available at all times in accessible locations. Also, birds in heat stress are not inclined to eat during the heat of the day, digestion naturally produces heat, so feed chickens during the coolest part of the day. Keep chickens in a well-ventilated area with adequate air flowand provide shady areas if the birds are resting outdoors during the heat of the day. Regularly remove any accumulated litter from the chicken house, as decomposition produces heat, and removal also keeps pests to a minimum. Reducing radiant heat in the poultry house with adequate ceiling insulation is another good idea. Outside of the chicken house, tall grass and weeds restrict airflow; while bare ground can reflect heat into the house, so keep low cut grass to help to absorb the sunlight.
Keeping Chickens Healthy and Happy When It Gets Cold
As far as the hens are concerned, it’s not cold until it’s below freezing. When the hens are exposed to daytime highs below freezing, egg production usually plummets. However, it has to get a lot colder than that before the hens’ health begins to suffer. During freezing weather, egg production and hen comfort will be increased if they have plenty of (non-frozen) water to drink. If you don’t have piped water to the henhouse, I recommend using galvanized or rubber buckets/pans as waterers because plastic buckets split when they freeze. Try not to let the hens run out of feed in cold weather either. Also, the hens will be warmer during the day if they exercise. If they have been outside for the rest of the year they should be outside in the winter too. They’ll be warmer at night if they go to bed with a full belly too, feeding them later in day during the winter so they can digest into the night is a good idea.
As far as heating goes, it shouldn’t be necessary here. Don’t try to keep the house too warm either. In particular, don’t restrict ventilation in an attempt to conserve warmth. The hens produce so much moisture in their breath and droppings that restricted ventilation is at least as likely to lead to condensation and frostbite as warmth and comfort. Restricted ventilation can also cause ammonia build-up in the air, which is very bad for the chickens’ unusually weak lungs. On a local WNC forum one man stated that “My housing is very open and is highly ventilated. Cold snaps as low as 10°F-20°F reduce egg production but the birds remain healthy and active. My reading indicates that open-front housing is suitable for winter quarters even in New England.” So, As long as temperatures are above zero degrees Fahrenheit or so, the chickens should be pretty happy. Moisture seems to be a bigger issue in Jeff’s situation.
Lighting and Bedding
Straw works great for the beddinginside roosts. There may need to be a 2-3 inch groundcover of fine mulch or wood shavings to collect droppings that would be replaced annually. I am pretty sure that you can get wood shavings for like $3-$5 a bag at the local sawmill. You wont have much space to cover anyways since the chicken roosting box should be pretty small.
If your goal is to have a stable amount of eggs all year round a light would need to be installed in the coop to maintain a similar amount of “daylight” in the winter. Otherwise, having adequate ventilation and maybe a small skylight or window should provide for enough lighting in the coop.
Wear clean clothing when working with the birds. Wash hands thoroughly and frequently. This will help keep you and the chickens healthy.
Whatever the style, provide enough space for the number of chickens your structure will hold. An adequate number of nesting sites and perches will be necessary.
Typically your chickens will begin laying eggs between the twentieth and twenty-first week. They will continue to lay eggs for slightly over a year, and the number of eggs and their size will be best during this time.