Keeping Chickens (and Maybe Bees too!)
Are you interested in learning more about keeping chickens? They are easy to care for and make a nice addition to any size homestead. With proper attention, you can keep a few chickens almost anywhere.
To make things even more enticing for you beekeepers, chickens and bees tend to do quite well together. Success will depend on your ability to meet the needs of each type of livestock that you want to care for.
Why Keeping Chickens is Cool
Personally, I love chickens. I really do. Different breeds tend to have more or less outgoing personalities. If you are raising chickens to provide meat for the family, you probably do not want to get on a “first name” basis with them. I think this would make harvest day a bit more difficult.
However, many people enjoy keeping chickens in the backyard for egg production. They also make great pets if you choose one of the more docile breeds.
Whether you are raising chickens for meat, eggs or companionship, you have many different breeds to choose from. Not all breeds behave in the same manner so make your choice carefully.
Choosing a Chicken Breed
Research the different chicken breeds that are available in your region. If you want to keep chickens that will also be friendly, consider the following breeds: Cochins, Buff Orpingtons, Ameraucana and others.
Though great egg layers, in general, White Leghorns are flighty and not the best choice for the backyard chicken coop. Rhode Island Red hens tend to be sweet but I’ve never had a RIR rooster that didn’t turn bossy.
What’s Involved in Keeping Chickens
If you choose to have chickens, it is your responsibility to take proper care of them. They will need some type of coop or “chicken house” to protect them from weather extremes and predators.
The chickens can meet some of their food needs by free-ranging around the area if you have enough room but be prepared to offer purchased food as well.
Chickens also require plentiful clean water. Be prepared to monitor the level of water in the chicken waterer and refill it before it runs dry. This is especially important in hot weather. Chickens drink more water than you might imagine.
If you have your coop or run in the same area with beehives, the chickens and bees can share the same water source. Just make sure the bees have a place to get water out of chicken reach!
Building a Chicken Coop
A house used for keeping chickens is often called a “coop”. Some chicken coops are beautiful works of art – others consist of a bit of wire and a few planks.
The hens don’t seem to care. But, if you want something that looks nice in your backyard, I am sure they would appreciate it.
The purpose of a chicken coop is to provide shelter from severe weather, give a central location for nest boxes and to protect the chickens from predators.
Chickens have no defense and are easy prey for many predators. You may be surprised to find the neighbor’s sweet dog with a dead chicken in its mouth – or even worse, your own dog.
Your hens recognize a dog as a predator and run. This triggers the prey response in the dog and it usually ends bad for the chicken.
Your coop and or “chicken run” is designed to keep predators out more so than keeping chickens inside. Lightweight chicken wire will often not be strong enough to prevent a strong dog from breaking inside.
Your chicken run must be “predator tight” everywhere – the top, the sides and the bottom. Many predators will dig under the fence so some chicken lovers bury wire down into the ground. Do not overlook the requirements of a good tight chicken coop.
Educate yourself on general chicken care before your birds arrive, you will be glad that you did.
Getting Started with Chickens
A common way to get started keeping chickens is to purchase chicks. They are so adorable – I want them ALL! However, I am not sure this is the best way to begin.
These cute chicks require a lot of care. They must be kept warm for several weeks and in a clean environment to prevent disease. They require even more protection that a young hen.
If at all possible, I suggest you start keeping chickens by purchasing a couple of 5-6 month old pullets (girls). This will give you a feel for what’s involved in keeping chickens. Then, next year perhaps you will want to buy those cute chicks.
If you simply can not help yourself and must have chicks, that’s fine – just be sure to understand their requirements before bringing them home.
Egg Production in the Backyard
Chickens (hens) lay eggs as a form of reproduction. With a rooster available to mate with the hens, the eggs have the potential to hatch into chicks.
You do not have to keep a cockerel (rooster). The hens will still lay eggs. But, the eggs will not be fertile or able to develop into chicks.
Most chicken breeds will begin to lay when they are about 6 months old but that can vary with breed and time of year.
Your chicken can lay 1 egg a day or 1 egg every few days. But, hens do not lay eggs year round. I tend to have a lot of eggs in the Spring. Then egg production slows down in Fall and Winter.
As your hens grow older, they lay fewer eggs. This is something to consider. What will you do with the older hens that no longer produce?
I have a hen named Betty that I hatched from an egg. She is 13 years old and hasn’t laid an egg in many years.
Is Smell a Problem When Keeping Chickens?
Well, the only bad thing I can say about chickens is that chicken poop smells really bad. In my years, I have not found a way to make the poop smell better.
However, you can greatly avoid a smelly disaster by limiting the number of hens you are keeping in a space.
Also, using some type of absorbent material in the coop that is replaced periodically helps abate the odor. The bedding from the coop makes excellent soil amendments after it is composted.
Chickens and Bees
Oddly enough, many beekeepers also have chickens. Some keep them in the bee yard where the hens can scratch around the hives.
If the hives are up on hive stands, there is no concern about the chickens eating the bees. In fact, the chickens may even help the bees by consuming Small Hive Beetle larva, lizards and other predators that do harm bees.
The Law on Keeping Chickens
Due to the popularity of chicken keeping as a hobby, many areas allow it. You will find that some cities even allow chickens to be kept but with limitations.
Roosters (they crow you know) are sometimes not allowed and there may be a limit on the number of birds you can have.
Is Keeping Chickens Worth it?
That is a hard question for a chicken lover like myself to answer impartially. I say yes.
But, if your sole purpose for keeping chickens is to save money on eggs, you would probably be better off just buying the eggs from a local keeper.
However, if you want to produce your own fresh eggs (or meat) and you enjoy watching the funny curious behavior of animals. Keeping chickens may be the best thing you have done lately.